Nepal: UN review critical moment to address obstructed civic freedoms

Statement on Nepal ahead of Universal Periodic Review on Human Rights

CIVICUS calls on UN member states to urge the Government of Nepal to double its efforts to protect civic freedoms as its human rights record is examined by the UN Human Rights Council on 21 January 2021 as part of the 37th session of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR).

At the county’s second UPR five years ago, UN member states made three recommendations that directly related to civic space. Nepal subsequently committed to taking concrete measures to create a safe and enabling environment in which journalists, media workers, human rights defenders and civil society can operate freely. The government also agreed to ensure that freedom of assembly is guaranteed, and to ensure the right to freedom of expression including by decriminalizing defamation, and to investigate all cases of threats and attacks against journalists and human rights defenders. In a joint report to this UPR cycle, CIVICUS and Freedom Forum assessed the implementation of these recommendations and compliance with international human rights law and standards over the last five years.

Despite commitments made, repressive laws, including amendments made to Nepal’s criminal code, have been used to limit the work of independent CSOs and suppress freedom of expression. The government has continued to introduce legislation that could restrict the work of CSOs unwarrantedly and that risks undermining freedom of association.

‘We are seriously concerned by the lack of progress made with regards to the implementation of last cycle’s recommendations. This highlights the importance of using the UPR to reiterate to Nepal that its continued shortcomings in policy and practice relating to civic rights are unacceptable,’ said David Kode, Advocacy lead at CIVICUS.

Ongoing attacks against journalists continues to undermine civic space in the country. Since 2015, there have still been a number of physical attacks on human rights defenders and journalists, while others have been subjected to judicial harassment. In particular, the 2006 Electronic Transactions Act has often been misused to prosecute online journalists as well as government critics. There are also concerns about the Media Council and Public Broadcasting bill which could affect press freedom.

‘The UPR process is an opportunity to build on human rights achievements as well as to hold governments to account. A mechanism to protect journalists is welcome and necessary, but is only a first step – authorities must commit to fully investigate all attacks against media workers and to repeal or amend all restrictive laws which undermine freedom of expression,’ said David Kode.

Peaceful protests continue to be met with excessive force and arbitrary arrests. Authorities have limited public space to prevent assemblies from gathering to express dissent against government policies.

In the joint report, CIVICUS and Freedom Forum urged states to make recommendations which if implemented would guarantee the freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression, the right to operate free from unwarranted state interference, the right to communicate and cooperate, the right to seek and secure funding and the state’s duty to protect.

Key recommendations that should be made include:

  • To remove all undue restrictions on the ability of CSOs to receive international and domestic funding
  • To undertake a full consultation with all concerned stakeholders on the proposed law regulating ‘social organisations’, and the proposed National Integrity Policy, and guarantee that when enacted, undue restrictions on the freedom of association are removed
  • To ensure that HRDs are able to carry out their legitimate activities without fear or undue hindrance, obstruction or legal and administrative harassment.
  • To amend the Electronic Transactions Act and the proposed Information Technology bill designed to replace it, to bring it into line with the ICCPR and other international standards
  • To review the criminal code in order to ensure that legislation is in line with best practices and international standards in the area of the freedom of expression, looking particularly at sections 293, 294, 295, 298 and 306.
  • To reform defamation legislation in conformity with article 19 of the ICCPR, in accordance with the recommendation of the taskforce.
  • To immediately and impartially investigate all instances of extrajudicial killing and excessive force committed by security forces while monitoring protests.

The examination of Nepal will take place during the 37th Session of the UPR. The UPR is a process, in operation since 2008, which examines the human rights records of all 193 UN Member States every four and a half years. The review is an interactive dialogue between the State delegation and members of the Council and addresses a broad range of human rights topics. Following the review, a report and recommendations are prepared, which is discussed and adopted at the following session of the Human Rights Council.


Civic space in Nepal is rated as Obstructed by the CIVICUS Monitor, see country page.

 

Myanmar: UN review critical moment to address repressed civic freedoms

Statement on Myanmar ahead of Universal Periodic Review on Human Rights

CIVICUS, Free Expression Myanmar and Asia Democracy Network call on UN member states to urge the Government of Myanmar to protect civic freedoms as its human rights record is examined by the UN Human Rights Council on 25 January 2021 as part of the 37th session of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR). 

At the county’s second UPR five years ago, UN member states made 22 recommendations that directly related to civic space. Myanmar subsequently accepted seven recommendations, committing to taking concrete measures to, among others, “create and maintain a safe and enabling environment for civil society, human rights defenders and journalists” and to “work to ensure that freedom of opinion and expression are protected”.

In a joint submission to this UPR cycle, our organisations assessed implementation of these recommendations and compliance with international human rights law and standards over the last five years. The submission found that since 2015, the authorities have perpetrated serious human rights violations and escalated attacks on democratic freedoms. 

The government has continued to use an array of unwarrantedly restrictive laws to arrest and prosecute human rights defenders, activists, journalists and government critics for the peaceful exercise of their freedoms of association and expression. Artists have also been targeted: members of the Peacock Generation ‘Thangyat’ poetry troupe remain jailed following their arrest in 2019 for allegedly criticising the military in a satirical performance that was livestreamed on Facebook. Since June 2019, the government has imposed an effective internet blackout in parts of Rakhine and Chin States and silenced those critical of the shutdown.

‘States must take the opportunity of Myanmar’s UPR to hold the government to account for violations,’ said David Kode, Advocacy and Campaign Lead at CIVICUS. ‘Myanmar has not adequately delivered on the human rights commitments it made during its last cycle and those on the ground being persecuted for demanding reforms, for reporting on atrocities or simply for expressing dissent, need support from the international community.’

Myanmar further committed in its last UPR to “take concrete steps to promote and protect the right of peaceful assembly.” As our submission shows, however, restrictions on peaceful protests remain in law and practice. Arbitrary arrest and prosecution of protesters has been widespread, and the authorities have used excessive force and firearms to disperse protests against government policies and in land disputes with businesses.

More egregiously, gross human rights violations against the Rohingya in Rakhine State continue. Since 2016, the authorities – both military and civilian – have denied access or imposed restrictions on access for humanitarian CSOs providing aid to Rakhine State, including shelter, food and protection, predominantly to Rohingya people.

‘Myanmar’s elections last year – the second election since the end of military rule in 2011 – highlighted the downward spiral of rights with the censorship of political parties, ongoing internet restrictions in Rakhine and Chin States and the systematic and deliberate disenfranchisement of voters from ethnic minorities. This must be reflected in recommendations made during the country’s UPR,’ said Ichal Supriadi, Secretary-General of the Asia Democracy Network

As highlighted in our joint submission, CIVICUS, Free Expression Myanmar and Asia Democracy Network urge states to make recommendations to Myanmar which if implemented would guarantee the freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression, and the state’s duty to protect.

Key recommendations that should be made include:

  • Provide HRDs, civil society members and journalists with a safe and secure environment in which they can carry out their work and unconditionally and immediately release all HRDs and activists detained for exercising their fundamental rights to the freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression and drop all charges against them.
  • Initiate a consolidated process of repeal or amendment of legalisation that unwarrantedly restricts the legitimate work of HRDs and civil society. Specifically, we call for the  repeal or review of all criminal defamation laws including section 66(d) of the 2013 Telecommunication Law, Section 9(a,b,g), Section 25 and 30 of the News Media Law, Section 46 of the Anti-Corruption Law, Section 34(d) of the Electronic Transaction Law, section 499 to 502 of Penal Code and repeal the Unlawful Associations Act 2014.
  • Lift the effective internet shutdown in Rakhine and Chin State and refrain from measures to prevent or disrupt access to or dissemination of information online intentionally, in violation of international human rights law.
  • Review and amend the News Media Law, the Printing and Publication Enterprise Law, and the Official Secrets Act to ensure that these laws are in line with international standards in the area of the freedom of expression.
  • Ensure that journalists and human rights monitors are provided unfettered access to all areas, particularly conflict-affected regions, and can work freely and without fear of reprisals for expressing critical opinions or covering topics that the government may deem sensitive.
  • Amend the Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Law in order to guarantee fully the right to the freedom of peaceful assembly.  
  • Guarantee to the Rohingya people and other minorities the full enjoyment of their civil and political rights and take material measures to address the serious crimes they have suffered

The examination of Myanmar will take place during the 37th Session of the UPR. The UPR is a process, in operation since 2008, which examines the human rights records of all 193 UN Member States every four and a half years. The review is an interactive dialogue between the State delegation and members of the Council and addresses a broad range of human rights topics. Following the review, a report and recommendations are prepared, which is discussed and adopted at the following session of the Human Rights Council. 


Civic space in Myanmar is rated as Repressed by the CIVICUS Monitor, see country page.

 

Rwanda: UN rights review should shed light on civic space restrictions

Statement on Rwanda ahead of Universal Periodic Review on Human Rights

A United Nations review of Rwanda’s human rights record is an opportunity to shed light on civic space restrictions in the country, DefendDefenders and CIVICUS said ahead of Rwanda’s third Universal Periodic Review (UPR), which will take place on Monday 25 January 2021 in Geneva. These restrictions include attacks on civil society actors and citizens seeking to peacefully exercise their rights to free expression, assembly, and association.

“We are concerned over the vast and growing disconnect between the law and the practice in Rwanda,” said Hassan Shire, Executive Director, DefendDefenders. “The government should use the recommendations offered by states, UN experts, and civil society to take corrective action and ensure that Rwandan citizens are able to exercise their rights.”

Rwanda’s authorities have seriously restricted civic space. Human rights defenders, civil society members, and journalists face threats, intimidation, targeted attacks, smear campaigns, surveillance, reprisals for cooperating with the UN, and the risk of arbitrary arrest, detention, and judicial harassment. Opposition political parties and associations face undue obstacles, including to register and peacefully demonstrate, as well as government infil-tration attempts.

Altogether, the restrictions documented in a report by DefendDefenders and CIVICUS have given rise to a “hostile environment” for freedom of expression, both online and offline, and for the media. Citizens and journalists face risks of arrest and prosecution on “defamation,” “cybercrimes,” and other charges.

“Civil society is a valuable partner in governance, and should not be treated as the enemy,” said Mandeep Tiwana, Chief Programmes Officer, CIVICUS. “Rwandan authorities should stop interfering with civil society activities, duly investigate attacks against civil society actors, and punish perpetrators if they are serious about good governance.”

Ahead of the session, DefendDefenders and CIVICUS submitted a report analysing Rwanda’s implementation of the recommendations it received during its second UPR, in 2015, and developments regarding civic space. The report formulates recommendations which UN member states can take up during Rwanda’s review in order to push the Rwandan government to end violations and improve the situation.

The UPR is a process set up by the Human Rights Council, the UN’s principal human rights body. Every four-and-a-half to five years, every UN member state goes through a review of its human rights record in a process in which it receives recommendations from other states, which it can accept or reject. Civil society can participate in the process by submitting “alternative reports” and engaging in advocacy at the national and UN levels.


For more information, please contact:

Hassan Shire
Executive Director, DefendDefenders or +256 772 753 753 (English and Somali)

Nicolas Agostini
Representative to the United Nations, DefendDefenders or +41 79 813 49 91 (English and French)

David Kode
Advocacy and Campaigns Manager, CIVICUS or +27 73 775 8649 (English)

Susan Wilding
Head of Geneva Office, CIVICUS or +41 79 605 46 94 (English)


Civic space in Rwanda is rated as Repressed by the CIVICUS Monitor, see country page.

 

Upcoming UN review critical moment for Honduras to address civic freedom gaps

CIVICUS, the Latin American and Caribbean Network for Democracy (REDLAD) and the Association of Non-Governmental Organisations (ASONOG) call on UN member states to urge the Government of Honduras to protect civic freedoms as its human rights record is examined by the UN on 5 November 2020 as part of the 36th session of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR).

At the county’s second UPR five years ago, UN member states made 30 recommendations that directly related to civic space. Honduras subsequently committed to taking concrete measures to guarantee the freedom of expression and the media, to ensure laws, policies and mechanisms that recognise and protect the work of civil society and to create and maintain a safe and enabling environment, in which human rights defenders can operate free from hindrance and insecurity. In a joint submission to this UPR cycle, our organisations assessed the implementation of these recommendations and compliance with international human rights law and standards over the last five years. Although some positive change occurred and a protection mechanism for HRDs and journalists was established, the mechanism remained ineffective, and not enough progress has been made to investigate and punish those responsible for attacks and crimes against HRDs.

The situation of indigenous, environmental and land rights HRDs remain critical, as evidenced by the brutal murder of Berta Cáceres in March 2016 and the several that others that followed; Honduras has remained one of the deadliest countries in the world for environmental activism. In addition to physical violence, HRDs have continued to face arrests on fabricated charges, travel bans and other restrictions of their freedom of movement, defamation lawsuits, smear campaigns, threats and acts of sabotage, illegal searches and illegal surveillance.

Freedom of expression remains restricted by legislation, including through the use of defamation statutes, and by threats and violence against journalists – particularly those who denounce corruption and the impacts of extractive megaprojects.

Although there have been some positive legal changes with regards to freedom of association, organisations and activists working on politically sensitive issues remain limited in practice due to stigmatisation, criminalisation and harassment. Workers continued to face severe obstacles when trying to exercise union freedom and collective bargaining rights.

Current legislation imposes time and place restrictions on demonstrations, criminalises common protest tactics and authorises the police to prohibit demonstrations obstructing free circulation and to dissolve any assembly incurring in a variety of broadly defined crimes against public order. Peaceful demonstrations, particularly by students, indigenous, peasant and environmental movements, are frequently dissolved with excessive force, typically leading to people being arrested or injured, and occasionally resulting in fatalities.

In light of these concerns, UN member states must use the UPR of Honduras to call on the government to protect HRDs and civil society activists and to undertake the necessary legal and policy reforms to guarantee civic freedoms. The UPR will be an opportunity to hold Honduras accountable for the persistently high levels of violence make Honduras one of the most dangerous countries in the world for HRDs and journalists.

The examination of Honduras will take place during the 36th Session of the UPR. The UPR is a process, in operation since 2008, that examines the human rights records of all 193 UN Member States every four and a half years. The review is an interactive dialogue between the State delegation and members of the Council and addresses a broad range of human rights topics. Following the review, a report and recommendations are prepared, which is discussed and adopted at the following session of the Human Rights Council.


Civic space in Honduras is rated as repressed by the CIVICUS Monitor

 

Upcoming UN review critical moment for Malawi to address civic freedom gaps

CIVICUS, the Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR) and the Centre for the Development of People (CEDEP) call on UN member states to urge the Government of Malawi to double its efforts to protect civic freedoms as its human rights record is examined by the UN Human Rights Council on 3 November 2020 as part of the 36th session of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR). 

At the county’s second UPR five years ago, UN member states made 53 recommendations that directly related to civic space. Malawi subsequently committed to taking concrete measures to protect freedom of assembly by ensuring that relevant constitutional provisions relating to freedom of assembly are allowed to thrive without undue interference.  It also agreed to fully investigate all cases of harassment and intimidation of journalists and human rights defenders with a view to bringing the perpetrators to justice and to ensure the protection of human rights defenders. 

In a joint submission to this UPR cycle, our organisations assessed the implementation of these recommendations and compliance with international human rights law and standards over the last five years. Since Malawi’s second UPR, the authorities routinely restricted freedoms of assembly, association and expression by violently dispersing peaceful protests, arresting human rights defenders and targeting independent media outlets.  These restrictions on fundamental freedoms increased substantively after the controversial elections of May 2019.  In the aftermath of the elections, human rights defenders were subjected to smear campaigns, judicial persecution and detention by the authorities.  

“Human rights defenders are, particularly under threat. Member states should take this opportunity to make recommendations to support them, including by calling on the Government of Malawi to enact a long-overdue specific law for the protection of Human Rights Defenders,” said Gift Trapence, Executive Director, Centre for the Development of People.

The June 2020 elections and the coming to power of a new government presents an opportunity for Malawi to reset its human rights record and place the respect for the rule of law and fundamental freedoms at the centre of government actions and policies. In our joint UPR submission, we expressed concerns over the use of the NGO Act (2000), the Penal Code and the use of other legislation which limit the operations of CSOs.  The increase in registration fees for CSOs provided for in the Non-Governmental Organizations (Fees) Regulation and the requirement for CSOs to submit a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with relevant government ministries and departments increase the administrative burdens on CSOs and restrict their abilities to respond to the needs of communities in an agile manner. 

Restrictive provisions in the Penal Code and the Cyber Security Law adopted in 2016 were used to limit freedom of expression and target journalists, bloggers and media houses.  The Penal Code provided for prison sentences to those found guilty of “insulting” the Head of State while the Cyber Crimes law allows for the imprisonment of those who simply post “offensive” content. In addition, there were several instances where journalists were subjected to judicial persecution while others were attacked by state and non-state actors. 

The Malawian authorities must do more to protect journalists from state and non-state actors and create an enabling environment for journalists and independent media outlets to report on issues affecting citizens without fear of intimidation or harassment.  In August 2020 for example, two journalists from the independent Mibawa Television Station were subjected to threats, harassment and smear campaigns following utterances they made on-air about the Covid-19 pandemic.  Other journalists were threatened under similar circumstances for comments made about the pandemic. 

The Operationalization of the Access to Information (ATI) law is a move in the right direction and will ensure that journalists and citizens will have access to information from state actors.  The operationalization of the ATI should be followed by an annulment of restrictive provisions in the Penal Code and the Cyber Crimes Law to enhance freedom of expression and media freedoms. 

“We are concerned that all of the recommendations Malawi accepted during the previous UPR review relating to journalists and human rights defenders have not been implemented. This highlights the need to reiterate to Malawi that its continued disregard of the rights of journalists and human rights defenders remains unacceptable.  It also highlights the need keep a close eye on the human rights situation in Malawi after the outcome of the review has been adopted to ensure compliance with the recommendations,” said Michael Kaiyatsa, Acting Executive Director of the Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation.  

The examination of Malawi will take place during the 36th Session of the UPR. The UPR is a process, in operation since 2008, which examines the human rights records of all 193 UN Member States every four and a half years. The review is an interactive dialogue between the State delegation and members of the Council and addresses a broad range of human rights topics. Following the review, a report and recommendations are prepared, which is discussed and adopted at the following session of the Human Rights Council. 


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

 

Country recommendations on civic space for Universal Periodic Review

CIVICUS makes joint UN Universal Periodic Review (UPR) submissions on civil society space in Mozambique, Niger, Paraguay and Singapore

The United Nations Human Rights Council's Universal Periodic Review is a unique process which involves a review of the human rights records of all 193 UN Member States once every 4.5 years.


CIVICUS and its partners have submitted joint UN Universal Periodic Review submissions on four countries to the UN Human Rights Council in advance of the 38th UPR session (April-May 2021). 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 second UPR cycle over 4-years ago and provide a number of targeted follow-up recommendations.

Mozambique - CIVICUS and JOINT – Liga das ONG em Moçambique examine and raise concerns on the deteriorating environment in which journalists and civil society activists operate. Physical attacks, intimidation, arbitrary arrests and threats have become increasingly common, especially for civil society activists and journalists working or reporting on sensitive issues such as the Cabo election monitoring, transparency and accountability, election monitoring, transparency and accountability and corruption.

Niger (French) - CIVICUS, the West African Human Rights Defenders Network and the Nigerien Network of Human Rights Defenders highlight the level of implementation of the recommendations of received by Niger during its previous review in 2016. Despite constitutional guarantees on freedom of peaceful assembly, expression and association, the Nigerien government has targeted human rights defenders and subjected them to arbitrary arrests and judicial persecution. Peaceful assemblies are repressed and bans are imposed on planned protests while journalists are detained for reporting on issues affecting the state. Restrictive legislation like the 2019 Cyber Crimes Law are used to prosecute representatives of civil society.

Paraguay (Spanish) - CIVICUS and Semillas para la Democracia address concerns regarding the growing hostility, stigmatisation and criminalisation faced by HRDs, and particularly by the members of peasant, Indigenous, trade union and student movements, as well as by journalists reporting on protests, organised crime, corruption and human rights abuses. Along with the restrictions on the freedom of expression that result from the use of criminal defamation statutes and economic pressures from both private and public actors, the submission further examines the multiple ways in which dissent is stifled in the streets, as protests are prevented through the application of legislation imposing undue time and place restrictions and authorisation requirements, protesters are criminalised under the Penal Code, and demonstrations are violently suppressed by the security forces.

