Nepal government must halt efforts to curtail civil society organisations

A new proposed policy by the government of Nepal would further curtail the work of international and national non-governmental organisations (NGOs) operating in the country by tightening the state’s control over them.

Nigerian president Buhari must ensure release of journalist Jones Abiri

President Muhammadu Buhari
Aso Villa, Yakubu Gowon Crescent, 
The Three Arms Zone, Asokoro, 
Abuja, FTC, Nigeria

Dear President Muhammadu Buhari,

We at the Committee to Protect Journalists, a non-profit organization that champions press freedom internationally, and 18 other organizations, are writing to call for the release of journalist Jones Abiri, who has been held by Nigeria's Department of State Security (DSS) for nearly two years, and to call for DSS to be held accountable for its attacks against journalists in Nigeria.

We were disappointed that, after repeated requests during CPJ's visit to Nigeria in April 2018, we were not permitted to visit Abiri in detention. In a meeting with CPJ on April 24, 2018, Garba Shehu, your presidential spokesperson, confirmed that Abiri remained in DSS custody and said he would be charged in court on allegations of being a militant. Yet after almost two years behind bars, Abiri has not seen a courtroom, nor has his family been given any information about his health and well-being.

The DSS operates under Nigeria's coordinator of national security, which reports directly to you, according to the 1986 National Security Agencies Act. During a visit to State House in April, Garba Shehu also told CPJ that you would be made personally aware of Abiri's ongoing detention. We therefore call for your swift action to ensure Abiri's release and that those responsible for his prolonged and illegal detention are held accountable.

In February and March 2018, the DSS also arrested Tony Ezimakor, the Abuja bureau chief of the privately owned Daily Independent newspaper. CPJ documented Ezimakor's week-long detention without charge or court appearance, during which the DSS threatened the journalist with terrorism charges for his reporting.

Over the last two years, CPJ has repeatedly tried to contact Lawal Musa Daura, director general of the DSS, and Gbeteng Bassi, director of operations of the DSS, without success. Nigerian journalists have similarly told CPJ, with dismay, that they are unable to reach the DSS for comment, regarding the arrest of their colleagues or otherwise. During the same April 2018 meeting with CPJ, Garba Shehu confirmed that the DSS has not designated anyone responsible for communicating with the Nigerian public. We urge you to improve accountability and make the DSS accessible to the press. This includes the appointment of a DSS spokesperson.

Your action to ensure the safety of journalists and the promotion of open dialogue through the press is made even more important because Nigeria will hold elections in February 2019. Around the world, CPJ has documented how attacks on journalists have escalated during election periods and other political processes. It is in this context that we urge you to take decisive action to ensure that journalists are free to report on matters of public concern, and that a culture of self-censorship does not cloud public decision-making processes. As part of this, Abiri should be released without delay.

Sincerely,

Joel Simon
Executive Director
Committee to Protect Journalists

Shu'aibu Usman Leman
National Secretary
Nigerian Union of Journalists

Wade H. McMullen, Jr.
Managing Attorney
Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights

Elizabeth Chyrum
Director
Human Rights Concern - Eritrea

David Kode
Head of Advocacy and Campaigns 
CIVICUS

Edmund YaKani
Executive Director
Community Empowerment for Progress Organization, South Sudan

Zohrab Ismayil 
Programmes Director
Caucasus Civil Initiatives Center (CCIC)

Yared Hailemariam
Director
Association For Human Rights In Ethiopia (AHRE)

Dina Meza
Directora Ejecutiva 
Asociación por la Democracia y los Derechos Humanos
ASOPODEHU-Honduras

Melanie Sonhaye Kombate
Programs and Advocacy Director
West African Human Rights Defenders Network (ROADDH/WAHRDN)

Rahman Gharib
Chairman
Metro Center for Journalists Rights & Advocacy

Alphonsus B.M. Gbanie
Executive Secretary
Human Rights Defenders Network- Sierra Leone

Yemisi Ransome-Kuti
Founding Executive Director and Board Member, 
Nigeria Network of NGOs

Osai Ojigho
Director
Amnesty International - Nigeria

Cristina Palabay
Secretary General 
Karapatan - Philippines

Adilur Khan
Secretary General
Odhikar - Bangladesh

Carles Torner
Executive Director
PEN International

Folu Agoi
President
PEN Nigeria

Sulemana Braimah
Executive Director
Media Foundation for West Africa

Civil Society Responses to US Withdrawal From UN Human Rights Council

Following the announcement of the United States withdrawal from the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), a number of civil society organisations with offices in Geneva, the headquarters of UNHRC, offer their opinions on the resulting impact on the work of the Human Rights Council. For media enquiries, please contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance

“The USA did not engage in the Human Rights Council under the Bush administration and only returned under the Obama Administration. The Council survived then and it will survive now. The worrying part is that global power dynamics have shifted significantly since then and with the US withdrawal, the vacuum will certainly be filled by Russia and China who have not demonstrated commitment to advancing the human rights discourse. This could negatively impact on Council priorities. Democratic states committed to protecting and promoting human rights will need to show increased commitment to safeguarding human rights norms.”

  • Susan Wilding, Head of Geneva office, CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance

Amnesty International

 “Once again President Trump is showing his complete disregard for the fundamental rights and freedoms the US claims to uphold. While the Human Rights Council is by no means perfect and its membership is frequently under scrutiny, it remains an important force for accountability and justice.

“The US should urgently reverse this decision, which places it squarely on the wrong side of history. It is wilfully choosing to undermine the human rights of all people everywhere, and their struggles for justice.”

  • Salil Shetty, Secretary General, Amnesty International

 International Commission of Jurists

"The withdrawal of the United States from the United Nations Human Rights Council is unlikely in itself to have much impact on the Council, or human rights in the world. The real issue is the Trump administration's broader rejection of multilateralism and rule of law (international or otherwise), and how it acts in practice, both at home and abroad.”

  • Matt Pollard, Senior Legal Adviser, International Commission of Jurists

 International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)

"The withdrawal of the US is deeply regrettable. The constructive engagement of States with a genuine commitment to human rights and the rule of law is essential for peace, security and sustainable development."

‘While the Human Rights Council is far from perfect, it makes a significant contribution to protecting human rights, providing justice to victims, and promoting accountability for perpetrators."

  • Phil Lynch, International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) Director 

 DefendDefenders

"The Trump administration decision to turn its back on the UN's top human rights body is childish, hypocritical, and self-defeating. Today, only the enemies of human rights, some of whom sit on the Council, are pleased. 

“Nature abhors a vacuum, and the same goes for multilateral fora. While the US will lose voice and influence, China, Russia, Egypt will likely try and assert greater control over the Human Rights Council's agenda and dynamics." 

  • Nicolas Agostini, Representative to the UN for DefendDefenders 

 Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies

"By withdrawing the US put appeasement of Israel before the need to protect and support those struggling for human rights and democracy around the world."  

  • Jeremie Smith, Director, Geneva Office, Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies

Civic Space and the World Cup

Football is the world’s most popular sport, played on all continents, by girls and boys and women and men of all ages. For many, it is an invaluable outlet for expression, for joining together with others and for collectively enjoying the outdoors. Even in the world’s most repressive countries, football is a thriving sport. However, for people who also want to express themselves, assemble and associate in other ways, or promote causes or ideas with which the authorities in their country disagree, the world is not such a welcoming place. These graphics show how teams competing at the FIFA World Cup in Russia fare when assessed on their respect for the freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression. On this evidence, minnows Iceland come out on top, while favorites Brazil languish near the bottom. The graph below also shows that there are several countries - including Russia, Egypt, Iran and Saudi Arabi - which implement widespread or systematic repression of their citizens are taking part in this year's tournament.

See how the 32 competing countries compare by visiting the World Cup section of the CIVICUS Monitor, which is an online research tool that tracks and rates civic space scores across all countries.

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Palestine: Israel must end impunity and indiscriminate attacks on protestors

One month after a horrific massacre of protesters in the occupied Palestinian territory, global civil society alliance, CIVICUS is urging accountability for the unacceptably high levels of lethal violence employed by Israeli security forces against demonstrations.  

Since 30 March 2018, when Palestinians launched a protest campaign against forced evictions, the denial of their right to return to their occupied territories and the relocation of the US embassy to Jerusalem, more than 120 protestors have been killed including children, journalists and health personnel. In addition, more than 12 000 Palestinians have been wounded.  On May 14, the deadliest day of the protests, more than 61 Palestinians including 8 children were shot and killed by Israeli forces and nearly 3 000 were wounded in Gaza. 

Despite the decision by the UN Human Rights Council on 18 May 2018 to dispatch an independent commission of inquiry to investigate violations of international human rights and humanitarian law, Israeli forces are continuing to use unnecessary, indiscriminate and disproportionate force against protesters. This includes exploding bullets, which are designed to inflict maximum damage, in a calculated attempt to kill, maim and inflict serious bodily harm on Palestinian protesters. Palestinian civil society representatives are being prevented from travelling abroad including to UN bodies to expose the atrocities being committed by Israeli forces.

Said Mandeep Tiwana, CIVICUS’ Chief Programmes Officer: “We all bear responsibility for not doing enough to demand an end to the atrocities committed by Israeli security forces.”

“Silence from some states and overt support for Israeli forces’ actions by others is emboldening them to act with impunity and cause massive suffering to the Palestinian community,” said Tiwana.

As Israeli authorities wilfully ignore calls from the international community to exercise restraint against Palestinian protestors, CIVICUS urges civil society around the world to urge their governments to speak out against continuing attacks on Palestinian protesters, demand an end to impunity by Israeli forces and support the commission of inquiry mandated by the UN Human Rights Council to investigate violations in the context of the large scale civilian protests in the occupied Palestinian territory.

ENDS.

For more information, contact:

Grant Clark
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Nicaragua: Cese de la violencia en contra de los manifestantes pacíficos

Inglés

La alianza global de la sociedad civil CIVICUS y la Coordinadora Civil de Nicaragua hacen un llamamiento al gobierno de Nicaragua para que detenga la violencia contra las personas que se manifiestan de manera pacífica y para que respete su derecho a manifestarse libremente y de forma pacífica. Después de 54 días de protesta, 135 personas han sido asesinadas, más de 1000 han resultado heridas y 400 detenidas. Mientras tanto, estas personas manifestantes piden al presidente Daniel Ortega que renuncie.

Joint Letter: Restore democratic rule in Thailand

5 June 2018

Prime Minister
General Prayut Chan-o-cha
Government House
Pitsanulok Road, Dusit
Bangkok 10300, Thailand

 

Re: Concerns regarding arrest and prosecution of peaceful protesters

Dear Prime Minister,

We are writing to you with regards to the recent arrest and charging of pro-democracy activists for their participation in a peaceful protest in Bangkok on 22 May 2018, the fourth anniversary of the military coup in Thailand. These individuals were part of a group of hundreds of protesters who were calling for an end to military rule and for elections to be held by November 2018, in line with commitments previously made by your government.

15 individuals were arrested on the day of the protest and subsequently charged with various offences including violations of Penal Code Sections 116 (sedition), 215 (assemblies leading to “breach of the peace”) and 216 (refusal to disperse). They are also facing charges under Article 12 of the Head of the NCPO Order No. 3/2558, which prohibits “political gatherings of five or more persons”, the Road Traffic Act, and the Public Assembly Act.

On 24 May, after being detained for two nights, the 15 activists were brought to the Bangkok Criminal Court and granted bail of 100,000 Thai Baht per person (approximately USD 3,100). The court also imposed restrictions prohibiting the activists from organising or participating in further protests.

On 29 May, authorities issued summons to at least 47 additional individuals present during the protest, including a staff member from Thai Lawyers for Human Rights who was on hand to monitor the event. This group of individuals will learn the nature of the charges they face when they report to a Bangkok police station on 7 June.

The arrest and charging of the protesters clearly contravene Thailand’s obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), as do the restrictions placed on the future activities of these individuals.

After four years of military rule in Thailand, government authorities continue to arbitrarily arrest, detain and prosecute peaceful protesters and government critics under an array of laws including those used to charge the 22 May protesters as well as the Computer Crimes Act and Penal Code provisions relating to defamation and offenses against the monarchy. Many pro-democracy activists are subject to charges in multiple criminal cases concerning their protest activities and could face decades of imprisonment, if convicted.

By limiting political activities, curbing public gatherings, monitoring private communications, and stifling public discourse on matters of national interest, authorities are unjustifiably restricting the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly. Moreover, these actions have created a fearful environment in which people cannot freely express their opinions, criticize public authorities, or peacefully assemble without risking arrest and prosecution. These human rights violations are taking place in the context of the Thai government’s repeated failure to fulfil promises to hold elections and restore democratic norms.

Therefore, we urge Thai authorities to take the following steps as a matter of priority:

  • Immediately and unconditionally drop all charges against the 22 May pro-democracy protesters and lift all restrictions on the exercise of their human rights;
  • Quash convictions and drop charges against anyone prosecuted or convicted for exercising their rights to freedom of expression, association or peaceful assembly;
  • Amend or repeal laws and orders that restrict or provide criminal penalties for the peaceful exercise of human rights or allow for arbitrary detention, including Penal Code provisions relating to sedition, defamation and insults to the monarchy; the Computer Crimes Act; the Public Assembly Act; and NCPO Order No. 3/2558;
  • Create a safe and enabling environment for activists, human rights defenders and other members of Thailand’s civil society to peacefully exercise their rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly without intimidation, harassment, arrest or prosecution; and
  • Lift all restrictions on political activities and take steps to restore democratic rule in Thailand as soon as possible.

We express our sincere hope that you will consider and support these recommendations. We would be happy to discuss these matters with you or other appropriate officials at any time and offer our support in reforming laws and policies to ensure compliance with international human rights law and standards.

Sincerely,                      

David E. Kode                                  Soo Yon Suh                                    Matthew Bugher

Advocacy & Campaigns Lead          Program Manager                            Head of Asia Programme

CIVICUS                                          Asia Democracy Network                ARTICLE 19

Eritrea: Extend UN Special Rapporteur mandate, help end generalized impunity

To Permanent Representatives of Member and Observer States of the United Nations Human Rights Council, Geneva, Switzerland

Excellencies,

Ahead of the 38th session of the UN Human Rights Council (“HRC” or “the Coun­cil”), we write to you as a cross-re­gional group of non-governmental organizations to share our serious concerns over the sys­te­ma­tic, wide­spread and gross human rights violations that continue to be committed with impu­nity in Eritrea.

We urge your Govern­ment to support and co-sponsor at the upcoming session a streamlined reso­lution that accurately reflects the gravity of the situation on the ground, renews the man­date of the Special Rapporteur under the Council’s agenda item 4, and sets out a framework for need­ed reforms to improve the human rights situation in the country and advance ac­count­ability.

At the Council’s last regular session, during an enhanced interactive dialogue on Eri­trea held in March 2018, Deputy UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Kate Gilmore noted:

“In 2016, the Commission of Inquiry on Eritrea found reasonable grounds to believe that crimes against humanity, namely, enslavement, imprisonment, enforced disappearance, torture, other inhumane acts, per­secution, rape and murder, had been committed since 1991. The Commission noted that despite the State’s increased engagement with the international community, there was no evidence of progress in the field of hu­man rights. I regret to report that this state of affairs remains unchanged.”[1]

In her most recent statement to the Council, the UN Special Rapporteur on Eritrea, Sheila B. Keet­ha­ruth, similarly detailed violations per­tain­ing to the right to life, including deaths in custody for which responsibility “falls squarely on Gov­ernment authorities,” the right to liberty and security of the person, freedom from arbitrary arrest and detention, freedoms of expression, assembly and as­so­ciation, and freedom of religion or belief, inc­lu­­ding the harass­ment, mis­treatment, torture and detention of members of unrecognized religions.[2] These continuing violations present a systematic character, meaning, in the words of the Special Rap­porteur, that “they cannot be the result of ran­dom or isolated acts by the autho­rities” and that they occur in a country ruled “not by law, but by fear.”[3]

Since Eritrea was first considered by the Council, the Government has refused to cooperate with the mechanisms the Council set up, including the Special Rapporteur and the Commis­sion of In­quiry (CoI). At the March 2018 enhanced interactive dialogue, Eritrea was not present to take the floor as the con­cer­ned country.

Eritrea’s cooperation with other international bodies, mechanisms or agencies has been extremely selec­tive. While the Government recently invited the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Hu­man Rights (OHCHR) for a short-term technical assistance mission, the Deputy High Commissio­ner under­lined that “the test of the merits of our engagement with Eritrea – like Eritrea’s commitments at the international level – lies in whether or not they produce concrete human rights improvements for the people of Eritrea.” She concluded that there had been no measurable progress to date.

Eritrea has consistently denied UN Special Procedures, including the country-specific Special Rap­por­teur, access to the country. At the time of writing, pen­ding visit requests by Special Procedures included requests from the Spe­cial Rapporteurs on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment (request in 2005; reminders in 2007 and 2010); freedom of religion or belief (request in 2004; reminders in 2005 and 2006); extrajudicial, sum­mary or arbitrary exe­cu­tions (request in 2010); the right to food (request in 2003); and freedom of opi­nion and expression (request in 2003; reminders in 2005 and 2015).

