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

 


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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
Watch us deliver our statement below:

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

 

Sri Lanka: Concerns about missing persons and possible changes to the Constitution

Joint statement at the 43rd Session of the UN Human Rights Council
CIVICUS, IMADR, International Service on Human Rights, Franciscans International, Human Rights Watch, Forum Asia, Minority rights group international

We are deeply concerned by indicators of a significant backsliding on human rights in Sri Lanka, underscored by the government using their address to the Council this week to go back on the important commitments made by Sri Lanka through HRC resolution 30/1.

Sri Lankan authorities’ indication to revoke the 19th amendment to the Constitution would remove check and balances on the executive and seriously jeopardise the independence of the judiciary and relevant commissions. The Government is reportedly considering reviewing the Office on Missing Persons (OMP) Act. Similarly, the President’s recent callous comments about the fate of thousands of missing persons without any conclusion of investigations in line with international law have added to the distress of families of the disappeared. A Gazette on 22nd January granted powers to a Commission of Inquiry (CoI) to scrutinise investigations into emblematic cases. The COI has attempted to halt criminal proceedings against navy officers accused of the disappearance and killing of eleven youth. We echo the High Commissioner’s concern on the promotion of several military officers who are named in the OISL report for violations of international law.

Since November 2019, the Ministry of Defence has been assigned as the oversight body for NGOs, significantly increasing the risk of their surveillance. More than a dozen human rights and media organisations have received intimidating visits from law enforcement and intelligence agencies, while death threats against journalists have resumed. The climate of fear has returned to Sri Lanka, in particular among those who continue to call for truth, justice and accountability. Relentless campaigns against minorities also require immediate attention.

We urge this Council to hold Sri Lanka accountable to its obligations under international law. Given this week’s announcement that the new Government will not continue to engage with the clear framework agreed through resolution 30/1; the failure of past domestic reconciliation and accountability mechanisms; and the ongoing compromise of the rule of law as pointed out by the High Commissioner yesterday, we call on the Council to establish an international accountability mechanism on Sri Lanka.

Civic space in Sri Lanka is rated as Obstructed by the CIVICUS Monitor (see country profile page)

 

Human rights in Eritrea: Press restrictions persist

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

CIVICUS and Eritrean partner organisations welcome the work of the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Eritrea and thank you for your update. We welcome this crucial continued scrutiny, currently the only way in which human rights in Eritrea can be examined.

The government is failing to make progress and the human rights situation in Eritrea does not show any improvement. There have been repeated reports of arrests and rights abuses since the Special Rapporteur’s latest report of June 2019. On 4 February a conscripted man was shot in Mendefera while trying to escape from illegal detention. This incident took place in the context of the country’s indefinite and non-paid military conscription policy and the government’s notorious shoot-to-kill practice.

The government continues to restrict the press. News outlets shuttered in 2001 have not resumed, and their 10 journalists remain in detention with no trial in sight. The government still operates a ban on independent press and NGOs.

These concerns are exacerbated by the continued refusal by the Eritrean government to cooperate with the Special Rapporteur. Lack of access granted and lack of political will to address the worsening human rights situation in the country makes it increasingly clear that the only available access to justice for human rights violations suffered in Eritrea is at the international level, and we urge the UN to use all available mechanisms to ensure such accountability can be secured.

Eritrea is a member of this Council and it is imperative that it upholds its human rights obligations. We urge the Eritrean government to cooperate with the Special Rapporteur and to review its policies and practices including by: ending the practice of conscripting youth into the army; unconditionally releasing political prisoners; guaranteeing fundamental rights; and allowing space for dissent views on Eritrea’s governance to be freely expressed.  

Civic space in Eritrea is rated as Closed by the CIVICUS Monitor (see country profile page)

 

Advocacy priorities at 43rd Session of UN Human Rights Council

The four-week human rights council will sit from 24 February to 20 March, and there are a number of critical human rights resolutions up for debate, and for the 47 Council members to address. CIVICUS will be conducting and presenting evidence on a variety of thematic and country-focused issues. Full overview below or jump directly to see our programme of events.