CIVICUS y Semillas para la Democracia abordan sus preocupaciones relativas a las crecientes hostilidad, estigmatización y criminalización que enfrentan las personas defensoras de derechos humanos, y en particular las que integran los movimientos campesino, indígena, sindical y estudiantil, así como los periodistas que reportan acerca de protestas, crimen organizado, corrupción y violaciones de derechos humanos. Además de las restricciones de la libertad de expresión derivadas de la aplicación de estatutos de difamación penal y de presiones económicas de actores tanto privados como públicos, el documento examina las múltiples formas en que el disenso es ahogado en las calles, en la medida en que las protestas son impedidas mediante la aplicación de legislación que impone restricciones indebidas de tiempo y lugar y requisitos de autorización, los manifestantes son criminalizados bajo el Código Penal, y las manifestaciones son violentamente suprimidas por las fuerzas de seguridad.

Singapore - CIVICUS and The Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) highlight ongoing use of restrictive laws, including defamation laws, to criminalise criticism of the authorities by HRDs and critics and the draconian restrictions on peaceful assembly. It also documents new laws that have been deployed to restrict media freedom and freedom of expression online and to harass the political opposition, journalists and civil society.


Civic space in Mozambique, Niger, Paraguay, and Singapore are rated as Obstructed by the CIVICUS Monitor.

See all of our UPR submissions here.

 

Outcomes from the UN Human Rights Council: Progress & Shortcomings

Joint statement from the end of the United Nations' 45th Session of the UN Human Rights Council


14 organisations share reflections on the key outcomes of the 45th session of the UN Human Rights Council, as well as the missed opportunities to address key issues and situations including on deadly migration routes at EU and US borders, and the human rights situations in Algeria, Bolivia, China, Egypt, and India. A shortened version was delivered at the Council, which can be watched in the following video:

 

Full written version below, which also highlights countries in question with the country's civic space rating according to the CIVICUS Monitor: open narrowed obstructed repressed closed -see footnotes for full description

Thematic issues and resolutions

We welcome the adoption of the resolution on the protection, promotion and respect of women’s and girls’ rights in humanitarian situations, and particularly command the core group for this new initiative that seeks to bridge accountability gaps faced by women and girls in humanitarian situations. Adoption by consensus of this resolution emphasizes the timeliness and importance of this new initiative and paves the way for greater accountability for women and girls in these settings and for approaches that centers their agency and meaningful participation.

We welcome the resolution on the safety of journalists. With impunity for attacks and reprisals against journalists as high as 90% worldwide, this resolution is more important than ever. In particular, we welcome new paragraphs addressing extraterritorial threats, strategic lawsuits against public participation, access to information, and overbroad and vague laws criminalising journalism, as well as strengthened language on gender throughout the resolution. We now urge all States to implement these commitments at the national level – commitments on paper are not enough.

We welcome that several States called for accountability for individual victims of reprisals in Egypt, Burundi, Laos, Venezuela and China. We urge all States to stand up for the critical voices of human rights defenders and seize the opportunity to take up specific cases in the report during future interactive dialogues.

We welcome the adoption of the resolution on the contribution of the Council to prevention of human rights violations, which contributes to strengthening the Council’s prevention mandate, mainstreaming prevention throughout the work of the Council, and bringing Geneva and New York, and the three pillars of the UN closer. We urge all States to implement the thematic elements contained in the resolution by applying them to country-specific contexts. In this regard, they should rely on objective criteria, including restrictions on civic space and attacks on HRDs, which often constitute early warning signs of human rights crises.

We welcome the High Commissioner’s update on police violence against people of African Descent. We also welcome that the High Commissioner will center the voices of victims of people of African descent, their families and communities in the preparation of the report on systemic racism and police violence against Africans and People of African Descent, and government responses to antiracism protests. We urge the Council to continue its scrutiny so that racial justice is achieved in the United States and around the world.

We welcome the adoption of a resolution on the 20th anniversary of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action (DDPA) and urge all States to heed to the calls made by the Working Group on People of African Descent to implement the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action, embrace the International Decade of People of African Descent and operationalise the Permanent Forum on People of African Descent.

We welcome the leadership of GRULAC and the EU to ensure that the resolution on the rights of the child maintained its intended focus to ensure that children’s rights are protected from environmental harm, urging States to consider recognising a right to a healthy environment and to create inclusive and meaningful spaces for children to contribute to decision-making. However, we are concerned by the amendments put forward to weaken the text on child participation, setting a bad precedent. Furthermore, the Council lost an opportunity to reinforce States’ heightened obligations as reflected in the Framework Principles; promote gender inclusive language; strengthen follow-up to the resolution; and go beyond Council’s resolution 40/11 in recognising the role of child human rights defenders.

We welcome the statement made by Costa Rica on behalf of the Core Group on Human Rights and the Environment acknowledging that a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment is “integral to the full enjoyment of a wide range of human rights, including the rights to life, health, food, water and sanitation”. The Covid-19 pandemic and the climate crisis evidence the urgent need for global recognition of the right to a healthy environment. In the joint appeal “The Time is Now”, more than 950 organizations representing civil society and indigenous peoples from across the world call for the Council to recognize the right to a healthy environment without further delay. We therefore urge all States to rise to the existential challenge that climate change and environmental degradation pose to present and future generations and join us in voicing support for global recognition of the right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment.

We welcome High Commissioner’s report on the impact of arms transfers and the resolution adopted on human rights impact of civilian acquisition, possession and use of firearms which, moving forward, need to ensure enhanced focus on preventative and inclusive approaches, and highlight the application of the business and human rights framework to the arms industry to not only address the impact of diverted firearms but also the impact of irresponsible legal transfers or acquisitions.

Human rights situations on the Council’s agenda

We welcome the urgent debate on Belarus and the resolution mandating the High Commissioner to monitor and report on the situation in the near future. We condemn the authorities’ continued crackdown on peaceful protesters and regret their rejection of any dialogue with opposition leaders and civil society actors. We reiterate our call on Belarus to put an end to all human rights violations and abuses against dissenting voices.

Recognized as a crime against humanity, apartheid gives rise to individual criminal responsibility and State responsibility to bring the illegal situation to an end. We urge the Council to take action to uphold the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people, including self-determination and return, by adopting effective measures to overcome *Israeli apartheid over the *Palestinian people as a whole. 

We welcome that the Council has renewed and strengthened the mandate of the fact-finding mission on Venezuela (with an increased majority on the 2019 resolution) to allow for its enquiries to further bolster efforts to hold perpetrators to account.

We welcome the renewal and strengthening of the mandate of the Group of Eminent Experts on Yemen, including to collect, consolidate and analyse information related to, and clarify responsibility for, the most serious crimes under international law and tasking the GEE to explore and report on recommended approaches and practical steps to help ensure justice and redress for Yemen. We look forward to States building on this important progress as part of a holistic strategy towards achieving accountability and redress for victims in Yemen.

We are gravely concerned over the dramatic deterioration of the human rights situation in Cambodia over the past five years. Civic space has continued to shrink due to the adoption of restrictive legislations on Associations and NGOs, on Trade Unions, on the State of Emergency, and surely to be adopted draft Law on Public Order. Lack of independence of the judiciary and executive interference in legal and judicial bodies further enable rampant abuse of laws to target and harass individuals. Since the main opposition party was dissolved, its members have been mass criminalised and harassed. Independent media has been decimated, and HRDs are systematically targeted, even at the UN  during the Interactive Dialogue on Cambodia. We urge States to take meaningful action at the Council to address the escalating violations and ongoing abuses of human rights in Cambodia.

Thousands of victims of killings and other violations and their families continue to be deprived of justice in the Philippines. The adopted resolution is a collective failure by the States at this Council to ensure the needed international investigation. It fails to reflect the gravity of the situation and the findings in the OHCHR report mandated by this Council. At the same time, the resolution keeps the Philippines on the agenda of the Council for the next two years. The Council can and should live up to its responsibility to ensure an international investigation if the killings and the crackdown on civil society does not immediately end and prosecution of perpetrators are not pursued.

In the absence of concrete progress in Burundi and given the government’s refusal to engage, a further extension of the mandate of the Commission of Inquiry is the most sensible way forward. The Burundian government should now change course by resuming its cooperation with the UN human rights system, including with the Office of the High Commissioner with a view to re-opening the country office, as a first step towards broader engagement with UN and African mechanisms.

The resolution on Sudan is a welcome step as it ensures that the country’s human rights situation will continue to be publicly discussed while the Transitional Government attempts to strengthen gains of the Revolution and prevent setbacks. Sudan’s political transition remains fragile, and we urge the Council to maintain a high level of support to, and scrutiny of, the country until at least the end of the transition, in 2022-2023.

We welcome the renewal of the mandate of the Independent Expert on Somalia, as continued attention to, and monitoring of, the country’s human rights situation is direly needed ahead of the elections planned for 2021.

We welcome the joint statement delivered by Denmark on behalf of 33 States raising their concerns over the human rights situation in Saudi Arabia, including calling for the immediate release of Saudi women human rights defenders. We urge the Council to continue its scrutiny and to establish a monitoring and reporting mechanism over the situation.

We also welcome the joint statement delivered by Germany on behalf of 48 States on Iran calling for the release of all political prisoners and those arbitrarily detained, and for perpetrators to be held accountable.

Human rights situations which should be on the Council’s agenda

Lethal disregard for the human rights of migrants and refugees continues unabated. This session opened with the High Commissioner calling for independent monitoring of pushbacks and collective expulsions at the land and sea borders of EU States. This session closes with this call unanswered. Silence from the Council tells migrants and refugees that their lives are disposable. Last week, a caravan of more than 2000 migrants left Honduras to the United States. Mexico and Guatemala expressly threatened them by implementing policies that discriminate, criminalise, fail to assess protection needs and put at risk the lives of the migrants. Silence from the Council tells States that the rights of migrants and refugees can be violated with impunity. The Council must act on the High Commissioner’s call and demonstrate that it can respond to human rights violations wherever they take place by establishing a monitoring mechanism for this and other deadly migration routes.

This session, hundreds of NGOs from more than 60 countries, from Azerbaijan to Zambia, joined the call by 50 UN Special Procedures and dozens of States for international monitoring and reporting of China's sweeping rights violations. The High Commissioner for Human Rights should fulfil her independent mandate to publicly report on China’s mass violations, and the Council should act urgently to create a monitoring mechanism. No State should be above the law. 

The Council should urge Algeria to "halt the arrest and detention of political activists, lawyers, journalists, and human rights defenders, as well as any person who expresses dissent or criticism of the government" and cease their arbitrary prosecution as highlighted by a joint statement from UN special procedures.

The Council should also urge Egypt to immediately release all those detained for exercising their rights, affirming the repeated calls made by Special Procedures and States over the past several years.

Weeks before the elections, no attention was paid to the increasingly violent situation in Bolivia, governed since November 2019 by an unelected government that has persecuted protesters, indigenous and union leaders and more than 150 members of the MAS party.

We regret the Council’s continued silence on the human rights crisis in Kashmir. More than a year after India revoked the constitutional autonomy of Indian-administered Kashmir, fundamental freedoms remain severely curtailed with ongoing reports of violence by police and security forces including the continued use of pellet guns against protestors, torture and custodial deaths. Human rights violations also continue to take place in *Pakistan-administered Kashmir. We reiterate our calls on India and Pakistan to grant unfettered access to OHCHR and other independent observers to Kashmir, and on the Council to establish an independent international investigation mechanism into past and ongoing violations and abuses in Kashmir.

We regret the Council’s silence on the arbitrary arrests of peaceful protesters, intimidation and use of excessive force by the police in India. The government’s use of overbroad “national security”, “sedition”, and counter terrorism laws to intimidate, detain, torture and silence human rights defenders is a continuation of the erosion of democratic freedoms. The enactment of the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Amendment Act, 2020 in September 2020 seeks to  further restrict human rights advocacy and collaborative work among civil society and diminishes space for dissent.

Signatories:

  1. Article 19
  2. Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)
  3. Association for Progressive Communications
  4. Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
  5. Center for Reproductive Rights
  6. 6.Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales
  7. Child Rights Connect
  8. CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
  9. DefendDefenders (East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project)
  10. Franciscans International
  11. International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
  12. International Movement Against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism (IMADR)
  13. International Service for Human Rights
  14. World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)

The CIVICUS Monitor is a research tool that provides quantitative and qualitative data on the state of civil society and civic freedoms in 196 countries. The data provides the basis for civic space ratings, which are based on up-to-date information and indicators on the state of freedom of association, peaceful assembly and expression. Countries can be rated as: open narrowed obstructed repressed closed

 

Philippines: An international investigation is needed as government continues to deny grave violations

Joint statement at the 45th Session of the UN Human Rights Council -- delivered by the World Organisation Against Torture

 


On behalf of 14 organisations, including colleagues in the Philippines, we are deeply disappointed that the draft Item 10 resolution on the Philippines fails to reflect the gravity of the situation, including as documented in the OHCHR report.

Colleagues from the Philippines have tirelessly advocated for an international investigation, at great personal risk. The thousands of victims of killings and other violations and their families continue to be deprived of justice.

This is a collective failure by the States at this Council. We are shocked by the lack of support for a more robust response.

We acknowledge the rationale presented for constructive engagement with the Government of the Philippines. However, an approach based purely on technical cooperation and capacity-building has no realistic prospect of meaningful impact with a government that denies the true scale and severity of the human rights violations, has publicly endorsed the policy of killings, avoids independent investigations, and continues to crack down on civil society.

Despite the shortcomings of the resolution, it at least keeps the situation on the agenda for the next two years and allows for robust reporting by the OHCHR on the situation – including the implementation, or lack thereof, of OHCHR report recommendations. The Council must follow developments closely and be ready to launch an independent investigation if the killings and the crackdown on civil society do not immediately end and prosecution of perpetrators is not pursued.


Alyansa Tigil Mina (ATM)
Amnesty International
Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)
CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
Ecumenical Voice for Human Rights and Peace in the Philippines (EcuVoice)
Franciscan International
Harm Reduction International
Human Rights Watch
iDefend
International Commission of Jurists (ICJ)
International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)
KARAPATAN
Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocate (PAHRA)
World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)


Civic space in the Philippines rated as  Obstructed by the CIVICUS Monitor

 

DRC: Attacks on activists and journalists persist

Statement at the 45th Session of the UN Human Rights Council -- Enhanced Dialogue on the Democratic Republic of the Congo

 


Thank you, Madame President, and thank you High Commissioner for your report.

We welcomed measures taken by DRC in 2019 under President Tshisekedi to open democratic space but regret ongoing civic space violations in 2020. Journalists and HRDs have been subject to threats, harassment, intimidation and arbitrary arrests – often on accusations of contempt of officials or defamation. Activist Joseph Bayoko Lokondo was sentenced in March 2020 to 13 months in prison for ‘contempt of a member of the government’ and ‘defamatory statements’ for having criticized the provincial governor. He was released in July after an appeal court reduced his sentence. Freddy Kambale, activist for the social movement LUCHA, was killed in May 2020 by live ammunition during a peaceful protest against increasing insecurity in North Kivu.

Several protests in Kinshasa against the appointment of a new president of the national electoral commission (CENI) in July 2020 were banned by authorities on grounds of the health emergency, while protests in several cities were dispersed and in some cases met with excessive and lethal force. Other protesters in Kinshasa, Goma and Kisangani were dispersed, and tens of protesters detained.

We call on the administration to ensure that fundamental freedoms are respected, including by reviewing all restrictive legislation, decriminalising press offences as a matter of urgency, and ensuring the protection of human rights defenders and journalists.

Further sustained progress will prove impossible without the full participation, and protection, of civil society. We ask the High Commissioner how members and observers of this Council can best support our colleagues on the ground?

Finally, we call on the Council to ensure the continuation of this vital mandate in order to maintain and build on the increasingly fragile improvements we have seen since 2019.


Civic space in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is rated as Closed by the CIVICUS Monitor

 

The UN must address the government of the Philippines pattern of reprisals

Joint statement at the 45th Session of the UN Human Rights Council -- CIVICUS and Karapatan, delivered by Roneo Clamor


CIVICUS and its member organisation Karapatan welcome the Secretary General’s report and recommendations on reprisals. It reflects the systemic patterns of reprisals which we see in the Philippines against human rights defenders engaging with the UN.

Karapatan paralegal Zara Alvarez was killed last month. This year alone, human rights defenders Teresita Naul and Alexander Philip Abinguna were arrested and are still detained, while Karapatan colleagues Jay Apiag, Clarizza Singson, Julius Dagatan, Reylan Vergara, Petty Serrano, and myself, routinely receive online and offline attacks on a daily basis, including judicial harassment. Our Secretary-General Christina Palabay has suffered rape and death threats following advocacy at the Council, including to support the adoption of resolution 41/2 on the Philippines last year. The same patterns of reprisals are reported against other NGOs as well.

Karapatan was accused by the Philippines government of being a terrorist organization, prompting an independent audit into longstanding funding from Belgium. The audit found no irregularities. But such baseless allegations before the Council impedes our access to resources for human rights advocacy in the Philippines and within UN institutions.

The Philippines is a member of this Council. That reprisals continue unabated, without accountability, has a direct impact on the worth of the UN as a whole. We urge the Council to address the Philippine government’s patterns of reprisals against human rights defenders. We appeal to the Council to work towards an independent investigation on the human rights situation in the Philippines.


Civic space in Philippines rated as  Obstructed by the CIVICUS Monitor

 

Cambodia's attempts to silence dissent are racheting up

Joint statement at the 45th Session of the UN Human Rights Council -- CIVICUS and the Cambodian Center for Human Rights


The Royal Government of Cambodia’s attempts to silence dissent in the country - by criminalising political opposition, shutting down media outlets, jailing journalists, and targeting human rights defenders and civil society groups who speak out – is ratcheting up. Twenty activists, artists and human rights defenders have been imprisoned since July. CIVICUS and our member organization CCHR are alarmed by this sharp deterioration of human rights, which at the moment shows no sign of abating.

The arrest of union leader Rong Chhun in July precipitated the arrest of 13 further people for calling for the release of political prisoners. In addition, recent weeks have seen environmental activists, rappers, and even a Buddhist monk detained simply for exercising their right to freedom of expression. One youth activist was arrested after leaving the OHCHR offices in Phnom Penh, where she had sought protection from fear of arrest.

Prominent rights groups have been targeted by authorities for their work and this year alone, at least fifteen journalists have been summoned or arrested by police and judicial authorities as a result of their reporting.

Repressive laws are used to curtail civic freedoms. Most recently, in April 2020, the Royal Government of Cambodia used the COVID-19 crisis to adopt a draconian state of emergency law that provides the authorities with broad and unfettered powers to restrict fundamental freedoms. A heavily criticized draft law on public order and a highly concerning draft sub-decree establishing a national internet gateway loom, brimming with potential to facilitate further human rights violations.

We question the Special Rapporteur’s suggestion that the Cambodian authorities have displayed "increased awareness of international human rights norms and standards" during her tenure as Special Rapporteur.

During this period, a systematic crackdown on political opponents, labour activists, independent media, civil society organizations and human rights defenders has transformed Cambodia’s human rights situation for the worse. Such severe, and ongoing, crackdown on all forms of dissent and curtailment of civic space should be clearly condemned.

It is increasingly clear that that the mandate is not sufficient to adequately address the current situation, nor to protect human rights defenders and civil society members in Cambodia who increasingly risk arbitrary detention, physical attacks and threats.

An escalation in human rights violations merits a similar escalation in Council action, and we call for the Council to take such action before Cambodia’s hard-fought democratic freedoms are lost completely.


Civic space in Cambodia rated as Repressed by the CIVICUS Monitor

 

India: The National Human Rights Commission not upholding its mandate or protecting the constitution

Statement at the 45th Session of the UN Human Rights Council 


Over the last two years, we have seen in India an alarming deterioration of civic freedoms. The government is using a variety of restrictive laws - including national security and counter terrorism legislation - to attack, arrest and imprison human rights defenders, peaceful protesters and critics. The Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) – brought in in December 2019 and described by the the High Commissioner as “fundamentally discriminatory in nature” – is in violation of international human rights law.

Despite this, National Human Rights Commission of India (NHRCI) has, to date, taken no concrete steps nor offered more than token rhetoric to safeguard the constitution and publicly condemn the actions of the government to curb fundamental rights.