Eritrea has also attacked, intimidated and threatened human rights defenders and independent UN ex­perts, including the Special Rapporteur and members of the CoI. When the latter presented their report in 2015, they noted that “[they] were followed in the streets and in [their] hotels and vilified in blogs on line where the words of [their] report have been twisted and misquoted.” The Com­mission’s Chair added: “Of course this is trivial compared to the day to day experience of people in Eritrea itself, but it is indicative of a determination on the part of the authorities to control anyone they perceive as a critic.”[4]

The gravity, scale and nature of the continuing violations call for justice. Victims, including those who live inside the country and those who have fled it, deserve redress. As domestic avenues for such red­ress are non-existent, the international community must continue to act with a view to en­ding the gene­ra­lized impu­nity that prevails in the coun­try. The Deputy High Commissioner remin­ded the Coun­cil that, as advi­sed by the Special Rapporteur, there could be “no sustain­able solution to the refugee out­flows until the Government complied with its human rights obligations.”[5]

In view of the ongoing crimes under international law and violations of human rights and fun­da­mental freedoms committed in Eritrea, the Special Rapporteur’s mandate remains an indispensable mechanism to advance the protection and promotion of human rights in the country. The mandate holder continues to fulfil an invaluable role by monitoring the dire situation in the country, shining a light on violations, providing a crucial platform to help amplify the voices of victims, and offering Eritreans an opportunity to find long-lasting solutions for the respect of their human rights.

Consistent with its mandate to address situations of violations of human rights, including gross and systematic violations, the Human Rights Council should continue to address the situ­ation in Eritrea. We urge your dele­gation to actively support and co-sponsor a resolution that:

  • Recalls the reports of the Commission of Inquiry and the Special Rapporteur and continues to ex­press its deep concern over the findings contained therein;
  • Condemns the reported systematic, widespread and gross human rights viola­tions and abuses that have been and are being committed by the Government of Eritrea in a climate of genera­li­zed im­punity;
  • Reiterates that all perpetrators of such violations and abuses should be held ac­countable;
  • Extends the mandate of the Special Rap­porteur and invites the mandate holder to continue to fol­low up on the findings of HRC mechanisms, including on accountability;
  • Invites the Special Rapporteur to assess and report on the Eritrean Government’s degree of enga­ge­ment and cooperation with the Council and its mechanisms, as well as with OHCHR, and whe­re feasible to develop benchmarks for progress on human rights and a time-bound action plan for the imple­mentation of these benchmarks;
  • Calls on all states to urge the Government of Eritrea to co-operate with the Special Rappor­teur and other UN bodies and mechanisms, including Special Procedures, implement the recommen­da­­tions these bodies and mechanisms made over the years, and allow unfettered ac­cess to the coun­try, including detention centers and training facilities.

We thank you for your attention to these pressing issues and are available to provide your delegation with further information as required.

Sincerely,

Africa Monitors

Amnesty International

ARTICLE 19

Asian Legal Resource Centre

Central Africa Human Rights Defenders Network (REDHAC)

Christian Solidarity Worldwide

Citizens for Democratic Rights in Eritrea (CDRiE)

CIVICUS

DefendDefenders (the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project)

Eritrean Diaspora in East Africa

Eritrean Lowland League

Eritrean Law Society

Eritrean Movement for Democracy and Human Rights

FIDH (International Federation for Human Rights)

FORUM-Asia

Human Rights Concern – Eritrea

Human Rights Institute of South Africa (HURISA)

Human Rights Watch

International Fellowship of Reconciliation

International Service for Human Rights                        

PEN Eritrea

Release Eritrea

Reporters Without Borders

Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network (SAHRDN)

West Africa Human Rights Defenders Network (WAHRDN/ROADDH)


[1] The meeting summary can be found at: www.bit.ly/2Fc69BX

[4] www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=16731&LangID=E The Special Rapporteur herself has faced personal attacks during an interactive dialogue that was held in June 2017, when she was referred to as a “naked Empress with no clothes” and was accused of carrying out a witch-hunt against Eritrea. See www.amnesty.org/en/documents/ior40/8032/2018/en/

[5] See footnote 1 above.

Niger: This 25 May marks two months in detention of 26 activists and civil society members

  • 10 organisations call on authorities to stop their prosecutions and release them in order to ease the current tense situation 

Two months after 26 civil society activists were arrested in peaceful demonstrations against a new finance law in the capital, Niamey, Oxfam and Amnesty International are joining with eight NGOs to call on the authorities of Niger to ease the situation by releasing the detainees and bring an end to the prosecutions.

OPEN CALL for contributions to CIVICUS’ State of Civil Society Report on ‘Reimagining Democracy’

French | Spanish

The upcoming CIVICUS State of Civil Society Report, to be published in September 2018, will focus on the special theme of ‘Reimagining Democracy’. The publication will explore the current state of democratic practices, the contemporary trends that are having an impact on them, and civil society initiatives to respond to major democratic challenges and reinvent democracy from the ground up. As with previous reports, we are seeking to collaborate with and hear the views of a wide range of civil society activists, leaders, experts and stakeholders.

This is where you come in: we want your thoughts on the situation of and perspectives on democracy in your context, your stories about civil society action in connection to our theme, and your ideas about what civil society can do to reimagine, rebuild and project democracy into the future. Through your submissions, we hope to be able to view our theme from a variety of different angles in order to get as complete an nuanced a picture as possible.

Submissions will be published in a dedicated section of our website and will help inform our final report.

About submissions

This is an open call for submissions, and anyone who has a story to share that is in one way or another related to the theme is welcome to participate.

We will receive short written submissions (ideally of up to 1,500 words) on a specific aspect of the theme. Submissions should preferably focus on a practical case study of civil society experience and response. We are particularly looking for case studies that focus on innovative and creative responses to the challenges and limitations of current democratic practices.

We would like to collect the widest possible range of experiences of legitimate democratic expressions - of the many ways in which ‘people power’ can express itself. We are taking a broad view of democracy, beyond elections, encompassing a variety of democratic practices at every level. Please feel free to present your working definition of democracy as you frame your issue and tell your story.

Key questions for submissions to address may include:

  • How does your particular topic relate to the overall theme of ‘Reimagining Democracy’?
  • What was the problem in your context that civil society sought to respond to?
  • What were the key ways in which civil society responded, and what was creative and innovative about the response?
  • What were the main successes and challenges encountered in responding?
  • What further civil society action is required, and what is needed to support this action?
  • What recommendations can you make for wider international learning?

Submissions may be made by individuals or organisations, and may be written in English, French, Portuguese or Spanish. We encourage the submission of audio-visual material and photos alongside written submissions.

All submissions received will be published, provided they show a clear relation to the theme, highlight examples of civil society action, and are consistent with CIVICUS’ core values and principles, as articulated in our 2017-2022 Strategic Plan. We may edit submissions before publication for house style and consistency of language usage, but will correspond with authors if substantive changes are suggested.

About the theme

Our theme. ‘Reimagining Democracy’, comes as a response to the various challenges to democratic practices observed in country after country around the world. These include personal presidential rule and challenges to the rule of law, pushback by the politically powerful against the expression of democratic dissent, public dissatisfaction with contemporary democratic practice, restrictive definitions of citizenship leading to the exclusion of many people, and the rise of extreme and polarising political movements.

Seeking to move beyond pessimism, our main focus will be on the responses of civil society to defend, rebuild and deepen democracy – to reimagine democracy. We will highlight examples of successful practice in reimagining democracy, as well as the challenges encountered in responding, and make a series of practical recommendations on how civil society actions to reimagine democracy can be nurtured and strengthened.

Possible topics as part of this theme include:

  • Presidential/personal rule, constitution and election rigging and the declining rule of law
  • Cronyism, elite collusion and grand corruption
  • Attacks on democratic dissent
  • Majoritarianism and attacks on political minorities and excluded groups
  • Political populism and extremism
  • The rise of uncivil society
  • Political disaffection and rejection of conventional politics
  • Democratic deficits in international institutions
  • Protest responses, social movements - and pushback against these
  • Civil society engagement before, during and after elections
  • Community organising and neighbourhood participation
  • Workplace democracy and democracy within civil society organisations

For more information about the ‘Reimagining Democracy’ theme and process, see our background note here. If you have any questions, or to submit your contribution, please contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

CIVICUS interview with Malaysia electoral reform coalition, Bersih 2.0

In the lead up to the 14th general elections in Malaysia on 9 May, CIVICUS interviewed the Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections (Bersih 2.0 which means "clean" in Malay). The coalition - made up of like-minded civil society organisations - was officially launched in 2006 with the objective of campaigning for clean and fair elections in Malaysia.

Among its eights demands include: cleaning the electoral roll; reforming postal balloting; the use of indelible ink; a minimum 21 days campaign period; free and fair access to media for all political parties; strengthening public institutions to act independently and impartially in upholding the rule of law and democracy and halting corruption and dirty politics.

Since 2007, it has organized five massive street protests to the have drawn tens of thousands of people to protest on the streets of Kuala Lumpur and other parts of the country calling for electoral and national reform. Smallers protests have also been held in different countries across the world. Ahead of these mass rallies Bersih 2.0 organisers have been arrested or harassed by the authorities and authorities have seized their computers, mobile phones and documents.

Over the last month, Bersih 2.0 raised concerns about the redelineation of constituencies which was done in haste in favour of the ruling government, highlighted problems with the overseas postal voting system, publicized vote buying by candidates and the manipulation and abuse of power by the Election Commission (EC) on Nomination Day

More information on Bersih 2.0 can be found at https://www.bersih.org

Joint Statement: Dozens killed in Nicaragua by state repression of protests

Spanish

We hereby condemn the violent repression of the demonstrations held in Nicaragua against the Social Security reforms, and we demand respect for the legitimate right to protest of Nicaraguan women and men

Daniel Ortega, President of the Republic of Nicaragua.

Rosario Murillo, Vice President of the Republic of Nicaragua.

We, 323 undersigned national, diverse regional and international organizations and networks, hereby condemn the violent repression of the demonstrations held in Nicaragua against the Social Security reforms, and we demand respect for the legitimate right to protest of Nicaraguan women and men.

Since Wednesday the 18th April, organizations, networks and human rights defenders in Nicaragua have been documenting and denouncing multiple violations of the right to hold peaceful protests, that include: murders, disappearances, arbitrary detentions, physical aggressions; the use of stones, sticks, rubber bullets, and tear gas; threats, acts of intimidation and the infringement of the right to information; in the context of the demonstrations that were organised in response to the Government’s imposition of the Social Security reforms that involve cuts of 5% in pensions, as well as other measures that affect the fundamental rights of Nicaraguan women and men.

As has been verified, these attacks are being perpetrated by State security forces that repress the population with excessive use of force, and by groups of civilians linked to the Juventud Sandinista (Sandinista Youth Movement) who are acting with total impunity, and with the complicity and consent of the police, causing outbreaks of violence that have already claimed the lives of at least 40 people.1

Another matter of grave concern are the violations of the right to freedom of expression, manifested in the theft of journalists' professional equipment, assaults and acts of intimidation during repressive actions and the shutting down of the transmission, through digital cable service, of 100% Noticias, channel 12 and channel 23 that were covering the protests.

These attacks violate the right to freedom of assembly and to peaceful association, the right to freedom of opinion and expression of the Nicaraguan people, and their right to defend the social rights that are threatened by the Social Security reforms that the Government seeks to impose.

This situation is not an isolated case; in recent times, numerous acts have been documented that infringe the right to social protest - by restricting people’s freedom of movement, through campaigns of criminalization, threats and harassment against organizations and human rights’ defenders, or through the closure of communication spaces, and many other actions that threaten democracy and the human rights of Nicaraguan women and men.

In the light of the above, we, the organizations and individual signatories to this letter, demand the following actions from the Nicaraguan State:

  • The immediate cease of repression and violence carried out by armed forces, the police and groups of civilians linked to the government. The authorities must fulfil their duty to guarantee Nicaraguan women’s and men’s right to social protest
  • The release of detainees in different parts of the country. Guarantees must be provided that no criminal action will be taken against them.
  • An inclusive national dialogue process, securing the participation and involvement of different sectors that have movilized, victims, networks and civil society organizations, as well as representatives from diverse social movements
  • Respect for the work carried out by human rights defenders, journalists and the media.

