India

 

  • India: Report highlights ongoing misuse of restrictive laws during pandemic to keep activists behind bars

    • Report highlights judicial harassment of activists, targeting of journalists and crackdown on protesters 
    • Modi government has continued to use state resources to sustain its persecution of activists and critics during COVID-19 pandemic 
    • CIVICUS calls for the immediate release of arbitrarily detained human rights defenders

    The Indian government is using a variety of restrictive laws - including national security and counter-terrorism legislation - to arrest and imprison human rights defenders, peaceful protesters and critics.

    More than a year into  Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s second term in office, the CIVICUS report, Punished for speaking up: The ongoing use of restrictive laws to silence dissent in India,” shows an increasingly repressive environment for civic freedoms, such as the freedoms of expression, association and assembly.  The report highlights the arrest, detention and prosecution of activists, the targeting of journalists, and the unprecedented and brutal crackdown on protests against the discriminatory Citizenship (Amendment) Act. CIVICUS is also concerned about increasing violations in Indian-administered Jammu Kashmir.

    Further, India’s slide towards authoritarianism has led to the conflation of dissent with anti-nationalism, often with disastrous results for human rights defenders and activists who have been subjected to damaging smear campaigns.

    The activists profiled in the report represent a small fraction of the arbitrary arrests, prosecutions and imprisonments taking place across India, providing a snapshot of the challenges facing the country’s human rights defenders.

    The report also highlights a series of vaguely worded and overly broad laws being used by the Indian authorities to deprive activists of bail and keep them in ongoing detention. These include the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, (UAPA), which is India’s primary counter-terrorism law; section 124A on ‘sedition’ of the Indian Penal Code, a colonial-era relic; and administrative detention laws such as the National Security Act (NSA) and the Public Safety Act (PSA), which applies only in Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir

    “The Indian government must stop using restrictive national security and counter-terrorism laws against human rights defenders and critics. The authorities must also drop the baseless and politically-motivated criminal charges against activists and release them immediately and unconditionally,” said Josef Benedict, CIVICUS Asia-Pacific Civic Space Researcher.

    “The laws are incompatible with India’s international human rights obligations as well as India’s Constitution. Not only are the laws themselves inherently flawed, but their implementation makes it clear that they have become tools for judicial harassment, rather than for preventing or addressing criminality.”

    During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Modi government has continued to use state resources to sustain its persecution of human rights defenders and critics, many of whom have underlying medical conditions or are at risk of contracting COVID-19 in overcrowded and unsanitary prisons. CIVICUS is also concerned about the judicial harassment of individuals and journalists who criticise the authorities’ handling of the pandemic. 

    “It is appalling that human rights defenders are locked up in overcrowded prisons and continuously denied bail despite calls by the UN to decongest prisons and release political prisoners during the pandemic. Holding them at this time puts them at serious risk of contracting COVID-19 and adds another layer of punishment for these activists, who have been detained just for speaking up for human rights,” said Benedict.

    Despite the hostile environment, human rights defenders and civil society organisations in  India are pushing back against oppression. The benefits of a vibrant civil society, and of human rights defenders who are free to do their work, are tangible. This has been evident in civil society’s crucial response to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, in providing vital help to communities in need, defending rights, and holding governments accountable.

    “As India’s political and economic influence increases, developments in the country are being closely followed by the global community. India’s quest to play a critical role on the international stage would be better served by committing to upholding democratic values and recognising the validity of people’s struggles,” said Benedict.

    In the report, CIVICUS makes a number of recommendations to the Indian authorities, including:

    • Drop all charges against human rights defenders, activists and protesters, and immediately and unconditionally release all those detained;
    • Review and amend India’s criminal laws to conform to international standards for the protection of fundamental freedoms;
    • Take steps to ensure that all human rights defenders in India are able to carry out their legitimate activities without any hindrance or fear of reprisals.

    More information

    The space for civil society in India was downgraded in December 2019 from ‘obstructed’ to ‘repressed’ by the CIVICUS Monitor, an online platform that tracks civic space in every country. A repressed rating for civic space means that democratic freedoms – such as the freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly and association – are significantly constrained in India.


    Interviews

    To arrange interviews, please contact Josef Benedict, CIVICUS Asia-Pacific Civic Space Researcher  and 

     

  • India: Report highlights ongoing misuse of restrictive laws during pandemic to keep activists behind bars

    • Report highlights judicial harassment of activists, targeting of journalists and crackdown on protesters 
    • Modi government has continued to use state resources to sustain its persecution of activists and critics during COVID-19 pandemic 
    • CIVICUS calls for the immediate release of arbitrarily detained human rights defenders

    The Indian government is using a variety of restrictive laws - including national security and counter-terrorism legislation - to arrest and imprison human rights defenders, peaceful protesters and critics, the global civil society alliance CIVICUS said today in a new report.

    More than a year into  Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s second term in office, the CIVICUS report, Punished for speaking up: The ongoing use of restrictive laws to silence dissent in India,” shows an increasingly repressive environment for civic freedoms, such as the freedoms of expression, association and assembly.  The report highlights the arrest, detention and prosecution of activists, the targeting of journalists, and the unprecedented and brutal crackdown on protests against the discriminatory Citizenship (Amendment) Act. CIVICUS is also concerned about increasing violations in Indian-administered Jammu Kashmir.

    Further, India’s slide towards authoritarianism has led to the conflation of dissent with anti-nationalism, often with disastrous results for human rights defenders and activists who have been subjected to damaging smear campaigns.

    The activists profiled in the report represent a small fraction of the arbitrary arrests, prosecutions and imprisonments taking place across India, providing a snapshot of the challenges facing the country’s human rights defenders.

    The report also highlights a series of vaguely worded and overly broad laws being used by the Indian authorities to deprive activists of bail and keep them in ongoing detention. These include the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, (UAPA), which is India’s primary counter-terrorism law; section 124A on ‘sedition’ of the Indian Penal Code, a colonial-era relic; and administrative detention laws such as the National Security Act (NSA) and the Public Safety Act (PSA), which applies only in Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir

    “The Indian government must stop using restrictive national security and counter-terrorism laws against human rights defenders and critics. The authorities must also drop the baseless and politically-motivated criminal charges against activists and release them immediately and unconditionally,” said Josef Benedict, CIVICUS Asia-Pacific Civic Space Researcher.

    “The laws are incompatible with India’s international human rights obligations as well as India’s Constitution. Not only are the laws themselves inherently flawed, but their implementation makes it clear that they have become tools for judicial harassment, rather than for preventing or addressing criminality.”

    During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Modi government has continued to use state resources to sustain its persecution of human rights defenders and critics, many of whom have underlying medical conditions or are at risk of contracting COVID-19 in overcrowded and unsanitary prisons. CIVICUS is also concerned about the judicial harassment of individuals and journalists who criticise the authorities’ handling of the pandemic. 

    “It is appalling that human rights defenders are locked up in overcrowded prisons and continuously denied bail despite calls by the UN to decongest prisons and release political prisoners during the pandemic. Holding them at this time puts them at serious risk of contracting COVID-19 and adds another layer of punishment for these activists, who have been detained just for speaking up for human rights,” said Benedict.

    Despite the hostile environment, human rights defenders and civil society organisations in  India are pushing back against oppression. The benefits of a vibrant civil society, and of human rights defenders who are free to do their work, are tangible. This has been evident in civil society’s crucial response to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, in providing vital help to communities in need, defending rights, and holding governments accountable.

    “As India’s political and economic influence increases, developments in the country are being closely followed by the global community. India’s quest to play a critical role on the international stage would be better served by committing to upholding democratic values and recognising the validity of people’s struggles,” said Benedict.

    In the report, CIVICUS makes a number of recommendations to the Indian authorities, including:

    • Drop all charges against human rights defenders, activists and protesters, and immediately and unconditionally release all those detained;
    • Review and amend India’s criminal laws to conform to international standards for the protection of fundamental freedoms;
    • Take steps to ensure that all human rights defenders in India are able to carry out their legitimate activities without any hindrance or fear of reprisals.

