Myanmar: The government continues to systematically silence dissent

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

Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on Myanmar


We thank the Special Rapporteur for his update, and we welcome his efforts towards outreach and engagement with local and regional civil society. 

In the last elections in 2015 we saw a groundswell of hope for positive change, with optimism of human rights progress. Such optimism dissipated quickly. The elections in November will take place against a bleak backdrop of genocide and crimes against humanity. They will take place in an environment in which fundamental freedoms have been systematically curtailed, with a total crackdown on any criticism of authorities.

The government has sought to systematically silence dissent using an array of restrictive laws. Members of the Peacock Generation poetry troupe remain in jail. The internet shutdown in Rakhine state remains in place. Rohingya campaigners outside the country face threats while protesters continue to be arbitrarily arrested and convicted. We call on the government of Myanmar to release immediately and unconditionally all human right defenders and others jailed for exercising their right to freedom of expression.

We are seriously concerned that in the run-up to the next elections, such freedoms will be curtailed still further. In the last months, it has been demonstrated again and again how important access to information and freedom of expression is. This is even more so in the context of elections.

We ask the Special Rapporteur what steps the international community can take to ensure that elections are free and fair, and how they can best support local human rights defenders and civil society groups who risk being attacked for speaking out in the context of upcoming elections?


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

 

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 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)

 

Eritrea: Extend the mandate of the UN Special Rapporteur

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

At the 41st session of the UN Human Rights Council (24 June-12 July 2019), the Council extended a hand to the Eritrean Government. While renewing the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the country, it signalled its willingness to offer Eritrea a constructive way forward, in particular by shifting the resolution from agenda item 4 to item 2. 

While welcoming the adoption of Council resolution 41/1, and in particular the renewal of the mandate, many non-governmental organisations cautioned that any shifts in the Council’s approach should reflect corresponding changes in the human rights situation on the ground. 

Regrettably, one year later, we, the undersigned non-governmental organisations, recall that the concerns expressed in a joint letter published last year remain valid, for the reasons set out below. Ahead of the 44th session of the Council (currently scheduled to begin in June 2020), we urge you to support the adoption of a resolution extending the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Eritrea. 

As Eritrea has entered the second year of its Council membership term, its domestic human rights situation remains dire. A free and independent press continues to be absent from the country and 16 journalists remain in detention without trial, many since 2001. Impunity for past and ongoing human rights violations is widespread. Violations continue unabated, including arbitrary arrests and incommunicado detention, violations of the rights to a fair trial, access to justice and due process, enforced disappearances, lack of information on the fate or whereabouts of disappeared persons, violations of women’s and girls’ rights, and severe restrictions on the enjoyment of the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, association, and religion or belief. Secondary school students, some still children, continue to be conscripted in their thousands each year into the country’s abusive national service system. Indefinite national service, involving torture, sexual violence and forced labour continues; thousands remain in open-ended conscription, sometimes for as long as ten years or more, despite the 2018 peace accord with Ethiopia. 

In resolution 38/15 (6 July 2018), the Council invited the Special Rapporteur to “assess and report on the situation of human rights and the engagement and cooperation of the Government of Eritrea with the Human Rights Council and its mechanisms, as well as with the Office of the High Commissioner [OHCHR], and, where feasible, to develop benchmarks for progress in improving the situation of human rights and a time-bound plan of action for their implementation.” The Council should ensure adequate follow-up by allowing the Special Rapporteur to pursue her work and OHCHR to deepen its engagement with the Eritrean Government. 

As a Council member, Eritrea has an obligation to “uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights” and to “fully cooperate with the Council.” However, during the Council’s 43rd session, in February 2020, both the Special Rapporteur, Ms. Daniela Kravetz, and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms. Michelle Bachelet, reported that no concrete evidence of progress in Eritrea’s human rights situation, including against the benchmarks, could be reported. 

By streamlining its approach and adopting resolution 41/1 under its item 2, the Council offered a way forward for human rights reform in Eritrea. In March 2019, Eritrea took an initial step by meeting with the Special Rapporteur in Geneva. More recently, in February 2020, a human rights dialogue took place between the Government and the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in a more constructive spirit than during Eritrea’s 2019 review by the Human Rights Committee. Unfortunately, despite the window of opportunity provided by Eritrea’s CEDAW review and the Eritrean Ambassador indicating, at the Council’s 43rd session, that his country was committed to confidence-building measures and technical cooperation, Eritrea refuses to cooperate with the Special Rapporteur, and recently launched yet another unwarranted attack on her and her mandate. The Government continues to reject findings of ongoing grave violations, as well as calls for reform, and human rights-based recommendations, including in relation to the Covid-19 crisis.  

The Council should urge Eritrea to make progress towards meeting its membership obligations and to engage with the UN human rights system constructively. It should not reward non-cooperation by, but rather maintain scrutiny of, one of its members. We believe that a technical rollover of the Special Rapporteur’s mandate, under the same item, would contribute to this aim. 

At its upcoming 44th session, the Council should adopt a resolution: (a) Extending the mandate of the Special Rapporteur for a further year; (b) Urging Eritrea to cooperate fully with the Special Rapporteur by granting her access to the country, in accordance with its obligations as a Council member; (c) Calling on Eritrea to develop an implementation plan to meet the progress benchmarks, in consultation with the Special Rapporteur and OHCHR; (d) Requesting OHCHR to present an oral update on Eritrea at the Council’s 46th session; and (e) Requesting the Special Rapporteur to present an oral update at the Council’s 46th session in an interactive dialogue, and to present a report on the implementation of the mandate at the Council’s 47th session and to the General Assembly at its 76th session. 

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

Sincerely,

  1. African Centre for Democracy and Human Rights Studies
  2. AfricanDefenders (the Pan-African Human Rights Defenders Network)
  3. Amnesty International 
  4. Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies 
  5. Center for Civil Liberties (Ukraine) 
  6. CIVICUS 
  7. Civil Rights Defenders 
  8. Committee to Protect Journalists 
  9. CSW (Christian Solidarity Worldwide)
  10. DefendDefenders (East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project)
  11. Eritrean Law Society (ELS) 
  12. Eritrean Movement for Democracy and Human Rights (EMDHR) 
  13. Geneva for Human Rights / Genève pour les Droits de l’Homme
  14. Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect 
  15. Human Rights Concern - Eritrea (HRCE) 
  16. Human Rights Watch
  17. International Service for Human Rights 
  18. Network of Eritrean Women (NEW)
  19. Network of Human Rights Defenders in Central Africa / Réseau des Défenseurs des Droits Humains en Afrique Centrale (REDHAC)  
  20. One Day Seyoum 
  21. Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights 
  22. Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network (SAHRDN) 
  23. West African Human Rights Defenders Network / Réseau Ouest Africain des Défenseurs des Droits Humains (ROADDH/WAHRDN) 
  24. World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)

 

Joint statement on the human rights impacts of the COVID-19 Pandemic

Statement by 11 NGOs ahead of informal discussion with the UN Special Procedures and UN Member States on the COVID-19 Pandemic

We thank the Coordination Committee for the update on the work undertaken by the Special Procedures to date to highlight the human rights impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

As States undertake extraordinary measures to curb the spread of COVID-19, we recognize the good faith efforts of many States to effectively protect the right to life, the right to health and other human rights as well as the well-being of their populations, and to curb the spread of COVID-19. States must ensure that quality health services and goods necessary for prevention and care are accessible, available and affordable for all. Health workers and other front-line workers should be provided with adequate protective equipment, information, training and psycho-social support. Key health services, including sexual and reproductive health information and services, should be confirmed as essential services and their provision guaranteed.

