• Five reasons why the elections in Nicaragua do not guarantee human rights

    On 7 November 2021, general elections will be held in Nicaragua in the context of a deterioration of the human rights crisis that began with the repression of protests in April 2018. The undersigned organizations are deeply concerned about the continuing grave human rights violations and their recent escalation. The following sets out five reasons which explain why the coming general election will take place in a context of severe restrictions on civil and political liberties. 

    As President Daniel Ortega seeks a fourth consecutive term, government repression of critics and the political opposition has intensified. This increasingly alarming deterioration includes violations of personal freedom and safety, freedom of expression and association, freedom of the press, as well as other restrictions on the exercise of civil and political rights. These human rights violations have affected various groups in situations of vulnerability, including women, who, as reports have stated, experience differentiated impacts.

    Since the end of May, the Nicaraguan government has detained 39 people it views as government opponents, including seven presidential candidates. Some of these detainees were victims of enforced disappearance for weeks or months. These abuses mark the beginning of a new stage in the campaign of repression and criminalization of dissident voices, journalists and human rights defenders, facilitated by a lack of judicial independence and the executive’s control of the National Assembly, which has enacted laws that violate fundamental rights of freedom of expression, assembly and association, and the right to vote and run for public office in free and fair elections.

    It is clear that, at this time, the conditions do not exist in Nicaragua for holding elections that guarantee the exercise of rights and, therefore, we call on the international community, multilateral organizations and international human rights organizations to strengthen their efforts to put an end to the human rights crisis.



    Since 28 May 2021, the government of Daniel Ortega has detained 39 people perceived as government opponents, including presidential candidates, public political figures, student leaders, activists, campesino representatives, defence lawyers and journalists. Some were subjected to enforced disappearance for weeks or months before the authorities provided information on their whereabouts. Many have been subjected to continuous interrogation in abusive conditions of detention, including prolonged isolation and insufficient food, which may constitute torture and/or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment under international law. The recent arrests are in addition to the more than 100 people perceived as critics who have remained arbitrarily detained for a prolonged period in the context of the human rights crisis in the country. 

    The Nicaraguan state mustend the practice of arbitrary detention and enforced disappearance and immediately and unconditionally release all those unjustly detained for exercising their rights. This is essential in order to restore the full enjoyment of all their rights, including the rights to vote and to run for and hold public office in general conditions of equality.



    The authorities continue to use the criminal justice system, taking advantage of the lack of judicial independence, to subject people perceived as opponents to arbitrary proceedings and imprisonment. Frequently, violations of due process and fair trial guarantees include violations of the presumption of innocence, the requirement to present a court order at the time of arrest, the right to be tried before an independent and impartial judge, the right to access detailed information about the charges against them, the right to legal defence and to free and confidential communication with a lawyer of their choice. The Nicaraguan judiciary’s lack of independence also means that those who are the targets of threats do not have access to any impartial authority to which they can turn to make a complaint or request protection.

    The authorities have also failed to comply with the recommendations of international human rights mechanisms, thereby obstructing the exercise of fundamental rights. 

    The Nicaraguan state mustensure that people have access to justice, truth and reparation for crimes under international law and other serious human rights violations (such as enforced disappearance, torture and arbitrary detention) committed before and during the election context.



    The authorities persecute human rights defenders, independent journalists and dissidents or perceived opponents solely for exercising their right to freedom of expression. As part of this repressive strategy, in October 2020 the National Assembly adopted theLaw to Regulate Foreign Agents and theSpecial Law on Cybercrime, which severely restrict freedom of expression and association. 

    Between July and August 2021, the authorities ordered the closure of 45 non-governmental organizations, including women’s associations, international humanitarian organizations and several medical associations. Another 10 organizations have been closed down since 2018.

    In addition, the government continues to support a series of attacks and undue restrictions on the independent media and communications workers, as well as organizations that defend press freedom; these include administrative and criminal investigations, the detention of journalists and raids on media offices and the seizure of their assets. In this worrying context, not only are the rights of the professionals and the media under attack violated, but the public’s access to information, key for the proper exercise of political rights, is restricted.  

    The Nicaraguan state must protect and respect the right to freedom of expression, including freedom of the press, which is essential for access to information and pluralistic debate in the context of an election. In addition, it must stop the harassment, stigmatization and criminalization of human rights defenders, journalists and dissidents or perceived opponents, solely for expressing their criticism of state policies.



    The government has tried to eliminate and discourage electoral competition through the arbitrary detention and prosecution of opponents and presidential candidates, resulting in the withdrawal of their political rights. In turn, it has revoked the legal status of the main opposition parties, preventing them from participating in the elections. 

    In December 2020, the National Assembly approved theLaw for the Defence of the Rights of the People to Independence, Sovereignty and Self-determination for Peace, which has been used to open criminal investigations against many of those detained since late May. This law includes broad and vaguely worded provisions that restrict the right to run for public office. 

    Local organizations have already indicated that, in these conditions, the electoral process does not guarantee the full exercise of political rights.

    The Nicaraguan people have a right to exercise their right to vote freely, without intimidation, and the right to run for and hold public office in general conditions of equality. For thefull and effective exercise of these rights, it is essential that freedom of expression, assembly and association be guaranteed.

    The Nicaraguan state must guarantee the conditions necessary for the population to satisfactorily exercise its right to participate in the conduct of public affairs.



    In response to the 2018 protests, state officials used excessive, disproportionate and often unnecessary force against demonstrators demanding their rights. According to a group of independent experts appointed by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), the police and pro-government armed groups, with the support of the Nicaraguan government, committed widespread abuses, including extrajudicial executions, against protesters who, in the vast majority of cases, were unarmed. Impunity has been the norm for serious abuses during the 2018 protests. 

    Despite international scrutiny, the response to those demonstrating and promoting respect for human rights has continued to be one of repression. 

    The recent upsurge in the repression and harassment of dissident voices allows the conclusion that the state will not guarantee the right to peaceful assembly if new demonstrations are held in the context of the elections.

    The Nicaraguan state must guarantee freedom of peaceful assembly before, during and after the election process.


    Amnesty International

    Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL)


    Human Rights Watch

    International Institute on Race, Equality and Human Rights

    Washington Office on Latin America 

    World Organisation Against Torture

    People in Need

    International Network of Human Rights

    Women’s Link Worldwide


  • HONDURAS: ‘The ruling of the Inter-American Court marks a before and after for LGBTQI+ people’

    CIVICUS speaks with Indyra Mendoza, founder and general coordinator of Red Lésbica Cattrachas (Cattrachas Lesbian Network), a lesbian feminist organisation dedicated to defending the human rights of LGBTQI+ people in Honduras. In March 2021 the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR)made a ruling in the case of Vicky Hernández. Vicky, a trans woman, and human rights defender, was murdered between the night of 28 June and the early morning of 29 June 2009, in the city of San Pedro Sula, Honduras, while a curfew was in force following a coup. Her killing came in a context of enormous discrimination and violence, including by the security forces, against LGBTQI+ people.

    Indyra Mendoza

    What was the process that resulted in the IACtHR ruling? What was the role of Cattrachas?

    Cattrachas Lesbian Network’s Violence Observatory recorded Vicky’s case and immediately identified it as a potential strategic litigation case, as it was one of the first murders of an LGBTQI+ person following the coup d’état.

    Even before the coup, Cattrachas had identified a pattern of non-lethal violence against transgender women by police officers. And while we had already recorded 20 violent deaths of LGBTQI+ people between 1998 and 2008, the killings of transgender women increased after the 2009 coup. The Observatory recorded a total of 15 violent deaths of transgender women, most of which occurred during curfews or states of exception decreed illegally by the government, when state security forces were in absolute control of the streets.