    More information

    The space for civil society in India was downgraded in December 2019 from ‘obstructed’ to ‘repressed’ by the CIVICUS Monitor, an online platform that tracks civic space in every country. A repressed rating for civic space means that democratic freedoms – such as the freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly and association – are significantly constrained in India.


    Interviews

    To arrange interviews, please contact Josef Benedict, CIVICUS Asia-Pacific Civic Space Researcher  and 

     

  • India: Rich Land of Poor People

    On International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples (9 August), we commend the work of imprisoned lawyer and activist Sudha Bharadwaj, defender of Indigenous communities in India.

     Sudha Bharadwaj

                                                                                                                  Sudha Bharadwaj

     

    By Alina Tiphagne, Human Rights Defenders Alert (HRDA)

    India’s Adivasi community

    For decades, India’s Adivasis, the collective name for the many Indigenous people in India, have borne the brunt of development-induced displacement. Indigenous communities in India have had their lands taken, livelihoods destroyed, and rights trampled on as a result of business activities and urban expansion. Adivasis make-up about 8% of India’s population and rely on their lands and forests for their livelihood.

    Over the past year, the CIVICUS Monitor has tracked several cases of arrests, intimidation and violence carried out by state authorities on Indigenous people and their allies. Such harassment and brutality are active in the mineral-rich state of Chhattisgarh, central India, which has the highest output of coal in the country and where limestone, dolomite and bauxite are found in abundance.

    In Chhattisgarh, a significant proportion of people are Adivasis from tribal and Dalit communities. Many have been displaced due to businesses seizing land and natural resources, and rampant human rights abuses have been reported in the state. To add to this already complex situation, southern Chhattisgarh is the epicentre of a five decades-long insurgency between the Naxalite Maoist group and the Indian government. The fighting has negatively affected the tribal population, densely forested districts and neighbouring states.

    The work of Sudha Bharadwaj, human rights lawyer and former General Secretary of the Chhattisgarh People’s Union for Civil Liberties, lies at this fraught intersection. Sudha has lived in the state for 29 years, fighting for the rights of Indigenous and working-class people. However, she has been in pre-trial detention for nearly two years after being charged under the stringent Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, on suspicion of being involved in Maoist terror activities and conspiring to incite public unrest.

    Political Consciousness

    Born in Massachusetts, US, Sudha moved to New Delhi at the age of 11. Her mother, renowned economist Krishna Bharadwaj, founded Jawaharlal Nehru University’s (JNU) Centre for Economic Studies and planning. Sudha spent her childhood years at JNU, where her early political consciousness was formed:

    “One of my early memories of JNU in my childhood was when Vietnam won the war against the US. I remember a lot of singing and celebration in the first quadrangle. That was the kind of atmosphere in which I grew up,” Sudha said in a recent interview.

    At 18, Sudha moved to Kanpur, central India, to study. At this time, Kanpur was at the peak of its industrial boom, with a string of mega textile mills, attracting migrant workers from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal. Through her work in the National Service Scheme (NSS) and its outreach programs, Sudha became exposed - for the first time in her life - to the appalling living conditions of the workers.

    She was also introduced to Shankar Guha Niyogi, a trade unionist, and decided to join his organisation in Chhattisgarh in 1986. After Niyogi was assassinated at the behest of a local industrialist, the organisation splintered, with some choosing militant ways and others moderate. It was Bharadwaj who managed to unite the workers.

    Women & Workers’ Rights

    Sudha began working in the mining trade union of Chhattisgarh and strove to involve women in the fight for workers’ rights. She felt women experienced issues that were not being addressed and made sure the Women’s Committee discussed all topics, even sensitive ones including alcohol abuse and domestic violence. Other issues affecting working class wives were the threat of their huts being demolished, and the daily struggle for water and electricity.

    After being involved in the struggles of the working classes for decades, Sudha decided to study law in the early 2000s. She soon gained a reputation as a formidable lawyer and became iconic in the pro-people struggle after standing up to corporate giants and big business. She is now a visiting professor at the National Law University and Vice President of the Indian Association for People’s Lawyers (IAPL).

    Much of Sudha’s legal work has revolved around the rights of Adivasi people in India. Since 2016 Sudha has been fighting for the rights of villagers in Ghatbarra, Chhattisgarh, after the government cancelled the rights of villagers and Adivasi people to live in the forest and surrounding areas. It is alleged that the authorities want to make way for a coal mining facility, even though the move would damage over 1000 hectares of land and disrupt an elephant corridor.

    Smear Campaign & Imprisonment

    Becoming a well-known lawyer who fights for the rights of Indigenous and marginalised communities has pitted Sudha against a government sensitive to any criticism.

    In September 2018, Republic TV, a channel known as the ‘FOX NEWS of India’, alleged that Sudha had written a letter identifying herself as “Comrade Advocate Sudha Bharadwaj” to a Maoist called “Comrade Prakash,” stating that a “Kashmir like situation” has to be created. The television presenter also accused her of receiving money from Maoists.

    The Indian Supreme Court ordered that Sudha be placed under house arrest for four weeks. Her home was raided at midnight by police who seized her laptop, pen drives, work papers and mobile phone. In October 2018, Sudha’s bail plea was rejected and she is currently being held in pre-trial detention at the Byculla jail in Mumbai. Recently, a special court rejected an interim medical bail plea filed by her lawyers after an inmate tested positive for COVID-19. The National Investigation Agency accused Sudha of using the threat of COVID-19 as an excuse to seek bail.

    As we observe The International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples this year, let us not forget the hundreds of Adivasi community workers, social activists, trade unionists, environmental advocates, human rights lawyers, grassroots doctors and nurses who are languishing in prisons - or have lost their lives - fighting for the rights of marginalised people across India. They have shown immense strength and resilience in fighting an increasingly oppressive regime whilst living through a global pandemic.

    #StandAsMyWitness

    As the Narendra-Modi government continues to target grassroots activists, student-leaders, academics and anyone who is critical of the state - let us not forget Sudha’s words:

    “If you try to be safe in the middle, you will never succeed.”

    We urge you not to be safe in the middle. Join our campaign #StandAsMyWitness and demand justice for imprisoned human rights defenders like Sudha. We ask you to stand with them, so they do not stand alone.

    Human Rights Defenders Alert (HRDA) is a national network for the protection and promotion of human rights defenders in the country and a research partner of the CIVICUS Monitor.

     

  • India: The National Human Rights Commission not upholding its mandate or protecting the constitution

    Statement at the 45th Session of the UN Human Rights Council 


    Over the last two years, we have seen in India an alarming deterioration of civic freedoms. The government is using a variety of restrictive laws - including national security and counter terrorism legislation - to attack, arrest and imprison human rights defenders, peaceful protesters and critics. The Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) – brought in in December 2019 and described by the the High Commissioner as “fundamentally discriminatory in nature” – is in violation of international human rights law.

    Despite this, National Human Rights Commission of India (NHRCI) has, to date, taken no concrete steps nor offered more than token rhetoric to safeguard the constitution and publicly condemn the actions of the government to curb fundamental rights.

    The NHRC was initially granted an “A” status on the basis of proposed amendments at the time of its accreditation which, since passed, do not fully meet the requirements of the Paris Principles. Of the criteria to which an NHRI must adhere to in order to attain A-status, the NHRCI falls short in several. Its lack of diverse representation is of serious concern. Its appointment process is flawed and opaque. The NHRCI has yet to use its power to review recent restrictive laws, including the FCRA and CCA, and recommend amendments to the government. Despite the appointment of a focal point on HRDs, this appears to be a token gesture rather than a genuine attempt at protecting HRDs, and the position has since been downgraded still further.

    The post of Director General of Investigation and staff in its investigation division are drawn solely from the police forces. This is of serious concern when police officers are the alleged perpetrators of numerous rights violations – during the outbreak of violence in the midst of protests in Delhi of January this year, Delhi police abdicated in its duty to endi the violence, and used torture and excessive force against peaceful protesters. After an investigation, the NHRC released a report which partially blamed student protestors and argued that since the students were violent, right to freedom of assembly would not apply to them.