We also recognize that in other contexts, States have used emergency powers to enact repressive measures that do not comply with the principles of legality, proportionality and necessity and that may have the effect or intention of suppressing criticism and minimizing dissent. 

In this regard, we take heart at the Special Procedures statement that "[t]he COVID-19 crisis cannot be solved with public health and emergency measures only; all other human rights must be addressed too“. We particularly value the vast and interconnected responses by the Special Procedures highlighting the wide-ranging effects of the pandemic itself, as well as of measures taken by states in the name of responding to the global health crisis. 

The Special Procedures have addressed the impact on economic, social and cultural rights, such as the rights to health, housing, water and sanitation, food, work, social security, education, healthy environment and adequate standard of living, and to equality and non-discrimination as cross-cutting rights.

The Special Procedures have also highlighted the increased risks of people with underlying health conditions, older people, people who are homeless or in inadequate housing, people living in poverty, persons with disabilities, LGBTI people, children, migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers, people living in refugee or IDP camps, and people deprived of liberty. They have also highlighted the effects on women and girls, calling for responses to consider factors such as their “sex, gender, age, disability, ethnic origin, and immigration or residence status among others“.

We also welcome the various tools that have been developed by some mandate holders, such as the COVID-19 Freedom Tracker, the Dispatches, video messages and guidelines in addition to the vast number of press releases. Making these tools readily accessible to all stakeholders is critical, as is considering ways to receive feedback and share learnings about their application. We encourage the Special Procedures to continue to deepen their analyses of state responses, including through reports to the Human Rights Council and the General Assembly, and to offer guidance, through the tools mentioned, to states on how to respond to the crisis in a human rights compliant manner.

Last but not least, we urge UN member states to cooperate fully with the Special Procedures. While country visits are suspended for the time being, this should not be used as an excuse not to co-operate. We call on states to respond in a timely manner to communications from the Special Procedures and to seek technical and expert advice from relevant mandate holders in relation to draft legislation to ensure that these are in line with states’ obligations to respect, protect and fulfil all human rights.

Amnesty International
Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)
Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales (CELS) 
CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
Conectas Direitos Humanos
DefendDefenders (East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project)
Human Rights Law Centre
Human Rights Watch
ILGA World – The International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (International Lesbian and Gay Association)
International Commission of Jurists
International Service for Human Rights

 

India: Arbitrarily detained Kashmiri prisoners must be freed 

While recent steps taken by Indian authorities to decongest prisons in an effort to contain the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak are welcome, the Government should release all unjustly detained prisoners as a matter of priority.

The fate of hundreds of arbitrarily detained Kashmiri prisoners hangs in the balance as the number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in India passes the 4,000 mark and many more are likely to remain undetected or unreported.

Inmates and prison staff, who live in confined spaces and in close proximity with others, remain extremely vulnerable to COVID-19. While the rest of the country is instructed to respect social isolation and hygiene rules, basic measures like hand washing - let alone physical distancing - are just not possible for prisoners.

Under international law, India has an obligation to ensure the physical and mental health and well-being of inmates. However, with an occupancy rate of over 117%, precarious hygienic conditions and inadequate health services, the overcrowded Indian prisons constitute the perfect environment for the spread of coronavirus. 

In a bid to contain the spread of the disease among inmates and prison staff, the Supreme Court asked state governments on 23 March 2020 to take steps to decongest the country’s prison system by considering granting parole to those convicted or charged with offenses carrying jail terms of up to seven years.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet also called on governments to “examine ways to release those particularly vulnerable to COVID-19, among them older detainees and those who are sick, as well as low-risk offenders.”

Various state governments in India have now begun releasing detainees. However, there is a concern that hundreds of Kashmiri youth, journalists, political leaders, human right defenders and others arbitrarily arrested in the course of 2019, including following the repeal of Article 370 of the Indian Constitution on 5 August 2019, will not be among those benefiting from the measure. Article 370 provided special status to Jammu & Kashmir. 

Human rights groups and UN experts have repeatedly called for the release as a matter of priority of “those detained without sufficient legal basis, including political prisoners and others detained simply for expressing critical or dissenting views.” 

Last month, the Ministry of Home Affairs revealed that 7,357 persons had been arrested in Jammu & Kashmir since 5 August 2019. While the majority have since been released, hundreds are still detained under sections 107 and 151 of the Criminal Procedure Code, the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), and the Public Security Act (PSA), a controversial law which allows the administrative detention of any individual for up to two years without charge or trial. Reportedly, many of those still detained are minors.

Many of those detained were transferred to prisons all across India, thousands of kilometers away from their homes, hampering their lawyers’ and relatives’ ability to visit them. Some of the families, often too poor to afford to travel, have been left with nothing but concerns over the physical and psychological well-being of their loved ones.

Mr. Miyan Abdul Qayoom, a human rights lawyer and President of the Jammu & Kashmir High Court Bar Association, was also cut off from his family and lawyer. Detained since 4 August 2019 in India's Uttar Pradesh State, he was transferred to Tihar jail in New Delhi following a deterioration of his health. Mr. Qayoom, 70, suffers from diabetes, double vessel heart disease, and kidney problems. 

Mr. Ghulam Mohammed Bhat was also transferred to a jail in Uttar Pradesh. In December 2019, he died thousands of kilometers away from his home at the age of 65 due to lack of medical care.

With the entire country in a lockdown and a ban on prison visits for the duration of the outbreak imposed, inmates are more isolated from the outside world than ever. In such a situation, prison authorities must ensure that alternative means of communication, such as videoconferencing, phone calls and emails, are allowed. However, this has not often been the case. Especially in Jammu & Kashmir, where full internet services are yet to be restored after a communication blackout imposed on the population on 5 August 2019, contacts between inmates and the outside world are even more limited. 

The isolation of inmates from the outside world is even more alarming in light of the huge number of deaths in custody, pointing towards the use of torture and ill-treatment in Indian prisons. Allegations of torture and ill-treatment against Kashmiri prisoners as part of a decades-long pattern of abuses have been repeatedly denounced by human rights groups and UN bodies.

