New report reveals extent of media repression and human rights violations in Equatorial Guinea
A year after the electoral victory of the Pakatan Harapan coalition, authorities have failed to reform repressive legislation or expand civic space, and continue to restrict fundamental freedoms and silence dissent, a new briefing from ARTICLE 19 and CIVICUS said today.
The briefing, “New Government, Old Tactics: Lack of progress on reform commitments undermines fundamental freedoms and democracy in Malaysia”, concludes that, despite some encouraging early steps by Malaysia’s new political leaders, broader reform processes to protect human rights have ground to a halt. The Pakatan Harapan coalition has not followed through on commitments in its campaign manifesto to reform repressive legislation, including the Sedition Act 1948, Communications and Multimedia Act 1998, Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984, and Peaceful Assembly Act 2012. Instead, authorities have used these laws to harass and prosecute activists, government critics and others exercising fundamental freedoms.
“The Pakatan Harapan government came to power on the back of promises to reform repressive laws and open up public spaces that have long been restricted by the previous regime. Instead, authorities have used the same old laws to silence critics, stifle unpopular opinions and control public discourse. These retrogressive tactics blemish the supposed reformist credentials of Malaysia’s new leaders, and impede the democratic transition that they promised to bring about,” said Nalini Elumalai, ARTICLE 19’s Malaysia Programme Officer.
While welcoming steps to establish a self-governing media council, ARTICLE 19 and CIVICUS are concerned about that the lack of progress in reforming restrictive laws that impede press freedom and the ability of journalists to report without fear of judicial harassment and criminal penalties. Further, there has been a lack of transparency in legislative and institutional reform processes, with limited opportunities for meaningful participation by civil society and other stakeholders. The decision by authorities to place the report of the Institutional Reform Committee under the Official Secrets Act (OSA), preventing its release to the public, underscores these concerns.
ARTICLE 19 and CIVICUS’s review of the government’s record during its first year in office reveals continued restrictions on the right to peaceful assembly. Those involved in peaceful protests, including students, women’s rights activists and indigenous activists have been arbitrarily detained, threatened or investigated, while the Peaceful Assembly Act has yet to be amended in line with international law and standards. Further, the government has failed to follow through on manifesto promises to create an enabling environment for civil society and to review laws and policies that restrict the registration and operations of NGOs.
“The government must halt the judicial harassment of demonstrators for exercising their right to the freedom of peaceful assembly and instruct police officers that it is their duty to facilitate peaceful assemblies, rather than hinder them,” said Josef Benedict, CIVICUS Civic Space Researcher. “Immediate steps must also be taken to review the Societies Act to guarantee that undue restrictions on the freedom of association are removed,” Benedict added.
The Pakatan Harapan government faces tremendous challenges in dismantling the repressive legal and institutional framework built during 61 years of Barisan Nasional rule. ARTICLE 19 and CIVICUS understand that opposition forces are determined to undermine progressive reforms in Malaysia. Nevertheless, we urge the government to follow through on its promises and undertake a comprehensive, transparent and inclusive process of legislative and institutional reform to promote and protect fundamental rights and freedoms. Failure to act with urgency, resolve and principle in this regard will lead to the entrenchment of restrictions on civic space and call into the question the government’s commitments to fundamental freedoms.
The CIVICUS Monitor, an online platform that tracks threats to civil society in countries across the globe, rates civic space – the space for civil society – in Malaysia as ‘Obstructed’
The Myanmar Supreme Court must order the release of Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, global civil society alliance CIVICUS and the Asia Democracy Network (ADN) said today. The two journalists, who have been jailed since 2017, are set to go before the country’s highest court on 23 April. The court will rule upon their appeal, which was submitted on grounds that lower court rulings involved errors in judicial procedure.
In December 2017, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were handed several documents during a dinner meeting that turned out to be secret government materials relating to Myanmar’s western Rakhine state and security forces. They were then arrested and charged under the country’s colonial-era Official Secrets Act and in September 2018, they were convicted and sentenced to seven years in prison for “illegal possession of official documents.”
During the trial, a police captain, admitted in court that a senior officer had ordered his subordinates to “trap” the journalists by handing them the classified documents. He was subsequently sentenced to a one-year prison term.
At the time of their arrest, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo had been investigating the killing of 10 Rohingya Muslims in Inn Din village in Rakhine during a brutal military crackdown against the Rohingya minority that began in August 2017.
An appeal by the two journalists to a lower court earlier this year on substantive grounds was rejected on the basis that lawyers failed to prove that the pair were innocent.
“Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo have spent 16 months in prison on spurious charges. The Supreme Court must take this opportunity to address this travesty of justice,” said Josef Benedict, CIVICUS Civic Space Researcher. “No journalist should be in prison for doing their job. Their arrest and conviction have sadly created a chilling effect on the media in Myanmar.”
A UN Human Rights Council Resolution adopted at the Council’s 40th Session called on Myanmar to immediately and unconditionally release Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, as well as other journalists, human rights defenders and activists detained under various restrictive laws.
“This case highlights the bleak situation for freedom of expression and press freedom in Myanmar. Overly broad, vague, and abusive laws have been systematically used to prosecute dozens of activists and journalists for the peaceful activism,” said Ichal Supriadi, Secretary-General from the Asia Democracy Network.
In March 2019, in the UN Special Rapporteur on Myanmar raised concerns about “a decreasing space for the expression of views that are critical” of the government and the “increasing self-censorship by journalists, as well as continued wielding of problematic laws by the government against those who speak out.”
CIVICUS and ADN call on the Supreme Court to order the immediate release of Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, and reiterate calls for the authorities in Myanmar to take immediate steps to ensure that journalists can do their jobs.
For more information or to arrange an interview, please contact:
Belgrade, Serbia – More than 200 civil society leaders and human rights activists from some 100 countries were seen running through the streets of Serbia today – literally.
The #FreedomRunner event, held at the close of International Civil Society Week (ICSW) 2019, a week-long global civil society gathering, kicked off a global campaign calling on people around the world to run in the name of human rights defenders who are currently jailed, being persecuted, or at risk for their work.
Throughout the ICSW 2019 forum, it was evident that individuals and organisations are increasingly under attack in many countries. Activists, journalists and people who speak out against growing restrictions are often persecuted, and a historic, unprecedented rise of populist leaders continues to erode fundamental freedoms and sow division in many countries.
But brave women and men across the globe are refusing to be silenced.
“In every country, and often in the face of serious risks, people are standing up for their rights. Those of us with the freedom to do so need to stand - or even run - alongside them,” said Lysa John, CIVICUS Secretary General.
The Freedom Runner campaign will be launched together with the Belgrade Marathon, a major annual event on the city’s calendar, on Sunday, April, 14.
“We are dedicating the first run within this global movement to the Marija Lukic, a Serbian survivor of sexual violence, who is still fighting her struggle for her rights on behalf of all of us,” said Maja Stojanovic, Executive Director of ICSW co-host Civic Initiatives, an association of Serbian civil society organisations.
“The connections that will be made among freedom runners all around the world is a powerful tool for creating more just, inclusive societies,” said Stojanovic.
Over the coming year, runners will sign up to an online platform to track their collective runs, until they have run around the world – with some 40,075 km of running logged in the name of freedom - to arrive “back” in Belgrade.
“Running today is our way of showing how powerful we can be when we work together,” said John.
“We hope that people around the world will join us by running in their own cities and countries, so that we keep the spotlight shining on those whose basic freedoms are at risk.”
Co-hosted by the global civil society alliance, CIVICUS and Serbian civil society association, Civic Initiatives, with support of the Balkans Civil Society Development Network, ICSW brought together more than 900 delegates. This was the first time in almost a quarter century of international convening, that CIVICUS hosted its flagship event in the Balkans – a region of 11 countries and 55 million people.
This year’s theme, “The Power of Togetherness”, set out to explore how people and organisations around the world can, and are, working together to enable and defend spaces for civic action in a world where global transformations are reshaping how civil society functions.
Sign up here to become a #FreedomRunner.
NOTES FOR EDITORS
Based on data from the CIVICUS Monitor - a global research collaboration - just 4% of the world’s population live in countries where governments are properly respecting the freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression.
Find an album of photographs of the #FreedomRunner event here. They are free to publish. However please credit CIVICUS.
For more information, or to arrange interviews, please email: or contact:
Grant Clark, Senior Media Advisor, CIVICUS
Mobile/Whatsapp: +27 63 567 9719
Teodora Zahirovic, PR Manager, Civic Initiatives
Mobile/Whatsapp: +381 60 3624 001
Civil society organisations providing humanitarian assistance to migrants and refugees are being targeted as the world faces a crisis of global compassion.
This alarming trend is one of the findings of the State of Civil Society Report 2019, an annual report by global civil society alliance CIVICUS, which looks at events and trends that impacted on civil society in the past year.
In one cited example, the Italian government prevented a boat operated by international medical NGO Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) from docking in Italy, leaving it stranded at sea for a week with more than 700 passengers, including unaccompanied minors. In the USA, organisations were prevented from leaving life-saving water supplies for people making the hazardous journey across the desert from Mexico.
“Civil society, acting on humanitarian impulses, confronts a rising tide of global mean-spiritedness, challenging humanitarian values in a way unparalleled since the Second World War,” said Lysa John, CIVICUS Secretary General.
“We need a new campaign, at both global and domestic levels, to reinforce humanitarian values and the rights of progressive civil society groups to act,” added John.
According to the report, in Europe, the USA and beyond - from Brazil to India - right wing populists, nationalists and extremist groups are mobilising dominant populations to attack the most vulnerable. This has led to an attack on the values behind humanitarian response as people are being encouraged to blame minorities and vulnerable groups for their concerns about insecurity, inequality, economic hardship and isolation from power. This means that civil society organisations that support the rights of excluded populations such as women and LGBTQI people and stand up for labour rights are being attacked.
As narrow notions of national sovereignty are being asserted, the international system is being rewritten by powerful states, such as China, Russia and the USA, that refuse to play by the rules. Borders and walls are being reinforced by rogue leaders who are bringing their styles of personal rule into international affairs by ignoring existing institutions, agreements and norms.
The report also points to a startling spike in protests relating to economic exclusion, inequality and poverty, which are often met with violent repression, and highlights a series of flawed and fake elections held in countries around the world in the last year.
“Democratic values are under strain around the globe from unaccountable strong men attacking civil society and the media in unprecedented - and often brutal - ways,” said Andrew Firmin, CIVICUS’ Editor-in-Chief and the report’s lead author.
2018 was a year in which regressive forces appeared to gain ground. According to the CIVICUS Monitor, an online platform that tracks threats to civil society in all countries around the world, civic space – the space for civil society – is now under serious attack in 111 of the world’s nations – well over half of all countries. Only four per cent of the world’s population live in countries where our fundamental freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression are respected and enabled.
But the past year was also one in which committed civil society activists fought back against the rising repression of rights. From the successes of the global #MeToo women’s rights movement to the March for Our Lives gun reform movement led by high school students in the USA to the growing school strike climate change movement, collective action gained ground to claim breakthroughs.
“Despite the negative trends, active citizens and civil society organisations have been able to achieve change in Armenia, where a new political dispensation is in place, and in Ethiopia, where scores of prisoners of conscience have been released,” said John.
The report makes several recommendations for civil society and citizen action. The report calls for new strategies to argue against right-wing populism while urging progressive civil society to engage citizens towards better, more positive alternatives. These include developing and promoting new ideas on economic democracy for fairer economies that put people and rights at their centre. Notably, the report calls for reinforcing the spirit of internationalism, shared humanity and the central importance of compassion in everything we say and do.
For an executive summary of the report, click here.
For the full report, click here.
About the State of Civil Society Report 2019
Each year the CIVICUS State of Civil Society Report examines the major events that involve and affect civil society around the world. This report looks back at the key stories of 2018 for civil society - the most significant developments that civil society was involved in, responded to and was impacted by.
Our report is of, from and for civil society, putting front and centre the perspectives of a wide range of civil society activists and leaders close to the major stories of the day. In particular, it presents findings from the CIVICUS Monitor, our online platform that tracks threats to civic space in every country.
For further information or to request interviews with CIVICUS staff and contributors to this report, please click here or contact:
New proposed laws relating to social media use in Nepal are intended to stifle dissent and silence critical voices, say global and regional human rights groups.
Global civil society alliance, CIVICUS and the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) say they are seriously concerned that new legislation, which has been tabled in parliament by the Nepalese government, are meant to create a chilling effect on freedom of expression in the country.
