• Strict legal restrictions on foreign funding hit India’s NGOs

    CIVICUS interviews Mathew Jacob on the restrictions on freedom of association and attacks on civil society in India including laws on foreign funding. Jacob is the National Coordinator of Human Rights Defenders Alert – India (HRDA). HRDA is a national platform of human rights defenders for human rights defenders. Mathew is also a PhD scholar at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai. 


  • The Council must address arbitrary detention of human rights defenders

    Statement at the 48th Session of the UN Human Rights Council

    Delivered by Lisa Majumdar

    Thank you, Madame President.

    No one should be arbitrarily detained simply for peacefully protecting equality, freedom and justice for all. But worldwide, people are in prison for standing up for their rights and for the rights of their communities.

    Teresita Naul is a human rights defender who dedicated her life to protecting the poorest and the most marginalised. She is detained in the Philippines under spurious charges. Teresita’s case is illustrative of how the Philippines has repeatedly criminalised the work of human rights defenders.

    Sudha Bharadwaj is a human rights lawyer, and one of many human rights defenders charged and detained in India under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act. This is a clear example of a case in which the use of vague and overly broad national security and anti-terrorism provisions has given authorities wide discretion to criminalise peaceful activities, a tactic highlighted by the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.

    María Esperanza Sánchez García is human rights defender detained in Nicaragua, where false charges have been used as a strategy to criminalise activists and defenders to deny them status of political prisoner, and arbitrary detention used as a tactic to dismantle the political opposition.

    Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, Co-Founder of the Gulf Centre for Human Rights, has spent a decade arbitrarily detained in Bahrain. This year he turned 60 in prison, separated from family and friends.

    Human rights defenders are critical to the functioning of the Council’s mandate. We call on the Council to ensure that States who routinely practice arbitrary detention of human rights defenders are held to account and to ensure that human rights defenders are protected and can continue their vital work.

    We thank you.

    Civic space in the Philippines, India and Nicaragua is repressed and closed in Bahrain as rated by the CIVICUS Monitor


  • UN resolution needed to protect peaceful protests during the pandemic and beyond

    Joint statement at the 44th Session of the UN Human Rights Council

    Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on freedom of association and peaceful assembly

    Madame President, Special Rapporteur,

    We thank the Special Rapporteur for his report, and for the work the mandate has done to protect freedom of assembly and association worldwide. These fundamental rights underpin the very existence of civil society.

    The report highlights that there have been multiple examples of civil society and social movements across the world galvanizing positive change, defending hard-won democratic values and developing innovative practices to address issues of injustice. People coming together to speak out have won better working conditions, furthered equality, ended forms of oppression.

    The benefits of a vibrant civil society, and of human rights defenders who are free to do their work, are tangible. In the past months, we have seen that society is central to crisis response and will continue to be central in building back better. There are so many gains still to come.

    States who suppress individuals and groups simply for speaking out willfully deny such enrichment.

    In Hong Kong, a sweeping security law imposed by China last week risks destroying its free and open civil society. Protesters have already been criminalized by the law. In India, suppression of peaceful protests against a discriminatory citizenship and arrests of human rights defenders who took part in these meetings represent efforts to silence voices against inequality and injustice. In the USA, Black lives Matter protests against systemic racism and police brutality have been met with state-sanctioned violence, including the deliberate targeting of journalists. In Egypt a systematic crack-down on civil society, human rights defenders and independent journalists has accelerated in the last several months.

    The current pandemic has accelerated and exacerbated existing challenges and there are numerous cases of States weaponizing the COVID-19 pandemic against civil society, from Hungary to Algeria to the Philippines.

    The rights to freedom of association and peaceful assembly are simply the right to organize and mobilise for a fairer, more just world. This session, the Council members have the opportunity to better protect these rights. We urge all States to support the resolution on peaceful protests, and to commit to ensuring space and voice for those who come together to speak out.

    Thank you.

    CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
    International Service for Human Rights
    East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project
    Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative
    The African Center for Democracy and Human Rights Studies
    Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies

    Current council members:

    Afghanistan, Angola, Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Bahamas, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chile, Czech Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Denmark, Eritrea, Fiji, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, 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




  • United Nations adopts resolution on human rights on the internet

    CIVCUS welcomes the adoption by the Human Rights Council of a new resolution on human rights on the internet, particularly the resolution’s focus on internet shutdowns.

    The shutdown of internet access or access to social media has become a widespread tactic used by the authorities to quell protests or forms of online dissent. In the last year, the CIVICUS Monitor documented such tactics used in BangladeshChad, Ethiopia, India, Myanmar and Palestine, among other countries. The shutdowns significantly disrupt people’s ability to seek, receive or impart information online; in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, this has prevented people from obtaining essential information and services during the crisis. Such restrictions on access to the internet cannot be justified on public order or national security grounds.

    The adopted resolution strongly condemns the use of internet shutdowns to intentionally and arbitrarily prevent or disrupt access to or dissemination of information online. It further mandates the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to study the trend in internet shutdowns and present findings to the Council next year.

    Over the last year, as participation has moved online, new tactics of online restriction have subsequently developed. We welcome that the resolution calls upon all States to refrain from and to cease online censorship. Given the increasing use by repressive governments of online attacks against human rights defenders and activists, and online surveillance, we call on States to ensure that measures offline or online for the protection of national security, public order and public health are in full compliance with international law obligations and respect the principles of lawfulness, legitimacy, necessity and proportionality.

    Given that the digital divide has proven one of the biggest challenges facing civil society participation over the past year, it is particularly relevant that the resolution calls upon all States to accelerate efforts to bridge digital divides while applying a human rights-based approach.


  • Unprecedented use of excessive force against peaceful protests

    Statement at the 43rd Session of the UN Human Rights Council

    The meaningful participation of people in governance is essential for securing human rights, social stability and peace. We share your alarm at the deterioration of civic space and we call on members and observers of the Human Rights Council, over the coming weeks, to listen to the voices of those who are the most affected by the decisions made in this room. 

    We have witnessed popular action increase across the globe as people take to the streets to demand justice, equity and democratic rights. We are alarmed by the unprecedented use of excessive force and arbitrary detention to silence the legitimate exercise of the right to freedom of assembly. In 2019, the CIVICUS Monitor found that one of the most commonly logged violations of civil society rights was against the right to peaceful assembly.

    High Commissioner, we share your serious concerns on India, particularly the discriminatory citizenship law and the violent repression of protests with impunity. In Iran, hundreds of people were killed when security forces unleashed lethal force against unarmed protesters in cities across the country. In Iraq, para-military forces fired live ammunition during protests throughout the country in 2019, killing and injuring hundreds of peaceful demonstrators.

    Finally, High Commissioner, heard throughout the high-level segment commitments made by states to strengthen the Council’s prevention mandate. We have seen time and time again that unwarranted restrictions on civic space, including crackdowns on peaceful protest and attacks against human rights defenders, enable wider human rights violations. The actualization of an early warning system, which takes restrictions of fundamental freedoms into account, would send a clear signal that the Council stands ready to protect, promote and fulfil the right to protect around the world.

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


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