We remind Indian authorities that all measures designed to halt the spread of the virus must respect the fundamental human rights of every individual and we call on the Government to:

  • Immediately release all arbitrarily detained prisoners, including journalists, human rights defenders, political leaders and others detained simply for expressing critical or dissenting views, including Mr. Miyan Abdul Qayoom and all those arrested after 5 August 2019 in Jammu & Kashmir;
  • Consider releasing those particularly vulnerable to COVID-19, among them older detainees and those who are sick, as well as low-risk offenders;
  • Provide adequate healthcare and implement preventive measures, such as the screening of all detainees and the confinement of vulnerable inmates, to ensure the safety of all prisoners and prison staff;
  • Take measures to ensure that, upon release, inmates are medically screened and provided with adequate care and proper follow-up, including health monitoring; 
  • Ensure the availability to all prisoners of alternative measures to prison visits (e.g. video conferencing, more telephone access);
  • Ensure that safeguards against torture and ill-treatment of people in custody, including access to lawyers and medical examinations, are maintained during the emergency; and
  • Restore full access to high-speed internet in Jammu & Kashmir.

We would like to stress that these are not issues circumscribed to the coronavirus emergency. No one must ever be tortured, ill-treated, or arbitrarily deprived of their liberty. All prisoners must be able to enjoy decent detention conditions, have access to health care, legal representation and the support of their families, even in normal times. 

These are not new issues. The Government of India must urgently address them, regardless of the threat of a global pandemic. A truly healthy society is one where fundamental rights are enjoyed by all, in time of crisis and beyond.

  • Amnesty International India 
  • Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)
  • Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP)
  • CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation 
  • International Commissions of Jurists (ICJ)
  • International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
  • World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)

 

Fiji: Government rejects review of restrictive laws used to target journalists, activists and its critics

Statement at the 43rd Session of the UN Human Rights Council
Fiji's adoption of Universal Periodic Review on Human Rights
Watch us deliver our statement below:

PIANGO, CCF and CIVICUS welcome the government of Fiji’s engagement with the UPR process. 

In our UPR Submission, we documented that since its second cycle review, where it received 22 recommendations relating to civic space, accepting 12, the Government of Fiji has to date partially implemented 10 of these recommendations and fully implemented one. 

In its third cycle review, we welcome that recommendations pertaining to freedom of expression, assembly and association were accepted, including to ensure that criminal and speech-related legislation are not misused to supress criticism We also welcome the governments’ support to implement the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders at the national level.

However, sedition provisions in the Crimes Act and the Public Order (Amendment) Act have been used to target journalists, activists and government critics The Media Industry Development Act (Media Act) has also created a chilling effect for the media and press freedom We are disappointed that specific recommendations to amend or repeal these repressive laws were not accepted, many of which are based on draconian decrees enacted after the 2006 military coup and not fit for purpose.

The right to peaceful assembly has been arbitrarily restricted with the use of the Public Order (Amendment) Act 2014, particularly against trade unions. We welcome that Fiji accepted recommendations to ensure that criminal statutes will not be used to curtail workers’ rights, but we regret that Fiji did not accept broader recommendations to promote and protect freedom of assembly by revising such restrictive laws. We encourage Fiji to genuinely support the right to peaceful assembly and to bring local legislation in line with international law and standards.

Fiji’s UPR presents an opportunity for the country to make at the national level the commitments to civic space and human rights that it demonstrates through its engagement with and leadership within the Human Rights Council and its mechanisms. We urge the government of Fiji to take this opportunity to create and maintain an enabling environment for civil society, in line with the rights enshrined in international human rights law.


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

See our joint recommendations that were submitted to the UN Human Rights Council about the conditions of human rights in Fiji.

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

 

Iraq: Over 700 people killed and 2800 arrested since protests started in October

Statement at the 43rd Session of the UN Human Rights Council
Iraq's adoption of Universal Periodic Review on Human Rights
Watch us deliver our statement below

During the 2nd Universal Periodic Review cycle, the Government of Iraq received eight recommendations relating to civic space. Of these recommendations, seven were accepted and one was noted, but our analysis indicates that none of the recommendations have been implemented. During this cycle, Iraq accepted a number of recommendations relating to civic space,  including recommendations to “guarantee freedom of expression and opinion by protecting the action of journalists, media professionals and human rights defenders from all use of violence and threats by security forces” and to “guarantee the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly in law and practice.” 

Iraq has severely restricted the right to freedom of expression, by detaining, intimidating and failing to bring to account the extra-judicial killings of journalists. Journalist Nizar Dhanoun was assassinated on 11 February 2020. Alaa Al-Shammari, a reporter for Dijla Satellite TV in the city of Najaf, was severely beaten by riot police on 26 November 2019. The station’s office in Baghdad was later closed and its private broadcasting equipment confiscated. Countless other cases of intimidation have been reported.

Protests that started 1 October 2019 and focused on high levels of corruption, unemployment and poor service delivery, have been met with widescale arrests and a violent crackdown by authorities on protestors. Reports indicate that almost 700 people have been killed during the protests and over 2,800 arrested. Iraq has failed to hold to account those responsible for the deaths of protestors and journalists, nor has it amended the legal frameworks that further restricts civic space. The penal code curtails freedom of assembly, including through its 2003 Provisional Order 19 which includes a requirement to submit the names and addresses of protestors 24 hours in advance. 

For this reason, Madame President, we urge the Government of Iraq to amend the legal framework currently restricting civic space, immediately and unconditionally release all protestors, and bring to justice those responsible for the extra-judicial killing of protesters and journalists in Iraq.


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

See civil society recommendations that were submitted to the UN Human Rights Council about the conditions of human rights in Iraq.

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

 

Angola: Repressive restrictions include arrest of protesters

Statement at the 43rd Session of the UN Human Rights Council
Angola's adoption of Universal Periodic Review on Human Rights
Watch us deliver our statement below

CIVICUS welcomes Angola’s acceptance of 14 recommendations focusing on civic space in this UPR cycle. However, in our UPR submission, we documented that since its last review, Angola has not implemented or taken any concrete steps to implement 19 of the 20 recommendations relating to civic space made in 2014. 

Several pieces of restrictive legislation that in the past have been used against Human Rights Defenders (HRDs) and journalists critical of the government, including provisions on criminal defamation in the Penal Code and restrictions under Law 23/10 on Crimes against the Security of the State, remain in place. 

Additionally, we are concerned about restrictions on peaceful assembly, notably the arrest of protesters. More than ten people and two journalists were briefly arrested in front of Angola’s National Assembly in Luanda in January 2020 in a protest against the delay in the approval of the municipal legislative package. 

In April 2018, the District Court of Malanje sentenced three student protesters to prison sentences of five to six months on charges of insult of public authorities and disturbance of the functioning of sovereign bodies, the latter a crime against state security. The three were released in July 2018, after a ruling of the Supreme Court.

Civic space in parts of Angola, such as Cabinda, is severely restricted: HRDs are subject to threats and intimidation while arbitrary arrests and judicial harassment are systematically used to prevent protests from taking place. Between 28 January 2019 and 1 February 2019, security forces arrested at least 62 people in relation to a planned protest, on 1 February 2019, to call for independence for the enclave of Cabinda.