On February 20, 2019, Nepal's government tabled the Information Technology bill in parliament, which would impose harsh sanctions for “improper” social media posts. Under the proposed law, the government would have the power to block social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, unless the owners registered their platforms in Nepal. The government can also instruct social network site operators to remove posts. Failure to do so could lead to a three-year jail term and a fine of 30,000 Nepalese rupees (US$ 262). Those responsible for social media posts deemed defamatory or against national sovereignty could be punished with up to five years behind bars and a fine of 1.5 million Nepalese rupees (USD 13,000).
“We are extremely concerned that this bill is overly broad and restrictive and, if passed, could be used to block or criminalise reporting on government misconduct and the expression of critical opinions by civil society and citizens,” said Josef Benedict, CIVICUS Civic Space Researcher.
“Any efforts to genuinely regulate online content must be approached in a transparent and consultative manner, and avoid criminal restrictions on free speech,” said Benedict.
“We call on the Nepalese government to ensure that the legislation is in line with international law and standards in particular the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which it has ratified and that vague provisions around protecting national sovereignty should be removed”
CIVICUS and AHRC are also concerned about a new bill, tabled on February 13 2019, that prohibits civil servants from sharing their views through media including their micro-blogging sites, even after their retirement from government service. The law also prohibits speeches and writing that are considered “contrary to the policies of the Government of Nepal or to undermine mutual relationship between the Government of Nepal and the people or the relationship with any foreign country”.
“It is extremely worrying to see such laws being introduced by the authorities that will further shrink civic space in Nepal,” said Basil Fernando, Director of AHRC.
“Criticism and dissent are essential attributes for an open and democratic society. We urge the authorities to pull the plug on such regressive legislation and instead take steps to create an enabling environment for freedom of expression to flourish,” said Fernando.
Fundamental freedoms in Nepal continue to face serious threats. Journalists have been arrested and charged under the Electronic Transaction Act 2008 for their reports and dozens have been attacked or threatened. Police have also used excessive and lethal force at demonstrations, with impunity and laws have been proposed to curtail the work of NGOs.
For more information or to arrange an interview, please contact:
Insert CIVICUS facebook page link
Insert CIVICUS twitter account (including Monitor twitter account where relevant
Belgrade, Serbia – Across the globe, human rights organisations are increasingly being attacked by governments. Activists, journalists and people who speak out against growing restrictions are persecuted. A historic rise of populist leaders continues to erode fundamental freedoms, heightening political polarisation and sowing division.
We are in the midst of unprecedented global challenges – challenges that civil society and citizens worldwide have begun responding to with renewed determination.
It is within this context that International Civil Society Week 2019 (ICSW) kicks off next week - a global gathering of over 850 civil society leaders, activists and concerned citizens across sectors, regions and themes taking place April 8-12 in Belgrade, Serbia. Delegates will share ideas and propose common solutions around some of the most pressing challenges in the fields of human rights, democracy and international development, and explore ways to unlock the power of collective action to stand up for democratic freedoms across the world.
Co-hosted by the global civil society alliance, CIVICUS and Serbian civil society association, Civic Initiatives, with support of the Balkans Civil Society Development Network, ICSW will present a programme that includes over 30 sessions on topics ranging from the crackdown on media freedom to emergency assistance for NGOs under attack to greater civil society accountability, with a variety of partner events as well as key addresses by high-profile speakers. From their alliance of more than 7,000 members in 175 countries and regional presence, CIVICUS and Civic Initiatives have engaged more than 30 organisational partners and a number of high-profile, inspirational speakers to share their experiences and learnings with delegates.
In country after country, democracy is under attack, with populist and right-wing movements gaining ground and democratic regression being witnessed even in countries historically considered bastions of democracy.
According to the CIVICUS Monitor, an online platform that tracks threats to civil society in all countries, only 4% of the world’s population live in places where their rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly are properly respected and protected.
“Yet, civil society is fighting back, finding new and innovative way of organising and taking action. We are seeing new alliances being forged and an increasing openness to coalition building - with activists from different causes and communities coming together to fight for common issues,” said Lysa John, CIVICUS Secretary General.
“This year’s event in Serbia comes at a critical and opportune time for civil society and the world’s citizens to realise the power of unified, collective action to challenge a global trend that threatens our fundamental freedoms,” said John.
This year’s theme – ‘The Power of Togetherness’ – explores how people and organisations around the world can, and are, working together to enable and defend spaces for civic action in a world where global transformations are reshaping how civil society functions.
For the first time in almost a quarter century of international convening, CIVICUS will host its flagship event in the Balkans – a region of 11 countries and 55 million people. The host city, Belgrade, is one of Europe’s oldest, with a 7,000-year history representing a complex Serbian history and regional experience that provides an opportune place to explore the need for togetherness and the power of collective action.
“Throughout its history, Serbia has shifted back and forth between authoritarian regimes and democracy,” said Civic Initiatives’ Maja Stojanovic.
“During the 1990s, authoritarian regimes produced conflicts, severe human rights violations and genocide. Today, as we approach European Union membership, internal and international independent monitoring mechanisms show shrinking media freedoms, a lack of separation of power and rule of law, and deterioration of freedom of elections,” said Stojanovic.
“This region, and particularly Serbia, demonstrates that changing laws, strategies or governments offers no guarantees – democracy does not exist if it is not built constantly. By hosting this year’s event in Belgrade, we will convene and send messages rooted in local circumstances and, in the same time, fully reflecting global challenges.”
The event will begin with a two-day Youth Assembly in the Serbian city of Novi Sad, which has been selected as the European Youth Capital for 2019. Bringing together more than 100 young activists
from across the globe, the Assembly will offer delegates the opportunity to engage with international peers, examining and taking action on some of the critical challenges facing youth in civil society today.
NOTES FOR EDITORS
For more information, please contact:
ABOUT THE CONVENERS
The conveners of ICSW 2019 are CIVICUS and Civic Initiatives (CI).
CIVICUS is a global alliance of civil society organisations and activists dedicated to strengthening citizen action and civil society around the world. Founded in 1993, CIVICUS strives to promote marginalised voices, especially from the Global South, and has members in more than 145 countries throughout the world.
Civic Initiatives (CI) was founded in May 1996 by a group of prominent NGO activists that were involved in the anti-war movement and non-nationalist democratic opposition since 1990. Since then, Civic Initiatives respond to the need to create a civic base that sustains democratic values by supporting citizens' activism and advocating for better legal framework for civic participation.
GET MORE INFO & UPDATES
More information is available on the virtual press centre. Find out what’s happening in real-time on the ICSW Live platform, a hub that links delegates with global civil society, with audio/ video interviews, and interactive features. You can also join the conversation on social media #ICSW2019, and get daily updates/ live streams of various sessions on CIVICUS and Civic Initiatives social media channels: CIVICUS Facebook and Civic Initiatives Facebook .
FAQs ABOUT ICSW 2019
What is International Civil Society Week 2019?
International Civil Society Week (ICSW), being hosted from April 8-12, 2019, is a key global gathering for civil society and other stakeholders to engage constructively in finding common solutions to global challenges. For the first time in more than 20 years of international convening, CIVICUS in partnership with Civic Initiatives (CI), will hold its flagship event in the Balkans region.
What are our key themes for 2019?
The ICSW 2019 programme will be centred along three interrelated tracks, to enable delegates to work together to:
Who will be attending?
Over 850 delegates from across the world will be part of ICSW 2019. These will include civil society leaders, activists, representatives from intergovernmental bodies,, governments, and the media.
Serbia and the Western Balkans have strong legal frameworks which are supposed to guarantee the basic rights of citizens. Yet, since the nineties, dictatorial regimes and shrinking basic rights have made these so called guarantees largely paper based, with conflicts, severe human rights violations and genocide happening in practice. Today, internal and international independent monitoring mechanisms show shrinking media freedoms, lack of separation of power and rule of law, and deterioration of freedom of elections. By hosting ICSW 2019 in Serbia, we aim to shine a spotlight on the work of the Balkan civil society community to address the ongoing challenges in the region and find ways to collaborate and support their work by building alliances between local and international civil society.
Global civil society groups are concerned at indications by the government of Gabon that it intends to investigate local civil society organisations and members of the political opposition for their involvement in the recent military coup attempt.
A small group of Gabon army soldiers seized control of the country’s national broadcasting station in the capital, Libreville, on January 7 and announced a political takeover and the setting up of a National Restoration Council to oust President Ali Bongo. The coup was thwarted after security forces stormed the building, killing two of the soldiers involved in the operation. Eight plotters have been arrested. A day after the failed coup, the government shut down the internet nationwide and suspended broadcasting services.
There are concerns that the Gabonese authorities might use the failed coup as a pretext to clampdown on fundamental rights to freedom of assembly, expression and association and tighten its grip on the media.
Amid heightened political tensions, global civil society alliance, CIVICUS, has expressed serious concern at comments by government spokesperson Guy-Bertrand Mapangou that certain opposition parties and civil society would be investigated for supporting the coup.
“We urge Gabon not to target individual human rights defenders or civil society but to instead increase the space for fundamental rights to be enjoyed by all Gabonese,” said Teldah Mawarire of CIVICUS.
“What Gabon needs is democratic reform and the respect of the rule of law – virtues which have been absent from the country for half a century,” Mawarire said.
The Internet shutdown has also sparked concern, as a violation of the freedom of citizens to express themselves freely and to impart and receive information without hinderance. CIVICUS has urged the Gabonese government to ensure that fundamental freedoms are respected, in the wake of the coup attempt.
President of Gabon, Ali Bongo has been away receiving medical attention in Morocco since last October. He succeeded his father Omar Bongo in 2009 in a contested election in which the opposition alleged electoral fraud. The Bongo family has ruled Gabon for 51 years. There has been an increase in restrictions on fundamental freedoms since a contested 2016 elections characterized by a media blackout, the killing of protesters, widespread arrests and intimidation and harassment of journalists.
Last November, the authorities suspended the newspaper L’Aube for three months for publishing an article about the president’s health. The publication’s editor was banned from practicing journalism for six months. The same month, in a move widely criticized by civil society as being unconstitutional, the Constitutional Court amended the constitution to accommodate the absence of President Ali Bongo. Gabonese Civil society groups argued that the mandate of the Constitutional Court was limited to interpreting the constitution and not to change it.
The CIVICUS Monitor, an online platform that tracks threats to civil society in all countries, has rated civic space – the space for civil society – in Gabon as “Repressed”. This means that civil society organisations there operates under serious restrictions, which impede their ability to speak out on or protest any issue of concern to them.
Following the attempted coup, the African Union (AU) commendably and swiftly condemned the action and urged a return to the rule of law. However, the AU has been encouraged to apply the same urgency to address the longstanding repression of fundamental rights by the Gabonese state.
For more information, please contact:
Click here for our Press Centre
Global human rights groups have expressed grave concern over the expulsion of 18 international non-governmental organisations (INGOs) from Pakistan.
The Pakistani authorities ordered the INGOs to leave the country after rejecting their final appeals to remain. According to reports, all 18 expelled organisations, with the exception of two that are still trying to overturn their ouster in court, have closed their operations in Pakistan. Another 20 groups are reportedly also at risk of expulsion following the authorities’ singling out of a total of 38 international aid groups for closure a few months ago.
Global civil society alliance, CIVICUS, said this was a regressive move that will have a negative impact on thousands of ordinary Pakistani families that have been assisted by these organisations to claim their rights and build a better life.
“The Pakistani government's closure of international organisations is a clear violation of the fundamental right to freedom of association,” said David Kode, CIVICUS’s Advocacy and Campaigns Lead.
“It shows a disturbing disregard for the well-being of ordinary Pakistanis who rely on and benefit from the assistance and support provided by these groups," said Kode.
On October 3, Pakistan’s Interior Ministry ordered 18 INGOs, including Action Aid, Plan International, International Alert and Safer World, to wind up their operations within 60 days. This followed the Ministry’s rejection of their applications for re-registration, without offering reasons, in November 2017.
Pakistan has the world’s sixth largest population, a fifth of which live in poverty. In 2017 alone, the INGO sector reached an estimated 34 million people with humanitarian relief and development assistance. The INGOs affected by the closure order are engaged in supporting access to healthcare, education and good governance.
These expulsions come three years after the previous government ordered all INGOs operating in Pakistan to re-register with the Interior Ministry, under a new policy that worked to hamper the registration and functioning of international humanitarian and human rights groups.
The new policy and registration process required the submission of detailed accounts of INGOs’ current and past project funding. Even more concerning, all INGOs working in the country are required to sign a new Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), which prohibits any participation in ‘political activity,’ such as campaigning and advocacy activities, as well as distribution of materials deemed to negatively affect social, cultural and religious sentiments. The MoU also prevents INGOs from appealing the government’s decisions in court.