    With the amendments to the FCRA, the Indian government appears to be targeting any dissent and oversight of their draconian laws. Amnesty International India’s enforced closure this week means that India has lost one more vital voice in protecting its people from rights violations. More than ever, the NHRC must step up. We call for its immediate reform in order to adequately fulfil its mandate to protect human rights in India. We furthermore call on GANHRI’s Sub-Committee on Accreditation to consider the possibility of a Special Review of the NHRCI with a view to reassessing its A-status.


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

    New report: Punished for speaking up: The ongoing use of restrictive laws to silence dissent in India

     

  • India: The UN must condemn crimes against peaceful protesters

    Joint statement at the 43rd Session of the UN Human Rights Council by Amnesty International India, CIVCUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation, FORUM-ASIA and FIDH

    As the UN Human Rights Council meets in Geneva to discuss human rights developments globally, we urge states to speak up against serious human rights violations being committed in India against peaceful protesters and other civilians.

    Both international human rights law and the Constitution of India guarantee the right to freedom of peaceful assembly, the right to freedom of expression, and the right to freedom of association.

    Regrettably, those who have exercised their right to peaceful assembly against the discriminatory Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the National Register of Citizens (NRC) since December 2019 have been arrested and intimidated under various repressive laws. Political leaders have demonised the protesters. At least 50 people have been killed in the protests, including an eight-year-old child, and thousands of people have been arrested and detained. 

    On 12 December 2019, the CAA was passed by the Indian Parliament and assented by the President of India. The CAA provides a path to Indian citizenship for Hindus, Sikhs, Parsis, Christians, Buddhists, and Jains from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan, excluding Muslims, thus legitimising discrimination based on religious grounds. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the European Parliament, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), and various US senators have raised serious concerns about the CAA. 

    The amendments to the Citizenship Act also weaponize the NRC, the National Population Register, and the Foreigners Tribunals to push minorities – particularly Muslims — towards detention and statelessness. As of now, over 1.9 million people are excluded from the NRC, a registration exercise that took place in Assam State over a period of five years. 

    Use of Repressive Laws

    Protesters have faced arbitrary arrests and detention under repressive laws, such as sedition provisions in the Penal Code and the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA). In January 2020, sedition charges were lodged against 3,000 people for protesting against the CAA in Jharkhand State. Cases of sedition have also been filed against a schoolteacher and mother of a student for “insulting” the Prime Minister through a school play; carrying a ‘Free Kashmir’ placard during a protest; and shouting “Pakistan Zindabad” [Long Live Pakistan]. 

    Indian courts have ruled that any form of expression must involve incitement to imminent violence for it to amount to sedition. But the sedition charges have been repeatedly used to arrest journalists, activists and human rights defenders simply for expressing their views. 

    Similarly, the UAPA is India’s primary counter-terrorism law and has been condemned by various human rights groups as being repressive and against the international human rights norms. In the past, the UAPA was abused by successive governments to target human rights defenders working with poor and marginalized communities and those who criticise government inactions or excesses. The abuse of the UAPA has continued under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s administration On 12 December 2019, Akhil Gogoi, an activist and leader of the Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti (KMSS), a peasant rights organisation based in Assam State, was arrested by the Assam police under various sections of the UAPA. 

    Excessive Use of Force by Authorities 

    Police across India have used excessive force to target peaceful protesters. In December 2019 in Varanasi, the constituency of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the police indiscriminately used firearms and less lethal arms to disperse peaceful protesters. This led to the death of an eight-year old child who was crushed to death on 20 December 2019, and resulted in over a dozen injuries.

    The police also attacked student protesters in Jamia Millia Islamia University and Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in Delhi in December 2019 and January 2020, respectively. Students were also attacked in Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) while they were protesting against the CAA in December 2019. Doctors at AMU stated that on 16 December 2019, police blocked ambulances from entering the university to treat the injured students. 

    On 24 February 2020, the Allahabad High Court criticised the role of the Uttar Pradesh Police and said, “The police force should be sensitised and special training modules prepared to inculcate professionalism in the personnel while handling such situations”. The court ordered the Uttar Pradesh government to pay compensation to students who were injured during the protests due to police brutality. 

    However, to date, no reports have been filed against police officers for using excessive force against protesters. 

    Hateful Rhetoric and Vigilante Violence

    While there has been a heavy-handed approach by the police towards the protestors, some political leaders have been inciting hatred and violence against the protesters. 

    Terms like “anti-nationals” and “traitors” have been used to encourage violence against the protesters. The 24/7 sit-in protest site, Shaheen Bagh in Delhi, which has become the epicentre of the anti-CAA protests in the country, has been routinely targeted. The peaceful protests in Delhi has been led primarily by Muslim women and students. 

    In response, some union ministers and chief ministers have engaged in violent rhetoric with statements such as “shoot the traitors”, “press the button with such anger that the current is felt at Shaheen Bagh”, “the protesters would enter citizens’ homes and rape your sisters and daughters and kill them”, “revenge will be taken” in  attempts to divide and fear-monger. In another incident on 23 February 2020, Kapil Mishra,  a leader from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, warned the police of dire consequences if the protesters did not vacate another protest site in Jaffrabad in north-east Delhi, where over 500 women had gathered to protest against the CAA. Shortly after his speech, clashes broke out in the area, which led to the deaths of at least 42 people, including a police constable, and injuring over 250 others. 

    This rhetoric has emboldened non-state actors to assault civilians. However, not a single political leader has been prosecuted for making hate speeches against the protesters. On 26 February, the Delhi High Court ordered the Delhi Police to register a police report against a number of political leaders immediately. 

    Restriction on Freedom of Movement and Right to Freedom of Assembly

    The space for protesting against the CAA and NRC has also been shrinking across India. Orders under Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code were imposed in many parts of Karnataka State and Uttar Pradesh State to restrict gatherings of people at protest sites and to restrict their freedom of movement. 

    In Uttar Pradesh State, the police issued notices to over 3,000 people, cautioning them to neither participate nor incite others to participate in the protests. Such bans on protests have also been imposed in other parts of the country including Delhi, Mumbai, Pune, Bhubaneswar, Nagpur, and Bhopal. In in December 2019, the space for peaceful protests in Varanasi was severely restricted with police officers openly threatening the protesters. 

    In addition to the criminalisation of peaceful assemblies, the freedom of assembly has also been restricted by burdening civilians with recovering the cost of damages to public property. In December 2019, after the violence broke out in Uttar Pradesh, the state government sent notices seeking to recover INR 45 millions’ (USD 628,403) worth of damage to public property. These notices were sent without any form of judicial scrutiny, raising concerns of arbitrariness and bias. Furthermore, to require assembly organisers to shoulder costs for cleaning up after a public assembly is inconsistent with Article 21 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Such costs deter those wishing to enjoy their right to freedom of assembly.

    Internet Shutdowns

    As people took to the streets to protest against the CAA, the Indian authorities imposed internet shutdowns across the country to “maintain law and order.” Besides shutting down internet services in 29 districts of Uttar Pradesh State and the entire Assam State, the authorities also cut internet services in districts in the states of West Bengal, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Telangana, Karnataka, Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh, and Manipur. India has become the country with the highest number of internet shutdowns in the world.

    These shutdowns did not meet requirements for permissible restrictions on the right freedom of expression, as set out under international human rights law. It is unclear under what criteria decisions were made to cut off internet access or what mechanisms were available to challenge such decisions, in violation of the requirement of legality. There is no evidence to show that internet shutdowns prevent the escalation of violence during protests, which makes them in violation of the requirement of necessity. 

    The UN Human Rights Council has unequivocally condemned “measures to intentionally prevent or disrupt access to or dissemination of information online in violation of international human rights law”, and has called on all states to “refrain from and cease such measures”. 

    Use of Mass Surveillance 

    Police in Delhi and Uttar Pradesh State have also used facial recognition technology to monitor, identify, and arrest protesters. Currently, India does not have data protection legislation, resulting in a lack of oversight and regulation of this technology. The absence of a legal framework that specifically regulates facial recognition technology renders the use of such tool susceptible to abuse.  Moreover, the use of facial recognition technology for law enforcement purposes raises concerns of indiscriminate mass surveillance, which is never a permissible interference with the rights to privacy, freedom of expression, freedom of association and peaceful assembly.