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


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

See our recommendations that were submitted to the UN Human Rights Council about the conditions of human rights in Angola.

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

 

Madagascar: Journalist acquitted but severe civic space restrictions persist

Statement at the 43rd Session of the UN Human Rights Council
Madagascar's adoption of Universal Periodic Review on Human Rights
Watch us deliver our statement below

CIVICUS welcomes Madagascar’s acceptance of 22 recommendations focusing on civic space in this UPR cycle. However, in our UPR submission, we documented that since its last review, Madagascar has only partially implemented two recommendations and has not taken concrete steps to implement 20 of the recommendations relating to civic space made in 2014. 

We welcome the acquittal of investigative journalist Fernand Cello by the Fianatantsoa Appeals Court two years after he was arrested and charged with the theft of a cheque book. This acquittal is a necessary step in respecting the rights of journalists and media houses.

However the Code of Media Communications Law imposes heavy fines for offences such as contempt, defamation and insult against a government official.  In addition, flaws in the criminal justice system allow the judiciary to rule under the influence of the executive.  Pre-trial detention including of human rights defenders and journalists is prevalent and used as a strategy to force them to self-censor. 

Freedom of assembly continues to be restricted as the authorities use the pretext of engendering public order to ban protests by civil society groups.  We are concerned about the high levels of judicial persecution, intimidation and harassment of human rights defenders particularly those advocating for environmental and land rights.

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


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

See our recommendations that were submitted to the UN Human Rights Council about the conditions of human rights in Madagascar.

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

 

El Salvador: Violence and stigmatization continues against activists

Joint statement at the 43rd Session of the UN Human Rights Council
El Salvador's adoption of Universal Periodic Review on Human Rights
Watch us deliver our statement below

CIVICUS and FESPAD welcome El Salvador’s engagement with the UPR process.

However, we are deeply concerned about the continuing violence and stigmatization of human rights defenders, particularly defenders of LGBTQI rights, women's rights, sexual and reproductive rights and the environment. We regret that El Salvador did not accept recommendations to adopt legislation to recognize and protect human rights defenders. Since El Salvador’s last UPR review, two human rights defenders have been killed and several others have reported stigmatization and criminalization campaigns, including through messages on social networks that have the clear intention of discouraging them from continuing their work.

In the case of violence and stigmatization against environmental defenders, many of these attacks occur with impunity and with the participation of business groups that see their interests affected by the defense of the environment. 

CIVICUS and FESPAD are also alarmed by continued attacks, lack of protection and murders of journalists, and inadequate safeguard mechanisms. According to the Association of Journalists of El Salvador (APES), between January 2015 and December 2017, 10 journalists were killed in El Salvador. The IACHR has also reported a disturbing number of threats, intimidations and attacks against journalists in the country, particularly against those who have reported corruption or extrajudicial executions by the security forces, or that cover issues related to the security crisis and gangs. In recent years, FESPAD has reported an increase in new forms of threats and harassment against journalists, such as job instability, used to silence them. We regret that El Salvador rejected a recommendation to adopt legislation to protect journalists from such attacks.

Civic space in El Salvador is currently classified as 'Obstructed' by the CIVICUS Monitor, indicating the existence of serious limitations on the fundamental rights of civil society. We call on the government of El Salvador to use this UPR process to provide civil society members, journalists and human rights defenders with a safe environment in which they can carry out their work without fear or undue obstacles, obstructions or legal and administrative harassment.

See our joint recommendations that were submitted to the UN Human Rights Council about the conditions of human rights in El Salvador.


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

 

 

5 countries on civic space watchlist presented to UN Human Rights Council

Statement at the 43rd Session of the UN Human Rights Council
Watch us deliver our statement below:

 

Dear Madame President,

Research findings by the CIVICUS Monitor show a serious and rapid decline in respect for civic freedoms in IndiaLebanonIraq, Nicaragua, and Guinea (countries on current civic space watchlist)

In India, protests against a discriminatory citizenship law have been met with excessive force and deadly violence by the authorities, with at least 50 killed, and hundreds injured. There has been no independent and impartial investigation into the police violence. Hundreds have also been detained on spurious charges, including human rights defenders.

In Lebanon, peaceful protests have been subjected to severe and unwarranted violence by the authorities. About a thousand protestors have been arrested or detained while many have experienced torture or ill-treatment while in detention.

In Iraq, activists and journalists have been abducted, arbitrarily arrested and murdered in order to prevent them from participating in or covering demonstrations that broke out in October 2019.  Since the outset of the protests, hundreds of protestors have been killed at the hands of security forces.

In Nicaragua, we are seriously concerned by the lack of political will to stop the repression of fundamental civic freedoms and to address the current human rights crisis. We call on this council to support a strong resolution on Nicaragua as the situation continues to worsen.

In Guinea, mass protests which begun in October 2019 against government plans to replace the Constitution, have been met with excessive force. The killing of protesters and bystanders has been met with almost complete impunity. 

Such restrictions on civic space are often a precursor for further human rights abuses and we call on the members and observers of this Council to act now to prevent further deterioration.

Civic space ratings by CIVICUS Monitor
Open Narrowed Obstructed  Repressed Closed

 


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

 

India: Crackdown continues in Jammu & Kashmir

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

Our organizations express grave concern over the human rights situation in Jammu & Kashmir, where the authorities imposed severe restrictions after a decision to revoke constitutional autonomy on 5 August 2019, including one of the world’s longest internet shutdowns, which the Indian Supreme Court has said violates the right to freedom of expression.

Hundreds were arbitrarily arrested, and there are some serious allegations of beatings and abusive treatment in custody, including alleged cases of torture. Three former chief ministers, other leading politicians, as well as separatist leaders and their alleged supporters, remain in detention under the Public Safety Act (PSA) and other abusive laws, many without charge and in undisclosed locations outside of Jammu & Kashmir.  This violates fair trial safeguards of the criminal justice system and undermines accountability, transparency, and respect for human rights. Journalists and human rights defenders have been threatened for criticizing the clampdown. These violations, as those committed over the past decades, are met with chronic impunity. 

We urge the government of India to ensure independent observers including all human rights defenders and foreign journalists are allowed proper access to carry out their work freely and without fear, release everyone detained without charge, and remove restrictions on the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of movement, including where they have been denied the right to leave the country by being placed on the ‘Exit Control List’.

We also call on the governments of India and Pakistan to grant unconditional access to OHCHR and other human rights mechanisms to Kashmir.

We further urge the Council to establish an independent international investigation mechanism into past and ongoing crimes under international law and human rights violations by all parties in Kashmir, as recommended by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Amnesty International
Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)
CIVICUS - World Alliance for Citizen Participation
Human Rights Watch
International Commission of Jurists
International Federation for Human Rights Leagues (FIDH)
International Service for Human Rights
World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)

This statement is also supported by the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP) and the Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS)


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

 

Myanmar: Government continues to use an array of laws to silence its critics

Statement at the 43rd Session of the UN Human Rights Council during Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on Myanmar
Watch our statement below

 

We thank the Special Rapporteur for her final report on Myanmar (see all reports), and the outstanding work the mandate has carried out despite the lack of access granted to the country.