    In Vicky’s case, Cattrachas learned that no autopsy had been performed, so we contacted her family and found out that very few investigative steps had been taken. On 23 December 2012, Cattrachas filed the initial petition for Vicky’s murder with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, a USA-based human rights organisation, later joined in. The Commission issued its merits report, which established that human rights violations had taken place, on 7 December 2018 and sent the case to the IACtHR on 30 April 2019. The public hearing was held on 11 and 12 November 2020. 

    Finally, on 26 March 2021, the IACtHR issued a ruling declaring the State of Honduras responsible for the violation of Vicky’s rights to life, personal integrity, equality and non-discrimination, recognition of legal personality, personal liberty, privacy, freedom of expression and name. It also ruled that the State of Honduras failed to comply with the obligation established in article 7.a of the Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment, and Eradication of Violence against Women, also known as the Convention of Belém Do Pará. Additionally, the IACtHR established that Vicky’s death was not investigated with due diligence, and therefore condemned Honduras for the violation of due process, judicial protection and the obligation established in article 7.b of the Convention. Finally, the Court declared that the right to personal integrity of Vicky’s relatives had also been violated. The ruling was notified on 28 June 2021, 12 years after the coup d’état and the transfemicide of Vicky Hernández.

    The resolution of this case was exceptional. What was the reason for this exception?

    Its resolution was exceptional because of the multiple intersectionalities of violence present in Vicky’s life. Vicky was a young Honduran transgender woman and human rights defender, a sex worker living with HIV, with limited economic resources, and at some point in her life, precarious employment had forced her to emigrate. Vicky’s is the first case of lethal violence against an LGBTQI+ person that occurred at the intersection of two relevant contexts: the 2009 coup d’état and the context of structural violence that LGBTQI+ people, and particularly transgender women, face in Honduras.

    The case allowed the Court to reiterate standards on the right to gender identity, equality, and non-discrimination, and to insist that, in contexts of historical violence, subordination, and discrimination, in this case against transgender people, international commitments impose a reinforced responsibility on the state. Furthermore, through an evolutionary interpretation, the Court established that transgender women are women, and are therefore protected by the Convention of Belém Do Pará.

    What is the significance of this ruling for LGBTQI+ people in Honduras?

    The ruling in Vicky’s case marks a before and after, as it establishes guarantees of non-repetition that must be turned into public policy in favour of LGBTQI+ people.

    The measures set by the ruling include the establishment of an educational scholarship for transgender persons, which will bear the name of Vicky Hernández, the implementation of education, awareness-raising and training plan for the Honduran security forces, the adoption of protocols for the diagnosis, data collection, monitoring and investigation of cases of violence against LGBTQI+ people, and the adoption of a procedure to recognise gender identity in identity papers and public records. This procedure should be guided by the standards of Advisory Opinion 24/17, which implies that it should not require any law, should be expeditious, should not require pathologising tests, should not require a historical record of changes, and should be, as far as possible, free of charge.

    More than a decade after the murder of Vicky Hernández, what is the situation of LGBTQI+ people in Honduras?

    LGBTQI+ people in Honduras face constitutional and legal limitations based on sexual orientation, gender expression and gender identity that prohibit us from accessing equal marriage as well as the recognition of marriage celebrated abroad, de facto union, adoption, intimate visits in prisons, change of name based on gender identity and blood donation. Specifically, in relation to changing names, the IACtHR ruling in Vicky’s case mandates the state to establish an adequate and effective procedure to recognise the identity of transgender people.

    Honduras is the country with the highest rate of violent deaths of LGBTQI+ people in Latin America and the Caribbean. Since the transfemicide of Vicky, to date 388 LGBTQI+ people have been murdered in Honduras and one person is missing; 221 of those people are gay, 112 are transgender and 46 are lesbian. Only 83 cases have been prosecuted, resulting in 11 acquittals and 34 convictions, which reflects a 91 percent impunity rate.

    In sum, LGBTQI+ people face not only major legal obstacles but also a very high level of lethal violence and lack of access to justice.

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

    Get in touch with Cattrachas through itswebsite orFacebook page, and follow@CATTRACHAS on Twitter. 


  • HONDURAS: ‘We must address the roots of the conflict: the handing over of natural resources’

    Edy TaboraCIVICUS speaks about the criminalisation of environmental, land and territorial defenders in Honduras with Edy Tábora, director of the law firm Justicia para los Pueblos (Justice for the Peoples) and coordinator of the group of defence lawyers of eight defenders of the Guapinol river who were recently released from detention.

    Why were the Guapinol defenders criminalised?

    The case of the eight Guapinol comrades deprived of their freedom is one of the most revealing expressions of the conflicts around mining and energy and the dispossession of land and natural resources in Honduras. Along with that of Berta Cáceres, the Guapinol case is one of the most significant ones.

    Berta’s case, which culminated in her assassination, was the first in a new wave of criminalisation surrounding dispossession projects following the 2009 military coup. Her case displayed all the typical elements: stigmatisation, surveillance, rupture of the social fabric, criminalisation. The same pattern can be seen in many parts of Honduras.

    After the coup, there was a privately conducted exploration of mineral deposits and businesspeople realised there was a lot of money to be made here. In the case of Guapinol, the process kicked off with the granting of an iron oxide mining concession – one of the largest in the country – to Los Pinares, a holding company registered in Panama, owned by an extremely wealthy Honduran family. Its mining business was developed jointly with the US company Nucor.

    Nucor claims to have withdrawn from the project in late 2019 due to the conflict triggered by the criminalisation of the Guapinol defenders, but there is no evidence of this and we do not believe it to be true. Los Pinares is simply the mining arm of a company whose power comes from airport concessions at home and abroad. It is a company with high-level political connections, and with so much power that in 2013 it succeeded in getting the National Congress to change the delimitation of the core zone of a national park.

    On 22 April 2013, the day before a new mining law came into force, applications were submitted for the two mining concessions related to the Guapinol case, both located in the core zone of the Montaña de Botaderos National Park. This had been declared a national park in 2012, as part of a ‘friendly settlement’ with the relatives of Carlos Escaleras, a social leader and environmental defender active in the 1980s and 1990s, who was assassinated for defending this mountain. The statute of the national park, which bears the name of Carlos Escaleras, prohibited the granting of mining concessions in its core zone and even its buffer zone.

    However, in 2014, engineers began to arrive on the mountain to collect information and check how deep down metal was deposited. People noticed this, began to demand an explanation and organised in the Municipal Committee of Public and Common Goods of Tocoa.

    In June 2016 they began to file complaints; some were filed by the Guapinol defenders who ended up in prison. They requested information from the institutions in charge of granting mining permits but only obtained some information in November 2019, after three years of back and forth. Tired of not getting answers, in June 2018 people started protesting at the Municipality of Tocoa Colón. It was then that systematic surveillance by the national police and Los Pinares security began.

    In August 2018, the Honduran Council of Private Enterprise held press conferences in which it complained to the government about an alleged loss of 20 billion dollars caused by ‘vandals’ protesting in various parts of Honduras.

    Criminalisation was a nationwide strategy, but the criminalisation of the Guapinol comrades was the most serious case. On 8 September 2018, the Public Prosecutor’s Office presented the first accusation against 18 comrades for the crimes of usurpation, damage and usurpation of public space. Los Pinares appeared in the hearings as the accuser. Fourteen comrades were put on trial and all their cases were closed, but the fact that they were accused enabled the illegal eviction, in October 2018, of the Camp for Water and Life, one of many set up around Honduras. This was one of four charges brought by the Public Prosecutor’s Office as part of the strategy to criminalise resistance movements against mining and energy projects.

    In January 2019, in response to a complaint filed by Los Pinares, the Public Prosecutor’s Office filed another indictment against 32 people, including eight Guapinol comrades. The nature of the charges changed: it was no longer about usurpation of public space but about organised crime. Human rights defenders were now treated as taking part in organised crime, with charges including criminal association, theft, damage, unjust deprivation of liberty and aggravated arson. The case was assigned to the Specialised Court for Organised Crime, which meant it was transferred from local to national jurisdiction, in violation of the right to be tried by one’s natural judge. 

