Outcomes & reflections from the UN Human Rights Council

Joint statement at the end of the 41st Session of the UN Human Rights Council

By renewing the mandate of the Independent Expert on sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI), the Council has sent a clear message that violence and discrimination against people of diverse sexual orientations and gender identities cannot be tolerated. It reaffirmed that specific, sustained and systematic attention is needed to address these human rights violations and ensure that LGBT people can live a life of dignity. We welcome the Core Group's commitment to engage in dialogue with all States, resulting in over 50 original co-sponsors across all regions. However, we regret that some States have again attempted to prevent the Council from addressing discrimination and violence on the basis of SOGI.

This Council session also sent a clear message that Council membership comes with scrutiny by addressing the situations of Eritrea, the Philippines, China, Saudi Arabia and the Democratic Republic of Congo. This shows the potential the Council has to leverage its membership to become more effective and responsive to rights holders and victims. 

The Council did the right thing by extending its monitoring of the situation in Eritrea. The onus is on the Eritrean Government to cooperate with Council mechanisms, including the Special Rapporteur, in line with its membership obligations. 

We welcome the first Council resolution on the Philippines as an important first step towards justice and accountability. We urge the Council to closely follow this situation and be ready to follow up with additional action, if the situation does not improve or deteriorates further. We deeply regret that such a resolution was necessary, due to the continuation of serious violations and repeated refusal of the Philippines – despite its membership of the Council– to cooperate with existing mechanisms. 

We deplore that the Philippines and Eritrea sought to use their seats in this Council to seek to shield themselves from scrutiny, and those States who stood with the authorities and perpetrators who continue to commit grave violations with impunity, rather than with the victims.

We welcome the written statement by 22 States on China expressing collective concern over widespread surveillance, restrictions to freedoms of religion and movement, and large-scale arbitrary detention of Uyghurs and other minorities in Xinjiang. We consider it as a first step towards sustained Council attention and in the absence of progress look to those governments that have signed this letter to follow up at the September session with a resolution calling for China to allow access to the region to independent human rights experts and to end country-wide the arbitrary detention of individuals based on their religious beliefs or political opinions.

We welcome the progress made in resolutions on the rights of women and girls: violence against women and girls in the world of work, on discrimination against women and girls and on the consequences of child, early and forced marriage. We particularly welcome the renewal of the mandate of the Working Group on Discrimination Against Women and Girls under its new name and mandate to focus on the intersections of gender and age and their impact on girls. The Council showed that it was willing to stand up to the global backlash against the rights of women and girls by ensuring that these resolutions reflect the current international legal framework and resisted cultural relativism, despite several amendments put forward to try and weaken the strong content of these resolutions. 

However, in the text on the contribution of development to the enjoyment of all human rights, long standing consensus language from the Vienna Declaration for Programme of Action (VDPA) recognising that, at the same time, “the lack of development may not be invoked to justify the abridgement of internationally recognized human rights” has again been deliberately excluded, disturbing the careful balance established and maintained for several decades on this issue. 

We welcome the continuous engagement of the Council in addressing the threat posed by climate change to human rights, through its annual resolution and the panel discussion on women’s rights and climate change at this session. We call on the Council to continue to strengthen its work on this issue, given its increasing urgency for the protection of all human rights.

The Council has missed an opportunity on Sudan where it could have supported regional efforts and ensured that human rights are not sidelined in the process. We now look to African leadership to ensure that human rights are upheld in the transition. The Council should stand ready to act, including through setting up a full-fledged inquiry into all instances of violence against peaceful protesters and civilians across the country. 

During the interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial and summary executions, States heard loud and clear that the time to hold Saudi Arabia accountable is now for the extrajudicial killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. We recall that women human rights defenders continue to be arbitrarily detained despite the calls by 36 States at the March session. We urge States to adopt a resolution at the September session to establish a monitoring mechanism over the human rights situation in the country. 

We welcome the landmark report of the High Commissioner on the situation for human rights in Venezuela; in response to the grave findings in the report and the absence of any fundamental improvement of the situation in the meantime, we urge the Council to adopt a Commission of Inquiry or similar mechanism in September, to reinforce the ongoing efforts of the High Commissioner and other actors to address the situation.

We welcome the renewal of the mandate on freedom of peaceful assembly and association. This mandate is at the core of our work as civil society and we trust that the mandate will continue to protect and promote these fundamental freedoms towards a more open civic space.

We welcome the renewal of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Belarus. We acknowledge some positive signs of re-engagement in dialogue by Belarus, and an attempted negotiation process with the EU on a potential Item 10 resolution. However, in the absence of systemic human rights reforms in Belarus, the mandate and resolution process remains an essential tool for Belarusian civil society. In addition, there are fears of a spike in violations around upcoming elections and we are pleased that the resolution highlights the need for Belarus to provide safeguards against such an increase.

We welcome the renewal of the quarterly reporting process on the human rights situation in Ukraine. However, we also urge States to think creatively about how best to use this regular mechanism on Ukraine to make better progress on the human rights situation.

The continued delay in the release of the UN database of businesses engaged with Israeli settlements established pursuant to Council resolution 31/36 in March 2016 is of deep concern.  We join others including Tunisia speaking on behalf of 65 states and Peru speaking on behalf of 26 States in calling on the High Commissioner to urgently and fully fulfil this mandate as a matter of urgency and on all States to cooperate with all Council mandates, including this one, and without political interference.

Numerous States and stakeholders highlighted the importance of the OHCHR report on Kashmir; while its release only a few days ago meant it did not receive substantive consideration at the present session, we look forward to discussing it in depth at the September session. 

Finally, we welcome the principled leadership shown by Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands, in pursuing accountability for individual victims of acts of intimidation and reprisals under General Debate Item 5, contrasting with other States which tend to make only general statements of concern. We call on States to raise all individual cases at the interactive dialogue on reprisals and intimidation in the September session. 

Signatories:

  1. International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)
  2. DefendDefenders (the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project)
  3. Global Initiative for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
  4. Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)
  5. International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
  6. International Commission of Jurists (ICJ)
  7. Center for Reproductive Rights 
  8. ARTICLE 19
  9. Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
  10. Human Rights House Foundation 
  11. CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
  12. Franciscans International 
  13. Association for Progressive Communications (APC)
  14. Amnesty International
  15. Human Rights Watch
  16. International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA) 

 

Sudan: More than 100 people were killed when paramilitary forces dispersed peaceful protests

41st Session of the UN Human Rights Council
Interactive dialogue on Sudan

CIVICUS notes the efforts that have been made by the Sudanese authorities and Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights (OHCHR) towards establishment of an OHCHR country office in Sudan in line with resolution 39/22 of the Human Rights Council.  We now urge the Sovereign Council of Sudan and OHCHR to sign the Memorandum of Understanding to operationalize the OHCHR office to provide technical advice, monitoring and public reporting with unrestricted access to all parts of the country, with a view to fulfilling Sudan’s human rights obligations and commitments.

We welcome ongoing efforts between the Sudanese authorities and civilian leaders particularly those facilitated by the African Union and Ethiopia to finalise a peace deal that will guide the political transition and lead the country to elections in three years.  The current peace deal which is due to be finalized provides for an independent national investigation into all acts of violence committed since February 2019.   However, for the transition to be effective and stable, the scope of these investigations must include all violence against peaceful protesters and restrictions placed on fundamental freedoms since the protests started in December 2018. 

In particular, the human rights violations committed by the paramilitary forces – the Rapid Response Forces and the National Intelligence and Security Forces (NISS) during the protests must be investigated by an independent, impartial, thorough inquiry. More than 100 people were killed and many more injured when paramilitary forces violently dispersed peaceful protesters when peace negotiations reached an impasse on 3 June 2019. We urge the Sudanese authorities to ensure that security forces respond to ongoing and future protests in line with the country’s international human rights obligations and address underlying causes of the protests.

All human rights defenders, representatives of civil society and citizens still in detention in connection with the protests should be released unconditionally.  We also call on the Sudanese authorities to respect the rights of citizens to access and information and restore internet connections in all parts of the country where the internet was shut down in an attempt to conceal the brutality of the crackdown by the military against protesters.
  
It is past time for the international community to take decisive action on the human rights situation in Sudan. We call on the Council to provide all necessary resources to carry out an independent, impartial inquiry into all acts of violence against protesters since December 2018, so that perpetrators can be held to account.

 

DRC: No steps taken to end impunity enjoyed by state actors for human rights violations

41st Session of the UN Human Rights Council
Interactive dialogue on the Democratic Republic of the Congo

CIVICUS welcomes some positive first steps with regards to civic space taken by President Felix Tshisekedi during his first six months in office, including his commitment to release more than 500 political prisoners. The President pledged, during his inauguration speech, to 'ensure that every citizen is guaranteed the respect of the exercise of their fundamental rights’, and that the government would have among its priorities the fight against impunity and the promotion of the press and the media to turn into a ‘real fourth estate’.

Despite these initial positive developments, no steps have been taken to end the widespread impunity enjoyed by state actors for human rights violations, including by security forces. Despite some noticeable improvements in the area of peaceful assembly, restrictions including the use of excessive use of force to disperse protesters, are at times still imposed.

One person was killed when police dispersed protesters during opposition protests in Kinsasha and Goma on 30 June 2019.  It was reported that security forces used tear gas against protesters and some of those involved in the protests were physically assulted. Although there has been a decline in media violations, press offenses are still criminalised. TV reporter Steeve Mwanyo Iwewe was sentenced on 1 March 2019 to one year in prison and the sentence was later reduced to a six-month suspended sentence, in Mbandaka, Equateur province, on charges of ‘insulting authorities’ while he covered a protest of local state employees.

We call on the Tshisekedi administration to take concrete and sustained measures to implement human rights commitments made and to ensure that the freedoms of peaceful assembly, expression and association are respected. This includes reviewing all restrictive legislation–  notably the draft Law on Associations and the draft Law on the Protection of Human Rights Defenders – to bring them in line with international human rights law.

We further urge the DRC  to take concrete measures to end widespread impunity by fully investigating all human rights violations and bringing those responsible swiftly to justice.

 

Nicaragua: Over 100 political prisoners remain detained

41st Session of the UN Human Rights Council
-Interactive dialogue on the report from the High Commissioner on Nicaragua
-Joint statement from CIVICUS & Red Local

We note that the government of Nicaragua has yet to comply with some of the agreements reached with the Civic Alliance for Justice and Democracy during negotiations earlier this year. While we welcome the release of 56 political prisoners by the Nicaraguan government, 104 political prisoners are still arbitrarily detained, and over one hundred are missing. We reiterate calls for the immediate release of those unjustly incarcerated and urge the government to take urgent steps to investigate the whereabouts of those who have been disappeared.

The government furthermore agreed to put in place a security protocol for political prisoners and those forced into exile. This has not been done. . We call for its immediate implementation to ensure the full enforcement of their rights, and the return of assets. We also call on the government to put in place measures to guarantee the safe return of those in exile.

The Nicaraguan government’s severe repression of anyone standing up for their rights has continued, reflected in the High Commissioners’ oral update. Free expression and assembly is severely restricted. Local civil society organisations have been stripped of their legal status and of their assets, and human rights defenders and journalists are harassed.

Given the grievous human rights violations, we are particularly concerned that the Amnesty Law recently established by the Nicaraguan government will subsume the essential truth and reparations process needed to address the severe human rights violations prevalent in the country, and hinder any opportunity for full accountability. The law on comprehensive care for victims was pushed though in a process which saw civil society and victims themselves completely side-lined.

We are further deeply concerned that the government of Nicaragua continues to block the return of international human rights bodies to the country, including the special mechanism of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and OHCHR. Such bodies shine a crucial light on human rights violations and are critical for ensuring accountability of perpetrators. Victims of human rights violations have the right to truth, justice and reparation. The government of Nicaragua should guarantee those rights and put a complete stop to their strategy of repression.

 

Renew mandate of Independent Expert on sexual orientation and gender identity

Over 1300 civil society organisations from across the globe call for the renewal of the mandate of the Independent Expert on violence and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

Around the world, millions of people face human rights violations and abuses because of their real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity (SOGI). These abuses include: killings and extrajudicial executions; torture, rape and sexual violence; enforced disappearance; forced displacement; criminalization; arbitrary detentions; blackmail and extortion; police violence and harassment; bullying; stigmatization; hate speech; denial of one’s self defined gender identity; forced medical treatment, and/or forced sterilization; repression of the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly, religion or belief; attacks and restrictions on human rights defenders; denial of services and hampered access to justice; discrimination in all spheres of life including in employment, healthcare, housing, education and cultural traditions; and other multiple and intersecting forms of violence and discrimination. These grave and widespread violations take place in conflict and non-conflict situations, are perpetrated by State and non-State actors (including the victims’ families and communities) and impact all spheres of life.

In 2016, this Human Rights Council took definitive action to systematically address these abuses, advance positive reforms and share best practices – through regular reporting, constructive dialogue and engagement – and created an Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

This Council considered the mandate an essential tool to respond to the vast body of evidence of such violence and discrimination in all world regions and followed recommendations from the UN human rights system – including the Treaty Bodies, the Human Rights Council, its Special Procedures and the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), and the findings of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and many others.

The two mandate holders have examined these issues in greater depth through reports, country visits, communications, and statements issued in the past three years. They have identified root causes and addressed violence and discrimination faced by specific groups, including lesbian, bisexual, trans and gender diverse persons.

The mandate has also welcomed progress and identified best practices from all regions of the world, including in decriminalisation, legal gender recognition, anti-discrimination laws and hate crime laws that include SOGI. All the while, continuing to engage in constructive dialogue and assist States to implement and further comply with international human rights law, as well as collaborating with UN mechanisms, agencies, funds and programs and other bodies in international and regional systems.

For persons of diverse sexual orientations and gender identities globally, this mechanism and its work have been a beacon of hope that violence and discrimination will not be ignored; and since 2016, progress has been made in many areas in all regions, including in countries that have decriminalized consensual same-sex sexual acts, legally recognized a person’s gender identity and promulgated SOGI-inclusive anti-discrimination and hate crimes laws.

Despite these positive advances, to this day, 69 countries still criminalize consensual same-sex sexual acts, seven with the death penalty. Alarmingly 3000 killings of trans and gender diverse people were reported in 72 countries in the past decade. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trans and gender diverse people everywhere face daily discrimination and violence.

A decision by Council Members to renew this mandate would send a clear message that violence and discrimination against people of diverse sexual orientations and gender identities cannot be tolerated. It would reaffirm that specific, sustained and systematic attention is needed to address these human rights violations and ensure that LGBT people can live a life of dignity.

We 1,316 civil society organisations from 174 States, around the world urge this Council to ensure we continue building a world where everyone can live free from violence and discrimination. To allow this important and unfinished work to continue we urge you to renew the mandate of the Independent Expert on violence and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

 

Statement: Eritrea's adoption of Universal Periodic Review on Human Rights

41st Session of the UN Human Rights Council

The Eritrean Movement for Democracy and Human Rights (EMDHR), Eritrea Focus, and CIVICUS welcome the government of Eritrea’s engagement with the UPR process and for its acceptance of 131 UPR recommendations. We also welcome the Declaration of Peace and Friendship signed between Eritrea and Ethiopia in July 2018, and the shared commitments to make progress towards achieving sustainable peace in the region.

But regional overtures towards peace have not translated into national policy and practices. Since Eritrea’s last review, it has failed to implement any recommendations it accepted pertaining to civic space and fundamental freedoms.

Instead, the human rights situation in the country continues to worsen, civic space continues to be severely suppressed, and serious restrictions to freedom of peaceful assembly, association, and expression prevail.

Mr President, we are deeply concerned by the closure of 20 health centres administered by Catholic churches, and the arbitrary arrest and detention of four Christian bishops based in Debre Bizen monastery and of 141 Christians in Mai Temenai district in June 2019, which followed a call by the Catholic Church for genuine dialogue on peace and reconciliation in Eritrea. Such actions illustrate the willful failure of the Eritrean government to implement UPR recommendations and improve the repressive environment for civic space and basic freedoms.

We note with concern the lack of constitutionalism in Eritrea, a situation that perpetuates human rights violations and abuses by government institutions with impunity, where activists, journalists and human rights defenders continue to be arrested and illegally detained.

Mr President, Eritrean Movement for Democracy and Human Rights, Eritrea Focus, and CIVICUS call on the Government of Eritrea to immediately and urgently take proactive measures to implement all UPR recommendations, particularly pertaining to removing restrictive laws that undermine civic space and create an enabling environment for journalists and human rights defenders to exercise their rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association. 

 

Statement: Cambodia's adoption of Universal Periodic Review on Human Rights

41st Session of the UN Human Rights Council

CIVICUS, the Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR), the Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC) and IFEX welcome the Royal Government of Cambodia's engagement with the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process.

In our joint UPR Submission, we documented that since its last review, Cambodia has failed to fully implement any of the recommendations it accepted relating to civic space and fundamental freedoms. We welcome the government’s acceptance of a number of recommendations received in this cycle to strengthen respect for freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly and to protect human rights defenders. The Royal Government of Cambodia must now take concrete steps to promptly and meaningfully implement these recommendations in order to restore civic space, which has been drastically undermined in recent years.