CIVICUS said the removal of these INGOs violates the right to freedom of association enshrined in Article 17 of Pakistan’s Constitution and guaranteed by Article 22 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Pakistan is a party to. Any restriction on the right to freedom of association must be in strict compliance with international human rights law. In particular, any restriction shall be prescribed by law and must have a legitimate aim. Furthermore, the law concerned must be precise, certain and foreseeable. It shall also be adopted through a democratic process that ensures public participation and review. The recent actions fulfill none of these criteria.
“The Pakistani government must reconsider its decision to expel these groups and halt any further plans to shut down other civil society organisations.” Said Kode.
“Instead, as part of its reform agenda, it should take steps to revise its policy on INGOs to avoid contravening the rights to freedom of expression and association and ensure the policy cannot be misused to restrict organisations’ legitimate work.” said Kode.
CIVICUS has urged the government to create an enabling environment for civil society and human rights defenders to operate, in accordance with the rights enshrined in the Constitution of Pakistan, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, among others.
For more information or to arrange an interview, please contact:
Exactly twenty years after the United Nations adopted a historic declaration to protect human rights defenders, activists are being violent attacked and killed globally in unprecedented numbers.
This crisis for rights campaigners has prompted more than 900 organisations working on human rights to endorse a global statement raising serious concerns about the glaring gaps between the provisions in the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders and the treatment of those on the frontlines of the fight for human rights.
The statement comes as the world commemorates the 20th anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders on December 9.
The Declaration is an inspirational text that upholds the rights of all human rights defenders (HRDs) to promote, protect and defend human rights, from the individual to global spheres. It affirms the responsibility and duty of states to protect defenders against violence, threats, retaliation and arbitrary actions resulting from the exercise of their fundamental rights.
“Twenty years after the adoption of the Declaration on HRDs, HRDs across the world are exposed to excesses by state and non-state actors. There are glaring gaps in the recognition of the work of HRDs and in protecting them. A lot more needs to be done to ensure HRDs are able to do their work without fear of intimidation, threats or violence.” Said David Kode, CIVICUS’s Advocacy and Campaigns Lead.
The global statement is a collective call to governments, identified as the primary perpetrators of violence against HRDs, to respect the Declaration’s provisions, recognise rights activists as key players in the development of societies and create an enabling environment for them to engage in their activism without fear of intimidation, threats and violence.
As the international community commemorates this milestone, we are reminded of the dangerous environment in which many HRDs operate. Over the past two decades, more than 3,500 rights activists have been killed for their work. Last year alone, more than 300 were murdered in some 27 countries. Despite the fact that these heinous crimes are preceded by threats, which are often reported to the authorities, in almost all cases, pleas for help and protection are routinely ignored. The high levels of impunity enjoyed by perpetrators of these acts are enhanced by the fact that culprits are often not prosecuted even when they are known to the authorities.
HRDs continue to be subjected to judicial persecution and are charged with serious crimes such as terrorism, secession, treason, engendering state security and drug trafficking for their part in pro-democracy and human rights campaigns. Most of these charges carry hefty penalties and, in most cases, trials are flawed.
Rights defenders are also subjected to acts of intimidation and smear campaigns and, in a time of heightened geopolitical tensions and bolstered government counter-terror programmes, are labeled “agents of foreign powers,” and “enemies of the state.” The objective is to discredit their work and force them to self-censor or leave their base communities.
Many HRDs have been abducted and simply disappeared with no official information on their whereabouts. Others have fled to other countries to avoid state reprisals. While activists are targeted for violence and attacks by states, increasingly they also face specific and heightened risks because they challenge business interests.
“It is time for states to ensure that they fully commit to their international human rights obligations. Women human rights defenders, environmental, land rights and indigenous activists as well as those defending the rights of excluded communities continue to bear the brunt of attacks and restrictions by state and non-state actors.” Kode continued.
As leaders of civil society organisations working across different nations and regions at all levels, the statements’ signatories have called on governments as primary duty bearers to guarantee that human rights defenders can carry out their work safely, without fear of intimidation or the threats of violence. The group has urged businesses to respect the rights of people to express their views and protest, in accordance with UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.
For more information, please contact:
Indonesian authorities arbitrarily arrested hundreds of demonstrators across West Papua and other parts of Indonesia on December 1 following peaceful pro-independence protests.
West Papua is a former Dutch colony that was placed under Indonesian rule following a United Nations-supervised referendum in 1969, which many believe to be fraudulent.
The rallies were held to mark the 57th anniversary of the raising of the Morning Star flag - a banned symbol of Papuan independence – to declare independence from the Netherlands.
Global civil rights group, CIVICUS, says the arrest of at least 500 activists highlights the continued repression against peaceful pro-independence activism in West Papua and the ongoing impunity for these violations.
According to reports, peaceful demonstrations took place in several locations in West Papua as well as other cities across the country including the cities of Jakarta, Surabaya, Palu, Kupang, Makassar, Manado and Ambon. Most of the arrested have been released.
In Surabaya city, which saw one of the biggest rallies, protesters were allegedly attacked by pro-government nationalist groups leaving at least 17 injured.
“The weekend arrests of hundreds of West Papuan activists solely for their peaceful political expression is outrageous and another attempt to silence their ongoing demands. Despite continued promises by President Joko Widodo to address the grievances of West Papuans, all they have faced time and time again are repressive actions by the Indonesian security forces” said Josef Benedict, CIVICUS civic space researcher.
There have been long standing demands by West Papuan groups for independence due to the exploitation of land and resources and serious human rights violations in the region. Over the decades, the Indonesian security forces have responded brutally with reports of unlawful killings and unnecessary and excessive use of force and firearms during peaceful pro-independence protests and gatherings.
Political activists and others accused of links to pro-independence groups have been tortured or otherwise ill-treated during arrests. Most recently, in September 2018, at least 67 Papuan student activists were detained by the police for participating in at least three protests in Jayapura..
“The international community, especially countries in the region, cannot continue to stay silent on the abuses in West Papua. It must push for an end to the suppression of fundamental freedoms there and call for a genuine dialogue between the government and West Papuans to resolve the situation in the region.” said Benedict.
CIVICUS has called on the Indonesian government to respect the right to freedom of expression and assembly and take the necessary steps to ensure that all police and military personnel who have been involved in human rights violations in West Papua are held accountable. The government must also take measures to ensure that local human rights defenders and journalists are protected and that international human rights organisations, journalists and the UN are provided unimpeded access to the West Papuan region.
For more information or to arrange an interview, please contact:
A chilling smear campaign by government-aligned media in Bangladesh against a local human rights group is the latest in an ongoing drive to prevent efforts to expose human rights violations in the country.
Global civil rights group, CIVICUS, says the campaign targeting human rights organisation Odhikar highlights the repressive environment for civil society in Bangladesh.
Odhikar was founded in 1994 and is a member of the International Federation for Human Rights.
In the latest spate of incidents, the Election Commission of Bangladesh abruptly cancelled the Odhikar’s registration as an election observer on November 2018, saying that the state-run NGO Affairs Bureau (NGOAB) had notified them that the organisation’s registration had expired.
Three days later, the daily Janakantha newspaper published an article accusing Odhikar of being involved in various “anti-state and anti-government activities”, engaged in “conspiracy against the country”. It claimed the group was “tarnishing the country’s image by providing wrong information to the international community regarding elections and the human rights situation” in Bangladesh.
The reporter also alleged that intelligence agencies recommended that the activities of Odhikar be shut down for violating NGO regulations, unlawfully taking funds from donor agencies and suspicious bank accounts. Odhikar has denied the accusations and called them completely false and fabricated.
Since then, other media reports have surfaced calling for Odhikar’s activities to be stopped, alleging anti-state actions among them, a report by private TV channel, Channel 1 on November 16, accusing the organisation of embezzling funds.
“This damaging smear campaign to discredit the work of an organization committed to upholding human rights is extremely alarming for civil society and civic freedoms in Bangladesh,” said Josef Benedict, Civic Space Researcher at CIVICUS.
“These actions are unjustifiable intimidation tactics and highlight a pattern of demonising human rights defenders who are critical of the government,” Benedict said.
Since 2014, the NGO Affairs Bureau (NGOAB), state agency, has deliberately subjected Odhikar to bureaucratic delays to deprive the organisation of financial resources, while also withholding the renewal of its mandatory registration. Odhikar has previously been publicly threatened by the police for carrying out “subversive” activities” after documenting a spate of extrajudicial killings in Bangladesh in 2013. Activists working with Odhikar have come under surveillance, been targeted and arbitrarily detained for their activities.
““Bangladesh must start acting like a member of the UN Human Rights Council and take immediate steps to put an end to all forms of harassment against Odhikar and its staff,” said Benedict.
“The government must also ensure that human rights defenders are able to carry out their legitimate activities without any hindrance and fear of reprisals.”
Bangladeshis are scheduled to go to the polls in late December to vote in national elections. Ahead of elections, scores of activists and government critics have been detained following peaceful protests with some facing criminal defamation charges. The authorities have also launched intensive and intrusive surveillance and monitoring of social media and have attempted to weaken opposition parties by arresting their members and dispersing their gatherings.
CIVICUS has called on the government to also respect the right to freedom of association, which it committed to in its recent review at the Human Rights Council and confirm Odhikar’s registration with the NGO Affairs Bureau immediately as well as reinstate the organisations registration for election observation.
Bangladesh was added to a global watchlist of countries which have seen an alarming escalation in threats to civil society. The CIVICUS Monitor, an online platform that tracks threats to civil society in countries across the globe, rates civic space – the space for civil society – in Bangladesh as ‘repressed’
For more information or to arrange an interview, please contact:
Josef Benedict, Civic Space Researcher, CIVICUS
On November 29, the world commemorates International Women Human Rights Defenders Day - just 10 days before the 20th Anniversary of the international signing of the Declaration on human rights defenders. On these important milestones, we turn the spotlight on the rights of women human rights defenders and call attention to serious violations of these rights globally but particularly in Saudi Arabia.
Since May 2018, at least a dozen women’s rights defenders have been arrested and subject to human rights violations for their activism in Saudi Arabia. Recent reports have emerged that some of the detained women activists have been subject to electrocution, flogging, sexual harassment and other forms of torture. Testimonies recount that this abuse has left some of the women unable to walk or stand properly with uncontrolled shaking and marks on their bodies. One of them has attempted suicide multiple times.
“Since May we have been advocating for the unconditional release of Saudi Women’s Rights Defenders - and to learn of the torture WHRDs are subject to fuels our work even further,” said Uma Mishra-Newbery, Director of Global Community from Women’s March Global.
A campaign launched by members of the Free Saudi Women Coalition including Women’s March Global and Coalition partners, the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR), the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR), CIVICUS and Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB), has been advocating for the immediate and unconditional release of Saudi women human rights defenders.
More than 240,000 signatures have been collected on Women’s March Global’s Change.org petition calling on the United Nations to hold Saudi Arabia accountable. More than 170 NGOs have called on the United Nations to suspend Saudi Arabia from the UN Human Rights Council and to hold an inquiry into human rights abuses in the country.
“Among the women’s rights defenders jailed this year in Saudi Arabia are partners and friends. One young woman was kidnapped and brought to Saudi Arabia against her will – just as the authorities had planned with prominent journalist Jamal Khashoggi who was murdered in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul in October,” said Khalid Ibrahim, GCHR Executive Director.
“We can’t forget the brave women’s rights defenders who are at risk of torture and abuse in prison, and we fear greatly for their well-being.”
Notably, Saudi Arabia has silenced women human rights defenders for decades, and those recently arrested are not the only ones in prison, where other women are serving prison sentences or even facing execution for protesting.
“Authorities continuously violate rights to peaceful assembly, curb the formation of independent civil society organisations, and restrict freedom of expression for Saudi activists” said Masana Ndinga-Kanga, MENA Advocacy Lead from CIVICUS.
“The very women at the forefront of campaigning for the right to drive, which was recently granted, have been detained for their calls for an end to the male guardianship system over women,” said Ndinga-Kanga.
The CIVICUS Monitor, an online platform that tracks threats to civil society in all countries around the globe, has rated civic space – the space for civil society – in Saudi Arabia as “closed”.
“Women human rights defenders in Saudi Arabia, in the absence of any independent NGOs, provide a vital lifeline of support for equality and protection from violence for women of their country who are left with blocked access, inadequate resources or ineffective protection from violence of all forms," said a Saudi human rights defender who can’t be named for their own protection.