As highlighted in the report, Myanmar has undergone appalling developments in its human rights framework since the Special Rapporteur began her term – from the elections in 2015 which saw a groundswell of hope for positive change, to the horrors of genocide and crimes against humanity against the Rohingya in Rakhine state.

But curtailment of fundamental freedoms and total crackdown on any criticism of authorities has remained grimly consistent. Using an array of restrictive laws, the government has sought to systematically silence dissent. Members of the Peacock Generation poetry troupe face charges in township after township for their satirical criticism of the military, and remain in jail. The internet shutdown in Rakhine state remains in place. Rohingya campaigners outside the country face threats while protesters continue to be arbitrarily arrested and convicted. 

Filmmaker Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi and Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo have been released, but the chilling effect caused by their imprisonment, for undermining the military and reporting on military atrocities respectively, remains.

The ICJ ruling in January 2020 brought the possibility of accountability for grave human rights abuses one small step closer. Now the Security Council and the wider international community must uphold their obligations to ensure those responsible are brought to trial.  And accountability will never be achieved if those who speak out, now, continue to be arrested and imprisoned. 

Those on the ground, the human rights defenders and activists who are trying to achieve change, need international support. It is imperative that this crucial mandate is renewed and we ask the Special Rapporteur, as she reaches the end of her mandate, what more this Council can and should be doing to support those in Myanmar brave enough to speak out?


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

 

Iran: Freedom of assembly is being violently curtailed

Statement at the 43rd Session of the UN Human Rights Council
Watch us deliver our statement below:

 

Volunteer Activists and CIVICUS note with concern the continued closure of civic space through restrictive laws, arbitrary detention and a crackdown on civil society. 

The violent response to nation-wide protests in November 2019 resulted in 1,500 killed by police and over 7,000 imprisoned, many of whom have been subjected to torture. We reiterate the Special Rapporteur’s call for prompt, independent and impartial investigations into the violence in order to hold those responsible to account.

This is a further deterioration of closed civic space in which freedom of assembly is severely and violently curtailed, and scores of human rights activists remain detained – including Nasrin Sotoudeh, Nargess Mohammadi, and Farhad Meysami.

Despite being a signatory to the ICCPR, Iran continues to restrict civic space through ambiguous and overbroad legislation. Article 26 of the Constitution guarantees the right to the freedom of association, but qualified through compliance with “independence, freedom, national unity, Islamic Standards and the foundations of the Islamic Republic.” The Government of Iran continues to repress civic space through legal and extra-legal platforms, including through arbitrary detentions, enforced disappearances and extra-judicial killings.

In line with recommendations in the Special Rapporteur’s report, we urge the Government of Iran to immediately and unconditionally release all protestors and human rights defenders detained for their work. We urge the government to reform its legal framework to facilitate a more open environment for civil society and put an immediate end to all extra-legal processes that curtail civic space.

We further call on the Council to renew this critical mandate and we ask the Special Rapporteur whether he could expand further on what more could be done to protect human rights defenders in Iran?


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

 

Burundi: Disappearances and detentions continue ahead of May elections

Statement at the 43rd Session of the UN Human Rights Council during Interactive Dialogue with the UN Commission of Inquiry on Burundi
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CIVICUS and independent Burundian civil society organisations welcome the important work of the Commission of Inquiry, and thank the Commission for its update, despite the government of Burundi’s continued refusal to grant access to the country.

Just months before general elections set for May, the human rights and security situation remains perilous. Forced disappearances and arbitrary detentions of opponents and other dissenting voices continue unabated. In January 2020, Jacques Nibigira, Gilbert Ndayishimiye, Eslon Nshinyabigoye and Juma were arrested by the Burundian Intelligence Service. Their whereabouts remain unknown.  In October 2019, journalists Christine Kamikazi, Agnès Ndirubusa, Égide Harerimana and Térence were arbitrarily arrested while investigating rebel activities. Human rights defender Germain Rukuki is still in jail serving a 32-year prison sentence on Trumped-up charges of “rebellion.”

On 16 January 2020, journalist Blaise Pascal Kararumiye was arrested and detained incommunicado for five days by the Governor of Karuzi province and released without any charges. Freedom of speech, access to information, and association remain restricted in Burundi. There have been violent attacks by the ruling party youth wing on members of other political parties. We are concerned that such attacks will continue as the elections approach.

We call on the government of Burundi to fully cooperate and allow access to UN Human Rights Council mechanisms, including the Commission of Inquiry, and for all UN mechanisms on peace, security and human rights to fully support the Commission’s work and recommendations. We further call on the Council to take serious heed of the Commission’s analysis of risk factors and take steps to prevent atrocities and ensure that the government of Burundi is held accountable for its human rights violations.

We ask the Commission whether it plans for the deployment of an observation mission before, during and after the upcoming elections so that election-related human rights violations can be reported on in a timely manner to help prevent the escalation of electoral violence. 


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

 

Unprecedented use of excessive force against peaceful protests

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

The meaningful participation of people in governance is essential for securing human rights, social stability and peace. We share your alarm at the deterioration of civic space and we call on members and observers of the Human Rights Council, over the coming weeks, to listen to the voices of those who are the most affected by the decisions made in this room. 

We have witnessed popular action increase across the globe as people take to the streets to demand justice, equity and democratic rights. We are alarmed by the 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 civil society rights was against the right to peaceful assembly.

High Commissioner, we share your serious concerns on India, particularly the discriminatory citizenship law and the violent repression of protests with impunity. In Iran, hundreds of people were killed when security forces unleashed lethal force against unarmed protesters in cities across the country. In Iraq, para-military forces fired live ammunition during protests throughout the country in 2019, killing and injuring hundreds of peaceful demonstrators.

Finally, High Commissioner, heard throughout the high-level segment commitments made by states to strengthen the Council’s prevention mandate. We have seen time and time again that unwarranted restrictions on civic space, including crackdowns on peaceful protest and attacks against human rights defenders, enable wider human rights violations. The actualization of an early warning system, which takes restrictions of fundamental freedoms into account, would send a clear signal that the Council stands ready to protect, promote and fulfil the right to protect around the world.


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

 

The SDGs will not be achieved unless civic space is protected

Statement at the 43rd Session of the UN Human Rights Council
Watch us deliver our statement below:

 

The report on intersessional meetings on the 2030 Agenda concluded that the Sustainable Development Goals cannot be attained without stronger, inclusive and meaningful public participation in the development and monitoring of policies.

Civil society plays a critical role in ensuring inclusive policy making by shining a spotlight on the needs of the most vulnerable, by propelling innovation, by identifying solutions to complex development challenges, and by taking responsibility for delivery of services on the ground. Civil society, including human rights defenders, also perform an imperative watchdog role. Without information from the frontlines it is all but impossible to hold states accountable to their commitments under the SDGs.