The legal framework currently in place contravenes Cambodia’s obligations under international human rights law. Laws and provisions are routinely misapplied to restrict freedom of association, undermine civil society, and criminalize individual’s exercise of their right to freedom of expression. We are disappointed that the government of Cambodia explicitly decided not to accept certain recommendations to amend or repeal repressive laws, including the Law on Political Parties, the Law on Associations and Non-Governmental Organizations and the Trade Union Law.

Human rights defenders, civil society activists and journalists are routinely subject to judicial harassment and legal action. While we welcome the release of human rights defenders and journalists from detention in 2018, we are concerned that many were released on bail with cases still pending against them.

Media outlets perceived as critical towards the government have been subjected to a severe crackdown in 2017 and 2018, through threats and sanctions including shutdowns, which significantly curtail citizens’ access to information. We encourage the Royal Government of Cambodia to promptly implement the recommendations it accepted related the independence of the media, and we urge the government to re-create an enabling environment for a free and pluralistic media, including by ceasing judicial harassment against journalists, and abuse of tax regulations to harass media outlets and associations (even though Cambodia decided to note the recommendation received in this regard).

Mr President, we recognize the importance of this review as a first step to address the deterioration of respect for human rights in Cambodia. We now call on the Royal Government of Cambodia to take proactive and immediate measures to restore civic space, foster a free and enabling environment for civil society, and ensure that all Cambodians can freely exercise their fundamental freedoms.

 

Statement: Mass arrests and killings of protesters in Venezuela

41st Session of the UN Human Rights Council
Interactive Dialogue on the report of the High Commissioner on Venezuela 

CIVICUS thanks the High Commissioner for her report, which shows how deeply the human rights situation has deteriorated in Venezuela.  The escalating political crisis has precipitated a significant increase in violations of civic freedoms: according to the local NGO Foro Penal, as of May 2019 there were 857 political prisoners. Many have reportedly been tortured. Reports of serious reprisals against human rights defenders and humanitarians show the increasing danger of simply carrying out legitimate work to provide humanitarian support in the midst of a crisis, or protect human rights as violations escalate.

CIVICUS is deeply concerned by mass arrests and killings of protesters during demonstrations. Since the beginning of the year, 60 protesters have reportedly been killed in the protests. Of five killed by security forces during protests calling for the resignation of Nicolas Maduro on 30 April and 1 May, three were not yet 18.

Venezuela’s indigenous communities have been among those hardest-hit by the humanitarian crisis. A siege of the Pemon indigenous community, imposed after the community attempted to help humanitarian aid enter the country, forced more than 700 hundred members of the community to leave their lands. At least 7 people were killed and 62 arbitrarily arrested during the confrontation. We call for the special protection of indigenous communities.

We are concerned by politically-motivated internet restrictions and the blockage of online content, including that of BBC and CNN International. Online censorship has affected over 20 online media outlets, severely restricting citizens’ right to information.

We welcome the agreement reached between the office of the High Commissioner and the Venezuelan Government for a team of human rights officers based in the country, and we hope this is the first step towards enhanced monitoring and reporting on the worsening human rights crisis in Venezuela, including measures to ensure accountability for perpetrators and reparations to the thousands who have fallen victim to human rights abuses.

We echo the High Commissioner’s remarks in her June statement that ‘the people of Venezuela cannot afford further deterioration of the situation. We ask the High Commissioner what immediate steps the Council and its member states can take to support those in Venezuela who are advocating for the protection of their rights and those seeking redress for the harm they have suffered?

 

Statement: Reprisals at the national level against experts who report back to the Human Rights Council

41st Session of the UN Human Rights Council

Our organisations are gravely concerned by the proliferation of reprisals against Special Procedures mandate holders and members of Expert Mechanisms and Commissions of Inquiry (COI) by States, including members of the Council, as well as threats against the Special Procedures system as a whole.

Special Procedures are the eyes and ears of the Council and ensure that this body’s work remains relevant and informed by the reality of human rights on the ground. Reprisals aim to discredit, intimidate, deter and silence these experts, and to prevent civil society from engaging with them.

We are alarmed by a pattern of reprisals and non-cooperation by Council-member, the Philippines. The government has threatened the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial killings with physical violence on numerous occasions. It has made terrorism accusations against the Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples.

Burundi and Eritrea are also engaged in patterns of reprisals, with the Special Rapporteur on Eritrea and members of the COI’s on both Burundi and Eritrea having been attacked on multiple occasions, at the Council, the GA or in the media. The Maldives has accused the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief of spreading anti-Islamic activities, resulting in death threats against him online. The Special Rapporteur on Myanmar has faced reprisals and has also experienced violent threats on social media.

We call on States to cooperate in good faith and end all reprisals against Special Procedures and those who cooperate with them. The President and States must act immediately in meetings when such reprisals occur. This Council must safeguard its Special Procedures from all efforts to undermine them through reprisals or other dangerous initiatives.

Article 19
Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development
Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales
CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative
Concelho Indigenista Missionário CIMI
Conectas Direitos Humanos
DefendDefenders
Franciscans International
Human Rights Law Centre
International Commission of Jurists
International Federation for Human Rights Leagues (FIDH)
International Humanist and Ethical Union
International Service for Human Rights
World Movement Against Torture (OMCT)

 

Statement: Afghanistan's adoption of Universal Periodic Review on Human Rights

41st Session of the UN Human Rights Council

Afghanistan Human Rights Organisation (AHRO) and CIVICUS welcome the government of Afghanistan's engagement with the UPR process. However, we regret the lack of progress by the Government in implementing the civic space recommendations during the last UPR review, including to ensure effective investigations and accountability of abuse against journalists. Abuses against human rights defenders and journalists continues with impunity. Alarmingly, state institutions have also been implicated in some abuses against media.

During 2018, Afghanistan was the deadliest country for media, with 15 journalists and other media workers killed. In the first five months of 2019, at least five Afghan journalists and media workers were killed and a number of others have been critically wounded in deliberate attacks. We are deeply worried by the recent public threat of attacks issued by the Taliban against media. We call on the Government to stand by the rights of journalists and to protect them as parties negotiate an end to the war.

We note that the Government has taken steps this year to end impunity for the murder of journalists by bringing to trial two cases – that of BBC journalist Ahmad Shah and Kabul News journalist Abdul Manan Arghand, who were both killed in 2018 by unidentified armed men. However, both trials lacked transparency and death sentences were handed to the perpetrators, which are serious human rights concerns. 

Women, victims’ groups and other CSOs have all been sidelined throughout the peace process, representing a significant threat to civic space. We call on the Government to ensure women and independent CSOs have a seat at the negotiation table and meaningfully participate in decision-making. It is the responsibility of the Afghan Government to ensure that women’s rights, victims’ rights and fundamental freedoms of Afghans are protected and respected during all stages of the peace process and in any peace deal.

Mr President, AHRO and CIVICUS call on the Government of Afghanistan to take proactive measures to address these concerns and implement these recommendations to create and maintain, in law and in practice, an enabling environment for civil society, including women’s groups and journalists.

 

Statement: Macedonia's adoption of Universal Periodic Review on Human Rights

41st Session of the UN Human Rights Council

The Balkan Civil Society Development Network (BCSDN), The Macedonian Centre for International Cooperation (MCIC) and CIVICUS welcome the government of North Macedonia's engagement with the UPR process. We also welcome improvements in legislation and practice to promote civic space, particularly the Government’s decision to end the financial inspections of the 22 civil society organisations (CSOs) critical of the previous government and the public conclusion clearing them of any wrongdoing.

The Government has revised the legal framework to safeguard freedom of expression and opinion and improved the general climate, particularly for independent journalists. We welcome changes in law, relating to the urgent reform priorities, and efforts to enhance the independence of the public broadcasting service and regulatory body. However, despite this positive trajectory, we remain concerned over the frequency of threats being made towards independent journalists. 

In light of this concern, our recent joint UPR Submission documented that since its last review, North Macedonia has only partially implemented the eight recommendations relating to freedom of expression and opinion.

We encourage the Government to amend existing legislation which undermines freedom of association. Namely, the Penal code, where legal representatives of associations and foundations are defined as public officials and carry the same responsibilities. Similarly, the recently proposed “Law on Lobbying” could subvert recent improvements by stifling civil society participation in policy dialogue.

Finally, while improvements were made in the Law on Police, there is still a need to improve the Law on Public Assemblies. Worryingly, this legislation contains burdensome obligations for organisers and requires foreign persons to receive permission before organising protests. While authorities have facilitated numerous gatherings that were peaceful, we remain dismayed at the use of disproportionate force against protesters. In June 2018, police used tear gas and shock bombs, leading to the injury of 25 people. Media coverage of the protest was also hampered by the violence.

Mr President, BCSDN and MCIC and CIVICUS call on the Government of North Macedonia to take proactive measures to address these concerns and implement recommendations to create and maintain, in law and in practice, an enabling environment for civil society.

 

Statement: Chile's adoption of Universal Periodic Review on Human Rights

41st Session of the UN Human Rights Council

Pro Acceso and CIVICUS welcome the government of Chile's engagement with the UPR process. We also welcome the government's progress in relation to the legislative framework governing  freedom of association and progressive initiatives to strengthen the participation of civil society.
  
However, in our joint UPR Submission, we documented significant challenges with respect to the right to peaceful assembly both in law and in practice. In addition, the government has failed to create a safe environment for HRDs, particularly for indigenous people, who continue to face attacks and criminalisation.
 
We remain concerned by the lack of commitment of the government to amend legislation regulating peaceful protest, which contradicts the Chilean Constitution and international standards. The Supreme Decree 1,086, which came into force in 1983, regulates this right and establishes procedures that in practice functions as a system of prior authorisation. 

In practice, civil society has documented cases of excessive use of force by the police, including the use of teargas bombs, rubber bullets and hydrant trucks.  Between June 2016 and March 2019, the CIVICUS Monitor received several reports of police repression of protests, especially protests by students and members of the Mapuche community.

In addition, we are concerned by the misuse of the Anti-Terrorism Law (Law 18,314 on counter terrorism policy) against members of the Mapuche indigenous community advocating for land and environmental rights. The legislation has been used in a "total of 19 emblematic cases, involving 108 individuals, mostly related to situations of Mapuche protests.” 

Mr President,  Pro Acceso and CIVICUS call on the Government of Chile to take proactive measures to address these concerns and implement recommendations to create and maintain, in law and in practice, an enabling environment for civil society, including signing and ratifying the Regional Agreement on Access to Information, Public Participation and Justice in Environmental Matters in Latin America and the Caribbean known as the Escazu Agreement, whose negotiation process Chile lead since 2012, and which establishes specific obligations for the protection of environmental defenders.

 

Statement: Vietnam's adoption of Universal Periodic Review on Human Rights

41st Session of the UN Human Rights Council

Mr President, VOICE, CIVICUS and FORUM-ASIA welcome the government of Vietnam's engagement with the UPR process including its decision to accept 241 recommendations on a range of human rights issues.

We welcome the commitment of the government of Vietnam to extend cooperation with UN Special Procedures  and in the spirit of such cooperation we urge the authorities to extend an invitation to the Special Rapporteurs on the situation of human rights defenders, the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression and on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association.

We note that Vietnam accepted recommendations to guarantee  and lift  restrictions on freedom of opinion and expression. However, we regret that since the review activists have been arrested or convicted for online posts including Le Minh The, and Nguyen Ngoc Anh. We are also disappointed that the recommendations pertaining to the release of political prisoners including Tran Thi Nga and Hoang Duc Binh were not accepted by the government. According to human rights groups an estimated 264 political prisoners remain in jail. Many have been ill-treated in prison and detained thousands of kilometers from their families.

We note that Vietnam accepted recommendations to guarantee  and improve protection  of freedom of peaceful assembly. Despite these commitments, over a hundred protesters who participated in the nationwide demonstrations against bills on Special Economic Zones and Cybersecurity in June 2018 have been convicted and jailed, or are at risk of physical attacks, since the review. We remain concerned about the restrictive legal framework use to suppress the formation of independent CSOs. 

Mr President, VOICE and CIVICUS call on the Government of Vietnam to take proactive measures to address these concerns and implement recommendations to create and maintain, in law and in practice, an enabling environment for civil society.

 

Statement: Countries of concern at the UN Human Rights Council

41st Session of the UN Human Rights Council
Interactive Dialogue on Countries of Concern

CIVICUS is deeply concerned by the grave situation in Sudan, and we call once again on the Council to take immediate steps to address this crisis, at the very least by establishing a fact-finding mission to monitor, verify and report on the situation to prevent further bloodshed and ensure that the perpetrators of these atrocities are held to account.

In Saudi Arabia, human rights defenders face continued unwarranted detention. A wave of further arrests in April targeted those supporting the women’s rights movement and detained activists.  Saudi Arabia is not above Human Rights Council scrutiny and we reiterate calls on the Council to establish a monitoring mechanism over human rights violations in the country and call explicitly for the immediate and unconditional release of the detained Saudi women human rights defenders.

In Guatemala, human rights defenders are being criminalized and harassed. Cases filed against Claudia Samoyoa Pineda and Jose Martinez Cabrera is illustrative of the authorities’ growing intolerance of independent dissent, including of those working on land and environmental defense. This is just one example of targeted reprisals levelled against civil society organisations and human rights defenders that have mobilised against a series of attacks on Guatemala's democratic institutional framework.

Civic space in Afghanistan remains under serious threat. Violence against human rights defenders and journalists continues with impunity and state actors also have been implicated in violations against journalists. Women, civil society and victim's groups have been excluded from the peace processes, which threatens to undermine all hard-won gains. 

Lastly, we are deeply concerned at the situation in the Philippines. Despite progress on a bill to protect human rights defenders, the situation on the ground remains dire. Dozens of activists have been killed since 2016 under the Duterte administration and the work of CSOs, media and human rights defenders have been severely undermined by smear campaigns by the government.

We call on the Council’s continued attention to, and call for urgent action on, these issues of serious concern.

 

Statement: Severe restrictions to fundamental freedoms persist in Myanmar

41st Session of the UN Human Rights Council
Interactive Dialogue on the report of the UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar

We welcome the Special Rapporteur’s oral update on Myanmar and urge the Government to resume its cooperation and grant access to the Special Rapporteur, and to address the situation on the ground.

We are particularly concerned that severe restrictions to fundamental freedoms persist in Myanmar. Peaceful protesters continue to face arbitrary arrest and excessive use of force by the police. In the last few months, protesters have been charged under the Penal Code or the Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Law for their activism.

A Resolution adopted at the last Session of this Council called on Myanmar to immediately and unconditionally release journalists, human rights defenders and activists detained under various restrictive laws. While journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo may have been freed, restrictive laws including the Telecommunications Law, Unlawful Associations Act, Official Secrets Act and defamation provisions in the Penal Code continue to be used to prosecute activists and journalists in Myanmar. Irrawaddy editor U Ye Ni is facing defamation charges for an article on the conflict on the Rakhine state which the Myanmar military deemed “one-sided”.

Those who criticize the military, even satirically, are persecuted. Members of the Peacock Generation troupe face defamation charges after live-streaming on Facebook a satirical performance which criticized the military. In April, prominent filmmaker Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi was detained in connection with a series of social media posts in which he criticised the military-drafted 2008 Constitution.

We are deeply concerned by increasing restrictions to humanitarian access in Rakhine State, deliberately denying support to a population which is gravely in need of it, and willfully obstructing independent reports of the atrocities which are being committed there.

Myanmar’s backsliding on democratic norms compounds the gross human rights violations outlined in the Special Rapporteur’s report. We urge the government of Myanmar to cooperate fully with the mandate of the Special Rapporteur and all other Human Rights Council mechanisms and, in the absence of such cooperation, we ask the Special Rapporteur what action she would suggest that states and national and international civil society could take in order to hold Myanmar accountable to upholding democratic norms?
 

 

Statement: Grave human rights abuses continue in Eritrea

41st Session of the UN Human Rights Council
Interactive Dialogue on the Report of the UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Eritrea

CIVICUS, along with eight other Africa-based organisations, (see below) welcomes the report of the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of Human Rights in Eritrea and we ask the UN Human Rights Council as a matter of urgency to renew the mandate, so that the Special Rapporteur can continue its vital monitoring of and reporting on the human rights situation in Eritrea.

There remain significant and urgent human rights concerns in Eritrea, despite recent diplomatic and bi-lateral developments between Eritrea and Ethiopia and its ongoing dialogues with Djibouti. Civic space is closed, with freedom of expression and peaceful assembly wilfully subverted by the authorities. There is no independent media, and at least 16 journalists remain in detention without trial since the country’s free press was shuttered two decades ago. As the Special Rapporteur highlighted in her report, there exists a culture of impunity for the perpetrators of human rights violations and abuses, including arbitrary and incommunicado detention.

We regret that the Eritrean government refuses to cooperate with the Special Rapporteur on the situation of Human Rights in Eritrea, and other UN Human Rights Council mechanisms. Eritrea has never received any mandate holder. This lack of the bear minimum of engagement is unacceptable for a member of the Human Rights Council.

The Special Rapporteur presented a number of welcome benchmarks for human rights progress in her report, and we would like to ask her to elaborate how to operationalize such benchmarks for follow up.

Mr. Vice President, if the mandate of the Special Rapporteur is not renewed, the Council risks losing this opportunity to address in any way the grave serious human rights abuses occurring in one of its member states. The Council therefore must ensure the continuation of this mandate We call on the government of Eritrea to fully cooperate and allow comprehensive access to all UN Human Rights Council mechanisms.