    Of the 32, a first group voluntarily submitted to trial in February 2019 and was kept in prison for only 10 days before the accusations against them were dismissed. The Guapinol eight, however, despite having voluntarily submitted to trial, were subjected to arbitrary detention from 26 August 2019 until 24 February 2022, when they finally regained their freedom.

    What did civil society do to secure their release?

    During the pandemic, Guapinol was one of the most high-profile cases globally. Not even the pandemic could stop our comrades’ defence. We quickly moved our activities online, and by late April 2020 we were already filing habeas corpus writs for our comrades’ right to health, alongside international organisations. Even under these conditions, we managed to set up discussions with important organisations, and three months after the pandemic began, we restarted our advocacy work, which meant that by the time the trial started, the case had become very well known around the world.

    Initially the case was promoted by the Coalition Against Impunity, which brings together more than 50 Honduran civil society organisations (CSOs). Later, many CSOs joined a kind of international support group for the case.

    First, we publicly denounced the violence and criminalisation against the Municipal Committee. Second, before our comrades were imprisoned, we documented the irregular granting of concessions for natural resources. Third, alongside several Honduran CSOs, we organised our comrades’ legal defence. A working group was then organised including national and international CSOs to support the defence. A lot of advocacy work was done, both nationally and internationally, to convince the public that this was a very important case and to counter the company’s account of the violence allegedly committed by our comrades.

    Documentary and testimonial work was crucial to expose our comrades’ real activism. We had many meetings with international CSOs. Canadian, US and European organisations and academics reported on the concession and the legal process. International CSOs filed amicus curiae – friend of the court – briefs with Honduran courts. We participated in multiple forums with national and international organisations.

    Many actions converged to create a powerful wave of demands for our comrades’ release. CIVICUS’s and Amnesty International’s campaigns, for example, allowed us to reach wider audiences. When the trial came, the case was widely known, and less than 24 hours after the end of the trial, in which our comrades were convicted with two thirds of the court’s votes, the Supreme Court of Justice annulled the whole process and ordered them to be released.

    This was an unprecedented decision, surely motivated by the strength of the demand for their freedom and by the evidence presented, both in and out of court, which demonstrated that our comrades were innocent and that they fight for a just cause that is of great interest to humanity.

    Are there other cases like the Guapinol case in Honduras?

    There are many defenders criminalised for defending land, including some from the Garífuna people, a marginalised minority, but they are not in prison. Many comrades were also imprisoned for defending democracy in the aftermath of 2017’s electoral fraud: around 30 people were imprisoned in maximum security prisons, but they are currently free. Most pending cases are being closed as a result of an amnesty issued by the National Congress in February 2022.

    In that sense, the Guapinol case was an exception, because this amnesty did not apply to them. What’s important about this case is that we managed to close the process by defending ourselves even with the highly questionable tools offered by the Honduran judicial system.

    However, there were other cases at the same time as Guapinol, such as that of the Indigenous comrades of the Lenca people in the department of La Paz, who were accused of forced displacement. They were imprisoned for more than a year for a crime that is the craziest thing I have ever heard: they were accused of displacing landowners. The Public Prosecutor’s narrative uses the made-up concept of ‘reverse racism’, according to which Indigenous peoples can also commit discrimination against minorities within their communities – the minority in this case being the landowners.

    Do you view Guapinol as part of a pattern of criminalisation against environmental defenders?

    We have detected patterns of criminalisation by sector in the cases we have monitored. For example, between 2011 and 2016 one of the most criminalised sectors was the student movement mobilised in defence of public education. Some 350 students, mostly university students, were criminalised.

    In the case of environmental defenders, we were able to document several patterns of criminalisation. Again and again, prosecutions were initiated only a few days after pronouncements by companies or employers’ organisations. The behaviour of the police and the Public Prosecutor’s Office has also been similar in all cases, with an initial focus on eviction and accusations changing over time following the same pattern. The narrative peddled by companies is always the same as well, often because they share the same lawyers.

    Criminalisation follows different patterns depending on the interests affected. The crimes people are accused of when challenging mining interests differ from those used to dispossess communities of land for the construction of tourism megaprojects or the plantation of African palm in the Atlantic zone, and from those used against peasants claiming access to land and crops.

    However, all the groups criminalised over the past 15 years have something in common: their resistance to the project, promoted since the 2000s, of handing over natural resources to private companies. Land grabbing was politically supported the state following the coup: from that moment on, national regulations were made more flexible to facilitate dispossession and the national police and the security forces of the Public Prosecutor’s Office and the judiciary were placed at the service of the private sector, which used them to criminalise land rights defenders.

    Has there been any improvement in the situation of environmental defenders since the new government came to power in January 2022?

    The new government brought several positive changes. First, while we had already achieved the closure of several emblematic cases, it decreed an amnesty that resulted in the closure of most legal proceedings against defenders, although there are still some cases pending.

    Second, the new government has put an end to the state’s stigmatisation of land struggles, which used to make use of information obtained by state security forces. And third, for the time being the government has not tackled conflicts with violence. People who protest are not being repressed.

    In recent years state violence was deployed to manage social protest, private violence was reflected in the assassination of defenders, and hybrid violence was seen in the area of surveillance. Over the four years of the current government we may no longer witness violent management of social protests, but there is a chance that state violence will be replaced by private corporate violence.

    What are the challenges ahead?

    The challenge right now is to address the causes of criminalisation. We have worked to defend and support our comrades criminalised by the state and private companies, but we have never been able to address what’s at the root of the conflict: the handing over of natural resources. Preventing the criminalisation of defenders is a big step, but we must address the issue of concessions, which in fact continue. Approved projects are waiting to be implemented. If we don’t seize the moment to address this problem, then when the government’s political colour changes, private companies will come back stronger and criminalisation will intensify.

    Moreover, social movements are worn out after 12 years of resistance against the handing over of natural resources. There must be accountability, reparations for victims and guarantees of legal security for defenders to be able to do their work. The hostile legal framework for exercising rights and defending human rights that has been established in recent decades must be reversed.

    Civic space in Honduras is rated ‘repressed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.
    Learn more about the Guapinol case on itswebsite and follow@Edy_Tabora on Twitter.


  • INDONESIA: “Peaceful pro-independence activists may be labeled as terrorists”

    CIVICUS speaks to Samuel Awom, Coordinator of the human rights group KontraS Papua, which monitors human rights violations, advocates for victims and works for peace in Papua. KontraS Papua is based in Jayapura, Papua’s capital, and monitors human rights issues throughout the Papuan region.

    In Papua, located at the east end of the Indonesian archipelago, there have been gross human rights violations, including extrajudicial killings, torture and arbitrary arrest of activists by the Indonesian security forces under the pretext of suppressing separatism. Although Indonesia President Joko Widodo continues to promise to address the grievances of the Papuan people, they face ongoing discrimination, exploitation, and repression.

    Sam Awome

    What is the human rights situation in Papua?

    As shown by the monitoring undertaken by KontraS Papua and other civil society groups, the military and police perpetrate serious human rights violations in the Papuan region. Abductions, killings and other violations of the rights of activists and other civilians by the security forces have taken place since 1963, when Indonesia took over Papua from the Netherlands. This situation has persisted until today. No legal processes have been undertaken to investigate and resolve these incidents. This is a very serious problem in Papua.

    Recent events include the displacement of thousands of people from the Intan Jaya, Nduga, and Puncak areas, where there has been continued conflict between the military and pro-independence armed groups since December 2018.

    In 2019, the situation became extremely tense following incidents of racist speech against Papuan students by the authorities in Java island, which were challenged by mass protests and mobilisation across Papua. In response, there were mass arrests of protesters and activists, which in turn led to violent incidents, including riots and arson. Until today, the instigators and perpetrators of the violence remain unknown and there has been a failure to investigate this. No one has been brought to justice for the killing of students and young people at that time. Many Papuans are still traumatised by this.