The NHRC was initially granted an “A” status on the basis of proposed amendments at the time of its accreditation which, since passed, do not fully meet the requirements of the Paris Principles. Of the criteria to which an NHRI must adhere to in order to attain A-status, the NHRCI falls short in several. Its lack of diverse representation is of serious concern. Its appointment process is flawed and opaque. The NHRCI has yet to use its power to review recent restrictive laws, including the FCRA and CCA, and recommend amendments to the government. Despite the appointment of a focal point on HRDs, this appears to be a token gesture rather than a genuine attempt at protecting HRDs, and the position has since been downgraded still further.

The post of Director General of Investigation and staff in its investigation division are drawn solely from the police forces. This is of serious concern when police officers are the alleged perpetrators of numerous rights violations – during the outbreak of violence in the midst of protests in Delhi of January this year, Delhi police abdicated in its duty to endi the violence, and used torture and excessive force against peaceful protesters. After an investigation, the NHRC released a report which partially blamed student protestors and argued that since the students were violent, right to freedom of assembly would not apply to them.

With the amendments to the FCRA, the Indian government appears to be targeting any dissent and oversight of their draconian laws. Amnesty International India’s enforced closure this week means that India has lost one more vital voice in protecting its people from rights violations. More than ever, the NHRC must step up. We call for its immediate reform in order to adequately fulfil its mandate to protect human rights in India. We furthermore call on GANHRI’s Sub-Committee on Accreditation to consider the possibility of a Special Review of the NHRCI with a view to reassessing its A-status.


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

New report: Punished for speaking up: The ongoing use of restrictive laws to silence dissent in India

 

Civil society facing reprisals for engagement in UN human rights mechanisms

Statement at the 45th Session of the UN Human Rights Council

 

 


Acts of reprisal pose a threat to the functioning of UN human rights mechanisms as a whole. Civil society engagement is fundamentally necessary to ensure adequate reporting to these mechanisms and to promote human rights, in and outside the UN. Reprisals lead to self-censorship, weakened engagement and watered-down reporting, and represent an attack against UN mechanisms themselves.

This week, the Amnesty International India section was forced to stop its ongoing work and let go of its staff after a complete freezing of the organisation’s bank account. India is a member of this Council, and it is particularly egregious that the country has effectively shuttered a critical voice in researching and reporting human rights violations to UN mechanisms.

We are also alarmed that in China, one of the most prolific perpetrators of reprisals, human rights defenders, activists and lawyers reported that they had been targeted for engaging with the United Nations staff or human rights mechanisms. In September 2018, the Permanent Mission of Burundi in Geneva requested that OHCHR withdrew the accreditation of various human rights defenders. In Cambodia, attacks by the government against prominent rights group LICADHO, STT and Mother Nature, among others, risks impeding them from their vital monitoring and reporting work and severely restricts the ability of defenders to engage with human rights mechanisms at a critical time when Cambodia's human rights are in freefall.

We urge Member States to not only refrain from such acts of intimidation and reprisals, but to address them. It is past time to impose a real political cost for the deliberate weakening of our human rights mechanisms.

 

Armenia adoption of Universal Periodic Review on Human Rights

Statement at the 45th Session of the UN Human Rights Council

Universal Periodic Review on Human Rights -- Outcome Adoption for Armenia


Thank you, Madame President.

CIVICUS welcomes the government of Armenia’s engagement in the UPR process. We also acknowledge the steps taken by the government in managing the political transition and addressing some of the human rights concerns that were pervasive under the previous administration. We are, however, concerned about ongoing restrictions on the activities of human rights defenders, the targeting of independent media and smear campaigns by some government officials. There are also instances of violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation.

In our UPR submission, we highlighted ongoing concerns over the targeting of human rights defenders who engage in advocacy on gender rights, environmental rights and the actions of large corporations. Last year, for example, human rights defender Lilit Martirosyan and her family were subjected to acts of intimidation and death threats after she made a speech about issues affecting members of the LGBTI community at the National Assembly. Such attacks are further precipitated by hateful and derogatory statements by some senior government officials. There have also been instances in which social media users have been arrested.

We remain concerned about the restrictions targeting some peaceful assemblies and the arbitrary arrests and judicial persecution of those who take part in such protests.

It is imperative for the Armenian authorities to also carry out independent investigations into past violence and excessive use of force by law enforcement which currently remain limited.

We welcome that Armenia accepted recommendations relating to enjoyment of fundamental freedoms, and we call on Armenia to take steps to implement such recommendations to create and strengthen an enabling environment for civil society.


Civic space in Armenia is currently rated as Obstructed by the  CIVICUS Monitor

 

Kenya's adoption of Universal Periodic Review on Human Rights

Joint Statement at the 45th Session of the UN Human Rights Council

Universal Periodic Review on Human Rights -- Outcome Adoption for Kenya | Delivered by Martin Ray Taban Mavenjina, Kenya Human Rights Commission

 


Thank you, Madame President. This is a statement from the Kenya Human Rights Commission and CIVICUS.

During Kenya’s examination under the 2nd UPR cycle, the government received 29 recommendations relating to civic space. Of these recommendations, 20 were accepted while 9 were noted. Of those accepted, our analysis indicates that the government has partially implemented eight recommendations and has not implemented 12.

We welcome that during this cycle, Kenya accepted several recommendations relating to civic space including to “Take further measures towards ensuring the safety of journalists, as well as towards guaranteeing the freedoms of expression, of the press, of association and of peaceful assembly.”

However, Kenya has continued to severely restrict the right to peaceful assembly and expression by cracking down on peaceful assembly through the use of disproportionate force, arrests and detention of peaceful protesters, human rights defenders and journalists. In November 2019, a video which sparked public outrage emerged of four police officers brutally beating an unarmed student as he lay on the ground, following student protests against rising insecurity at the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology in Juja town 

Kenya has failed to hold to account those responsible for the deaths, injuries and arbitrary arrests of protestors and journalists, and has misapplied the legal framework to further restrict civic space. While the Public Order Act requires those who wish to assemble to notify the police three days prior to an assembly, police have often misinterpreted this provision to deny permission to groups.

Madame President, we urge the Government of Kenya to institute charges and prosecute law enforcement officers found to have acted unlawfully in the course of protests by using disproportionate force and firearms in response to protests, and to ensure that the law is not misapplied by authorities to infringe on human rights.  We call on the Government of Kenya to take proactive measures to address these concerns and implement the recommendations it has accepted to create and maintain, in law and in practice, an enabling environment for human rights defenders, media houses and journalists. We further call on member states to follow up on their recommendations to ensure their implementation.


Civic space in Kenya is currently rated as Obstructed by the  CIVICUS Monitor

 

Laos adoption of Universal Periodic Review on Human Rights

Joint statement with Forum Asia and Manushya at the 45th Session of the UN Human Rights Council

Universal Periodic Review on Human Rights -- Outcome Adoption for Laos

 


Thank you, Mr Vice President.

We note that the government of Lao PDR has accepted the majority of the recommendations it received during this Universal Periodic Review. However, we regret that the government has not accepted several key recommendations related to fundamental freedoms, and protection of human rights defenders. 

Following the second cycle UPR in 2015, Lao PDR committed to reassess the restrictions on [fundamental freedoms] civil society organisations, revise legislation to protect the right to freedom of expression and to ensure freedom of assembly in line with the ICCPR. However, the government’s actions since then stand in stark contrast to these commitments as well as Constitutional guarantees of these rights. 

New amendments to the Media Act of 2008 introduced in 2016 further consolidate the government’s absolute control over the media.

The government continues to criminalise criticism of the government using unwarranted criminal defamation charges on the basis of protecting “national interests,” as well as charges of anti-state propaganda, penalized under article 117 of the criminal code.  For instance, woman human rights defender, Houayheuang Xayabouly, known as Muay, was sentenced in November 2019 to 5-year imprisonment for a Facebook post criticising the slow response of the government in providing assistance  to affected communities displaced by flooding as a result of tropical storm in August 2019. 

The new Decree No. 238 on Associations introduced in November 2017 grants the government broad powers to control or prohibit the formation of associations, monitor and curtail their activities and finances, and to dissolve associations on arbitrary grounds without right of appeal. 

We call on Lao PDR to create and maintain, in law and practice, an enabling environment for CSOs, media, journalists and human rights defenders by repealing or reviewing all repressive legislation in accordance with international standards. In particular, we call on Lao to review the Media Act, Decree No. 238 on Associations, Decree number 327 on Internet-Based Information Control/Management and provisions of the Penal Code, including Article 117 on propaganda against the state, that impose undue restrictions on fundamental freedoms. We call on the Lao government to ensure all Lao people can exercise their fundamental freedom of expression, as enshrined in the ICCPR.

We regret the government’s failure to accept key recommendations to effectively investigate the enforced disappearance of human rights defender Sombath Somphone. Given the government’s protracted failure to disclose any new information about the investigation since June 2013, we call on Lao to establish a new independent and impartial investigative body to determine the fate and whereabouts of Sombath.

We further call on the government to publicly set out a comprehensive, measurable and time-bound action plan for the implementation of UPR recommendations, in full cooperation and consultation with civil society.


Civic space in Laos is currently rated as Closed by the  CIVICUS Monitor

 

States falling short on protecting migrants' rights defenders

Joint statement at the 45th Session of the UN Human Rights Council -- delivered by International Service for Human Rights

General debate on the promotion and protection of all human rights, civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, including the right to development


As the High Commissioner recognised in her opening remarks to this session, States have a responsibility to ensure that migrants' lives are protected and their human rights upheld; she made clear that the dire precarity of migrants in camps on Lesvos, and the risks to life of migrants facing collective pushback and expulsions, underscored ‘the need for solidarity and shared responsibility among EU Member States’. 

Her statement follows on the heels of timely and incisive reporting by the Special Procedures – including of course the report of the SR on Migrants to HRC44, but also those by mandates addressing human rights defenders, freedom of association and assembly, and international solidarity. 

For the human rights of migrants to be fully protected, the right of individuals and organisations to defend migrants’ rights – whether through humanitarian assistance and search-and-rescue, legal aid, policy advocacy, or civil disobedience – must also be fully protected. This should no longer be up for discussion. 

And yet, the concerns – and calls to action – have fallen on deaf ears. 

In Europe, the work of think tanks and NGOs such as the ReSOMA project has led to the documentation of at least 171 individuals in 60 cases of criminalisation of migrant rights defenders over the period 2014-2019. The ‘crimes’ of which they stand accused are based on simple acts of human kindness: giving someone a ride in their car in a mountainous area so that they won’t get hypothermia; saving someone who is drowning at sea; giving someone food or shelter; or lending a cell phone. 

While rarely involving sentencing, the cases show a worrying trend of abuse of short-term detentions (with police often failing to substantiate charges) or, where charges are brought, lengthy and expensive judicial proceedings that put peoples’ lives on hold and their livelihoods at risk. This has a deeper chilling effect on defenders who are themselves migrants, and whose work may put their residence permits, homes and jobs in jeopardy. 

The EU and many Member States at this Council can and do speak out in support of human rights defenders, which is an important contribution, but we must be clear: these practices can and often do constitute judicial harassment. This is not something that happens only ‘abroad’, nor a practice that can be excused if it happens within your borders. 

ISHR and the co-signatories to this statement have grown increasingly concerned about the reluctance of this Council to contribute meaningfully to advancing the protection of the human rights of migrants in multilateral, regional and national spaces. We urge all governments to fully apply the OHCHR Guidelines on Migrants in Vulnerable Situations, including by providing a safe and enabling environment for all migrant rights’ defenders. 

And we urge members and observers of the Human Rights Council to model a rights-based approach for other intergovernmental bodies, by bringing the voices of migrants and their supporters to speak to the serious, often life-altering impacts to which their border policies give rise. 

 

Venezuela: Serious human rights violations continue during COVID-19

Statement at the 45th Session of the UN Human Rights Council -- delivered by Marsyabel Rodriguez from Espacio Público

Interactive Dialogue on the fact-finding Mission on Venezuela. 


From the Venezuelan organisation Espacio Público and on behalf of the victims we support, we would like to thank the work of the Fact-finding Mission in its first report. This work was carried out with important challenges, such as the State's refusal to collaborate and the ban on access to the country and the limitations imposed by the pandemic. 

However, the victims were heard and recognized, which reduces the strength of the mechanisms of impunity, contributes to overcoming collective fear and makes possible paths of justice and reparation.

Many of the documented violations are associated with the exercise of the rights to freedom of expression, participation, association, and peaceful assembly. 

Cases of serious human rights violations continued during the Covid-19 pandemic. The recent pardons do not constitute a structural improvement; there are still illegitimate judicial proceedings, disappearances, torture and ill-treatment, arbitrary detentions and politically motivated persecution in a pre-electoral context. 

The Venezuelan situation demands that the universal system for the protection of human rights contribute to the reversal of impunity in order to increase the defense and protection of the dignity of persons.

We urge the Council to renew the mandate of the Mission; the systematic violation of rights persists in the country. Venezuela needs to hear loud and clear from the universal community of human rights. 


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

 

Reaction to the UN High Commissioner report on terrorism and human rights

Statement at the 45th Session of the UN Human Rights Council


Thank you, Madame President,

On behalf of the Civic Space Initiative, we wish to draw attention to the enduring restrictions for civil society and civic freedoms, stemming from security measures to counter-terrorism and violent extremism. Such unwarranted limitations to civic space hamper efforts to counter terrorism, as civil society is essential in addressing the conditions conducive to terrorism.

The High Commissioner’s 2020 report on Terrorism and Human Rights emphasizes the negative and harmful effects of excessive security and counter-terrorism measures on rights and freedoms in general. 

However, the report does not address the detrimental and disproportionate impact of these measures on civil society and civic space. This is particularly relevant, pursuant to the 2019 Report on how the Measures to Address Terrorism and Violent Extremism impact Closing Civic Space, where the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Counter-Terrorism examined restrictive and repressive aspects of the security and counter-terrorism framework:

  • Repressive measures against lawful, non-violent civil society activities and targeting “undesirable” individuals.
  • Regulation restricting freedom of expression and opinion, association, and assembly.
  • Limiting civil society access to financial services.
  • Vaguely labelling civil society as “terrorists,” or “threats to national security”.

These measures create a chilling effect on civic space. Given civil society’s essential role in countering terrorism, measures undermining its ability to operate undercut our collective counter-terrorism response. 

We remind states of their obligation to ensure counter-terrorism measures comply with international human rights law, international refugee law and international humanitarian law, pursuant to HRC resolutions 37/27 and 42/18.  Criminalization and repression of civil society must be urgently addressed as a misuse of law and an abuse of power. Any effective counter-terrorism policy must engage with and strengthen, not weaken, civil society.

 

Burundi: Political activists arrested earlier this month and journalists remain in prison since 2019

Statement at the 45th Session of the UN Human Rights Council

Interactive Dialogue with the UN Commission of Inquiry on Burundi

 


CIVICUS and independent Burundian civil society organisations welcome the important work of the Commission of Inquiry, and thank the Commission for its report. 

We welcome that President Ndayishimiye has invited more than 300,000 refugees to return to Burundi, having previously been forced to flee the country. But despite remarks by President Ndayishimiye during his inauguration speech promising accountability and a more transparent approach to tackling human rights violations, the police, the National Intelligence Service, and members of the armed wing of the ruling CNDD-FDD party – the Imbonerakure – continue to harass and intimidate human rights defenders and activists. Several members of the new government are subject to international individual sanctions for their alleged responsibility in human rights violations in Burundi since 2015. We call for thorough and impartial investigations to end impunity.

Last week, two former military officers, Pontien Baritonda and Prime Niyongabo, were arrested by the NSI. They remain in detention without charge. 29 political activists were arrested earlier this month. Journalists Christine Kamikazi, Agnès Ndirubusa, Égide Harerimana and Térence, of Iwacu media group, remain in prison for investigating rebel activities in October 2019.

We call on the government to unconditionally release all politically motivated detainees including activists, human rights defenders and journalists and to carry out credible investigations into attacks against them. We further call on the government to lift bans on broadcasting outlets, end the use of internet disruptions to control the flow of information, and review repressive legislation.

The political transition in Burundi presents an opportunity to reset Burundi’s relationship with the UN human rights system. We ask the commission to elaborate on opportunities for renewed engagement with the government for the implementation of its findings and recommendations, particularly towards accountability.

 With real opportunities for meaningful human rights progress in Burundi, we further call on the Council to renew this vital mandate at this critical time.


Civic space in Burundi is rated as Closed by the CIVICUS Monitor

 

Belarus: More than 7000 peaceful protesters arrested and hundreds injured

Statement at the 45th Session of the UN Human Rights Council

Urgent debate on Belarus


Madame President,

We have watched with horror as riot police and law enforcement agencies have used brutal means to curtail peaceful protests in Belarus following disputed elections in August. More than 7,000 protesters have been arrested and more than 200 injured as the authorities use flash grenades, rubber bullets and in a few instances live ammunition against the peaceful protesters. Some detainees have reported torture. At least two people have died – one in police custody.

We are deeply concerned that the authorities are also targeting journalists and media outlets to prevent the media from reporting on the protests and the violent response by the authorities. More than fifty journalists have been arrested in the different regions of the country; some have had their accreditation revoked. The authorities continue to censor media outlets. Protesters and human rights defenders have been subjected to smear campaigns.

We are extremely concerned that despite the atrocities committed by the security forces, none have been investigated or held accountable for their actions while journalists and peaceful protesters have been wrongfully accused of attempting to destabilize Belarus. We stand in solidarity with human rights defenders, journalists and all those who seek to hold perpetrators of violence to account in the face of violence and suppression.

In light of this, Madame President, we welcome this urgent debate, and we call on the Council to use its prevention mandate by acting strongly now, before the situation deteriorates still further. We urge the Council to support a strong Resolution that strongly condemns the human rights violations and calls for international scrutiny with a view to furthering accountability.

The people of Belarus have a right to speak out without risking death and torture.


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

 

COVID-19 has presented opportunities and challenges for civil society

Statement at the 45th Session of the UN Human Rights Council

Interactive Dialogue with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on COVID-19


 

Thank you, Madame President; High Commissioner.

The COVID 19 pandemic has presented opportunities and challenges for civil society. The CIVICUS Monitor, a research tool that provides real-time data on the state of civil society, has identified worrying trends which have undermined civic space, including, inter alia:

  • Unjustified restrictions on access to information and censorship, notably in China and Brazil;
  • Detention of activists for disseminating critical information, for example in Iran and India;
  • Crackdowns on human rights defenders and media outlets in Niger, Honduras and Venezuela; and
  • Violations of the right to privacy and overly broad emergency powers, as in Hungary and Cambodia.

Despite these barriers, we have seen civil society respond as a vital stakeholder in addressing the health and economic crisis precipitated by COVID-19.

Community organisations are distributing food and delivering aid to people unable to work during lockdowns. CSOs are raising money for emergency relief, medical supplies and personal protective equipment for health workers. In India, CSOs have reportedly outperformed state government in providing humanitarian relief to migrant labourers and the poor in 13 states.

Beyond relief efforts, rights groups are holding authorities to account. In Zimbabwe, the advocacy group Lawyers for Human Rights secured an urgent application to stop abuses by the country’s security forces.

We thank the High Commissioner for recognising the fundamental role that an open civic space has in addressing emergencies. We echo her calls for states to refrain from using the crisis as an opportunity to crack down on critics. Indeed, in a time of crisis, participation of civil society is key to building back better. 


Current council members:

Afghanistan, Angola, Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Bahamas, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chile, Czech Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Denmark, Eritrea, Fiji, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Libya, Marshall Islands, Mauritania, Mexico, Namibia, Nepal, Netherlands, Nigeria, Poland, Pakistan, Peru, Philippines, Qatar, Republic of Korea, Senegal, Slovakia, SomaliaSudan, Spain, Togo, Ukraine, Uruguay, Venezuela

Civic space ratings from the CIVICUS Monitor

OPEN NARROWED OBSTRUCTED  REPRESSED CLOSED

 

 

Reaction to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights update

Statement at the 45th Session of the UN Human Rights Council

 

Thank you, High Commissioner for your update, which takes place in a difficult and unprecedented context.

We agree with your assessment that human rights violations result primarily from processes that exclude people's voices, and gaps in protection measures. These are issues which the Council is well-placed to address.