  1. Africa Monitors
  2. CIVICUS
  3. Eritrean Diaspora in East Africa (EDEA)
  4. Eritrea Focus
  5. Eritrean Law Society (ELS)
  6. Eritrean Movement for Democracy and Human Rights (EMHDR)
  7. Network of Eritrean Women
  8. RSF Afrique
  9. PEN Eritrea

 

Statement: Countless cases of arbitrary arrests in Burundi

41st Session of the UN Human Rights Council
Interactive Dialogue with the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi

CIVICUS and independent Burundian civil society organisations thank the UN Commission of Inquiry on Burundi for its update and ongoing work on highlighting human rights abuses. However, we are seriously concerned that the grave subversion of human rights outlined in its 2018 report have continued and that the government of Burundi continues to refuse to allow the Commission’s staff to conduct their work.

Many civil society activists and independent journalists remain in exile, while those in Burundi continue to face intimidation, detention, or trials on trumped up charges. Human rights defender Germain Rukuki is serving a 32-year jail sentence on spurious charges of “participating in an insurrectionist movement and breaching state security”. Human rights defender Germain Rukuki is serving a 32-year jail sentence on spurious charges of “participating in an insurrectionist movement and breaching state security”. Human rights defender Nestor Nibitanga is also in detention in an unrelated case. Ahead of the general election next year, early warning signs of a worsening situation have already emerged, notably the persecution of all dissident voices and further restrictions on independent media, including reports that the government has already banned international media from covering the next year's elections. This is a worrying precursor of further human rights violations to come.

In the past six months, there have been countless cases of arbitrary arrest and detention. Freedoms of expression, association and peaceful assembly are routinely curtailed. As the Commission’s previous report observed, the perpetrators of these human rights violations continue to operate in “a climate of impunity perpetuated by the lack of an independent judiciary.” These issues are significantly under reported and deliberately ignored by the government of Burundi, and by shining a light on their occurrence the Commission plays a vital role in addressing the human rights situation in Burundi.

We call on the government of Burundi to cooperate fully with the mandate including granting full access to the country, to re-open the OHCHR office, and to promote respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms including by releasing all detained human rights defenders, and we ask the Commission of Inquiry is there are any indications that these welcome steps may take place ahead of the elections next year. 

1.    Action des chrétiens pour l’abolition de la torture (ACAT Burundi)
2.    Association des Journalistes Burundais en exil 
3.    Association pour la protection des droits humains et des personnes détenues (APRODH)
4.    CIVICUS 
5.    Coalition Burundaise pour la CPI (CB-CPI)
6.    Coalition de la Société Civile pour le Monitoring Electoral (COSOME) 
7.    Collectif des avocats pour la défense des victimes de crimes de droit international commis au Burundi (CAVIB)
8.    Forum pour la Conscience et le Développement (FOCODE)
9.    Forum pour le renforcement de la société civile (FORSC)
10.  Ligue ITEKA
11.  Mouvement des Femmes et des Filles pour la Paix et la Sécurité (MFFPS). 
12.  Réseau des citoyens probes (RCP)
13.  SOS-Torture / Burundi
14.  Union burundaise des journalistes (UBJ)

 

Statement: The same rights that people have offline must also be protected online

41st Session of the UN Human Rights Council
Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the rights to peaceful assembly and association 
Joint statement by ICNL, Article 19, CIVICUS, ECNL, and World Movement for Democracy

Activists, peaceful protesters, and civil society have harnessed the power of the Internet and digital technologies, to share information, and to build and mobilise communities at unprecedented scale and speed. 

Whilst this Council has repeatedly affirmed the maxim that “the same rights that people have offline must also be protected online,” online civic space is under intense, and increasing pressure, worldwide. 

We therefore share the Special Rapporteur’s concern that many States, including members of this Council, misuse emerging technologies to surveil civil society groups and peaceful protesters, harass human rights defenders online, deliberately obstruct access to online information, and abuse vague legislation restricting online expression to target dissenting voices. 

In Sudan, we condemn the recent Internet shutdowns by the TMC, in an attempt to conceal the brutality of the unlawful and wholly disproportionate crackdown by the military against protesters, including the use of lethal force and disturbing accounts of sexual violence. This Council must hold Sudan to account, including by establishing a fact-finding mission. 

In Russia, merely posting about a protest online can attract reprisals. Just this month, prominent opposition activist Leonid Volkov - who webcast a protest in September 2018 - was arbitrarily detained for his alleged role in “organising” a protest and “inciting disorder”. 

In Turkey, the presence of secure communication apps on individuals’ devices has been used as the basis of bogus terrorism charges against journalists, and civil society. 

In Liberia this month, targeted shutdowns saw access to social media, email services and news agencies cut off in response to protests against state corruption.

These and all other efforts to frustrate the exercise of assembly and association rights online, and choke off civic space, demand the urgent attention of this Council. Our organisations encourage the Special Rapporteur to continue his work on this important area.

Mr President, 

We agree that as “gatekeepers” to online spaces, the private sector plays a vital role in safeguarding civic space online. The Ruggie Principles on business and human rights provide a clear framework to ensure human rights standards guide their policies and practices.

 

Saudi Arabia: States should adopt a resolution at UNHRC to address human rights violations

ARABIC

Your Excellency,

We remain highly concerned about the human rights situation in Saudi Arabia, in particular the recent mass executions of 37 men on 23 April, the continued arbitrary detention of human rights defenders including women human rights defenders and the ongoing impunity for serious human rights violations, including torture.

 

Civic space and fundamental freedoms in Zimbabwe

Joint Statement at the 41st Session of the Human Rights Council

CIVICUS and the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum (the Forum) welcome the High Commissioner’s update. With a continued focus on prevention, we request the High Commissioner and the Council to pay attention to the deteriorating situation in Zimbabwe. The government has continued with its crackdown on civil society in violation of fundamental rights and freedoms.

The state’s attacks on civil society have been systematic. Since the January 2019 shutdown atrocities where more than 17 people were shot dead and several injured, civil society members across the country have reported an increase in surveillance, abductions, arbitrary arrests and detention and interruption of their meetings by suspected state agents. Their legitimate and vital work of providing oversight, supporting and protecting vulnerable citizens, is now criminalised.

The nation is currently gripped with a crippling economic situation which is creating a restless population. The response of the government by closing civic space and trampling on fundamental freedoms is deplorable.

In the same period, Zimbabwe’s state-controlled media has led an onslaught against civil society leaders whom they accuse of planning to topple the government. These baseless allegations have been followed by a spate of arrests of civil society activists.  A total of eleven civil society leaders are currently facing charges designed to criminalise human rights work.

CIVICUS and the Forum request the members of the Council to pay special attention to the situation in Zimbabwe, to read the warning signs of a deteriorating situation and act accordingly.


Civic space in Zimbabwe is rated as Repressed by the CIVICUS Monitor

 

Open letter: Ensure continued monitoring of the human rights situation in Eritrea

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

Excellency,

We, the undersigned human rights organizations, are writing to urge you to support the adoption of a resolution at the upcoming 41st session of the UN Human Rights Council (“Council”) to maintain a monitoring and reporting mandate on the human rights situation in Eritrea.

The human rights situation in Eritrea remains dire, notwithstanding recent developments, including the Eritrea-Ethiopia Summit, the reopening of the border between the two countries, and the signing of a tripartite agreement between Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Somalia.

A free and independent press continues to be absent from the country and 16 journalists remain in detention without trial, many since 2001. Eritrean authorities are yet to produce evidence that those arbitrarily jailed are alive. Throughout the country, authorities have restricted and suppressed civic space. At the Council’s 40th session in March 2019, the UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights highlighted impunity for past and ongoing human rights violations, including arbitrary arrests and incommunicado detention, violations of the right to a fair trial, lack of information on the fate and whereabouts of disappeared persons, lack of access to justice, lack of enforcement of the 1997 Constitution, the imposition of severe restrictions to the enjoyment of human rights, including the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association, and religion or belief, and the continued use of indefinite national service involving torture, sexual violence and forced labour. She stressed: “[A]s far as [the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, OHCHR] is aware, the actual human rights situation for the people of Eritrea has not improved in the past year.” Ongoing severe violations, including their gendered impact and generalised impunity, call for a high level of monitoring and public reporting.

This is the wrong time for the Council to relax scrutiny of the situation in Eritrea. In its resolution 38/15, adopted by consensus in July 2018, the Council invited the Special Rapporteur to “assess and report on the situation of human rights and the engagement and cooperation of the Government of Eritrea with the Human Rights Council and its mechanisms, as well as with the Office of the High Commissioner, and, where feasible, to develop benchmarks for progress in improving the situation of human rights and a time-bound plan of action for their implementation.”

The Special Rapporteur will present her report on reform benchmarks at the upcoming Council session. These provisions, which offer a constructive way forward, outline an expectation of continued attention to, and engagement with, the country. The Council should now ensure adequate follow-up. Failure to do so would doubtless be interpreted by Eritrea as an endorsement of the status quo, further entrenching systemic rights violations. Discontinuation of the mandate should only occur when and if these benchmarks are met and there is demonstrable and concrete progress in the promotion, protection and realisation of human rights.

As a newly-elected member of the Council, Eritrea has an obligation to “uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights” and to “fully cooperate with the Council” (UN General Assembly resolution 60/251). Eritrea has not adhered to its membership obligations and has neither invited the Special Rapporteur nor accepted her request to visit the country. Eritrea is one of only 22 countries that have never received a country visit from any Special Procedure, despite requests from numerous mandate-holders.

Obstructionist behavior should not be rewarded. Eritrea’s membership in the Council should be fully leveraged for improvements in the country’s human rights situation and cooperation with the Council and its mechanisms. The Council should urge Eritrea to change course and engage with the UN human rights system.

At its 41st session, the Council should make clear that membership does not prevent, but rather triggers an enhanced responsibility to accept, scrutiny. It should adopt a resolution maintaining a Special Procedure mandate and a high level of monitoring and public reporting, to ensure that the grave and systemic human rights violations identified by OHCHR and the Council’s own mechanisms are addressed and accountability for these violations is achieved.

We thank you for your attention to these pressing issues and stand ready to provide your delegation with further information.

Sincerely,

Signatories: 

AfricanDefenders (the Pan-African Human Rights Defenders Network)

Amnesty International

ARTICLE 19

Association for Human Rights in Ethiopia (AHRE)

Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies

Center for Reproductive Rights

CIVICUS

Civil Rights Defenders

Committee to Protect Journalists

CSW (Christian Solidarity Worldwide)

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

Eritrea Focus

Eritrean Diaspora in East Africa (EDEA)

Eritrean Law Society (ELS)

Eritrean Movement for Democracy and Human Rights (EMDHR)

Front Line Defenders

Geneva for Human Rights / Genève pour les Droits de l’Homme

Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect

Human Rights Concern - Eritrea (HRCE)

Human Rights Defenders Network - Sierra Leone

Human Rights Institute of South Africa (HURISA)

Human Rights Watch

International Commission of Jurists

Information Forum for Eritrea (IFE)

International Refugee Rights Initiative

International Service for Human Rights

Network of Eritrean Women (NEW)

Odhikar, Bangladesh

One Day Seyoum

Release Eritrea

Reporters Without Borders

World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)

 

Open NGO letter about the funding gap affecting UNHR mechanisms & the OHCHR

To:
All Permanent Missions to the United Nations in Geneva and New York

Cc:
UN Secretary General
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
Chairpersons of the Human Rights Treaty Bodies
Coordination Committee of UN Special Procedures

It is with a sense of urgency that we convey our deep concern regarding the critical funding situation affecting the UN’s human rights mechanisms and OHCHR. We understand that the combination of delays in payments of UN member states’ assessed contributions to the regular budget and the 25% cut to travel of UN representatives, including treaty body experts and Special Procedure mandate holders, and other budget cuts (2018-2019) may adversely impact on the capacity of various human rights mechanisms to carry out their mandates effectively.

In April, the Chairpersons of the 10 human rights treaty bodies were informed that due to the financial situation, the autumn 2019 sessions of six treaty bodies may need to be cancelled.[1] Not only is the cancellation of treaty body sessions deeply worrying as it may involve cancellation of reviews already scheduled and delay decisions on individual communications pending before the Committees but it also sends a troubling message ahead of the 2020 treaty body strengthening discussions. This unprecedented development would come as we celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the 40th anniversary of the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.

We understand that other independent expert mechanisms such as the Special Procedures, and other mechanisms created by the Human Rights Council such as Fact-Finding Missions and Commissions of Inquiry, may also be hampered in carrying out their mandates to monitor and investigate human rights violations.

As of 10 May, only 44 UN member states had paid all their assessments due to the UN. We would like to  commend Armenia, Australia, Austria, Bahrain, Bhutan, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, China, Cuba, Cyprus, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Gabon, Georgia, Germany, Guyana, Hungary, Iceland, India, Ireland, Italy, Jamaica, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Malawi, Malaysia, Monaco, Nauru, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Norway, Poland, Rwanda, Samoa, Singapore, Slovakia, Solomon Islands, Sweden, Switzerland and Tuvalu for having done so.[2] 98 member states had paid their regular budget assessments by 20 May 2019.

The failure to pay assessed contributions is only the latest in a worrying trend of shortfalls and cuts affecting the UN budget allocated to its human rights mechanisms. In the 2018-2019 budget the General Assembly made adjustments to reduce the resources for experts by 15 per cent, reduce the travel of representatives by 25 per cent, and reduce resources for travel of staff by 10 per cent[3], all without taking into account the disproportionate effect these decisions would have on the UN’s human rights mechanism. Only 3.7 per cent of the total UN regular budget is currently allocated to OHCHR[4]. We are extremely concerned by reports that the funding gap may affect the functioning of OHCHR and the human rights mechanisms in 2020 and beyond.

Against the worrying background of a global pushback against the promotion and protection of human rights, we urge all UN member states to:

  • Pay their assessed contributions without further delay, unless they have already done so, in order to assure the functioning of the UN’s human rights mechanisms.
  • Prioritise securing adequate funding for the UN’s human rights pillar, with the promotion and protection of human rights being also indispensable to development, peace and security.
  • Initiate, in due time ahead of the 2020-2021 budget negotiations, discussions on how to reverse the trend of reduced regular budget for OHCHR and assuring that the UN’s human rights mechanisms are not disproportionately affected by over-all cuts to the UN budget, including by restoring the budget allocation for travel of representatives for these mechanisms.

[1] https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=24621&LangID=E

[2] http://undocs.org/en/A/73/443/Add.1, para. 26 and https://www.un.org/en/ga/contributions/honourroll.shtml accessed on 27 May 2019.

[3] https://www.un.org/press/en/2017/gaab4270.doc.htm

[4] https://www.ohchr.org/EN/AboutUs/Pages/FundingBudget.aspx

SIGNATORIES 

 

Tanzania: 38 NGOs call on states to express concern over human rights

Today, CIVICUS and 37 Tanzanian, African and international human rights organisations publish a letter calling on states to use the next session of the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) to raise concern over Tanzania’s situation in order to prevent a further deterioration.

Since a group of 30 NGOs first wrote a letter on Tanzania, in August 2018, the space for human rights defenders (HRDs), civil society, journalists, bloggers, the media, LGBTI persons, and opposition and dissenting voices has continued to shrink. The situation in Tanzania, which ranks 118th in Reporters Without Borders’ World Press Freedom Index this year, calls for a response at the United Nations. This can be in the form of individual (national) or joint statements by state delegations.

In the letter, the group of NGOs say: “While we do not believe that at this point, the situation calls for a [HRC] resolution, warning signs of a mounting human rights crisis exist.” We echo the statements delivered in recent months by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and call for preventative engagement with the Tanzanian government.


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

Open letter to States on preventative engagement with, and action on, Tanzania at the Human Rights Council’s 41st session
 
Excellency,
 
Ahead of the 41st regular session of the UN Human Rights Council (“the Council”), which will take place from 24 June-12 July 2019, we write to call on your delegation to deliver statements, both jointly and individually, and to engage in bilateral démarches to address the ongoing dete­rio­ration of the human rights situation in the United Republic of Tanzania. 

Since a group of 30 civil society organisations (CSOs) first addressed a letter on Tanzania to Council Members and Observers, in August 2018 references [1], the space for human rights defenders (HRDs), civil society, journalists, bloggers, the media, LGBTI persons, and opposition and dissenting voices has continued to shrink. While we do not believe that at this point, the situation calls for a resolution, warning signs of a mounting human rights crisis exist. 

In recent months, draconian legislation enacted since 2015 and legal and extra-judicial methods used to harass HRDs, threaten independent journalism, and restrict freedom of opinion and expression, peaceful assembly and association have been supplemented with measures that result in further closing the civic and democratic space in the country. [2]

Recent legislative, policy and practical developments have led to increased international and regional attention on Tanzania. The surge in the number, and strengthening of the wording, of statements delivered by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights indicate that global concern is growing over the situation in the country, which for decades demonstrated a commitment to improving the human rights of all people, both nationally and within East Africa. 