    Following this, in December 2019 the armed conflict expanded in the Intan Jaya district, causing thousands of civilians to flee, and some were killed. 

    Most recently, on 25 April 2021, President Joko Widodo ordered the military commander and the chief of police to arrest all members of the West Papua National Liberation Army (TPN/OPM), an armed pro-independence group, after the head of the Regional State Intelligence Agency was shot dead. On 29 April, the Indonesian government officially categorised the TPN/OPM as a ‘terrorist' organisation. This was followed by the entry of large numbers of security forces into the Puncak district.

    What do you think will be the impact of the government labeling the TPN/OPM as a terrorist group? 

    This comes at a time when all the civil society organisations (CSOs) and peace networks are talking about reconciliation and peace. The end of conflict requires dialogue and negotiation between the central government and Papua. The labelling of the TPN/OPM armed group as terrorists is a regressive move by the Jokowi administration that will close the space for democracy and the protection of human rights.

    This has made the situation in Papua worse. We now see the deployment of thousands of troops to the region and public access to the internet being blocked. This will create a situation for increased human rights violations in Papua, as the anti-terrorism law will allow for arbitrary arrests and undermine the rule of law. The Anti-Terrorism Law grants police powers to hold suspects for up to 221 days without being brought to court – a blatant violation of the right of anyone arrested on a criminal charge to be brought promptly before a judge and be tried within a reasonable time or be released. The law also expands the use of military personnel in counterterrorism operations, which further increases the likelihood of the excessive use of force and other human rights violations.

    In my opinion, this decision was made because the Jokowi administration has been only listening to the view of top military officials and has failed to find a concrete solution to the Papua problem. Meanwhile, all the civil society groups and movements in Papua, as well as the regional parliaments in the provinces and the governor, are calling for dialogue.

    This decision now prevents CSOs from investigating when civilians are attacked in conflict areas because the military operations have brought along restrictions of movement.

    Why is the government carrying out this military operation, and what is its impact on civil society?

    The government's rationale for the operations is that it has accused the TPN/OPM of attacking civilians, including teachers, and burning schools and a plane. Further, the shooting of the head of the Papua Regional State Intelligence Agency in the Puncak district has worsened the situation. However, the shooting has yet to be fully investigated to determine what was behind the shooting, and the investigation needs to be undertaken by an independent team. There has been no further explanation about this so far.

    As a result of this shooting, the head of the Police Security Intelligence Agency, Commissioner General Paulus Waterpauw, stated that human rights activists and CSOs are undermining political stability and damaging democracy in Papua. This creates a risk for human rights defenders, and particularly for Papuan activists working on ending the conflict and who are involved in political discussions around independence, who will be categorised as allied with terrorists, stigmatised, and arbitrarily arrested.

    Why was Viktor Yeimo arrested and what are the charges against him?

    Viktor Yeimo, the international spokesperson for the West Papua National Committee and the Papuan People's Petition Against Special Autonomy, was detained by the authorities on 11 May on the grounds that he was behind the 2019 anti-racism protests. However, his interrogation by the police seems to be leaning towards linking him with the TPN/OPM armed group.

    He was arrested in Jayapura, taken to the Papua Police station, and then transferred to the Police Mobile Brigade headquarters in Abepura. He is being investigated for treason, incitement, and broadcasting false information as well as other charges. A coalition of lawyers is supporting him. Communication with his family has been denied and has been made difficult by the authorities.

    Several more activists of the Papuan student alliance movement were also detained in cities inside and outside Papua and have been questioned. The democratic space in Papua is being squeezed.

    This has been reinforced by an internet disruption that began about one month ago after the Papuan head of intelligence was shot. It has made it very difficult for us to communicate with contacts and activists throughout Papua. It has made it challenging to get updates on the situation in the field and to send material to places in Intan Jaya, Nduga, and Puncak Jaya.

    What do Papuan activists need from the international community and civil society?

    We need support from international CSOs working with local civil society to promote and develop the concept of peace and reconciliation. We also need support on how to open negotiations between the central government in Jakarta and Papua. Further, we need to open up the space for access to international CSOs, journalists, and humanitarian monitors in Papua, which is currently closed.

    International actors and governments must also monitor and speak up against the anti-terrorism policies of the Indonesian government that have the potential to increase human rights violations. Civilians in Papua are often viewed as supporting armed groups and this makes them vulnerable. Those who have been displaced because of the conflict must also be assisted by the international community.

    Our hope is that CSOs in Papua, Indonesia, and internationally can work together to protect human rights and seek solutions to severe violations in Papua. There is also a need for international solidarity to seek lasting peace to the conflict in Papua.

    Civic space inIndonesiais rated as ‘obstructedby theCIVICUS Monitor.
    Get in touch with KontraS through itswebsite and follow@KontraS on Twitter. 


  • INDONÉSIE : « Les militants pro-indépendance pacifiques risquent d'être qualifiés de terroristes »

    CIVICUS s’entretient avec Samuel Awom, coordinateur du groupe de défense des droits humains KontraS Papua, qui surveille les violations des droits humains, défend les victimes et œuvre pour la paix en Papouasie. KontraS Papua est basé à Jayapura, la capitale de la Papouasie, et surveille la situation des droits humains dans toute la région de Papouasie.


  • MYANMAR : « Presque toutes les personnes détenues nous disent qu’elles ont été battues »

    CIVICUS s’entretient avec Manny Maung, chercheuse au Myanmar pour Human Rights Watch (HRW), sur la situation des droits humains au Myanmar. Manny était auparavant journaliste et a passé de nombreuses années à vivre et à travailler au Myanmar.

    Le Myanmar reste sur la liste de surveillance du CIVICUS Monitor, qui comprend les pays ayant connu un déclin récent et rapide de leurs libertés civiques. Les militaires du Myanmar ont pris le pouvoir par un coup d’État le 1er février 2021, ont arrêté les dirigeants civils du gouvernement national et des États et ont lancé une répression brutale contre le mouvement de protestation dans tout le pays. Plus de six mois après, l’assaut contre l’espace civique persiste. Des milliers de personnes ont été arrêtées et détenues de manière arbitraire. Nombre d’entre eux font l’objet d’accusations infondées et des cas de torture et de mauvais traitements pendant les interrogatoires ont été signalés, ainsi que des décès en détention.

    Manny Maung

    Quelle est la situation des libertés civiques au Myanmar plus de cinq mois après le coup d’État ?

    Depuis le coup d’État militaire du 1er février, nous avons assisté à une détérioration rapide de la situation. Des milliers de personnes ont été détenues arbitrairement et des centaines ont été tuées, tandis que de nombreuses autres se cachent et tentent d’échapper à l’arrestation. HRW a déterminé que les militaires ont commis des abus qui équivalent à des crimes contre l’humanité à l’encontre de la population. Il est donc évident que la situation est extrêmement dangereuse pour la société civile, les libertés civiques étant devenues inexistantes.

    Le mouvement de désobéissance civile (MDC) est-il toujours actif malgré la répression ?

    Des manifestations ont encore lieu quotidiennement, bien qu’elles soient moins nombreuses et plus ponctuelles. Des grèves éclair éclatent dans tout le Myanmar, et pas seulement dans les grandes villes. Mais ces manifestations sont désormais légèrement atténuées, non seulement en raison des violentes répressions des forces de sécurité, mais aussi à cause de la troisième vague dévastatrice d’infections au COVID-19. Des centaines de mandats d’arrêt ont été émis à l’encontre des meneurs des manifestations, y compris à l’encontre de près de 600 médecins qui ont participé à la MDC ou l’ont dirigée auparavant. Les journalistes, les avocats et les leaders de la société civile ont tous été pris pour cible, de même que toute personne considérée comme un leader de la manifestation ou de la grève. Dans certains cas, si les autorités ne trouvent pas la personne qu’elles veulent arrêter, elles arrêtent les membres de sa famille en guise de punition collective.