The coalition partners have called for international action, including ending arms sales to Saudi Arabia, which is enabling the war in Yemen since 2015. Salma El Hosseiny, ISHR's Human Rights Council Advocate said that UN Human Rights Council members should call for a Special Session on the increasing internal repression by the Saudi authorities against human rights defenders, journalists and other peaceful critics.
"Silence by the world's top UN human rights body on these egregious violations would only embolden the Saudi authorities to escalate their internal repression and continue to torture defenders, with complete impunity,” said El Hosseiny.
“Action by the international community will put Saudi Arabia on notice not only that domestic repression is unacceptable, but that its actions in Yemen are unacceptable,” said Husain Abdulla, ADHRB Executive Director.
“We call for accountability for those responsible, not only for the arrests of women’s rights defenders, but the millions facing famine in Yemen, and for the kingdom to meet its international treaty obligations.”
Women’s March Global, GCHR, ISHR, CIVICUS and ADHRB reiterate calls for Saudi Arabia to immediately release all human rights defenders, including women’s rights activists, and end the abuse and torture of women human rights defenders in prison. The Saudi claims that torture is not taking place in prison are not credible and the international community must act immediately to protect these detainees, especially the women who are reportedly being subjected to torture.
CIVICUS is a global alliance of civil society organisations and activists dedicated to strengthening citizen action and civil society throughout the world. Established in 1993 and headquartered in Johannesburg, South Africa, CIVICUS has hubs across the globe and more than 4,000 members in more than 175 countries.
Photo credit: ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2013/Ayene
Global and Turkish human rights groups fear that the detention of thirteen activists and academics could signal a new upsurge in a state crackdown on dissent in Turkey.
On October 16, police raided the homes of well-known human rights defender Yiğit Aksakoğlu and twelve other activists and academics. They were detained on suspicion of having violated Article 312 of the Penal Code, which regulates crimes such as attempts to overthrow the government, and interrogated about the Gezi protests in 2013.
The activists were accused of having connections with Anadolu Kültür and Açık Toplum Vakfı, civil society organisations affiliated to activist and businessman Osman Kavala, who has been imprisoned since 2017. Twelve of the activists have been released but Yiğit is in pre-trial detention at Silivri Prison, some 90 kilometres west of the capital, Istanbul.
Global civil society, CIVICUS, and local rights groups have condemned the detentions, which is clearly intended as an act of intimidation.
Yiğit, who is regularly under surveillance by the state, is accused of moderating meetings after the Geza protests – despite a court’s admission that the content of the meetings cannot be ascertained. The authorities claim that his meetings and telephone communications highlight plans to organise civil disobedience campaigns.
Yiğit has been active in civil society circles since the 1990s in Turkey. He is committed to promoting human rights, non-violence and pluralism. He is currently the representative of the Bernard Leer Foundation, a Dutch Foundation that focuses on early childhood development and child welfare.
“The continued pre-trial detention of Yiğit Aksakoğlu is an ominous indication of the paranoid state of democracy in Turkey under President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s government, which continues to persecute those who engage in public debate on political issues,” said Mandeep Tiwana, CIVICUS’ Chief Programmes Officer.
“It is a common tactic to silence intellectuals under the guise that they plan to overthrow the government despite lifting of the state of emergency in July 2018. The European Union should raise these concerns during their meeting with Turkish officials today,” said Tiwana.
The most recent detentions and persecution of Yiğit and other activists raise serious concerns over a renewed crackdown on activists and citizens in a manner similar to the wave of repression the authorities unleashed in the aftermath of the failed coup in 2016. At least 136,990 activists, academics and citizens and 319 journalists have been detained since the failed coup. In addition, 189 media outlets have been shut down.
CIVICUS urges Turkish authorities to end the onslaught on democratic rights. Yiğit Aksakoğlu should be released immediately along-with others imprisoned because of their political beliefs since the crackdown on perceived government opponents began in 2016. We call on the European Union to raise these concerns with Turkish officials during the political meeting today and urge the Turkish authorities to create an enabling environment for activists, journalists and academics to do their work without fear of intimidation or arrest.
Turkey is rated ‘repressed’ by the CIVICUS Monitor, an online tool that tracks threats to civil society in all countries around the globe.
For more information, please contact:
David Kode, Advocacy and Campaigns Lead, CIVICUS
International civil society is alarmed at the rising incidents of Cameroonian journalists being detained for reporting on human rights abuses in the country’s Anglophone regions.
In the most recent case, Mimi Mefo Takambou, head of English news for the private TV Channel, Equinoxe was arrested in Cameroon’s largest city, Douala on November 7 after she responded to a police summons. The summons was issued in late October 2018 as part of an investigation into false news and cybercrime offences.
Takambou faces charges of engendering state security, spreading false news and cyber criminality. The engendering state security charge raises serious concerns that she may will be tried by a military tribunal under Cameroon’s notorious terrorism legislation. Takambou is currently being held at Douala’s notorious New Bell prison.
The journalist, who also has a blog covering socio-economic and political issues, was summoned by police after publishing information about the killing of American missionary Charles Trumann Wesco near the city of Bamenda in the North West Region on 30 October 2018. Since the start of the Anglophone crisis in 2016, journalists particularly those of Anglophone origin have been subjected to politically motivated prosecutions and jailed following the militarization of the Anglophone regions.
“The detention of Mimi Mefo and several other journalists is typical of the actions of a rogue regime,” said Mandeep Tiwana, Chief Programmes Officer at global civil society alliance, CIVICUS.
“In defiance of international norms, Cameroonian authorities are using indiscriminate violence and intimidation to force journalists and ordinary citizens to self-censor amid a growing political crisis and rising human rights violations in the two Anglophone regions,” said Tiwana.
The state’s targeting of journalists has intensified after disputed presidential elections on 7 October 2018, in which incumbent President Paul Biya claimed victory. This latest case serves to intimidate other journalists against reporting on the Anglophone crisis and post-election developments.
In the last month alone, at least six journalists have been arbitrarily arrested and are currently detained for coverage of the crisis and the political situation in Cameroon. On October 23, editor of the privately-owned website Hurinews, Michael Biem Tong, was summoned by the Secretariat of the State for Defence in Yaoundé after publishing information critical of the government’s response to the Anglophone crisis. Less than two weeks later, security forces assaulted, arrested and detained journalist Joseph Olinga of le Messager newspaper as part of a crackdown on peaceful protests calling for a vote re-count from the October 7 elections. Gustave Flaubert Kengne, publisher of Orientation Hebdo, a publication that focuses on human rights issues, also remains detained without charge.
CIVICUS calls on the African Union to urge the Cameroonian government to respect the rights of journalists in line with provisions in the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights, and immediately release Takambou and all others currently held for reporting on human rights violations.
“It is time for the African union to wake up from its slumber and call on the government of Cameroon to respect the rights of its citizens,” Tiwana said.
The CIVICUS Monitor, an online platform that tracks threats to civil society in countries across the globe, rates the space for civil society in Cameroon as repressed. Cameroon is also on the Watch List of the Monitor.
For more information or to arrange an interview, please contact:
Ine Van Severen
If we could reimagine the kind of democracy we live in and the way we experience democracy, what would it look and be like?
This was the question researchers put to thought leaders and activists from nearly 80 countries across the globe, in a year-long ‘Reimagining Democracy’ initiative. Even though the project coincided with the rise of regressive populist ideas and political polarisation in many parts of the world, the resounding answer is that people want more democracy, not less of it.
Led by global civil society alliance, CIVICUS, the initiative’s report entitled, ‘Democracy for All: Beyond a crisis of imagination’, draws from insights gleaned from almost 100 interviews, 54 essays and 26 ‘democracy dialogues’ from across the world to discuss the state of democracy.
“We were motivated to explore the question of reimagining democracy by looking at current challenges while examining fundamental flaws in institutions and the practice of democracy,” said Mandeep Tiwana, CIVICUS’ Chief Programmes Officer and one of the initiative’s leaders.
“The world’s governance systems are living in the moment, stymied by a crisis of imagination, short-term thinking and the tactical considerations of those in power. We need radical solutions grounded in democratic values for the future,” said Tiwana.
In country after country, democracy is under attack. In many countries, we see democratic regression and the withdrawal of democratic freedoms. According to the CIVICUS Monitor, an online platform measuring civic space, freedoms of expression, association and peaceful assembly are being undermined in most parts of the world. We see the rise of polarising politics and the cult of the strong-arm leader. We see right-wing populism on the march. At the same time, profound global problems such as climate change, inequality and conflict are left largely unaddressed. Everywhere around the world, people are unhappy with the limited and exclusionary forms of democracy they experience.
The initiative’s participants outlined several innovative solutions for a renewal of democracy, centred around access to political and economic decision-making at all levels. The report identifies three fundamental shifts required to reimagine democracy.
First, decision-making needs to take place at the local and community levels. The report calls for new and enhanced forms of community-level participation, with decisions defined by local needs and aspirations. It recommends more direct and deliberative democracy, through means such as citizens’ assemblies and community parliaments.
Second, global problems need global solutions, developed through global democracy. Citizens should have a direct say in international decision-making that impacts on their lives. One solution offered is a world parliament, elected directly by people and not on nation-state lines. In the face of today’s challenges, the report points to international governance as a legitimate sphere of action for people and organisations to claim rights and advance change.
Third, a new vision is needed to address exclusion and inequality through a democratised economy that works for all. Key elements include democratic participation in economic decision-making; properly functioning tax regimes; redistribution of wealth; provision of quality non-monetised public services for all; workplace democracy; and sustainable management of world’s finite resources through democratic control.
The report concludes that civil society has played a key role in leading the global response to democratic challenges. In places as diverse as Armenia, South Korea and The Gambia, people’s movements have recently sparked democratic breakthroughs, successfully challenging autocratic leaders at the ballot box and in the streets. In West African countries such as Burkina Faso and Senegal, young people have led movements, mobilising creatively to stand up to autocratic rulers who tried to extend their time in office. Malaysia’s ruling party was finally defeated after more than six decades of entrenched power, with civil society’s campaigning against corruption and electoral abuses pivotal.
The Me Too and Time’s Up movements mobilised huge numbers of people, changing the debate about the status of women in societies and workplaces not just in the US but around the world. In Ireland, people’s mobilisations have shown how citizen assemblies and referendums can advance rights with a successful campaign to change the abortion law, marking a victory for women’s sexual and reproductive rights.
“To progress, we must work harder to make elections fair while building diverse alliances that support independent judiciaries, media and other stakeholders interested in protecting democratic values. Notably, civil society needs to lead by example, by modelling democratic accountability that we want to see,” said Tiwana.
Overall, the ‘Reimagining Democracy’ initiative found that in general, people still believe that democracy is the best form of governance, even if they are dissatisfied with their current experience of it. It’s a fundamental human aspiration to have voice and influence over the circumstances of our lives. With substantive democracy, better decisions can be taken and decision-makers can be held more accountable.
Notes for Editors
For the full report, click here.
To read all of the contributions on the Reimagining Democracy platform, on which the report is based, click here.
For real-time data on threats to democracy and civil society in all countries, provided by The CIVICUS Monitor, click here.
For the 2018 State of Civil Society report, click here.
CIVICUS is a global alliance of civil society organisations and activists dedicated to strengthening citizen action and civil society throughout the world. Established in 1993 and headquartered in Johannesburg, South Africa, CIVICUS has hubs across the globe and more than 4,000 members in more than 175 countries.
Our definition of civil society is broad and covers non-governmental organisations, activists, civil society coalitions and networks, protest and social movements, voluntary bodies, campaigning organisations, charities, faith-based groups, trade unions and philanthropic foundations. Our membership is diverse, spanning a wide range of issues, sizes and organisation types.
CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance and The Innovation for Change South Asia Hub are extremely concerned about the political crisis in Sri Lanka and its impact on the rule of law and civic space in the country.
We are gravely concerned that President Maithripala Sirisena has undermined the rule of law by unconstitutionally removing the sitting Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and replacing him with former President and current Member of Parliament Mahinda Rajapaksa overnight. Rajapaksa’s administration was implicated in serious violations during the final stages of Sri Lanka’s civil war and the suppression of freedoms of the media, expression, and association.
This was followed by a decision to undemocratically suspend Parliament denying Members of Parliament, who exercise sovereignty on the peoples’ behalf, the ability to assemble at this crucial time. We demand that the Parliament be reconvened immediately allowing representatives of the people to decide the way forward and to prevent the nation from plunging into a state of political instability and impunity.
Our organisations are also alarmed by reports of the forcible take-over of state media institutions and intimidation of journalists disrupting the free flow of information to the public. We condemn such actions and call on the authorities to ensure that press freedom, a crucial component of a democracy is respected.