On 2 November 2018, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet raised the alarm on the fact that “[l]esbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people [have] been subjected to growing violence, harassment and discrimination over the past two years.” She expressed concern over these steps, warning that they “could turn into a witch-hunt and could be interpreted as a licence to carry out violence, intimidation, bullying, harassment and discrimination against those perceived to be LGBT.”[3]

On 4 February 2019, during an informal conversation Ms. Bachelet held with the Council President and Members, Ms. Bachelet raised concern about amendments to the Political Parties Act, stating: “Legislation passed by Tanzania’s Parliament last month sets up significant obstacles to the registration of political parties, and restricts them from carrying out basic activities like holding rallies and taking public stands on issues. This will clearly hamper prospects for free and fair elections in 2020.”[4] 

Ms. Bachelet asked Council Members to “engage Tanzania bilaterally on its rights situation” and urged the country to “accept visits of the Special Rapporteurs to advise on measures to protect public freedoms and other human rights concerns,” citing legislative curbs on freedom of opinion and expression, attacks on several prominent civil society members and opposition figures, restrictions on women’s access to health, and an overall “climate [that] denies Tanzanians their rights.” 

Since then, despite assurances provided by then Tanzanian Minister for Constitutional and Legal Affairs (now Foreign Minister), H.E. Mr. Palamagamba Kabudi, during the Council’s High-Level Segment [5], the situation has continued to deteriorate. Further signs of serious backsliding include the NGOs Coordination Board’s decision, on 17 April 2019, to de-register six CSOs. As reported by Watetezi TV, the revocation is based on the claims that the organisations had purportedly violated national values, principles and regulations of NGOs and operated against their own constitutions. They include the Community Health Education Services and Advocacy (CHESA), Kazi Busara na Hekima (KBH Sisters), AHA Development Organization Tanzania, Pathfinder Green City, Hope and Others, and HAMASA Poverty Reduction (HAPORE). 

On 25 April 2019, Dr. Wairagala Wakabi, the Executive Director of the Uganda-based Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA), was detained, upon arrival, at Dar es Salaam Julius Nyerere International Airport. After hours of interrogation, Dr. Wakabi was deported back to Uganda as a “prohibited immigrant”. Law­yers reported that the au­tho­rities denied him entry into Tanzania on vague grounds of “national interest.”[6] CIPESA’s work in Tanzania and across Africa, advocates for human rights online.
 
Earlier, on 27 February 2019, the Information Services Department, which oversees newspaper licenses, tem­porarily suspended the publication license of The Citizen newspaper, on accusations that it had published reports that were “false,” “misleading,” and “seditious.” The suspension order cited, inter alia, a 22 July 2018 article on a sta­tement by US Senator Bob Menendez, which pointed to the erosion of democracy in Tanzania. Tanzanian authorities alleged the article contained “falsehoods” and had “se­di­tious intent” as defined in Article 52 of Tanzania's Media Services Act. [7]

Meanwhile, the fate or whereabouts of journalist Azory Gwanda, who disappeared in November 2017, remain unknown, which further highlights the need for the establishment of protection mechanisms for journalists and HRDs in Tanzania. 

The only recent, noticeable positive development is the 28 March 2019 judgment by the East African Court, which ruled that Sections 7(3)(a), (b), (f), (g), (h), (i) and (j); 19, 20 and 21; 35, 36, 37, 38, 39 and 40; and 58 and 59 of the abovementioned Media Services Act violate the Treaty for the Establishment of the East African Community. The Court directed the Tanzanian Government to take such measures as necessary to bring the Media Services Act into compliance with the Treaty [8]. This judgment offers a ray of hope in regional and international mechanisms as avenues for  ensuring respect for human rights in Tanzania. 

Building on these steps, we call on your delegation to make use, at the Council’s 41st session, of the following agenda items to raise concern over Tanzania, both jointly and in your national capacity: 

Specifically, your delegation could encourage the Tanzanian Government to set a date for special procedure visits, starting with the visit of the Special Rapporteur on peaceful assembly and association, whose visit request has been agreed in principle in 2018 and in line with the statements delivered by the Tanzanian delegation at the Council’s 39th session [11]. 

Additionally, bilateral engagement in multilateral fora such as the Council and at the embassy level, in Tanzania, should be used to raise relevant issues with the Government. 

The options outlined in the present letter fit in a form of preventative engagement the Council has been seeking to promote as it works towards operationalizing its “prevention mandate.” The 41st session should be leveraged to help prevent a further deterioration of the human rights situation in Tanzania. 

We thank you for your attention to these pressing issues and stand ready to provide your delegation with further information.

Sincerely,

African Defenders (the Pan-African Human Rights Defenders Network)
African Freedom of Expression Exchange (AFEX)
Amnesty International
ARTICLE 19
Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)
Association for Human Rights in Ethiopia (AHRE) – Ethiopia
Association for Progressive Communications (APC)
Center for Civil Liberties – Ukraine
Central Africa Human Rights Defenders Network (Réseau des Défenseurs des Droits Humains en Afrique Centrale – REDHAC) 
The Centre for Peace and Advocacy (CPA) – South Sudan
CIVICUS
Civil Rights Defenders
Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA)
Committee to Protect Journalists
Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative
DefendDefenders (the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project)
Geneva for Human Rights / Genève pour les Droits de l'Homme
Human Rights Defenders Network – Sierra Leone
Human Rights Watch
International Commission of Jurists  
International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) 
International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA) 
International Service for Human Rights
The International Youth for Africa (IYA) – South Sudan
JASS (Just Associates)
Legal and Human Rights Centre (LHRC)
Ligue burundaise des droits de l’homme ITEKA – Burundi
MARUAH – Singapore
The Network of South Sudan Civil Society Organizations in Uganda (NoSSCOU)
The Nile Centre for Human Rights (NCHR – South Sudan)
Odhikar – Bangladesh
The ONE Campaign
Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network (SAHRDN) 
Reporters Without Borders
Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights
Tanzania Human Rights Defenders Coalition (THRDC)
West Africa Human Rights Defenders Network (ROADDH/WAHRDN) 
World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) 


[1] DefendDefenders et al., “Tanzania: Open letter to States for joint action to address crackdown on civic space and prevent a further deterioration of the situation,” 16 August 2018, https://www.defenddefenders.org/press_release/hrc39-address-crackdown-on-civic-space-in-tanzania/ (accessed 25 April 2019). 

[2] Ibid., and see below for recent developments. Relevant laws include the Electronic and Postal Communications Act (2010) and Online Content Regulations (2018), the Statistics Act (2015), the Cybercrimes Act (2015), the Media Services Act (2016), and the Access to Information Act (2016). See full analysis in DefendDefenders, “Spreading Fear, Asserting Control: Tanzania’s assault on civic space,” 26 June 2018, https://www.defenddefenders.org/publication/spreading-fear-asserting-control-tanzanias-assault-on-civic-space/, accessed 25 April 2018.

[3] Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), “Bachelet: Tanzania has duty to protect – not further endanger – LGBT people,” 2 November 2018, https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=23817&LangID=E (accessed 25 April 2019). 

[4] See also Reuters, “Tanzania MPs grant government sweeping powers over political parties,” 30 January 2019, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-tanzania-politics/tanzania-mps-grant-government-sweeping-powers-over-political-parties-idUSKCN1PO0IA (accessed 25 April 2019). 

[5] Statement available on the HRC webcast, http://webtv.un.org/search/tanzania-high-level-segment-5th-meeting-40th-regular-session-human-rights-council/6007149576001/?term=kabudi&sort=date (accessed 25 April 2019). 

[8] CIPESA, “CIPESA Executive Director Detained At Tanzania Airport – UPDATE,” 25 April 2019, https://cipesa.org/2019/04/cipesa-executive-director-detained-at-tanzania-airport/ (accessed on 1st May 2019).

[7] Committee to Protect Journalists, “Tanzania imposes 7-day publication ban on The Citizen,” 1st March 2019, https://cpj.org/2019/03/tanzania-citizen-7-day-publication-ban.php (accessed on 1st May 2019). 

[9] East African Court of Justice, First Instance Division, Reference No.2 of 2017, Media Council of Tanzania, Legal and Human Rights Centre Tanzania Human Rights, and Defenders Coalition vs. The Attorney General of the United Republic of Tanzania, 28 March 2019, available at: http://eacj.eac.int/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/Referene-No.2-of-2017.pdf (accessed 24 April 2019). 

[10] Although we do not believe that, at this point, Tanzania deserves to be considered under the same item as countries with some of the gravest human rights records, a diplomatically-worded statement under item 4, which would refer to the need for Tanzania to engage in dialogue and cooperation and to take corrective action before the situation calls for a more robust multilateral response, could make a useful contribution to sending the Government the right message. 

[11] Tanzania should be encouraged to accept advisory services to review and amend its legislation in order to bring it in line with its constitutional and international obligations, as well as to review and amend policies and practices, in particular those of law enforcement officials and regulatory authorities working with civil society and the media. 

[12] In a statement delivered under item 3 (GD), on 14 September 2018, Tanzania stated: “The United Republic of Tanzania remains fully committed to the promotion and protection of human rights in the country and globally. We call upon the International Community to continue supporting us in this endeavour.” In a right of reply the Tanzanian delegation exercised on 11 September 2018, under item 2, Tanzania addressed a series of concerns that had been expressed over its domestic situation and pledged to “continue working diligently to improve its human rights situation” (full statements available on the HRC extranet). 

 

Country recommendations on civic space for UN´s Universal Periodic Review

 

CIVICUS makes seven joint UN Universal Periodic Review submissions on civil society space in Angola, Egypt, El Salvador, Iran, Iraq, Fiji and Madagascar

CIVICUS and its partners have made joint UN Universal Periodic Review (UPR) submissions on 7 countries in advance of the 34rd UPR session (October-November 2019). The submissions examine the state of civil society in each country, including the promotion and protection of the rights to freedom of association, peaceful assembly and expression and the environment for human rights defenders. We further provide an assessment of the States’ domestic implementation of civic space recommendations received during the 2nd UPR cycle over 4 years ago and provide a number of targeted follow-up recommendations.

Angola - CIVICUS is deeply concerned by the use of several pieces of restrictive legislation, including provisions on criminal defamation in the Penal Code and several restrictions under Law 23/10 of 3 December 2010 on Crimes against the Security of the State against journalists and HRDs. CIVICUS is further alarmed by the restrictions on freedom of peaceful assembly, notably the frequent banning of protests, although no prior authorisation is legally required, and the arbitrary arrests of protesters. An evaluation of a range of legal sources and human rights documentation addressed in subsequent sections of this submission demonstrates that the Government of Angola has not fully implemented the 19 recommendations relating to civil society space.

Egypt - CIVICUS and the Arab NGO Network for Development (ANND) address increasing restrictions of freedom of assembly, association and expression in Egypt since its last review. The state has continued to undermine local civil society organisations through the ratification of the laws on Associations and other Foundations working in the Field of Civil; on Anti-Cyber and Information Technology Crimes; and the law ‘For organizing the right to peaceful public meetings, processions and protests. The submission also shows how this legislation has resulted in the detainment of scores of human rights defenders, including women, who have faced excessive amounts of surveillance, intimidation and slandering for their human rights work. Furthermore, in this period LGBTI activists have been assaulted, tens of NGOs closed in Case 173, and journalists have had their equipment confiscated. The UPR submission shows that Egypt has failed to implement any of the recommendations made in the last review, instead creating a more hostile environment for civic space actors.

El Salvador (ES) - CIVICUS and Fundación de Estudios para la aplicación del Derechos (FESPAD) examine the steps taken by the government of El Salvador to address restrictions on civic space. We highlight government willingness to engage civil society in a consultation process to develop a new Law for Social Non-Profit Organisations and call El Salvador to ensure that the law respects international standards on the right to freedom of association. We raise concerns about the ongoing violence and stigmatisation of LGBTQI rights defenders, women's rights defenders and sexual and reproductive rights defenders, and the lack of protection for and killings of journalists.

Iran - CIVICUS and Volunteer Activists assess the level of implementation of the UPR recommendations received by Iran during the 2nd UPR Cycle. Our assessment reveals that human rights violations continue in Iran as the authorities subject human rights defenders to judicial persecution, arbitrary arrests, harassment and intimidation. Freedom of association is severely restricted as civil society organisations that work on human rights issues and provide legal support to victims of human rights violations work in an extremely restricted environment. Peaceful assemblies are often violently repressed or banned and protesters have been arrested and detained. Journalists working for independent media platforms are targeted by the authorities while restrictive laws and policies are used to curtail freedom of expression and online freedoms.

Fiji - CIVICUS, the Pacific Islands Association of Non-Government Organisations (PIANGO), Fiji Women’s Rights Movement (FWRM) and the Citizens’ Constitutional Forum (CCF) highlights how an array of restrictive laws in Fiji are being used to muzzle the press, silence critics and create a chilling effect in the country for activists and human rights defenders. The submission also examines barriers to hold peaceful protests, imposed by the authorities against civil society and trade unions as well challenges related to freedom of association.

Iraq - CIVICUS, the Arab NGO Network for Development (ANND), the Iraqi Al Amal Association and the Al-Namaa Center for Human Rights highlight the continuous violations with impunity committed by state and government-affiliated not-state actors in Iraq against journalists, activists and human rights defenders including concerted targeted attacks, arbitrary and incommunicado detention, torture and intimidation. Several high-profile targeted killings of women human rights defenders (WHRDs) restricted the already culturally-constrained space for WHRDs. The civil society environment further deteriorated as the authorities proposed draft laws threatening freedom of expression, suspended critical media outlets and brought lawsuits against journalists and activists to curb dissent. The authorities also imposed undue limitations to freedom of assembly by using disproportionate and excessive lethal force to suppress mostly peaceful protests, resulting in dozens of protesters killed and hundreds injured, including children.

Madagascar - CIVICUS examines how human rights defenders, particularly those working on environmental and land rights, are subjected to judicial persecution, arbitrary arrests and detention. Most of these human rights defenders are targeted when they engage in advocacy and raise concerns over the environmental effects of the activities of mining companies in their communities. Restrictive legislation including a Communications Law and Cyber Crimes Law are used to restrict freedom of expression, target journalists and newspapers. The Malagasy authorities continue to restrict freedom of assembly particularly during politically sensitive periods like elections or when activists working with communities engage in peaceful protests.

See other country reports submitted by CIVICUS and partners to the UN's Universal Periodic Review on Human Rights

 

Conclusions from the 40th Session of the Human Rights Council

 

Joint NGO Statement - End of 40th Session of the UN Human Rights Council

We welcome the positive step the Council has taken in the direction to effectively protect environmental human rights defenders (EHRDs) from the grave reality they face every day. By adopting the resolution by consensus, the Council has collectively and explicitly recognized the vital role of EHRDS, including in attaining the SDGs sustainable development goals and ensuring that no-one is left behind, and called for their protection. We also welcome the call on States to provide a safe and empowering context for initiatives organised by young people and children to defend human rights relating to the environment. We, however, regret that the resolution does not squarely address the obligations of international financial institutions and investors.

We welcome South Africa’s leadership to put on the Council’s agenda emerging human rights issues, in bringing attention to the multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination that women and girls face in the field of sports, especially on the basis of race and gender.

The Council has ensured its continued attention to grave rights violations across the globe.

While we welcome the extension of Council attention on Sri Lanka for another two years, a concrete, transparent, and time-bound action plan is urgently needed to implement its commitments under resolution 30/1 in collaboration with OHCHR. Given the lack of progress and political will to implement these commitments, in the absence of immediate progress, the Council should consider additional measures or mechanisms for ensuring victims' rights to truth, justice and reparations. Individual States need not wait to exercise universal jurisdiction.

We welcome the resolution on Myanmar and its strong focus on ending impunity and ensuring accountability, and we call for the swift operationalisation of the Independent Investigative Mechanism (IIM). We welcome steps taken to review the UN's involvement in Myanmar. We urge the UN Secretary-General to ensure that it is independent and transparent, and present the findings and recommendations at the Council’s 43rd session.

We welcome the renewal of the mandate of the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan, a vital mechanism for human rights reporting and evidence gathering. It sends the right message to the government and all parties to the conflict: There can be no lasting peace without justice.

The Council continued this session to initiate action on country situations based on objective criteria through resolutions and joint statements.

By adopting a resolution on Nicaragua, the Council sent a signal to victims of the current crisis that the international community will not allow impunity for the serious ongoing violations to prevail. We look forward to robust reporting from the OHCHR and we urge the Nicaraguan government to fully engage with the Office to ensure the victims’ rights to truth, justice and reparation.

The Council sent a strong message of support to human rights defenders in Saudi Arabia through the joint statement by 36 States, led by Iceland, calling for the release of detained women human rights defenders and called on the Saudi government to fully cooperate with the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions in her investigation into the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. We urge the Saudi authorities to respond fully to these calls, and States to follow up with a resolution at the June session to maintain attention to the situation until meaningful progress, including the release of defenders, is made.

LGBT people in Chechnya are being abducted, locked up in secret detention sites, tortured and sometimes killed purely because of their sexual orientation.  We welcome the joint statement on Chechnya delivered by more than 30 States and join the call on the Russian authorities for the persecution to stop: for the immediate and unconditional release of all detained for their actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity, and for swift, thorough, and impartial investigations.  

We welcome the Cameroon joint statement which advances both Council membership standards and its prevention mandate, and urge the Council to keep the matter under scrutiny.