To this end, we hope that the Council will this session continue to address the situation in the Philippines with a strong resolution which reflects the dire human rights situation in the country and pursues accountability. Given that the situation in Burundi continues to be characterised by violations and impunity we urge the Council to renew the vital mandate of the Commission of Inquiry. We further call on the Council to heed calls from civil society and its own Special Procedures to address the escalating violations in China – in Hong Kong, Tibet and in Xinjiang – as well as to address attacks on rights defenders, journalists, and government critics across the country.

High Commissioner, restrictions to civic space are often precursors to a worsening human rights situation. When the Council fails to address these, it misses the opportunity to work constructively to prevent further human rights violations and fails those who will be affected. A resolution on the Council’s prevention mandate should address this gap. Echoing your call, we call for immediate and sustained preventive action on Tanzania before the situation deteriorates further.

Finally, High Commissioner, we welcome efforts to ensure civil society participation despite COVID-19 restrictions. Being able to meet with and hear directly from human rights defenders in the room, and in-person, has long been a strength of this Council. We call on the members and observers of the Council to strengthen collaboration with partners from civil society to further our mutual goals of protecting human rights.


Current council members:

Afghanistan, Angola, Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Bahamas, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chile, Czech Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Denmark, Eritrea, Fiji, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Libya, Marshall Islands, Mauritania, Mexico, Namibia, Nepal, Netherlands, Nigeria, Poland, Pakistan, Peru, Philippines, Qatar, Republic of Korea, Senegal, Slovakia, SomaliaSudan, Spain, Togo, Ukraine, Uruguay, Venezuela

Civic space ratings from the CIVICUS Monitor

OPEN NARROWED OBSTRUCTED  REPRESSED CLOSED

 

 

Myanmar: Independent investigation needs access and international community must ensure accountability

Statement at the 45th Session of the UN Human Rights Council

Interactive Dialogue with the Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar 


Thank you, Madame President,

We thank the Independent Investigative Mechanism for its second report.

We particularly welcome efforts articulated towards outreach and engagement with local and regional civil society. 

We are alarmed by the continuing lack of access granted to Myanmar to the Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar (IIMM), which has been exacerbated owing to the COVID-19 pandemic. For the mechanism to fulfil its mandate, it is crucial that it has access to information including to relevant evidence of serious international crimes and witnesses. Ongoing failure to ensure unfettered access to journalists, humanitarian actors and human rights monitors to Rakhine state also puts this in jeopardy. We call on the government to grant access to the Mechanism and other actors as a matter of urgency. We further call on Facebook to uphold its commitment to cooperate by providing all relevant evidence it holds, noting that to date it has only partially complied with such requests.

Myanmar’s future depends on a clear demonstration from the international community that any international crimes will not be tolerated. It also depends on those in Myanmar who speak out on violations and advocate for positive change being listened to, rather than persecuted. We call on the Myanmar government to do so.

Pursuing criminal accountability is a long process and requires long-term sustainability. We call on the Council to ensure that the Mechanism can enjoy such sustainability by ensuring it adequate resources. We further call on the international community to recognize that the vital work of the Mechanism is only one stage of this process, and to take steps to ensure progress towards accountability is made: including by referring Myanmar to the International Criminal Court or an independent tribunal, and exercising universal jurisdiction to hold the perpetrators accountable. 

Failing to do so would be a grave abdication of responsibility to the victims of grave human rights violations, their families and communities, who have deserved accountability and justice for so long.

We ask the Mechanism what steps it is taking to systematize engagement with civil society, and what steps it is taking to ensure sustainability in the event of budget restrictions?

Thank you.


Civic space in Myanmar is rated as Repressed by the CIVICUS Monitor.

Current council members:

Afghanistan, Angola, Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Bahamas, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chile, Czech Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Denmark, Eritrea, Fiji, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Libya, Marshall Islands, Mauritania, Mexico, Namibia, Nepal, Netherlands, Nigeria, Poland, Pakistan, Peru, Philippines, Qatar, Republic of Korea, Senegal, Slovakia, SomaliaSudan, Spain, Togo, Ukraine, Uruguay, Venezuela

Civic space ratings from the CIVICUS Monitor

OPEN NARROWED OBSTRUCTED  REPRESSED CLOSED

 

 

Advocacy priorities at 45th Session of UN Human Rights Council

The 45th Session of the UN Human Rights Council will sit from 14 September - 6 October, 2020 and there are a number of critical human rights resolutions up for debate and for the 47 Council members to address. Stay up to date by following @civicusalliance and #HRC45


CIVICUS will be engaging on a range of issues in line with our mandate to protect and monitor the rights to peaceful assembly, freedom of speech and freedom of association. In terms of country-specific situations, CIVICUS will be presenting evidence and recommendations on rights abuses in the Philippines, Burundi, Cambodia, Saudi Arabia and China. With relation to thematic issues, CIVICUS will be engaging on deliberations related to the prevention of human rights abuses, reprisals, and arbitrary detention. Full summaries below.

Civil society Participation in times of COVID19
Like last session, civil society participation has been significantly impacted by COVID-19. Travel restrictions and distancing guidelines means that in-person participation is conspicuously limited, particularly for organisations from the Global South. Opportunities for remote participation via video messaging are providing a welcome alternative - because of this change, people and groups affected by issues being discussed will, to some extent, be able to address the Council without being limited by their ability to travel to Geneva, as is usually the case. But being able to meet with and hear directly from human rights defenders in the room and in-person, whether through side events or statements, has long been a strength of the Council. The human rights defenders who attend Council sessions strengthen resolutions by providing first-hand information and serve to hold states to account, and their participation reinforces valuable partnerships. Like last session, opportunities to do so in-person will be very much missed.

see individual member country ratings - ...

Country-specific situations

The Philippines (Civic space rating: Obstructed)

  • Extrajudicial killings of human rights defenders continue
  • Abuse of COVID19 emergency measures to target government critics
  • Serious concerns remain over domestic accountability mechanisms, and impunity still reigns for attacks on activists and journalists.

CIVICUS welcomed the resolution adopted by the Human Rights Council in June 2019 (41st Session) which mandated welcome monitoring of the human rights situation in the Philippines. The subsequent report by the Office of The Human Commissioner on Human Rights, presented in July 2020 (44th Session) shows clearly that human rights violations remain rampant, and that accountability for such violations remains distant. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated existing human rights conditions still further; in June, the Philippines was added to CIVICUS’s Watchlist, reflecting its sharp decline in civic freedoms.

Recommendations
CIVICUS joins civil society partners in the Philippines and internationally in calling for a Council-mandated independent investigative mechanism to address the ongoing systemic human rights violations perpetrated with impunity. This is clearly warranted by the situation set out in the OHCHR report, the lack of political will to engage and the demonstrable lack of adequate domestic investigative mechanisms.


Burundi (Civic space rating: Closed)

  • Elections in May were marred by violence and rights violations
  • The Youth league, the Imbonerakure, continue to carry out brutal attacks on critics of the government
  • Activists and journalists remain imprisoned, while hundreds of thousands remain in exile.

An atmosphere of fear and violence prevails in Burundi, where state and powerful non-state actors are routinely allowed to imprison, seriously injure and kill people with impunity for attempting to exercise their rights to associate, peacefully assemble and express themselves. Any criticism of the ruling authorities is severely punished and there is virtually no media freedom. The internet is heavily censored, many websites are blocked and online criticism of power holders is subject to severe penalties.

Recommendations
CIVICUS calls for the renewal of the mandate of the Commission of Inquiry (CoI) on Burundi. In the context of recent political developments, such a renewal, building off the investments to date in and from the CoI, would provide the best opportunity to prompt meaningful human rights progress in the country.


Cambodia (Civic space rating: Repressed)

  • COVID-19 government measures have provided an opportunity to crack down on civil society groups.
  • At least 22 people have been arrested for sharing allegedly ‘false news’ related to the pandemic.
  • Opposition Leader, Kem Sokha, on trial since January on unsubstantiated charges of treason. Sokha has been barred from politics and could face up to 30 years in prison if convicted

The Cambodian government continues to crack down on civil society groups, independent media, and the political opposition and human rights defenders to silence critical voices in the country. In the past three years it has adopted a series of repressive laws that unduly restrict human rights. In November 2019, the Cambodian authorities had arbitrarily detained nearly 90 people solely on the basis of the peaceful expression of their opinions or political views as well as their political affiliations. The latest activists to be convicted of ‘incitement’, three employees of NGO Mother Nature, were sent to pre-trial detention on 6 September.

Recommendations
CIVICUS encourages States to deliver statements jointly or in a national capacity under the Item 10 interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on Cambodia and the Item 2 general debate focusing on attacks against human rights defenders, journalists and other members of independent civil society, recommending a stronger approach to address the worsening situation. CIVICUS further encourages States to explore supporting a resolution which mandates yearly reporting from the High Commissioner, with updates in between Sessions.


Saudi Arabia (Civic space rating: Closed)

  • It has been over two years since Saudi Arabia intensified its crackdown on women human rights defenders
  • Reports of detined activists and critics of the government being subjected to torture in prison
  • Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman continues to make direct orders for the arrest of activists

It has been over two years since women human rights defenders have been in prison, simply for demanding that women be treated equally to men. Punishment in the country is severe, with torture being formed used for many offences, and the country remains one of the world’s top executioners. When it comes to freedom of assembly, protesting is considered a criminal act and those who defy the ban can face arrest, prosecution and imprisonment.

Recommendations
States that flagrantly abuse human rights in their own territories undermine and delegitimise the work of the Council must be held up to scrutiny. Along with civil society partners, CIVICUS recommends that States ensure sustained attention by the Council at its 45th session by jointly reiterating calls on the Saudi government to implement the above-mentioned benchmarks, and by supporting the establishment of a monitoring and reporting mechanism over the situation.


China (Civic space rating: Closed)

  • Mass detention, torture and mistreatment of millions of Uighurs and Turkic Muslims in Xianjang
  • Chinese Communist Party continues to censor reporting about COVID-19
  • Excessive use of force and arbitrary arrests around Hong Kong protests

On 26 June 2020, an unprecedented 50 United Nations experts called for “decisive measures to protect fundamental freedoms in China.” They highlighted China’s mass human rights violations in Hong Kong, Tibet, and Xinjiang, suppression of information in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, and attacks on rights defenders, journalists, lawyers and critics of the government across the country. They also raised concerns about the decision to draft a national security law for Hong Kong  – without any meaningful consultation with the people of Hong Kong – which imposes severe restrictions on civil and political rights in the autonomous region. It was passed on 30 June 2020.

Recommendations
CIVICUS endorses the call by UN experts for a Special Session of the Human Rights Council to evaluate the range of violations by China’s government, and to establish an impartial and independent UN mechanism to closely monitor, analyze, and report annually on that topic. We urge the UN Secretary-General to appoint a Special Envoy, consistent with his Call to Action on Human Rights, and we call on the High Commissioner for Human Rights to fulfil her independent mandate to monitor and publicly report on China’s sweeping rights violations. We support the call that UN member states and UN agencies use all interactions with Chinese authorities to insist that the government comply with its international human rights obligations.


Thematic situations

Prevention of human rights abuses
The ability to take Council action with regards to prevention of deteriorating human rights situations relies on an accurate flow of information from the ground, whether from human rights defenders or independent media. Civil society – including human rights defenders, journalists, and human rights monitors – are often the first affected by a worsening human rights situation. An increasingly inability to express dissent, gather in protest, or operate as independent civil society is often a clear signpost that further human right violations are to come, to be met by willfully restricted avenues of domestic resistance. As an immediate example, in the case in Tanzania, time is fast running out for the HRC to operationalize its protection mandate in order to prevent further deterioration.

In the report presented in March 2020 (the Council’s 43rd Session), the Rapporteurs highlighted this importance of civic space. As such, a resolution on the Council’s prevention mandate should highlight civic space restrictions as indicators for a worsening human rights situation. This would enable the Human Rights Council to take action to prevent severe human rights violations, including by working with the state in question constructively to roll back restrictions to civic space, before the situation becomes beyond repair. Specifically, that civil society indices, such as the CIVICUS Monitor, could be used to develop a more specific set of indicators and benchmarks relating to civic space which would then trigger intervention.

Further intervention could be operationalized through a Working Group on Prevention or the country level mechanism in New York.

Recommendations
CIVICUS encourages states to recommend that the use of such civic space indices is articulated in the resolution on the Council’s role in prevention. CIVICUS also recommends that states use civic space indicators in a systematic manner at the Human Rights Council in order to further operationalize its prevention mandate. This includes raising civic space concerns through individual and joint State statements at the Council, thematic debates, resolutions, the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process, and special sessions and urgent debates.


Reprisals
UN initiatives are only possible with strong engagement from civil society on the ground, who not only provide information and analysis, but are on the front line of ensuring that human rights standards are respected by their own governments, and that violations are held to account. Reprisals have a significant impact on citizen participation at every level of the international human rights infrastructure and are another example of civic space being squeezed.

There is no political cost to states engaging in reprisals, and we recommend that the new resolution incorporates an accountability mechanism. There are a number of emerging trends in types of reprisals leveled against individuals and civil society – false narratives driven on social media and the engagement of non-state actors being just two such escalating tends.

Recommendations
Often, the only deterrent to states engaging in this practice is to publicly name them. CIVICUS recommends that States use the Interactive Dialogue with the Assistant Secretary General to raise specific cases of reprisals – cases of reprisals in Egypt, Bahrain, Viet Nam and China are particularly prevalent. CIVICUS also recommends that reprisals taking place within the UN itself are highlighted.


Arbitrary detention
Popular action is on the rise across the globe as people take to the streets to demand justice, equity and democratic rights. But this has been mirrored by an unprecedented use of excessive force and arbitrary detention to silence the legitimate exercise of the right to freedom of assembly. In 2019, the CIVICUS Monitor found that one of the most commonly-logged violations of civic rights was against the right to peaceful assembly. This trend looks set to continue, with States both weaponizing repressive laws in order to create justification for detention and arresting peaceful protesters on vague and ill-defined grounds.

In July, the Human Rights Committee published its General Comment 37 on Article 21 of the ICCPR – the freedom of peaceful assembly. In its guidance relating to arbitrary detention around freedom of assembly, the GC highlights that ‘the procedural guarantees of the Covenant apply to issues such as detention in connection with peaceful assemblies’. It also states that ‘preventative detention of targeted individuals, to keep them from participating in assemblies, may constitute arbitrary deprivation of liberty, which is incompatible with the right of peaceful assembly’, and that practices of indiscriminate mass arrest prior to, during or following an assembly, are arbitrary and thus unlawful’.

The CIVICUS Monitor as well as other monitoring trackers show that states are falling well short of this guidance. In India, thousands have been held in preventative detention in the context of CAA protests. In Iraq, approximately 3,000 demonstrators were detained during mass protests between October 2019 and April 2020. In Zimbabwe, a number of activists were arrested or abducted to prevent the protests from taking place. Belarus’ practice of mass detentions in the context of protest has prompted condemnation from the UN. Reports from the United States of unidentified police officers detaining protestors may also give rise to arbitrary detention. In Hong Kong, new security law allows for retroactive detention of protestors, well after the protests had ended.

Recommendations
CIVICUS recommends that States raise arbitrary detention in the context of protests in statements, jointly or in your national capacity, during the interactive dialogue with the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, and call on the Working Group to look specifically at this issue. CIVICUS further encourages States to name country situations in which individuals have been arbitrarily detained in the context of protests – for example the United States, Belarus, Zimbabwe.


Current council members:

Afghanistan, Angola, Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Bahamas, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chile, Czech Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Denmark, Eritrea, Fiji, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Libya, Marshall Islands, Mauritania, Mexico, Namibia, Nepal, Netherlands, Nigeria, Poland, Pakistan, Peru, Philippines, Qatar, Republic of Korea, Senegal, Slovakia, SomaliaSudan, Spain, Togo, Ukraine, Uruguay, Venezuela

Civic space ratings from the CIVICUS Monitor

OPEN NARROWED OBSTRUCTED  REPRESSED CLOSED

 

 

Philippines: UN investigation needed over ongoing extrajudicial executions

Joint Letter from over 60 organisations to member and observer States of the United Nations Human Rights Council


Re: UN Human Rights Council should urgently launch an independent international investigative mechanism on the human rights situation in the Philippines

Your Excellency,

We, the undersigned civil society organizations, write to express our continued grave concern over ongoing extrajudicial executions and other serious human rights violations in the context of the “war on drugs” in the Philippines, which continues to be fueled by incitement to violence and discrimination by the highest levels of government with near-total impunity. We urge your delegation to ensure that the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC) responds robustly to the recent report on the situation in the Philippines by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights when it convenes for its upcoming 45th session. Specifically, we urge you to actively work towards the adoption of a resolution establishing an independent international investigative mechanism on extrajudicial executions and other human rights violations committed in the Philippines since 2016, with a view to contributing to accountability. This would be in line with clear calls by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, a group of Special Procedures, the Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines, and national and international civil society.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights’ report on the Philippines, published on June 4, 2020, emphasized the need for “independent, impartial and effective investigations into the killings.”1 On June 25, mandate holders from 23 Special Procedures reiterated a previous call from 2019 for the HRC to “establish an on-the-ground independent, impartial investigation into human rights violations in the Philippines.”2 The Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines, during the interactive dialogue on the Philippines at the 44th session of the HRC, called on the HRC to consider options for international accountability measures.3 National, regional, and international civil society groups have also repeatedly called for an international investigation. The human rights situation in the Philippines meets the objective criteria or “guiding principles” supported by a large cross-regional group of States at the HRC to help the Council decide, in an objective and non-selective manner, when it should take action on the human rights situation in particular countries. The annex to this letter provides details of the status of the Philippines under each criterion.

Since President Rodrigo Duterte assumed office in June 2016, the human rights situation in the Philippines has undergone a dramatic decline. Extrajudicial executions committed in the context of the “war on drugs” continue to take place with total impunity. The High Commissioner’s report found, in line with previous findings from civil society, that the killings related to the anti-drug campaign were “widespread and systematic,” and that at least 8,663 people had been killed, with other estimates, including from the Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines, of more than triple that number.

Attacks against human rights defenders and critics of the government – including activists, journalists, church leaders, trade union leaders, indigenous and peasant leaders and individuals who are members of groups affiliated with the political left – are frequent and persistent. Human rights defenders who have spoken out in the HRC against the “war on drugs” and other human rights violations have faced reprisals from the government. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) “verified the killings of 208 human rights defenders, journalists and trade unionists, including 30 women, between January 2015 and December 2019.”4 More recently on 17 August gunmen shot dead Zara Alvarez, a legal worker for the human rights group Karapatan, and on 10 August assailants brutally murdered Randall Echanis, a leader of the peasant group Anakpawis and longtime activist.

The OHCHR also found that civil society organizations and the media faced constant intimidation, police raids, arbitrary arrests, criminal charges and prosecutions, and shutdowns.5 In June 2020, a Manila court convicted for libel journalists Maria Ressa and Reynaldo Santos Jr., both of the news website Rappler, which had been the subject of long-running harassment and threats from the Duterte government because of its reporting on the anti-drug campaign. Most recently, in early July, the Philippine Congress – most of whose members are allied with President Duterte – voted to deny the renewal of the broadcast franchise of ABS-CBN, the country’s largest TV and radio network, after years of explicit threats from President Duterte in part because of its critical reporting on the “war on drugs.” The recently passed Anti-Terrorism Law will institutionalize the government’s abuse of power and will create an environment in which attacks on civil society and media will be perpetuated. In his 2020 State of the Nation Address, President Duterte once again reiterated his intention to reimpose the death penalty. Bills to reintroduce the punishment are currently being reconsidered before Congress.

To date, there has been virtually no accountability for unlawful killings committed by police and their associates or for the other above-mentioned violations. As noted in the High Commissioner’s report, “persistent impunity for human rights violations is stark and the practical obstacles to accessing justice within the country are almost insurmountable.”6 Families of victims express total helplessness in describing their inability to obtain justice for their loved ones, citing the enormous obstacles to filing cases, the continued difficulty of obtaining police or autopsy reports, and the immense fear of retaliation they experience. The climate of total impunity leaves police and other unidentified gunmen, widely believed to be associated with law enforcement agencies, able to commit further extrajudicial executions without consequence.