    In light of this, we urge the international community, and in particularly UN Human Rights Council member states, to hold the Indian government accountable by calling on the Indian authorities to:

    1. Immediately denounce the state-sponsored and vigilante violence against peaceful protesters.
    2. Drop all charges against peaceful protesters.
    3. Ensure those detained and arrested are treated in line with international human rights law and standards. 
    4. Take necessary measures to establish a fully independent investigation into reports of excessive use of force by law enforcement agencies towards protestors and vigilante violence. The findings should be made public and the perpetrators of such acts should be prosecuted without undue delay.
    5. Ensure that elected political leaders and public officials who have incited violence and promoted hatred between communities are held accountable

    See our wider advocacy priorities and programme of activities at the 43rd Session of the UN Human Rights Council

     

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

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

     

  • INDIA: When justice is on your side, you have to keep on fighting

    Flickr: Anand Grover

    After years of civil society campaigning and legal action, gay sex was decriminalised in India in 2018. CIVICUS speaks to Anand Grover, Senior Advocate and Director of Lawyers Collective, a civil society organisation that led the campaign. Lawyers Collective seeks to empower andchange the status of marginalised groups through the effective use of law and engagement in human rights advocacy, legal aid and litigation. Founded in 1981, Lawyers Collective uses the law as a tool to address critical issues such as gender-based violence, sexual harassment in the workplace, sexual and reproductive rights, LGBTI rights and access to medicine and healthcare.Anand is known for his legal activism around homosexuality and HIV/AIDS. From 2008 to 2014 he was the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health and is currently an acting member of the Global Commission on Drug Policy.

    Homosexuality is still criminalised in about 70 countries around the world, but no longer in India. What is the significance of this change?

    In September 2018, when the Supreme Court decriminalised consensual adult sex in private, it meant a lot to many people in India. Section 377 of the Penal Code criminalised all forms of so-called ‘unnatural sex’, that is, penal non-vaginal sexual acts. Section 377 ostensibly applied to both heterosexuals and homosexuals, and to gay men and lesbian women, but it was mostly used as a tool in the hands of the police to harass, extort and blackmail gay men. It prevented gay men from seeking legal protection from violence, for fear that they would end up being penalised for sodomy. Criminalisation resulted in stigma and prejudice, which in turn perpetuated a culture of silence around homosexuality and resulted in rejection at home and discrimination in the workplace and public spaces.

    Not surprisingly, when we first challenged Section 377 in 2001, nobody wanted to become a petitioner; homosexuality was so stigmatised that nobody wanted to come forward. It was only in 2009, when the High Court of Delhi first decriminalised it, that people started coming out into the open.

    The recent Supreme Court ruling lifted such a heavy burden from many people that we call it the second independence of India – the independence of all these groups that were still criminalised by a British law. Section 337 was imposed in 1861, under colonial rule. Before the British came, sexual practices were not criminalised in India.

    As an immediate result of the legal change, people now can be open about their sexualities. People who got married abroad are now throwing receptions to celebrate their marriages. This was unheard of in India before September 2018. It is quite new for people to declare willingly that they are gay and be seen as a normalised part of society. The other day I interviewed somebody for a job, and she said she was bisexual – and nobody had asked her about it, we asked her about her aspirations, her thoughts about society, and she just said, ‘I’m bisexual and I am happy about all that is happening’, and that was that. We will, hopefully, become a more pluralistic society, at least in terms of sexuality.

     

    Can this change be claimed as a victory for Indian civil society? What role did the Lawyers’ Collective and other civil society organisations (CSOs) play in the process?

    This was indeed a big and hard-won victory for civil society. The process was kicked off by the Lawyers’ Collective in 2001 - or even earlier, because it all started with HIV. We began advocating for the rights of people with HIV in the late 1980s, and lost many times, but got our largest victory in 1997, when the Bombay High Court ruled against discrimination in public sector employment on the basis of HIV status.

    After we won the HIV case, many gay men started coming to our office in Mumbai to seek legal advice. And that’s when I realised that the main issue for them was Section 377. It was the biggest impediment to the full expression of sexuality and personhood of LGBTI people.

    We, in the Lawyers Collective, first decided to challenge Section 377 in 1999 or 2000 but couldn’t file a petition because no gay men were ready to come forward. In the meantime, someone else filed a petition in Delhi and it was dismissed. We then had to challenge the constitutionality of Section 377 in Delhi High Court. The Naz Foundation, a Delhi-based CSO working on HIV prevention amongst homosexuals and other men having sex with men, had also reached the same conclusion: Section 377 was one of the biggest obstacles to access to health services by gay men, who tried to stay under the radar due to fear of prosecution.

    In the Delhi High Court, we argued that Section 377 made it difficult for the Naz Foundation to do their job of providing sexual health advice to gay men. We also challenged Section 377 on the grounds that it violated the rights to equality, non-discrimination and freedom of expression, life and personal liberty, which included the rights to privacy, dignity and health.

    In 2009, the Delhi High Court declared that Section 377 was unconstitutional, and therefore decriminalised adult consensual same-sex relations in private. However, 15 Special Leave Petitions (SLPs) against the Delhi High Court’s decision were filed in the Supreme Court, mostly on behalf of faith-based and religious groups, and the government did not file an appeal. Among other interventions in support of the judgment, the Lawyers Collective filed a comprehensive counter affidavit against the SLPs, on behalf of the Naz Foundation. In 2013 the Supreme Court overturned the judgement of the Delhi High Court on the grounds that amending or repealing Section 377 should be in the hands of parliament rather than the judiciary. The Naz Foundation, through the Lawyers Collective and others, then submitted curative petitions. In the meantime some other petitions were filed and in September 2018 the Supreme Court eventually revised its 2013 judgment and concluded that Section 377 was indeed unconstitutional. They basically said: oh, we made a mistake, sorry.

    What are they key lessons you learned from this experience that could help people in other countries who are fighting similar battles?

    The lesson is quite simple: you need to realise that when justice is on your side, you have to keep on fighting and you will eventually win. That is what happened here: we knew that this law, that was arbitrarily imposed by the British, was unjust. We encountered lots of challenges, the fight was a long one, but we were ultimately victorious.

    Are you experiencing backlash? Do you expect anti-rights groups to challenge these gains?

    Not really, not this time. In fact, from 2001 to 2018 we developed a lot of advocacy through the media, and over time the public started understanding the issues, so there’s hardly any backlash now. The process took a long time, so it also gave us time for changes to catch within the mindset of the people.

    I think anti-rights groups are weak on this particular issue, because all major religious groups eventually took sides against criminalisation. We will eventually see backlash when the issue of marriage equality is raised, but not around the decriminalisation of gay sex. And even gay marriage will eventually happen, because it is the logical next step.

    What should be the next agenda item to work on?

    Now we need to move to the next stage in terms of equality between LGBTI people and the rest of the population, including equality and non-discrimination in the private sector, regarding employment, education, health services and so on. Also, laws about sexual assault and rape need to be gender-neutral. This also applies to marriage – it should be defined as a relationship between two people, and so the definition should be gender-neutral. The same goes for inheritance and other things.

    We approach change from two sides: public opinion and the courts. The reason why we choose to work through the courts rather than parliament is that the judiciary is more empathetic to these causes, whereas the parliament is packed with right-wing politicians, so these reforms wouldn’t pass.

    Civic space in India is rated as ‘obstructed’ in theCIVICUS Monitor

    Get in touch with Lawyers Collective through theirwebsite orFacebook page, or follow@LCHIVWRI and@AnandGroverRepo on Twitter

     

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

    INDIA Protests DevanganaKalita NatashaNarwal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    For further information, please contact:

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

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

     

  • Indian activist Sudha Bharadwaj spends 900 days in detention

    • 13 February 2021 marks Sudha Bharadwaj’s 900th day in pre-trial detention
    • Questions raised about validity of letters used to incriminate Sudha
    • Indian authorities have limited the number of books she can receive

    February 13 marks 900 days since Indian activist Sudha Bharadwaj was arrested and imprisoned. On this day, global civil society organisation CIVICUS calls on the Indian government to immediately release Bharadwaj and drop all charges against her. 