While we have welcomed the Council’s attention to several situations of gross rights violations, we remain concerned about the lack of consistent and principled leadership by States, in particular by Council members.

We are disappointed that even though the demands of several EU and WEOG States to move the resolution on accountability for crimes committed in the Occupied Palestinian Territories from item 7 to item 2 was met, they still failed to support the resolution. This suggests that no matter the item number, some WEOG members continue in failing to protect the human rights of Palestinians, effectively shielding Israel from accountability.

We regret that States have yet again failed to initiate Council action on the Philippines amidst continued unlawful killings in the government's so-called war on drugs, and increased targeting of independent media, civil society organisations, and human rights defenders. We reiterate our call on the Council to take action to mandate an independent investigation to establish the facts of human rights violations including extrajudicial executions and attacks against media and civil society, address impunity, and take steps towards justice and reparations for the victims and their families, and hope action will be taken in this regard at the next Council session.

We are deeply disappointed that the resolution adopted on Libya again lacks any meaningful accountability mechanism or mandate, despite the impunity for the widespread and systematic violations of international humanitarian and human rights law that prevail there.

We deplore that despite credible reports of the detention of up to 1 million Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims in western China, the Council has yet again given a pass to China, permitting impunity for widespread and severe human rights violations. The efforts China has made to keep States silent, exemplified by intimidation and threats on the one hand and whitewashing the situation on the other, demonstrate the degree to which Council action could have had meaningful results if States had instead called clearly and collectively for an independent, unrestricted fact-finding mission.

On the resolution on the rights of the child, we regret the Council’s inability to emphasize the empowerment, autonomy and capacity of children with disabilities, and including to ensure that their sexual and reproductive health and rights must be respected, protected and fulfilled.

We applaud Mexico and other States’ resolve to safeguard the independence of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism and to resist any attempts to dilute, distract or distort its essential focus, ensuring that the Rapporteur can continue to have positive impacts both in preventing and responding to human rights violations committed in the name of countering terrorism and in relation to the human rights of victims of terrorism. We urge States to remain vigilant to resist future attempts to undermine the Special Procedures system- the eyes and ears of the Council.  

We welcome the Council’s renewal of the mandates of the Special Rapporteur on Iran and the Commission of Inquiry on Syria, so that both can continue to perform their vital work fulfilling their respective mandates and addressing the dire human rights situations in both countries.  We urge the Iranian and Syrian authorities to change their posture of noncooperation with the respective mandate .

Several of our organisations have urged the UN High Commissioner to publish the database on businesses in Israeli settlements and were alarmed at its further delay.  We urge the High Commissioner to release the database with all due haste.

We welcome the renewal of the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief mandate, and the maintenance of consensus on the Council resolution 16/18 framework for addressing religious intolerance . Rising intolerance and hate is a global concern, and States must move beyond rhetoric to action in implementing these standards.

The High Commissioner’s update on Venezuela during this session reflected the dire human rights situation in Venezuela. We urge all States to consider what more the Council can do to address the worsening human rights crisis in the country and to support all victims.

We note the highly disturbing report by the Special Rapporteur on adequate housing concerning grave reprisals by the Egyptian government against those who cooperated with her during her recent visit to the country and urge this Council to take action to address these attacks.  

We welcome the passage of the resolution on Georgia and the continued attention devoted to the importance of full and unimpeded access for the Office of the High Commissioner and international and regional human rights mechanisms.

Signatories:

  1. Amnesty International
  2. ARTICLE 19
  3. Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)
  4. DefendDefenders (East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project)
  5. Center for Reproductive Rights
  6. CIVICUS
  7. Human Rights House Foundation
  8. Human Rights Watch
  9. International Commission of Jurists
  10. International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
  11. International Service for Human Rights

 

Joint letter: Renew the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on human rights in Iran

TO: Member states of the United Nations Human Rights Council
15 March, 2019

Your Excellency,

We, the undersigned Iranian and international human rights organisations, urge your government to support resolution A/HRC/40/L.15 renewing the mandate of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran, to be tabled during the 40th session of the Human Rights Council. 

The renewal of this mandate is warranted by the persistence of serious, chronic and systematic violations of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights in the country, which have only become more dire over the past year. The capacity and expertise of the mandate are necessary to address the on-going repression in Iran, including through conducting urgent documentation and urgent actions and through sustained and continuous engagement with the Iranian authorities in order to advance the promotion and protection of human rights in the country.

Discontent with corruption and mismanagement of resources and demands for civil and political as well as economic, social and cultural rights have led to protests across the country over the last year. These protests and strikes have often been met by arbitrary arrests and detentions, as well as violations of the rights to freedom of association, expression and peaceful assembly. In 2018, at least 5 individuals, including protestors, have died in state custody and authorities have failed to conduct any transparent investigation into the circumstances of their death. State repression has been especially severe against already marginalized communities and ethnic minorities, for whom these issues are particularly acute. The security forces have violently dispersed peaceful demonstrations, beating unarmed protesters and using live ammunition, tear gas and water cannons against them.

The authorities have intensified their efforts to choke off the space for civil society work. Dissenting voices, including journalists, online media workers and human rights defenders, including human rights lawyers, labour rights activists and women’s rights defenders, have been subjected to arbitrary arrests and detention, simply for speaking out. In 2018, at least 63 environmental activists were arrested. They include eight conservationists who could face the death penalty or long prison terms following a grossly unfair trial for their wildlife conservation work. Space for online expression continues to be closed off as part of efforts to inhibit the free flow of information in the country, as exemplified by the blocking of the popular instant messaging application Telegram.

Meanwhile, the Iranian authorities have consistently failed to adopt and enact legislation and policies that would address the core human rights violations that people in the country have been facing for decades, despite the many recommendations it has received from UN human rights bodies and through the UPR to that effect, and despite continued popular demands expressed through strikes and protests.

Long-standing bills pertaining to the protection of children against abuse and violence against women remain stalled, and some of the reforms included in the original drafts have already been watered down by the Guardian Council and the judiciary. In December 2018, a parliamentary committee rejected an amendment to the article on the age of marriage in the Civil Code, which would have banned marriage for girls under 13. Moreover, no legislative efforts were made to abolish the death penalty for individuals under the age of 18 at the time of the offence, which Iran practises “far more often than any other states”, as the Special Rapporteur stressed in his report.

Meanwhile, as abundantly documented by the Special Rapporteur on human rights in Iran, by the UN Secretary General, and by civil society organizations, legislation, policies and state practices continue to be at odds with international human rights standards on women’s rights, the rights of the child, ethnic minority rights, the rights of recognized and unrecognized religious minorities, the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons, the rights to freedom of association, expression and peaceful assembly, freedom of thought, conscience and religion, protection from torture and other ill-treatment, the right to life, due process and fair trial guarantees, as well as the equal enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights. 

Human rights organisations documented the executions of over 230 individuals in 2018, a decrease from last year, most likely as a result of amendments to the country’s drug law that went into force in November 2017. Authorities executed at least six who were under the age of 18 at the time of the offence. Iranians belonging to ethnic minorities, especially Kurds and Baluchis, have been disproportionately represented in execution statistics. Trials that violated due process and fair trial guarantees led to capital sentences, and death sentences were pronounced against individuals for a large range of offences that do not constitute the most serious crimes under international law. 

Rampant impunity remains prevalent in the judicial system. The most flagrant example is the systematic impunity that exists with respect to the on-going enforced disappearances and the secret extrajudicial executions of 1988; many of the perpetrators involved continue to hold positions of power, including in key judicial, prosecutorial and government bodies responsible for ensuring that victims receive justice. Indeed, the newly appointed head of the judiciary, Ebrahim Raisi, is one of the aforementioned perpetrators, who was the deputy prosecutor general of Tehran in 1988 and a member of the Tehran “death commission”.

The work carried out by the Special Rapporteur has been critical to amplifying the voices of victims of human rights abuses within the UN system. This work also supports a stifled domestic civil society, identifies systemic challenges, stimulates discussions about human rights within Iran, calls for key human rights reforms, and takes action on a large number of individual cases through individual communications, thereby saving or otherwise impacting the lives of many in Iran.

For all these reasons, we call on your government to support the renewal of the mandate of the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in Iran, and show that the community of states requires tangible change in the human rights record of the country, in line with Iran’s treaty obligations and UPR commitments. 

Abdorrahman Boroumand Center
The Advocates for Human Rights
All Human Rights for All in Iran
Amnesty International
Arseh Sevom
Article 18
ARTICLE 19
ASL19
Association for the Human Rights of the Azerbaijani people in Iran (AHRAZ)
Association for Human Rights in Kurdistan of Iran-Geneva (KMMK-G)
Balochistan Human Rights Group
Center for Human Rights in Iran
Center for Supporters of Human Rights
Child Rights International Network (CRIN)
CIVICUS – World Alliance for Citizen Participation
Conectas Direitos Humanos
Ensemble Contre la Peine de Mort (ECPM)
Freedom from Torture
Freedom House
Freedom Now
Human Rights Activists in Iran (HRAI) 
Human Rights Watch
Impact Iran
International Commission of Jurists (ICJ)
International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA)
International Movement Against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism (IMADR)
International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)
Iran Human Rights
Iran Human Rights Documentation Center
Justice for Iran
Kurdistan Human Rights Network
Minority Rights Group International
OutRight Action International
Reprieve
Siamak Pourzand Foundation
Small Media
United for Iran
West African Human Rights Defenders' Network
World Coalition Against the Death Penalty
World Organization Against Torture (OMCT)
6Rang – Iranian Lesbian & Transgender Network

 

Jordan: Adoption of Universal Periodic Review Report

 

UN Human Rights Council – 40th Session
15 March 2019
Oral Statement

The Arab NGO Network on Development, the Phenix Center for Economic & Informatics Studies and CIVICUS welcome the government of Jordan’s engagement with the UPR process, including its decision to accept over 100 recommendations on a range of human rights issues. 

While we applaud the government’s commitment to “ensure that all domestic legislation is in compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, particularly in relation to the right to freedom of expression” we regret the government’s lack of explicit commitment to review legislation that impose unnecessary and disproportionate restrictions on freedom of expression, such as the Anti-Terrorism Law and the 2015 Cybercrime Law. 

We are further concerned that there are tight state controls on CSOs’ registration, funding and activities and that there is a lack of commitment to review the 2009 Law on Societies which restricts the work of CSOs. In addition, the government has yet to reform the Labor Code in order to comply with the Jordanian constitution, Constitutional Court decision No. 6 of 2013 and international labor standards, so that all workers in the public and private sectors have the right to form trade unions by removing all restrictions in the Jordanian labor law and the civil service bylaw. 

We also note that since the last UPR, regular protests have been staged calling for rights-based social and economic reforms. These calls should be taken into consideration and integrated in the Government’s plan, including in its efforts on the implementation of the Agenda 2030 and the SDGs. 

Madame Vice-President, we call on Jordan to implement recommendations it accepted on promoting the right to freedom of expression and further commit to review legislation that imposes unnecessary and disproportionate restrictions on the freedom of expression. Specifically, we urge the government to remove the provisions under the the Law on Associations that unduly restrict the activities and funding of civil society organisations. 


Civic space in Jordan is rated as Obstructed by the CIVICUS Monitor

See our joint submission on Jordan for the UN Universal Periodic Review 

 

Nigeria: Adoption of Universal Periodic Review Report

 

UN Human Rights Council – 40th Session
15 March 2019
Oral Statement

The Nigeria Network of NGOs and CIVICUS welcome the Government of Nigeria’s engagement in the 3rd cycle of the UPR process, including accepting a range of recommendations presented by the UPR Working Group in November 2018.

We note that since the 2nd UPR review, the government has worked towards strengthening security operations through retraining law enforcement personnel in interrogation. However, we urge Nigeria to put effective measures in place to curb police brutality through a comprehensive reform of the police force.

It is disappointing to note that despite the continued harassment of the press and of civil society organisations, the national report of Nigeria barely addressed the issue of restrictions on civic space. Arrests, detentions and harassment of human rights defenders continues. Maryam Awaisu, one of the leaders of the #ArewaMeToo movement, was arrested in her office in February 2019. In January, the Abuja and regional offices of the Media Trust Limited, publishers of the Daily Trust newspapers, were raided by soldiers. The paper’s regional editor and a reporter were arrested and later released.

Although the Non-Governmental Organisations Regulatory Bill was rejected, we note with concern a new bill that is before the Senate, the Establishment of the Federal Charities Commission of Nigeria, which seeks to regulate the activities of NGOs. We urge Nigeria not to adopt laws that would further undermine civic space.

We call on the Nigerian government to consider the 12 recommendations made by delegates relating to civic space and the operations of security personnel whilst fully implementing the eight accepted recommendations from the previous review relating to the protection of journalists, human rights defenders and civil society activists.


Civic space in Nigeria is rated as Obstructed by the CIVICUS Monitor

See our joint submission on Nigeria for the UN Universal Periodic Review 

 

Malaysia: Adoption of Universal Periodic Review Report

 

UN Human Rights Council – 40th Session
15 March 2019
Oral Statement

Pusat Komas and CIVICUS welcome the government of Malaysia’s engagement with the UPR process.

While we welcome the commitments of the Malaysian government to ratify all core UN human rights treaties during the UPR review, we regret the decision of the government in November 2018 not to ratify the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. We are concerned by the lack of a clear timetable to ratify the other core treaties.

We note commitments made during the UPR review to repeal the draconian Sedition Act and other laws that restrict fundamental freedoms. However, since the review we regret that a moratorium on the use of these laws has been lifted and there have been arrests of individuals under the Sedition Act for exercising their right to expression. We are also concerned that the Sedition Act and the Communications and Multimedia Act have been used by the police to interrogate human rights defenders, including human rights lawyer Fadiah Nadwa Fikri and Sevan Doraisamy, the director of rights group SUARAM, simply for expressing their opinions. The government has also failed to denounce racism and bigotry by opposition political leaders.

We note that recommendations were made to respect freedom of assembly, including to review the Peaceful Assembly Act which contains provisions inconsistent with international law. However, we are concerned that activists continue to face arrests for their involvement in demonstrations. Student activists Asheeq Ali and Siti Nurizzah were arrested for a peaceful sit-in at the Ministry of Education in September 2018.

Mr President, we call on Malaysia to implement the recommendations it accepted on protecting fundamental freedoms and immediately review or repeal all restrictive laws that undermine civic space, immediately halt their use against government critics, and to create an enabling environment for CSOs and human rights defenders.


Civic space in Malaysia is rated as Obstructed by the CIVICUS Monitor

See our joint submission on Malaysia for the UN Universal Periodic Review 

 

Senegal: Adoption of Universal Periodic Review Report

 

UN Human Rights Council – 40th Session
15 March 2019
Oral Statement

The Senegalese Coalition of Human Rights Defenders (COSEDDH) and CIVICUS welcome the engagement taken by the government of Senegal in the UPR process, and welcome the acceptance of several recommendations on civic space during its review by the UPR Working Group in November 2018. 

We now encourage the government of Senegal to take concrete measures to implement these recommendations. 

Freedom of expression in Senegal is still limited by restrictive provisions in the 2017 Press Code and the Criminal Code. Despite several public declarations by President Macky Sall on the decriminalisation of press offenses, the 2017 Press Code continues to criminalise such offenses and even raised maximum prison sentences and fines. The Criminal Code provides prison sentences for defamation and insulting the president, which could be used against people for simply expressing dissenting opinions. 

Article 27 of the Law on the Code on Electronic Communications, adopted by the National Assembly in November 2018, endangers the neutrality of the internet under the guise of ‘reasonable measures of traffic management’, which could have further grave implications for freedom of expression.

There have been several cases of arbitrary bans by administrative authorities, often invoking reasons of ‘preservation of public order’ to ban demonstrations by CSOs and opposition parties. And there have been cases where security forces have used excessive force against protests. In May 2018, security forces used live ammunition during clashes with students during a protest at the University Gaston Berger in Saint-Louis, killing one student, and injuring several others. 

Recently, authorities have engaged in acts of intimidation against the social movement Y’en a Marre, investigating its funding and interrogating three of its international donors. In November 2018, authorities withdrew for five months the operating license of the NGO Lead Francophone.

Mr President, the Senegalese Coalition of Human Rights Defenders (COSEDDH) and CIVICUS encourage the government of Senegal to take proactive measures to resolve these concerns. We encourage the government to implement the recommendations to create and maintain an enabling environment for civil society in Senegal.


Civic space in Senegal is rated as Obstructed by the CIVICUS Monitor

See our joint submission on Senegal for the UN Universal Periodic Review 

 

Mexico: Adoption of Universal Periodic Review Report

 

UN Human Rights Council – 40th Session
15 March 2019
Oral Statement

CIVICUS welcomes the government of Mexico's engagement with the UPR process.

However, in our joint UPR submission with the Front for the Freedom of Expression and Social Protest (FLEPS), we documented that since its last review Mexico has not implemented 25 of the 26 recommendations that it received relating to civic space, most of which concerned the effectiveness of the Protection Mechanism for human rights defenders. While some progress has been made in the implementation of this mechanism, there is a worryingly insufficient emphasis on prevention and a neglect of investigations, resulting in persistent human rights violations against human rights defenders and impunity for the crimes committed against them. Most recently, indigenous activist Samir Flores was killed to silence his fight against the construction of a gas pipeline and gas power plant, the Proyecto Integral Morelos (PIM). 