President Duterte’s administration has undermined institutions that have attempted to address impunity at the national and international level and thwarted independent investigations, including in the Senate and the House of Representatives. The government’s withdrawal from the International Criminal Court, following the 2018 launch of a preliminary examination into crimes against humanity allegedly committed by the Philippine government in the context of the “war on drugs,” shows yet another way in which the authorities have sought to evade accountability.

Not only has the government sought to evade accountability, but the President and other high-level officials have continued to encourage killings and given assurances to perpetrators that they would enjoy impunity for such killings.7 The High Commissioner’s report found that rhetoric from the highest

levels of the government has been pervasive and deeply damaging, and that “some statements have risen to the level of incitement to violence.”8

During the interactive dialogue at the 44th session of the HRC, the Philippine Justice Secretary announced the creation of a government panel to review more than 5,600 cases of alleged extrajudicial killings in the country.9 Unfortunately, the Philippine government has failed to ensure this panel will be independent or impartial, notably because it will be led by the Department of Justice and will have among its members the very agencies – including the Philippine National Police and the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency – accused of being behind these human rights violations and directly implicated in the “war on drugs.” Any review findings by the panel must also be evaluated and finalized by other government agencies involved in the anti-drug campaign. The well-documented fears of retaliation experienced by victims and their families in the Philippines will further undermine the credibility of government-led reviews. Accordingly, it is our organizations’ assessment that this panel is the latest attempt by the Duterte administration to evade international scrutiny for violations rather than a sincere attempt to put an end to these human rights violations and foster national accountability.

The HRC resolution A/HRC/41/2 on the Philippines adopted in July 2019 was an important first step to address the concerning human rights situation in the country, but a more robust response is necessary to deter further killings and other human rights violations and ensure a measure of accountability. In the absence of further Council action, the Philippine government will likely be emboldened to continue and escalate its violent anti-drug campaign and other serious rights violations, including reprisals against human rights defenders and civil society organizations, while the pervasive fear among victims and their families will only increase. Given the failure of the Philippine authorities to stop or effectively investigate crimes under international law and punish those responsible, we urge your delegation to work towards the adoption of a resolution to ensure that the Philippines remains on the agenda of the HRC and to create an independent, impartial, and effective investigation into extrajudicial executions in the context of the “war on drugs” and other human rights violations committed since 2016. The creation of such a mechanism is the only credible next step that the HRC can take to address the ongoing human rights crisis in the Philippines.

With assurances of our highest consideration,

1. African Centre for Democracy and Human Rights Studies
2. Aktionbündnis Menschenrechte - Philippinen
3. Amnesty International
4. Article 19
5. ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights
6. Asia Democracy Network
7. Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances
8. Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)
9. Asian Legal Resource Centre
10. Association for the Rights of Children in Southeast Asia
11. Bahay Tuluyan
12. Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
13. Center for International Law (CenterLaw)
14. Center for Legal and Social Studies/CELS
15. Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility
16. Center for Migrant Advocacy Philippines
17. Child Alert Mindanao
18. Children’s Legal Rights and Development Center
19. Children’s Rehabilitation Center
20. CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
21. Civil Rights Defenders
22. Coalition Against Summary Executions
23. Commission of the Churches on International Affairs of the World Council of Churches
24. Conectas Direitos Humanos
25. Consortium on Democracy and Disinformation
26. Dakila - Philippine Collective for Modern Heroism
27. DefendDefenders (East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project)
28. Dominicans for Justice and Peace
29. Families of Victims of Involuntary Disappearance (FIND) - Philippines
30. Focus on the Global South
31. Foundation for Media Alternatives
32. Franciscans International
33. Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate Conception of the Holy Mother of God
34. Free Legal Assistance Group
35. Frontline Defenders
36. Harm Reduction International
37. Human Rights Watch
38. In Defense of Human Rights and Dignity Movement (iDefend)
39. International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines
40. International Commission of Jurists
41. International Drug Policy Consortium
42. International Federation for Human Rights
43. International Service for Human Rights
44. Justice and Compassion Essential Ministries Team of the California-Pacific Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church
45. Kalitawhan Network
46. Karapatan (Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights)
47. Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada
48. Medical Action Group
49. National Union of Journalists of the Philippines
50. Network Against Killings in the Philippines (NakPhil)
51. Ontario Committee for Human Rights in the Philippines
52. Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates (PAHRA)
53. Philippine Human Rights Information Center (PhilRights)
54. Philippinenbüro e.V. (Cologne, Germany)
55. Philippine Misereor Partnership Inc.
56. Protection International
57. Reporters Without Borders
58. Resbak
59. Rise Up for Life and for Rights
60. Salinlahi Alliance for Children’s Concerns
61. Tambayan Center for Children's Rights
62. World Organization Against Torture (OMCT)

 

Joint Letter: Continued human rights monitoring needed in Burundi

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

Burundi: Vital role of the Commission of Inquiry in prompting meaningful human rights progress

Excellencies, 

Ahead of the 45th session of the UN Human Rights Council (hereafter “HRC” or “the Council”), we, the undersigned national, regional and international civil society organisations, write to urge your delegation to support the renewal of the mandate of the Commission of Inquiry (CoI) on Burundi. In the context of recent political developments, such a renewal, building off the investments to date in and from the CoI, would provide the best opportunity to prompt meaningful human rights progress in Burundi. 

As of today, the CoI remains the only independent mechanism mandated to document human rights violations and abuses (including on their extent and whether they may constitute crimes under international law), monitor, and publicly report on the situation in Burundi, with sufficient resources and experience to do so. Changing political realities do not amount to systemic human rights change, and the Council has a responsibility to continue supporting victims and survivors of violations and working to improve the situation in Burundi. 

In the past, an Independent Expert or other experts mandated to report on the human rights situation in Burundi have not been able to publish information with the same level of detail as the CoI, which has extensive contacts in the country and a team of dedicated, experienced investigators. This is even more crucial now because of the Burundian Government’s intransigence, the absence of a UN human rights team in the country, and lack of access to the Burundian territory. 

The work conducted by the CoI, which is due to present its written report to the Council at its upcoming 45th session (14 September-6 October 2020), continues to provide critical oversight of the human rights situation in Burundi. The country’s crisis was triggered by former President Pierre Nkurunziza’s announcement, in April 2015, that he would run for a third term in office. Throughout the years, the CoI and its predecessor, the UN Independent Investigation on Burundi (UNIIB), have documented gross, widespread and systematic human rights violations and abuses, some of which may amount to crimes against humanity. 

The Government, state security forces, including the police, the National Intelligence Service (Service national de renseignement, or SNR), and members of the youth league of the ruling Conseil national pour la défense de la démocratie-Forces de défense de la démocratie (CNDD-FDD) party, the Imbonerakure, are responsible for many of the violations and abuses. Over the course of its reporting, the CoI has documented violations of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights in a deteriorating economic and humanitarian context. Violations and abuses include arbitrary arrests and detentions of prisoners of conscience and those perceived to be against the Government, beatings, destruction of property, including of premises of the Congrès National pour la Liberté (CNL) party, theft of property belonging to members of opposition parties and human rights defenders (HRDs) in exile, and arbitrary suspension and forced closure of civil society organisations and media outlets. They also include torture and ill-treatment, the use of excessive and lethal force against peaceful demonstrators, enforced disappearances, violations of the rights of women and girls, rape and other forms of sexual and gender-based violence, forced labour, the extortion of contributions for state-led projects, hate speech and incitement to ethnic hatred (which go on with the acquiescence of political, prosecutorial, and judicial authorities), and extrajudicial killings. 

Such violations and abuses have continued to take place in a context of near-complete impunity; to date, no high-level officials have been held accountable. Several hundred prisoners who have served their term or whose release has been ordered continue to be arbitrarily detained. This situation is ongoing despite opinions rendered by the UN Working Group on arbitrary detention (WGAD), which examined some of these prisoners’ cases. Victims and survivors of sexual violence have been denied access to a specialised framework for medical and psychological treatment and full rehabilitation. Additionally, in recent months, there has been an increase in ethnic hate speech, including by individuals close to the Government, with a view to de-humanising parts of the population (i.e., the Tutsi). 

Members and supporters of opposition political parties, in particular the CNL, as well as independent voices, including civil society members, HRDs, members of non-governmental organisations (NGOs), and journalists, have been targeted. Since April 2015, the civic and democratic space has continued to shrink. At the time of writing, despite calls on the new President, Évariste Ndayishimiye, to demonstrate his openness to reconciliation by releasing all detained HRDs, Germain Rukuki, Nestor Nibitanga, and Iwacu reporters Egide Harerimana, Christine Kamikazi, Terence Mpozenzi and Agnès Ndirubusa, remain in detention. 

The Burundian Government ceased its cooperation with the Council’s mechanisms, including in 2016 by declaring members of the UNIIB personæ non gratæ and in February 2019 by forcing the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) to leave the country. Despite being a member of the Council (2016-2018), Burundi refused to implement Council resolutions, including HRC resolution 36/2, which was adopted at Burundi’s request and with the sponsorship of the African Group. Burundian officials have also repeatedly insulted and threatened members of the CoI and carried out reprisals against exiled HRDs, including lawyers and activists who sought to engage with the UN human rights system. The Government has extended sub-standard cooperation to regional mechanisms. African Union (AU) observers, who have not been fully deployed, continue to face a number of limitations to their work. Unlike the CoI, their findings are not made public. Burundi has disregarded resolutions adopted by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR), including Resolution 412 (LXIII) 2018, which urged the Government to “[c]onduct prompt independent, impartial and effective investigations” into human rights violations and “[c]ooperate with all international community stakeholders, including the African Union, the United Nations and the East African Community, in the search for a peaceful and human rights responsive solution to the crisis.” 

Relying on independent, thorough and professional documentation methodologies, without access to country’s territory, the CoI has continued to expose violations. In 2019, in accordance with principles of early warning and prevention and using the Framework of Analysis for Atrocity Crimes developed by the UN’s Office on Genocide Prevention and the Responsibility to Protect, the CoI identified risk factors and indicators of violations. While some of the factors the Commission identified are related to specific circumstances, such as elections, a number of other factors are structural. This means that, beyond the appointment of new officials, systemic changes and meaningful reforms are necessary to bring about sustainable improvements in the situation and deliver effective guarantees for the rights of Burundian citizens.   

Burundi is in a period of potential transition, following the 20 May 2020 presidential, legislative and local elections resulting in the election of a new President, Évariste Ndayishimiye and after the passing of former President Nkurunziza. At this moment and in this context, there are signs of promise as well as of significant concern. 

Despite promising remarks by President Ndayishimiye during his inauguration, as well as the authorities’ new, more transparent approach to tackling the COVID-19 pandemic, observers also raised concerns, notably over the fact that several newly appointed members of the Ndayishimiye administration are subject to international individual sanctions for their alleged responsibility in human rights violations. Nonetheless, the political transition represents an opportunity to open a new chapter for the Burundian people and for Burundi’s relationship with the UN human rights system. 

Although the May 2020 elections and their immediate aftermath were not characterised by mass violence, concerns and warning signs remain. Widespread intimidation and patterns of violations against opposition members and supporters, as well as the arrest of hundreds of CNL supporters, have contributed to an ongoing climate of fear. As the CoI reported in its 14 July update to the Council, “[h]uman rights violations continue to date and it would be premature to make any pronouncements on the possible evolution of the situation under the new government.” 

In its 14 July address, the CoI identified some “priority areas for action against which the new authorities can objectively attest their desire for change and normalisation on the long term […].” These areas for action include: 

  • The fight against poverty and economic instability (risk factor no. 1).
  • The fight against the de facto impunity enjoyed by the main perpetrators of violations (risk factor no. 2) and the reform of the judicial system (risk factor no. 3). In our view, this would include: 
    • The removal of officials who have been credibly implicated in serious human rights violations and possible atrocity crimes while thorough and impartial investigations are conducted. Where there is sufficient admissible evidence, those suspected of criminal responsibility should be prosecuted in fair trials, irrespective of their rank, status, or political affiliation. Victims and survivors and their families should be able to access justice, truth and reparation; 
    • Comprehensive reforms of police and security forces, including bringing human rights violations committed by the National Defence Force, law enforcement bodies, the SNR and the Imbonerakure to an end, and ensuring that the ruling party’s youth league is disarmed and not used for any official state security or other duties. Military, security and law enforcement forces should undergo a thorough vetting process, with regional or international assistance, to remove individuals who have taken part in human rights violations. 
  • The re-opening of the democratic space (risk factor no. 4). In our view, this would include: 
    • Establishment and maintenance of a safe and enabling environment for HRDs, members of civil society, journalists, and opposition members and supporters. A safe and enabling civic space includes releasing all prisoners of conscience, including detained HRDs and journalists; an end to political interference in the judicial system; full protection of freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association, and the reinstatement of and full respect for the rights of arbitrarily banned civil society organisations and media outlets;
    • Measurable progress should also be recorded to allow for the safe, voluntary and dignified return of more than 300,000 refugees, including political refugees who were forced to flee the country to avoid harassment. 
  • The cooperation with the Commission of Inquiry. More generally, we urge:  
    • Full cooperation with international and African human rights bodies and mechanisms, including cooperation with the CoI (which means granting it access the country), resumed cooperation with OHCHR, and finalisation of a memorandum of understanding with the AU’s human rights observer mission. Regional and international NGOs should also be able to access the country and operate without interference. Burundi should promptly re-accede to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) and cooperate fully with the Court.

We would welcome meaningful and concrete improvements in the human rights situation in Burundi, and we believe that the best chance to achieve such meaningful change is through the renewal of the mandate of the Commission of Inquiry, as well as the Burundian authorities reinitiating dialogue with the CoI, OHCHR, and other UN and AU human rights bodies and mechanisms. Through such engagement, the Burundian authorities could help chart a clear and unwavering path from the current context of grave violations and widespread impunity by making measurable progress on key indicators such as those referenced above.  

At its 45th session, the Council should avoid sending the Government of Burundi signals that would disincentivise domestic human rights reforms, such as terminating the CoI’s mandate in the absence of measurable progress. It should avoid a scenario where re-establishing the CoI’s mandate would be necessary after a premature discontinuation, because of a renewed escalation of human rights violations and abuses. The Council should rather ensure continued investigations, monitoring, public reporting, and public debates on Burundi’s human rights situation. 

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

Sincerely, 

  1. Action des Chrétiens pour l’Abolition de la Torture – Burundi (ACAT-Burundi)
  2. African Centre for Democracy and Human Rights Studies (ACDHRS) 
  3. African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies (ACJPS) 
  4. AfricanDefenders (Pan-African Human Rights Defenders Network)
  5. Amnesty International 
  6. ARTICLE 19
  7. Association Burundaise pour la Protection des Droits Humains et des Personnes Détenues (APRODH)
  8. Association des Journalistes Burundais en Exil (AJBE) 
  9. The Burundi Human Rights Initiative (BHRI) 
  10. Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) 
  11. Centre for Civil and Political Rights (CCPR-Centre)
  12. CIVICUS 
  13. Civil Society Coalition for Monitoring the Elections (COSOME)
  14. Coalition Burundaise pour la Cour Pénale Internationale (CB-CPI)
  15. Collectif des Avocats pour la Défense des Victimes de Crimes de Droit International Commis au Burundi (CAVIB)
  16. DefendDefenders (East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project)
  17. Eritrean Movement for Democracy and Human Rights (EMDHR) 
  18. European Network for Central Africa (EurAc) 
  19. Front Line Defenders
  20. Geneva for Human Rights / Genève pour les Droits de l’Homme
  21. Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect (GCR2P)
  22. Human Rights Watch 
  23. International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) 
  24. International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
  25. International Federation of ACAT (FIACAT)
  26. International Movement Against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism (IMADR) 
  27. International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)
  28. Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada 
  29. Light For All 
  30. Ligue Iteka
  31. Mouvement des Femmes et des Filles pour la Paix et la Sécurité (MFFPS)
  32. National Coalition of Human Rights Defenders – Burundi (CBDDH)  
  33. Central African Network of Human Rights Defenders (REDHAC) 
  34. Observatoire de la Lutte contre la Corruption et les Malversations Économiques (OLUCOME) 
  35. Odhikar 
  36. Organisation pour la Transparence et la Gouvernance (OTRAG) 
  37. Réseau des Citoyens Probes (RCP)
  38. SOS-Torture/Burundi
  39. Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network (SAHRDN) 
  40. TRIAL International
  41. Union Burundaise des Journalistes (UBJ)
  42. West African Human Rights Defenders Network (ROADDH/WAHRDN) 
  43. World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) 

 

Letter to UN Human Rights Commissioner on the Implementation of the Resolution on Police Violence and Structural Racism

CIVICUS has joined families of victims of police violence in the United States of America, the ACLU, and more than 360 civil society organisations, in a letter to Michelle Bachelet, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights regarding the implementation of the recent Human Rights Council Resolution (A/HRC/43/L.50) adopted on June 19, 2020. This resolution followed an Urgent Debate "on current racially inspired human rights violations, systemic racism, police brutality and violence against peaceful protests."

 

Joint statement on the protections needed for peaceful assemblies

Joint statement by Civic Space Initiative to UN Human Rights Committee 

The Civic Space Initiative congratulates the UN Human Rights Committee – the body entrusted with interpretation and articulation of the rights protected by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) – on the issuance of its landmark guidance on the right of peaceful assembly: General Comment No. 37 on Article 21 of the ICCPR.

We welcome the open and inclusive manner in which the Committee developed the General Comment, including participating in and receiving feedback from consultations organized by the Civic Space Initiative with local activists and experts in Bangkok, Beirut, Geneva, Johannesburg, and Mexico City.

At this time of critical challenges and opportunities facing the exercise of the right of peaceful assembly, the General Comment elaborates for states and their citizens the scope  of the ICCPR’s protection of the right to peacefully assemble and offers guidance on a range of important issues:

  • The Comment affirms that “[e]veryone has the right of peaceful assembly,” regardless of citizenship, including children, foreign nationals, women, migrant workers, asylum seekers and refugees, and that the approach of authorities should be to facilitate such peaceful assemblies.
  • The Comment clarifies that online assemblies and other assemblies featuring remote participation are fully protected by the right of peaceful assembly. Furthermore, the Comment forcefully disapproves of the growing and repressive practice of internet shutdowns and disruptions, providing that “States parties must not … block or hinder Internet connectivity in relation to peaceful assemblies.” It also sets out strong protections relating to privacy and data collection of those participating in a protest.
  • The Comment makes clear that a broad category of peaceful assemblies is protected under Article 21, including assemblies in private places and assemblies that do not have a primarily expressive purpose, such as people gathering to build social ties or engage in recreation. 
  • The Comment provides that Article 21 does not only protect direct participation in peaceful  assemblies, but that “[a]ssociated activities, conducted by an individual or by a group, outside the immediate context of the gathering but which are integral to making the exercise meaningful, are also covered” – including, importantly, the mobilisation of resources.
  • The Comment clarifies that while restrictions can be imposed for the protection of public health, authorities must seek to apply the least intrusive measures, and blanket bans on gatherings are presumptively disproportionate. The Comment states plainly that governments cannot prohibit protests by making “generalised references to public order or public safety, or an unspecified risk of potential violence.” The Comment also makes clear that restrictions on peaceful assemblies should not be based on narrow conceptions of morality, and in particular “may not … be imposed because of opposition to expressions of sexual orientation or gender identity.”
  • The Comment articulates the narrow circumstances which would support a determination that an assembly is violent and therefore not protected by Article 21, and affirms that the right of journalists, human rights defenders (HRDs) and election monitors to monitor assemblies remains in place even if an assembly is declared unlawful.
  • The Comment affirms that States have an obligation to investigate allegations or reasonable suspicion of unlawful use of force, and that “officials responsible for violations must be held accountable”.
  • The Comment specifies that “[p]reventive detention of individuals to impede them from participation in assemblies may constitute arbitrary deprivation of liberty which is incompatible with the right to peaceful assembly.”

We call upon UN Member States and local authorities to adhere to the standards set forth in the General Comment and we encourage the UN Human Rights Council, Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, and relevant UN bodies to advance the General Comment and respect for the principles set forth therein in their work.    

We look forward to working with the Committee, States and local authorities, civil society partners, and relevant UN bodies to promote the guidance set forth in General Comment No. 37, and to empower individuals around the world to exercise the right of peaceful assembly.