Country-specific situations

Nicaragua (Civic space rating: Repressed)

Our members on the ground have documented serious human rights violations, including attacks on fundamental freedoms and against human rights defenders and journalists. A report issued last year by the OHCHR, mandated by a resolution adopted in 2019, reflected this situation, and recommended enhanced UN monitoring and reporting. Given the lack of political will in the country to cooperate with regional and international mechanisms, and the concerning situation on the ground, CIVICUS calls on states to support a resolution on Nicaragua which calls for such enhanced reporting at the very least.

Sri Lanka (Civic space rating: Repressed)

This is a critical time for Sri Lanka, with concerns that the new administration which came to power last year could renege on its Council-mandated human rights and accountability commitments. The resolution adopted at the 30th Session of the Human Rights Council and remains the only process in place which could guarantee justice for victims of human rights violations. Civic space is closing at an alarming rate – since the new administration came to power, civil society members on the ground have been threatened and intimidated, their records destroyed, and human rights defenders and journalists have been attacked. CIVICUS calls for states to encourage cooperation between the government of Sri Lanka and international human rights mechanisms, and for Council members to reaffirm their commitment to resolution 40/1, which put into place time-bound commitments to implement the accountability mechanisms in resolution 30/1.

Iran (Civic space rating: Closed)

In 2019, Iran erupted into a series of protests against lack of political and democratic freedoms and the deteriorating economic situation. Protesters were met with violent repression through mass arrests and lethal force. Current geopolitical developments have entrenched the regime and exacerbated internal insecurity further. This Human Rights Council Session will discuss the renewal of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Iran. CIVICUS supports the renewal of the Special Rapporteur mandate and encourages states to raise concerns about the use of lethal force in protests.

India (Civic space rating: Repressed)

India’s civic space rating was downgraded with the last CIVICUS report. A controversial and discriminatory citizenship law has given rise to mass protests across the country, which have been subject to violent crackdowns, leading many injured and at least 25 dead. Jammu and Kashmir remain under severe repression, including through sustained internet shutdown which is reaching its sixth month. Internet was partially restored in January but restrictions remain, making the shutdown the longest recorded in a democracy. Internet shutdowns are also being used across the country in order to hinder freedom of peaceful assembly. CIVICUS encourages States to raise concerns about India, and to call for an investigation into the violent suppression of peaceful protests, and to repeal discriminatory provisions in the Citizenship Law.

Thematic mandates

The Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders

The mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders will be renewed this Session. This is a crucial mandate which has an impact of all CIVICUS’s areas of focus, and we encourage states to eco-sponsor the resolution at an early stage. The Special Rapporteur will present his annual report on HRDs in conflict and post-conflict situations, and reports on his country visits to Colombia and Mongolia. CIVICUS encourages states to affirm their co-sponsorship of the resolution early in the Session.

Freedom of Expression

The mandate for the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression is set to be renewed this Session, at a time when internet blackouts in increasingly used as a tactic to limit freedom of expression, access to information and freedom of peaceful assembly. We encourage states to co-sponsor the renewal of this important mandate at an early stage.

Freedom of Religion and Belief (FoRB)

The Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion and Belief will present his annual report, which this year focuses on the intersection of religion and belief and gender and SOGI rights, and reports on country visits to Sri Lanka and the Netherlands. CIVICUS will be engaging on Sri Lanka and on India, which have both undergone concerning developments with regards to freedom of religion.

Prevention

The Chair-Rapporteur of two intersessional seminars on the contribution that the Council can make to the prevention of human rights violations will present the report of the seminars.

CIVICUS will be highlighting the connection between civic space and prevention – that closures in civic space are often precursors to wider human rights crises, and that by intervening at the civic space level, the Council has a role to play in ensuring that such human rights violations are prevented.


CIVICUS and members’ events at the 43rd Session of the UN Human Rights Council (events will be livestreamed @CIVICUS Facebook page):

27 February (11:00 CET, Room VII), a side event will discuss the current critical situation in Nicaragua, and the importance of an enhanced monitoring mandate.

2 March (14:00 CET, Room VII), CIVICUS and partners are organising an event on the constitutional and civic space crisis in India. 