As detailed in our submission, Mexico also continues to be the world’s deadliest country for journalists, who are routinely threatened and physically attacked. Those who express criticism of the powerful in radio, television, print or digital media all run the same risks as human rights defenders and are often forced to censor themselves.

Additionally, no progress has been observed towards media pluralism, and a deliberate and systematic use of official advertising to domesticate the independent press has been observed. Excessive criminal provisions on defamation, slander and insult continued to be used against journalists and the media.

As detailed in our submission, the right to assemble is also being restricted under the 2017 Interior Security Law and through the use of geolocation, data retention technologies and the suspension of phone services.

We call on the Government of Mexico to take proactive measures to address these concerns. 


Civic space in Mexico is rated as Obstructed by the CIVICUS Monitor

See our joint submission on Mexico for the UN Universal Periodic Review 

 

Human Rights Situations of Concern: Ethiopia

 

While acknowledging the integral role that this Council plays in holding governments to account for wilfully persecuting individuals and groups who speak truth to power, we would like to use this opportunity to celebrate the recent civil and political liberation ushered in by sustained protest movements in Ethiopia,  while further encouraging the government of Ethiopia to ensure that this transformation is sustainable rather than fleeting, systemic rather than cosmetic. 

For nearly a decade CIVICUS and its partners have stood before the Council urging it to address the devastatingly restrictive environment for civic space in Ethiopia. We warmly appreciate the determination of several governments including Ireland, Canada, Germany and Norway as well as a number of Special Procedure mandate holders who continued to voice their concerns about the unrelenting attacks on civic freedoms in Ethiopia. 

Today, in large part due to the uncompromising and audacious resoluteness of protesters and human rights defenders, Ethiopia is on the precipice of emerging as country ruled by pluralism rather than authoritarianism. 

However, this transformation will remain incomplete if the Government of Ethiopia does not take all necessary steps to ensure inclusive participation in policy making, ensure a free and safe environment in advance of upcoming elections, address long standing grievances especially pertaining to access to land, and hold to account all state officials responsible for grave right violations. 

We urge all stakeholders, including state, civil society and UN agencies to endow this evolving transformation with the requisite support and resources.


Civicspace is rated as Repressed by the CIVICUS Monitor

 

States should defend environmental human rights defenders


Joint Letter at the 40th session of the UN Human Rights Council
Our organisations are calling on all UN Member States to demonstrate their support to environmental human rights defenders. 


March 12, 2019
To: UN Member States

We all want to breathe clean air, drink safe water, and to be able to provide sustenance and a healthy, dignified life for our families. Human survival and well-being rests on a biodiverse and healthy environment and a safe climate. Environmental human rights defenders help us to achieve that - they defend the planet and their communities from the impact of harmful resource extraction or pollution by unscrupulous companies or governments. Their work is essential to attaining the sustainable development goals and ensuring that no-one is left behind.

We need your support to defend environmental human rights defenders.

At its current 40th session, the Human Rights Council is discussing a draft resolution on environmental human rights defenders. This is a timely and important initiative as UN agencies, human rights organisations and the media have documented unprecedented killings and attacks against people defending land and the environment.

It is important for the Council to adopt a resolution that reflects the gravity and the reality of the situation defenders face every day. We therefore call on members of the UN Human Rights Council to ensure that the resolution adopted by the Council clearly:

  • Outlines the root causes of the threats against environmental human rights defenders, including development and commercial activities with adverse social and environmental impacts, or those imposed on communities without meaningful consultation and respect for their rights;
  • Recognises that environmental human rights defenders confront multiple adverse interests when challenging State and corporate activities, and highlights the collusion between different actors which hinders the work of defenders and aggravates their vulnerable position;
  • Clearly names the industries and activities most dangerous to defenders, such as the mining industry, natural resource exploitation, agribusiness and large-scale development projects;
  • Acknowledges the wide number of States that have recognised the right to a healthy environment in their internal legal order;
  • Recognises that the lack of effective access to information, access to participation and access to justice causes environmental conflicts and leads to violence against defenders
  • Calls for the development of protection mechanisms for environmental human rights defenders in line with best practice identified by the Special Rapporteur;
  • Articulates the specific risks women and indigenous human rights defenders face and the need for an intersectional approach in assessing and designing protection measures for defenders;
  • Calls on States to ensure that all communities are meaningfully consulted and can participate genuinely in matters that affect their rights and, in particular the use, management and conservation of their land and natural resources;
  • Calls on States to guarantee the right to free, prior and informed consent for indigenous peoples;
  • Calls on States to adopt legislation that creates due diligence obligations for companies registered in their jurisdictions and those of their subsidiaries;
  • Articulates the responsibility of businesses to respect the rights of human rights defenders and highlights measures companies should take to contribute to addressing their insecurity;
  • Adequately articulates the responsibility of investors and the obligations of development finance institutions to respect human rights in the context of their investments and to develop and implement effective policies to prevent and address threats; and
  • Stresses that an open civic space, including respect for the rights to freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly and association and movement, as well as the right to participate in the conduct of government and public affairs, is vital to the protection of both a healthy and sustainable environment and environmental human rights defenders.

The draft being negotiated in Geneva contains some of these essential elements, which must be defended, but also offers significant potential for strengthening.

As negotiations enter the final stretch, we urge you to actively support the development of a resolution which clearly recognises the vital contribution of environmental human rights defenders to sustainable development and the effective enjoyment of human rights and formulates concrete asks of the States, development finance institutions and companies with the power of safeguarding that contribution.

  1. International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)
  2. Amnesty International
  3. Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (Forum Asia)
  4. CIVICUS
  5. DefendDefenders (East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project)
  6. Earth Justice
  7. Front Line Defenders
  8. Global Witness
  9. JASS (Just Associates)
  10. IM-Defensoras
  11. Christian Development Alternative (CDA)
  12. Nigerian Women Agro Allied Farmers Association
  13. Social Justice Connection
  14. Franciscans International
  15. Unidad de Protección a Defensoras y Defensores de Derechos Humanos - Guatemala (UDEFEGUA)
  16. Geneva for Human Rights
  17. Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights
  18. Réseau Ouest africain des Défenseurs des Droits Humains/West African Human Rights Defenders' Network
  19. Coordination des associations et des particuliers pour la liberté de conscience
  20. La'o Hamutuk
  21. Karapatan Philippines
  22. Human Rights House Foundation
  23. HETAVED SKILLS ACADEMY AND NETWORKS
  24. International Commission of Jurists
  25. Conectas Direitos Humanos
  26. World Movement for Democracy
  27. Association for Human Rights in Ethiopia (AHRE)
  28. Center for Civil Liberties
  29. Urgent Action Fund for Women's Human Rights
  30. Human Rights Concern - Eritrea (HRCE)
  31. International Women's Development Agency (IWDA)
  32. Humanitaire Plus (Togo)
  33. Coalition Burkinabé des Défenseurs des Droits Humains
  34. AMARA
  35. Gender and Development for Cambodia (GADC)
  36. Odhikar
  37. Freedom House
  38. Red Internacional Unión Latinoamericana de Mujeres - Red ULAM
  39. Freedom House
  40. Rivers without Boundaries Mongolia
  41. Asian Legal Resource Centre
  42. OYU TOLGOI WATCH
  43. Ligue Burundaise des droits de l’homme Iteka
  44. International Centre for Ethnic Studies (ICES)
  45. AVIPA association des victimes parents et amis du 28 septembre 2009 Guinée
  46. Porgera Red Wara (River) Women's Association Incorporated (PRWWA INC.)
  47. KRuHA - people's coalition for the right to water
  48. Asia Pacific Network of Environment Defenders (APNED)
  49. EMPOWER INDIA
  50. EarthRights International
  51. Dawei Probono Lawyer Network (DPLN)
  52. Africa Network for Enivironment and Economic Justice(ANEEJ)
  53. Partnership for Justice, Nigeria
  54. Association for Progressive Communications (APC)
  55. Huridocs
  56. Steps Without Borders NGO
  57. Humanists International
  58. Coalition Togolaise des Défenseurs des Droits Humains (CTDDH)
  59. Labour,Health and Human Rights Development Centre
  60. Institute for Multi-Resource Development (IMdev)
  61. Not1More
  62. Patrons of Khuvsgul lake movement
  63. Liberia Coalition of Human Rights DefendersHuman Concern, Inc
  64. Brot für die Welt
  65. ARTICLE 19
  66. Peace Brigades International
  67. Metro Center Journalists Rights & Advocacy
  68. World Uyghur Congress
  69. 350.org
  70. International Movement Against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism (IMADR)
  71. Latinamerikagrupperna
  72. World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)
  73. Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL)
  74. SUDIA
  75. Synergia - 36/5000 Initiatives for Human Rights
  76. Philippine Misereor Partnership Inc.
  77. Alyansa Tigil Mina (ATM)
  78. Center for Women's Global Leadership
  79. Transformative and Integrative Build Out For All
  80. Institute for Strategic & Development Studies
  81. Reseau de Femmes du mMlieu Rural Haitien
  82. East Timor and Indonesia Action Network (ETAN)
  83. FIFCJ
  84. Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF)
  85. Association for Women's Rights in Development (AWID)
  86. Zo Indigenous Forum
  87. MADRE
  88. FOKUS Forum for women and development
  89. Bougainville Women's Federation
  90. Human Rights Council-Ethiopia
  91. Environment Defenders Advocacy
  92. Porgera Women's Rights Watch
  93. Independent Human Rights Analyst and Strategy Advisor
  94. Buliisa Initiative for Rural Development Organisation (BIRUDO)
  95. Community Resource Centre Foundation
  96. MANUSHYA FOUNDATION
  97. Equitable Cambodia
  98. Friends with Environment in Development
  99. Corporate Human Rights Benchmark (CHRB)
  100. Association For Promotion Sustainable development
  101. WoMin Afrcan Alliance
  102. Both ENDS
  103. Child Rights Connect
  104. CONSEIL REGIONAL DES ORGANISATIONS NON GOUVERNEMENTALES DE DEVELOPPEMENT
  105. Enda Lead Afrique Francophone
  106. Human Rights Law Centre
  107. Business & Human Rights Resource Centre
  108. World Voices Uganda
  109. Africa Center for Policy Facilitation
  110. Estonian Forest Aid
  111. Community Transformation Foundation Network (COTFONE)
  112. Collectif Camerounais des Organisations des Droits de l'Homme et de la Démocratie (COCODHD)
  113. Global Initiative for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
  114. North-East Affected Area Development Society (NEADS)
  115. Sangsan Anakot Yawachon Development Project
  116. Forum Syd Sweden
  117. COALITION AGAINST LAND GRABBING (CALG) - PHILIPPINES
  118. UNLAD-BLFFA
  119. Asian NGO Coalition for Agrarian Reform and Rural Development (ANGOC)
  120. BankTrack
  121. CORE Coalition
  122. The Gaia Foundation
  123. Labour Behind the Label
  124. Bataris Formation Center
  125. Salva la Selva
  126. Observatoire d'etudes et d'appui a la responsabilite sociale et environnementale ( OEARSE )
  127. REd de Género y Medio Ambiente
  128. London Mining Network
  129. Abibiman Foundation
  130. Ecodesarollo
  131. The Kesho Trus
  132. Organisation mondiale contre la torture
  133. PAPUA NEW GUINEA MINING WATCH GROUP ASSOCIATION INC
  134. 11.11.11 - Koepel van de Vlaamse Noord-Zuidbeweging
  135. Center for Global Nonkilling
  136. Centro salvadoreño de Tecnología Apropiada
  137. Coalition Ivoirienne des Défenseurs des Droits Humains (CIDDH)
  138. Friends of the Earth NI
  139. Forest Peoples Programme
  140. Environmental Investigation Agency
  141. Fundación para el Desarrollo de Políticas Sustentables (FUNDEPS)
  142. Bank Information Center
  143. Africa development Interchange Network
  144. Voluntariados Intag
  145. Mangrove Action Project
  146. IUCN NL
  147. Community Self Reliance Centre (CSRC)
  148. Amazon Watch
  149. HRM @Bir Duino-Kyrgyzstan@
  150. Task Force Detainees of the Philippines
  151. Asociación ambiental e cultural Petón do Lobo
  152. Asociación galega Cova Crea
  153. Amigos e Amigas dos Bosques "O Ouriol do Anllóns"
  154. Réseau Camerounais des Organisations des Droits de l'Homme (RECODH)
  155. CNCD-11.11.11
  156. Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
  157. Rainforest Foundation Norway
  158. Women Working Worldwide
  159. Greenpeace
  160. AMDH- Maroc
  161. In Difesa Di , per i diritti umani e chi li difende
  162. Center for Environmental Concerns-Philippines
  163. Buliisa Initiative for Rural Development Organisation (BIRUDO) - Uganda

 

Burundi: Human rights violations continue

 

UN Human Rights Council – 40th regular session
Interactive dialogue with the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi

CIVICUS is extremely concerned that grave human rights violations in Burundi continue without any signs of abating.

The Commission of Inquiry reported in September 2018 that serious violations, including crimes against humanity, remained routine. During the May 2018 referendum, local authorities, the youth wing of the ruling party, the police and intelligence services summarily executed, abducted, detained and intimidated those who voted against the constitutional changes or those perceived to have done so.  In total more than 20 people were killed in incidences related to the referendum. 

The 32-year jail sentence handed to human rights defender Germain Rukuki under trumped up charges of “participating in an insurrectionist movement and breaching state security” despite repeated calls for his release from the international community is a vivid reflection of the state of human rights in Burundi. Other human rights defenders have been jailed under similar circumstances.  Three representatives of the CSO – PARCEM are serving ten-year sentences after being charged with “threatening national security,” and human rights defender Nestor Nibitanga is also in detention in an unrelated case.

Mr. President, media restrictions continue as most private radio stations remain closed since 2015.  The National Communication Agency suspended the broadcasting licenses of the BBC and VOA after accusing them of violating Burundi’s media laws.  The activities of more than130 INGOs providing vital health and social services in Burundi were affected after they were banned in Burundi for three months in September 2018.

We call for the immediate release of all human rights defenders and urge Burundi to fully cooperate with the COI and re-open the OHCHR office.

 

36 States stand with Saudi women human rights defenders

Human Rights Council Stands with Saudi Women Human Rights Defenders

Since early 2018, tens of women human rights defenders have been detained in Saudi Arabia for their human rights work. Last week, a cross-regional group of 36 States, including all EU Member States, called for the release of detained women human rights defenders in Saudi Arabia. This statement sent a strong message to the Saudi authorities that the Council will hold it accountable for human rights violations. The joint statement at the Council comes at a critical time as the Saudi Public Prosecution announced last week that some of the defenders will be referred to trial. 

During the interactive dialogue held last week with the UN High Commissioner at the Human Rights Council, 36 States*, led by Iceland, called on Saudi Arabia to release women human rights defenders who are detained for exercising their fundamental freedoms. States also condemned the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and demanded that those responsible be held accountable.

International Service for Human Rights, the Gulf Centre for Human Rights, Women’s March Global, CIVICUS and Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain - have been advocating for the immediate and unconditional release of Saudi women human rights defenders. Ahead of the 40th session of the Council, over 50 NGOs called on UN Member States to adopt a resolution at the Council calling explicitly for the immediate and unconditional release of the detained Saudi women human rights defenders and establishing a monitoring mechanism over the human rights violations in the country.

Salma El Hosseiny, ISHR’s Human Rights Council Advocate welcomed the leadership of Iceland for this landmark statement and criticised other states who didn’t join; and said that “this was the first time ever States at the Council collectively condemned human rights violations committed inside Saudi Arabia, a country that has until now escaped Council scrutiny despite being a Council member with an appalling human rights record. The Saudi authorities, as Council members, now have an opportunity to engage constructively with the Council and immediately release the defenders. States should follow up on the joint statement by presenting a resolution at the June session if inadequate progress has been made.” said El Hosseiny. 

"We appreciate last week’s joint statement, a one of a kind initiative that followed tireless advocacy efforts by members of the Free Saudi Women Coalition. It's heartening to see this resolution calling for the release of ten prominent women human rights defenders, some of whom were subjected to severe torture and ill-treatment. Yet, we shouldn't forget that there are many more in prison who can't be named out of fear for potential reprisals to them and their families. Some family members have been targeted already. We will continue to work and advocate to ensure that all defenders are free from prison and retaliation and that their perpetrators are held accountable," said Weaam Youssef, WHRDs Programme Coordinator of the GCHR.

 “We welcome this joint statement from members states at the UNHRC,” said Masana Ndinga-Kanga MENA Advocacy Lead at CIVICUS. “We see this as the first step of a much more rigorous process of accountability for complete impunity towards human rights defenders. More needs to be done to protect civil society in Saudi Arabia.” Saudi Arabia is rated closed on the CIVICUS Monitor.

"This is a very big step for the 36 member states who have come forward to take - yet we are disappointed that more have not followed" said Uma Mishra-Newbery, Executive Director at Women's March Global. "This step shows that while progress is being made and the work of our coalition is making a difference, more work still needs to be done in holding Saudi Arabia accountable. We are concerned with every passing day at the safety of these activists and hope that member states will continue to keep pressure on Saudi Arabia."