We are also concerned that these political developments may put the civic freedom of Sri Lankans at risk. Citizens must be allowed to exercise their rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association.
We hope that Sri Lanka’s democratic gains of the past several years will not be lost and we stand in solidarity with civil society and human rights defenders from Sri Lanka at this difficult time.
Saudi Arabia should immediately and unconditionally release all arbitrarily detained activists, respect their rights to freedom of expression, association, and assembly, and put an immediate end to its nationwide crackdown, a coalition of leading human rights organizations said today. A symbolic display of the magnitude of the authorities’ crackdown has been the enforced disappearance, alleged torture and the extrajudicial killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Saudi Arabia’s consulate in Istanbul, Turkey.
“The nationwide crackdown against civil society in Saudi Arabia continues unabated”, said Danny Sriskandarajah, Secretary-General of CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance. “Journalists, bloggers, human rights defenders, and lawyers are facing arbitrary arrest, detention, smear campaigns labeling them as ‘foreign agents and terrorists’, and criminalisation for exercising their fundamental human rights”, added Sriskandarajah.
As the authorities lifted the driving ban for women, they arrested dozens of women human rights defenders who have been campaigning against the ban and the male guardianship system. “These women face double the repression: they are not only targeted for speaking out against the State’s policies but also for defying patriarchy and demanding gender equality”, said Uma Mishra-Newbery, Director of Global Community for Women’s March Global.
“Jamal Khashoggi’s arbitrary detention, enforced disappearance, and extrajudicial killing in Istanbul demonstrates the extent to which the Saudi government is willing to go to suppress critical voices, from journalists to human rights defenders and women’s rights activists”, said Hussain Abdullah, director of Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain.
The Saudi authorities have a long way to go to ensure a safe and enabling environment for human rights defenders. This includes repealing all restrictive laws on press censorship, laws to target defenders who use the Internet for their activism, laws to restrict the establishment and operations of independent civil society organizations, and counter-terrorism laws used to imprison defenders.
Yet, ahead of Saudi Arabia’s 3rd Universal Periodic Review (UPR) on 5 November 2018, the Saudi authorities now have an important opportunity to demonstrate to the international community that they are committed to taking immediate steps to uphold their human rights obligations.
“A first step in the right direction would be releasing all those detained in association with the exercise of their rights to freedom of expression, association or peaceful assembly”, said Salma El Hosseiny, ISHR’s Human Rights Council advocate.
“There has never been a more critical time for the international community to hold Saudi Arabia accountable for years of widespread and systematic human rights violations committed with impunity including gender-based discrimination against Saudis as well as violations of international humanitarian law in Yemen”, said Khalid Ibrahim, executive director of the Gulf Center for Human Rights.
Ahead of Saudi Arabia’s upcoming UPR, the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR), the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR), Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB), CVICUS and Women’s March Global launch an advocacy campaign to highlight the widespread and systematic crackdown against dissent in the country.
Join us in calling for the release of Saudi women activists by signing this petition.
Join us in tweeting to #FreeSaudiActivists and #StandWithSaudiFeminists
#Zimbabwe Police arbitrarily arrest trade union leaders over planned protests; authorities are still employing methods of an era gone by to silence dissent - @LMandishara of @nangozim https://t.co/rP38qec5Jp pic.twitter.com/DeP8POliqa— CIVICUS (@CIVICUSalliance) October 15, 2018
Global and national civil society groups have expressed concern at the arrest of trade union leaders in Zimbabwe ahead of planned peaceful protests.
Zimbabwean police pre-empted nationwide demonstrations against the deepening economic crisis in the country, scheduled for October 11, by banning them and arbitrarily arresting organisers belonging to the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU).
The National Association of Non-Governmental Organisations (NANGO) and global civil society alliance, CIVICUS, has urged the authorities to show restraint and respect the constitutionally protected rights of all Zimbabweans.
Police banned the protests citing concerns of a cholera outbreak in recent weeks. The unions say they are being targeted because of their dissenting message as other gatherings had been allowed to proceed.
ZCTU members were arrested in the capital, Harare as well as in the cities of Mutare and Masvingo. According to reports, police were armed with truncheons, tear smoke canisters and accompanied by water cannons during the raids. Several union members were assaulted. ZCTU president Peter Mutasa and secretary general Japhet Moyo were among those arrested.
Following a disputed 30 July 2018 election outcome, economic uncertainty has deepened in Zimbabwe, which has been struggling with foreign currency shortages, hyper-inflation and erosion of the local currency. This has triggered fuel queues as business slowed down in response to the economic decline.
The government also recently imposed a new 2% tax on mobile money transactions that the unions said will be borne mostly by the poor. Trade unions had organised a protest to highlight these trying economic circumstances to the government and raise concerns about the hardships the new tax would bring for the poor.
“It had been our sincere hope that after the election in August, the authorities would open more space for citizens, civil society and trade unions to freely express their opinions including through peaceful protests,” said Leonard Mandishara, NANGO Executive Director.
“Hence, we are disappointed that the authorities are still employing methods of an era gone by to silence dissent,” said Mandishara.
NANGO also said civil society is awaiting with much anticipation the outcome of a commission of enquiry established after six people were shot dead by the military in Harare at an election-related protest.
CIVICUS calls on the Zimbabwean government to engage with civil society and trade unions on the fundamental rights of citizens including the right to assemble peacefully.
NANGO is a non-partisan, non-profit organisation and the official, non-denominational coordinating body of NGOs in Zimbabwe. It is mandated by its membership to coordinate the activities of NGOs, represent the NGO sector and strengthen the voice of NGOs in Zimbabwe.
For more information, please contact:
Leonard Mandishara, NANGO Director
Teldah Mawarire, CIVICUS Advocacy and Campaigns Officer
Breaking News: Police close and cancel civil society conference on the sidelines of #IMF & #WorldBank annual meeting in Bali, #Indonesia (#IMFWBMeetingBali ). Statement: https://t.co/uPcAMqivzI pic.twitter.com/LiXECR780m— CIVICUS (@CIVICUSalliance) October 11, 2018
Responding to the decision by the Indonesian police to remove permission for the "Peoples' Global Conference against IMF-WB" at the sidelines of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank's annual meeting this week in Bali, Indonesia:
“At a time when the space for civil society and alternative voices is shrinking around the world, it is disgraceful that Indonesia, which prides itself as a champion of democracy, has decided to take such action. CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance, calls on the Indonesian authorities to immediately review their arbitrary decision to cancel the conference and allow the event to take place. Authorities must also investigate allegations of intimidation and surveillance of the event organisers.”
“The space for critical debate in Indonesia is receding by the day with restrictions on peaceful gatherings, the arrest of activists for peaceful protests and human rights defenders facing various risks in undertaking their work. CIVICUS calls on authorities to halt these draconian actions and instead create an enabling environment for activists and civil society to engage as well as critique the government and other actors including international financial institutions.”
An alternative conference on the sidelines of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank's annual meeting this week in Indonesia has been cancelled due to pressure from the police. The planned event -- the "Peoples' Global Conference against IMF-WB" -was set to kick off on 11 October 2018. The alternative conference, involving around 300 participants from Indonesia and around the world, was to bring together dozens of civil society groups to draw attention to the impact of free trade and IMF-WB backed policies that critics say aggravate income inequality, abuse labor rights and harm the environment.
Civil society has long called for international financial institutions to integrate civic space concerns into their work and in any country specific development projects supported or initiated by them.
According to reports, police intelligence personnel had infiltrated the event planning team as volunteers, subjecting them to intimidation and constant surveillance. The organisers are looking for an alternate venue and are in negotiations with police in Bali.
A Chinese court has sentenced a Tibetan activist to five years’ imprisonment under a national security law, for peacefully advocating cultural rights in Tibet.
"The use of unnecessary and excessive force during protests or peaceful gatherings in #Djibouti strengthens the prevalent climate of repression in the country" - @ClementineDM https://t.co/Wwxmy6Fvsj pic.twitter.com/Y3H2HBLcVM— CIVICUS (@CIVICUSalliance) May 22, 2018
Police threw teargas grenades at a crowd to break up a protest in Tadjourah, Djibouti, on 14 May. Dozens of protesters had gathered to denounce alleged nepotism after the recruitment of 76 new civil servants linked to the construction of a new port in Tadjourah and placed stones and tyres on a main road to block traffic. According to a local civil society source, some protesters suffered gunshot wounds, including one who is severely injured.
The Government of the Indian Ocean island nation of The Maldives is undermining the rule of law and intensifying a brutal crackdown on its critics.
That’s the finding of a new report released today by global civil society alliance CIVICUS and Voice of Women (VoW), in a deepening crisis that has drawn international condemnation.
The Republic of Maldives is a nation made up of 26 coral atolls and 1,192 individual islands.
The report marks exactly three months since the country’s Supreme Court ordered the release of scores of arrested opposition politicians and activists.
The government of Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom responded to the ruling by imposing a state of emergency and arresting two Supreme Court judges.
The report, entitled Repression in Paradise, highlights how the judiciary has been undermined through the judges’ arbitrary arrest, while scores of opposition politicians and activists face a variety of trumped up charges, ranging from bribery to terrorism. Local human rights groups have also documented the ill-treatment of these detainees in custody.
Over the last two months, the authorities have repressed all forms of dissent including violently breaking up peaceful demonstrations, arbitrarily arresting and detaining protesters, attacking journalists and threatening news organisations with closure.
CIVICUS and VoW have condemned the acts of repression and called for an end to the crackdown and the immediate release of detainees.
Said Josef Benedict, CIVICUS Asia-Pacific Research Officer: “The Maldives authorities must drop the baseless and politically-motivated criminal charges against the two Supreme court judges and release them, as well as all those who have been arbitrarily detained under the state of emergency, solely for exercising their democratic, human rights.”
“Steps must also be taken to ensure that the judiciary can operate in an independent and transparent manner without interference,” said Benedict.
During this crackdown, police have used unnecessary force to disperse peaceful demonstrations, in some case indiscriminately, using pepper spray and tear gas. At least a dozen journalists have been injured while covering protests, with reporters being arrested and ill-treated. The police also used unnecessary force to disperse peaceful demonstrations, in some case indiscriminately using pepper spray and tear gas.
Said Mohamed Visham, a journalist at Avas News: “It is appalling that journalists and demonstrators have suffered violence from the police, simply for exercising the fundamental right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.”
“The safety of journalists must be ensured at all times and authorities must launch prompt, impartial and independent investigations into all reports of unnecessary or excessive use of force by the police,” said Visham.
Despite the hostile environment, human rights defenders and civil society organisations (CSOs) in the Maldives have bravely spoken out against these restrictions. CSOs have documented human rights violations and sought to expose them nationally and internationally. However, many Maldivians are seriously concerned that repression will prevent elections, due to be held later this year, from being free, fair and inclusive.
“The international community cannot stand idly by and watch this onslaught on fundamental freedoms in the Maldives. In the lead up to the elections, key countries and international allies must call on the government to halt their attacks on the opposition and civil society and ensure that all institutions in the Maldives respect the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of expression,” said Aazima Rasheed, President of the Voice of Women (VoW).
The space for civil society in The Maldives is rated as obstructed by the CIVICUS Monitor, an online platform that tracks threats to civic space in every country. An obstructed rating indicates that power holders contest civic space, undermine CSOs and constrain the fundamental civil society rights to freedom of association, peaceful assembly and expression.
Note to Editors:
Background on the crisis
The Republic of Maldives, an archipelago of islands in the Indian Ocean, was thrown into a political crisis on 1st February, 2018 when the country's Supreme Court ordered the release and retrial of a group of opposition politicians, including exiled former president Mohamed Nasheed. President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom refused to comply with the ruling, leading to mass protests in the capital, Male. In response, President Yameen declared a state of emergency on 5th February, which gave the security forces sweeping powers and suspended constitutional rights.
In February, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein condemned the declaration of the state of emergency and raised concerns that the resulting suspension of constitutional guarantees would lead to a greater number of violations of the rights of people in the Maldives.
On 16th April 2018, the UN Human Rights Committee found that restrictions on former President Nasheed’s right to stand for office violated his rights to political participation under Article 25 of the ICCPR and called on Maldives to restore this right. The government however has rejected this call.
CIVICUS is an international alliance dedicated to strengthening citizen action and civil society around the world. In order to do so, we focus on protecting the rights of civil society, strengthening civil society good practices and increasing civil society’s influence.