When civic space is restricted, these vital roles are compromised. 

Achieving the SDGs requires an expanded and safeguarded civic space, with the assured protection of human rights defenders. However, commitments made to protect and promote civic space have not been fully realised. Much more needs to be done to ensure that civil society can actively engage in implementation and monitoring of the SDGs.

To this end, we urge the Council to support the following measures:

  • Adoption of the more robust and relevant indicators on SDGs 16.7, 16.10 and 17.17. 
  • Issue public pronouncements on the importance of civic space from political leaders, diplomats and representatives of intergovernmental institutions. 
  • Enhance the space for civil society groups in Voluntary National Reviews drawing on experiences from the UPRs.

The SDGs will not be achieved unless civic space is protected and the full participation of civil society is guaranteed, and we call on this Council to hold to account states which do not do so. 


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

 

Nicaragua: Letter to UN Member States calling for increased human rights monitoring

Joint Letter at the 43rd Session of the UN Human Rights Council: UN Human Rights Council should ensure enhanced monitoring of the human rights situation in Nicaragua

We, the undersigned human rights organizations, call on the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) to adopt a resolution during the 43rd session, renewing and further strengthening the mandate of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) to monitor and report on the human rights situation in Nicaragua, as specifically requested by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. We urge your delegation to actively support the adoption of such a resolution. 

Despite UN and regional efforts to address the crisis, the situation in Nicaragua remains dire. The government has refused to allow international human rights monitors to access the country since it expelled staff members of the Inter-American Human Rights Commission and OHCHR in late 2018. The government’s crackdown against human rights organizations, women's organizations and feminist organizations, community leaders, and journalists documenting abuses since the 2018 protests continues to dramatically limit space for civil society internally. The government continues to engage in what the OHCHR described as a “systematic prohibition of protests” – including by harassing and intimidating, in November 2019, people who had begun a hunger striking to demand the release of their relatives. Sixty-one government critics are arbitrarily imprisoned, according to local human rights groups, while impunity for crimes under international law and serious human rights violations by police and pro-government groups is still the rule.

Continued reporting by the OHCHR remains critical to ensure that grave violations committed during the 2018 protests – including murder, torture, rape and other acts of sexual violence – as well as others committed since then do not go unpunished. At the same time, OHCHR monitoring is crucial to curb potential rights violations, including in connection to the 2021 presidential elections.

Given the continued serious violations and the unwillingness of the authorities to cooperate and engage with regional and international mechanisms, the situation continues to meet the “objective criteria for HRC action” (see our overview in this regard in annex), elaborated to help identify situations requiring the HRC’s attention in a joint statement led by Ireland at the 32nd session, and further reaffirmed by joint statements led by the Netherlands at the 35th session, Australia at the 37th session, Fiji at the 40th session of the Council, and the Marshall Islands during the current session of the Council.

In this context, it is essential that the HRC adopts a resolution that responds robustly to the findings of the report presented by the High Commissioner in September 2019 (A/HRC/42/18) and follows her recommendation that the HRC request the OHCHR to “enhance its monitoring, documentation, analysis, and public reporting on the human rights situation in Nicaragua.” We urge your delegation to actively support this initiative. 

Please accept, Excellency, the assurance of our highest consideration,

Amnesty International
Articulación de Movimientos Sociales y OSC de Nicaragua (AMS)
Centro por la Justicia y el Derecho Internacional (CEJIL)
Centro Nicaragüense de Derechos Humanos (CENIDH)
CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
Fédération Internationale pour les Droits Humains (FIDH)
FAN - Feministas Autoconvocadas de Nicaragua
Fondo de Acción Urgente de América Latina y el Caribe (FAU-AL)
Front Line Defenders
Fundación Popol Na
Fundación del Río
Human Rights Watch
Iniciativa Mesoamericana de Mujeres Defensoras de Derechos Humanos (IM Defensoras)
Iniciativa Nicaragüense de Defensoras de Derechos Humanos (INDDH)
International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)
Just Associates (JASS) 
Movimiento Autónomo de Mujeres (MAM)
Oxfam
Plataforma Internacional Contra la Impunidad
Punto Focal de la Campaña 28 de Setiembre por la Despenalización del Aborto en América Latina y el Caribe
Red de Salud de las Mujeres Latinoamericanas y del Caribe - Enlace Nacional Nicaragua
Red Local
The International Institute on Race, Equality and Human Rights 
Unión de Presas y Presos Políticos Nicaragüenses (UPPN)
Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA)


Annex: Assessment of nicaragua agaisnt the Objective criteria for HRC action

During the thirty-second session (HRC32) of the UN Human Rights Council in June 2016, Ireland delivered a statement on behalf of a cross-regional group of States (building upon a previous joint statement by the Maldives) proposing objective criteria – or “guiding principles” – to “help [the Human Rights Council] decide, in an objective and non-selective manner, when the Council should usefully engage with a concerned State, to prevent, respond to, or address violations and to assist in de-escalation of a situation of concern.” Application of these objective criteria has been further reaffirmed in cross-regional joint statements delivered by the Netherlands at the 35th session of the Council on behalf of 49 States, a joint statement delivered by Australia on behalf of 11 incoming members of the Council from all regional groups at the 37th session, and similar joint statements delivered by Fiji on behalf of 10 incoming members at the 40th session; and by the Marshall Islands on behalf of nine incoming members at the 43rd session. 

Analysis by our organisations, set out below, shows that all of the criteria identified in the joint statement have been partially or fully met in the case of Nicaragua. 

Call for action by the UN SG, HC or another relevant UN organ, body or agency?
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed deep concerns and explicitly called on the HRC to renew and strengthen her Office’s monitoring and reporting mandate in the report presented to the HRC in September 2019.

Recommendation for action by a group of Special Procedures?
Since the beginning of the crisis Special Procedures have consistently raised their concerns publicly through joint statements, as well as Urgent Actions, including:

  • Joint statement: Nicaragua must stop reprisals against journalists, say human rights experts, 26 August 2019.
  • Joint statement: Nicaragua must stop repression of human rights – UN experts, 22 November 2018.
  • Joint statement: Nicaragua must end "witch-hunt" against dissenting voices, say UN experts, 9 August 2018.
  • Joint statement: Nicaragua: Government must end violence and reinstate political dialogue, say UN, 14 June 2018.
  • Joint statement: Nicaragua: Experts say appalled by Government’s violent response to peaceful protests, 27 April 2018.

Does the State concerned have an “A status” NHRI? If so, has that institution drawn the attention of the international community to an emerging situation and called for action?
Nicaragua’s NHRI has been downgraded to B status following a recommendation by the Sub-Committee on Accreditation of the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions (GANHRI), based on its failure “to adequately speak out […] in response to credible allegations of serious human rights violations.”