Sincerely yours,

1. Abogadas y Abogados para la Justicia y los Derechos Humanos

2. Abriendo Camino A.C.

3. Académicas en Acción Critica

4. Acción Solidaria

5. ACCSI Acción Ciudadana Contra el SIDA

6. Agrupación Ciudadana por la Despenalización del aborto - El Salvador

7. AIETI Asociacion de Investigación y Especialización sobrecTemas Iberoamericanos

8. Aireana, grupo por los derechos de las lesbianas. Asunción. PARAGUAY

9. Akahata A.C.

10. Alianza Latinoamericana y Caribeña de Juventudes

11. Alianza Regional por la Libre Expresión e Información

12. American Jewish World Service

13. Americas Program, Center for International Policy

14. Amigas en Consejos de Desarrollo AMICODE

15. AMUMRA - Asociación Civil de Derechos Humanos Mujeres Unidas Migrantes y Refugiadas en Argentina

16. ANC- Peru

17. Andrea Kraybill Art

18. APADEIM

19. APRODEH

20. Arte para Sanar

21. Articulação de Mulheres Brasileiras

22. Asamblea Feminista de Madrid

23. Asistencia Legal por Derechos Humanos A.C.

24. Asociación Andaluza por la Solidaridad y la Paz (ASPA)

25. Asociación Bolivarianos Diversos

26. Asociación Cepres

27. Asociación Ciudadana ACCEDER

28. Asociación Ciudadana por los Derechos Humanos de Argentina

29. Asociacion Civil De Mujeres Resilientes

30. Asociación Civil Magdalenas Puerto Madryn

31. Asociacion de Mujeres Salvadoreñas en Accion del Barrio San Jacinto AMSAB-SJ

32. Asociación de jóvenes feministas Ameyalli, El Salvador

33. Asociación Educativa Barbiana

34. Asociación Entre Amigos LGBTI de El Salvador

35. Asociación Interamericana para la Defensa del Ambiente, AIDA (Regional)

36. Asociacion Interpueblos-Cantabria-España

37. Asociación para una sociedad más justa

38. Asociación para una vida mejor (Apuvimeh)

39. Asociación Paz y Esperanza

40. ASOCIACIÓN PRO DEFENSA DE LA CUENCA DEL RÍO JUAN DÍAZ

41. Asociación Pro Derechos Humanos de España

42. Associação brasileira de defesa da mulher da infância e da juventude

43. ATTAC Roanne

44. AvanzaFem AC

45. Balance Promoción para el Desarrollo y Juventud, México

46. Beso Diverso

47. Bilboko Bilgune Feminista

48. BILGUNE FEMINISTA (Euskal Herria-Pais Vasco)

49. Bordamos Feminicidios (México)

50. Both ENDS

51. Brigada UNE

52. Calala Fondo de Mujeres

53. Campaña 28 de Septiembre - Guatemala

54. Campaña Convención DSYDR Peru

55. Campo A.C.

56. Canas Dignas

57. Capital Humano y Social Alternativo - CHS Alternativo

58. CASACIDN

59. Católicas por el Derecho a Decidir - España

60. Católicas por el Derecho a Decidir – México

61. CENDEROS

62. Centro de Acción y Defensa por los Derechos Humanos - Cadef

63. Centro de análisis, formación e iniciativa social, CAFIS A.C.

64. Centro de Derechos de Mujeres CDM

65. Centro de Derechos Humanos de la Montaña Tlachinollan

66. Centro de Derechos Humanos de la Universidad Católica Andrés Bello (CDH-UCAB)

67. Centro de Derechos Humanos de la Universidad Metropolitana (CDH-UNIMET)

68. Centro de Derechos Humanos Fray Francisco de Vitoria OP, A.C. (México)

69. Centro de Derechos Humanos Fray Matías de Córdova (Chiapas, México)

70. Centro de Documentación en Derechos Humanos "Segundo Montes Mozo S.J." (CSMM)

71. Centro de Estudios e Investigación sobre Mujeres

72. CENTRO DE ESTUDIOS HUMANISTAS - Costa Rica

73. Centro de estudios y capacitación familiar. Cefa

74. Centro de Iniciativas para la Cooperación Batá (CIC Batá)

75. Centro de Investigación para la Prevención de la Violencia en Centroamérica – CIPREVICA

76. Centro de Investigaciones para la Equidad Política Pública y Desarrollo, CIPE.

77. Centro de Sanación, Formación e Investigación Transpersonal Q'anil

78. Centro Documentación e Información Bolivia-CEDIB-

79. Centro Hermanas Mirabal de Derechos Humanos A.C.

80. Centro Para el Desarrollo Integral de la Mujer

81. Centro para la Paz y los DDHH de la Universidad Central de Venezuela

82. Centro por la Justicia y el Derecho Internacional (CEJIL)

83. Cepaz - Centro de Justicia y Paz

84. CEPROSAF

85. CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation

86. Civilis Derechos Humanos

87. CLADEM ARGENTINA (Comité de América Latina y el Caribe para la Defensa de los Derechos de las Mujeres)

88. CLADEM Bolivia

89. Cladem Nicaragua

90. Coalicion Todas

91. Codhez

92. Codice, Jalisco

93. Colectiva Actoras de Cambio

94. Colectiva Amorales

95. Colectiva Ciudad y Género AC

96. Colectiva con Letra F (México)

97. Colectiva Chancha Negra

98. Colectiva de Mujeres de Masaya

99. Colectiva Femimista

100. Colectiva Sororidad Glocal

101. Colectivas lesbicas

102. Colectivo de Abogados "José Alvear Restrepo" (Ccajar), Colombia

103. Colectivo de Mujeres de Matagalpa Nicaragua

104. Colectivo de Mujeres Sobrevivientes Siempre Resistentes – Chile

105. Colectivo de Trabajadoras y Trabajadores Sociales de Honduras (CTS-H)

106. Colectivo de Trabajadores y Trabajadoras de Honduras

107. Colectivo Estudiantil Pro Derechos Humanos del Centro de Investigación y Docencia Económicas

108. Colectivo Josefa Lastiri

109. Colectivo para la Participación de la Infancia y Juventud

110. Colectivo PSG

111. Colectivo Trans del Uruguay

112. Colectivo Utopía Puebla

113. Collectif Guatemala

114. Comisión de Derechos Humanos de Ica

115. Comisión Nacional de Derechos Humanos del Estado Monagas de la Federación de Colegios de Abogados de Venezuela

116. Comité Ambiental en Defensa de la Vida (Colombia).

117. Comité de América Latina y el Caribe para la Defensa de los Derechos de las Mujeres (CLADEM)

118. Comité de America Latina y el Caribe para la Defensa de los Derechos Humanos de las Mujeres (CLADEM- Mexico)

119. Comité por los derechos humanos en América latina (CDHAL)

120. Comunidad de familiares y amigos por los Derechos Humanos de la Diversidad Sexual COFADHIS

121.Comunidad Xinka

122.Concertación Interamericana de Derechos Humanos de las Mujeres

123.Consejo de Mujeres Cristianas

124. Consejo tiyat tlali

125. Consorcio para el Diálogo Parlamentario MX

126. Consorcio para el Diálogo Parlamentario y la Equidad Oaxaca AC

127. ControlaTuGobierno, A.C.

128. CONVERGENCIA DE LAS CULTURAS - Costa Rica

129. Convite A.C.

130. Cooperacció

131. Coordinación de Mujeres del Paraguay

132. Coordinadora 28 de Mayo - Guatemala

133. Coordinadora Estatal de Organizaciones Feministas

134. Coordinadora Nacional de Derechos Humanos - Perú

135. Coordinadora Norte Tierra y Libertad - Costa Rica

136. Córdoba Solidaria

137. Count Me In! Consortium

138. Cuerpas Creando Comunidad

139. Cuerpas Sin Reglas

140. CuidaTuEspcio 

141. Defiende Venezuela

142. Derechos Humanos

143. Ditsö- Costa Rica

144. Ecologistas en Acción (España)

145. Elige Red de Jóvenes por los Derechos Sexuales y Reproductivos AC

146. Ellas por la igualdad AC

147. Epistemologías del Sur: Red de pensamiento crítico, respecto de los derechos humanos, la dinámica educativa y el territorio

148. Equidad de Género, Ciudadanía, Trabajo y Familia

149. Equipo de Reflexión, Investigación y Comunicación de la Compañía de Jesús en Honduras

150. Escritorio Juridico Gutierrez Ceballos

151. Espacio DESCA

152. Espacio Público - Venezuela

153. Espiral hacia la Igualdad

154. Estancia del Migrante González y Martínez, A.C. (Querétaro, México)

155. Estudiantes por una Política Sensata de Drogas, Costa Rica.

156. EXCUBITUS derechos humanos en educacion.

157. Existir al caminar A.C.

158. Feministas en Marcha - Puerto Rico

159. Feministas Independientes

160. FIA capitulo Venezuela Seccional Anzoategui

161. Fondo Apthapi Jopueti Bolivia

162. Fondo CAMY

163. Fondo de Acción Urgente para América Latina y el Caribe FAU-AL

164. FONDO LUNARIA MUJER COLOMBIA

165. Foro de Jóvenes con Liderazgo AC

166. Free Press Unlimited

167. FRENTE COOPERATIVO Y DE ECONOMÍA SOCIAL - Costa Rica

168. Frente por los Derechos Igualitarios

169. FRIDA | The Young Feminist Fund

170. FRONT LINE DEFENDERS

171. Fronteras

172. FUNBIDE

173. Fundación Acceso

174. Fundación Arcoiris por el respeto a la diversidad sexual.

175. Fundación CAUCE, Cultura Ambiental - Causa Ecologista. Paraná. Argentina

176. Fundación Colectivo Hombres XX, A. C.

177.  Fundacion PANIAMOR

178.  Fundación para el Debido Proceso (DPLF)

179. Fundacion para el Desarrollo Comunitario-FUNDECOM

180. Fundación para el Desarrollo de la Libertad Ciudadana

181. Fundación salvadoreña por la diversidad sexual de la Mano Contigo

182. FUNDECOM

183. Global Fund for Women

184. Grupo de Accion Comunitaria. Madrid. Estado Español

185. Grupo de Educación Popular con Mujeres A.C.

186. Grupo Visión Nocturna Uruguay

187. Guatemala citizen

188. Guatemaltecas por la Defensa del Estado Laico (GDEL)

189.Hivos

190. Iacta Sociojuridica SCCLP

191.ILGALAC

192. IMDEC AC

193. INCIDIR, A.C.

194. Ingeniería Sin Fronteras Aragón

195. Iniciativas de Cooperación Internacional para el Desarrollo

196. Institute on Race, Equality and Human Rights

197. Instituto Caribeño de Derechos Humanos (ICADH)

198. Instituto de Enseñanza para el Desarrollo Sostenible

199. Instituto Sur Andino de Investigación y Acción Solidaria-ISAIAS

200. IRC WASH

201. JAKILU

202. JASS-JUST ASSOCIATES/ASOCIADAS POR LO JUSTO

203. Jóvenes Voceras y Voceros en DSDR, El Salvador.

204. Juntos por la Vida

205. Justice and Peace Netherlands 206.Kallpachay Suyu. Ambiente y cultura.

207. Kentucky Interfaith Taskforce on Latin America and the Caribbean

208. La Cabaretiza AC

209. La Casa Mandarina AC

210. LA COMUNIDAD PARA EL DESARROLLO HUMANO - Costa Rica

211. Laboratorio de la Máscara

212. Las Reinas Chulas cabaret y derechos humanos A.C.

213.Lesbocolectivo las Resueltas

214. LeSVOZ, AC

215. Los siempre sospechosos de todo

216. Mama Cash

217. Maquila Solidarity Network

218. MARCHA CENTROAMERICANA POR LA PAZ Y LA NO VIOLENCIA

219. Margens Clínicas - São Paulo/ Brasil

220. Marxa Mundial de Dones

221. Memoria de mujeres

222. Momundh

223. Movimiento Autónomo de Mujeres de Nicaragua

224. Movimiento de Mujeres de Chinandega

225. Movimiento de Mujeres de Santo Tomás

226. Movimiento de Mujeres Visitación Padilla

227. Movimiento Migrante Mesoamericano

228. Movimiento Vinotinto

229. Mujer Ideas Desarrollo e Investigación

230. Mujer y salud en Uruguay MYSU

231. Mujeres Ambientalistas, El Salvador.

232. Mujeres de Izabal

233. Mujeres de Negro Rosario – Argentina

234. Mujeres Integradas en el Oeste de Rosario Argentina

235.Mujeres Trabajadoras Unidas, A.C

236. MUNDO SIN GUERRAS Y SIN VIOLENCIA - Costa Rica

237. Ni Una Menos

238. NIMD

239. Observatorio Etico Caribe y América Central – Obetica

240. Observatorio Ético Internacional – OBETI

241. Observatorio Venezolano de Conflictividad Social (OVCS)

242. ODASA

243. OFICINA JURIDICA PARA LA MUJER

244. OMCT - Organización Mundial Contra la Tortura

245. Organización de Mujeres Tierra Viva

246. OTRANS ARGENTINA

247. Otros Mundos A.C./Amigos de la Tierra México

248. Paro Internaciónal se Mujeres, Polonia

249. Partido Feminista de España

250. PARTIDO HUMANISTA - Costa Rica

251. Perifèries del Món

252. Pikara Magazine (País Vasco-España)

253. Plataforma Interamericana de Derechos Humanos, Democracia y Desarrollo PIDHDD

254. Plataforma Internacional contra la Impunidad

255. Plataforma Salvadoreña de juventudes

256. Plazandreok

257. Please remove signature of Kentucky Interfaith Taskforce

258. Presencia y Palabra: Mujeres Afroperuanas

259. Pro-Búsqueda

260. Profesionales católicos - Piura - Perú

261. Proiuris

262. PROMEDEHUM (Venezuela)

263. Radio Stereo Vos

264.Radioexpresion

265. Reacción Climática - Bolivia

266. Red Con Las Amigas Y En La Casa

267. Red de Activistas Ciudadanos por los DDHH

268. Red de Ambientalistas Comunitarios de El Salvador RACDES

269. Red de la No Violencia contra las Mujeres - REDNOVI

270. Red de mujeres contra la violencia

271. Red de salud de las Mujeres Latinoamericanas y del Caribe

272. Red Internacional de Migración y Desarrollo

273. Red Latinoamericana y Caribeña de Jóvenes por los Derechos Sexuales RedLAC

274. Red Nacional Coincidir

275. Red Nacional de Defensoras de Derechos Humanos en Honduras

276. Red Para la Infancia y la Adolescencia de El Salvador (RIA)

277. Red Solidaria de Derechos Humanos A.C. (Michoacán, México)

278. REDLAMYC Red latinoamericana y caribeña que lucha por los derechos de niñas niños y adolescentes

279. REDMUCH

280. Refugee and Immigrant Fund (RIF)

281. Resonar

282. RESURJ Realizando la Justicia Sexual

283. Revista SIC del Centro Gumilla

284. Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights

285. Roma National Center from Moldova

286. Schone Kleren Campagne

287. Schumacher College

288. Sector de Mujeres

289. Seguridad en Democracia (SEDEM)

290. Semillas de Nuestra Tierra, AC

291. Sol de primavera

292. Sombrilla Costa Rica

293. SOS Corpo- Instituto Feminista para a Democracia - Recife/ Pernambuco -Brasil

294. Spatium Libertas AC

295. SPW

296. St Williams church

297. Stichting Lleca (Holanda)

298. Strajk Kobiet Polonia

299. SURKUNA - Centro de apoyo y protección de derechos humanos

300. Sursiendo, Comunicación y Cultura Digital AC

301. Swefor Guatemala

302. Tequio jurídico

303. Todas Mx

304. Trabajadora del retail

305. Transparencia Venezuela

306. Uganda Youth Alliance For Family Planning And Adolescents Health -UYAFPAH

307. Unidad de Protección a Defensoras y Defensores de Derechos Humanos - Guatemala (UDEFEGUA)

308. Unidas Somos Tendencia

309. Union global por la democracia

310. Unión Latinoamericana de Mujeres ULAM

311. Unitierra

312. Universidad de la Tierra en Puebla

313. Urgent Action Fund- Latin America and the Caribbean

314. UXU EMAKUMEEN TALDEA

315. Vecinas Feministas por la Justicia Sexual y Reproductiva en América Latina y el Caribe

316. Voces de mujeres, historias que transforman

317. Voces Mesoamericanas, Acción con Pueblos Migrantes A.C.

318. WECF International

319. Witness for Peace

320. WO=MEN Dutch Gender Platform

321. WOLA (Washington Office on Latin America)

322. Women Advocacy and Development Initiative (WADI)

323. Women Strike Polonia

1 Source: Nicaraguan Initiative of Women Human Rights Defenders (IN-Defensoras)

Bangladesh: Open Letter to Prime Minister about controversial digital security bill

Conditions for human rights defenders and journalists in Bangladesh are dire, and appear to be worsening according to the CIVICUS Monitor. A declining respect for democracy has precipitated the closure of civic space through a systematic clampdown on independent dissent. This intensifying crackdown on civil society has led to a de facto ban on public meetings, mass arrests of activists and reports of abductions and torture. Civil society actors documenting human rights violations perpetrated by the government are particularly vulnerable to harassment, intimidation and arbitrary arrest.

The authorities in Bangladesh continue to target civil society, most recently through draconian legislation designed to undermine the sector's independence. In  October 2016, parliament passed an amendment to the widely-criticised Foreign Donations (Voluntary Activities) Regulation Bill (FDRB). The law strengthens the government's power to revoke CSO licenses for a variety of offences, including defamation, involvement in subversive activities and terrorist financing. The Digital Security Bill placed in Parliament is yet another attempt to stifle freedom of expression in Bangladesh and impede independent journalism. See full details of the Security bill in a joint leter below to the Prime Minister of Bangladesh:

H.E. Sheikh Hasina Wazed
Prime Minister of Bangladesh
c/o Md. Nojibur Rahman
Principal Secretary to the HPM
Prime Minister’s Office
Tejgaon, Dhaka-1215
Bangladesh

Dear Prime Minister,

Open Letter: Proposed Digital Security Bill will restrict free expression and promote self-censorship in Bangladesh

FORUM-ASIA, the Asian Human Rights Commission and CIVICUS (World Alliance for Citizen Participation) are writing to you, as civil society organisations, to express our grave concern about the implications of the proposed Digital Security Bill 2018 on the right to freedom of expression of the citizens of Bangladesh. 

We understand that the draft bill was presented before the parliament and was sent to a Standing Committee on 9 April 2018 and is expected to be reviewed over the next four weeks. 

We believe the 2018 Digital Security Bill contains provisions that are overly broad and vague, and that impose disproportionate sentences and prescribe lengthy prison sentences for violators. The bill, if adopted, will exacerbate a range of legal restrictions that will impinge on the right to freedom of expression guaranteed in the Constitution and the country’s obligations under international law, in particular the ICCPR, which was ratified by Bangladesh in 2000.
We are particularly concerned about the follow aspects of the bill: 

  • The bill proposes to empower low ranking police officers with wide discretionary powers to conduct investigations, searches and seizures without applying normative digital evidentiary standards and without judicial oversight. 
  • The bill lacks a precise definition of what is considered a cybercrime and criminalises the use of electronic devices to “cause deterioration to law and order”, harm "religious sentiments”, cause incitement "against another person or organization”, and carry out “acts of defamation” - all of which have been incorporated from section 57 of the ICT Act. The bill simply splits these offences into four separate sections (21, 25, 28 and 29) with punishment ranging from three to 10 years' jail term. 
  • There are concerns around the inclusion of the crime of “carrying out negative propaganda" against the Liberation War (1971 War of Independence) or the ‘Father of the Nation’ (Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the country's first president) that carries a maximum sentence of up to 14 years' in jail or a fine of up to Tk 50 lakh (60,000 USD) or both. These provisions are in contravention of the right to freedom of opinion and expression.
  • Section 32 of the draft bill related to "espionage” could be used against journalists, online activists and lawyers who investigate and expose controversy or illegality within the government. 
  • The bill also stipulates some crimes are “non-bailable” and authorises security agencies to search or arrest anyone without any warrant if a police officer believes that an offense under the law has been committed or there is a possibility of crimes. Such provision often encourages abuse of power by law enforcement officers and promotes self-censorship.

We are concerned that, according to reports, although the draft bill is currently under consideration in parliament, cases filed under section 57 of the ICT Act will continue to be investigated and if necessary, prosecuted.

Section 57 of the ICT Act violates the right to freedom of expression by both criminalising legitimate forms of expression and through its vague wording that allows the authorities to arbitrarily and abusively apply the law. Scores of journalists have been arrested under section 57 of the Act for their reporting; around 700 cases have been filed under this Section since 2013. The provision has also been described as a “de facto blasphemy law”, as it criminalises several forms of online expression including anyone who “causes to hurt or may hurt religious belief”.

In 2017, the Human Rights Committee in its concluding observations raised concerns about the arrest of journalists, “secular bloggers” and human rights defenders under the ICT Act and called for the government to “repeal or revise the [ICT law] with a view to bringing it into conformity with the State party’s obligations under the Covenant, taking into account the Committee’s general comment No. 34 (2011) on the freedoms of opinion and expression”.

We are also highly concerned by the government's lack of meaningful consultation regarding the bill with key stakeholders including journalists, civil society and the human rights community. We urge the government of Bangladesh to prioritise a collective review of the proposed Digital Security Bill to bring it in line with international human rights law and standards and to repeal Section 57 of the ICT Act. The government must ensure that any future legislative proposals that have implications for the media or civil society are developed in full consultation with all stakeholders.

Freedom of expression is of critical importance to hold those in power accountable. There should be no limitations on the freedom of expression and personal opinion, particularly those that systematically violate democratic spaces and practices.