Voice of Women
Voice of Women (VoW) is an non-governmental organisation officially registered in the Maldives since 2011. VoW focuses on empowering women; generating opportunities to effect change; promoting awareness on sustainable development, environment, and climate change; building respect for human rights and democracy in the Maldives; as well as documenting human rights violations, domestic violence, and sexual abuse in the Maldives.
For more information, or to arrange interviews, please contact:
+27 63 567 9719
On the anniversary of the killing of the popular Maldivian blogger and social media personality, Yameen Rasheed, Amnesty International and CIVICUS call on the Maldivian authorities to bring his killers to justice.
In a shocking murder that marked a worrying attack on freedom of expression and sent a shiver of fear throughout Maldivian civil society, Yameen Rasheed, 29, was found stabbed to death on 23rd April 2017 outside his apartment building. He had received multiple death threats before his murder, which he had reported to the police.
“One year later, we have seen no action from the Maldivian authorities. Not only did they fail to protect Yameen during his lifetime, they have also failed to effectively investigate his murder and hold his killers accountable. His loved ones and friends should not have to wait any longer for justice,” said Dinushika Dissanayake, Deputy Director for South Asia at Amnesty International.
The killing of blogger Yameen Rasheed took place against the backdrop of tightening restrictions on freedom of expression on the Indian Ocean island nation. The Maldivian authorities have been harassing journalists, activists and other peaceful human rights defenders – a trend that has intensified this year, ever since a state of emergency was imposed on 5 February 2018.
“The Maldivian authorities have a duty to protect human rights defenders and create an enabling environment where their rights are guaranteed. Instead, we have seen an even further shrinking of civic space to the point where people are being punished for exercising their rights to freedom of expression, peaceful of assembly and association,” said Josef Benedict, Civic Space Research Officer at CIVICUS.
On 5 February 2018, the Maldives imposed a state of emergency for 45 days, arbitrarily detaining Supreme Court judges, members of the political opposition, outlawing peaceful protests, and imprisoning people solely for exercising their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.
While some protestors have since been released, many of those arrested during the state of emergency remain under detention.
Youth Arts Contest Seeks Out Silenced Voices to Reimagine Democracy
Johannesburg, 18 April 2018 - What kind of country would South Africa be today if young people had not first raised their voices and taken action more than three decades ago?
And today, how can the many silenced voices of youth be heard, to express a vision for the kind of democracy they desire?
‘Through Arts and Imagination’ is a newly launched contest seeking bold and original creative arts - music, poetry, art, media – that present youth perspectives on “re-imagining democracy.” To celebrate Youth Day on 16 June, the Youth Working Group of CIVICUS, a global civil society alliance, in partnership with Emerging Leaders in Internet Governance (ELIG) and Woke Project have kicked off the contest in search of silenced voices.
“In a world in which our democracy and fundamental freedoms are under increasing threat, a world where the voices of young people are silenced and marginalised, we believe that it is up to this generation to re-imagine the democracy we want to live in,” said Elisa Novoa, of the CIVICUS Youth Working Group.
“And what better way to give voice to that mission, and draw out the best that youth have to offer than through a creative arts contest,” Novoa said.
The contest will culminate in a creative symposium of young voices held in 16 June, under the theme “Re-imagining Democracy: in search of silenced voices.”
Youth are crucial to development, change and growth. And the arts have always played a critical role in the struggle for freedom, human rights and democracy. This symposium will engage the voices of young people through the creative arts - to speak your truth and share your vision for the world they want to live and grow in. Youth voices and the contributions of young people towards social change are vital.
About the Contest
Creative, original and eager to share your unique perspective on how we can re-imagine our democracy today?
Living to the beat of your own drum, in a world where your voice is misunderstood?
Then, this is your chance to share your vision and be heard.
For too long we have lived in silence and fear of being judged.
The creative arts - music, poetry, art, media - reach across all language barriers to connect with millions of people.
Share your written, visual or multimedia arts, to be judged in the following categories:
• 1st place prize: R6,000
• 2nd place prize: R3,600
• Be 30 or under by 16 June 2018
• Be based in South Africa
• Meet the deadline (30th April 2018)
• Submit one application per person
• Submit Original content
• Submit in any of the 11 South African official languages
Please submit your application by filling in this form: https://civicus.org/index.php/youth-day-symposium
The deadline for submissions is 30th April 2018.
The undersigned civil society organisations express their outrage at the latest death threats targeting the Director of Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS), Bahey el-Din Hassan, as a result of his human rights work on Egypt in Europe and the US. On 21 March 2018, in reaction to a memo sent by seven Egyptian independent human rights groups, including CIHRS, to the UN Secretary-General regarding the presidential elections in Egypt, a TV show host called on the Egyptian authorities to “deal with him [Bahey el-Din Hassan] the same way the Russian spy was dealt with,” in reference to the nerve agent attack on Serjei Skripal in the United Kingdom.
Given the gravity of these threats against Bahey el-Din Hassan, the undersigned organisations call on the European States and the United States to:
1. take all necessary measures to protect Egyptian human rights defenders (HRDs), both home and abroad, and
2. to urge the Egyptian authorities to carry out immediate, thorough and impartial investigations on these threats. HRDs should be able to engage with regional and international human rights systems without fear for their lives. Support for HRDs is a stated priority of EU, Swiss, Norwegian and US foreign policies, and lies at the heart of the 1998 UN Declaration on HRDs.
CIHRS is an indispensable and internationally recognised organisation, which has been a champion of human rights across the Middle East and North Africa for over 20 years.
These events not only constitute the latest example of the harassment that Mr Hassan has faced in the last years, which forced him into exile in 2014 following the election of President el-Sisi, but also represent an extremely worrying pattern of reprisals against HRDs in Egypt and many other parts of the world.
While pro-democracy activists in Egypt are being jailed for expressing their views on social media, these repeated and serious incitements on television calling to inflict physical harm against Bahey el-Din Hassan as well as other HRDs have not been adequately addressed by the Egyptian authorities. Amidst an unprecedented crackdown on human rights and civil society, together with a soon-to-be implemented draconian NGO law, the Egyptian authorities appear determined to silence HRDs by any means, including instructing security services and State-sponsored media to intimidate them in Egypt and abroad.
Egyptian NGOs already witnessed this kind of harassment during a human rights workshop in Rome in May 2017, when two persons pretending to be Egyptian journalists intimidated and took pictures of the Egyptian participants. Subsequently, a smear campaign was launched in Egypt where Moustafa Bakry, a political figure closely associated to President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and a member of the pro-Sisi parliamentary bloc, stated on his TV show that the Egyptian security agencies should “kidnap” Egyptian human rights defenders, including Bahey el-Din Hassan, from Europe and bring them back to Egypt “in coffins”, reminding them that this had been done in the past.
About Bahey el-Din Hassan
Bahey el-Din Hassan is a journalist, he has published articles in The New York Times and The Washington Post. He is a leading initiator of the human rights movement in Egypt and the Arab region, director and co-founder of CIHRS, and a member of the boards and advisory committees of several international human rights organisations, including the Euro Mediterranean Foundation of Support to Human Rights Defenders (EMHRF), Human Rights Watch (HRW) Middle East and North Africa Division, and the International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ). Hassan is also one of the founding members of EMHRF and EuroMed Rights.
 Link to the video (in Arabic) https://youtu.be/gZE8zCePfqw
 Link to the TV show (in Arabic) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eirJclgosPs (min 34)
 Elliott Abrams, Michele Dunne, Jamie Fly, Reuel Gerecht, Amy Hawthorne, Neil Hicks, Robert Kagan, Tom Malinowski, Steve McInerney, Tamara Wittes
The three-year conviction of Somaliland poet and peace activist Nacima Abwaan Qorane this week highlights the increasingly repressive environment in Somaliland for peaceful expression, said global civil society alliance, CIVICUS.
As South Africa commemorates Human Rights Day tomorrow, 21 March 2018, it is an opportunity for the government now led by President Cyril Ramaphosa to situate human rights at the centre of all actions of the government in line with the constitution and address recent human rights violations.
The government in the Philippines has officially labelled a number of local indigenous rights activists, as well as a United Nations Special Rapporteur, as “terrorists”.
This is a significant time to be calling for greater progress in the fight against gender inequality and sexual abuse.
As 2017 gave way to 2018, many in civil society found renewed purpose in striving to make democracy real, and demanding human dignity and justice.
Even as attacks on civil society have become more brazen, the story of the past year was one of resolute resistance against the rising tide of restrictions on fundamental freedoms and democratic values, according to CIVICUS’ 2018 State of Civil Society Report, released 6 March 2018. Sobering data from the CIVICUS Monitor reveals serious systemic problems with civic space in 109 out of 195 countries covered. However, there are also numerous examples of civil society successfully advocating for progressive new laws on women’s rights, access to information and protection of human rights defenders.
Two years ago, this week, human rights champion Baquer Namazi was arbitrarily arrested and detained by the authorities as he arrived in Iran to visit his detained son. During his incarceration at the notorious Evian prison in Tehran, the 81-year-old Iranian-American’s health has deteriorated significantly in terrible conditions.
Global civil society alliance CIVICUS condemns recent attacks on the premises of the Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum (HRAPF) in Uganda which left security guards wounded and in need of urgent medical attention. In the early hours of the morning of 9 February 2018, at least nine unidentified individuals broke into the offices of HRAPF and attacked two security guards with iron bars and batons.
On the 7th anniversary of the peaceful popular movement of the Bahraini people which started on 14 February 2011, the undersigned NGOs call on the international community to help free human rights defenders in Bahrain, some of whom are jailed for life, and to stop the persecution of journalists simply for peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression and assembly.
Global civil society alliance CIVICUS and the Voice of Women (VOW) Maldives condemn the ongoing attacks on the Maldivian judiciary, which has included targeting judges for simply upholding the rule of law and the constitution. On 6 February 2018 authorities arrested Chief Justice Abdulla Saeed and Judge Ali Hameed, just one day after President Abdulla Yameen declared a 15-day state of emergency. Justice Saeed is now in an intensive care unit at the Indira Ghandi medical Hospital in the capital, Male.
Global civil society alliance, CIVICUS condemns the horrific attack on the office and staff of Save the Children in Jalalabad, eastern Afghanistan. We stand in solidarity with Save the Children and applaud the resolute courage of colleagues who continue their important work in very difficult circumstances.
Abuja — A proposed bill currently before Nigeria’s lawmakers, which will give the government sweeping powers over non-governmental organisations (NGOs), threatens the existence of Nigerian civil society, if passed into law.
The Nigeria Network of NGOs (NNNGO) and global civil society alliance, CIVICUS, have warned that the bill is clearly intended as a means to undermine the work of NGOs, especially those working to hold the government accountable. The fact that the House of Representatives hastily announced a scheduled public hearing for 13 and 14 December 2017 in the capital, Abuja is indicative of the intention of the authorities to avoid broad participation of civil society organisations from the different parts of Nigeria and ram the bill through the Legislature. Most CSOs are based outside of Abuja, where the public hearing will be held, making it difficult for them to travel to the hearing at short notice.
The Bill for the Establishment of the NGO’s Regulatory Commission for the Supervision, Coordination and Monitoring of NGOs and Civil Society Organisations makes it compulsory for all NGOs operating in Nigeria to register with the government and requires them to include details such has location and duration of proposed activities as well as information on all sources of funding. In addition, the proposed legislation states that NGOs will be required to provide “additional information” as requested by the Board during registration but does not say what this “additional information” would be.
These requirements make the registration process cumbersome and may inhibit the timely registration of some NGOs, making them susceptible to penalties. In addition, making NGO registration compulsory goes against international standards for freedom of association as it prevents informal associations from existing and operating freely because of their lack of formal status.
Said Oyebisi Oluseyi, NNNGO Director: “Civil society organisations in Nigeria provide social services to communities, contribute towards development outcomes and work to ensure that the government adheres to its human rights obligation.” If passed into law, the proposed NGO law will severely restrict the environment in which civil society operates and reverse socio-economic and democratic gains made over the years.”
The Bill provides wide powers to a regulatory agency to refuse to issue a registration certificate if, for example, it deems activities of the NGO to be against national interest. The Agency also has the authority to suspend or cancel a certificate that has been issued. Such broad powers place NGOs — especially those critical of government actions and who speak out against corruption and human rights violations — at the mercy of the authorities who can deregister organisations as a punitive measure for holding the government to account.
The content of the Bill is symptomatic of a growing global trend we now experience among governments to thwart the work of civil society organisations by placing restrictions on them in law and practice and by using the term “foreign agents” to discredit their work.