    Quelle est la situation des manifestants qui ont été arrêtés et détenus ?

    Presque toutes les personnes avec lesquelles nous nous sommes entretenus et qui ont été détenues ou raflées lors des vastes opérations de répression des manifestations nous ont dit avoir été battues lors de leur arrestation ou de leur détention dans des centres d’interrogatoire militaires. Un adolescent m’a raconté qu’il avait été frappé si fort avec la crosse d’un fusil qu’il s’était évanoui entre les coups. Il a également raconté qu’on l’a forcé à entrer dans une fosse et qu’on l’a enterré jusqu’au cou alors qu’il avait les yeux bandés, tout cela parce que les autorités le soupçonnaient d’être un leader protestataire. D’autres personnes ont décrit des passages à tabac violents alors qu’elles étaient menottées à une chaise, qu’elles étaient privées de nourriture et d’eau, qu’elles ne dormaient pas et qu’elles subissaient des violences sexuelles ou des menaces de viol.

    De nombreux manifestants qui sont toujours détenus n’ont pas eu de procès sérieux. Certains ont été inculpés et condamnés, mais il s’agit d’un petit nombre comparé aux milliers de personnes qui attendent que leur dossier avance. De nombreux détenus qui ont été libérés depuis nous disent qu’ils ont eu très peu de contacts, voire aucun, avec leurs avocats. Mais les avocats qui les représentent courent également des risques. Au moins six avocats défendant des prisonniers politiques ont été arrêtés, dont trois alors qu’ils représentaient un client dans le cadre d’un procès.

    Comment l’interruption des services d’Internet et de télévision a-t-elle affecté le MDP ?

    L’interdiction de la télévision par satellite est venue s’ajouter aux restrictions de l’accès à l’information. La junte a affirmé que des « organisations illégales et des organes de presse » diffusaient des programmes par satellite qui menaçaient la sécurité de l’État. Mais les interdictions semblent viser principalement les chaînes d’information étrangères qui diffusent par satellite au Myanmar, y compris deux diffuseurs indépendants en langue birmane, Democratic Voice of Burma et Mizzima, qui se sont vu retirer leur licence par la junte en mars. Les coupures d’accès à Internet ont également rendu difficile l’accès à l’information et la communication en temps réel entre les personnes.

    Les coupures générales de l’accès à Internet sont une forme de punition collective. Elles entravent l’accès aux informations et aux communications nécessaires à la vie quotidienne, mais surtout en cas de crise et de pandémie de COVID-19. Ces restrictions servent également de couverture aux violations des droits humains et compliquent les efforts visant à documenter ces violations.

    Pourquoi la violence dans les zones ethniques a-t-elle augmenté, et qui est visé ?

    Le coup d’État a entraîné une reprise des combats dans certaines régions du pays entre les groupes armés ethniques et l’armée. L’État de Rakhine semble être l’exception, car l’armée d’Arakan y a négocié un cessez-le-feu et les manifestations contre l’armée n’ont pas été aussi bruyantes ou répandues. D’autres groupes armés ethniques, tels que l’Armée de l’indépendance kachin et l’Armée de libération nationale karen (ALNK), ont accueilli favorablement la résistance aux militaires et offrent un refuge aux personnes fuyant les militaires dans les territoires qu’ils contrôlent. De nouveaux affrontements entre l’armée et l’ALNK ont donné lieu à un certain nombre de violations des droits humains à l’encontre de civils et ont entraîné le déplacement de milliers de personnes à la frontière entre la Thaïlande et le Myanmar.

    Que pensez-vous de la réaction de l’Association des nations de l’Asie du Sud-Est (ANASE) à la situation au Myanmar jusqu’à présent ?

    L’ANASE a tenté de suivre les voies diplomatiques, mais il ne s’agit pas d’une situation où les choses se passent comme d’habitude. Les militaires ont pris le pouvoir et ont commis des crimes contre leur propre peuple - une population civile qui a déjà voté pour le gouvernement qu’elle préfère. Après des mois de négociations futiles, l’ANASE devrait être prête à imposer des sanctions au Myanmar. En tant que nations indépendantes, les États membres de l’ANASE devraient agir ensemble et imposer des sanctions ciblées au Myanmar afin de s’assurer que les militaires n’agissent plus en toute impunité.

    La réaction du général Min Aung Hlaing, qui s’est autoproclamé Premier ministre, au plan consensuel en cinq points proposé par l’ANASE témoigne de son mépris total pour la diplomatie régionale et montre clairement qu’il ne répondra qu’à des actes durs - tels que la coupure de son accès et de celui de l’armée aux revenus étrangers par des sanctions intelligentes.

    Que peut faire la communauté internationale pour soutenir la société civile et favoriser le retour à un régime démocratique ?

    HRW recommande au Conseil de sécurité des Nations Unies (CSNU) de saisir la Cour pénale internationale concernant la situation au Myanmar. Le CSNU et les pays influents tels que les États-Unis, le Royaume-Uni, l’Australie, le Japon, l’Inde, la Thaïlande et l’Union européenne devraient appliquer des sanctions coordonnées pour faire pression sur la junte. Le CSNU devrait également adopter une résolution visant à interdire la vente d’armes au Myanmar.

    Quant aux organisations internationales de la société civile, elles doivent continuer à plaider en faveur des membres de la société civile qui se cachent actuellement ou qui sont détenus de manière arbitraire. Cela signifie qu’elles doivent continuer à faire pression pour que soit reconnue la gravité de la crise politique et humanitaire au Myanmar, et pour que les gouvernements agissent en faveur de la population du Myanmar.

    L’espace civique au Myanmar est classé « réprimé » par le CIVICUS Monitor.

    Suivez @mannymaung sur Twitter.


  • MYANMAR: “Nearly everyone detained tells us they were beaten”

    CIVICUS speaks to Manny Maung, Myanmar researcher for Human Rights Watch (HRW), about the human rights situation in Myanmar. Manny was previously a journalist and spent many years living and working in Myanmar,

    Myanmar remains on the CIVICUS Monitor Watchlist as a country that has seen a recent and rapid decline in civic freedoms. The Myanmar military seized power in a coup on 1 February 2021, arrested the civilian leaders of the national and state governments and launched a brutal crackdown against the protest movement. More than six months on, the assault on civic space persists. Thousands have been arbitrarily arrested and detained. Many face baseless charges and there have been reports of torture and ill-treatment during interrogation, and of deaths in custody.

    Manny Maung

    What is the situation of civic freedoms in Myanmar more than five months after the coup?

    Since the military coup on 1 February, we’ve seen a rapid deterioration of the situation. Thousands have been arbitrarily detained and hundreds have been killed, while many more are in hiding and trying to evade arrest. HRW has determined that the military has committed abuses that amount to crimes against humanity against its population, so quite clearly the situation for civil society is extremely dangerous as civic freedoms have become non-existent.

    Is the civil disobedience movement (CDM) still active despite the repression?

    Protests are still being held daily, although they are smaller and more ad hoc. Flash strikes are popping up all over Myanmar, not just in major cities. But these demonstrations are now slightly muted, not just due to the violent crackdowns by the security forces, but also because of the devastating third wave of COVID-19 infections. Hundreds of arrest warrants have been issued for protest leaders, including against almost 600 medical doctors who participated in or led the CDM earlier on. Journalists, lawyers and civil society leaders have all been targeted and so has anyone who is deemed to be a protest or strike leader. In some cases, if the authorities can’t find the individual who they are targeting for arrest, they arrest their family members as a form of collective punishment.

    What is the situation of protesters that have been arrested and detained?