    Since 2018, Sudha and 15 other activists, writers and lawyers have been arrested under the draconian Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) and accused of having links with the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist). It is alleged that she and the other human rights defenders conspired to incite Dalits at a public meeting which led to violence in Bhima Koregaon village in the Pune district of Maharashtra in January 2018. 

    Sudha Bharadwaj was initially placed under house arrest in August 2018 but in October 2018 was moved to Byculla Women’s Prison in Mumbai. There are serious concerns about the validity of evidence against her. This week a U.S. digital forensics firm raised questions about incriminating letters used to implicate Sudha and the other activists. The letters were found on an activist’s laptop which is thought to have been hacked. 

    Sudha’s health continues to deteriorate in prison. The 59 year old suffers from diabetes, hypertension and Ischemic heart disease, making her susceptible to COVID-19 in the cramped prison. Despite underlying health issues, Bharadwaj’s pleas for bail have been quashed by the courts as the National Investigation Agency claims her condition is not serious. 

    Sudha, a lawyer and rights defender, has also been denied books and newspapers in prison. A special  National Investigation Agency court finally ruled last month that Sudha can receive five books a month from outside prison. However, the judge has ordered the Superintendent of Byculla prison to “carefully examine” the books for “objectionable content” before handing them over.

    “The fact that my mother, a lawyer, has been denied access to books and newspapers shows the absolute determination of the Modi government to restrict the liberties of human rights defenders. My mother has been unjustly detained for over two years without trial. We are increasingly worried about her health and demand that she be released immediately to rest at home until her case comes to court,” said Maaysha, Sudha Bharadwaj’s daughter.

    Sudha 900 days in detention

    The treatment of Sudha highlights the increasingly repressive measures used by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government to clamp down on dissent and silence human rights defenders.

    In January,  the UN Human Rights office expressed serious concern about the detention of human rights defenders including those in the Bhima Koregaon case. It urged the Indian authorities to immediately release the detainees, at the very least on bail before their court hearing. While in October last year, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michele Bachelet, expressed concern over the use of “vaguely defined laws” to silent activists and government critics. 

    “The Modi regime is abusing the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) and using it to round-up activists and human rights defenders on trumped-up charges and keep them for long periods in detention. Sudha is a lawyer and activist who has spent her life defending Indigenous people in India and protecting workers’ rights. She should never have been arrested but unfortunately her human rights work has put her directly in the firing line of the government,” said Josef Benedict, Asia-Pacific civic space researcher for CIVICUS.

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

    ----Ends---

     

  • Indian Government should withdraw criminal charges against NGO ‘Lawyers Collective’ and its representatives

    Signatories India Letter

    26 June 2019,

    Bangkok/Colombo/Dublin/Geneva/Johannesburg/London/New Delhi/New York/Paris

    We, the undersigned, strongly condemn the filing of criminal charges against Indian NGO ‘Lawyers Collective’, its Senior Advocate Anand Grover, and other representatives. Criminal charges were filed by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) on June 13, 2019, relying on an investigation report of January 2016 of the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA). The MHA report has been challenged by Lawyers Collective in January 2017 and the case is under consideration by the High Court of Bombay.

    Lawyers Collective is a human rights organisation based in New Delhi with its registered office in Mumbai and was founded by noted Indian human rights defenders and lawyers Ms Indira Jaising and Mr Anand Grover. Ms Jaising and Mr Grover are senior advocates with an exceptional profile of public service, probity and personal and professional integrity as lawyers and as human rights defenders. Ms Jaising was an Additional Solicitor General of India between 2009 and 2014, and was also a member of the UN Committee on Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) between 2009 and 2012. Mr Grover held the mandate of UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health between 2008 and 2014. Ms Jaising and Mr Grover, through Lawyers Collective, have advocated for advancing the rights of the most vulnerable and marginalised sections of Indian society, thereby upholding constitutional values as enshrined in the Indian Constitution.

    Lawyers Collective’s registration under the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act, 2010 (FCRA) was first suspended on May 31, 2016, and its bank accounts frozen. The FCRA license was not renewed on October 28, 2016, and was cancelled on November 27, 2016. Lawyers Collective petitioned the High Court of Bombay to challenge the FCRA cancellation and non-renewal in January 2017 and March 2017, respectively. In January 2017, its domestic accounts were unfrozen. Lawyers Collective’s challenge to the FCRA cancellation and non-renewal are currently pending before the High Court.

    Filing of criminal charges while the matter is under consideration by the High Court is a blatant misuse of its agencies by the Indian Government to target critical human rights work undertaken by Lawyers Collective and its representatives, often involving sensitive cases against Indian ministers and senior officials of the ruling political party.

    On May 15, 2019, the MHA wrote to CBI for ‘further investigation as per law’ into the matter relating to Lawyers Collective. On June 13, 2019, the CBI solely relying on the impugned MHA report registered a First Information Report under the Indian Penal Code (IPC) relating to charges of criminal conspiracy, criminal breach of trust, cheating, false statement made in declaration and various sections under the FCRA and Prevention of Corruption (PC) Act 1988. Given that there has been no change in circumstances since 2016 and also no material or evidential basis to support the provisions invoked under the IPC and PC Act, the filing of criminal charges is a blatant act of reprisal against Lawyers Collective and its representatives.

    Such actions by the Indian Government are contrary to its pledge at the UN Human Rights Council and its obligations and commitments under several international human rights treaties and declarations. The FCRA has been time and again criticised by human rights defenders and NGOs within and outside India for its regressive and unfair interference in the functioning of organisations. Indian human rights defenders have condemned the use of FCRA and the accusations of “foreign funding” to quash dissent and smear individuals and groups.

    In his analysis of the FCRA in 2016, former UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights to Freedom of Assembly and Association Maina Kiai concluded that certain provisions of FCRA were not in conformity with international human rights law and noted that “access to resources, including foreign funding, is a fundamental part of the right to freedom of association under international law, standards, and principles, and more particularly part of forming an association”.In June 2016 Kiai joined the UN Special Rapporteurs on Freedom of Expression and on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders calling on the Government of India to repeal the regressive FCRA, which was being used to “silence organisations involved in advocating civil, political, economic, social, environmental or cultural priorities, which may differ from those backed by the Government.[1],”

    We strongly call upon the Indian Government to cease misusing the country’s laws, including the FCRA, against human rights defenders. In the specific case of Lawyers Collective, we urge the criminal charges be immediately withdrawn pending the decision of the High Court of Bombay. We appeal to the National Human Rights Commission of India to take cognizance of this matter and take immediate actions under the Protection of Human Rights Act 1993 (PHRA) and to undertake a legal review of the FCRA under Section 12 (d) of the PHRA.

    We further call upon the Indian Government to put an end to all acts of harassment, including at the judicial level, against Lawyers Collective and Mr Anand Grover, as well as against all human rights defenders in India and ensure that they are able to carry out their activities without hindrance.

    Signatory organizations:

    Amnesty International

    CIVICUS

    Forum Asia

    Front Line Defenders

    Human Rights Defenders Alert

    Human Rights Watch

    International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), in the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders

    International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)

    South Asians for Human Rights (SAHR)

    World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), in the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders

     

    [1]https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=20112&LangID=E

     

  • Joint statement: the European Union must address reprisals against human rights defenders in India

    The joint European Union (EU)-India press release, which provides a summary of the topics discussed during the 10th EU-India human rights dialogue which took place on 15 July 2022 in New Delhi, fails to adequately address pressing issues of security and reprisals faced by human rights defenders in India, five human rights organisations said today. The organisations expressed their disappointment in the EU’s apparent failure to raise concern about the systematic attacks on civil society actors in India.

    While both parties reiterated their commitment to the promotion and protection of human rights in the joint EU-India press release, there was no mention of any concrete action to be taken to ensure the ending of reprisals and persecution against human rights defenders, the release of jailed defenders and to prevent the adoption and abuse of restrictive laws, including anti-terror laws.

    The joint EU-India press release from the dialogue makes specific mention to “the importance of safeguarding the freedom, independence and diversity of civil society actors, including human rights defenders and journalists, and respecting freedom of association and peaceful assembly”. While this is an important acknowledgment, it must be backed by corresponding action to end persecution and immediately release jailed human rights defenders.