It is crucial that the government takes steps to develop an enabling environment for freedom of expression in line with international standards and end its willful misuse of restrictive legislation to subvert free speech.

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) works towards the radical rethinking and fundamental redesigning of justice institutions in order to protect and promote human rights in Asia. Established in 1984, the Hong Kong based organisation is a Laureate of the Right Livelihood Award, 2014.

CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation is a global alliance of civil society organisations and activists dedicated to strengthening citizen action and civil society throughout the world. Headquartered in Johannesburg, South Africa it is a membership alliance with more than 4,000 members in more than 175 countries.

FORUM-ASIA is a regional human rights group with 58 member organisations in 19 countries across Asia. FORUM-ASIA has offices in Bangkok, Jakarta, Geneva and Kathmandu. FORUM-ASIA addresses key areas of human rights violations in the region, including freedoms of expression, assembly and association, human rights defenders, and democratization.

For further details, contact: 


AHRC, bangladeshATahrc.asia 
CIVICUS, josef.benedictATcivicus.org
FORUM-ASIA, sasiaATforum-asia.org

Vietnamese activists jailed after sham trial

The sentencing of the six activists yesterday for peacefully expressing their opinions, illustrates the Vietnam authorities’ utter contempt for freedom of expression, said global civil society alliance, CIVICUS.

The six, linked to the Brotherhood for Democracy, include prominent human rights lawyer Nguyen Van Dai, who was sentenced to 15 years imprisonment. Van Dai, arrested in 2015, is the co-founder of the Vietnam Human Rights Committee and a pro-democracy activist. He has provided legal assistance to citizens who have faced human rights violations committed by the government and members of religious minorities, and has faced judicial harassment.

Others also received equally harsh sentences. Nguyen Trung Ton and Truong Minh Doc, 12 years imprisonment; Nguyen Van Bac Truen, 11 years imprisonment; Le Thu Ha, nine years imprisonment and Nguyen Van Troi, seven years imprisonment. 

The activists were all charged under Article 79 of the Penal Code for ‘attempting to overthrow the state ‘and sentenced after a one-day summary trial.

“The convictions of these activist after a sham trial is a slap in the face of justice. It demonstrates the ruthless determination of the authorities to crush all forms of dissent in Vietnam and to silence peaceful critics. CIVICUS calls for the verdict to be quashed and for the immediate and unconditional release of all of them” said David Kode, Advocacy & Campaigns Lead.

Fundamental freedoms are severely curtailed in Vietnam with activists, journalists and bloggers routinely arrested and imprisoned under vaguely defined national security laws. Media outlets are heavily censored and peaceful protesters have faced arbitrary arrests and excessive use of force by the police. Jailed activists have also been transferred to remote prisons, thousands of kilometers from their families.

In February 2018, the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression, said ‘he was deeply concerned by the increasing number of arrests and the detention of rights activists and journalists covering issues of public relevance in Vietnam.’

“Vietnam has ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which protects the right to freedom of opinion and expression. The authorities must comply with its obligations and halt the harassment, arbitrary arrest and prosecution of activists and bloggers for peacefully carrying out their activities to promote and protect human rights.”

Civic space in Vietnam is rated as closed by the CIVICUS Monitor, a tool that tracks the state of civil society in all countries.

Joint letter to new Ethiopian Prime Minister on recent arrests of journalists and human rights defenders

In a letter to the Ethiopian Prime Minister-designate, a coalition of over 40 civil society organisations express their concern regarding the recent arrests of journalists and human rights defenders

To: Prime Minister-Designate, Dr. Abiy Ahmed Ali 
Cc: Abadula Gemeda, Speaker of the House of Peoples’ Representative
                                           
Your Excellencies, 

The undersigned international, regional and national human rights and development organisations write to express our grave concern over the recent arrest of 11 Ethiopian journalists, bloggers and political opposition leaders amid a new crackdown on fundamental freedoms. Such measures undermine the Ethiopian government's international human rights obligations as well as recent political commitments to initiate an era of widespread democratic political reform. As you assume your position as Prime Minister, we urge the Ethiopian Government to immediately and unconditionally release all human rights defenders, political activists and journalists, including the 11 individuals detained this week. 

On 25 March 2018, Ethiopian police and security forces arrested journalists Eskinder Nega and Temesgen Desalegn, Zone9 bloggers Mahlet Fantahun, Befekadu Hailu, blogger Zelalem Workaggnhu  and political activists Andualem Arage, Addisu Getinet, Yidnekachewu Addis, Sintayehu Chekol, Tefera Tesfaye and Woynshet Molla.

The arrests were carried out while the defenders were attending a private meeting in Addis Ababa at the home of journalist Temesgen Desalegn. The private gathering was held in recognition of the recent release of thousands of political prisoners amidst ongoing and widespread protests against political marginalisation and land grabbing in the Oromia and Amhara regions which began in late 2015. The eleven are currently being held at Gotera-Pepsi Police Station in Addis Ababa.

Days earlier on 8 March, authorities arrested Seyoum Teshome, a prominent blogger and university lecturer. Teshome, who is a frequent contributor to Ethiothinkthank.com and was detained for three months under the previous State of Emergency, is currently being held in the notorious Maekelawi Prison in Addis Ababa. 

While the authorities have not publicly indicated if charges will be brought against the defenders, under the February reinstatement of the national State of Emergency, groups and individuals must seek permission from the Command Post to host public gatherings.

Prior to their release in February, several of the defenders had previously been imprisoned for periods ranging from two to seven years in relation to their legitimate work as journalists, bloggers and political activists. Eskinder Nega and the Zone9 Bloggers are recipients of international awards celebrating their contribution to independent journalism and human rights. 

The arrests follow the declaration of a national State of Emergency on 16 February by the Cabinet for a period of six months. The State of Emergency includes a number of draconian and overbroad provisions. Among other worrying violations of fundamental democratic freedoms, the State of Emergency imposes a blanket ban on all protests, the dissemination of any publication deemed to “incite and sow discord” including those who criticise the State of Emergency, and allows for warrantless arrest.

Such measures are contrary to international human rights law and the Ethiopian Constitution and are counter-productive to peace and security. The invocation of the State of Emergency criminalises dissent and persecutes human rights defenders, protesters and journalists.

We urge the government of Ethiopia to: (i) immediately release all human rights defenders, political opponents and journalists detained for exercising their legitimate rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly; (ii) end all forms of harassment against journalists and all citizens with critical views on national matters and; (iii) review and amend the State of Emergency to ensure that any limitations on fundamental rights are in line with  international human rights obligations.

Sincerely,

Access Now
African Law Foundation (Nigeria)
ARTICLE 19
Association for Progressive Communications (APC)
Asia Democracy Network (ADN)
Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)
Asian Legal Resource Center (ALRC)
Association for Human Rights in Ethiopia (AHRE)
The Article 20 Network
Balkan Civil Society Development Network (BCSDN)
Bytes4All Pakistan 
Caucasus Civil Initiatives Center 
Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL)
CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation 
Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)
Commonwealth Human Right Initiative (CHRI)
DefendDefenders (East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project)
End Impunity
Endorois Welfare Council (Kenya)
Ethiopia Human Rights Project (EHRP)
Freedom House
Front Line Defenders
Karapatan (Philippines) 
Global Participe (Republic of the Congo)
Greenpeace Africa 
International Civil Society Centre 
International Service for Human Rights
JOINT - Ligas de ONGs em Mocambique (Mozambique)
Odhikar (Bangladesh)
OutRight Action International
Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum
PEN International
Reporters Without Borders (RSF)
Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights
Sengwer Indigenous Peoples Programme 
Uganda National NGO Forum (UNNGOF)
West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI)
West African Human Rights Defenders' Network (WAHRDN)
World Movement for Democracy 
World Organization Against Torture 
Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association (ZELA) 

The two borderless challenges of our time: Migration and climate change

Civil society response to the Zero Draft of the UN´s Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration 

There are over a quarter billion migrants and refugees in the world. Over 5,000 died last year on their dangerous journeys. The United Nations has been moved to act. 

Governments are currently negotiating a Global Compact on Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration. The agreement is meant to protect the rights of those displaced and help address the root economic, environmental and social drivers that are compelling people to leave their communities and countries. 

Last week, the UN released its draft agreement and will have until December to negotiate the final details. A key area where the document falls short is on commitments to tackle the primary causes of migration. A stated aim of the Global Compact is to “mitigate the adverse drivers and structural factors that hinder people from building and maintaining sustainable livelihoods in their countries of origin”. However, the current text lacks actionable commitments to control the numerous man-made forces underlying global mass migration. 

The reasons are different for every migrant and diaspora, but we know that natural disasters are the number one cause of internal and international displacement. With rising sea levels, desertification and extreme weather events, climate action must be a part of any meaningful agreement. 

"Climate induced displacement is upon us. Coastal communities are being evacuated and relocated the world over.” Said Emele Duituturaga, Executive Director of the Pacific Islands Association of Non Governmental Organisations. “Here in sea locked countries of the Pacific Ocean, disappearance of our island homes is imminent". 

To protect the growing number of climate migrants, a necessary starting place for the compact is to  reaffirm the importance of the Paris Climate Change Agreement and accelerate efforts to limit global average temperature rise to 1.5°C, instead of the more conservative and ambiguous target to keep the world “well below” 2°C above pre-industrial levels. Missing just one of these targets will lead to millions of people being displaced.  The United Nations´ climate science panel (The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) gauges that the half a degree gap in warming “amounts to a greater likelihood of drought, flooding, resource depletion, conflict and forced migration”. Climate models show us that the additional 0.5°C would  further raise sea levels by 10 centimeters and cut crop yields by half across the tropics.

From Fiji to Trinidad and Tobago, from Bangladesh to Morocco, civil society groups are calling on their governments to make climate mitigation a fundamental pillar of the Global Compact on Migration. Over 400 civil society groups at International Civil Society Week (Fiji, December) signed a joint declaration on climate induced displacement,  outlining key demands for the Global Compact. Among other recommendations, we are urging the UN to address the causes and consequences of migration, including:

  • Recognize that communities must have key human rights like food, water, housing and health protected to reduce the necessity of migration.
  • Commit to protect those who are most vulnerable to climate displacement.
  • Ensure that those most vulnerable to climate displacement are able to participate in the design and governance of the Global Compact. 

The upcoming multi-stakeholder consultations on 21 February and 21 May at UN Headquarters will provide civil society with the opportunity to raise the ambition of the Global Compact and to help ensure meaningful action is taken to reduce the man-made causes of migration and incorporate key recommendations put forth in the joint civil society declaration.  

Sign on! Global Civil Society Declaration on Climate-Induced Migration

At the conclusion of International Civil Society Week 2017 (ICSW) on December 7th, more than 700 civil society leaders and activists from over 100 countries have called for climate change to be formally recognised as a primary driver of migration. The call comes just days after Donald Trump announced that he is withdrawing the United States from the United Nations Global Compact on Migration. 

Add Your Voice! Sign on Today

The Global Civil Society Declaration on Climate Induced Displacement was first presented to delegates of ICSW, held in Suva, Fiji, by global civil society alliance CIVICUS and the Pacific Islands Association of Non Governmental Organisations (PIANGO). This is the first time in more than 20 years of convening that ICSW was held in the Pacific region, where rising sea levels are already displacing communities.
 The declaration calls on the international community to commit to protecting the human rights of all persons, regardless of their migratory status and fulfill the objectives of the Paris Climate Agreement.  

“The UN global compact process is a critical opportunity to develop a consensus position on how the  international community should promote rights-based migration and protect refugees,” said Danny Sriskandarajah, Secretary General of CIVICUS. “We are urging policymakers to protect the rights and dignity of individuals who are being forced to move, and promote the cultural rights of the communities affected,“ Said Sriskandarajah.

Organisations which have contributed to the declaration include the Pacific Islands Association of Non-Governmental Organisations, the Pacific Islands Development Forum, Oxfam Pacific, 350.org, ACT Alliance and CIVICUS, among others. 

WHAT YOU CAN DO

Add Your Voice! Sign on Today

Spread the word

Share the message on social media:

.@Pacific_2030, @PIDF01, @oxfampacific, @350, @ACTAlliance, CIVICUS & many others, launch Declaration on Climate Induced Displacement. Read the full declaration and sign on here: http://bit.ly/2B6eVDI

More than 700 civil society leaders and activists from over 100 countries call for #climatechange to be recognised as a key driver of #migration! Join the call here: http://bit.ly/2B6eVDI #ICSW2017

I just joined others around the world in signing on to the Climate Declaration! You can too: http://bit.ly/2B6eVDI

.@CIVICUSSG calls on policymakers to protect the rights & dignity of individuals who are being forced to move, and protect the cultural rights of the communities affected. Join the call http://bit.ly/2B6eVDI 

Rising seas and extreme weather are leading many to have no option but to abandon their homes! Sign on to the Climate Declaration and call on policy makers to protect climate refugees http://bit.ly/2B6eVDI

Find out more:
Check out these stories by journalists and delegates attending ICSW. 

Al Jazeera: Ex-New Zealand PM: Manus refugees deserve humanity
Open Democracy: Climate refugees need global protection – with or without the US
Inter Press News: Migrants Deserve Dignity” says CIVICUS While Trump Pulls out of Proposed Migrant Compact
Open Democracy: Climate refugees need global protection – with or without the US
Reuters: Where is the justice?' ask climate 'refugees', sidelined from global deal
Fiji Times: Call for solidarity on migration
Radio New Zealand: Climate-induced migration critical issue for Pacific NGOs

Want to know more about what happened at International Civil Society Week 2017? Visit the live blog archive. 

People power is China’s great untapped resource

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Syria - Justice for the thousands of victims of enforced disappearances

Arabic | Kurdish

We, the undersigned civil society organisations, commemorate the victims of enforced disappearances in Syria and support their families, urging the international community to support their demand to ensure justice, truth and reparation and the immediate release of all those enforcedly held in secret detention. As the world marks today the International Day of Victims of Enforced Disappearances, our organisations condemn the continued and systematic use of enforced disappearance which amounts to a crime against humanity committed by the Syrian government. To silence its critics and instil fear among communities, the Syrian government adopted this practice towards its civilians and deployed it systematically after the start of the peaceful protests in 2011. We also call upon all armed groups to the conflict to promptly release all those held disappeared and disclose their fates and whereabouts.

Since the rise of the peaceful protests in Syria, our organisations have been monitoring, documenting and campaigning on cases of hundreds of Syrian individuals who have been subjected to enforced disappearance. Many of those are women and children. Thousands of family members of those disappeared are struggling for justice in their dangerous and impossible quest to find the fate and whereabouts of their loved ones. They experience mental and emotional anguish, while placed outside the protection of the law, and are often blackmailed, manipulated and used by brokers. The struggle for justice must not cease, accountability towards enforced disappearance must be high on the agenda of all international peace making and negotiations on Syria which might take place.

We call for justice for Bassel Khartabil, a Syrian-Palestinian software engineer and free speech activist, who was subjected to extrajudicial execution by a military field court in October 2015 and whose fate only became known in August 2017. On 15 March 2012, Military Intelligence had arrested Bassel Khartabil and held him incommunicado for eight months.

We urge the Syrian government to immediately disclose the fate and whereabouts of tens of thousands of victims of enforced disappearances including Syrian lawyer Khalil Maatouk, whose whereabouts are unknown since he was arrested at a government military checkpoint in October 2012. We call on the armed opposition groups to release Syrian human rights defenders, including Razan Zaitouneh Samira Khalil, Wael Hamadeh and Nazem Hammadi, who were kidnapped from the Violations Documentation Center (VDC) offices by armed, masked gunmen in Douma on 9 December 2013.

We collectively call for the immediate release of all detainees held in Syria for peacefully exercising their legitimate rights to freedom of expression and association. We urge both the Syrian government and armed opposition groups to immediately disclose the fate of those disappeared and stop arbitrarily arresting, abducting and detaining people for their peaceful, journalistic, and humanitarian activities – in line with United Nations Security Council resolution 2139, which demands ‘the release of all arbitrarily detained’ in Syria.

We specifically call on the Syrian government to:

  1. Ensure that no further executions of detained human rights defenders occur, and cease their subjections to any military or ad-hoc court such as the Counter-Terrorism Court;
  2. Transfer all detainees to known and recognised places of detention, and allow visits to prisons by their families, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and other relevant committees;
  3. Allow access to UN officials including the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria to conduct impartial investigations into the tens of thousands of enforced disappearances in Syria since 2011;
  4. Ensure the registration of all detainees' data, inform them of their detention grounds, and ensure that they have access to the necessary healthcare;
  5. Promptly accede, without making any reservation, to the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance; and implement it fully under national law. In addition, Syrian authorities should recognize competence of the Committee on Enforced Disappearances to receive and consider communication from or on behalf of victims or other states parties;
  6. Ensure that all participants in the search for victims of enforced disappearance, in particular relatives of detainees, are protected from ill-treatment, smuggling, retaliation, arrests and enforced disappearance;
  7. Ensure that all survivors of enforced disappearance, released persons, families of deceased victims, and their relatives receive justice, truth and reparation - including material compensation, rehabilitation and restitution of property; ensure that such a crime does not recur and that all those suspected of criminal responsibility are brought to justice in fair trials before ordinary civilian courts and without recourse to death penalty. 