 

Country recommendations for UN Universal Periodic Review on Human Rights

All UN member states have their human rights records reviewed every 4.5 years.  CIVICUS  and partners make UN Universal Periodic Review submissions on civil society space in Australia, Lebanon, Mauritania, Myanmar, Nepal, Oman, and Rwanda

CIVICUS and its partners have made joint and stand-alone UN Universal Periodic Review (UPR) submissions on 7 countries in advance of the 37th UPR session (January 2021). 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.

AustraliaThis submission raises alarm over the increasing criminalisation of climate and environmental movements and defenders, including Indigenous peoples, scientists, student strikers and environmental organisations, in the wake of Australia’s recent bushfires. It further discusses the unwarranted restrictions on media freedoms due, in large part, to an increase in police raids on independent media outlets. Moreover, its expresses concern over recent attempts to silence whistle-blowers who reveal government wrongdoing under the Intelligence Services Act.

Lebanon In its submission CIVICUS, the Gulf Centre for Human Rights, International Media Support (IMS), Social Media Exchange (SMEX) examine how the  government has persistently failed to address the brutal and violent dispersal of peaceful protests, the arrest and prosecution of journalists and protesters and restrictions on the activities of CSOs advocating for women’s and LGBTQI+ rights. It also discusses legal and extra-legal restrictions on the freedom of association and, in particular, the systematic targeting of associations and activities by the LGBTQI+ community. Moreover, it assesses the continued deterioration of the freedom of expression, as highlighted by the increase in judicial proceedings against media outlets critical of the authorities, threats to digital rights, raids and attacks by security forces and sometimes by members of the public on media outlets.

Mauritania (FR) CIVICUS and Réseau Ouest-Africain des Défenseurs des Droits Humains/ West African Human Rights Defenders Network (ROADDH / WAHRDN) demonstrates that since its last review, the Government of Mauritania has not implemented any of the recommendations relating to civic space. Instead, civic space in Mauritania remains repressed, and civil society actors, especially those working on anti-slavery campaigns and seeking to end racial and ethnic discrimination are frequently targeted and intimidated by the state. Civil society actors face legal and practical barriers to exercising their rights to association and peacefully assembly, which is hampered by the 1964 Law on Associations and Law No. 73-008 on Public Assemblies.

Myanmar The submission by CIVICUS, Free Expression Myanmar and Asia Democracy Network highlights the use of an array of unwarrantedly restrictive laws to arrest and prosecute human rights defenders, activists, journalists and government critics for the peaceful exercise of their freedoms of association and expression. It also documents the restrictions on peaceful protests in law and practice, the arbitrary arrest and prosecution of protesters and the use of excessive force and firearms to disperse protests against government policies and land disputes with businesses.

NepalCIVICUS and Freedom Forum examine how repressive laws, including amendments made to Nepal’s criminal code, have been used to limit the work of independent CSOs and suppress the freedom of expression. The submission further discusses how the ongoing attacks against journalists and the suppression of peaceful assembly continues to undermine civil space in the country. An evaluation of a range of legal sources and human rights documentation addressed in this submission demonstrate that the Government of Nepal has not implemented any of the recommendations relating to civic space during its previous UPR examination.

OmanThe Omani Association for Human Rights, Gulf Centre for Human Rights and CIVICUS highlight the closure of civic space in Oman and the use of restrictive legislation to target human rights defenders, journalists and writers and civil society organisations.  We outline concerns over the forced closure of human rights organisations, the shutting down of independent newspapers and the banning of books and other publications.  Human rights defenders and journalists are often subjected to arbitrary arrests and judicial persecution for their reporting and human rights activities. Due to these restrictions, several human rights defenders and their families have fled into exile.  Freedom of peaceful assembly is also severely restricted as provisions in the Penal Code are used to pre-empt and prevent protests and stop those that actually take place. 

RwandaThe submission by CIVICUS and DefendDefenders (EHAHRDP) outlines serious concerns related to the unabated repression of the work of human rights defenders, civil society activists and journalists. The submission explores how restrictions on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly, association, expression and access to information have been codified and willfully misapplied under Law No. 68/2018  (on assembly), Law N0 04/12 (on association and activities of CSOs), and the Law on Prevention and Punishment of Cybercrimes (expression and access to information). The Submission makes a number of action-oriented recommendations in accordance with the rights enshrined in the Rwandan Constitution, the ICCPR, the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders and Human Rights Council resolutions 22/6, 27/5 and 27/31. 

See all of our UPR submissions here.


Country civic space ratings from the CIVICUS Monitor: 

AustraliaLebanon, MauritaniaMyanmar, NepalOman, Rwanda

OPEN NARROWED OBSTRUCTED  REPRESSED CLOSED

 

 

Progress and shortcomings from 44th Session of the Human Rights Council

Joint Statement for the end of the 44th Session of the UN Human Rights Council

The 44th session of the UN Human Rights Council began with China's imposition of legislation severely undermining rights and freedoms in Hong Kong. Within days, there were reports of hundreds of arrests, some for crimes that didn’t even exist previously. We welcome efforts this session by a growing number of States to collectively address China’s sweeping rights abuses, but more is needed. An unprecedented 50 Special Procedures recently expressed concerns at China’s mass violations in Xinjiang, Hong Kong and Tibet, suppression of information in the context of Covid-19, and targeting of human rights defenders across the country. The Council should heed the call of these UN experts to hold a Special Session and create a mechanism to monitor and document rights violations in the country. No state is beyond international scrutiny. China’s turn has come.

The 44th session also marked an important opportunity to enable those affected directly by human rights violations to speak to the Council through NGO video statements.

Amnesty's Laith Abu Zeyad addressed the Council remotely from the occupied West Bank where he has been trapped by a punitive travel ban imposed by Israel since October 2019. We call on the Israeli authorities to end all punitive or arbitrary travel bans.

During the interactive dialogue with the Commission of Inquiry on Syria, victims’ associations and families of victims highlighted the human rights violations occurring in detention centers in Syria. We welcome the efforts by some States to underline their demands and welcome the adoption of the Syria resolution on detainees and urge the Syrian government to take all feasible measures to release detainees and provide truth to the families, noting the important pressure needed by Member States to further call for accountability measures for crimes committed in Syria.

Collette Flanagan, Founder of Mothers against Police Brutality, also delivered a powerful video statement at the Council explaining the reality of racist policing in the United States of America. We fully support victims’ families’ appeals to the Council for accountability.

We hope that the High Commissioner's report on systemic racism, police violence and government responses to antiracism peaceful protests will be the first step in a series of meaningful international accountability measures to fully and independently investigate police killings, to protect and facilitate Black Lives Matter and other protests, and to provide effective remedy and compensation to victims and their families in the United States of America and around the world.

We appreciate the efforts made by the Council Presidency and OHCHR to overcome the challenges of resuming the Council’s work while taking seriously health risks associated with COVID-19, including by increasing remote and online participation. We recommend that remote civil society participation continue and be strengthened for all future sessions of the Council.

Despite these efforts, delays in finalising the session dates and modalities, and subsequent changes in the programme of work, reduced the time CSOs had to prepare and engage meaningfully. This has a disproportionate impact on CSOs not based in Geneva, those based in different time zones and those with less capacity to monitor the live proceedings. Other barriers to civil society participation this session included difficulties to meet the strict technical requirements for uploading video statements, to access resolution drafts and follow informal negotiations remotely, especially from other time zones, as well as a decrease in the overall number of speaking slots available for NGO statements due to the cancellation of general debates this session as an ‘efficiency measure.’

We welcome the joint statement led by the core group on civil society space and endorsed by cross regional States and civil society, which calls on the High Commissioner to ensure that the essential role of civil society, and States’ efforts to protect and promote civil society space, are reflected in the report on impact of the COVID-19 pandemic presented to the 46th Session of the HRC. We urge all States at this Council to recognise and protect the key role that those who defend human rights play.

These last two years have seen unlawful use of force perpetrated by law enforcement against peaceful protesters, protest monitors, journalists worldwide, from the United States of America to Hong Kong, to Chile to France, Kenya to Iraq to Algeria, to India to Lebanon with impunity.

We therefore welcome that the resolution “the promotion and protection of human rights in the context of peaceful protests” was adopted by consensus, and that the Council stood strongly against some proposed amendments which would have weakened it. We also welcome the inclusion in the resolution of a panel during the 48th session to discuss such events and how States can strengthen protections. We urge States to ensure full accountability for such human rights violations as an essential element of the protection of human rights in the context of protests. The current context has accelerated the urgency of protecting online assembly, and we welcome that the resolution reaffirms that peaceful assembly rights guaranteed offline are also guaranteed online. In particular, we also commend the resolution for calling on States to refrain from internet shutdowns and website blocking during protests, while incorporating language on the effects of new and emerging technologies, particularly tools such as facial recognition, international mobile subscriber identity-catchers (“stingrays”) and closed-circuit television.

We welcome that the resolution on “freedom of opinion and expression” contains positive language including on obligations surrounding the right to information, emphasising the importance of measures for encryption and anonymity, and strongly condemning the use of internet shutdowns. Following the High Commissioner’s statement raising alarm at the abuse of ‘false news’ laws to crackdown on free expression during the COVID-19 pandemic, we also welcome that the resolution stresses that responses to the spread of disinformation and misinformation must be grounded in international human rights law, including the principles of lawfulness, legitimacy, necessity and proportionality. At the same time, we are concerned by the last minute addition of language which focuses on restrictions to freedom of expression, detracting from the purpose of the resolution to promote and protect the right. As we look to the future, it is important that the core group builds on commitments contained in the resolution and elaborate on pressing freedom of expression concerns of the day, particularly for the digital age, such as the issue of surveillance or internet intermediary liability, while refocusing elements of the text.

The current context has not only accelerated the urgency of protecting assembly and access to information, but also the global recognition of the right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment. We welcome the timely discussions on ”realizing children’s right to a healthy environment” and the concrete suggestions for action from panelists, States, and civil society. The COVID-19 crisis, brought about by animal-to-human viral transmission, has clarified the interlinkages between the health of the planet and the health of all people. We therefore support the UN Secretary General’s call to action on human rights, as well as the High Commissioner’s statement advocating for the global recognition of the human right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment – already widely reflected at national and regional levels - and ask that the Council adopts a resolution in that sense. We also support the calls made by the Marshall Islands, Climate Vulnerable Forum, and other States of the Pacific particularly affected and threatened by climate change. We now urge the Council to strengthen its role in tackling the climate crisis and its adverse impacts on the realization of human rights by establishing a Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Climate Change, which will help address the urgency of the situation and amplify the voices of affected communities.

The COVID crisis has also exacerbated discrimination against women and girls. We welcome the adoption by the Council of a strong resolution on multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination against women and girls, which are exacerbated in times of a global pandemic. The text, inter alia, reaffirms the rights to sexual and reproductive health and to bodily autonomy, and emphasizes legal obligations of States to review their legislative frameworks through an intersectional approach. We regret that such a timely topic has been questioned by certain States and that several amendments were put forward on previously agreed language.

The Council discussed several country-specific situations, and renewed the mandates in some situations.

We welcome the renewal of the Special Rapporteur’s mandate and ongoing scrutiny on Belarus. The unprecedented crackdown on human rights defenders, journalists, bloggers and members of the political opposition in recent weeks ahead of the Presidential election in August provide a clear justification for the continued focus, and the need to ensure accountability for Belarus’ actions. With concerns that the violations may increase further over the next few weeks, it is essential that the Council members and observers maintain scrutiny and pressure even after the session has finished.

We welcome the extension of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Eritrea. We urge the government to engage, in line with its Council membership obligations, as the Special Rapporteur’s ‘benchmarks for progress’ form a road map for human rights reform in the country. We welcome the High Commissioner report on the human rights situation in the Philippines which concluded, among other things, that the ongoing killings appear to be widespread and systematic and that “the practical obstacles to accessing justice in the country are almost insurmountable.” We regret that even during this Council session, President Duterte signed an Anti Terrorism Law with broad and vague definition of terrorism and terrorists and other problematic provisions for human rights and rule of law, which we fear will be used to stifle and curtail the rights to freedom of opinion and expression, to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association. Also during this session, in a further attack on press freedom, Philippine Congress rejected the franchise renewal of independent media network ABS-CBN, while prominent journalist Maria Ressa and her news website Rappler continue to face court proceedings and attacks from President Duterte after Ressa’s cyber libel conviction in mid-June. We support the call from a group of Special Procedures to the Council to establish an independent, impartial investigation into human rights violations in the Philippines and urge the Council to establish it at the next session.

The two reports presented to the Council on Venezuela this session further document how lack of judicial independence and other factors perpetuate impunity and prevent access to justice for a wide range of violations of civil, cultural, economic, political, and social rights in the country. We also urge the Council to stand ready to extend, enhance and expand the mandate of the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission when it reports in September. We also welcome the report of the Special rapporteur on the human rights situation in the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967 and reiterate his call for States to ensure Israel puts an end to all forms of collective punishment. We also reiterate his call to ensure that the UN database of businesses involved with Israeli settlements becomes a living tool, through sufficient resourcing and annual updating.

We regret, however, that several States have escaped collective scrutiny this session.

We reiterate the UN Special Rapporteur Agnes Callamard’s call to pressure Saudi Arabia to release prisoners of conscience and women human rights defenders and call on all States to sustain the Council’s scrutiny over the situation at the September session.

Despite calls by the High Commissioner for prisoners’ release, Egypt has arrested defenders, journalists, doctors and medical workers for criticizing the government’s COVID-19 response. We recall that all of the defenders that the Special Procedures and the High Commissioner called for their release since September 2019 are still in pre-trial detention. The Supreme State Security Prosecution and 'Terrorism Circuit courts' in Egypt, are enabling pre-trial detention as a form of punishment including against human rights defenders and journalists and political opponents, such as Ibrahim Metwally, Mohamed El-Baqer and Esraa Abdel Fattah, Ramy Kamel, Alaa Abdel-Fattah, Patrick Zaky, Ramy Shaat, Eman Al-Helw, Solafa Magdy and Hossam El-Sayed. Once the terrorism circuit courts resumed after they were suspended due to COVID-19, they renewed their detention retroactively without their presence in court. It’s high time the Council holds Egypt accountable.

As highlighted in a joint statement of Special Procedures, we call on the Indian authorities to immediately release HRDs, who include students, activists and protest leaders, arrested for protesting against changes to India’s citizenship laws. Also eleven prominent HRDs continue to be imprisoned under false charges in the Bhima Koregaon case. These activists face unfounded terror charges under draconian laws such as sedition and under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. While we welcome that Safoora Zargar was granted bail on humanitarian grounds, the others remain at high risk during a COVID-19 pandemic in prisons with not only inadequate sanitary conditions but also limited to no access to legal counsel and family members. A number of activists have tested positive in prison, including Akhil Gogoi and 80-year-old activist Varavara Rao amid a larger wave of infections that have affected many more prisoners across the country. Such charges against protestors, who were exercising their rights to freedom of peaceful assembly must be dropped. We call on this Council to strengthen their demands to the government of India for accountability over the excessive use of force by the police and other State authorities against the demonstrators.

In Algeria, between 30 March and 16 April 2020, the Special rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, human rights defenders, issued three urgent appeals in relation to cases involving arbitrary and violent arrests, unfair trials and reprisals against human rights defenders and peaceful activists Olaya Saadi, Karim Tabbou and Slimane Hamitouche. Yet, the Council has been silent with no mention of the crackdown on Algerian civil society, including journalists.

To conclude on a positive note, we welcome the progress in the establishment of the OHCHR country office in Sudan, and call on the international community to continue to provide support where needed to the transitional authorities. While also welcoming their latest reform announcements, we urge the transitional authorities to speed up the transitional process, including reforms within the judiciary and security sectors, in order to answer the renewed calls from protesters for the enjoyment of "freedom, peace and justice" of all in Sudan. We call on the Council to ensure continued monitoring and reporting on Sudan.

ENDORSEMENTS

International Service for Human Rights
DefendDefenders (East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project)
Center for Reproductive Rights
Franciscans International
The Syrian Legal Development Programme
Egyptian Front for Human Rights (EFHR)
CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
International Movement Against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism (IMADR)
International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA World)
Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales (CELS)
Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)
Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI)
ARTICLE 19
International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS)
IFEX
Association for Progressive Communications
International Commission of Jurists (ICJ)
Amnesty International

 


Current council members:

Afghanistan, Angola, Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Bahamas, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Bulgaria, Burkina FasoBrazil, Cameroon, Chile, Czech Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Denmark, Eritrea, Fiji, Germany, India, Indonesia, ItalyJapan, Libya, Marshall Islands, Mauritania, Mexico, Namibia, Nepal, Netherlands, Nigeria, Poland, Pakistan, Peru, Philippines, Qatar, Republic of Korea, Senegal, Slovakia, SomaliaSudan, Spain, Togo, Ukraine, Uruguay, Venezuela

Civic space ratings from the CIVICUS Monitor

OPEN NARROWED OBSTRUCTED  REPRESSED CLOSED

 

 

Human Rights Council adopts resolution on peaceful protests

Reaction to resolution on peaceful protests at the 44th Session of the UN Human Rights Council

With the adoption of a new resolution on peaceful protests, the Human Rights Council has sent a strong message that it stands by peaceful protesters who mobilise for change, and that law enforcement officials who perpetrate violence against protesters must be held to account.

All over the world, protesters have been mobilizing and standing up to win better working conditions, further equality, and end forms of oppression. But in too many cases, from Chile to Hong Kong to the US, protesters, protest monitors and journalists have been met with repression and police brutality, often with complete impunity. We urge states to ensure full accountability for human rights violations perpetrated by law enforcement in the context of peaceful protests. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the urgency of the protection of online assembly. Given this context, CIVICUS welcomes that the resolution strongly reaffirms that the rights of peaceful assembl guaranteed offline are also guaranteed online. We thank Switzerland and Costa Rica in bringing forward this resolution, which could not come at a more critical time for the protection of peaceful protests worldwide.

The resolution mandates the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association to prepare over the next two years a dedicated report on the protection of human rights in the context of peaceful protests during crisis situations. It also provides for a panel discussion on the promotion and protection of human rights in the context of peaceful protests, looking at achievements and contemporary challenges, at the Council Session next June.


Current council members:

Afghanistan, Angola, Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Bahamas, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chile, Czech Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Denmark, Eritrea, Fiji, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Libya, Marshall Islands, Mauritania, Mexico, Namibia, Nepal, Netherlands, Nigeria, Poland, Pakistan, Peru, Philippines, Qatar, Republic of Korea, Senegal, Slovakia, SomaliaSudan, Spain, Togo, Ukraine, Uruguay, Venezuela

Civic space ratings from the CIVICUS Monitor

OPEN NARROWED OBSTRUCTED  REPRESSED CLOSED

 

Eritrea: Human rights monitoring extended

Statement at the 44th Session of the UN Human Rights Council

Reaction to extending the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Eritrea


CIVICUS welcomes the ongoing international scrutiny on Eritrea guaranteed today as the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Eritrea was extended by the Human Rights Council for another year. 

The human rights situation in Eritrea continues to worsen – a closed civic space means there is no free and independent press, and at least 16 journalists have remained in detention without trial for about two decades. a culture of impunity reigns for perpetrators of human rights violations and abuses, and those expressing dissent face arbitrary and incommunicado detention.

Where there is a lack of political will for domestic solutions, it is even more vital that international scrutiny remains. With the extension of the mandate, we urge the government of Eritrea to fully cooperate and allow access to UN Human Rights Council mechanisms as befits a member of the Council, and to take immediate steps to address its human rights and humanitarian emergency. We further call on the Human Rights Council to monitor closely Eritrea’s progress towards human rights benchmarks set out by the Special Rapporteur.

‘We appreciate that the Council has recognised that the situation in Eritrea remains dire. Our partners on the ground report that that the government is failing to make critical progress on human rights situation inside the country, and continues to restrict civic space, conscripting youth into national army, and illegally detaining political prisoners. Eritreans deserve to be free and to have their basic rights respected. It is critical that Eritrea recognises that the whole world is watching', said Paul Mulindwa, CIVICUS advocacy officer.


Civic space is currently rated as Eritrea by the CIVICUS Monitor

 

Kuwait's adoption of Universal Periodic Review on Human Rights

Joint Statement at the 44th Session of the UN Human Rights Council

Universal Periodic Review on Human Rights -- Outcome Adoption for Kuwait


Madame President,

Since its second Universal Periodic Review, the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR), Gulf Centre for Human Rights, MENA Rights Group and CIVICUS found that Kuwait did not implement any of the 13 recommendations related to civic space. Instead, restrictive legislation such as the 1979 Public Gatherings Act, the 1970 National Security Law, the 2015 Cybercrime Law and the 2006 Press and Publications Law, continue to place undue restrictions on fundamental rights and freedoms.