    Indian rights defenders need immediate support and an end to systematic attacks, threats and arbitrary arrests. Of the 16 defenders arrested in relation to the Bhima Koregaon case, 13 remain in jail. On 5 July 2021, 84-year-old Stan Swamy died in custody due to the lack of medical treatment. There has been no public acknowledgment of the State’s complicity in his incarceration and death. Six defenders out of these arrested for participating in the peaceful campaign against the Citizenship Amendment Act remain in jail. In November 2021, Kashmiri human rights defender Khurram Parvez was arrested and remains incarcerated on spurious charges. In June 2022, Teesta Setalvad was jailed as a direct reprisal for her campaign for accountability and justice for victims of the 2002 Gujarat riot. Many other defenders, including indigenous women seeking justice, are jailed and labelled as terrorists due to their human rights work. The joint EU-India press release fails to address any of these cases, or to acknowledge the general worsening of the human rights situation in India.

    The targeting of defenders is well-known, and has a direct impact on their safety, their families, and the communities they represent. Vague commitments on human rights and safeguarding freedoms and defenders no longer suffice. The scale of the violence and punishment for peaceful defense of human rights in India requires a proportionate and public response and a demand for accountability for continued violations. In the face of the blatant disregard for national standards and international commitments, particularly important in light of India’s global presence and membership to the United Nations Human Rights Council, the EU must take a public stand on patterns of reprisals and individual cases.

    The joint EU-India press release also recognizes “the importance of strengthening national and international human rights mechanisms for the protection and promotion of human rights and the important role of national human rights institutions, civil society actors and journalists”. However, it falls short of addressing laws in India that are routinely used to target human rights defenders and the failure of the National Human Rights Commission of India to proactively intervene in cases where defenders are targeted. The use of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) and the Foreign Contributions Regulation Act (FCRA) and their impact on the human rights defenders’ ability to work safely requires more direct and public attention. The FCRA has been used to block much needed funds, freeze bank accounts, and subject NGOs to investigations, creating a chilling effect for civil society.

    We acknowledge the EU-India human rights dialogue as an opportunity for both parties to speak on important issues of human rights. However, recognition of the work of human rights defenders and of marginalized communities in the country will be visible based on tangible outcomes, including public statements that reflect clear human rights benchmarks. Failure to do so is a missed opportunity and may serve to further embolden India to violate human rights with impunity.

    We call on the EU and member states to ensure that there is strong follow up to the dialogue and a commitment to hold India accountable for its treatment of human rights defenders in the country. The targeting of defenders through the use of national institutions, including arbitrary arrests and judicial harassment, must be strongly condemned and individual cases should be publicly raised. The EU must also support human rights defenders by observing trials and undertaking visits to defenders in prisons. Effective protection for human rights defenders requires adhering to concrete human rights standards and taking action beyond the annual human rights dialogue between parties.

    Signed

    • Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)
    • CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
    • Front Line Defenders
    • World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
    • International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), in the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders

    Civic space in India is rated as repressed by the CIVICUS Monitor. 

     

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

    CIVICUS makes UN Universal Periodic Review (UPR) submissions on civil society space in Algeria, Brazil, Ecuador, India, Indonesia, Philippines, Poland, South Africa, Tunisia, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

    The United Nations Human Rights Council's Universal Periodic Review is a unique process which involves a review of the human rights records of all 193 UN Member States once every 4.5 years.


    CIVICUS and its partners have submitted UN Universal Periodic Review (UPR) submissions on ten countries in advance of the 41st UPR session in October-November 2022, which marks the beginning of the 4th UPR cycle. 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 3rd UPR cycle over 4 years ago and provide a number of targeted follow-up recommendations. 

    Algeria -The submission by CIVICUS, Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, ARTICLE 19, Front Line Defenders, FIDH, MENA Rights Group, the Algerian League for the Defence of Human Rights (LADDH), SHOAA, and Alter’Solidaire highlights our concerns around the use of violence and restrictive legislation limiting freedom of expression and targeting protesters.  It also documents the arrests of journalists, the targeting of civil society organisations and the attacks on human rights under the pretext of countering terrorism. 

    Brazil -CIVICUS and Instituto Igarapé examine the deterioration of civic space in Brazil, highlighting legal and extra-legal measures that have restricted freedom of expression and the participation of civil society in policymaking. The submission shows that violence against human rights defenders and journalists is widespread and continues to take place with impunity as the environment for civil society worsens.

    Ecuador -CIVICUS and Fundación Ciudadanía y Desarrollo (FCD) assess the important reforms removing legal restrictions on the freedoms of association and expression in Ecuador, while also highlighting the lack of institutional mechanisms to protect and promote an enabling environment for civil society, HRDs and journalists. We discuss the recurrent judicial harassment, criminalisation and violence of these actors and the repeated repression of protests. 

    India -This submission by CIVICUS and Human Rights Defenders Alert – India (HRDA) highlights the continued use of the draconian Foreign Contributions Regulation Act (FCRA) by the authorities to target CSOs, block foreign funding and investigate organisations that are critical of the government. It also documents the continued judicial harassment of human rights defenders and journalists and the use of repressive security laws to keep them detained as well as restrictions on and excessive use of force against protesters.

    Indonesia -In this UPR submission, CIVICUS, The Institute for Policy Research and Advocacy (ELSAM), and YAPPIKA-ActionAid highlight, among other issues, the implementation of legal restrictions concerning civic space and fundamental freedoms, increased scrutiny and excessive use of force by authorities to control both offline and online civic space and the heightened repression against marginalised groups including people from and who work on the issue of Papua/West Papua.

    The Philippines - In this joint submission, CIVICUS and Karapatan detail systematic intimidation, attacks and vilification of civil society and activists, an increased crackdown on media freedoms and the emerging prevalence of a pervasive culture of impunity in the Philippines over the last five years. Often, crackdowns have taken place under the guise of anti-terrorism or national security interests. We further note that a joint programme on human rights between the Philippines and the UN established in July 2021 has not, to date, resulted in any tangible human rights improvement.

    Poland -CIVICUS and the Committee for the Defence of Democracy – Komitet Obrony Demokracji (KOD) highlight our concerns of the dismantling of judicial independence and the rule of law by the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) Party, which has been used as a tool to violate civic freedoms. In this joint submission we examine cases of women HRDs (WHRDs) advocating for reproductive justice and LGBTQI+ defenders who are facing judicial harassment and intimidation. In addition, we access the state of freedom of expression, with repeated attempts to diminish media independence through restrictive legislation, government allies acquiring ownership of major media outlets and the filing of Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPPs) against independent media.

    South Africa -In this joint submission, CIVICUS, Human Rights Institute of South Africa (HURISA) and the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation (CSVR) highlight threats, intimidation and attacks against human rights defenders (HRD), in particular women HRDs (WHRDs) and those defending land and environmental rights, housing rights and whistleblowers. Furthermore, the submission addresses concerns on the continued use of force by security forces in response to protests and legal restrictions which undermine the freedom of expression and opinion.

    TunisiaIn this submission, CIVICUS and the Arab NGO Network for Development (ANND) highlight the increased deterioration of civic space in Tunisia, particularly since July 2021, when President Kais Saied suspended the parliament. Activists and journalists have faced increased attacks, prosecution and arrests, while access to information has been limited and media outlets have faced restrictions. In addition, the submission examines the government’s attempts to introduce restrictive legislation that could unduly limit the right to association.

    The United Kingdom  CIVICUS highlights our concerns on the UK government’s repeated attempts to unduly restrict the right to the freedom of peaceful assembly. We examine how the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill (PCSCB), introduced in March 2021, seeks to unduly limit this right. We discuss cases in which protesters advocating for climate justice and racial justice have faced undue restrictions, including detentions and excessive force. We also highlight how several laws have been used to unduly limit press and media freedoms.