We specifically call on armed opposition groups to:

  1. Promptly release any person subject to enforced disappearance;
  2. Submit lists of the names of the kidnapped and disappeared to their families and to relevant international organisations

Signed:
1. Amnesty International
2. CIVICUS
3. EuroMed Rights (EMR)
4. Front Line Defenders
5. Families for Freedom
6. Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR)
7. Human Rights Guardians
8. Impunity Watch
9. International Federation for Human rights (FIDH)
10. International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)
11. Justice for Life Organization (JFL)
12. Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms (MADA)
13. PAX for Peace
14. PEN international
15. Syrian Center for Legal Studies and Research (SCLSR)
16. Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM)
17. Syrian Institute for Justice and Accountability
18. Syrians for Truth and Justice (STJ)
19. Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR)
20. The Day After (TDA)
21. The Syrian Archive
22. URNAMMU
23. World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)

Call for proposals: Application for partners for pilot national civil society assessment in El Salvador, Georgia and Indonesia.

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BACKGROUND INFORMATION

The Enabling Environment National Assessment (EENA), developed by CIVICUS and the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law (ICNL), is a participatory, civil society-led and action-oriented research methodology.

CIVICUS Board Nominees

CIVICUS Board Nominees

The Nominations Committee was given the very challenging task of selecting  12 names from the nominations received, narrowing down the slate to collectively reflect the diversity and balance we seek for the CIVICUS Board in terms of geographic location, gender, age and experience, while endeavouring to ensure a measure of continuity between outgoing and incoming Boards.

Congratulations to the 12 candidates below who are up for election for the next CIVICUS Board of Directors! We would also like to thank all CIVICUS members who were nominated for taking part in this process.

Amr Lashin | Care International | Egypt

Amr holds a Bachelor Degree from the Faculty of Urban & Regional Planning, Cairo University. Having more than 17 years of experience in the fields of Urban, Environmental, Social and Economic development, Amr is also experienced in the field of local administration as well as civil society organizational assessment and capacity strengthening. Amr Lashin is an expert on Social Accountability and Good Governance best practices and theories.

He has worked with international organizations such as the GIZ and was contracted for some consultancy guidance missions in some multinational and national private sector companies.

Amr is currently the Director of the newly formed Strategies and Governance Unit at CARE International in Egypt. He has also been responsible for the establishment of the first Social Accountability Network in the Arab World (ANSA-AW) where he has worked to introduce the concept and the practices of Social Accountability in the region. He has also undertaken several consultancies in different countries in MENA.

In his new capacity, Amr leads the strategic direction and management of the unit and ensures the mainstreaming of CARE International in Egypt strategies, namely: Gender Justice; Economic Empowerment, Social Accountability and ICT for Development, across the organization’s programming.

bernard lutete

Bernard Lutete Di Lutete | Save the Climate | Democratic Republic of Congo

Bernard LUTETE DI LUTETE, born on November 11, 1976, from Kinshasa DRCongo is the President and CEO of SAVE THE CLIMAT, a0 NGO In Consultative Status with ECOSOC since 2014, and Associated with DPI since 2015. has experience and knowledge in Environment, International Diplomacy, Politics and Local Governance. Bernard is a reliable, lively and adaptable professional with a background in technical education. Bernard has well-developed inter-personal skills, is a self-starter and is equally comfortable as a team leader. Bernard is still looking for opportunities to utilize existing skills, to learn more and work to best support national and international organizations, CSO, United Nations.

He is passionate about issues relating to climate change, environmental protection, democracies in crisis, humanitarian, poverty, and the implementation of the SDGs. Bernard has an educational background in International Politics and Diplomacy from ROME MUN in Rome Italy; International Water Law from UNITAR and University of Geneva, Municipal Finances for Local Governance with the World Bank Group. He has worked with The United Nations Systems such as ECOSOC, DPI, UNECA, UNDP, UN REDD+, UNEP, Africa CSO, EBAFOSA; and other strong international organizations such as CIVICUS, GFMD, MADE and CORMSA.

daisy ndikuno owomugash

Dr. Daisy N. Owomugasho | The Hunger Project Uganda | Uganda

Dr. Daisy N. Owomugasho became Country Director for The Hunger Project (THP)-Uganda in February 2011.Prior to joining THP-Uganda, Dr. Owomugasho was a lecturer at Makerere University in Kampala, one of the most prestigious universities in Uganda. She has also held the position of Executive Director at two non-governmental organizations: the African Women’s Economic Policy Network, a pan-African, faith-based organization that seeks to strengthen the capacity of women to influence economic policies; and the Uganda Debt Network, which works to promote and advocate for poverty assistance policies.

Dr. Owomugasho has also worked as a consultant for the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), African Development Bank, InWent of Germany, Idasa of South Africa and International Budget Project. She has participated in several international conferences including the World Trade Organization’s (WTO’s) Fifth Ministerial Conference in Cancun, Mexico in 2003, and the UN Conferences on the Status of Women (UNCSW) in 2004, 2008, 2010 and 2017.

Dr. Owomugasho earned her PhD in Economics from Makerere University in Uganda in 2014. She also holds a Masters Degree in Development Economics from Dalhousie University in Halifax, Canada and a B.A. Degree in Economics and Rural Economy from Makerere University.
lorenzo marsili

Lorenzo Marsili | European Alternatives | Italy

Lorenzo is an author, social entrepreneur and political activist. 
After graduating in philosophy from the University of London, he founded quarterly journal Naked Punch to research cultural production from non-Western countries. After spending time in China and obtaining a second degree from the School of Oriental and African Studies, he launched Transnational Dialogues, an exchange program between Chinese, Brazilian and European activists and change-makers.

A longstanding believer in transnational politics, in 2007 he co-founded European Alternatives, an international NGO working to promote citizenship rights across the European Union. With activities spanning over 18 countries, including Turkey and Ukraine, the organisation runs campaigns to empower activists, defend fundamental rights, and advocate for democratic reform. Several campaigns have been organised jointly with CIVICUS. In 2013 he launched the European Media Initiative, gathering 200,000 signatures to demand an EU directive ensuring media freedom, transparency and the rights of media watchdogs. Since 2016 he is part of the advisory board for CIVICUS Monitor.

He is an active public speaker and a media commentator internationally, including on BBC [UK], Al Jazeera [INT], El Diario [ESP], Il Fatto Quotidiano [IT]. His latest book, Citizens of Nowhere, is forthcoming from Zed Books. 
lysa john berna

Lysa John Berna | Save The Children International | India

Lysa has worked on issues of governance accountability and social justice since 1998. She began her career with YUVA (Mumbai, India) working on grassroots-led advocacy and campaigns linked to urban poverty, governance and housing rights. In 2006, she joined ‘Wada Na Todo Abhiyan’ (Don’t Break the Promise Campaign) as National Coordinator, helping create what is now one of India’s largest and most influential advocacy networks.

In 2009, Lysa joined the Global Call to Action against Poverty (GCAP) as International Campaign Director working to connect and strengthen civil society-led efforts on poverty, inequality across 80+ countries. The 'The World We Want 2015' campaign, which eventually became the United Nation's platform for public and civil society engagement on the MDGs, was an outcome of this effort. In 2013, she served as Head of Outreach in the Secretariat of the UN Secretary General’s High Level Panel on the Post-2015 Agenda, following which she joined Save the Children International where she currently helps coordinate the planning and delivery of the 'Every Last Child' campaign in over 70 countries worldwide in the position of Campaign Director.

Lysa has authored several reports, including assessments on the role and influence of emerging powers such as BRICS. She has contributed to publications such as Earthscan, Outlook India and the Guardian. She holds a Master’s degree from the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai.

@lysajohn

mauricio alarcon salvador

Mauricio Alarcón Salvador | Fundación Ciudadanía y Desarrollo | Ecuador

An Activist and human rights defender. Deputy Director of Fundamedios, an organization that works on the promotion and defense of freedoms of expression, press and association in Ecuador. Mauricio is the Executive Director of Fundación Ciudadanía y Desarrollo, which works on education for democracy and promotion of transparency, citizen participation and social control, with special emphasis on youth. He was a constitutional adviser at the Citizen Participation Council (2009) and an alternate member at the National Constituent Assembly (2008). In 2013 the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) awarded him with the “30 under 30” award as one of the 30 most inspiring young leaders working for a democratic future in the world. In 2016 he participated in the Drapper Hills Fellowship of the Center for Democracy, Development and Rule of Law at Stanford University.

Mauricio is a committed young leader, committed to his organization, to CIVICUS’ mission and to human rights across the globe. He is willing to serve as a CIVICUS Board member and committees and can bring his experience and managerial skills to the organization. He is very innovative with an enormous ability to think creatively, a team builder and very enthusiastic and responsible as well.

neeshad shafi

Neeshad Shafi | CliMates | Qatar

Neeshad is a youth environmental activist, educator, speaker and an outspoken climate change advocate, who campaigns extensively to raise the awareness about climate change and Sustainable Development goals (SDGs). He holds a master’s degree in Energy & Environmental Engineering and resides in Doha, Qatar. His continuous enthusiasm for environmental advocacy led him to be the focal point for various regional and International NGOs in the Middle East.

Neeshad has been active in UNFCCC climate negotiation process since 2012 and was involved in COP22 in Marrakech as well as the historic COP21 in Paris on invitation from civil society for advocating the importance of Arab youth as partners for climate action. He has been invited to numerous local, regional and international conferences in United States, Jordan, Lebanon, France, Morocco, Tunisia, UAE and Saudi Arabia. He has given numerous interviews and written critically acclaimed articles on both digital and print media.

He also has campaigned for social causes like education for all, gender equality and human rights primarily focused on improving the circumstances of and opportunities for Arab women. He is also part of Womenpreneur, a Middle East North Africa (MENA) based not-profit organization which focuses on women empowerment, entrepreneurship and business development.

He is currently serving as Co-Founder and National Coordinator for Arab Youth Climate Movement Qatar (AYCMQ), Middle East Officer for CliMates, Founding member at CAN (Climate Action Network) Arab World, Founding Team member at Youth Climate Lab, Liaison Officer in Gulf Region for Citizens Climate Lobby and Steering Committee at CoalitionWILD.

nyaradzo nyari mashayamombe

Nyaradzo Mashayamombe | Tag a Life International Trust (TALI) | Zimbabwe

Nyaradzo Mashayamombe is a globally acclaimed, passionate award winning girls, young women and youth issues leader, activist and founder of a girls and young women’s rights organisation Tag a Life International (TaLI).

A singer/song writer, Development Consultant, Entrepreneur and Speaker, she’s a Pan Africanist who believes the struggles in Africa need Young Africans to take a stand participating in entrepreneurship, good governance, accountability and Human Rights. Nyaradzo is a Board Member of the Community Solutions Programme, a Global Exchange of IREX funded by the US State Department whose programme she's an elite alumna after attending the fellowship under women's issues.

She’s also an alumna of the Reagan Fascell Fellowship and of ; a member of CIVICUS, The World Movement for Democracy as well as  a Vital Voices Alumni. She’s  former Country Coordinator for Girls Not Brides International and a Former Board Member of Women’s Coalition of Zimbabwe. She’s an Opinion leader, Human Rights Activist, Known to boldly speak out  against Gender Inequalities especially controversial ones regarding leaders/politicians through radios, television, media and social networks and promoting girls and young women leadership. She's a write in local press, international journals on various issues ranging from youths, women and human rights. She holds a Masters Degree in Development among other qualifications. She intends to start her PhD in 2018 regarding Community Development and Policy. She loves representing human rights, democracy, governance, entrepreneurship, youths and opportunities as a global leader. She brings expertise in youth programming, young women’s issues, strategic planning, has expertise in governance especially human resources.

patricia lerner

Patricia J. Lerner | Greenpeace International | The Netherlands

Patricia J. Lerner is a political economist and former diplomat with over 25 years experience leading multicultural teams in the Sahel, the Caribbean, Central and Eastern Europe, as well as policy coordination with the EU on a range of issues including humanitarian assistance, post-conflict reconstruction, economic and social development, and democracy and human rights. 

Pat has been Senior Political Advisor with Greenpeace International since September 2008, serving as focal point for UN issues, as well as G7 and G20 processes.  She has worked on the climate negotiations with a particular focus on climate finance, sustainable energy for all, Rio+20, the post-2015 development agenda, the SDGs and served on the Reference Group of Action2015. She co-leads Greenpeace International’s work on restrictions on civil society to act and serves on the Steering Group of the new Vuka!Coalition for Action on Civic Space.

The daughter of an American anthropologist father and French mother, Pat grew up in francophone West Africa, studied at Wheaton College (Norton, Massachusetts), the UN African Institute for Economic Development and Planning (Dakar, Senegal), the London School of Economics & Political Science (London) and the Victoria & Albert Museum of Design (London). She loves reggae, jazz, art, films and reading.
sebastian vielmas

Sebastián Vielmas | The Oxfam-Québec Youth Observatory | Chile

Sebastián Vielmas is Latin American, born in Chile. He has been a student activist since secondary school. In 2011 he became the Secretary General of the Student Federation of the Catholic University of Chile (FEUC), one of the most important student organizations of the country.

That year the student movement was the protagonist of the most important social mobilization since the end of the dictatorship in 1990. The main slogan was: "For a free, public and quality education". As a result of the mobilization, many changes to educational policies have been produced and the public debate changed in the country.

After this experience, Sebastián has continued its involvement in the global civil society working for the participation of the youth and the right to education. That’s why he currently participates as a volunteer member within the Youth Observatory of Oxfam Québec and the Youth Action Team of CIVICUS. Sebastián is, also, the Director of Strategy and Planning of REDICEC, the Chilean Researcher Network in Canada.

Sebastián currently finishes his Master in Political Science at the Université Laval (Québec, Canada) conducting research on the creation of coalitions and the influence on the public policies of the student’s movements in Chile and in Quebec (2011-2012).

shaheen anam

Shaheen Anam | Executive Director, Manusher Jonno Foundation (MJF) | Bangladesh

Shaheen Anam heads the Manusher Jonno Foundation (MJF) which provides funding and capacity building support to a range of small and large organizations all over Bangladesh working on issues of transparency, self-representation and empowerment of marginalized and vulnerable communities.

She has over 20 years of experience in development, is part of the women’s movement and is well known as a human rights and women rights activist. MJF is also involved in a number of critical national level policy advocacy and played a key role in the enactment of the Right to Information Act, domestic Violence Act, review of labor law, Child pornography Act etc.

Previously, she worked for CARE Bangladesh, UNDP and UNHCR in Bangladesh and abroad. She has also worked in the Ministry of Women and Children Affairs as the Project Director of a gender equality project funded by CIDA. Shaheen has a Masters in Social work from the Hunter College School of Social Work, New York and a Masters in Psychology from Dhaka University.

ziya guliyev

Ziya Guliyev | National Platform of the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum | Azerbaijan

Ziya Guliyev is an Azerbaijani who holds a LL.M degree in International Human Rights Law from  the University of Essex, in the United Kingdom.

He has previously worked for different NGOs, such as Social Strategic Research Center (2006-2008), Law and Development Center (2008-2010), Democracy Study Public Union (2010-2012), Public Association for Assistance to Free Economy (2012-2014), and legal researcher at Human Rights Watch (2015-2016).

In 2009, he established the Center for Legal Initiatives, which mainly deals with the protection of civil and political rights, human rights, education and advocacy work before the Treaty Monitoring Bodies of the United Nations. Ziya also serves as a member of the expert panel of OSCE on freedom of association.  

In May 2016 he founded the Baku Academy of Human Rights Law, the first human rights education platform in Azerbaijan. He is alumnus of the Baku School of Political Studies (2012) and Visegrad School of Political Studies (2015). He was awarded the Alumni of the year by the European Academy of Diplomacy in 2016. 

He is currently a Country Facilitator and a member of the Steering Committee of the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum.

Rights groups call for repeal of online defamation law in Myanmar

Joint statement by 61 Myanmar and international human rights organizations

Concerned by reports that the Myanmar authorities will retain the criminal defamation provision of Section 66(d) during a review of the Telecommunications Law, 61 national and international human rights organizations are urging the Myanmar authorities, and in particular the Ministry of Transport and Communication and the Parliament, to ensure it is repealed in the amended law.

Section 66(d) of the 2013 Telecommunications Law provides for up to three years in prison for “extorting, coercing, restraining wrongfully, defaming, disturbing, causing undue influence or threatening any person using a telecommunications network.” In the last two years, this law has opened the door to a wave of criminal prosecutions of individuals for peaceful communications on Facebook and has increasingly been used to stifle criticism of the authorities. According to the 2013 Telecommunications Research Group, which has been documenting prosecutions under Section 66(d), at least 71 people are known to have been charged for online defamation under the law.