Has the State concerned been willing to recognise that it faces particular human rights challenges and laid down a set of credible actions, including a time-table and benchmarks to measure progress, to respond to the situation? Is the State concerned engaging in a meaningful, constructive way with the Council on the situation?
The OHCHR report to the HRC in September 2019 noted the authorities’ continued denial of responsibility for the serious violations and abuses, reporting that they “have instead blamed social and opposition leaders, human rights defenders and demonstrators for what they call the ‘coup-related violence’ and the negative impact on the country’s economy.” 

The government’s continued refusal to accept, or engage in dialogue and cooperation to address, the human rights crisis was clearly evidenced in their claims that the report, conclusions and recommendations of the OHCHR were intended to continue a smear campaign against the government and to facilitate “political convictions and action against the Nicaraguan people.”

Is the State concerned effectively cooperating with HRC Special Procedures, including by allowing country visits?
Nicaragua has not allowed access to the Special Procedures since a visit by the Special Rapporteur on the right to food in 2009. Six Special Procedure mandates have requested access since 2016, including the Working Group on arbitrary detention and the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly, but have been unable to carry out visits. Nicaragua has also failed to respond to the vast majority of communications sent by the Special Procedures. 

Is the State concerned engaging with OHCHR, including in the field of technical assistance and effective engagement with the UN Human Rights Treaty Bodies? 
In August 2018, the OHCHR team on the ground was expelled from Nicaragua the day after they published a report on the patterns of human rights violations and abuses committed in the country. In 2020, the OHCHR continues to be barred from monitoring the human rights situation from the ground. The OHCHR Regional Office for Central America has therefore had to continue their monitoring of the human rights situation remotely.
Nicaragua is overdue with its reporting obligations to the majority of the treaty bodies (CCPR 6 years, CAT 5 years, CEDAW 8 years, CERD 7 years, CESCR 5 years, CRC 3 years).

Has a relevant regional mechanism or institution identified the situation as requiring the attention of the international community? Is the State concerned cooperating with relevant regional organisations?
In 2018, the IACHR formally established two mechanisms to monitor and investigate the human rights situation in agreement with the Nicaraguan government: The Special Monitoring Mechanism for Nicaragua (MESENI) and the GIEI. In December 2018, Nicaragua expelled both the MESENI and GIEI from Nicaragua, a day before GIEI´s report was due to be released. Following their expulsion from the country GIEI released their report concluding that abuses in the country, including murder, arbitrary detentions, and persecution, amounted to crimes against humanity. Following a resolution adopted by the General Assembly of the Organization of American States (OAS) in June 2019, the Permanent Council appointed, in August 2019, a Commission to address the political and social crisis in Nicaragua. In September 2019, the government denied the Commission on Nicaragua access to the country. Despite the refusal of the government of Nicaragua to meet the Commission, the Commission was able to submit a report as mandated. After receiving numerous testimonies that reported ongoing harassment and intimidation suffered by those perceived as government opponents, arbitrary detentions, inhuman treatment and restrictions to the exercise of political rights and freedom of expression; the Commission concluded that “Nicaragua is experiencing a critical human rights situation that urgently demands the attention of the Inter-American community and the world at large.”

Is the State concerned facilitating or obstructing access and work on the part of humanitarian actors, human rights defenders and the media?
Our organisations have documented the repeated censorship, attacks and threats against the media, journalists, and human rights defenders and their families by police and pro-government armed groups during the protests.  The government has raided the offices of independent media outlets, filed criminal charges against journalists, cancelled the legal registration of nine civil society organizations, and expelled foreign journalists and international human rights monitors from the country.

These concerns have been expressed by the regional and international mechanisms. On  26 August 2019, a group of Special Procedures issued a statement calling on Nicaragua to stop reprisals against journalists, in follow up to an earlier statement issued in November 2018 “urging the Government of Nicaragua to immediately put an end to the repression and reprisals against those who speak out against the Government and cooperate with the UN, including human rights defenders, journalists and peaceful protesters.” In November 2019, in a press statement, OHCHR called on the government to “end the persistent repression of dissent and the ongoing pattern of arbitrary arrests and refrain from criminalizing and attacking human rights defenders, political opponents and any other dissenting voices.”

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) has expressed concern over the “new stage of repression in Nicaragua aimed at silencing, intimidating and criminalizing those opposed to the Government, human rights organizations and the independent media in the country.” In December 2019, the IACHR granted precautionary measures to 17 women human rights defenders who had been subjected to harassment, intimidation, death threats and attacks in this context. The Inter-American Court of Human Rights has also had to grant provisional measures to protect members of two local NGOs, because of the serious risks to their lives and physical integrity. 


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

 

A clean and safe environment is a human right

Joint statement by Earthjustice, Greenpeace, AIDA, Amnesty Internationa, CIEL, CIVICUS, CRIN, Human Rights Watch, The Global Initiative

We welcome the Special Rapporteur’s report which usefully identifies a wealth of governmental good practices in recognizing and implementing a right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment.

The report highlights that 80% of UN member states have recognized this human right. It also shows that at least 90% UN member states have reported at least some good practices that reflect procedural and/or the substantive elements of this right. The report therefore shows that “environmental progress and the protection of human rights from environmental harm are possible”. While the report is clear that all states must urgently step up their action at all levels to adequately address the present “daunting and unprecedented global environmental crisis”, it also shows that global recognition of the right to a healthy environment is an essential ingredient of such efforts.

Our organizations therefore call on the Human Rights Council to promptly adopt a resolution recognizing the right to a healthy environment. At a time when people from around the world, and particularly children, are increasingly concerned and mobilized by the environmental crisis, and environmental human rights defenders continue to face violence, states need to make this important move signaling their unequivocal intention to work towards the fulfillment of this right for all.

 

India: The UN must condemn crimes against peaceful protesters

Joint statement at the 43rd Session of the UN Human Rights Council by Amnesty International India, CIVCUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation, FORUM-ASIA and FIDH

As the UN Human Rights Council meets in Geneva to discuss human rights developments globally, we urge states to speak up against serious human rights violations being committed in India against peaceful protesters and other civilians.

Both international human rights law and the Constitution of India guarantee the right to freedom of peaceful assembly, the right to freedom of expression, and the right to freedom of association.

Regrettably, those who have exercised their right to peaceful assembly against the discriminatory Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the National Register of Citizens (NRC) since December 2019 have been arrested and intimidated under various repressive laws. Political leaders have demonised the protesters. At least 50 people have been killed in the protests, including an eight-year-old child, and thousands of people have been arrested and detained. 

On 12 December 2019, the CAA was passed by the Indian Parliament and assented by the President of India. The CAA provides a path to Indian citizenship for Hindus, Sikhs, Parsis, Christians, Buddhists, and Jains from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan, excluding Muslims, thus legitimising discrimination based on religious grounds. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the European Parliament, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), and various US senators have raised serious concerns about the CAA. 

The amendments to the Citizenship Act also weaponize the NRC, the National Population Register, and the Foreigners Tribunals to push minorities – particularly Muslims — towards detention and statelessness. As of now, over 1.9 million people are excluded from the NRC, a registration exercise that took place in Assam State over a period of five years. 