    Civic space in the United Kingdom is rated as Narrowedby the CIVICUS Monitor. In Brazil, Ecuador, Indonesia, Poland, South Africa, Tunisia it is rated as Obstructed,whereas in Algeria, India, Philippines civic space is rated as Repressed

     

  • Narendra Modi Has Five Years to Change His Track Record on Democratic Values

    By Mandeep Tiwana, Chief Programmes Officer at CIVICUS

    Recent raids by the Central Bureau of Investigation on the homes and offices of human rights lawyers Anand Grover and Indira Jaising are deeply worrying. Together with their organisation, Lawyer’s Collective formed in 1981, Grover and Jaising have frequently used India’s courts to seek justice for victims of major rights violations such as the Union Carbide Bhopal gas leak, 1984 Delhi riots and 2002 Gujarat riots. Lawyer’s Collective has also played a key role in the passing of legislation to address violence against women and sexual harassment at the workplace.

    This is not the first time that outspoken rights advocates and their organisations have been targeted in India. Nonetheless, for the country’s premier investigation agency to go after Lawyer’s Collective for alleged violations of the discretion riddled Foreign Contributions  Regulation Act (FCRA) which has been discredited by UN experts, might be a step too far in a country that claims to be the world’s largest democracy.

    Read on: The Wire 

     

  • Now is the time for greater transparency and broader participation

    Statement at the 50th Session of the UN Human Rights Council

    Interactive Dialogue onthe High Commissioner’s Annual Report

    Delivered byLisa Majumdar

    We thank the High Commissioner for her report, and for her work during her term.

    We fully agree that these are times for greater – not less - transparency and broader space for civic engagement and participation. Too many States are falling short in these respects.

    We see this in China, where civic space is closed and space for dissent is all but non-existent. Activists have been detained and indicted for speaking up, and thousands have been detained in legalised form of enforced disappearance.

    In Russia, a systematic dismantling of dissent has created an internal environment in which aggression can thrive. It has become all too clear that repression does not engender security, but rather its opposite.

    In these situations, it is even more important that the international human rights institutions, including this Council and your office, steps up in support. No country can be above effective scrutiny, regardless of the geopolitical power they wield.

    We stress again that civil society restrictions can and should be seen as early warnings for further deterioration in human rights protections. We look particularly at India, where increasing restrictions threaten the ability of civil society to carry out its work and where authorities continue to suppress peaceful protests.

    With a focus this session on the rights that protect civic space, we call on States to speak out on country situations where patterns of restrictions are evident, and to use this session to take action on the most egregious of these.

    We ask the High Commissioner, as your term draws to a close – what action should be taken by the Council and its members in these cases of systematic repression of civil society?


    Civic space ratings from the CIVICUS Monitor

    OPEN NARROWED OBSTRUCTED  REPRESSED CLOSED

     

  • Opening up to Local Fundraising

    By Mr. Mange Ram Adhana, President of the Association For Promotion Sustainable Development, India, and CIVICUS member.

    APSD India1

    My colleague and I attended a 5 day Local Fundraising training organized by Change the Game Academy, Wilde Ganzen, and local partner SMILE Foundation, on June 4, 2018. The intention was to test the training as pioneers among the CIVICUS Community, to discuss ways to potentially open up these types of learning opportunities further to more CIVICUS members.

    This full time training included 20 sessions. It was a really enjoyable and new learning opportunity for all of us. The trainers were very good at conducting the sessions and the facilitators helped to keep the participants continuously energized, throughout the sessions.

    The inputs and new skills which we have gained will go a long way in our journey in the field of fundraising.

     

  • People power is China’s great untapped resource

    By Frances Eve, Network of Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) and Cathal Gilbert, World Alliance for Citizen Participation, CIVICUS

    From 3-5 September, the leaders of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa met at the ninth BRICS summit. The venue was Xiamen - a gleaming port city which symbolises China’s rise as the new economic and political force in the world. It is also a fitting venue to mark the continued emergence of BRICS as a bloc with some serious geopolitical heft.

    But what does BRICS mean for Chinese people and how can they have any say in these annual meetings, which bring together heads of state from 5 of the most prosperous and populous emerging economies?

    These are uncomfortable questions for a group of leaders who, thus far, have not sought any meaningful inputs from their citizens on the future direction of BRICS. They are particularly awkward questions for host, China, where civil society activists, human rights lawyers, and others who seek to have a say in tackling China’s 21st century problems are systematically repressed by a small elite determined to hold on to power.

    Regular monitoring of the space for civil society by the CIVICUS Monitor and the China Human Rights Briefing shows the freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression are systematically curtailed in China. These research tools show that civic space is ‘repressed’ in China, indicating that citizens are not able to safely and fully exercise their fundamental rights, namely to associate, peacefully assemble and express themselves. Based on these indicators, the state of civil society rights in China is the lowest amongst BRICS countries and in the bottom quarter for all UN member states.

    Since 2014, a series of restrictive new laws on national security, non-profit organisations and anti-terrorism have been passed, coinciding with a sustained escalation of detentions of dissidents. The latest of these is China’s new National Intelligence Law, which gives authorities “sweeping powers to monitor and investigate foreign and domestic individuals and institutions”. The Law on the Management of Overseas NGO Activities, which allows the police to control CSOs' funding sources, staffing and activities, came into force on the 1st of January this year.

    Aside from laws, China has relentlessly pursued its critics through mass arrests of lawyers and activists in 2015, the shutdown of websites promoting peaceful dialogue and deploying riot police to prevent a demonstration on poor air quality in Chengdu. The list goes on.

    The Chinese authorities’ distaste for free speech and human rights activism was perhaps best displayed following the death in July 2017 of China’s only Nobel Peace Prize Laureate  Liu Xiaobo. Rather than allow Xiaobo’s colleagues and friends to mourn, the authorities tightly controlled his burial at sea to prevent a commemoration, arrested activists after his funeral and orchestrated the subsequent disappearance of his widow, Liu Xia, whom they have held in arbitrary detention since 2010.

    None of these issues were discussed at the summit in Xiamen. The agenda was dominated by concerns of international security, especially as North Korea tested a hydrogen bomb on the first day of the summit, global trade and the rebalancing of the global financial systems.

    But if any of this is to be achieved, and particularly if BRICS is to realise its goal of “strong, sustainable, balanced and inclusive economic growth”, its leaders will have to start listening to their people. Fans of China’s spectacular economic growth may say that political reform  is not necessary but history shows us that silencing your citizens is always a strategy with a limited shelf life. Either education and prosperity will rise to levels where citizens demand a proper say, or exclusion and frustration will spill over onto the streets.

    China’s leaders are smart enough to know that even their industrial-scale repression is only partly successful. Indeed, China does allow for tens of thousands of protests to take place across the country every year. By adopting this pressure valve strategy, China allows citizens to let off steam while it simultaneously goes after the organisers or those who share information. This month’s sentencing of a citizen journalist to four years in prison for documenting labour protests is one such example of this tactic.

    Deep down, China’s leaders know that a state can never completely kill the spirit of activism and resistance. Nowadays, the rising influence of the internet, despite being  a tool of repression and rigidly controlled and monitored in China, continues to make the spread of ideas and calls to action easier.

    BRICS may seem a strange place for China to begin the journey towards a more open society. But within the BRICS framework, China can learn from South Africa, where one of the world’s most progressive constitutions is still largely intact, there is a pluralism in the media and protests take place on a daily basis. This dialogue about the merits of democracy could take place through a genuine South-South spirit of partnership, devoid of the often toxic dynamics of North-South dialogue.

    An empowered and engaged civil society doesn’t just mean there will be greater checks on power. It is also a means to create innovation, social cohesion and prosperity within society, share new ideas, challenge the status quo and explore the wealth of generosity and creativity in each individual.

    With almost 1.4 billion people, surely this is China’s greatest untapped resource?

    Frances Eve is a Hong Kong-based researcher with the Network of Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD), a coalition of Chinese and international NGOs dedicated to the promotion of human rights in China.

    Cathal Gilbert is a researcher at The World Alliance for Citizen Participation, CIVICUS

     

  • Priorités de plaidoyer à la 43ème session du Conseil des droits de l'homme des Nations Unies

    Le Conseil des droits de l'homme se réunira pendant quatre semaines, du 24 février au 20 mars, et un certain nombre de résolutions critiques sur les droits de l'homme seront débattues et présentées aux 47 membres du Conseil. CIVICUS conduira et présentera des témoignages sur une variété de questions thématiques et de pays. Vous trouverez un aperçu complet ci-dessous ou vous pouvez directement consulter notre programme d'événements.