    Nearly everyone we speak to who was detained or rounded up during widespread crackdowns on protests tells us they were beaten when they were arrested or being held in military interrogation centres. One teenager described to me how he was beaten so hard with a rifle butt that he passed out in between beatings. He also described how he was forced into a pit and buried up to his neck while blindfolded, all because the authorities suspected him of being a protest leader. Others have described severe beatings while being handcuffed to a chair, being denied food and water and deprived of sleep, and experiencing sexual violence or the threat of rape.

    Many protesters who are still detained have not had serious trials. Some have been charged and convicted, but that’s a small number compared to the thousands who are waiting to have their cases move forward. Many detainees who have since been released from prison tell us they had minimal contact, if any, with their lawyers. But the lawyers who represent them also face risks. At least six lawyers defending political prisoners have been arrested, three of them while representing a client in a trial proceeding.

    How has the disruption of internet and television services affected the CDM?

    Bans on satellite television have added to the restrictions on access to information. The junta claimed that ‘illegal organisations and news organisations’ were broadcasting programmes via satellite that threatened state security. But the bans appear primarily targeted at foreign news channels that broadcast via satellite into Myanmar, including two independent Myanmar-language broadcasters, Democratic Voice of Burma and Mizzima, both of which had their media licences revoked by the junta in March. Internet shutdowns have also made it difficult for people to access information and communicate with each other in real time.

    Blanket internet shutdowns are a form of collective punishment. They hinder access to information and communications that’s needed for daily life but especially during crisis and the Covid-19 pandemic. The restrictions also provide cover for human rights abuses and complicate efforts to document violations.

    Why has violence in the ethnic areas increased, and who is being targeted?

    The coup sparked renewed fighting in some parts of the country between ethnic armed groups and the military. Rakhine State appears to be the exception, as the Arakan Army has negotiated a ceasefire there, and protests against the military have not been as vocal or widespread. Other ethnic armed groups such as the Kachin Independence Army and the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) have welcomed resistance to the military and are providing safe haven to those fleeing from the military in the territories they control. Renewed clashes between the military and the KNLA have resulted in a number of human rights violations on civilians and have displaced thousands on the Thai-Myanmar border.

    What do you think of the response by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to the situation in Myanmar so far?

    ASEAN has attempted to follow diplomatic channels, but this is not a situation where it’s business as usual. The military has seized power and has been committing crimes against its own people – a civilian population that has already voted for its preferred government. After months of futile negotiations, ASEAN should be prepared to impose penalties on Myanmar. As independent nations, ASEAN member states should act together and impose targeted sanctions on Myanmar to ensure the military no longer acts with total impunity.

    The reaction by General Min Aung Hlaing, who has made himself the Prime Minister, to the five-point consensus plan proposed by ASEAN shows his utter disdain for regional diplomacy and makes it apparent that he will only respond to tough acts – such as cutting off his and the military’s access to foreign revenue through smart sanctions.

    What can the international community do to support civil society and push for a return to democratic rule?

    HRW recommends that the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) refers the situation in Myanmar to the International Criminal Court. The UNSC and influential countries such as the USA, the UK, Australia, Japan, India, Thailand and the European Union should apply coordinated sanctions to pressure the junta. The UNSC should also pass a resolution to ban the sales of weapons to Myanmar.

    As for international civil society organisations, they should continue to advocate on behalf of civil society members who are currently in hiding or being held in arbitrary detention. This means continuing to push for recognition of the severity of the political and humanitarian crisis in Myanmar and pushing for governments to act in favour of the people of Myanmar.

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

    Follow @mannymaung on Twitter.


  • ZAMBIA: ‘Electoral practices seen so far do not indicate good lessons for the region’

    McDonald ChipenziCIVICUS speaks to McDonald Chipenzi, Executive Director of the Governance, Elections, Advocacy, Research Services (GEARS) Initiative and Chair of the NGO Council in Zambia, about the state of civic space ahead of the crucial general election being held on 12 August 2021.

    What is the state of civic space and media freedoms ahead of the elections?

    The civic and media space in Zambia remains fragile and has been shrinking due to legal restrictions. This has now been compounded by the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic and newly crafted rules and guidelines that have heightened restrictions on citizens’ freedom of movement and freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression. This has led to ineffective citizens’ participation in national affairs.

    COVID-19 rules and guidelines have compounded the already delicate and restricted state of the civic, media and political space in Zambia. These restrictions are the result of the selective application of archaic legislation such as the Public Order Act of 1955 and newly enacted laws such as the Cyber Security and Cyber Crimes Act of 2021, which is aimed at intercepting, monitoring and interfering with citizens’ conversations, correspondence and communications, even without a court order or warrant. This new law, viewed as aimed at shrinking virtual civic space, has instilled fear in citizens, deterring them from effectively engaging online. As a result, many have opted to remain silent or opted out of online platforms such as WhatsApp and Facebook.

    The media space also remains intimidated, harassed and cowed as a result of restrictive laws and the actions of ruling elites. The closure of Prime TV, a private television station, in March 2021, sent a chilling wave through the media community. Most of them now fear hosting critical voices and opposition leaders. They fear losing government advertising and other business opportunities. Those associated with the powers that be also distance themselves from those media houses giving platforms to critical voices.

    What are the main concerns of civil society in the lead up to the elections?

    Civil society’s main concern is the security of all stakeholders, as the police are not committed to providing security to all. The police have been reluctant to deal with the violence perpetuated by ruling party elites and have even been instrumental in it. The fear is that on election day, when some parties feel that they are losing in some polling stations, they may engage in disruptive activities to push for a re-vote, which may give them advantages. Another concern is the possibility of a shutdown of internet, mobile services and social media, especially after the vote, to try to black out results.

    A third concern is the COVID-19 pandemic, which was seen to have the potential to be spread by political parties had they held rallies. According to the Ministry of Health and the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ), rallies were seen as potential superspreading events for COVID-19, and therefore they recommended a ban. This mostly affected the opposition while ruling party officials were busy campaigning in the name of launching and inspecting developmental projects.

    Note that ECZ constituted a task force on COVID-19 to develop guidelines that was dominated by government institutions. Out of 14 institutions represented, nine were in government with only three spaces for the media, and two for civil society organisations in gender and water and sanitation. To prevent violence and keep violence under control if it happens, civil society is engaging with the police, encouraging them to be more professional and ethical, and with political parties to provide leadership to their cadres. 

    Regarding the possibility of a media and internet shutdown, civil society organisations have sent petitions to the President of the Republic to refrain from shutting down the internet or social media during and after the elections. For the purpose of this election, the GEARS Initiative developed what it termed as the “Ing’ombe Ilede strategy” to allow for the collection of election results in an event of an internet shutdown. A common place has been designated for constituency and provincial coordinators involved in the election to share their documents without needing to meet with each other. This strategy is borrowed from the old trade tactics at a place called Ing’ombe Ilede in the Gwembe Valley of Southern Province in Zambia. We feel this strategy will help navigate the possible internet shutdown, which the government has already signalled.

    How is polarisation increasing ahead of the election, and what are the election’s likely impacts on social and political division?

    The election has polarised the country as politicians from the ruling party are now using regionalism and tribalism to win votes from their perceived strongholds. The impact of this will be deep divisions after elections, especially if the ruling party now wins the elections as it will marginalise those they feel did not support them during the elections. Already, the groups or regions perceived as strongholds for the biggest opposition party have been marginalised and discriminated against in terms of development and economic opportunities, including political positions in government.

    Employment and trading opportunities are also a preserve of those perceived to support the ruling party. Markets and bus stations are all in hands of ruling party supporters and not the councils. This has shrunk the civic space for many citizens who survive through trading in markets and bus stations as it has led to them adopting what they have termed the ‘watermelon strategy’, symbolic of a watermelon fruit which is green on the outside (the colour of the ruling party) and red on the inside (the colour of the opposition) in order to survive at these markets, bus stops, stations and taxi ranks. This situation may be escalated should the ruling party retain power.

