- Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, Sudan, and Venezuela join global watchlist
- Escalating rights violations include killings, attacks on protesters, media restrictions and arbitrary detentions of human rights defenders
- International community must pressure governments to end repression
Five countries from Asia, the Middle East, Africa, Europe and Latin America have been added to a watchlist of countries which have seen a rapid decline in fundamental freedoms in recent weeks and months. The new watchlist released by the CIVICUS Monitor, an online platform that tracks threats to civil society across the globe, identifies growing concerns in Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, Sudan, and Venezuela.
Activists and civil society organisations in these countries are experiencing an infringement of their civic freedoms as protected by international law. These violations include the use of excessive force by security forces during peaceful protests and journalists being arbitrarily detained and harrassed in both Sudan and Venezuela. In Serbia, space for independent media is under concerted attack while massive anti-government demonstrations are taking place. In Saudi Arabia, authorities continue the crackdown on women human rights defenders, who are being subject to arbitrary detentions and ill treatment for their activism on gender issues. While, in Afghanistan, there has been a record high number of civilian casualties (3,800 in 2018). The upcoming July presidential elections pose additional security risks and a threat to shrinking civic space, as over 400 civilians and voters were killed or injured (including eight candidates), during last October’s parliamentary elections.
“It is deeply concerning to see escalated threats to basic rights in these countries,” said Marianna Belalba Barreto, CIVICUS Civic Space Research Lead. “It is critical that these five governments wake up to their failure to respect international law and take swift action to respect their citizens’ most basic freedoms in a democratic society and create an enabling environment for civil society organisations” Belalba said. “We also call upon neighbouring states and international bodies to put pressure on these countries to end the repression and ensure positive steps are taken to guarantee the safe space for civil society to continue their legitimate work”
Large-scale anti-government demonstrations have been ongoing across Sudan since 19th December 2018 calling for President Omar Al-Bashir to step down in the context of a growing frustration over the harsh economic and social situation. In response, the authorities have launched a violent campaign targeting protesters, including doctors, teachers, journalists, women activists and opposition political leaders. With the declaration of a state of emergency, civic space restrictions continue to increase with hundreds of protesters on trial and dozens sentenced in summary trials on charges of participating in demonstrations.
Serbia has witnessed sustained protest since December 2018. Protests started after an opposition politician was assaulted by unknown assailants wielding metal rods. For the most part, authorities in Serbia have largely ignored or attempted to downplay the scale of the protests. However on 17th March 2019 after 14 consecutive weeks of demonstrations, police in Belgrade used excessive force to disperse protesters that were calling for greater press freedom and fair elections. After encircling the Presidential building, clashes between protesters and police broke out, leading to the use of tear gas by Serbian authorities. Ten people were arrested in the confrontation. The government has also orchestrated a smear campaign against protesters labelling opponents of the government as “paid” activists working against Serbian interests.
Despite claims that the Saudi Arabian government is leading reforms to improve the situation of women in the country, Saudi authorities continue to persecute women activists. Since the crackdown began in May 2018, at least 22 women human rights defenders have been arrested and subjected to human rights violations because of their activism on gender issues. Reports indicate that several detained rights defenders have been subjected to torture including sexual assault and harassment.
In Venezuela, since January 2019, massive anti-government protests have continued to take place in the country. The government has responded by using excessive force against demonstrators, arbitrarily detaining protestors, including teenagers, as well as detaining and harassing human rights defenders and journalists. Just between 21 and 25 January, at least 41 people died in circumstances linked to the protests,and more than 900 people were arbitrarily detained. For years, protesters in Venezuela have been met with excessive force by authorities, as people take to the streets to demand a change in government, the pattern of repression will likely intensify. Human rights organisations working to deliver humanitarian aid are especially targeted with harassment, and in some cases, their offices have been raided. It is estimated that more than three million venezuelans have fled the country due to the humanitarian crisis and denial of basic rights such as health and food.
Since the beginning of 2019, at least three journalists have been killed in Afghanistan. The country was the world's deadliest for journalists in 2018 with 13 reporters and 2 other media professionals killed. Citizens risk being killed and attacked for participating in government elections and civil society is currently excluded from peace negotiations between the Taliban and the United States (U.S.), and parallel peace talks in Moscow. Women’s groups and persecuted communities are campaigning to have their voices heard in the peace process, and to ensure that any agreement guarantees human rights and democratic freedoms.
In the coming weeks, the CIVICUS Monitor will closely track developments in each of these countries as part of efforts to ensure greater pressure is brought to bear on governments. CIVICUS calls upon these governments to do everything in their power to immediately end the ongoing crackdowns and ensure that perpetrators are held to account.
For more information and to speak with regional and country specific contacts, please message:
Marianna Belalba Barreto, CIVICUS Civic Space Research Lead