5 March (13:00 CET, Room VII), CIVICUS is co-sponsoring an event led by ICNL and the Civic Space Initiative consortium partners on countering terrorism financing while preserving civic space ----canceled due to the coronavirus

12 March (12:30 CET, Room XXI), CIVICUS is co-sponsoring a side event on the use of lethal force in protests in Iran and Iraq, and responses from the international community---canceled due to the coronavirus

Current council members:

Afghanistan; Angola; Argentina; Australia; Austria; Bahamas; Bahrain; Bangladesh; Brazil; Bulgaria; Burkina Faso; Cameroon; Chile; China; Croatia; Cuba; Czechia; Democratic Republic of the Congo; Denmark; Egypt; Eritrea; Fiji; Hungary; Iceland; India; Iraq; Italy; Japan; Mexico; Nepal; Nigeria; Pakistan; Peru; Philippines; Qatar; Rwanda; Saudi Arabia; Senegal; Slovakia; Somalia; South Africa; Spain; Togo; Tunisia; Ukraine; United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland; and Uruguay.

 

The climate emergency is a threat to human rights and human life

Statement at the 43rd Session of the UN Human Rights Council
Watch statement delivered by youth climate activist, Paloma Costa:

My name is Paloma Costa and I am from a region where the Amazon is threatened and human rights seem to mean nothing. I am the outcome of this dominant paradigm of development, an economic model that we insist that "sustains" our nations but is not sustainable at all. Where mining and large enterprises are destroying our land and our people. 

So, I want to state something today: Our lives are not for sale. Our lands are not for sale. We are facing a systemic crisis and we cannot come with market solutions to human problems. 

While we are here convened and discussing human rights, there are still people being killed, arrested and oppressed, just for being social-environmentalists, forest protectors or activists. There are still negotiations of climate change lead by deniers of science and deniers of the climate crisis. The climate emergency is a threat to human rights and human life. And we are drowning in your lack of action in order to make deep structural changes in our society. 

And we have the solutions! We can defeat local struggles if it becomes a global fight! What more do we need to see to start turning all those resolutions and recommendations available into commitments and policies? To adopt mechanisms where people have responsibility for their actions and recommendations given really guide the parties, in an inclusive, deliberative and binding way?

That’s why I stand here, to amplify those unheard voices of young people whose human rights are being violated, especially in the global south. But what I really wanted to see is all of these voices here with me, because we are the conscience in the work you do, and we are ready to be part of the solution and take climate action NOW! We just need to be heard and that our calls turn into concrete action. So I still have hope. Because, your pencils have both the power to heal or to kill. So what will you choose?

We all have a dream of a beautiful world, and we should honour that dream by doing the necessary work to make it happen. I want to be a co-creator of the world I dream of. The indigenous united themselves in Raoni’s land to protect their territories and as Célia Xakriabá, said: the limits of these lands are in our conscience. So, are you conscious to unite and protect our planet? 

 

South Sudan: UN must extend mandate of reporting mission

To: Permanent Representatives of Member and Observer States of the United Nations Human Rights Council
Re: The UN Human Rights Council should extend the mandate of the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan

Excellencies,

We, the undersigned national, regional, and international non-governmental organisations, write to call on your delegation to actively support the extension of the mandate of the United Nations (UN) Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan (“the CoHR”) during the upco- ming 43rd session of the UN Human Rights Council (“the Council” or “the HRC”), which will take place from 24 February-20 March 2020.

The Revitalised Peace Agreement for Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan (R- ARCSS), which was signed on 12 September 2018, has offered hope to the South Sudanese people. The Agreement remains the most promising basis to improve human rights and build sustainable peace in the country as it addresses key issues (governance reform, ceasefire and security arrange- ments, humanitarian assistance, resource management, and transitional justice, including accounta- bility) in a comprehensive manner.

However, in the last 17 months, fighting has continued in parts of the country, particularly in Yei River State, and significant humanitarian and human rights issues have remained unaddressed. Ac- cording to the World Food Programme, more than 5.5 million South Sudanese could go hungry by early 2020.1 Millions remain internally displaced. Former warring parties largely remain operational on the ground, as the process of cantonment remains limited and lags behind the deadlines set out in the R-ARCSS.