    What is the state of the economy and how will this influence the choices of voters?

    The state of the Zambian economy is not pleasing but biting to many ordinary people. The local currency, the kwacha, has continued to depreciate against major convertible currencies. The cost of living has quadrupled and the cost of essential commodities is skyrocketing. The poor are barely managing to live while the ruling political elites are sleeping on top of money due to excessive corruption and abuse of state resources in the absence of controls and accountability. The poor eat in order to live rather than live in order to eat. This will have effect in the peri-urban areas of major cities like Lusaka and the Copperbelt towns.

    The rural population, on the other hand, may not be as badly affected by the state of the economy as most of them had harvested good crops during the past rainy seasons and further benefited from a scheme involving social cash transfers targeted at older and vulnerable people, which has now been converted into a campaign tool. In addition, rural voters tend to be conservative and vote for the traditional political parties preferred by their forefathers.

    Zambia has been known as a bastion of democracy in the region. What impact will this election have on democracy both in Zambia and the region?

    This election is key to the unfolding of a unique trend in the region on how elections can and will be handled. If it is handled very poorly and it results in chaos, it has potential to influence the region in a negative way, as the leaders of most Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries tend to copy from each other. This being one of the few elections held in the region during the COVID-19 pandemic after Malawi’s landmark election, Zambia has an opportunity to show the region that it remains the bastion of democracy in SADC.

    However, the practices seen so far do not indicate good lessons for the region. For instance, the cancellation of rallies and other campaign activities, mainly targeted against the opposition while the ruling party and public officials continue to run their campaigns, is a very bad lesson for democracy, fair competition and credible elections. The selective application of the electoral code of conduct by the electoral manager is also a very bad example for the region. Therefore, the region will have to cherry-pick the good lessons from the bad ones. However, most electoral institutions and political leaders are more inclined to cherry-pick the bad lessons and leave the good ones aside, since bad electoral practices benefit incumbents.

    What can regional and global civil society groups do to support Zambian civil society during this period of elections and after?

    Regional and global civil society have a larger role to play to ensure that peace prevails in Zambia and targeted intimidation and harassment of the civil society movement does not occur after elections. There is a need to keep a watchful eye over the post-election events, especially regarding manoeuvres to shrink civic space. With the election a few days away, on 9 August the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Amos Malupenga, issued a statement warning citizens that the government might shut down the internet ahead of the election, a direct threat to the enjoyment of citizens’ online freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression during and after the elections.

    The army and other defence forces besides the police have been deployed on the streets around the country on pretext of quelling any possible political and electoral violence, which can potentially be abused and undermine physical civic space. Therefore, physical and online civic and political space will constantly be under threat from the establishment during and after the elections, as it has been before.

    Civil society and critical media outlets are potential targets of post-election intimidation and harassment, hence the need for global and regional civil society to support civil society in Zambia with strategies to counter the reprisals that may be imposed on them by the state machinery after the elections. If the current government wins, its categorisation, marginalisation and discrimination of civil society organisations according to their real or perceived party affiliation will get worse after the elections.

    There will be need for solidarity strategies and legal funds to help those who may be incriminated and litigated against using archaic laws. There is need to continue challenging the existence of the Cyber Security and Cyber Crimes Law, the Public Order Act and the NGO Act. To this end, regional and global civil society needs to support, defend, promote and protect the civic and media space in Zambia before, during and after the elections.

    Civic space in Zambia is rated as ‘obstructed’ by the CIVICUS Monitor.

    Get in touch with GEARS through its Facebook page and follow @GearsZambia on Twitter.


  • ZAMBIE : « Les pratiques électorales observées jusqu’à présent ne permettent pas de tirer de bonnes leçons pour la région »

    McDonald ChipenziCIVICUS s’entretient avec McDonald Chipenzi, directeur exécutif de l’initiative Governance, Elections, Advocacy, Research Services (GEARS) et président du Conseil des ONG en Zambie, sur l’état de l’espace civique avant l’élection générale cruciale qui se tiendra le 12 août 2021.

    Quel est l’état de l’espace civique et des libertés des médias avant les élections ?

    L’espace civique et médiatique en Zambie reste fragile et s’est rétréci en raison de restrictions légales. Cette situation a été aggravée par l’apparition de la pandémie de COVID-19 et par les nouvelles règles et directives qui ont renforcé les restrictions à la liberté de mouvement des citoyens, et aux libertés d’association, de réunion pacifique et d’expression. Cela a conduit à une participation inefficace des citoyens aux affaires nationales.

    Les règles et directives concernant la COVID-19 ont aggravé l’état déjà délicat et restreint de l’espace civique, médiatique et politique en Zambie. Ces restrictions sont le résultat de l’application sélective de lois archaïques telles que la loi sur l’ordre public de 1955 et de lois récemment promulguées telles que la loi sur la cybersécurité et les cybercrimes de 2021, qui vise à intercepter, surveiller et interférer avec les conversations, la correspondance et les communications des citoyens, même sans ordonnance ou mandat du tribunal. Cette nouvelle loi, considérée comme visant à réduire l’espace civique virtuel, a fait naître la peur chez les citoyens, les dissuadant de s’engager efficacement en ligne. En conséquence, beaucoup ont choisi de garder le silence ou de se retirer des plateformes en ligne telles que WhatsApp et Facebook.

    L’espace médiatique reste également intimidé, harcelé et brimé en raison de lois restrictives et des actions des élites au pouvoir. La fermeture de Prime TV, une chaîne de télévision privée, en mars 2021, a jeté un froid dans la communauté des médias. La plupart d’entre eux craignent désormais d’accueillir des voix critiques et des leaders de l’opposition. Ils craignent de perdre la publicité gouvernementale et d’autres opportunités commerciales. Les personnes associées au pouvoir en place prennent également leurs distances avec les médias qui offrent une tribune aux voix critiques.

    Quelles sont les principales préoccupations de la société civile à l’approche des élections ?

    La principale préoccupation de la société civile est la sécurité de toutes les parties prenantes, car la police ne s’engage pas à assurer la sécurité de tous. La police s’est montrée réticente à faire face aux violences perpétrées par les élites du parti au pouvoir et y a même contribué. La crainte est que le jour de l’élection, si certains partis ont le sentiment de perdre dans certains bureaux de vote, ils s’engagent dans des activités perturbatrices afin de pousser à un nouveau vote, ce qui pourrait leur donner l’avantage.

    Une autre préoccupation est la possibilité d’une fermeture de l’accès à internet, des services mobiles et des médias sociaux, en particulier après le vote, pour tenter de masquer les résultats.

    Une troisième préoccupation concerne la pandémie de COVID-19, dont on a estimé qu’elle pouvait être propagée par les partis politiques s’ils organisaient des rassemblements. Selon le ministère de la Santé et la Commission électorale de Zambie (CEZ), les rassemblements sont considérés comme des événements potentiels de propagation du COVID-19, et ils ont donc recommandé une interdiction. Cette situation a surtout touché l’opposition, tandis que les responsables du parti au pouvoir étaient occupés à faire campagne au nom du lancement et de l’inspection de projets de développement.

    Il convient de noter que la CEZ a constitué un groupe de travail sur la COVID-19 afin de développer des lignes directrices, un groupe dominé par des institutions gouvernementales. Sur les 14 institutions représentées, neuf appartiennent au gouvernement, avec seulement trois espaces pour les médias et deux pour les organisations de la société civile dans les domaines du genre et de l’eau et l’assainissement.

    Pour prévenir la violence et la maîtriser si elle se produit, la société civile s’engage auprès de la police, l’encourageant à être plus professionnelle et plus éthique, et auprès des partis politiques pour qu’ils fournissent un encadrement à leurs cadres. Elle demande également au président de la République de libérer les policiers retenus en captivité afin qu’ils puissent s’attaquer aux criminels, indépendamment de leur appartenance à un parti.