Use of Repressive Laws

Protesters have faced arbitrary arrests and detention under repressive laws, such as sedition provisions in the Penal Code and the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA). In January 2020, sedition charges were lodged against 3,000 people for protesting against the CAA in Jharkhand State. Cases of sedition have also been filed against a schoolteacher and mother of a student for “insulting” the Prime Minister through a school play; carrying a ‘Free Kashmir’ placard during a protest; and shouting “Pakistan Zindabad” [Long Live Pakistan]. 

Indian courts have ruled that any form of expression must involve incitement to imminent violence for it to amount to sedition. But the sedition charges have been repeatedly used to arrest journalists, activists and human rights defenders simply for expressing their views. 

Similarly, the UAPA is India’s primary counter-terrorism law and has been condemned by various human rights groups as being repressive and against the international human rights norms. In the past, the UAPA was abused by successive governments to target human rights defenders working with poor and marginalized communities and those who criticise government inactions or excesses. The abuse of the UAPA has continued under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s administration On 12 December 2019, Akhil Gogoi, an activist and leader of the Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti (KMSS), a peasant rights organisation based in Assam State, was arrested by the Assam police under various sections of the UAPA. 

Excessive Use of Force by Authorities 

Police across India have used excessive force to target peaceful protesters. In December 2019 in Varanasi, the constituency of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the police indiscriminately used firearms and less lethal arms to disperse peaceful protesters. This led to the death of an eight-year old child who was crushed to death on 20 December 2019, and resulted in over a dozen injuries.

The police also attacked student protesters in Jamia Millia Islamia University and Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in Delhi in December 2019 and January 2020, respectively. Students were also attacked in Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) while they were protesting against the CAA in December 2019. Doctors at AMU stated that on 16 December 2019, police blocked ambulances from entering the university to treat the injured students. 

On 24 February 2020, the Allahabad High Court criticised the role of the Uttar Pradesh Police and said, “The police force should be sensitised and special training modules prepared to inculcate professionalism in the personnel while handling such situations”. The court ordered the Uttar Pradesh government to pay compensation to students who were injured during the protests due to police brutality. 

However, to date, no reports have been filed against police officers for using excessive force against protesters. 

Hateful Rhetoric and Vigilante Violence

While there has been a heavy-handed approach by the police towards the protestors, some political leaders have been inciting hatred and violence against the protesters. 

Terms like “anti-nationals” and “traitors” have been used to encourage violence against the protesters. The 24/7 sit-in protest site, Shaheen Bagh in Delhi, which has become the epicentre of the anti-CAA protests in the country, has been routinely targeted. The peaceful protests in Delhi has been led primarily by Muslim women and students. 

In response, some union ministers and chief ministers have engaged in violent rhetoric with statements such as “shoot the traitors”, “press the button with such anger that the current is felt at Shaheen Bagh”, “the protesters would enter citizens’ homes and rape your sisters and daughters and kill them”, “revenge will be taken” in  attempts to divide and fear-monger. In another incident on 23 February 2020, Kapil Mishra,  a leader from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, warned the police of dire consequences if the protesters did not vacate another protest site in Jaffrabad in north-east Delhi, where over 500 women had gathered to protest against the CAA. Shortly after his speech, clashes broke out in the area, which led to the deaths of at least 42 people, including a police constable, and injuring over 250 others. 

This rhetoric has emboldened non-state actors to assault civilians. However, not a single political leader has been prosecuted for making hate speeches against the protesters. On 26 February, the Delhi High Court ordered the Delhi Police to register a police report against a number of political leaders immediately. 

Restriction on Freedom of Movement and Right to Freedom of Assembly

The space for protesting against the CAA and NRC has also been shrinking across India. Orders under Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code were imposed in many parts of Karnataka State and Uttar Pradesh State to restrict gatherings of people at protest sites and to restrict their freedom of movement. 

In Uttar Pradesh State, the police issued notices to over 3,000 people, cautioning them to neither participate nor incite others to participate in the protests. Such bans on protests have also been imposed in other parts of the country including Delhi, Mumbai, Pune, Bhubaneswar, Nagpur, and Bhopal. In in December 2019, the space for peaceful protests in Varanasi was severely restricted with police officers openly threatening the protesters. 

In addition to the criminalisation of peaceful assemblies, the freedom of assembly has also been restricted by burdening civilians with recovering the cost of damages to public property. In December 2019, after the violence broke out in Uttar Pradesh, the state government sent notices seeking to recover INR 45 millions’ (USD 628,403) worth of damage to public property. These notices were sent without any form of judicial scrutiny, raising concerns of arbitrariness and bias. Furthermore, to require assembly organisers to shoulder costs for cleaning up after a public assembly is inconsistent with Article 21 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Such costs deter those wishing to enjoy their right to freedom of assembly.

Internet Shutdowns

As people took to the streets to protest against the CAA, the Indian authorities imposed internet shutdowns across the country to “maintain law and order.” Besides shutting down internet services in 29 districts of Uttar Pradesh State and the entire Assam State, the authorities also cut internet services in districts in the states of West Bengal, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Telangana, Karnataka, Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh, and Manipur. India has become the country with the highest number of internet shutdowns in the world.

These shutdowns did not meet requirements for permissible restrictions on the right freedom of expression, as set out under international human rights law. It is unclear under what criteria decisions were made to cut off internet access or what mechanisms were available to challenge such decisions, in violation of the requirement of legality. There is no evidence to show that internet shutdowns prevent the escalation of violence during protests, which makes them in violation of the requirement of necessity. 

The UN Human Rights Council has unequivocally condemned “measures to intentionally prevent or disrupt access to or dissemination of information online in violation of international human rights law”, and has called on all states to “refrain from and cease such measures”. 

Use of Mass Surveillance 

Police in Delhi and Uttar Pradesh State have also used facial recognition technology to monitor, identify, and arrest protesters. Currently, India does not have data protection legislation, resulting in a lack of oversight and regulation of this technology. The absence of a legal framework that specifically regulates facial recognition technology renders the use of such tool susceptible to abuse.  Moreover, the use of facial recognition technology for law enforcement purposes raises concerns of indiscriminate mass surveillance, which is never a permissible interference with the rights to privacy, freedom of expression, freedom of association and peaceful assembly.

In light of this, we urge the international community, and in particularly UN Human Rights Council member states, to hold the Indian government accountable by calling on the Indian authorities to:

  1. Immediately denounce the state-sponsored and vigilante violence against peaceful protesters.
  2. Drop all charges against peaceful protesters.
  3. Ensure those detained and arrested are treated in line with international human rights law and standards. 
  4. Take necessary measures to establish a fully independent investigation into reports of excessive use of force by law enforcement agencies towards protestors and vigilante violence. The findings should be made public and the perpetrators of such acts should be prosecuted without undue delay.
  5. Ensure that elected political leaders and public officials who have incited violence and promoted hatred between communities are held accountable

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

 

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