Despite repeated pledges by South Sudan’s Council of Ministers to approve the establishment of the Hybrid Court for South Sudan as per Chapter V of the R-ARCSS, the Government is yet to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the African Union (AU) and to enact legislation to operationalise the Court. The MoU can be signed immediately, prior to the effective establishment and operationalisation of a Revitalised Transitional Government of National Unity (RTGoNU, here- after National Unity Government).

In its last report to the Council, in March 2019,2 the CoHR concluded that despite the signing of the R-ARCSS, violations, including rape and sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV), continue to occur, which may amount to crimes under international law, including war crimes and crimes ag- ainst humanity. Additionally, widespread impunity for these and other crimes, and lack of support and a full range of reproductive health services for survivors, remain prevalent. In the address it delivered to the Council during the latter’s 42nd session (September 2019), the CoHR highlighted a number of key issues that might “sabotage progress towards implementation of the Agreement,” elements that might “destabilise the peace process,” and a complex reality marked by inter-commu- nal violence and risk factors of further violence. The Commission reported ongoing high levels of SGBV and enforced disappearances and lamented the continued impunity enjoyed by perpetrators of grave violations of international humanitarian law and violations and abuses of human rights.

The latter is supported by findings in a report published by Amnesty International in October 2019.3 The report documents the failure of the South Sudanese Government to investigate and prosecute suspects of such crimes since the start of the conflict in December 2013.

Indeed, the parties have done very little to address these and other systemic human rights issues identified by the CoHR and other actors, including the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), and human rights NGOs. In March 2019, during the Council’s 40th session, the South Sudanese Government dismissed findings of ongoing rape, including gang rape, committed in Bentiu and other areas of the country.

In November 2019, after weeks of uncertainty and a first six-month extension of the deadline, Pre- sident Salva Kiir and Dr. Riek Machar agreed to a 100-day extension of the deadline to form a National Unity Government. The extended deadline has been set for 22 February 2020, i.e., two days prior to the opening of the Council’s 43rd session in Geneva. Yet, uncertainty remains over whether a National Unity Government will be formed and, beyond, over implementation of other milestones set out in the R-ARCSS.

Observations and investigations by some of the present letter’s signatories point to a volatile secu- rity situation, ongoing human rights abuses, and a rapidly shrinking civic space in the country. The National Security Service and military intelligence continue to carry out unlawful arrests, detentions and torture or other ill-treatment of critics and perceived dissidents. Authorities have applied moun- ting pressure over human rights defenders and other independent actors, including journalists who report on the situation. Fear and self-censorship have increased as the country approaches the Feb- ruary 2020 deadline. In September 2019, the CoHR indicated that “surveillance and securitization have created a climate of fear and heightened paranoia among civil society.”

On 10 November 2019, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) adopted a resolution on the human rights situation in South Sudan, in which it “strongly condemn[ed] all acts of violations of human rights and international humanitarian law in South Sudan, including attacks against journalists, human rights defenders, members of civil society organizations and hu- manitarian workers.”

There have been significant delays in the implementation of transitional security arrangements.5 The overall implementation of Chapter II of the R-ARCSS remains limited. Risk factors and warn- ing signs of mass atrocities, including inter-communal violence, internal displacement, conflict over land and livelihoods, and disputes over state boundaries, exist. Funds also appear to be missing for the full implementation of the R-ARCSS,6 and a range of actors, including African human rights bodies such as the ACHPR, have reiterated their calls on parties to the R-ARCSS to implement Chapter V of the Agreement, including provisions on the establishment of the Hybrid Court for South Sudan and a Commission for Truth, Reconciliation and Healing.7 These elements point to the fragility of peace in the country.

The inability of the leaders to expeditiously solve outstanding issues of the R-ARCSS puts civilians at increased risks of atrocity crimes. Numerous failed peace agreements in the past led to further violence and dire humanitarian crises.

In the lead-up to the Council’s 43rd session, three scenarios still appear to be possible. First, fighting might resume on a local or larger scale, and the violence that has not ceased in some areas of the country might increase. Throughout the country, grievances over past violence and atrocities, dis- placement, land grabbing, cattle, livelihoods, and state boundaries remain unaddressed and could trigger further violence. In this scenario, the unaddressed underlying causes of the violence and significant risk factors of further violations make it likely that grave human rights violations will be committed.