     

    Situations spécifiques à certains pays

    Nicaragua (Notation de l’espace civique : Réprimé)

    Nos membres sur le terrain ont documenté de graves violations des droits humains, notamment des attaques contre les libertés fondamentales et contre les défenseurs des droits humains et les journalistes. Un rapport publié l'année dernière par le HCDH, mandaté par une résolution adoptée en 2019, a reflété cette situation et a recommandé un renforcement de la surveillance et de la communication de l'information par les Nations Unies. Étant donné le manque de volonté politique dans le pays pour coopérer avec les mécanismes régionaux et internationaux, et la situation préoccupante sur le terrain, CIVICUS appelle les États à soutenir une résolution sur le Nicaragua qui demande au moins un tel renforcement des activités de suivi.

    Sri Lanka (Notation de l’espace civique : Réprimé)

    C'est un moment critique pour le Sri Lanka, qui craint que la nouvelle administration, arrivée au pouvoir l'année dernière, ne revienne sur ses engagements en matière de droits humains et de responsabilités, mandatés par le Conseil. La résolution adoptée lors de la 30ème session du Conseil des droits de l'homme reste le seul processus en place qui pourrait garantir la justice pour les victimes de violations des droits humains. L'espace civique se referme à un rythme alarmant - depuis l'arrivée au pouvoir de la nouvelle administration, les membres de la société civile sur le terrain ont été menacés et intimidés, leurs dossiers ont été détruits, et des défenseurs des droits humains et des journalistes ont été attaqués. CIVICUS appelle les États à encourager la coopération entre le gouvernement du Sri Lanka et les mécanismes internationaux des droits de l'homme, et les membres du Conseil à réaffirmer leur engagement envers la résolution 40/1, qui met en place des engagements assortis de délais pour mettre en œuvre les mécanismes de responsabilisation de la résolution 30/1.

    Iran (Notation de l'espace public :Fermé)

    En 2019, l'Iran s'est livré à une série de protestations contre le manque de libertés politiques et démocratiques et la détérioration de la situation économique. Les manifestants ont été confrontés à une violente répression par des arrestations massives et une force meurtrière. Les développements géopolitiques actuels ont renforcé le régime et exacerbé l'insécurité interne. Cette session du Conseil des droits de l'homme discutera du renouvellement du mandat du rapporteur spécial sur l'Iran. CIVICUS soutient le renouvellement du mandat du Rapporteur spécial et encourage les États à faire part de leurs préoccupations quant à l'utilisation de la force meurtrière dans les manifestations.

    Inde (Notation de l’espace civique : Réprimé)

    Le dernier rapport de CIVICUS a dégradé la notation de l'Inde en matière d'espace civique. Une loi sur la citoyenneté controversée et discriminatoire a donné lieu à des manifestations de masse dans tout le pays, qui ont fait l'objet de violentes répressions, faisant de nombreux blessés et au moins 25 morts. Le Jammu-et-Cachemire reste soumis à une répression sévère, notamment par la fermeture prolongée d'Internet qui en est à son sixième mois. Internet a été partiellement rétabli en janvier, mais des restrictions subsistent, ce qui fait de cette fermeture la plus longue jamais enregistrée dans une démocratie. Les fermetures d'Internet sont également utilisées dans tout le pays afin d'entraver la liberté de réunion pacifique. CIVICUS encourage les États à faire part de leurs préoccupations concernant l'Inde et à demander une enquête sur la répression violente des manifestations pacifiques, ainsi qu'à abroger les dispositions discriminatoires de la loi sur la citoyenneté.

    Mandats thématiques

    Le Rapporteur spécial sur les défenseurs des droits de l'homme

    Le mandat du Rapporteur spécial sur les défenseurs des droits de l'homme sera renouvelé lors de cette session. Il s'agit d'un mandat crucial qui a un impact sur tous les domaines d'intervention de CIVICUS, et nous encourageons les États à co-parrainer la résolution à un stade précoce. Le Rapporteur spécial présentera son rapport annuel sur les défenseurs des droits de l'homme dans les situations de conflit et d'après-conflit, et rendra compte de ses visites en Colombie et en Mongolie. CIVICUS encourage les États à affirmer leur co-parrainage de la résolution dès le début de la session.

    Liberté d'expression

    Le mandat du Rapporteur spécial sur la liberté d'expression doit être renouvelé lors de cette session, à un moment où les coupures d'Internet sont de plus en plus utilisées comme une tactique pour limiter la liberté d'expression, l'accès à l'information et la liberté de réunion pacifique. Nous encourageons les États à co-parrainer le renouvellement de cet important mandat à un stade précoce.

    Liberté de religion et de croyance (FoRB)

    Le Rapporteur spécial sur la liberté de religion et de croyance présentera son rapport annuel, qui cette année se concentre sur l'intersection de la religion et de la croyance, du genre et des droits OSIG, et rendra compte des visites de pays au Sri Lanka et aux Pays-Bas. CIVICUS s'intéressera au Sri Lanka et à l'Inde, qui ont tous deux connu des évolutions en matière de liberté de culte.

    Prévention

    Le président-rapporteur de deux séminaires intersessionnels sur la contribution que le Conseil peut apporter à la prévention des violations des droits de l'homme présentera le rapport de ces séminaires.

    CIVICUS soulignera le lien entre l'espace civique et la prévention - le fait que les fermetures dans l'espace civique sont souvent des précurseurs de crises plus larges des droits humains, et qu'en intervenant au niveau de l'espace civique, le Conseil a un rôle à jouer pour assurer la prévention de ces violations des droits humains.

    CIVICUS et les événements des membres lors de la 43ème session du Conseil des droits de l'homme des Nations unies (les événements seront retransmis en direct sur lapage Facebook de CIVICUS):

    Le 27 février (11h00 UTC+1, salle VII), un événement parallèle discutera de la situation critique actuelle au Nicaragua, et de l'importance d'un mandat de surveillance renforcé.

    Le 2 mars (14:00 UTC+1, Salle VII), CIVICUS et ses partenaires organisent un événement sur la crise de l'espace constitutionnel et civique en Inde.

    5 mars (13:00 UTC+1, Salle VII),CIVICUS co-parraine un événement mené par ICNL et les partenaires du consortium Civic Space Initiative sur la lutte contre le financement du terrorisme tout en préservant l'espace civique.

    Le 12 mars (12h30 UTC+1, Salle XXI), CIVICUS co-parraine un événement parallèle sur l'utilisation de la force meurtrière dans les manifestations en Iran et en Irak, et les réponses de la communauté internationale.

    Membres actuels du Conseil :

    Afghanistan; Afrique du Sud; Angola; Arabie Saoudite; Argentine; Australie; Autriche; Bahamas; Bahreïn; Bangladesh; Brésil; Bulgarie; Burkina Faso; Cameroun; Chili; Chine; Croatie; Cuba; Danemark; Égypte; Érythrée; Espagne; Fidji; Hongrie; Inde; Irak; Islande; Italie; Japon; Mexique; Népal; Nigeria; Pakistan; Pérou; Philippines; Qatar; République démocratique du Congo; République tchèque; Royaume-Uni et Irlande du Nord; Rwanda; Sénégal; Slovaquie; Somalie; Togo; Tunisie;  Ukraine; Uruguay.

     

  • 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.

    ENDORSEMENTS

    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)
    IFEX
    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

    OPEN NARROWED OBSTRUCTED  REPRESSED CLOSED

     

     

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

    SudhaBharadwaj

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    ABOUT CIVICUS

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

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

    INTERVIEWS

    For interviews with CIVICUS please contact:

    and   Phone/Whatsapp: +6010-4376376 

     

  • Squeezing civil society hurts India’s economy and democracy

    By Mandeep Tiwana

    India played a key moral role in international affairs during the anti-colonial struggles and as a founding member of the Non-Aligned Movement during the cold war. What happened then?

    Read on: Open Democracy