In addition, the Bill requires that NGOs register every two years and that the names of NGOs that fail to do so are deleted from the national register, forcing such NGOs to cease all their activities. It states that the registration of an organisation will be renewed on condition that the organisation submits its tax clearance certificate and other relevant documentation required by the Board.
The Bill compels NGOs to submit projects to the relevant government Ministry for approval and then registered with the agency’s board before they are implemented. The Bill does not place a limit on the registration fees for NGOs but leaves it to the discretion of the Commission. Individuals who violate provisions of the Bill face up to 18 months in prison or a huge fine and those convicted of such violations are prohibited from holding office in an NGO for a period of ten years.
Said David Kode, Advocacy and Campaigns Lead for CIVICUS: “If passed into law, this draconian bill will place civil society under the thumb of the government and practically take away the independence of NGOs. It might also set a negative precedent in the West African region, aggravating an already hostile environment for civil society.”
CIVICUS and NNNGO call on the Nigerian authorities to adhere to their constitutional and international obligations on freedom of association and expression and withdraw the Bill.
For more information contact:
Nigeria Network of NGOs
+234 906 948 5207
Lead: Campaigns and Advocacy
+27 11 833 5959
Several delegates at the CIVICUS World Assembly in Suva, Fiji on 7 December 2017 urged us to speak out against the ill-advised announcement of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel by the current United States administration. As CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance, we stand in solidarity with the legitimate struggle of the Palestinian people against the occupation. We believe that reckless unilateral actions in breach of international law and United Nations resolutions undermine civil society efforts to build peace. while also creating conditions that imperil human security.
We urge that the status of Jerusalem, with its historical and cultural significance, is not subject to political whims and ill-considered decisions. We are mindful of the importance of Jerusalem to the Palestinian people and support their legitimate aspirations. We believe that a just solution for the Palestinian people is the key to regional and international stability.
We want our Palestinian brothers and sisters to know that they are not alone in their struggle for dignity and freedom from occupation. We also urge our colleagues in global civil society to speak out against neo-fascism, authoritarianism and the retreat from internationalism which undermines civil society participation and rights.
For more information, contact:
Winners of the 2017 Nelson Mandela-Graça Machel Innovation Awards show great courage and commitment to social change
Suva, Fiji – An Egyptian activist and journalist, a young Guyanese change-maker, a Nigerian mental health organisation, and a German philanthropic foundation have been named winners of the coveted 2017 Nelson Mandela-Graça Machel Innovation Awards.
The Awards, named for human rights icon Nelson Mandela and former First Lady of South Africa and Mozambique, humanitarian Graça Machel, honour remarkable bravery and innovation in creating social change and empowering future generations.
Graça Machel says of the initiative, “Awards like this are so significant because the winners truly are ‘sparks of hope’ with the potential to inspire many others. It’s important that those of us with the freedom to speak out, use our voices to lift up these courageous individuals and organisations”.
The awards recognise outstanding efforts in four categories: Youth Activist, Individual Activist, Civil Society Organisation and Brave Philanthropy.
Youth Activist category winner, Jubilanté Cutting from Guyana, is pioneering the development of opportunities to help Caribbean youth shape the future of the digital and creative industries. In 2016, at just 19, she founded the Guyana Animation Network – an organisation that empowers young people with skills in digital media and animation.
On being told she had won, Ms. Cutting said: “As a young Guyanese woman, the stories of Nelson Mandela and Graça Machel that I read about in my history classes felt so real but yet so far away. I could never have imagined that I would one day receive an award named in honour of these heroes”.
Individual Activist category winner, Khaled Elbalshy, is an Egyptian human rights defender, journalist and chief editor of the Al Bedaiah online newspaper. In a nation where media freedom is under constant attack, Khaled has boldly and relentlessly pursued the cause of free speech, despite facing judicial and online harassment.
Said Mr. Elbalshy: “This Award is a powerful recognition of all who are defending freedom of the press in Egypt. It is also a message to the more than 20 imprisoned journalists that their voices are still able to penetrate even the walls of prison.”
Civil Society Organisation category winner, Mentally Aware Nigeria Initiative (MANI), is on a mission to change the face of mental health in Nigeria. Despite limited funding and significant stigma, MANI has quickly become the country’s largest and most active mental health organisation.
Said Victor Ugo, founder of MANI and himself a medical professional: “This is an auspicious moment for us and we want to dedicate it to every Nigerian youth coping with mental illness. We are motivated to keep up the discussion and hope our voice will continue to resonate both within and beyond our borders.”
Brave Philanthropy category winner, the German-based Guerrilla Foundation, is far from the traditional funder. Where much of the philanthropic sector tends towards well-established organisations and more conservative approaches, GF is instead focused on supporting frontline activists and grassroots movements.
GF’s Ivan Juric said: “It is an absolute honour. Courage in philanthropy is truly lacking and it is a field that craves bravery far more than it knows. We hope to give a nudge - or thrust - to that end!”
The four winners were selected from some 300 nominations from across the globe. They will be honoured at a ceremony on 7 December in Suva, Fiji as part of International Civil Society Week. For the first time this year, the Awards have been run in collaboration with The Elders – a group of independent leaders working together for peace, justice and human rights, founded by Nelson Mandela in 2007. Specifically, the Awards form part of the #WalkTogether campaign, catalysed by The Elders with civil society partner networks. #WalkTogether seeks to celebrate ‘sparks of hope’ like the Award winners, who are inspiring hope, compassion and empathy at a time when the dark forces of fear, xenophobia and hate speech represent a profound threat to global freedoms and unity.
“When my late husband and I first lent our names to these Awards, we had no idea that more than a decade later, they would still be going. Today, I am joined by my fellow Elders in honouring the winners of the 2017 Nelson Mandela-Graça Machel Innovation Awards. We invite everyone to join us, to help continue Mandela’s long walk to freedom by supporting courageous voices working for freedoms all over the world," said Ms. Machel.
The Nelson Mandela-Graça Machel Innovation Awards are led by global civil society alliance, CIVICUS, through the Civic Space Initiative. Together with CIVICUS’ SPEAK! campaign, the Awards seek to celebrate, promote, and defend the voices of ordinary citizens in ensuring a more just and sustainable future for all.
For more information, contact:
SPEAK! / Innovation Awards Coordinator
+27 79 168 7101
2017 CIVICUS Nelson Mandela-Graça Machel Innovation Awards
YOUTH ACTIVIST CATEGORY:
Winner: Jubilanté Cutting
Organisation: Guyana Animation Network
Jubilanté Cutting is pioneering the development of opportunities, skills, and connections to enable young people of the Caribbean to shape the future of the digital and creative industries. In 2016, at just 19, Jubilanté founded the Guyana Animation Network – an organisation that helps youth to develop skills in digital media and animation. It has since engaged over 3,500 people, including children as young as 6, and begun linking artists and animators with some of the world’s leading experts and entrepreneurs. And she’s done it all while completing her legal degree and working as a part-time paralegal at one of the country’s leading law firms.
Read media release on the Youth Activist Award winner, Jubilanté Cutting here,
INDIVIDUAL ACTIVIST CATEGORY:
Winner: Khaled Elbalshy
Organisation: Al Bedaiah
Khaled Elbalshy is an Egyptian human rights defender, journalist, and chief editor of the Al Bedaiah online newspaper. In a nation where media freedom is under constant attack, Khaled has boldly and relentlessly pursued the cause of free speech, despite facing personal judicial and online harassment. He established the Front to Defend Journalists and Freedoms, which has succeeded in having several journalists released from detention. He has also sought every available platform to shine a light on violations by the government and share these with the world, and has actively mentored younger journalists to defend their own rights and the rights of others.
Read media release on the Individual Activist Award winner, Khaled Elbalshy here,
CIVIL SOCIETY ORGANISATION CATEGORY:
Winner: Mentally Aware Nigeria Initiative
The Mentally Aware Nigeria Initiative is on a mission to change the face of mental health. Despite limited funding and significant stigma, MANI has quickly become the country’s largest and most active mental health organisation. They have used social media to build an online community of almost 20,000, where young Nigerians can share openly about their stories and challenges, and find acceptance and support. The organisation also runs a 24-hour suicide and distress hotline, and holds monthly events, which include visits to prisons, secondary schools, neuropsychiatric hospitals.
Read media release on the Civil Society Organisation Award winner, Mentally Aware Nigeria Initiative here,
BRAVE PHILANTHROPY CATEGORY:
Winner: Guerrilla Foundation
The Guerrilla Foundation, as the name suggests, are far from the traditional philanthropic funder. Where much of the sector tends towards well-established organisations and more conservative approaches, GF is instead focused on supporting systemic activism and grassroots movements, some of which can’t even publicly acknowledge the funding they receive. Their grant making extends across Europe, with a priority on Southern and Eastern Europe. GF is also supporting the development of the first European Participatory Fund for grant-making, which will allow activists to be the decision makers as to where funds go and how they will shape their communities.
Read media release on the Brave Philanthropy Award winner, Guerrilla Foundation here,
Johannesburg - Global civil society alliance CIVICUS urges the Zimbabwe Defence Forces and all stakeholders in Zimbabwe to continue to exercise restraint and respect the rights and fundamental freedoms of all citizens during this period of political transition.
November 15 marked the last day of the 61st Ordinary Session of the ACHPR taking place in Banjul, The Gambia as the Commission celebrates 30 years of advancing human rights in Africa.
Mr. Given Lubinda
Minister of Justice
National Assembly of Zambia, Parliament Buildings,
P.O. Box 31299, Lusaka
Zambia Email: ;
Minister Stephen Kampyongo
Minister of Home Affairs Email: ;
24 October 2017
Dear Minister Given Lubinda,
Civil Society’s call to stop persecution of activists arrested on 29 September 2017
We, the undermentioned National Associations of Civil Society Organisations, write to express our deep concern over the arbitrary arrests of Mr. Lewis Mwape and five other activists including two females on 29 September 2017, as they protested peacefully en route to the Parliament building. All six were arrested as they called for transparency and accountability over the purchase of 42 fire trucks for forty-two million US dollars. They are all members of civil society groups and individual human rights defenders. The male activists were held at the Emmasdale police station and their female colleagues were detained at the Garden police post before being released.
Mr. Minister, we recognise the fact that Zambia is a democratic state and citizens have the right to request answers and transparency on issues that affect them, including the use of public funds. The arbitrary arrests and detention of these activists and their scheduled court appearance on 27 October 2017 is a violation of their right to freedom of expression and assembly, as guaranteed in the Zambian Constitution, and of the country's regional and international human rights obligations.
We are concerned that any form of judicial persecution of the activists may set a negative precedent wherein those who engage in peaceful protests and express views that are different from those of the government are targeted by the state. It may also compel others who would want to speak out in the future not to do so for fear of persecution. We therefore write to urge the Zambian authorities to ensure that the rule of law is respected and that the rights of all the activists are guaranteed as they appear in court.
Mr. Minister, for some time, we have watched with trepidation, the erosion of fundamental rights in Zambia and we are worried that Zambia’s rich democratic history and its status as a model in Southern Africa is being threatened. On 5 July 2017, for example, President Edgar Lungu proclaimed a state of threatened emergency. We felt at the time that there was no reasonable justification for the executive to invoke emergency powers. These restrictions on fundamental freedoms will reverse the democratic gains made over the years, if they continue.
We therefore urge the government of Zambia and the judiciary to drop the case against Mr. Lewis Mwape and all 5 activists when they appear in court on 27 October.
Association of Development Agencies (ADA), Jamaica
Acción Solidaria on HIV/aids, Venezuela
ARCA, Costa Rica
Burundi Child Rights Coalition, Burundi
CIVILIS Human Rights, Venezuela
CIVICUS, Global Civil Society Alliance
CSO Platform for Climate Change in Vanuatu
Coordinadora Civil, Nicaragua
Ghana Association of Private Voluntary Organisations in Development (GAPVOD)
JOINT Liga de ONGs em Mocambique
Mauritius Council of Social Services (MACOSS)
NGO Federation of Nepal
Rendir Cuentas, Uruguay
SFK/NGO Council of Kenya
Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO)
Tanzania Association of NGOs (TANGO)
The West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI)
Vanuatu Association of Non-Governmental Organisations
Uganda National NGO Forum
Global civil society alliance, CIVICUS expresses deep concern over the unlawful arrest and arbitrary detention of environmental rights defender Raleva. We condemn this action and call for his immediate release.
Raleva, who only goes by his last name, was arrested on September 27, 2017 in Vohilava village in Madagascar’s Mananjary district for his advocacy work with communities affected by the illegal mining activities of a Chinese gold mining company in the area.