Second, the parties may further delay formation of a National Unity Government. On 17 December 2019, President Salva Kiir and Dr. Riek Machar announced that they had “agreed to form a transi- tional unity government even if they fail to resolve all their differences before a new deadline.”8 However, a government is yet to be formed and operationalised, and much uncertainty remains. A number of States, including members of the Troika,9 have expressed concern over the urgent need for the parties to work towards meeting the extended deadline and called on all sides to further demonstrate that they possess the political will to deliver peace.10 Such delays extend the status quo and could fuel more violence and rights abuses.

The third scenario is that a National Unity Government is formed by the extended deadline. This would be a welcome development but does not mean the R-ARCSS will have been fully implemen- ted – far from it – and that no setbacks could occur. Many challenges would still lie ahead, including with regard to Chapter II (transitional security arrangements) and Chapter V (transitional justice and accountability) of the Agreement. Political disagreement leading to a government collapse and parties reneging on their promises to implement the R-ARCSS will remain a possibility. The poli- tical economy of the conflict, corruption, systemic human rights violations and abuses, and impunity (especially at the command responsibility level) will remain unchanged.

Sustained regional and international engagement is vital for the full implementation of the R- ARCSS by the parties. South Sudan deserves the priority attention of the AU, the Intergovern- mental Authority on Development (IGAD) and the UN Security Council (UNSC), and we be- lieve that UN Human Rights Council action is an integral part of this engagement. The Council should extend the mandate of the CoHR for another year.

Whichever of the above scenarios prevails in the lead-up to the Council’s 43rd session and in the upcoming months, the Council should renew the CoHR’s mandate as is. Indeed:

(i) If fighting resumes, the CoHR’s investigative and reporting work will be crucial to keep the international community informed of human rights developments in the country and to further advance accountability and other components of the transitional justice agenda.

(ii) If further delays are observed in relation to the formation of a National Unity Government, the CoHR will play an essential role in monitoring the human rights situation, including human rights-related provisions and implications of the R-ARCSS, and the Commission will be an inte- gral part of regional and international efforts to push the parties to abide by the Agreement, including effective transitional justice mechanisms. The CoHR will also continue to fulfil a vital role in collecting and preserving evidence of crimes and human rights violations and abuses, as well as keeping the international community informed of the situation.

(iii) Lastly, even if a National Unity Government is formed by the extended deadline, imple- mentation of the R-ARCSS will remain fragmented and limited, and the security situation will remain fragile for the foreseeable future with risks of a return to violence, which necessitates an impartial and independent mechanism exercising an investigative mandate. Continuous work will be needed on all aspects of the R-ARCSS, including Chapters II and V. The CoHR’s man- date will continue to fulfil a vital role in collecting and preserving evidence and in keeping the international community informed of the situation, providing technical advice to the Govern- ment and other stakeholders, and assisting in the operationalisation of effective transitional jus- tice mechanisms, which are essential to build sustainable peace in South Sudan.

The country still needs a holistic transitional justice programme that includes the Hybrid Court, a Commission on Truth, Reconciliation and Healing (CTRH) and a Compensation and Repa- ration Authority (CRA). Disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration (DDR) and the esta- blishment of a vetting system in the army and security forces will also be key for human rights improvements.

As the human rights and security situation in South Sudan is not consolidated, it is premature to consider a change of approach and crucial for the Council to maintain its scrutiny and engagement. The Council should continue to dedicate its utmost attention to South Sudan and allow the CoHR the time it needs to fulfil its responsibility with regard to all aspects of its mandate: investigation, monitoring, reporting, technical assistance and capacity-building, and advice on transitional justice in all its dimensions – truth-telling, reparations, the full rehabilitation of survivors, and building guarantees of non-recurrence (including through ac- countability, legal and judicial reform, institution-building, and ultimately reconciliation).

For the Council, any way forward beyond its current approach to the promotion and protec- tion of human rights in South Sudan should rely on benchmarks and a thorough assessment not only of the situation on the ground, but of risk factors of further violations. Given the volatile situation in the country, a change of approach in Geneva would risk sending the wrong signal, and ultimately being detrimental to efforts to push the parties to fully abide by the R- ARCSS and respect and protect human rights.

