Council must heed warning signs and address rights violations in Russia, India and elsewhere

Statement at the 49th Session of the UN Human Rights Council

Item 4 General Debate

Delivered by Lisa Majumdar

Thank you, Mr President.

The Council’s prevention mandate translates to a responsibility to address situations which risk deterioration in human rights. One warning sign of this is of a serious and rapid decline in the respect for civic space. The CIVICUS Watchlist, published last week, identified in this regard a number of countries of which to take note.

In Russia, as the war ensued in Ukraine following its invasion, Russian authorities embarked on a severe crackdown on civic freedoms. They brutally responded to nationwide anti-war protests; threatened and shut independent media outlets for reporting about the war in Ukraine; and blocked access to social media and media websites. We are also seriously concerned about reports of “arrests” and abductions of Ukrainian activists, with credible evidence that they have been detained by the Russian military. We urge the Council to take robust action, which could include establishing a Special Rapporteur mandate, to ensure scrutiny on Russia.

In India, authorities have used repressive laws such as the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act to deny civil society organisations access to foreign funding. The law has been invoked against human rights groups to justify an array of highly intrusive measures, ranging from raiding NGO offices and freezing bank accounts to suspending or canceling organisations’ registration. Scores of human rights defenders and activists remain in detention under the draconian Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and other laws; journalists continue to be targeted and in Jammu and Kashmir, prominent human rights defender Khurram Parvez remains in detention.

In El Salvador, recent efforts to limit civic space take place in a wider context of democratic backsliding. In Tunisia, following the decision of President Kais Saïed to dismiss Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi, suspend parliament and lift parliamentary immunity, the rights to peaceful assembly, expression and association are significantly threatened. In the United Arab Emirates, authorities continue to completely dismantle dissent in the country, despite the image of tolerance projected internationally. Civic space in Kazakhstan is similarly undergoing rapid decline; protests in January turned lethal and thousands of protesters faced arbitrary mass detention.

We call on the Council to address these worsening situations and prevent further deterioration.

We thank you.