He was arrested during a meeting called by the mining company and the head of the local district, to inform the community that it would resume its mining operations, which were suspended by the government in 2016. Madagascar’s Mines and Petrol Ministry in 2016 ordered mining be stopped after community-led protests claiming the company was operating without necessary authorisation.
Police arrested Raleva when he demanded that the company show proof that it had received the relevant permit required to re-start gold mining operations. He was held at the Mananjary police station for five days and then transferred to Mananjary prison on October 3, where he is currently detained. He is being charged with “falsely impersonating the district head”, a charge he denies as the said district head was present at the meeting hence impersonating him would have been impossible.
Raleva is a member of the human rights organisation, Justice et Paix and Observatoire Independant des Droits Economiques, Sociaux et Culturels à Madagascar (OIDESCM), which works with the Centre de Recherches et d’Appui pour les Alternatives de Developpement - Océean Indien (CRAAD-OI).
No date has been set for his court hearing.
Said David Kode, CIVICUS Campaigns and Advocacy Lead: “When an activist like Raleva speaks out about the rights of communities and calls for accountability and transparency in the activities of mining companies, he is arrested and detained for no just cause. This subjective and unjust application of the law is not acceptable under any circumstances.”
Madagascar’s civic space is rated as ‘obstructed’ by the CIVICUS Monitor, an online tool that tracks threats to civil society worldwide, and is a particularly risky environment for human rights defenders working on land and environmental rights.
On November 4, 2016, the Court of First Instance in the Anosy region sentenced environmental rights activists Tsihoarana Andrianony and Pierre Robson to one year in prison – suspended, after they were found guilty of organising “unauthorised” protests against Chinese mining company - Jiuxing Mining. A week later, three activists from the environmental rights association VONA were arrested and detained for taking part in peaceful protests. Andrianony and Robson were acquitted of four other charges and released after spending nearly five weeks in pre-trial detention in prison.
The arrest of Raleva and the persecution of environmental activists in Madagascar comes at a time when activists defending land, environmental and indigenous rights across the world raise their voices in appeals to the international community, calling for action against the unprecedented rise in killings and attacks on those protecting land and natural resources of their communities.
CIVICUS calls on the government of Madagascar to drop the charge against Raleva, release him unconditionally and ensure that human rights defenders are able to speak out without intimidation or fear of persecution.
We, the undersigned civil society organisations (CSOs), strongly condemn the Ugandan authorities’ flagrant and repeated attempts to suppress the peaceful and legitimate activities of civil society organisations in Uganda through the recent unwarranted raids on the offices of four independent CSOs. We urge the Government of Uganda to end its campaign to silence independent civil society groups and publicly recognise the indispensable role that civil society plays in promoting and protecting fundamental human rights.
In the last two weeks, the Ugandan Police and Security Services have raided and searched the offices and documentation of four prominent organisations, including ActionAid Uganda, Great Lakes Institute for Strategic Studies, Solidarity Uganda and the UHURU Institute.
Initially on 20 September 2017, nearly two dozen police and state security officials cordoned off and entered the ActionAid Uganda offices in Kansanga, Kampala. Police served a warrant alleging that ActionAid is involved in unnamed illicit activities. Upwards of 25 staff members were held in the office for several hours, while police interrogated staff, searched the premises and confiscated organisational laptops, phones and documents. On the same day, the offices of the Great Lakes Institute for Strategic Studies were raided and police prevented staff from leaving the premises. On 21 September, the police raided the offices of Solidarity Uganda in Lira and detained a member of staff.
Most recently, on 2 October 2017, police raided the offices of the UHURU Institute. During the raid, they cordoned off the premises and confiscated computers and phones belonging to staff of the Institute.
The explicit reason for the raids has not been disclosed, and we remain deeply concerned that they are part of a wider crackdown to silence a civil society campaign which opposed a parliamentary proposal to remove presidential age limits. The organisations targeted in recent raids supported civil society in expressing concerns over the removal of age limits for the presidency and have called for the constitution to be respected.
The authorities’ attempts to suppress the work of Ugandan civil society through harassment and intimidation represent a clear violation of fundamental civic rights and casts severe doubt over the Government’s commitment to supporting civil society. As allies and supporters of Uganda human rights we urge the authorities to immediately end its campaign to persecute CSOs in the country and their staff.
Advocacy and Campaigns Lead, CIVICUS,
Tel: + 27 (0)11 833 5959.
CIVICUS Media Advisor
This weekend, tens of thousands of people will come together at hundreds of events across 5 continents, as part of a new global campaign to give a voice to everyone, everywhere.
From youth summits to informal dinners, public mobilisations to private meetings, national dialogues to music festivals, SPEAK! is a global campaign to amplify the voices of ordinary people speaking out to counter repression of their basic freedoms.
The potential and opportunity for people to speak out and effect change has never been greater. Thanks to evolving technology, we are more connected than ever before – our voices able to travel faster and further, through media that has never been more impactful.
But this is under threat. Globally, we are seeing increasing attempts to repress that fundamental right to speak out on events that shape our world: the right to freedom of expression and the media.
This year alone, dozens of journalists have been killed, most of them because of their reporting. Countless others, including citizen journalists and activists using media, have been arrested, detained, harassed, intimidated and prosecuted – all attempts at silencing them.
SPEAK! has been created by global civil society alliance, CIVICUS, in response to this current global context, and seeks to raise awareness of these challenges and to build solidarity among all who face them.
Said Nic Mackay, SPEAK! Coordinator: "Our hope is that SPEAK! will be like a global megaphone for change: amplifying the voices of people who most need to be heard; warning those who seek to limit freedom and dissent; and articulating the vision of a more just and sustainable future for all."
The campaign will culminate in four Days of Action from September 22-25, with people engaging both physically and online.
On Friday, September 22nd, the world will fall silent in solidarity with those who have been killed and jailed for raising their voice. This includes journalists, bloggers and activists campaigning on social media, who authorities have silenced or attempted to silence.
Actions will include a social media blackout by individuals and organisations, silent public protests in Indonesia, and a flash mob in Macedonia. The particular case of Pastor Evan Mawarire will be highlighted, who faces trial in Zimbabwe’s high court for daring to criticise the Mugabe regime.
Then, from Saturday 23rd until Monday 25th, the world will speak as one, with hundreds of events happening around the globe. These include a performing arts concert in Tunisia promoting freedom of association, a series of school-based workshops in India to tackle rape culture, and a 10 simultaneous events across Brazil tackling water security with a focus on amplifying unheard voices.
See a full list of SPEAK! events planned globally here.
The days of action come at a critical moment, as world leaders meet in New York to mark the 2nd anniversary of the Global Goals (SDGs). The collective actions as part of the SPEAK! campaign will send a clear message: the voices of ordinary citizens are powerful and essential in ensuring a just and sustainable future for all - now it's time for governments to listen and act!
If you’re on Twitter, you can join the conversation and search for posts using the hashtag #TogetherWeSpeak.
FOR MEDIA ENQUIRIES PLEASE CONTACT:
CIVICUS Media Advisor
CIVICUS SPEAK! Coordinator
The attempted assassination of outspoken government critic Tundu Lissu on 7 September 2017 is the latest in a series of efforts aimed at constraining freedom of expression and association in Tanzania. Tundu, a member of the political opposition and head of the Tanganyika Law Society was attacked by unidentified assailants near his home in Dodoma and is now recovering in a hospital in neighbouring Kenya. He has been arrested six times this year for openly criticising the government of President John Pombe Magufuli.
Global civil society alliance, CIVICUS condemns this violent attack on Tundu, which follows his string of arrests for his dissenting views as well as steps taken by the Tanzanian government over the past few months, to curtail fundamental human rights and stifle activists and civil society organisations that express views critical of government actions.
At the moment, new applications for the registration of NGOs have been suspended until 30 November 2017 as NGOs currently registered undergo a mandatory “verification process.” The vetting of NGOs began on 21 August 2017 after the Ministry of Health, Community Development, Gender, Elderly and Children published a notice stating that the Registrar of NGOs will examine all NGOs in order to correct and update the database for NGOs.
CIVICUS is concerned by the manner in which the verification process is being carried out as local NGOs were not involved or consulted in the planning of the process. Furthermore, the sheer amount of documentation required of NGOs including the presentation of proof of payment annual fees and receipts since registration is cumbersome and presents an added administrative burden.
Several NGOs may be deregistered if they fail to provide all the information required by the authorities. In addition, the requirement for a letter of recommendation from a Community Development Officer is also problematic, especially for NGOs working on rights and governance and who may have been critical of the human rights practices by the government in the past.
Said Teldah Mawarire, CIVICUS’s Advocacy and Campaigns Coordinator: “This verification process is extremely unfair and raises many questions because any NGO that had not been previously registered cannot go through the vetting exercise and will be outlawed even before the process begins. There is no grace period whatsoever availed by the state to those who have been unable to register in the past.”
The government has also set out five zones where NGOs must travel to for verification. This presents difficulties for NGOs who operate in remote areas and may not be able to afford to pay for this travel and the gathering of documents.
CIVICUS calls on the government of President John Pombe Magufuli to respect the freedoms of association and expression in line with the Tanzanian Constitution and its international human rights obligations.
In July 2017 CIVICUS placed Tanzania on a watch list of countries in which there are growing and worrying threats to civic space. CIVICUS remains concerned over growing restrictions on freedom of expression and association.
Civic space in Tanzania is rated as obstructed on the CIVICUS Monitor.
NAIROBI – Leading global and regional civil society groups have strongly condemned the targeting of two Kenyan national human rights organisations by the authorities.
The National Coalition of Human Rights Defenders – Kenya (NCHRD-K), DefendDefenders (the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project), global civil society alliance, CIVICUS and Civil Rights Defenders condemn the de-registration of the NGOs and an attempted raid on the offices of one of them.
On 16 August, in the wake of general elections, the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA), accompanied by Kenyan police officers, attempted to gain entry to the offices of the African Centre for Global Governance (AfriCOG) without notice and with a defective search warrant. The attempted raid came two days after AfriCOG, together with the Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC), was served with a notice of deregistration by the NGO Coordination Board.
The Board has accused the organisations of operating “illegal bank accounts”, employing expatriates without the necessary permits and tax evasion, among other offences. KHRC denies the allegations.
The attempted raid was eventually prevented by instructions from Acting Interior Cabinet Secretary, Fred Matiangi, who called for the formulation of an inclusive and representative committee to work with the NGO Coordination Board to ascertain the compliance of the two organisations with NGO regulations. Secretary Mitiangi’s instructions suspended any actions against AfriCOG and KHRC for a period of 90 days to enable the committee carry out its functions.
The accusations in question had already been adjudicated before the high Court of Kenya in 2015 (KHRC vs. NGO Coordination Board 495 of 2015) when the KHRC was first deregistered by the Board. On April 2016, Justice Louise Onguto entered that the adverse actions taken to deregister KHRC and freeze its bank accounts is unconstitutional, null, and void.
Said Kamau Ngugi, Executive Director of the National Coalition of Human Rights Defenders – Kenya: “The persistent harassment of civil society organisations at the hands of Fazul Mahamed, the Executive Director of the NGO Coordination Board, is unacceptable. CSOs should be able to take part in public affairs and hold government to account without fear of reprisal.”
Further, in a letter dated 15 August 2017, the NGO Coordination Board wrote to the Directorate of Criminal Investigations to order it to close down the operations of AfriCOG and arrest its members and directors for contravening section 22 (1) of the NGO Coordination Act, which requires any person operating an NGO to be registered under the same Act. It further called on the Central Bank to freeze the accounts of the organisation.
Civil society is free to select under which regime to register an association and AfriCOG is registered under the Companies Act as a company limited by guarantee. Therefore, the NGO Coordination Board has no mandate over the operations of the institution. Furthermore, such direction is in contravention of Article 47 of the Constitution of Kenya that provides for fair administrative action and contravenes the fundamental right to freedom of association protected by Article 36 of the Constitution of Kenya as well as under international treaties to which Kenya is a State Party.
The move against the two organisations comes a week after the 8 August national elections, which were contested by the opposition. Throughout the electoral process, KHRC and AfriCOG have been vocal in their demand for transparency and have acted as monitors of the elections. KHRC Executive Director George Kegoro told Capital FM news in an interview that moves to deregister his organisation aimed to prevent it from issuing a legal petition challenging the recent election results in the Supreme Court.
The undersigned organisations hereby call on the NGO Coordination Board to:
CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
Civil Rights Defenders
DefendDefenders (the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project)
National Coalition of Human Rights Defenders – Kenya
For more information contact:
Executive Director, National Coalition of Human Rights Defenders-Kenya
Telephone: +254 712 632 390