Furthermore, human rights defenders face severe restrictions, with women human rights defenders and activists from the stateless Bedoon minority facing heightened threats. Legal and policy limitations placed on the rights to the freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression put HRDs at a continuous risk of detention, defamation, citizenship revocation and other forms of reprisals as a direct result of their work. Two of Kuwait’s leading human rights groups, the Kuwaiti Bedoon Gathering and the Kuwaiti Bedoon Committee, are regularly subjected to harassment and intimidation. Similarly, women human rights defenders face increased risks as a result of their work, such as defamation, stigmatisation, social pressure and gender and sexual-based violence, as well as marginalisation and discrimination. In October 2018, the Twitter account of woman human rights defender Abeer Al-Haddad was hacked due to a tweet she published about her plans to sue the head of the Central Apparatus for Illegal Residents Affairs.

Freedom of expression is frequently impinged upon for journalists, bloggers and civil society actors online. On 2 January 2019, journalist Aisha Al-Rasheed was arrested under the 2015 Cybercrime Law following online posts in which she denounced the corruption of government officials. She was released on bail four days later, but charges against her were not dropped. In February 2019, Abdulhakim Al-Fadhli and Hamed Jameel were summoned for interrogation by officials for their online commentary. Kuwait continues to be a closed space for civic space, unduly hampering the activities of civil society and human rights defenders.

ISHR, GCHR MENA Rights Group and CIVICUS thus urge the government of Kuwait to implement recommendations from its last periodic review, including to “(l)egislate to guarantee the freedoms of expression, of assembly and of opinion” and “(g)uarantee the right to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly of journalists, activists, human rights defenders and those who take part in demonstrations”, both of which were accepted by the government.


Civic space in Kuwait is currently rated as Repressed by the CIVICUS Monitor

 

Myanmar: Continued crackdown on civil society undermines efforts to address COVID-19

Statement at the 44th Session of the UN Human Rights Council

Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on Myanmar


CIVICUS welcomes the Special Rapporteur’s update, and looks forward to our future engagement.

This is a critical time in Myanmar, where a crackdown on expression, peaceful assembly and access to information is a barrier to accountability and undermines the country’s efforts to address the COVID-19 pandemic. Individuals have criminalised for speaking out, reporting or protesting again human rights violations.

Members of the Peacock Generation, a slam poetry troupe, who were convicted under the Telecommunications Act and Section 505(a) of the Penal Code remain in prison for their satirical criticism of the government. The Peaceful Assembly and Procession Law has been used against those protesting the internet blackout in Rakhine and Chin states. These laws, and countless others, make up the repressive legal framework used against independent journalists and human rights defenders who speak out on crimes perpetrated by the government.

The report of the IIMM presented during the 42nd Session of this council said that Myanmar’s future depends on the clear demonstration that its international crimes will not be tolerated. It also depends on those in Myanmar who speak out on violations and advocate for positive change being listened to, rather than persecuted. We call on the Myanmar government to do so, and on the international community to stand by these activists.

We ask the Special Rapporteur: what are your priorities for your time in this mandate, and how do you see the role of an open civic space in achieving accountability? Finally, how can civil society support you in your work?


Civic space in Kuwait is currently rated as Repressed by the CIVICUS Monitor

Current council members:

Afghanistan, Angola, Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Bahamas, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chile, Czech Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Denmark, Eritrea, Fiji, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Libya, Marshall Islands, Mauritania, Mexico, Namibia, Nepal, Netherlands, Nigeria, Poland, Pakistan, Peru, Philippines, Qatar, Republic of Korea, Senegal, Slovakia, SomaliaSudan, Spain, Togo, Ukraine, Uruguay, Venezuela

Civic space ratings from the CIVICUS Monitor

OPEN NARROWED OBSTRUCTED  REPRESSED CLOSED

 

 

Burundi: Widespread human rights abuses persist

Statement at the 44th Session of the UN Human Rights Council

Interactive Dialogue with the UN Commission of Inquiry on Burundi

 


Thank you, Madame President;

CIVICUS and independent Burundian civil society organisations welcome the important work of the Commission of Inquiry, and thank the Commission for its update, noting the continued refusal of the government of Burundi to grant access to the country. 

We congratulate Burundi on its elections, and the new President Évariste Ndayishimiye, and the new opportunities this presents for engagement. However, the electoral processes were characterised by shrinking democratic space and violations of freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly. Internet shutdowns and social media blockages undermined access to information. We are also deeply disappointed with the appointment of individuals under international sanctions for gross human rights violations to key government positions, including the Prime Minister and Ministry of Home Affairs. 

We are seriously concerned that members of the ruling party’s youth league, the Imbonerakure, often with local officials, the national intelligence service, and police, continue to carry out widespread human rights abuses including murders, arbitrary arrests, extortion, beatings, and intimidation, often targeting political opponents and their families. Independent civil society and media have been banned, forced to close down, or otherwise prevented from criticising the government. Journalists investigating security or human rights issues face intimidation, surveillance, and prosecution, while media outlets face bans, suspensions, and unduly restrictive regulations that stifle independent reporting.

On 5 June, the court rejected an appeal by journalists Christine Kamikazi, Agnès Ndirubusa, Égide Harerimana and Térence Mpozenzi of the Iwacu media group, who were arbitrarily arrested while investigating rebel activities in October 2019. They continue their sentence of two and half years in prison. 

We call on the new government of Burundi to fully cooperate with and grant access to the UN Commission of Inquiry. We also call on the government to unconditionally release all politically motivated detentions including of activists and human rights defenders. 

We ask the Commission to engage with the new President on crimes perpetrated during the last presidency to ensure truth and justice for victims; and whether the Commission identifies opportunities in light of the new presidency, for renewed engagement with the government for the implementation of its past recommendations and the improvement of human rights in the country. 


Civic space in Burundi is currently rated as Closed by the CIVICUS Monitor

Current council members:

Afghanistan, Angola, Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Bahamas, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chile, Czech Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Denmark, Eritrea, Fiji, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Libya, Marshall Islands, Mauritania, Mexico, Namibia, Nepal, Netherlands, Nigeria, Poland, Pakistan, Peru, Philippines, Qatar, Republic of Korea, Senegal, Slovakia, SomaliaSudan, Spain, Togo, Ukraine, Uruguay, Venezuela

Civic space ratings from the CIVICUS Monitor

OPEN NARROWED OBSTRUCTED  REPRESSED CLOSED

 

 

Sri Lanka: Civil society subjected to intensified military surveillance and other restrictions

Joint Statement at the 44th session of the Human Rights Council

Interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association


Thank you, Madam President.

As the Special Rapporteur’s report demonstrates, the space for Sri Lankan civil society is rapidly shrinking. For several months now, civil society organisations have been subject to intensified military surveillance and questioning by different government authorities.

Worryingly, the COVID-19 pandemic has been exploited by the Sri Lankan government to impose restrictions on the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly, resulting in the arrest and detention of social media commentators like Ramzy Razeek. Senior lawyer and minority and civic rights activist, Hejaaz Hizbullah, who was arrested and detained on suspicion of offences under the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act, has now been detained for close to three months without being produced before a judge, after having been misled to believe that the authorities were visiting his house to discuss his potential exposure to COVID-19.

Since January 2020, the Government of Sri Lanka has established multiple Presidential Task Forces. Decisions have been taken with no oversight by Parliament. The Presidential Task Force to build a “Secure Country, Disciplined, Virtuous and Lawful Society” is fully comprised of security sector personnel and given an ambiguous mandate. Sri Lankan civil society has raised a serious concern that the task force can extend military control over civilian life. Its power can be abused to curtail dissenting voices which are deemed to be “harmful to the free and peaceful existence of society”. The increased deployment of military personnel along with the police, and the disproportionate use of force against peaceful protesters, as observed recently, are also alarming.

Considering growing concerns over shrinking space for dissent domestically, the Council remains effectively the only forum where Sri Lankan civil society has the possibility to engage openly in dialogue with the Government and other States on human rights concerns in Sri Lanka, and even this space is increasingly under threat due to deepening risks of reprisals against Sri Lankan civil society actors who speak at the Council. Those human right defenders are increasingly vilified as “traitors” in both mainstream and social media.

Given Sri Lanka’s announced withdrawal from its commitments to the implementation of resolution 30/1, and the clear and consistent recommendations by the OHCHR that the Council should monitor progress towards accountability, the Council needs to take a more robust approach on Sri Lanka. Against this backdrop, we encourage the Special Rapporteur to continue to follow up on the situation and urge the Human Rights Council to enhance its monitoring of Sri Lanka’s compliance with international human rights law, including to ensure that human rights are protected throughout the forthcoming general elections.

Amnesty International
CIVICUS
Forum Asia
Franciscans International
Human Rights Watch
International Movement Against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism
ISHR
Minority rights group international


Civic space in Sri Lanka is currently rated as Obstructed by the CIVICUS Monitor

Current council members:

Afghanistan, Angola, Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Bahamas, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chile, Czech Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Denmark, Eritrea, Fiji, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Libya, Marshall Islands, Mauritania, Mexico, Namibia, Nepal, Netherlands, Nigeria, Poland, Pakistan, Peru, Philippines, Qatar, Republic of Korea, Senegal, Slovakia, SomaliaSudan, Spain, Togo, Ukraine, Uruguay, Venezuela

Civic space ratings from the CIVICUS Monitor

OPEN NARROWED OBSTRUCTED  REPRESSED CLOSED

 

 

UN resolution needed to help protect freedom of expression

Statement at the 44th Session of the UN Human Rights Council

Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression


Madame President, Special Rapporteur;

We thank the Special Rapporteur for his timely report.

The CIVICUS Monitor watchlist highlights countries where there is a serious and rapid decline in respect for civic space, including where undue restrictions on freedom of expression – whether pre-existing, or introduced in response to the pandemic – consolidate authoritarian power and further human rights violations.

Currently, this includes the Philippines, where a provision in the emergency law introduced in response to the pandemic penalises the spreading of "false information," which could curtail freedom of speech and silence the media. Journalists and social media users have already been targeted. We also stand with prominent journalist Maria Ressa, who was convicted for ‘cyberlibel’ last month in a politically motivated case.

It also includes Hungary, where an act was passed in March criminalising spreading false information in connection with the pandemic. This could lead to further censorship of independent media in Hungary and the erosion of media freedom. Access to information for journalists has already diminished.

In Niger, authorities have used the 2019 Cybercrime Law against critics, including over social media posts and even private WhatsApp messages. Journalist and blogger Samira Sabou was arrested in June over a Facebook post. The National Assembly approved a law allowing for the interception of communication in May 2020.

In Azerbaijan, at least six activists and a pro-opposition journalist have been sentenced to prison after criticism of the government.

Finally, in the USA, journalists covering Black Lives Matter protests have been physically attacked, detained and had equipment seized by law enforcement. These are not isolated cases but reflect mounting hostility against the press in the country, with several cases of vilification, harassment and smear campaigns against journalists from both state and non-state actors.

We remind States that free flow of information will be paramount in our collective recovery from the pandemic. We call on the Council to support the resolution protecting freedom of expression currently before it, and to commit to ensuring protection for journalists, and for those who speak out.


Current council members:

Afghanistan, Angola, Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Bahamas, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chile, Czech Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Denmark, Eritrea, Fiji, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Libya, Marshall Islands, Mauritania, Mexico, Namibia, Nepal, Netherlands, Nigeria, Poland, Pakistan, Peru, Philippines, Qatar, Republic of Korea, Senegal, Slovakia, SomaliaSudan, Spain, Togo, Ukraine, Uruguay, Venezuela

Civic space ratings from the CIVICUS Monitor

OPEN NARROWED OBSTRUCTED  REPRESSED CLOSED

 

 

UN resolution needed to protect peaceful protests during the pandemic and beyond

Joint statement at the 44th Session of the UN Human Rights Council

Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on freedom of association and peaceful assembly


Madame President, Special Rapporteur,

We thank the Special Rapporteur for his report, and for the work the mandate has done to protect freedom of assembly and association worldwide. These fundamental rights underpin the very existence of civil society.

The report highlights that there have been multiple examples of civil society and social movements across the world galvanizing positive change, defending hard-won democratic values and developing innovative practices to address issues of injustice. People coming together to speak out have won better working conditions, furthered equality, ended forms of oppression.

The benefits of a vibrant civil society, and of human rights defenders who are free to do their work, are tangible. In the past months, we have seen that society is central to crisis response and will continue to be central in building back better. There are so many gains still to come.

States who suppress individuals and groups simply for speaking out willfully deny such enrichment.

In Hong Kong, a sweeping security law imposed by China last week risks destroying its free and open civil society. Protesters have already been criminalized by the law. In India, suppression of peaceful protests against a discriminatory citizenship and arrests of human rights defenders who took part in these meetings represent efforts to silence voices against inequality and injustice. In the USA, Black lives Matter protests against systemic racism and police brutality have been met with state-sanctioned violence, including the deliberate targeting of journalists. In Egypt a systematic crack-down on civil society, human rights defenders and independent journalists has accelerated in the last several months.

The current pandemic has accelerated and exacerbated existing challenges and there are numerous cases of States weaponizing the COVID-19 pandemic against civil society, from Hungary to Algeria to the Philippines.

The rights to freedom of association and peaceful assembly are simply the right to organize and mobilise for a fairer, more just world. This session, the Council members have the opportunity to better protect these rights. We urge all States to support the resolution on peaceful protests, and to commit to ensuring space and voice for those who come together to speak out.

Thank you.

CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
International Service for Human Rights
East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project
Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative
FORUM-ASIA
The African Center for Democracy and Human Rights Studies
Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies


Current council members:

Afghanistan, Angola, Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Bahamas, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chile, Czech Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Denmark, Eritrea, Fiji, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Libya, Marshall Islands, Mauritania, Mexico, Namibia, Nepal, Netherlands, Nigeria, Poland, Pakistan, Peru, Philippines, Qatar, Republic of Korea, Senegal, Slovakia, SomaliaSudan, Spain, Togo, Ukraine, Uruguay, Venezuela

Civic space ratings from the CIVICUS Monitor

OPEN NARROWED OBSTRUCTED  REPRESSED CLOSED

 

 

Cambodia: 4 years on, no effective investigation into Kem Ley’s unlawful killing

Joint Statement

Appoint Independent Commission of Inquiry, Seek UN Assistance

Today, on the fourth anniversary of the killing of prominent political commentator and human rights defender Kem Ley, we, the 30 undersigned organizations, call on the Cambodian authorities to create an independent Commission of Inquiry to conduct an effective and impartial investigation that is long overdue into Kem Ley’s death. We further urge Cambodian authorities to cease intimidation and harassment of persons peacefully commemorating his passing. 

On July 10, 2016, Kem Ley was shot and killed while having his morning coffee at a petrol station in central Phnom Penh. Without conducting a prompt, thorough, and independent investigation, the authorities arrested Oeuth Ang, who identified himself as “Chuob Samlab” (meaning “Meet to Kill” in Khmer) and “confessed” to the killing. Following a half-day trial on March 23, 2017, which was widely criticized for failure to meet international fair trial standards, the court found Oeuth Ang guilty of murder and sentenced him to life imprisonment. On May 24, 2019, the Supreme Court upheld his sentence. 

Since 2016, many international and domestic human rights organizations have consistently called on the Cambodian government to set up an independent Commission of Inquiry to conduct a prompt, impartial, and effective investigation into this killing, with emphasis on examining the potential criminal responsibility of persons other than the direct perpetrator, in line with international standards set out in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). The UN Principles on the Effective Prevention and Investigation of Extralegal, Arbitrary and Summary Executions as well as the revised Minnesota Protocol on the Investigation of Potentially Unlawful Death reinforce the duty of governments to investigate unlawful deaths and to establish an independent commission of inquiry when states, like Cambodia, lack effective procedures to conduct such an investigation in accordance with international standards. 

The Cambodian government, has to date, failed to take any steps towards the establishment of such an independent and impartial investigative body. Given the government’s unwillingness to conduct an independent investigation into Kem Ley’s killing, and civil society’s highly warranted lack of trust and confidence in Cambodia’s justice system which lacks the requisite levels of independence to adjudicate cases involving public officials, this body should be established under the auspices of the United Nations and composed of independent experts.

The Cambodian government’s continued antipathy towards Kem Ley’s case raise suspicions that he was murdered in retaliation for his work as a human rights defender. Kem Ley had often spoken on political and social issues. He was killed just days after he had spoken in an interview about an investigative report “Hostile Takeover”, released by the international nongovernmental organization Global Witness, which detailed widespread corruption in Cambodia tied to Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen and his family. 

Soon after his death, Kem Ley’s then-pregnant wife and four sons fled Cambodia  fearing for their lives. Australia granted them asylum after a barrage of threats to their lives while they hid without legal status for more than a year in Thailand. 

Following the killing of Kem Ley, the Cambodian authorities have continually monitored, harassed, and ultimately disrupted and prohibited planned anniversary memorials of his death. Moreover, the authorities forced individuals wearing t-shirts with Kem Ley’s quotes or image to either remove them or cover them. These actions constitute arbitrary restrictions on the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. We condemn such attempts to stifle free speech and reiterate our call to the Cambodian government to stop such harassment

In July 2019, a day prior to the third anniversary of Kem Ley’s death, the authorities arrested youth activist Kong Raiya alongside three family members for selling t-shirts with images of Kem Ley and two of his famous quotes: “Wipe your tears and continue your journey” and “Although you do nothing, you would still be victimized. It’s just a matter of time when it’s your turn.”  While the police released his family members without charge after they signed “pledges” that they would desist from similar protest activities in the future, Kong Raiya remained in pre-trial detention on apparently politically motivated charges of incitement for nearly five months until the authorities released him on bail on November 28, 2019. On June 19, 2020, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court convicted Kong Raiya in absentia of “incitement to commit a felony” under articles 88, 494, and 495 of Cambodia’s Penal Code, and sentenced him to two years in prison, with the remainder of his sentence suspended due to time served in pre-trial detention. Kong Raiya was previously sentenced to 18 months’ imprisonment in 2015 on spurious incitement charges in relation to a Facebook post that criticized the government. 

On July 10, 2019, the authorities arrested another student activist, Soung Neakpaon, for holding a sign reading “End extrajudicial killings” near the petrol station where Kem Ley was slain. The authorities charged him with incitement and placed him in pre-trial detention, where he remained until he was granted bail in November 2019. On December 4, 2019, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court convicted him in absentia of “incitement to commit a felony” under articles 494 and 495 of Cambodia’s Penal Code and sentenced him to two years in prison; he has not yet been re-arrested. On July 10, 2019, the authorities arrested twin brothers Chhum Huot and Chhum Hou for attempting to place flowers at the same petrol station. The authorities released them on the same day.  

Ahead of the four-year anniversary of Dr. Kem Ley’s death Cambodian authorities already took restrictive measures to prevent peaceful commemorations of his passing. On July 8, 2020, police blocked a Buddhist ceremony held by a group of youth activists and monks at the petrol station where the murder had happened. The authorities detained one of the activists, wearing a t-shirt with Kem Ley’s face on it for questioning. The authorities released him after signing a ‘pledge’.  

Kem Ley’s work and his life stood for building respect for civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights. He particularly emphasized the importance of people’s equal and free participation in politics, and the rights of every person to freedom of association, expression, information and peaceful public assembly. The Cambodian government’s continued harassment of human rights defenders, labor activists, monks, journalists, members of the political opposition, and others critical of the government reflects a systematic culture of impunity that protects those responsible for the death of Kem Ley, and cracks down on any form of expression or information deemed critical of the government. 

We, the 30 undersigned organizations, will continue our call for an independent, impartial, effective, and thorough investigation into Kem Ley’s killing until all those responsible are brought to justice.