"We welcome the joint statement on Saudi Arabia and calling attention to the country's systematic rights abuses. We remain concerned over the ongoing detentions of women rights defenders, journalists, and other peaceful critics of the government. We call on Saudi Arabia to release all prisoners of conscience to undertake serious and good faith steps to bring its domestic laws into line with international standards, in particular the country's overly broad counter-terror law." Tyler Pry, Advocacy Officer, ADHRB.

The joint statement called for the release of Loujain Al-Hathloul, Aziza Al-Yousef, Eman Al-Nafjan, Nouf Abdelaziz, Hatoon Al-Fassi, Samar Badawi, Nassima Al-Sadah, Mohammed Al-Bajadi, Amal Al-Harbi and Shadan Al-Anezi. Some of the women have been subject to electrocution, flogging, sexual harassment and other forms of torture.

Saudi Arabia has silenced women human rights defenders for decades and those named above are not the only ones in prison, they are just emblematic cases. The decision by the Saudi government to allow women to drive is only a cosmetic change that fails to address the root causes of discrimination against women: the male guardianship system. 

* The States who signed the joint statement are: Iceland, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Austria, Belgium, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Portugal, Finland, Germany, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Estonia, Czech Republic, Croatia, Denmark, Norway, Latvia, Montenegro, Malta, Slovakia, Liechtenstein, Italy, Bulgaria, France, Romania, Greece, Cyprus, Hungary, Poland, and Monaco.

Read the joint statement here.

 

Alarming trends facing protest movements

 

40th Session of the Human Rights Council
Statement delivered during General Debate (Monday 11 March)

CIVICUS is deeply alarmed that protest movements find themselves on the frontlines of a global attack on democracy and human rights. Across the world, protest movements are being met by campaigns of violence and aggression from states that are increasingly brazen about defying global human rights commitments.

At a time when many hard-won gains are being directly threatened by state and non-state actors, we urge the states present here today to recall that it was people organising in protest and civil disobedience who rolled back slavery, overturned colonial and racist systems of governance, and fought for women’s rights.

Today, these struggles persist. Yet governments are increasingly responding to legitimate demands of protesters and their movements with absolute intolerance, including extra-judicial killings and torture. 

CIVICUS echoes the concerns raised by the High Commissioner regarding the brutal crackdown on protests in Zimbabwe, where scores of unarmed civilians have been killed and children as young as 12 arrested, as well as the systemic campaign of brutality deployed against peaceful protesters in Sudan. 

We ask all states present here today: what measures will you take to ensure that emerging protest movements from Serbia to Algeria to Malawi are nurtured rather than repressed?

 

Attacks against human rights defenders in Colombia, Guatemala and Honduras

 

Statement at the 40th Session of the UN Human Rights Council
Response to country reports from the High Commissioner and Secretary General

CIVICUS is extremely concerned about attacks against human rights defenders across Colombia, Honduras and Guatemala, of which governments of these counties show little sign of adequately addressing.

In Colombia, increased violence against human rights defenders took the lives of 110 people in 2018. 20 were members of indigenous or afro-Colombia communities. Delays in implementing the peace agreement has fueled further risk, especially in rural areas which have been most affected by conflict.  We are concerned by the alarming increase in the number of threats and attacks against journalists, and we call on the government of Colombia to accelerate implementation of the peace agreement which would expand civic space.

In Honduras human rights defenders are routinely attacked, criminalized, harassed and targeted by smear campaigns. We are also deeply concerned by the excessive use of force by law enforcement officials, particularly in contexts of protests. We call on the government of Honduras to adopt a comprehensive, rights-based and gender-responsive policy for the protection of human rights defenders and to reform laws which criminalise them, including the overly-broad law on terrorism.

In Guatemala, too, the environment for human rights defenders continues to be hostile. Local organisation UDEFEGUA reported that at least 24 human rights defenders were killed in 2018. And since the beginning of 2019, there have been two further murders. Human rights defenders, especially indigenous leaders and land defenders, are subject to judicial harassment and intimidation. CIVICUS is concerned that in the approach to the June 2019 general elections, violence against defenders may increase.

In all three cases, lack of investigations into crimes against human rights defenders has created a climate of impunity and increased risk. We call on all three governments to conduct investigations into attacks and ensure perpetrators are brought to justice, and to develop effective protection mechanisms and policies so that human rights can be defended without fear of reprisal.


The CIVICUS Monitor rates the state of civicspace in Colombia as Repressed, Honduras as Repressed, Guatemala as Obstructed

 

DRC: Statement on human rights violations

 

Statement at the 40th Session of the UN Human Rights Council
Response during the Interactive Dialogue on the Democratic Republic of Congo

CIVICUS welcomes the decree signed by newly-elected Congolese President Felix Tshisekedi to pardon about 700 political prisoners detained for participating in peaceful protests or expressing dissenting opinions. While we commend the President for fulfilling a pledge made in his inaugural address, we urge that this is swiftly followed by the actual release from prison of those detained.

Mr.  President, the people of DRC have experienced years of widespread human rights violations and repression, including serious restrictions on freedom of association, assembly and expression. The use of violence to disperse peaceful protesters was a hallmark of the former regime and continued after the December 2018 elections.  Those targeted have largely been representatives of civil society groups and supporters of the political opposition.  

The right to freedom of expression and access to information was severely restricted in the aftermath of the elections, when authorities shut down electronic and radio communications under the pretext of preventing the spread of false information.  The government should now lift all restrictions on media freedom, including the 2017 Decree on Freedom of the Press, as a crucial step towards creating an enabling environment for all to express their views without fear of violence and intimidation.

The human rights violations perpetrated in the DRC have been compounded by the impunity enjoyed by government officials and members of the security forces, including the army, presidential guard and intelligence services.  A major priority for the new administration should be to investigate all human rights violations, including killings, sexual violence, abductions, arbitrary detentions and extra-judicial executions, and to ensure that all perpetrators be held accountable for their actions.  

The new administration has a responsibility to ensure that the rule of law is strengthened, and freedom of expression, assembly and association upheld. If this is to happen, the new leadership must guarantee the independence of institutions that promote and protect human rights, and to ensure that they are able to carry out their activities without any interference from the state.


The CIVICUS Monitor rates the state of civic space in the Democratic Republic of Congo as Closed.

 

Dialogue with U.N Deputy Secretary General Amina Mohammed

40th Session of the UN Human Rights Council
CIVICUS statement during dialogue with UN Deputy Secretary General Amina Mohammed

After the Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations delivered a statement on the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals, representatives from governments, UN agencies and civil society were able to respond and ask questions. CIVICUS was able to participate and issued the following statement:


The “future we want” outcome document, which led to the adoption for the Agenda 2030, is unequivocal that democracy, good governance and rule of law are essential for sustainable development.

This explicit acknowledgment of the need to nurture democratic freedoms and institutions is indicative of the growing recognition that civil society must play a prominent role in developing and implementing policies and practices to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.  Notably, civil society often provides essential services, based on and in response to the needs of their communities and perform an important watchdog role over public resources.  However as crucial civic space is to the realisation of the SDGs, the CIVICUS Monitor finds that only 4% of the world’s population live in countries where these freedoms are adequately protected.

Although democracy, good governance and rule of law are most readily realised through civic space and civil society partnerships as enshrined in Agenda 2030 in Goal 16.7, 16.10 and 17.17 we are witnessing more development actors coming under attack. Some are being swept up in drag net tactics that include disproportionate enforcement of anti-terrorism laws while others are being deliberately targeted by States and non-state actors alike. This is a worrying trend that threatens the full realization of the SDGs.

Additionally, the pledge to 'Leave No One Behind' will not be met if we do not actively enable the agency of women and other traditionally excluded groups to organise and hold governments to account.

CIVICUS encourage States to set positive examples in relation to civic space and civil society participation, including through moves to adopt enabling NGO laws and by involving civil society representatives in decision making structures. But how can you as Deputy Secretary General, as spokesperson for the SDGs, help us to further,  accelerate the civic space agenda and the rights-based approach to development and the 2030 Agenda also into the NY discussions?

 

Renewal of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on promotion of human rights while countering terrorism

Renewal of the mandate of Special Rapporteur on promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism

Our organizations are deeply concerned about reported moves to allow Egypt a role in the Human Rights Council resolution to renew the mandate of the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism (SR on CT). We fear that such a move would undermine the integrity and credibility of this vital mandate.

Egypt has an appalling record when it comes to abusing counter-terrorism measures to suppress civil society and dissenting voices. The Special Rapporteur has announced that the theme of her report to the 40th session is the misuse of counterterrorism measures against civil society and human rights defenders, and the session will thus be an important opportunity to shine a spotlight on Egypt’s record in this regard.

In mid-January 2019, on the launch of its annual World Report, Human Rights Watch stated that:

“Using counterterrorism as a guise to crush all forms of dissent could be Egypt’s hallmark of 2018… There’s simply not much room left to peacefully challenge the government without being detained and unfairly prosecuted as a ‘terrorist.”

The Egyptian authorities' approach to counter-terrorism relies on systematic and widespread use of prolonged arbitrary detentions, enforced disappearances, and torture and ill-treatment including by rape, in addition to scores of possible cases of extrajudicial executions of detainees, and hundreds of unlawful killings of peaceful protesters. Many of these violations may amount to crimes against humanity. In North Sinai, the army has razed thousands of homes and farmlands leading to the forced evictions of tens of thousands of residents, many of whom were offered no compensation or temporary housing. The army may have also been involved in unlawful ground and airstrikes including by using cluster munitions. Further, the government has recently granted impunity to officers through special laws that make it even harder to question security officers involved in abuses.

We furthermore consider it wholly inappropriate for a State recently accused of severe reprisals following the visit of another Special Rapporteur in September/October 2018 to be rewarded with joining the core group on this vital mandate. The severity of these reprisals led in December 2018 to a joint statement from the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders and the Special Rapporteur on Right to Housing warning that Egypt is “not ready to host further visits”.

Despite its rhetoric, the Egyptian government’s approach is not primarily to give greater consideration to the human rights of victims of terrorism, which is a topic that had already been addressed in more detail in the previous Mexican thematic resolution and previous reports of the mandate. Rather, it aims to divert attention from the adverse human rights effects of its and other States’ counter-terrorism measures against individuals and the activities of civil society, including by effectively presenting the State itself as a victim.

Any Egyptian involvement in the mandate renewal would be qualitatively different and far more damaging than the role it was accorded in the March 2018 thematic resolution. The March 2018 agreement was said at the time to be entirely without prejudice to the mandate resolution, and this was indeed offered to civil society and others at that time as a reassurance in the face of similar concerns.

Any dilution of the focus of the mandate, in the short or long term would also significantly narrow the already highly restricted space for independent oversight of counter-terrorism measures from a human rights perspective within the overall UN system. The mandate holds a uniquely important role in the UN Counter-Terrorism architecture, participating as the only UN entity with the exclusive mandate to ensure the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism.

Further, allowing Egypt to jointly lead the mandate renewal would only serve to encourage a continuation of its pattern of violations and abuses against civil society and others within Egypt, while shielding it from outside scrutiny.

We therefore urge you to communicate to the Permanent Missions of Mexico and Egypt your opposition to any such developments in relation to the leadership or content of the resolution to renew the Special Rapporteur’s mandate.

Sincerely,

Amnesty International
Article 19
Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
FIDH
Human Rights Watch
International Commission of Jurists (ICJ)
International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)
Privacy International

 

CIVICUS at the 40th Human Rights Council

 

The 40th session of the UN Human Rights Council will meet from 25 February to 22 March. While in session, CIVICUS will be presenting research and conducting advocacy activities related to UN Member States' records on protecting civil liberties. In particular, CIVICUS is organising a number of side events, issuing advocacy statements and supporting our members engage in official proceedings, where they can inform government and UN officials on the state of civicspace conditions in their countries. 

Panel discussions CIVICUS will be co-organising:

Friday, 1 March, 13:00-14:00 (Room XXVII) | The Role of Counter-Terrorism Laws in the Closing of Civic Space | Civic Space Initiative (Article 19, CIVICUS, ECNL, ICNL, World Movement for Democracy)

This event will examine the misuse of counter-terrorism laws by States to target government critics and human rights defenders. The panel will look at how states are abusing security legislation to curtail civic freedoms. See full invitation. Speakers include:

  • Fionnuala Ni Aolain, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism
  • Alexander Verkhovskiy, Director, SOVA Center
  • Melanie Strickland, community activist and member of the Stansted 15
  • Befekadu Hailu, Blogger and Human Rights Activist, EHRP/Addis Maleda 
  • Moderator: Nicholas Miller, Legal Advisor, ICNL

Tuesday,  5 March, 13.00-14:00 (Room XXVII) | Escazú and Beyond: Strengthening the Global Normative Framework on Protecting Environmental Defenders | Article 19, Centre for Environmental Rights, CIVICUS, Defend Defenders, Frontline Defenders, Global Witness, Ground Work, Human Rights Watch,  International Land Coalition
 
This side event will review State obligations for protecting the rights of environmental defenders and how the recently adopted Escazú Agreement can inform the work of the Human Rights Council. The panel will look at how the standards of the regional Escazú Agreement in Latin America and the Caribbean can support global efforts to end the widespread attacks against environmental and land rights activists. See full invitation (Espanol). Speakers include:

  • Leiria Vay, Comité de Desarrollo Campesino, CODECA Guatemala
  • Matome Kapa, Attorney, Centre for Environmental Rights, South Africa
  • Marcos Orellana, Director Human Rights and Environment Division, HRW
  • David Boyd, UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment
  • Moderator: Natalia Gomez, Advocacy & Network Engagement Officer, CIVICUS

Other events that CIVICUS is cosponsoring at the 40th Session of the Human Rights Council, include:

  • 5 March (10:00-11:00) | The case for international action on Bahrain | Room XV
  • 6 March (11:00-12:00) | Women Human Rights Defenders: Local Realities & Shared Global Challenges | Room XXI
  • 8 March (12:00-13:00) | East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project - Human Rights in South Sudan | Room XXVII

CIVICUS will be live-streaming events through its Facebook page and posting updates on Twitter

 

Sudan: Civil society call on Human Rights Council to dispatch an independent international fact-finding mission to establish the facts and circumstances of alleged human rights violations committed in Sudan

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

Dear Excellencies,

We, the undersigned Sudanese, African and international organisations and individuals, write to you ahead of the 40th session of the UN Human Rights Council (“the Council”), which will take place from 25 February-22 March 2019, to express our concerns and urge you to address the Sudanese government’s crackdown on peaceful demonstrators and ongoing violations of human rights. Since 13 December 2018, tens of thousands of people have protested throughout Sudan and the authorities have responded by indiscriminately firing live ammunition and tear gas into crowds of peaceful protesters killing more than 50 civilians.

 

Country recommendations on civic space for UN´s Universal Periodic Review

CIVICUS makes six joint UN Universal Periodic Review submissions on civil society space: Cote d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Nicaragua and Qatar

CIVICUS and its partners have made joint UN Universal Periodic Review (UPR) submissions on 6 countries in advance of the 33rd UPR session (April-May 2019). The submissions examine the state of civil society in each country, including the promotion and protection of the rights to freedom of association, assembly and expression and the environment for human rights defenders. We further provide an assessment of the States’ domestic implementation of civic space recommendations received during the 2nd UPR cycle over 4 years ago and provide a number of targeted follow-up recommendations.  

Cote d’Ivoire: CIVICUS and the Coalition Ivoirienne des Défenseurs des droits Humains (CIDDH) examine the steps taken by the government of Cote d’Ivoire to address restrictions on civic space.  We highlight the promulgation of the law on Human Rights Defenders and the subsequent Resolution passed to ensure implementation of the law. However, we note ongoing restrictions on freedom of expression, the targeting of journalists and bloggers by the authorities, attempts to undermine freedom of association and the tendency to use excessive force to disperse peaceful protests.  

Democratic Republic of Congo (FR): CIVICUS and Ligue des Droits de la personne dans la région des Grands Lacs (LDGL) analyse the multiple unwarranted restrictions on civic space in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Authorities have systematically banned protests, in particular protests organised by civil society, social movements and opposition, while security forces have used excessive force against peaceful protesters, leading to hundreds of deaths. Additionally, HRDs and activists are subject to arbitrary arrests and judicial harassment, aimed at preventing them from exercising their democratic and civic rights. These unwarranted restrictions have intensified since the start of the political and security crisis in 2015, precipitated by President Kabila’s attempts to remain in power despite a constitutional two-term limit. 

Equatorial Guinea: CIVICUS, the Committee Protect Journalists (CPJ), Centro de Estudios e Iniciativas para el Desarrollo (CEID), ONG – Cooperación y Desarrollo and EG Justice examine ongoing restrictions on freedom of association, attacks and intimidation of journalists and bloggers and the general disenabling environment for freedom of expression and independent media agencies.  We further discuss threats faced by human rights defenders and the frequent violent repression of peaceful assemblies.

Ethiopia: CIVICUS, the Association for Human Rights in Ethiopia (AHRE), the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), DefendDefenders, PEN International, Article 19, the Consortium of Ethiopian Rights Organizations (CERO), and Access Now examine the Government of Ethiopia’s fulfilment of the rights to the freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression, and unwarranted restrictions on HRDs since its previous UPR examination in 2014. While the government recently committed to addressing a range of restrictive legislation, alongside releasing large numbers of political prisoners, at the time of writing, the restrictive legal framework remains in place. Acute implementation gaps were found regarding recommendations relating to civic space including the rights to the freedoms of association and peaceful assembly.