The current review of the Telecommunications Law offers an important opportunity to repeal Section 66(d) and bring the 2013 Telecommunications Law fully in line with international human rights law and standards.  Failure to do so would raise serious questions about the government’s commitment to freedom of expression. It would, worryingly, leave people in the country at risk of imprisonment simply for sharing opinions online. It would also undermine the government’s reform and responsible business agenda, by chilling or even silencing the ability of the public and the media to report on public sector mismanagement, harmful and illegal business practices, and corruption.

VAGUELY-WORDED, SECTION 66(D) HAS ALLOWED FOR AN ABUSIVE APPLICATION OF THE LAW 

One of the most problematic aspects of Section 66(d) is its vagueness. Under international human rights law and standards, restrictions on the human right to freedom of expression are allowed for certain, narrowly defined purposes only, including to protect the rights and reputation of others.  Restrictions should be clear, detailed and well-defined in law, limited to those specified purposes, and necessary and proportionate to achieve their aim. 

Section 66(d) does not adequately define what actions would be considered “disturbing”, or “causing undue influence.” These terms are overly broad and subject to widely different interpretations. Previous military governments for example, deemed the views of people who promoted democracy and human rights to be “disturbing.”

This vagueness carries risks. Section 66(d) has been used to stifle criticism of both the civilian government and the military. For instance, individuals have been imprisoned for Facebook posts calling Myanmar’s President Htin Kyaw an “idiot” and “crazy” and for posts mocking the Myanmar Army. One criminal prosecution revolved around the posting of an image depicting the Army’s Commander-in-Chief with a women’s htamein (a sarong-like garment) on his head.

It is important to keep in mind that under international law, the purpose of laws covering defamation, libel, slander and insult is to protect the rights and reputations of people, not to prevent criticism of the government or of individual officials. According to UN Special Rapporteurs on the right to freedom of expression and the UN Human Rights Committee, public figures are necessarily subject to a greater degree of criticism than private citizens because of their institutional role, to ensure open debate about matters of public interest.

The high volume of cases brought under Section 66(d) has also been facilitated by the fact that it allows anyone to file a complaint, even individuals other than the person who has allegedly been defamed. As a result, in Myanmar people have filed complaints on behalf of State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi and President Htin Kyaw, as well as members of the military.

In the past year we have also seen a surge in the number of criminal prosecutions initiated by private Facebook users against each other for posts that they believe to be untrue, insulting, offensive, or otherwise objectionable. These include, for example, Facebook posts saying that someone was a cheat, warning people against using specific businesses, or complaining about land disputes.

DEFAMATION SHOULD NEVER BE CRIMINALISED – WHERE IT OCCURS THERE ARE OTHER WAYS TO ADDRESS IT

Although international human rights law and standards do not prohibit the use of defamation laws for purposes such as protecting the rights and reputations of people, international authorities including the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of expression and the UN Human Rights Committee have affirmed that defamation should never be a criminal offence.  This is because imprisoning someone for defaming another person is disproportionate and can threaten the right to freedom of expression itself. The threat of imprisonment can prevent people from peacefully speaking out on sensitive issues and lead to self-censorship.

There are other ways to address defamation, including online defamation, which do not involve imprisonment, for example through making it a matter of civil rather than criminal law. In addition, those responsible could be made to issue an apology, a public rectification or clarification in order to restore the reputation that has been harmed.

Our organizations are deeply concerned that some members of the administration appear to view Section 66(d) as a solution to address advocacy of hatred. We recognize that Myanmar has a growing problem in this regard and welcome attempts to address this. However, Section 66(d) has done little to prevent such activity. Instead, it has enabled an environment of intolerance and conflict by allowing anyone who deems a Facebook post “offensive” to sue the author.

As the government has expressed its intention to adopt a separate law on hate speech, we would like to stress that any prohibition of advocacy of hatred must be formulated precisely and not unlawfully restrict freedom of expression. Beyond legislation, our organizations believe authorities at all levels should speak out against discriminatory rhetoric and ensure broader policy measures are undertaken to tackle the root causes of intolerance, including for instance by promoting intercultural dialogue and education on diversity and pluralism. 

RECOMMENDATIONS
In light of the above, our organizations are urging the Myanmar authorities to:

  • Repeal Section 66(d) of the 2013 Telecommunications Law;
  • Or at a very minimum, amend it to ensure that: defamation is no longer criminalized and that where recognizably criminal acts such as “extortion”, “coercion”, “wrongful restraint” and “threats” occur in the law they are clearly defined in line with international human rights law, so as to ensure it is not used to criminalise the peaceful expression of views. 

As long as Section 66(d) remains, people in Myanmar – especially those who criticise officials and government policies online – will be at risk of being imprisoned for their peaceful exercise of the right to freedom of expression. 

List of signatories:

  1. Alin Mee Ain 
  2. Alternative ASEAN Network on Burma (Altsean-Burma) 
  3. All Arakan Students' and Youths' Congress (AASYC) 
  4. Amnesty International 
  5. Arakan Rivers Network (ARN)  
  6. Area Peace and Development Forward 
  7. ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) 
  8. Assistance Association for Political Prisoners – Burma (AAPP-B) 
  9. Association of Human Rights Defenders and Promoters (HRDP) 
  10. Association Suisse Birmanie (ASB)  
  11. Burma Campaign UK (BCUK)  
  12. Burma Human Rights Network (BHRN) 
  13. Burma Link 
  14. Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK
  15. Charity-Oriented Myanmar 
  16. Cherry Images  
  17. Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW)
  18. CIVICUS
  19. Civil Rights Defenders (CRD)  
  20. Colors Rainbow 
  21. Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)  
  22. Equality Myanmar (EQMM) 
  23. Farmer Rights and Development Organization 
  24. Farmer Union, Magway 
  25. Fortify Rights  
  26. Free Burma Campaign (South Africa) 
  27. Free Expression Myanmar (FEM) 
  28. Future Light Center 
  29. Gender Equality Network  
  30. Green Network Sustainable Environment Group 
  31. Human Rights Documentation-Burma (ND-Burma) 
  32. Human Rights Educators Association (HREA) 
  33. Human Rights Educators Network (HREN) 
  34. Human Rights Foundation of Monland (HURFOM) 
  35. Human Rights Watch (HRW) 
  36. Info Birmanie (France) 
  37. Institute for Asian Democracy  
  38. International Campaign for the Rohingya  
  39. International Commission of Jurists (ICJ)  
  40. International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) 
  41. Karen Human Rights Group (KHRG) 
  42. Korean House for International Solidarity
  43. Magway EITI Watch Group  
  44. Mon Youth Educator Organization (MYEO) 
  45. Mwetaung Area Development Group 
  46. Myaing Youth Development Organization 
  47. New Generation (Shan State) 
  48. Nyein Chan Yar 
  49. Norwegian Burma Committee
  50. Odhikar 
  51. Peace and Justice Myanmar (PJM)  
  52. Progressive Voice (PV) 
  53. Promotion of Indigenous and Nature Together (POINT) 
  54. Reporters Without Borders (RSF)  
  55. Shwechinthae Social Service Group (Shwe Bo) 
  56. Swedish Burma Committee  
  57. The Seagull: Human Rights, Peace & Development 
  58. United-ACT  
  59. US Campaign for Burma
  60. Women and Peace Action Network (Shan State) 
  61. Women Peace Network

Alerta: Continuo deterioro de instituciones democráticas en Venezuela

La alianza global de la sociedad civil CIVICUS y el Servicio Internacional para los Derechos Humanos (ISHR) expresan su profunda preocupación por el creciente deterioro de las instituciones democráticas en Venezuela. Los días 28 y 29 de marzo de 2017, la Sala Constitucional del Tribunal Supremo de Justicia (TSJ) de Venezuela emitió las sentencias N° 155 y 156, mediante las cuales declaró a la Asamblea Nacional en desacato, privó a los legisladores de inmunidad parlamentaria y asumió atribuciones del Congreso, así como la prerrogativa de delegarlas en quien juzgara conveniente, en este caso en la presidencia.

Numerosas organizaciones de la sociedad civil venezolanas han manifestado que estas decisiones equivalen en la práctica a un intento de golpe de Estado contra el Poder Legislativo, un pilar fundamental de las instituciones democráticas y la encarnación del derecho de la ciudadanía a estar representada allí donde se toman las decisiones clave que repercuten sobre sus vidas y sus derechos. Del mismo modo, la Fiscal General consideró que estas decisiones del TSJ representan una ruptura del orden constitucional.

Los últimos acontecimientos han sido la culminación de un proceso de erosión de la autoridad del Congreso que lleva varios años, y que ha sumido al país en una profunda crisis social. Durante el pasado año y medio, el TSJ emitió más de 50 resoluciones que socavaron las funciones de la Asamblea Nacional y otorgaron poderes ilimitados al Ejecutivo. Esta es la razón por la cual la decisión del TSJ de dar marcha atrás sobre sus últimas decisiones no supuso un restablecimiento de la separación de poderes y del estado de derecho. El hecho de que el TSJ revirtiera sus decisiones a petición del Ejecutivo, asimismo, no hizo más que enfatizar la falta de independencia del poder judicial y la degradación en curso de las instituciones republicanas en Venezuela.

A lo largo de los años, la erosión de los controles constitucionales y la consiguiente polarización política han ido acompañados de restricciones cada vez mayores sobre las libertades cívicas, es decir, sobre los derechos a la libertad de asociación, de expresión y de reunión pacífica sin los cuales no puede funcionar una sociedad civil activa y empoderada.

A su vez, la creciente concentración de poderes de decisión en el liderazgo ejecutivo ha redundado en graves fallos en la formulación de políticas públicas, intensificando en vez de resolver la crisis social que afronta el país, con fenómenos que incluyen una aguda escasez de alimentos y otros bienes básicos, el desmoronamiento del sistema público de salud y un aumento de la violencia callejera que afecta desproporcionadamente a las comunidades empobrecidas. También resulta preocupante la creciente represión estatal contra individuos y grupos de la sociedad civil que se expresan, organizan y protestan acerca de estos problemas.

Frente a esta crisis multidimensional, hacemos un llamado al gobierno venezolano para que:

  1. Restaure las funciones y recursos constitucionalmente definidos de la Asamblea Nacional, así como las prerrogativas de sus miembros, devuelva las facultades extraordinarias conferidas al Poder Ejecutivo mediante sucesivas sentencias del TSJ, e introduzca medidas para garantizar la independencia del Poder Judicial.
  2. Derogue el estado actual de excepción, establecido mediante decreto ejecutivo, y cumpla con los compromisos de derechos humanos asumidos bajo el derecho internacional en materia de garantía de las condiciones básicas para el trabajo de defensores de derechos humanos y organizaciones de la sociedad civil.
  3. Garantice el derecho a las libertades de reunión pacífica, asociación y expresión. Las fuerzas de seguridad deben abstenerse del uso de la fuerza y el arresto arbitrario de manifestantes pacíficos.
  4. Participe en un diálogo con actores nacionales relevantes, incluyendo a la sociedad civil, para resolver la actual crisis; y asegure el acceso a alimentos y medicamentos para toda la población.
    Instamos también a la comunidad internacional, y en particular a la Organización de los Estados Americanos y a sus Estados miembros, a colaborar en aras de la resolución de la crisis social y política que enfrenta Venezuela.

Contactos:
Eleanor Openshaw,
ISHR Oficina de Nueva York
+12124902199
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Inés Pousadela
CIVICUS Políticas e Investigación
+598 2901 1646
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Alert: Continued deterioration of democratic institutions in Venezuela

Spanish

Global civil society alliance, CIVICUS and the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) are deeply concerned about the continuing deterioration of democratic institutions in Venezuela. On 28 and 29 March 2017, the Constitutional Chamber of Venezuela’s Supreme Court (TSJ) issued rulings No. 155 and 156 by which it declared the National Assembly in contempt of court, stripped legislators of parliamentary immunity, and assumed congressional powers as well as the prerogative to delegate them to whoever it decided, namely the Office of the President.

In practice, many civil society organisations in Venezuela have expressed an opinion that these rulings amounted to an attempted coup against the legislative branch of government, a fundamental pillar of democratic institutions and the embodiment of the people’s right to be represented in the arena where key decisions concerning their lives and rights are made. Similarly, the Venezuelan Attorney General considered these decisions represent a rupture of the Constitutional order.

The latest developments are the culmination of a several years’ long process of erosion of congressional authority which has plunged the country into a deep social crisis. Through the past year and a half, the TSJ issued more than 50 rulings that undermined the functions of the National Assembly and conferred unlimited powers onto the executive branch of the state. This is the reason why the backing down by the TSJ on its latest rulings did not amount to a restoration of the separation of powers and the rule of law. The fact that this reversal was executed at the executive’s request further emphasised the judiciary’s lack of independence and the on-going degradation of Venezuelan republican institutions.

Over the years, the erosion of constitutional checks and balances and the resulting political polarisation have progressed hand in hand with increasing restrictions on civic freedoms, namely the rights to freedom of association, expression and peaceful assembly without which an empowered and enabled civil society cannot exist.

In turn, the increasing concentration of decision-making powers in the executive leadership has led to serious policy-making failures, thereby intensifying rather than resolving the social crisis facing the country, including acute shortages of food and other basic goods, challenges with the public health system and a spike in street violence which disproportionately affects impoverished communities. We are also concerned about state repression against individuals and civil society groups when they speak up, organise and protest about their troubles.

In the face of this multidimensional crisis, we call on Venezuelan Government to:

  • Restore the constitutionally defined functions and resources of the National Assembly as well as the prerogatives of its members, devolve the extraordinary powers conferred onto the executive by subsequent TSJ rulings, and introduce measures to guarantee the independence of the judiciary.
  • Repeal the current state of exception, established through an executive decree, and comply with human rights commitments under international law to guarantee basic enabling conditions for human rights defenders and civil society organisations. 
  • Guarantee the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association, and of expression. Security forces must refrain from the use of force against, or the arbitrary arrest of peaceful protestors.
  • Engage in dialogue with relevant national actors, including civil society, to resolve the current crisis; and ensure access to food and medicine for the entire population.

We also urge the international community and in particular, the Organization of American States and its members to assist in resolution of the social and political crisis facing Venezuela.

Contact:
Eleanor Openshaw, ISHR NY Office: +1 212 490 2199, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Inés Pousadela, CIVICUS Policy and Research: +598 2901 1646, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Civic space threatened in 106 countries - CIVICUS Monitor

Just three percent of people live in countries where the rights to protest, organise and speak out are respected, protected and fulfilled. This is according to the CIVICUS Monitor, which today releases the first-ever global dataset on civic space. CIVICUS also finds that serious civil space violations are taking place in 106 countries - well over half of all UN Member States.

The CIVICUS Monitor rates countries based on how well they uphold the three fundamental civic freedoms that enable people to act collectively and make change: freedom of association, freedom of peaceful assembly, and freedom of expression.

Click here for responsive visualisations of all of our findings: https://monitor.civicus.org/findings 

New sentence by Venezuela´s Supreme Court consecrates a coup against the Venezuelan parliament

Spanish

Sentence No. 156, released around midnight on March 29, by which the Constitutional Chamber of Venezuela´s Supreme Court (TSJ) assumes all the powers of the National Assembly or delegates them to whom it decides, places Venezuela before the dissolution of the parliament by judicial means.

There is no constitutional provision that allows the judicial body, designated by means of second-degree elections, to assume the functions of the National Assembly, which directly represents the population.

The Constitutional Chamber has issued over 50 decisions that have gradually deprived the National Assembly of its legislative, controlling, investigative and designating functions, until it suspended parliamentary immunity by Sentence No. 155 the previous day, and finally assumes parliamentary functions as the legislative power.

The parliament is a fundamental pillar of democratic institutions, as it is a space for participation and expression of the different groups that make up a nation. It is the space in which elected representatives, as well as organizations and members of civil society can debate and discuss the different proposals to create legislation and public policies. In this sense, this measure not only disrupts the constitutional order, but also violates the right of citizens to participate in public affairs.

We call on the Supreme Court of Justice and the National Executive to cease ignoring the Constitution, as has been evidenced after the publication of the most recent decisions of the Constitutional Chamber, which allow for the implementation of measures and actions that undermine the Constitutional thread and break the democratic order in Venezuela, reaffirming the absence of the Rule of Law and consolidating a Dictatorial regime.

Finally, we again urge that corrective measures be taken to reverse any decision that violates the constitutional norm, ignore the power of the popular vote represented in the elected National Assembly and deepen the country's withdrawal from a democratic system of respect for fundamental guarantees and human rights, in order to restore democracy and the rule of law, beginning with restoring and respecting the functions of the National Assembly.