Amnesty International 
Article 19
ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR)
Asian Democracy Network (ADN) 
Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)
Asian Network for Free Elections (ANFREL)
Cambodian Alliance of Trade Unions (CATU)
Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR)
Cambodian Food and Service Workers Federation (CFSWF)
Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC)
Cambodian Institute for Democracy (CID)
Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (LICADHO)
Center for Alliance of Labor and Human Rights (CENTRAL)
CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
Civil Rights Defenders
Coalition of Cambodian Farmer Community (CCFC-Association)
Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (COMFREL)
Equitable Cambodia
Human Rights Watch (HRW)
Informal Democratic Economy Association (IDEA)
International Commission of Jurists (ICJ)
International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX) 
Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada (LRWC)
Mother Nature Cambodia
Not1More (N1M)
People Center for Development and Peace (PDP-CENTER)
Transparency International Cambodia (TI-C) 
World Organization Against Torture (OMCT), within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
Youth Resource Development Program (YRDP)


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

 

Malaysia: Migrants and refugees excluded from poverty figures and neglected by policymakers

Statement at the 44th Session of the UN Human Rights Council

Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty


Thank you, Madame President; Special Rapporteur.

CIVICUS and North South Initiative welcome the strong report of the Special Rapporteur on his country visit to Malaysia, which highlights the plight of millions of people including migrants, refugees and stateless people who are systematically excluded from official poverty figures and neglected by policymakers.

We share his concern that migrant workers in Malaysia are set up for exploitation by unscrupulous recruitment agents and employers, a harsh immigration policy and a lack of enforcement of labour protections. Refugees and asylum seekers exist in extremely precarious conditions unable to work or enroll in government schools. Civil society groups have been calling for a single entity to manage migrant workers to ensure better protection of their rights and reduce the risks of them becoming victims of corruption. 

CIVICUS research has shown has that migrants and refugees in Malaysia want to participate in the societies they call home. But they continue to face barriers and restrictions in exercising their freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly and association, all but ensuring ongoing perilous and precarious conditions.

Migrant workers and refugees say that among the challenges they face in speaking out include, a lack of access to information, fear of being fired, detained or deported and harassment or intimidation. The right to assemble in the 2012 Peaceful Assembly Act does not extend to foreigners including migrant workers and refugees – in contravention of international human rights law and standards. Refugee and migrant workers also face various restrictions in exercising their freedom of association.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic emerged earlier this year there has been a crackdown on migrant workers. The UN has noted increased xenophobia and hate speech against them by individuals affiliated with the government and human rights defenders have been threatened for supporting migrants. 

We call on the government of Malaysia to immediately take steps to implement the recommendation of the special rapporteur for a comprehensive new approach to migrant and refugee policies that provides them protection, guarantees their civic freedoms and enables a route out of poverty and precarity. We also urge the government to make public the final report and recommendations by the Special Committee on Foreign Worker Management setup by the government.

 

Philippines under scrutiny at the UN Human Rights Council

Joint statement at the 44th Session of the UN Human Rights Council

 

Madame President; High Commissioner.

CIVICUS and Karapatan welcome the strong report of the OHCHR, which highlights that the Philippines’ once-vibrant and open tradition of civil society activism is under serious threat.

Yesterday, the Philippines was added to CIVICUS Monitor's Watchlist, reflecting its sharp decline in civic freedoms. President Duterte’s government has responded to the COVID-19 pandemic by passing an emergency law which is being used to curtail freedom of speech and silence the media. Journalists and social media users have already been targeted by the law.

CIVICUS member Karapatan, national alliance of human rights organizations and individuals, is one of the many organisations threatened and smeared for their work – including for their reports to the UN. Reprisals are never acceptable but are even more egregious when perpetrated by a member of this Council.

The report shows that violations of human rights, including extrajudicial killings and arbitrary detention under Duterte’s ‘war on drugs’, is pervasive. That vilification of dissent is being increasingly institutionalized and normalized in ways that will be very difficult to reverse. The new anti-terror bill will further erode the rule of law. Rampant impunity means that accountability for attacks against activists and journalists is virtually non-existent. Domestic mechanisms will not provide justice for the thousands killed at the hands of State authorities; for those unjustly imprisoned; for those silenced.

We welcome the strong statements made during this enhanced Interactive Dialogue. We call on the members of this Council to follow up with action and deliver a strong resolution which delivers the accountability measures that are so urgently needed, and demonstrates that Council members are committed to upholding respect for and protection of human rights. No country is above scrutiny, nor should they be above accountability.

We ask the High Commissioner what measures would she consider necessary for the Human Rights Council to take in order to ensure justice for those affected?


Civic space in the Philippines is currently rated as Obstructed by the CIVICUS Monitor

 

 

Eritrea: Impunity persists for attacks against human rights — international action needed

Statement at the 44th Session of the UN Human Rights Council

 

CIVICUS and the Eritrean Movement for Democracy and Human Rights welcome the Special Rapporteur’s report.

We are alarmed that the human rights situation in Eritrea continues to be dire, despite improved engagement with regional and international actors. Civic space remains closed, with no free and independent press, and at least 16 journalists have been held in detention without trial for about two decades. We are seriously concerned by the picture set out in the report of a culture of impunity for the perpetrators of human rights violations and abuses, including arbitrary and incommunicado detention, sometimes indefinitely, particularly of those expressing dissent and opinion; inhumane and degrading treatment and punishment of Eritreans through torture, forced labour, and sexual violence; religious and ethnic minority oppression, restrictions to free expression and peaceful assembly, and mandatory indefinite conscription of youth in the national military service system. Hundreds of thousands have fled the country in recent years. A humanitarian emergency is emerging owing to the government’s inadequate response to famine

Madame President, these and many more raise long-standing concerns over continued refusal by Eritrean government to cooperate with the Special Rapporteur and other international human rights mechanisms. This is particularly egregious given Eritrea’s membership of this very Council.

Where there is a lack of political will for domestic solutions, it is even more vital that international scrutiny remains. We urge the Council to ensure the continuation of this important mandate. We also call on the government of Eritrea to fully cooperate and allow access to UN Human Rights Council mechanisms as befits a member of the Council, and to take immediate steps to address its human rights and humanitarian emergency.

Special Rapporteur, what more can the Council do to ensure steps are taken towards achievement of the benchmarks set out in your report?


Civic space in Eritrea is currently rated as Closed by the CIVICUS Monitor

 

Comprehensive UN resolution needed to protect civic space

Statement at the 44th Session of the UN Human Rights Council

Interactive Dialogue with the High Commissioner for Human Rights

A group of governments (Ireland, Chile, Japan, Sierra Leone, Tunisia) and over 50 civil society organisations reaffirm the need for the Human Rights Council to adopt a comprehensive resolution that promotes and protect civic freedoms.


Madame High Commissioner,

This core group first took the initiative of a Council resolution on civil society space in 2013.

We did so in light of what we saw as two equally true but very different realities:

  • first, the transformative role which civil society can and does play, alone or in partnership with other stakeholders; and
  • second, that civil society space is all too regularly, and unfortunately increasingly, restricted and threatened.

In the intervening period, our commitment to this initiative has not diminished, in fact quite the opposite, we have established new frontiers.

We remain deeply committed to highlighting at this Council, the critical importance of protecting and promoting a safe and enabling environment for civil society.

In normal times, we would have presented a resolution to this Session of the HRC.

But these are not normal times, so, for practical reasons, we have decided to raise these important issues by way of a Joint Statement.

In this Joint Statement, we take the opportunity to draw attention to the concerns that persist for civil society including inter alia: diversity of participation; attacks, reprisals and acts of intimidation against civil society actors; shortcomings in access and accreditation processes; the use of legal and administrative measures to restrict civil society activity; and the particular challenges that have emerged in recent weeks and months by the almost wholesale move to online methods of communication and engagement.

We also pay tribute to the significant steps forward that international organisations and States have taken to foster and encourage the meaningful participation of civil society, set out in the

High Commissioner’s report presented at this Session. This report also noted that significant further steps are needed, such as: increasing support to and empowering civil society, including human rights defenders, in particular women’s rights and environmental defenders and journalists; and expanding the space in which civil society operates through better laws and policies and improved protection mechanisms.

Realisation of these steps would bring to bear the immense benefits of this participative approach to policy formulation and implementation, as emphasised by the Secretary-General in his “Call to Action”.

Madame High Commissioner,

The people that States in this room represent are facing the challenge of a generation in dealing with COVID19 and its devastating impact, particularly in terms of the many, many lives lost, on every continent.

In responding to, and rebuilding from this crisis, we must recognise, as articulated by the UN Secretary-General, and as emphasised by this Council in the recently adopted Presidential Statement on the human rights implications of the COVID-19 pandemic, the importance of human rights in shaping the response to the pandemic, both for the public health emergency, and the broader impact on people’s lives and livelihoods.

We welcome your statement, Madame High Commissioner, that civil society must be included in every stage of response to the COVID19 pandemic.

We would encourage you therefore Madame High Commissioner, to ensure that the essential role of civil society, and States’ efforts to protect and promote civil society space, are reflected in the report that you will present to the 46th Session of the HRC, as mandated by the recent Presidential Statement.

There will be many lessons to be learned from our experience of recent weeks and months if we are to build back better, by protecting fundamental freedoms in the face of crises and addressing structural inequalities.

We stand ready to learn.

And we undertake to bring to a future Session of this Council, a resolution that will build on a more comprehensive examination of the key challenges and opportunities that have emerged and will set out concrete steps for States to take to realise open civic space for the benefit of all.

 

Upholding fundamental rights is crucial for global crisis response

Joint Statement at the 44th Session of the UN Human Rights Council

Interactive Dialogue with the High Commissioner for Human Rights


Madame High Commissioner,

Thank you for your timely report. This is a statement on behalf of the Civic Space Initiative, including CIVICUS, Article 19, ICNL, ECNL and the World Movement for Democracy.

The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated existing challenges to civic freedoms.

The CIVICUS Monitor shows that it has exacerbated the ongoing use of restrictive laws; restrictions on funding; reprisals, attacks and acts of intimidation; the ongoing violent repression of mass mobilisations for change; and the wilful exclusion of civil society from decision making processes. It has provided cover for executive overreach and spurred new growth in the use of surveillance technologies. According to ICNL-ECNL’s Civic Freedom Tracker, at least 145 countries have enacted 280 measures in response to COVID that further affect civic freedoms and human rights.

But it has also revealed the centrality of civil society in crisis response: in providing critical information and services to communities, running feeding schemes and health screenings, providing aid and monitoring abuses.

Civil society has again proved itself to be an integral stakeholder. And time of crisis is a time of opportunity. As has been so often said, this is the time to build back better.

We have seen many examples of good practice to draw on. Several States are developing specialised online platforms for better consultation on emergency measures. Others are establishing oversight bodies inviting the public to share views on the measures governments have taken, or conducting surveys to gauge public response on government handling of the crisis.

We call on all States, in their response to the crisis, to:

  1. Create avenues for inclusive participation and feedback and reach out to those most at risk and those most likely to be excluded.
  2. Ensure transparency and access to information to enable civil society to respond with the most accurate information available.
  3. Ensure that existing channels of civil society participation, at local, national and international levels are maintained – and possibly expanded – in the COVID-19 context.
  4. Undertake thorough human rights impact assessments to ensure that measures and actions in response to the crisis do not infringe human rights and fundamental freedoms.

We have seen time and time again positive change emerge when people are able to organize, speak out and take action. A strong and vibrant civil society is a core pillar of a thriving democracy. We must not allow emergency responses to undermine democratic gains.

 

Freedom of association for migrants --- joint statement at Human Rights Council

Joint tatement at the 44th Session of the UN Human Rights Council

Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants


Madame President; Special Rapporteur,

This is a statement on behalf of CIVICUS, Solidarity Center, and the International Service for Human Rights.

We welcome the Special Rapporteur’s report. For the marginalised in society, including migrant workers, the freedom to act collectively offers protection against discrimination, exploitation and poverty. When the right to association is open to migrant workers and refugees, they can organize to uphold their interests in their workplaces and communities, influence public opinion and hold public officials accountable.

We share your concern that hostility towards migrants and those who defend their rights has given rise to restrictive laws and practices that undermine the human rights, safety and dignity of migrants.

A report released by CIVICUS and Solidarity Centre last October revealed serious challenges for migrant workers in exercising their freedom of association, including the threat of deportation for speaking out.

Migrant workers in Malaysia reported that intimidation and pressure from their employers often prevents them from organizing, and that they can be coerced by agents or their employers not to join unions. In some cases, their working contracts deny their participation. Two-thirds of migrant workers surveyed in Kenya say harassment or pressure from employers is a major barrier to exercising freedom of association.

COVID-19 has dramatically exposed the importance of freedom of association rights for migrant workers and refugees. They must have the right to speak out and organize collectively to ensure health and safety at work, especially as they are disproportionately represented in “essential sectors” such food processing, agriculture and health services in many countries.

Defenders of migrants’ and refugee rights play a crucial role in supporting migrants, elevating their voices and providing humanitarian assistance. We are seriously alarmed at the harassment of individuals and civil society organizations supporting migrants, including migrant workers, in the EU and the US; including criminalization of their activities; and barriers to registration and funding. Such attacks can be a matter of life or death for those whose rights and freedoms they defend. 

We call on all States to heed the recommendations of the report to recognize and protect migrants’ right to freedom of association, to stop the misuse of smuggling and trafficking laws to target migrant rights defenders and to create an enabling environment for civil society organizations, including those working on migration and migrants’ rights issues.

 

No country is above scrutiny -- resolution needed for human rights emergency in USA

Statement at the 43rd Session of the UN Human Rights Council

Like so many, we have watched with horror as protesters seeking justice and equality in the US have been met with state-sanctioned violence and their attackers with impunity. Journalists, protest monitors and medical teams alike have been deliberately targeted by law enforcement officials.

We are inspired by worldwide solidarity with the Black Lives Matter protests to end systemic racism, and by the changes that the protests have already brought about. Laws have been introduced at the local level. Overdue conversations have begun. But piecemeal modifications are no substitute for systemic change.

Protests worldwide are routinely brutally suppressed, and accountability for violence by law enforcement is rare. This is not unique to the US; nor is systemic racism. But racism and white supremacy are entrenched in the country. Similarly entrenched issues of police violence, impunity and militarization impact harmfully and disproportionately the Black community in the US.

The Human Rights Council has a role to play in addressing both the systemic racism that plagues our institutions, as well as its implications – from over-policed communities, to violence meted out on peaceful protesters, to murder with impunity.

The credibility of the council is at stake. It must show that human rights are universal and no country is above scrutiny for grave human rights violations.

CIVICUS supports a resolution mandating an independent investigation into systemic racism in the US, and into excessive use of force against peaceful protests in US cities since the murder of George Floyd. These measures would bring accountability, justice and equality one small but necessary step closer. As we heard with such power yesterday, individuals, their loved ones, and whole communities have been failed by the national institutions that are supposed to protect them. The international community must step up.


Civic space in the United States is currently rated as Narrowed by the CIVICUS Monitor

See our wider advocacy priorities and programme of activities at the 43rd Session of the UN Human Rights Council

 

COVID-19 restrictions cannot set new precedents for civil society participation at the UN

Joint statement at the 43rd Session of the UN Human Rights Council

 

 

Madame President,

The Vienna Declaration recognizes the important role of non-governmental organizations in the promotion of all human rights activities at national, regional and international levels, and emphasizes the importance of continued dialogue and cooperation between Governments and non-governmental organizations.

In a time of crisis, civil society is vital to developing and implementing the solutions. The President’s Statement on the human rights implications of the COVID-19 pandemic, adopted by this Council last month, reaffirms this.

We fully understand that the pandemic has created an unprecedented situation. Indeed, COVID-19 has exacerbated existing restrictions on participation worldwide with closing spaces on assembly, association and movement. Numerous countries have enacted emergency legislation which serve to stifle criticism and curtail freedom of the press. Not only do these measures counter the principles enshrined in the Vienna Declaration, they inhibit our collective ability to forge collective solutions.

It is crucial that civil society voices are not excluded from the Council. That all those who are affected by the decisions made in this room are fully able to participate – virtually or otherwise. This is particularly the case for our civil society colleagues in the global south, who face intersectional barriers to participation.

The Human Rights Council must lead by example and set the highest standards on civil society space and participation, including through its working methods, by ensuring a process that is accessible, transparent, inclusive and responsive to civil society voices.

We urge Human Rights Council members and observers to make every effort to ensure that restrictions on participation do not set new precedents at the Council which would make it less effective and less inclusive, hindering its ability to address human rights.

CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
Child Rights Connect
Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative
Humanists International
International Commission of Jurists
International Service for Human Rights
Save the Children
Sexual Rights Initiative
World Organisation Against Torture


See our wider advocacy priorities and programme of activities at the 43rd Session of the UN Human Rights Council

 

Joint statement on the role of the UN in the prevention of human rights crises

Joint statement at the 43rd Session of the UN Human Rights Council

 

Madam President, Rapporteurs,

Firstly, while we acknowledge the exceptional circumstances presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, we regret the limitations placed on inclusive and meaningful civil society participation, including in General Debates, and these circumstances should it set any precedents that would allow further restriction in the future. 

CIVICUS and DefendDefenders welcome this timely report on the Council’s prevention mandate, a crucial part of the Council’s work. The report concluded that one identifying sign of an emerging human rights crisis, which could form part of a trigger mechanism for Council action, are ‘the targeting of human rights defenders, journalists or civil society organizations’.

Indeed, unwarranted restrictions on civic space enable wider human rights violations, and are often an early warning sign of a crisis.

Too often, we see these signs overlooked, with states raising concern only when the situation has deteriorated beyond the realm of prevention. This report, and statements made during the High-Level Segment of this session, articulates a commitment made by states to strengthen the Council’s prevention mandate. But rhetoric must translate to action.

The rapidly deteriorating situation in Tanzania presents an opportunity to do so.

We continue to document the use of draconian legislation and of legal and extra-judicial methods to restrict freedom of expression and opinion, peaceful assembly and association, and the overall closure of the civic and democratic space.  In recent months, independent media outlets have been suspended and closed by the authorities, journalists and human rights defenders have been subjected to judicial persecution, harassment and intimidation. The authorities have imposed blanket restrictions on peaceful political assemblies and introduced laws to undermine freedom of speech online.  More violations have been documented in relation to concerns raised about the government’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

In line with the report, these developments are indicative of a mounting human rights crisis. This Council, and its members and observers, must take meaningful preventative action to prevent further escalation. The window of opportunity to do so is narrowing by the day. 


Civic space in Tanzania is currently rated as Repressed  by the CIVICUS Monitor

See our wider advocacy priorities and programme of activities at the 43rd Session of the UN Human Rights Council

 

Mainstreaming civic space in State interventions at the UN Human Rights Council

In a joint paper released today, a group of 12 NGOs encourage States to more systematically use civic space indicators as objective criteria for action at the UN Human Rights Council. “Mainstreaming civic space in State interventions at the UN Human Rights Council” makes the case for greater protection of human rights defenders (HRDs) and other civil society actors through State interventions at the Council, which is the UN’s principal human rights body. 

In February 2020, the UN Secretary-General launched a global “Call to Action” in which he made clear that threats against HRDs (especially women HRDs) and journalists are increasing, and that governments restricting civic space “is frequently a pre­lu­de to a more general deterioration in human rights.” This paper, which was developed by DefendDefenders in collaboration with partners (11 other members of the HRCnet network), highlights the value of the “objective criteria” approach, including at an early stage, whenever human rights concerns are mounting in a specific situation. 

States should use civic space indicators to objectively assess human rights situations. Among the objective criteria they can use, civic space restrictions (such as attacks against HRDs, civil socie­ty actors and independent voices, and an overall shrinking spa­ce for civil society) are often early warning signs of human rights crises. Civic space indicators can also be used to assess progress at the national level. 

As shown in a recent Council report, the Council’s “prevention mandate” re­mains under-utilised. By taking into account key civic space developments, States could engage in more mea­ningful action and, where the situation warrants it, in preventative engagement with the countries concerned. 

The paper suggests areas where action is possible, using civic space indicators in a systematic manner. These areas include individual and joint State statements at the Council, thematic debates, resolutions, the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process, and special sessions and urgent debates. 

Ultimately, nothing meaningful can happen without States’ political will to address country situations more objectively and decisively. Civic space indicators need to be part and parcel of States’ assessments and interventions at the Council. 

Read the full paper

Signatories:
1. DefendDefenders
2. African Centre for Democracy and Human Rights Studies (ACDHRS)
3. Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-Asia)
4. Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS)
5. Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales (CELS)
6. CIVICUS
7. Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI)
8. Conectas Direitos Humanos
9. Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR)
10. Human Rights Law Centre
11. International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)
12. Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network (SAHRDN)

 

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