Nicaragua (ES): CIVICUS and the Nicaraguan Network for Democracy and Local Development Federation (Red Local) address concerns about the violent repression of protests and the criminalisation of protest leaders and demonstrators, particularly of the student and peasant movements, as well as the intensification of the persecution and intimidation suffered by CSOs supporting social movements in Nicaragua. Along with the growing restrictions on freedom of expression that stem from media concentration in government hands and pressures against journalists and independent media covering issues such as corruption, elections and infrastructure or extractive projects, the submission further examines the alarming increase of unwarranted restrictions on the press linked to the coverage of protests and their violent suppression and related human rights violations.

Qatar: CIVICUS and the Gulf Centre for Human Rights highlight the continued restrictions on freedom of association and expression in Qatar, which include unwarranted arrests on foreign journalists and confiscation of equipment, and restrictions on online content under the Cybercrime Prevention Law. The authorities in Qatar also continue to restrict the formation of independent civil society organisations committed to the advancement of human rights, and there have been severe and undue limitations to freedoms of assembly resulting in almost no protests in Qatar despite serious human rights violations.

 

Outcomes & Reflections from 39th Session of UN Human Rights Council

This session, the Council adopted landmark resolutions on several country situations, further enhancing its contribution to the protection of human rights. 

On Myanmar, we welcome the creation of the independent investigative mechanism, which is an important step towards accountability for the horrific crimes committed in Myanmar, as elaborated in the Fact Finding Mission’s report to this session. The overwhelming support for the resolution, notwithstanding China’s shameful blocking of consensus, was a clear message to victims and survivors that the international community stands with them in their fight for justice. 

On Yemen, the Council demonstrated that principled action is possible, and has sent a strong message to victims of human rights violations in Yemen that accountability is a priority for the international community, by voting in favor of renewing the mandate of the Group of Eminent Experts to continue international investigations into violations committed by all parties to the conflict. 

Furthermore, we welcome the leadership by a group of States on the landmark resolution on Venezuela, and consider it as an important step for the Council applying objective criteria to address country situations that warrant its attention. The resolution, adopted with support from all regions, sends a strong message of support to the Venezuelan people. By opening up a space for dialogue at the Council, the resolution brings scrutiny to the tragic human rights and humanitarian crisis unfolding in the country.  

While we welcome the renewal of the mandate of the Commission of Inquiry (CoI) on Burundi, to continue its critical investigation and work towards accountability, we regret, however, that the Council failed to respond more strongly to Burundi's record of non-cooperation and attacks against the UN human rights system. 

We also welcome the Council’s adoption of the resolution on Syria, which among other things condemns all violations and abuses of international human rights law and all violations of international humanitarian law committed by all parties to the conflict.

However, on other country situations including China, Sudan, Cambodia and the Philippines, the Council failed to take appropriate action. 

On Sudan, we are deeply concerned about the weak resolution that envisions an end to the Independent Expert’s mandate once an OHCHR office is set up; a "deal" Sudan has already indicated it does not feel bound by, and which is an abdication of the Council’s responsibility to human rights victims in Sudan while grave violations are ongoing. At a minimum, States should ensure the planned country office monitors and publicly reports on the human rights situation across Sudan, and that the High Commissioner is mandated to report to the Council on the Office’s findings.  

We also regret the lack of concerted Council action on the Philippines, in spite of the need to establish independent international and national investigations into extrajudicial killings in the government's 'war on drugs', and to monitor and respond to the government's moves toward authoritarianism. 

In addition, we regret the Council’s weak response to the deepening human rights and the rule of law crisis in Cambodia, failing to change its approach even when faced with clear findings by the Special Rapporteur demonstrating that the exclusive focus on technical assistance and capacity building in the country, is failing.

We share the concerns that many raised during the session, including the High Commissioner, about China’s human rights record, specifically noting serious violations of the rights of Uyghurs and other predominantly Muslim minorities in Xinjiang province. It is regrettable that States did not make a concrete and collective call for action by China to cease the internment of estimates ranging up to 1 million individuals from these communities. 

On thematic resolutions, we welcome the adoption of the resolution on equal participation in political and public affairs but would have preferred a stronger endorsement and implementation of the guidelines.

The resolution on safety of journalists, adopted by consensus, sets out a clear roadmap of practical actions to end impunity for attacks. Journalism is not a crime - yet too many States in this room simply imprison those that criticize them. This must end, starting with the implementation of this resolution. 

We welcome the adoption by consensus of the resolution on preventable maternal mortality and morbidity and human rights in humanitarian settings. Women and girls affected by conflict have been denied accountability for too long. The implementation of this resolution will ensure that their rights, including their sexual and reproductive health and rights, are respected, protected and fulfilled. 

Finally, the Council’s first interactive dialogue on acts of reprisals and intimidation was an important step to ensure accountability for this shameful practice, and we urge more States to have the courage and conviction to stand up for human rights defenders and call out countries that attack and intimidate them.

Signatories:
The African Centre for Democracy and Human Rights Studies (ACDHRS)
Amnesty International 
Article 19
Center for Reproductive Rights
CIVICUS
DefendDefenders
FIDH
Forum Asia 
Human Rights House Foundation (HRHF)
Human Rights Watch 
International Commission of Jurists
International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)

 

Yemen: Urgent need to address humanitarian crisis

39th Session of the UN Human Rights Council
Joint statement during Interactive Dialogue on High Commissioner's Report on Yemen

Urgent need to address the humanitarian crisis in Yemen and its impact on the most vulnerable populations: A call for renewal and strengthening of the mandate for the Group of Eminent Experts

This statement is made on behalf of Save the Children and 15 civil society organisations, including organisations with current operations in Yemen.

Fighting around Hodeidah city has increased since early September and throughout the country, the welfare of at least 8.4 million people on the brink of starvation, including at least 4.2 million children, is at stake. This year alone we expect some 400,000 children under five to suffer from severe acute malnutrition.

Humanitarian access remains extremely challenging with more than 1.4 million people in need of assistance living in districts with high access constraints [1]. Parties to the conflict continue to deny or delay basic humanitarian services, access to essential supplies into and within the country.

We have repeated on many occasions that the humanitarian situation has escalated to an unacceptable level of widespread violations and abuses of international human rights law and international humanitarian law. Since June, at least 425 attacks on and military use of schools and hospitals have been documented and verified [2]. 450 civilians have lost their lives in the first nine days of August alone [3].

We call on Member States to take immediate action to hold all parties to the conflict to account for violations of international law. In particular, we urge Member States to:

  • Call on all parties to the conflict to comply with their obligations under international law, and take immediate measures to prevent and end violations against civilians, notably children, including by supporting all authorities in Yemen to implement the Safe Schools Declaration and associated Guidelines for Protecting Schools and University from Military Use during Armed Conflict;
  • Urgently renew and strengthen the mandate of the Group of Eminent Experts on Yemen;
  • Suspend the sale or transfer of arms, munitions and related materials to all parties to the conflict; and
  • Engage all parties to the conflict to find an inclusive peaceful, sustainable and implementable political solution that involves women, youth, children, minority groups and civil society.

Adventist Development and Relief Agency
Action contre La Faim
Danish Refugee Council
Defence for Children International
CARE International
CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
INTERSOS
The International Rescue Committee
Islamic Relief
Médecins du Monde
Mercy Corps
Oxfam International
Relief International
War Child UK
ZOA


[1] https://www.humanitarianresponse.info/sites/www.humanitarianresponse.info/files/documents/files/20180806_humanitarian_update_final.pdf
[2] https://www.unicef.org/yemen/YEM_sitreps_Jun2018.pdf
[3] http://www.unhcr.org/news/briefing/2018/8/5b8503637/unhcr-calls-protection-civilians-fleeing-yemens-al-hudaydah.html

 

Uzbekistan at UN Human Rights Council: Adoption of Universal Periodic Review Report

The Association for Human Rights in Central Asia, International Partnership for Human Rights and CIVICUS welcome the government of Uzbekistan’s engagement with the UPR process, including its decision to accept over 200 recommendations on a range of human rights issue. 

While we note the release from detention of 28 activists, political opponents and journalists in the last two yars, as well as the authorities’ steps to allow for greater  independent dissent, we regret that freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly and association remain willfully suppressed by the State limited. Of the 28 people released in the last two years, many remain under surveillance. According to human rights monitors, at least five people remain behind bars for exercising their right to freedom of expression. We are concerned that since 25 August 2018 at least twelve bloggers have also been detained in connection with posts they made on social media. 

We regret that national legal mechanisms remain partial and subject to political interference. Courts continue to place arbitrary restrictions on protests, including  rulings that unwarrantedly limit people’s support for demonstrations off and online under the guise of    incitement to public disorder. During detention, torture is frequently used and procedural rights for detainees are often disregarded. Those who submit written complaints to the President or speak to the press are sometimes added to the “black list” of people deemed “undesirable” and are denied freedom of movement.

We regret that tight state controls on CSO  registration, funding and activities, coupled with ongoing restrictions on freedom of expression, prevent independent media outlets and human rights CSOs s from operating unencumbered .  

Although some activists have been allowed to travel abroad in recent months, restrictions on international travel remain in place for other human rights defenders. 

Mr President, we call on Uzbekistan to implement recommendations it accepted on promoting the right to freedom of association and participation in public affairs to lift prohibitive registration requirements of CSOs, to ensure CSOs and journalists can fully exercise their freedom of expression and peaceful assembly and to create a safe environment for human rights defenders, including for women human rights defenders.
 

 

Djibouti at UN Human Rights Council: Adoption of Universal Periodic Review Report

CIVICUS, DefendDefenders, and FIDH welcome the government of Djibouti's engagement with the UPR process. We also welcome the government’s commitment during its 3rd cycle review to ensure that no restrictions will be imposed on visits by Special Rapporteurs and to guarantee fundamental freedoms.

However, in our joint UPR Submission, we documented that since its last review, Djibouti has not implemented any of the recommendations it received relating to civic space. 

We regret that anti-terrorism measures continue to be used as a smokescreen for severe restrictions on civic space. Indeed, a November 2015 decree effectively banned all public meetings and gatherings and heavily restricted the political opposition’s activities ahead of the 2016 presidential elections. 

During its 3rd cycle review, the government claimed that ‘to date, no human rights defender has been detained or even prosecuted.’ Yet in our joint submission, we documented numerous arrests and detentions of human rights defenders, journalists and political opposition members Authorities rarely followed due process and at times subjected prisoners to ill-treatment and torture.

On 15 April 2018, just two days after returning home from Djibouti’s UPR Pre-session in Geneva, security agents briefly detained HRD Mr. Kadar Abdi Ibrahim, confiscated his passport and raided his home. Since then, he has been unable to leave the country.

Finally, we deplore the lack of transparent and credible investigations into security forces’ killing of at least 27 people and injuring of 150 others at a religious festival in Balbala on 21 December 2015. The government has accepted recommendations to ensure the respect for and protection of the right to freedom of peaceful assembly, and we urge the government to rapidly and thoroughly investigate and bring to justice any violators.

Mr. President, CIVICUS, DefendDefenders and FIDH call on the Government of Djibouti to take proactive measures to address these concerns and implement recommendations to create and maintain, in law and in practice, an enabling environment for civil society.

 

Burkina Faso at UN Human Rights Council: Adoption of Universal Periodic Review Report

Coalition Burkinabé des Défenseurs des Droits Humains, the West Africa Human Rights Defenders Network and CIVICUS welcome the government of Burkina Faso's engagement with the UPR process. We also welcome passing of a new law on the protection of human rights defenders in June 2017, making Burkina Faso only the second African country to do so.

However, in our joint UPR Submission, we documented that since its last review, Burkina Faso only partially implemented the one civic space recommendation received during its 2nd Cycle review. Despite several positive developments since the popular uprising of 2014, such as the decriminalisation of defamation and the adoption of a law on the protection of human right defenders, restrictions on the freedom of expression including suspensions of media outlets by the national media regulator and attacks and threats against journalists continue.

A new law on freedom of association, passed in 2015, allows authorities to delay the granting of legal personality in order to conduct a “morality” test on the applicant if deemed necessary. Civil society in Burkina Faso are further concerned about article 56 of the law which establishes a mediation commission, the members of which are not guaranteed to be independent of government.

Despite the new HRD law, in recent years journalists and civil society activists, in particular those critical of the government, have continued to experience threats, intimidation and physical attacks. Freedom of expression has been undermined in recent years, including through the forced closure of some media outlets. 

Serious violations of the right to freedom of peaceful assembly, including the killing of at least 14 unarmed protestors, took place during a coup d’etat in September 2015.

Mr President, we call on the Government of Burkina Faso to take proactive measures to address these concerns and implement recommendations to create and maintain, in law and in practice, an enabling environment for civil society.

 

Turkmenistan at UN Human Rights Council: Adoption of Universal Periodic Review Report

CIVICUS welcomes the government of Turkmenistan's engagement with the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process. We welcome the release of journalist Saparmamed Nepeskuliev but note with concern that his health deteriorated while serving a three-year prison term on spurious drug-charges that the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention found to be arbitrary. 

In our UPR Submission, we documented that since its last review, Turkmenistan has not implemented any of the 27 recommendations made relating to civic space, including the 24 recommendations that were accepted. 

Furthermore, there are 112 individuals forcibly disappeared, who have been targeted for political opposition or their work in civil society.  We echo the recommendation made in the 3rd Cycle Review that Turkmenistan welcome a visit by the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention and the Working Group on Enforced Disappearances.

We are further concerned by state interference in the media. In April 2018, the President dismissed Kaybov Myratdurdy, the editor of Edebiýat we Sungat newspaper and replaced him with his own candidate. The state has also forcibly dismantled private satellite dishes which allow citizens to access foreign TV and radio stations. 

Mr. President, we are deeply concerned by ongoing violations of freedom of assembly. The government of Turkmenistan regularly and coercively mobilises residents for public events and frequently implements subbotnik (or forced labour) days. Mr. President, this practice runs contrary to the right to freedom of assembly, a basic element of which is voluntary participation in assemblies. 

Due to numerous obstacles in the 2014 Law on Public Associations, no independent human rights organisations exist in Turkmenistan. We urge the government to implement the recommendations made during the 3rd Cycle Review to simplify the legal and procedural requirements for the registration of civil society.

Mr. President, CIVICUS calls on the Government of Turkmenistan to take proactive measures to address these concerns and implement recommendations to create and maintain, in law and in practice, an enabling environment for civil society.

 

Statement on alarming trends of reprisals and killings -- 38 UN member states implicated

Human Rights Council 39th session 
Joint statement: ISHR & CIVICUS

Interactive Dialogue with Assistant Secretary-General on the Secretary-General's report on cooperation with the United Nations, it's representatives and Mechanisms in the field of human rights

Human rights defenders must be able to access and communicate with the UN freely and safely so it can do its crucial work of monitor countries’ compliance with human rights obligations and protect victims from abuse.

Cases of reprisal are direct barriers to this, and to effective and meaningful civil society participation with the UN. Yet the SG’s reprisals report points to ‘alarming trends’ of reprisals, including killing, torture, arbitrary arrests and detention, travel bans, surveillance, criminalisation, freezing of assets, and stigmatization. 

This years’ report including an increased number of cases – 45. Including follow up, 38 countries are implicated. This is to say that, In this year alone, 20% of States who by joining the UN—“reaffirmed their faith in fundamental human rights, and dignity and worth of the human person”—attacked or intimidated persons or organisations knocking on the UN’ doors seeking change and a better world.

The report again documents cases by Council members and candidates, including Bahrain, Burundi, Cameroon, China, Cuba, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Egypt, Hungary, India, Iraq, Japan, Kyrgyzstan, Mexico, Pakistan, Philippines, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Venezuela. We urge GA members to consider this before voting in Council elections.

Missing from this year’s report are Chinese defenders WANG Qiaoling and LI Wenzu, the wives of two detained lawyers who have been intimidated and harassed; CAO Shunli, who was detained in September 2013 prior to boarding a flight for Geneva, where she was going to participate in China-related U.N. training sessions, and who died in detention after authorities denied her adequate medical care; and Dolkun Isa, a Uyghur activist, who was denied entry into the meeting of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues in New York in April 2018.

We welcome the Report’s recommendation that the UN do more to ensure the experiences of LGBTI persons facing reprisals for their advocacy are documented, disaggregated, and properly analyzed, seeking to minimize additional risk.

In practice, the Council’s discussion of cases in the Report and follow-up to those cases has not been systematic. What we see now is defenders dissuaded from engaging because the cost is too high. What we need is for States to turn away from repression and attacks, because the cost to them is too high. 

We welcome the statement made today by Germany on Egyptian defender Ebrahim Metwally and we urge more States to stand up for the critical voices of human rights defenders and seize the opportunity to take up cases in the report during future interactive dialogues.

The SG concludes in his report that the UN is seeing evidence of self-censorship with regard to engagement, including people too afraid to speak to the UN, both in the field and at headquarters in New York and Geneva. What more can be done by the UN and others to effectively and proactively address this situation to minimize risk to those engaging and ensure that the UN can effectively fulfill its mandate?
 

 

July 12, 2019

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