Subscribed by the following Venezuelan Civil Society Organizations:
Acceso a La Justicia
Acción Campesina
Acción Solidaria
Amigos Trasplantados de Venezuela
Asamblea De Educación
Asociación Civil María Estrella De La Mañana
Asociación Civil Mujeres En Línea
Asociación Civil Nueva Esparta En Movimiento
Asociación Civil Radar De Los Barrios
Asociación de Profesores de la Universidad Simón Bolívar, APUSB
Asociación Venezolana de Mujeres
Asociación Venezolana para La Hemofilia
Aula Abierta Venezuela
Banco Del Libro
Cedice Libertad
Centro de Animación Juvenil
Centro de Derechos Humanos de la Universidad Católica Andrés Bello, CDH-UCAB
Centro de Estudios Sociales y Culturales
Centro de Justicia y Paz, CEPAZ
CIVILIS Derechos Humanos
Coalición Cambio Climático 21
Coalición por el Derecho a la Salud y la Vida, CODEVIDA
Comisión de Derechos Humanos de la Facultad de Ciencias Jurídicas y Políticas, Universidad del Zulia
Comisión de Derechos Humanos de la Federación Venezolana de Colegios de Abogados, Estado Táchira
Comisión de Derechos Humanos de la Federación Venezolana de Colegios de Abogados, Estado Apure
Comisión de Derechos Humanos de la Federación Venezolana de Colegios de Abogados, Estado Mérida
Comisión para los Derechos Humanos del Estado Zulia
Convite Asociación Civil
Correo Del Caroní
Espacio Humanitario
Espacio Público
EXCUBITUS, Derechos Humanos en Educación
Federación Nacional de Sociedades de Padres y Representantes, FENASOPADRES
Frente en Defensa del Norte de Caracas y Asamblea de Ciudadanos de La Candelaria
Funcamama
Fundación TAAP
Fundamujer
Fundeci
Instituto Venezolano de Estudios Sociales y Políticos, INVESP
IPYS Venezuela
Laboratorio De Paz
Llamado a la Conciencia Vial
Médicos Unidos Carabobo
Movimiento Vinotinto
Observatorio de Derechos Humanos de la Universidad de Los Andes
Observatorio Global de Comunicación y Democracia
Observatorio Hannah Arendt
Observatorio Venex
Observatorio Venezolano de Conflictividad Social, OVCS
Observatorio Venezolano de Prisiones, OVP
OPCION Venezuela Asociación Civil
Programa Venezolano de Educación-Acción en Derechos Humanos, PROVEA
ProIuris
Promoción Educación y Defensa en Derechos Humanos, PROMEDEHUM
Sinergia, Asociación Venezolana de Organizaciones de Sociedad Civil
Sociedad Hominis Iura, SOHI
StopVIH
Transparencia Venezuela
Un Mundo Sin Mordaza
Una Ventana a la Libertad
Unión Afirmativa de Venezuela
Unión Vecinal para la Participación Ciudadana
Veedores por la Educación Aragua

“Fake news” violates citizens’ right to be informed

CIVICUS speaks to Lyndal Rowlands, United Nations Bureau Chief at Inter Press Agency on what is “fake news”, its effect on civil society and how civil society can respond to it.

1. How would you define fake news? How is this different from propaganda and established forms of political campaigning?
Fake news only very recently became a part of our collective vocabulary. During the 2016 United States of America presidential election “content mill” websites created articles which mimicked the real news but were in fact entirely made up with the sole intention of going viral to make money from “clicks” or people visiting their websites. Yet before most of us had even begun to wonder what exactly fake news was, the term was co-opted by the very people who arguably benefited from fake news in its original form, and I think that it is important for civil society to pay attention to this later shift in how the term fake news has been employed.

As comedian John Oliver has said, audiences need the press to help them to sort out fact from fiction and yet now that same press finds itself under attack. Even small mistakes made by journalists, have been seized upon by political figures as a way to discredit and delegitimise the so-called fourth estate. In light of this, I think it’s important to try and restore trust in the vast majority of the media who do uphold the professional standards that differentiate them from fake news.

So, rather than trying to define fake news, I think that it’s better to focus on how we can discern which news audiences should trust and why. A few things that I would suggest would include making sure that you get your news from a wide variety of sources, finding out who owns the media companies you are getting your news from, and making sure that you double-check check anything that seems unusual against a primary source.

2. Why do you think we are seeing a rise in fake news?
The motivation for the initial rise in fake news was advertising revenue, however the disinformation that we are now seeing shared is more complex. New York University journalism professor Jay Rosen says that the spread of disinformation can help benefit a political side because it makes it more difficult for undecided voters to find out the truth. These undecided people may hear so much shouting and disagreement going on that they decide that it’s simply easier to go about their everyday lives, than to try and work out exactly who is telling the truth.

This may explain why USA President Donald Trump’s team have now referred to three separate incidents which haven’t happened: namely Trump’s reference to “last night in Sweden”, Kelly Anne Conway’s reference to the Bowling Green Massacre and White House spokesperson Sean Spicer’s three references to a terrorist attack in Atlanta.

As professor Rosen says, many of the Trump/Republican administration’s policies are not necessarily popular so by surrounding them with “fog and confusion” the administration “can get a lot more done”. However it’s also another reason why it’s so important that we all commit to not add to that fog and confusion ourselves, by making sure we don’t inadvertently share disinformation.

3. Why do you think some citizens believe fake news?
Sometimes we may believe a fake news story because it confirms our world view. We may then not be corrected, because for most of us, our world view has become increasingly polarised because of social media bubbles, which mean that we now almost exclusively see news which confirms our pre-existing opinions and values.

4. How does fake news impact on civil society and human rights defenders?
Attacks on press freedom affect civil society and human rights defenders because it is the job of the media to hold the powerful to account. If the vital democratic role of a free press is endangered through accusations that they are fake news and should be censored, then who will be there to report when the government or others in positions of power attack people demonstrating in the street or imprison them?

Those who spread disinformation may also use it to discredit human rights defenders and civil society organisations. They may make up information about how many people attended a demonstration or argue that protestors are “paid”. Disagreements have begun to emerge over which protestors are violent, and whether they have been planted by the opposition, in order to discredit one side or the other. This may lead eventually to a curtailing of the right to protest, if peaceful protestors are successfully discredited.

5. How should civil society respond to fake news?
Sadly, the same people who seek to curb the freedoms of civil society organisations often also seek to control the media, so I definitely think that civil society and the media should work together to address these issues. Many media organisations are now also set up to serve the public interest as non-profit organisations, and many journalists are also freelancers, so there are other things that the media and non-profits have in common. If you rely on high quality journalism to get your story out, don’t forget to also support the journalists who produce these stories. If you can’t afford to buy a subscription, find other ways to support journalists, even through messages of support. Foundations and other funding organisations should also seriously consider supporting public interest journalism.

In countries where the media is not free or where due to ownership interests they only partially or incompletely cover civil society issues, civil society organisations have also successfully begun using social media to tell their own narrative. By telling their stories directly to the public civil society organisations can also counter the sharing of disinformation. However, I would also encourage civil society to work together with the media, since there are many journalists who are committed to accurately representing issues on a wide range of topics in the public interest from human rights to climate change. 

Follow Lyndal Rowlands on Twitter at @lyndalrowlands

Joint Letter to Human Rights Council: Upholding international law in South Sudan

To Permanent Representatives of member and observer States of the United Nations Human Rights Council

RE: Renewing the mandate of the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan and addressing the need for accountability for past and on-going crimes under international law and human rights violations in South Sudan

CIVICUS Fellowship Programme

The CIVICUS Fellowship Programme is an exciting new venture in which key experts will be placed into national and/or regional organisations for the period of two years. Host organisations will be selected from CIVICUS’ Affinity Group of National Associations (AGNA), which brings together national and regional associations from across the globe to foster greater co-operation and increased ability to collaborate on mutual areas of interest. The primary aim of the programme is to promote knowledge exchange and learning, and build the capacity of both the host organisation and their members by providing specialised support in a particular focal area. Examples of these focal areas include research, fundraising, communications, project management, advocacy and network management.

We're pleased to announce the second round of the CIVICUS Fellowship Programme is now open!

In this round, we invite AGNA members from Africa, Caribbean and Central America, Asia, and the MENA region to apply as the host organisation by 13 March 2017. Please send your completed application (in English, French, or Spanish) or any questions you may have to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

If you are interested in becoming a fellow, please note that recruitment will start at the end of March 2017. 

Joint Letter to UN Human Rights Council: More attention needed on human rights violations in China

To: Permanent Representatives of Member and Observer States of the UN Human Rights Council

RE: Sustaining attention to human rights violations in China

Excellency,

After another year marked by enforced disappearances, denial of due process, and continued efforts to suppress human rights, we call on your delegation to join with other States to take collective, coordinated action at the 34th session of the UN Human Rights Council to hold China accountable for its human rights record.

One year ago today, the High Commissioner released a statement  calling on China to address a wide range of human rights violations. The concerns he raised were echoed by many States at the March 2016 Human Rights Council, including through a strong cross-regional statement delivered on behalf of twelve States.  These States reiterated the High Commissioner’s call for China to uphold its own laws and international commitments, and urged China to release lawyers and other human rights defenders detained for their human rights work.

Gambian civil society optimistic as new democratic era dawns

The Gambia has recently gone through a major democratic transition. CIVICUS interviews Sohna Sallah, the Vice President of the Democratic Union of Gambian Activists about the major political change and implications for human rights in the Gambia.

State of civil society in Equatorial Guinea: An interview with CEID

Spanish

CIVICUS speaks to Alfredo Okenve, board member in charge of the International Cooperation and Good Governance Programmes of the Centre for Development Studies and Initiatives (CEID). Since 2012 Okenve coordinates the network of national CSOs in Equatorial Guinea. Trained as a physicist, he is a human rights defender and social activist with more than 20 years’ experience in consulting and management of development and civil society projects in Equatorial Guinea. He has worked as a professor of Mathematics and Physics and held a managerial position at the National University of Equatorial Guinea.

1. The government of Equatorial Guinea is among the worst human rights abusers in the world. How would you describe the environment for civil society activity in the country?
Civil society is still fledgling in Equatorial Guinea. It dates back to the nineties, and it faces internal difficulties such as a lack of tradition and experience in development and human rights work. It does not have much institutional support either - neither external nor domestic. However, the greatest among its current challenges lies with Equatorial Guinea’s government system. The ruling regime does not uphold any fundamental right, including the right to freedom of association enshrined in our Constitution. The environment is unfavourable, even hostile, to civil society work in every respect (the law, actual practices, lack of respect for human rights, funding, etc.). And it is particularly so for independent groups such as our NGO. There is a long list of legally recognised organisations in the country, but this basically serves the government to show that it respects the right to free association. In practice, however, the Ministry of the Interior stigmatises those organisations that want to work for the country’s development without following its orders, by arbitrarily attributing them uncivil actions. It has even suspended by decree the activities of NGOs like CEID, our organisation, or AGECDEA, another organisation dedicated to the “dangerous” task of providing solidary support to the elderly.
The situation has not improved in spite of the many civil society initiatives directed at the government to foster dialogue, improve the environment for civil society and promote human rights and the fight against poverty. On the contrary, in recent years Equatorial Guinea has been increasingly militarised, as if we were living under a state of siege.

2. What are the obstacles limiting the freedom of association in Equatorial Guinea? How have they affected you and your organisation?
Domestic laws and administrative practices are very restrictive. On one hand, the process for the legalisation of an organisation is long and full of obstacles. For example, it requires the organisation’s promoters to submit to the Ministry of the Interior an affidavit certifying that it will submit to its control on a quarterly basis, plus a favourable report from the Ministry of the area in which the organisation wishes to work, and another report from the governor or provincial government delegate. It also requires them to formalise the constitution of the entity before a notary public, who in turn must obtain an authorisation from the Ministry of the Interior to validate this act. No legally constituted association is allowed to receive any donation, whether local or foreign, private or public, above a hundred US dollars without prior authorisation from the Interior Minister. Another example: no legally constituted organisation, that is, no organisation that has been allowed by the government to function, can deal directly with a beneficiary community without an additional authorisation or credential; this is not what the law says, but it is “customary”.

Additionally the government routinely threatens the members of those organisations that are considered to be “enemies of the fatherland”, that is, those that are not aligned politically with the government. Last December, the governor of the Litoral province, where our headquarters are located, gathered all regional and provincial authorities and urged them not to interact with our NGO since their Ministry is in charge of the third sector, and the Minister had decreed our suspension.
Personally, as a professor and staff of the National University, I have not received my salary and have been arbitrarily and illegally banned from doing my job since June 2010, despite a shortage of teachers –all because of my condition as a social leader, human rights defender and good governance activist. What they are trying to do is condemn me to social exclusion and thereby send a warning to forcefully discourage civil society.
From 2015 on, the country’s CSOs have submitted to the government joint proposals to reform the laws of associations, indicating the limitations that the current law imposes on our social work; we have also raised the need for a national forum or conference on the role of civil society in the country. We have not yet received any official response.

3. Equatorial Guinea has one of the lowest Internet penetration rates in Africa, and online censorship is routine. How do you manage to get your work done when the freedom of expression and information is so restricted?
Internet access remains a problem for us, either because of the low technology level or the lack of telematics capabilities of the country, or because of blockages imposed on critical websites or social networks such as Facebook or Twitter –coupled with electricity supply problems in most of the country.
Internally, we have no choice other than try to bypass and endure these obstacles, but it is indeed difficult and it restricts our work capacity. At the organisational level, we have adopted the strategy of opening spaces for information and coordination among our country’s civil society organisations, notably the National Coordination of CSOs, a platform and meeting point for the solidarity action of civil society.

4. Are protests allowed in Equatorial Guinea? How are citizens treated when the try to protest?
Our Constitution recognises the right to strike and demonstrate. The written rules state that a notification to the government authorities would suffice to exercise this right. In practice, however, the only demonstrations that are allowed and that are actually taking place in our country are those of support and praise to the President of the Republic and his policies –that is to say, those that are summoned by the government or the PDGE (Democratic Party of Equatorial Guinea), the ruling party. Anyone promoting a demonstration against the government policies or any other form of expression, even the mere distribution of information leaflets in the streets, generally ends up under interrogation, tortured, imprisoned and/or dismissed from their jobs. Any claim or remedy that is filed with the competent authority in this regard is either denied or ignored. I think the situation is similar to that of closed regimes such as North Korea’s.

5. What are CEID’s aims? How does the organisation do its work within this context?
CEID is a not-for-profit, non-denominational and independent organisation. It began to form in 1996, at a time when our country was, despite its plentiful resources, among the most underdeveloped countries in Africa. It originated out of the concerns of a group of young graduates from several European universities (mostly Spanish and Russian), coming from fields as diverse as International Cooperation, Journalism, Economics, Engineering and Medicine. All of us wanted to contribute from civil society to improve the living conditions and the prospects for development of their fellow citizens, and were convinced that fostering a responsible, conscious, participative and enabled citizenry was of the utmost importance. And we shared the idea that the only real form of development is human, inclusive, sustainable and integral development. We wanted to dedicate our time to volunteer but professional work to fight against poverty and marginalisation through research and cooperation. The NGO was set up in Malabo in April 1997, and only by the end of 1998 did we obtain the authorisation to operate in the country.

We started working to identify the development problems of our country, analysing possible solutions from civil society. As a result, we set out at the grassroots level with two important programmes: the Civil Society Strengthening Programme and the Local Community Development Programme. A large part of our interventions were designed around these programmes. But we found out that international funding was in retreat because Guinea had become, thanks to its fossil fuel production, a middle-income country –even though our government had no intention or will to use any of that income to fund development through non-governmental entities. The ruling regime, which is totalitarian and based on monolithic thinking, never liked the sight of actors out of its orbit venturing on the national stage. There were plenty of attempts to co-opt our leaders, with diverse degrees of success. For all of these reasons, two years after we were granted legal personality we went through a crisis that led us to total hibernation lasting for about six years. We resumed our activities in 2007-2008, and now our priorities include human rights and good governance, issues that were prohibited to us by law until 2006. We also found some timid international support.
In sum, our work has focused on the introduction of new information technologies in education, local community and rural development, good governance and, above all, the strengthening of civil society. Since its inception five years ago, CEID leads the National Coordinating Network of Civil Society Organisations. We have also done consultancy work with international development and cooperation organisations and programmes.

We have a Board of Directors that is renewed every three years, and we gather in members’ assemblies every 18 months. Our headquarters are located in Bata, the country’s second capital. We cover our operating expenses and minor projects with the fees paid by our members-partners and the odd consultancy job; for development projects of a certain magnitude, of which we have already executed (or are in the process of implementing) fourteen, we seek external funds. So far all of these funds have come from the few international cooperation agencies that are still active in the country, or from occasional consortia with extractive industries fulfilling their commitment to corporate social responsibility. We have never received a single dollar from the State of Guinea.

Most CEID members are public servants and our dedication to NGO work is voluntary. This leaves us in a situation of great vulnerability, as we appear as easy prey for harassment, threats and blackmail. Nevertheless, we try to find courage in the conviction that we are doing something that is very necessary and, generally speaking, unprecedented. So far we have managed not to deviate from our ideas.
Unfortunately, we don’t have any self-protection strategy in place. The constant restrictions we face, plus the challenge of overcoming them while working on the ground in order to fulfil our commitments have left us no time or capacity to establish much-needed contingency policies. We therefore just try to always work within the legal framework and to appeal to the legality of all our actions.