    En ce qui concerne la possibilité d’une fermeture des médias et de l’accès à internet, les organisations de la société civile ont envoyé des pétitions au président de la République pour qu’il s’abstienne de fermer internet ou les médias sociaux pendant et après les élections.

    Aux fins de cette élection, l’initiative GEARS a mis au point ce qu’elle appelle la « stratégie Ing’ombe Ilede » pour permettre la collecte des résultats de l’élection en cas de coupure d’Internet. Un lieu commun a été désigné pour que les coordinateurs de circonscription et de province impliqués dans l’élection puissent partager leurs documents sans avoir besoin de se rencontrer. Cette stratégie est empruntée aux anciennes tactiques commerciales d’un lieu appelé Ing’ombe Ilede dans la vallée de Gwembe, dans la province du Sud de la Zambie. Nous pensons que cette stratégie aidera à faire face à une éventuelle coupure de l’accès à Internet, que le gouvernement a déjà signalée.

    Comment la polarisation s’accentue-t-elle à l’approche des élections, et quels sont les impacts probables des élections sur les divisions sociales et politiques ?

    L’élection a polarisé le pays, car les politiciens du parti au pouvoir utilisent désormais le régionalisme et le tribalisme pour gagner des voix dans leurs bastions présumés. Il en résultera de profondes divisions après les élections, surtout si le parti au pouvoir remporte les élections, car il marginalisera ceux qui, selon lui, ne l’ont pas soutenu pendant les élections. Déjà, les groupes ou régions perçus comme des bastions du plus grand parti d’opposition ont été marginalisés et discriminés en termes de développement et d’opportunités économiques, y compris en ce qui concerne les postes politiques au sein du gouvernement.

    Les opportunités d’emploi et de commerce sont également l’apanage de ceux qui sont perçus comme soutenant le parti au pouvoir. Les marchés et les gares routières sont tous entre les mains des partisans du parti au pouvoir et non des conseils. Cette situation a rétréci l’espace civique pour de nombreux citoyens qui survivent grâce au commerce sur les marchés et dans les stations de bus, car elle les a amenés à adopter ce qu’ils ont appelé la « stratégie de la pastèque », qui symbolise un fruit de pastèque vert à l’extérieur (la couleur du parti au pouvoir) et rouge à l’intérieur (la couleur de l’opposition), afin de survivre sur ces marchés, arrêts de bus, stations et stations de taxis. Cette situation risque de s’aggraver si le parti au pouvoir conserve le pouvoir.

    Quel est l’état de l’économie et comment cela influencera-t-il les choix des électeurs ?

    L’état de l’économie zambienne n’est pas réjouissant mais plutôt inquiétant pour beaucoup de gens ordinaires. La monnaie locale, le kwacha, a continué à se déprécier par rapport aux principales devises convertibles. Le coût de la vie a quadruplé et le prix des produits de base essentiels explose. Les pauvres parviennent à peine à survivre tandis que les élites politiques au pouvoir dorment sur leurs deux oreilles en raison de la corruption excessive et de l’abus des ressources de l’État en l’absence de contrôles et de reddition de comptes. Les pauvres mangent pour vivre plutôt que de vivre pour manger. Cela aura des effets dans les zones périurbaines des grandes villes comme Lusaka et les villes de la Copperbelt.

    La population rurale, en revanche, pourrait ne pas être aussi affectée par l’état de l’économie, car la majorité de sa population a fait de bonnes récoltes au cours des dernières saisons des pluies et a bénéficié d’un programme de transferts sociaux en espèces destiné aux personnes âgées et vulnérables, qui a été transformé en outil de campagne. En outre, les électeurs ruraux ont tendance à être conservateurs et à voter pour les partis politiques traditionnels préférés de leurs aînés.

    La Zambie est connue comme un bastion de la démocratie dans la région. Quel impact cette élection aura-t-elle sur la démocratie en Zambie et dans la région ?

    Cette élection est la clé du déploiement d’une tendance unique dans la région sur la façon dont les élections peuvent être et seront gérées. Si elle est très mal gérée et qu’elle débouche sur le chaos, elle risque d’influencer la région de manière négative, car les dirigeants de la plupart des pays de la Communauté de développement de l’Afrique australe (SADC) ont tendance à s’inspirer les uns des autres. S’agissant de l’une des rares élections organisées dans la région pendant la pandémie de COVID-19, après l’élection historique du Malawi, la Zambie a l’occasion de montrer à la région qu’elle reste le bastion de la démocratie au sein de la SADC.

    Cependant, les pratiques observées jusqu’à présent ne permettent pas de tirer de bonnes leçons pour la région. Par exemple, l’annulation des rassemblements et d’autres activités de campagne, principalement dirigés contre l’opposition, alors que le parti au pouvoir et les fonctionnaires continuent de mener leur campagne, est une très mauvaise leçon pour la démocratie, la concurrence loyale et les élections crédibles. L’application sélective du code de conduite électoral par le responsable des élections est également un très mauvais exemple pour la région. Par conséquent, la région devra choisir les bonnes leçons parmi les mauvaises. Cependant, la plupart des institutions électorales et des dirigeants politiques sont plus enclins à choisir les mauvaises leçons et à laisser les bonnes de côté, puisque les mauvaises pratiques électorales profitent aux titulaires.

    Que peuvent faire les groupes de la société civile régionale et mondiale pour soutenir la société civile zambienne pendant cette période d’élections et après ?

    La société civile régionale et mondiale a un rôle très important à jouer pour faire en sorte que la paix règne en Zambie et qu’il n’y ait pas d’intimidation et de harcèlement ciblés du mouvement de la société civile après les élections. Il est nécessaire de garder un œil attentif sur les événements post-électoraux, notamment en ce qui concerne les manœuvres visant à réduire l’espace civique. À quelques jours des élections, le 9 août, le secrétaire permanent du ministère de l’Information et de la Radiodiffusion, Amos Malupenga, a publié un communiqué avertissant les citoyens que le gouvernement pourrait couper l’accès à Internet avant les élections, ce qui constituerait une menace directe pour jouir des libertés d’association, de réunion pacifique et d’expression en ligne des citoyens pendant et après les élections.

    L’armée et d’autres forces de défense, en plus de la police, ont été déployées dans les rues du pays sous prétexte de réprimer toute violence politique et électorale éventuelle, ce qui peut potentiellement donner lieu à des abus et miner l’espace civique physique. Par conséquent, l’espace civique et politique physique et en ligne sera constamment menacé par l’establishment pendant et après les élections, comme il l’a été auparavant.

    La société civile et les médias critiques sont des cibles potentielles d’intimidation et de harcèlement post-électoraux, d’où la nécessité pour la société civile mondiale et régionale de soutenir la société civile en Zambie par des stratégies visant à contrer les représailles qui pourraient leur être imposées par la machine étatique après les élections. Si le gouvernement actuel l’emporte, sa catégorisation, sa marginalisation et sa discrimination des organisations de la société civile en fonction de leur affiliation réelle ou perçue à un parti s’aggraveront après les élections.

    Le processus d’abrogation du projet de loi sur les ONG étant toujours en suspens, la période post-électorale pourrait connaître une nouvelle approche de son achèvement.

    Il faudra mettre en place des stratégies de solidarité et des fonds juridiques pour aider ceux qui risquent d’être incriminés et poursuivis en justice par l’utilisation des lois archaïques. Il est nécessaire de continuer à contester l’existence de la loi sur la cybersécurité et les cybercrimes, de la loi sur l’ordre public et de la loi sur les ONG. À cette fin, la société civile régionale et mondiale doit soutenir, défendre, promouvoir et protéger l’espace civique et médiatique en Zambie avant, pendant et après les élections.

    L’espace civique en Zambie est classé « obstrué » par le CIVICUS Monitor.

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