As we lack the capacity to directly execute many of our initiatives, we usually submit them as suggestions to the institutions that are in a position or whose job it is to implement them. That is why we are always encouraging meetings and advocacy with government institutions such as those in the good governance sector (human rights, transparency) and in social sectors such as education, health and children’s care. We take a similar stance towards other NGOs that we have been providing training to. In 2011 we founded the Coordinating Network along with sectorial sub-networks to join efforts and promote collective initiatives. CEID plays a very active part in the tripartite EITI (Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative) National Commission, created in 2007, in representation of civil society. It is a challenge for Guinean civil society to have its own space recognised and for NGOs to be treated as development actors in their own right.

6. What can domestic actors do to promote respect for human rights and a healthy civic space in Equatorial Guinea?
We believe that the steps that we are already taking are the right ones and we need to work to improve them, because they are based on participatory strategies. Despite the obstacles and restrictions faced by Guinean civil society, we struggle to conquer spaces. Lobbying, advocacy and perseverance are as necessary as increased cohesion and solidarity. An example of the steps we have taken is the creation, within the Coordinating Network, of sectorial groups and specifically one for Human Rights and Transparency. On the same line of action, through the national information media CEID has been able to keep over the past four years a one-hour weekly radio space from which to promote respect for human rights, social involvement and public spiritedness. Likewise, we have proposed to the Ministry of Education the introduction of the subject of civic and social education within the national school curriculum.

7. How can external actors, including regional organisations and international solidarity movements, support civil society in Equatorial Guinea?
Civil society organisations in Equatorial Guinea need not just financial but also human, technical and institutional support from regional and international organisations. We need management tools and training on issues related to the development of civic spaces in restrictive environments, and to the role of civil society in the struggle for the rule of law and against poverty. We need to be wrapped up in solidarity and not be left alone; we need international actors to integrate us into their sub-regional, regional and global networks and to advocate for us with their governments, which maintain relations with Equatorial Guinea, so they put pressure on ours to provide a favourable environment for civil society.

Civic space in Equatorial Guinea is rated as ‘closed’ by the CIVICUS Monitor.
Get in touch with CEID through their website or visit their Facebook page.

Zimbabwe: CIVICUS urges release of #ThisFlag Pastor Mawarire, detained and charged with “treason”

Update: 08 February 2017
A High Court judge granted Evan Mawarire bail of 300USD and ordered him to surrender his passport and report to Avondale Police station twice a week. 

Update: 03 February 2017:
On Friday 03 February 2017 Pastor Evan Mawarire appeared in court. Charged with subversion, plots to remove a constitutionally-elected government, abuse of the national flag and inciting public violence, he was denied bail and remanded in custody until 17 February 2017.

CIVICUS urges the release from detention of Pastor Evan Mawarire, a Zimbabwean activist who was arrested on arrival at Harare International Airport on 1 February 2017. Pastor Mawarire, who was returning to his country from the USA, was arrested and charged with subverting a constitutionally elected government. He is currently being held at the Harare Central Police Station.

According to Pastor Mawarire’s lawyer, he is also facing charges for organising demonstrations against Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe during the United Nations General Assembly in New York in September 2016, and for protests that were held after he left Zimbabwe six months ago.

In May 2016, Pastor Mawarire sparked a citizen movement in Zimbabwe called #ThisFlag that urged citizens to display the Zimbabwean flag for seven days as a way to send a message to the government that they wanted an end to corruption, injustice and economic deterioration in the country.

“The charges against Pastor Mawarire are trumped up and are designed to punish him for exercising his legitimate rights to the freedom of expression and assembly,” says Sara Brandt, Policy and Research Analyst at CIVICUS. “We believe that the Zimbabwean government is intentionally trying to silence him and the #ThisFlag movement.”

CIVICUS calls on the Zimbabwean government to release Pastor Mawarire urgently, and drop all charges against him. 

Civic Space in Zimbabwe is rated as repressed by the CIVICUS Monitor.

Next Generation of Development Cooperation Must Fight Economic & Gender Inequality and Protect & Expand Civic Space

Economic and gender inequalities are at the core of the current challenges humankind is facing, and without tackling them, there is no chance that the SDGs will be achieved. A wide set of policies and political reforms must be put in place for that end, and development cooperation has had in the past and must have in the future a stronger role in fighting and correcting gender and economic inequality.

Paris Climate Agreement comes into force: A review of the UN's Climate Change Conference in Marrakech (A.K.A. COP22)

One year since the historic Paris Climate Change Agreement, over 20,000 leaders from government, business and civil society met in Marrakech, Morocco for the 22nd Conference of the Parties (COP22). The two week conference reviewed progress on implementation, produced additional commitments and examined the relationship between the Paris Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals. 

In the beginning, there was a lot of enthusiasm with the ratification of the Paris agreement in a record time just before the negotiations started. However, in the third day of the Conference participants were hit by the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States. Despite reassuring remarks on the resilience of the Paris Agreement and the possibility of leadership on the local and regional levels, concerns and uncertainty about the future of climate cooperation were present throughout the event.

25 organisations' urgent appeal for the release of Nabeel Rajab

25 human rights organizations have signed an urgent appeal letter to Ms Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, and Vice-President of the EU Commission, to ask for a clear, public stance on Nabeel Rajab's case and the human rights abuses in Bahrain.

Read the full letter here

Civil society reports show evidence of shrinking civic space in Europe

A survey of civil society organisations in Europe conducted  in early 2016  by Civil Society Europe and CIVICUS shows evidence of a shrinking civic space in Europe.

Worldwide attack on rights: over three billion people living in countries where civic freedoms are violated

French | Spanish

  • Global impact laid bare by the CIVICUS Monitor, a new online research tool that rates civic space around the world and documents violations of rights
  • Governments shutting down civic space and shutting up dissenting voices

Johannesburg, 24 October 2016 – More than three billion people live in countries where the rights to protest, organize and speak out are currently being violated according to the CIVICUS Monitor, the first-ever online tool to track and compare civic freedoms on a global scale.

The new tool, launched in beta today by the global civil society alliance CIVICUS, rates countries based on how well they uphold the three fundamental rights that enable people to act collectively and make change: freedom of association, freedom of peaceful assembly, and freedom of expression.

Bin the Travel Ban: Lift undue restrictions on Mozn Hassan and Egyptian civil society’s right to freedom of association

Mozn Hassan is a courageous feminist and a human rights defender who protested with her fellow citizens to overthrow President Hosni Mubarak, calling for a new era of freedom and democracy in Egypt. Her struggle for equal rights for women during and after the Egyptian revolution, through her organisation Nazra for Feminist Studies, earned her the 2016 Right Livelihood Award. But she’s unlikely to receive this prestigious award because of a travel ban imposed on her by the Egyptian authorities.

Mozn’s travel ban is the latest in a series of measures taken against her and other prominent leaders of Egyptian civil society under the ambit of the infamous Case 173 of 2011, commonly known as the “NGO Foreign Funding case”.

In March 2016, Mozn Hassan was summoned to appear before a judge investigating the “NGO Foreign Funding” case soon after her participation at the UN Commission on the Status of Women. On June 27, 2016, she was prevented by the airport authorities in Cairo - acting on the instructions of the investigating judge and the Prosecutor General - from participating in the Women Human Rights Defenders Regional Coalition for the Middle East and North Africa meeting held in Lebanon.

Violent attacks on peaceful protests in the DRC: Civil society writes open letter to President Joseph Kabila

One hundred and eighty-five civil society organisations from 33 African countries have written an open letter to President Joseph Kabila of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) raising concerns over ongoing attacks on protestors and the targeting of human rights defenders.

Recently, on 19 September 2016, security forces violently dispersed protests by citizens who criticised the failure of the electoral commission - Commission Electorale Nationale Independente (CENI) to meet the deadline for announcing the timeframe for the next elections.  The government announced that 17 people, including three police officers were killed during clashes although civil society and political observers argue that the figure is much higher. Several protesters also suffered from gunshot wounds.  

South Korea: Ensure accountability for death of South Korean activist

Korean

Global civil society alliance, CIVICUS mourns the death of South Korean activist and farmer Mr. Nam-gi Baek on 25 September due to injuries he sustained while exercising his right to peaceful assembly. We urge South Korean authorities to conduct a swift and impartial investigation into Mr Baek’s death and the use of excessive force by police to disperse and intimidate protesters.

Call for endorsements: Letter to President Kabila

French

Mr Joseph Kabila
President of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)
Palais de la Nation
Ave de Lemera, Kinshasa, Congo (DRC) 

Dear President Kabila, 
We, the undersigned representatives of African civil society organisations, write to express our serious concerns about the police’s continued use of brutal force to crush peaceful assemblies and to silence the legitimate demands of the people of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

Over the last few years, we have observed with shock a series of sustained assaults on human rights defenders, civil society organisations, members of the political opposition and ordinary citizens who are calling for elections to be held in accordance with the constitution, and opposing your attempts to remain as Head of State after your mandate officially expires on 19 December 2016.

We are appalled at the latest spate of indiscriminate killings of peaceful protesters that took place in Kinshasa during demonstrations on Monday 19 September 2016.  There is no justification for this atrocity, which was your government’s response to citizens’ exercise of their fundamental freedom of peaceful assembly. Citizens were peacefully calling attention to the Independent National Electoral Commission’s (CENI) failure to meet the 19 September deadline to announce the date of much-anticipated elections.

Steady increase in the deterioration of human rights in the Maldives

CIVICUS speaks to human rights and climate change activist Thilmeeza Hussain about current restrictions in the space for civil society in the Maldives. Thilmeeza is the Former Deputy Permanent Representative of Maldives to the United Nations.

1. What is the current state of human rights in the Maldives?

We have seen a steady increase in the deterioration of human rights in the Maldives over the last few months.  In August 2016 the authorities passed the Defamation and Freedom of Speech Act, which severely restricts the freedom of expression. The law criminalises speech deemed defamatory, and sets hefty fines and jail terms for journalists and individuals found guilty of slander. It empowers regulators to close newspapers and other media platforms if they fail to pay such fines.

In addition, new amendments to the Freedom of Assembly Act state that protests, marches, parades and other such gatherings can only take place with prior written permission from the police and only in designated areas. The challenge is that we all know that permission will not be granted for peaceful demonstrations that focus on issues considered sensitive by the government. The law will be used to pre-empt public assemblies and prevent them from taking place. The Act is at variance with Article 32 of the Constitution, which guarantees the right to assemble without prior notification.  

Egypt’s independent human rights community at risk of complete eradication

ForeignFunding

The undersigned organisations condemn unreservedly the asset freeze ruled on Saturday 17 September by the Cairo Criminal Court in Zeinhom on prominent human rights organisations and defenders in Egypt, as part of case no 173/2011, known as the “foreign funding case”.

Prominent human rights organisations and human rights defenders were particularly targeted: the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) and its director Bahey el din Hassan, the Hisham Mubarak Law Center (HMLC) and its director Mostafa El Hassan, the Center for the Right to Education and its executive director Abdel Hafiz Tayel, as well as human rights defenders Hossam Bahgat and Gamal Eid. 

The personal assets of the five human rights defenders are frozen and three NGOs CIHRS, HMLC and the Center for the Right to Education, are losing access to their bank accounts and their properties. The management of these NGOs’ finances and programmes are to be handed over to government officials, giving them control their activities and full access to their records and database, including files related to victims of human rights violations. 

Still a long road ahead in Colombia peace process - Gina Romero (RedLad)

GinaRomeroSpanish

CIVICUS speaks to Gina Romero, Executive Director of the Latin American and Caribbean Network for Democracy (RedLad), a not-for-profit platform than brings together more than 480 CSOs, networks, activists, academics, social movements, youth and political groups working together for stronger democracies, human rights, sustainable development and social cohesion in the region. RedLad is also a CIVICUS Voting Member organisation. 

1. We are finally able to glimpse the end of a half-century long conflict. What are the prospects for lasting peace in Colombia?

First of all, it should be noted that this process that is coming to an end has been a negotiation with a single guerrilla group, the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia). The FARC are the most significant such group in terms of territorial power and symbolism, but unfortunately they are not the only armed group with the ability to determine the scope of peace. Besides the fact that peace is evidently not something that can be achieved by just defeating an armed group. This is a very important lesson we have learnt from peace processes in other countries, and it also applies here.

Civic space and citizen rights still under threat in Brazil

AnaCernovCIVICUS speaks to Ana Cernov, Coordinator of the South-South Program at Conectas Human Rights, an international human rights non-governmental organisation. Based in Sao Paulo, Conectas was founded in Brazil in 2001 with the aim of promoting human rights and the democratic rule of law in the Global South. 

1. During the Olympic Games and after, we have seen the repression of several #ForaTemer and other protests. Have restrictions on the freedom of peaceful assembly increased after President Rousseff was impeached?

The repression of protests is not new in Brazil, however, it has indeed intensified in recent years and has become increasingly selective in the way it responds. Policing is ostensibly a military task –a regrettable heritage of the dictatorship that ruled the country for 21 years, from 1964 to 1985. Besides, it is also decentralised, as state governors each head their own military police. Therefore we cannot say that the Temer government is directly and solely responsible for the repression of the current protests. However, it is also true that there is high discretion regarding which protests are repressed depending on which side of the political spectrum they come from. The introduction of restrictions on the space for protest has steadily intensified since the protests that took place in June 2013, so in fact President Rousseff’s removal has not been a turning point in this respect.

CIVICUS Webinar: Gender, Inclusion & the State of Civil Society

Join SOCS authors
Joanna Maycock - European Women’s Lobby (moderator)
Mutsiya Leonard - UHAI East African Sexual Health and Rights Initiative
Sudarshana Kundu - Gender at Work
Kathy Mulville - Women’s Global Network for Reproductive Rights
& other CIVICUS Members for a webinar on

Wednesday 28th September 14:00 (GMT +2)

RSVP - This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


 
Help build critical, constructive dialogue on how the civil society sector can do better at advancing gender equality within and beyond our areas of work.

You will also inform development of the CIVICUS Gender Working Group by sharing your thoughts and experiences:

  • What works to create more gender-equal decision-making? What doesn’t?
  • What strategies do you use to challenge gender exclusion? What innovative or inspiring strategies or experiences would you like to share?
  • What are the main benefits of greater gender equality within our sectors/movements? How do you make the case to those who aren’t convinced? How do mainstream civil society groups step up effectively?

#CIVICUSgender

@CIVICUSalliance @EuropeanWomen @UHAIEASHRI @GenderatWork @WGNRR

We regret that the webinar will be conducted in English only

Solidarity is key to addressing socio-environmental conflicts in Costa Rica

Spanish

CIVICUS speaks to Vanessa Dubois, Project Officer at ARCA (Central American Regional Association for Water and the Environment), a Costa Rican environmental CSO established to promote the protection, conservation and sustainable use of the environment and hydric resources, and to promote processes of integrated management of natural resources and the recognition of the human rights to water and sanitation.

1. Costa Rica is usually among the best-placed Latin American countries in rankings and evaluations of the quality of civic space, institutional development and respect for human rights. Is the country living up to its reputation?

In fact, there are no serious obstacles for the exercise of the freedoms of association, expression and peaceful assembly of civil society in Costa Rica. But there is indeed a less visible problem regarding the protection afforded to social and environmental leaders. True, murders of HRDs or civil society activists are not an everyday occurrence in Costa Rica; however, since the early nineties there have been approximately ten murders and fifteen attempts against the physical integrity of environmental activists -who, along with indigenous activists, are in fact the main targets of aggressions. The most recent case, in 2013, was the murder of our environmentalist colleague Jairo Mora. It was as a result of this regrettable event that we have been able to more successfully bring up the issue at the national level, in order to counterweigh the erroneous image that here nothing bad ever happens. In 2014 or 2015, especially in the context of land struggles on indigenous territories, community leaders have been criminalised.

Civil society working on women’s rights in Pakistan restricted by Council of Islamic Ideology

Blue Veins Logo1Civil society organisations (CSOs) working to improve women’s rights in Pakistan are facing difficulties after the Council of Islamic Ideology has made several attempts to limit their work as part of their clampdown on women’s rights in general. CIVICUS spoke to Qamar Naseem from Blue Veins, a CSO in Pakistan that provides legal assistance to survivors of gender-based violence and trains lawyers and judges to better deal with the cases on gender-based violence in the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

1.What is the general situation for civil society in Pakistan? 
There are systemic threats to CSOs in Pakistan and especially in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. In recent years, there has been a perceptible rise in restrictions on civic space. The independent civil society is under threat not just from the government but also from powerful non-state actors including influential business entities and extremist groups, as well as, religious leadership subscribing to fundamentalist ideologies. 
We are increasingly experiencing and witnessing criminalisation of dissent and there are efforts to criminalise the work of CSOs as the civic space is shrinking alarmingly. Attacks on CSOs have increased significantly in recent years while authorities have shown no interest to safeguard human rights defenders and CSOs. 

Worrying spate of attacks on independent media in Zambia

Global civil society alliance CIVICUS and the Zambia Council for Social Development (ZCSD) condemn attacks on independent media houses and journalists in Zambia. Attacks on the media, which intensified in the run up to the 11 August 2016 elections, show no signs of abating. Worryingly, government authorities are curbing independent reporting of the political situation in the country at a time when election results in favour of the ruling party are being challenged by the opposition. 

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