Ahead of its 43rd session, we call on the Council to follow up on its meaningful action on South Sudan to date by renewing the CoHR’s mandate as currently is. Member and Observer States should support the development and adoption of a resolution that:

  • Renews the mandate of the Commission in full, to allow it to continue to conduct independent investigations into alleged human rights violations and abuses and violations of international humanitarian law, and to collect and preserve evidence of, and clarify responsibility for, alle- ged gross violations and abuses of human rights and related crimes, with a view to ending impunity and ensuring accountability, with a particular focus on sexual and gender-based crimes (the CoHR’s mandate explicitly includes documentation of evidence for SGBV), and attacks and reprisals against human rights defenders, humanitarian aid workers and other independent actors;
  • Recalls that the Government of South Sudan has the responsibility to protect its population from, among other human rights violations and abuses, genocide, war crimes, ethnic clean- sing, and crimes against humanity;
  • Urges the Government of South Sudan and opposition groups to allow and facilitate access to all locations and persons of interest to the Commission; 
  • Requests that reports and updates of the Commission be transmitted to the AU Commission in order to support and inform future investigations of the Hybrid Court for South Sudan and to the UN Security Council for consideration and further action;
  • Requests that reports and updates of the Commission be transmitted to the ACHPR, in con- cordance with the 2019 Cooperation Agreement between OHCHR and the ACHPR.11 The reports should support and inform regular ACHPR briefings to the AUPSC;
  • Encourages the AU Commission to: (a) take immediate steps, including the establishment of the Hybrid Court for South Sudan, to ensure justice for serious crimes committed, as recom- mended by the AU Commission of Inquiry on South Sudan and provided for in the 2015 Peace Agreement and the 2018 Revitalised Agreement; (b) inform the public about a timeline for the establishment and operationalisation of the Court, making clear that failure by the Government to sign the MoU and adopt the Statute for the Court will result in the AU unila- terally establishing an ad hoc tribunal; and (c) guarantee the transparency of the process for establishment of the Court or an ad hoc tribunal, and ensure that South Sudanese civil society actors will be consulted throughout;
  • Urges the Government of South Sudan to adopt the Statute of the Hybrid Court for South Sudan and sign the Memorandum of Understanding to formally establish and operationalise the Hybrid Court; and
  • Urges all States to encourage further concrete action to deter and address ongoing violations of international law at the UN Security Council, and to exercise their jurisdiction over crimes under international law committed in South Sudan under the principle of universal jurisdic- tion and where the opportunity arises.

We thank you for your attention to these pressing issues. 

Sincerely,

African Centre for Democracy and Human Rights Studies (ACDHRS) 
AfricanDefenders (Pan-African Human Rights Defenders Network) 
Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS)
Center for Reproductive Rights
Central African Network of Human Rights Defenders (REDHAC)
CIVICUS
Community Empowerment for Progress Organization (CEPO) – South Sudan Crown The Woman
DefendDefenders (the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project) Dominicans for Justice and Peace
Geneva for Human Rights / Genève pour les Droits de l’Homme
Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect (GCR2P)
Human Rights Watch
International Commission of Jurists
FIDH (International Federation for Human Rights)
International Movement Against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism (IMADR) International Service for Human Rights
Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada
Legal Action Worldwide (LAW)
National Alliance for Women Lawyers – South Sudan
Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network (SAHRDN)
South Sudan Human Rights Defenders Network (SSHRDN)
World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)

 

Laos: Letter to UN Member States ahead of human rights review

Open Letter: UN member states must highlight Laos’s severely restrictive civic space environment at its upcoming UN human rights review

Your Excellency,

As you will be aware, Lao People's Democratic Republic (Lao PDR) will face its third review under the UN’s UPR mechanism on 21 January 2020.

Following its last review in 2015, the government of Lao PDR committed to reassess the policy framework and restrictions on domestic and international civil society organisations and facilitate an enabling environment for them; to fully respect and ensure freedom of expression by revising legislation; to ensure freedom of assembly in accordance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR); and to investigate individual cases such as the enforced disappearance of human rights defender Sombath Somphone.

In total, member states made 33 recommendations to the Lao government that directly relate to barriers to open civic space. Since then, the government has partially implemented just three of these recommendations.

In a submission to this UN review cycle, the Manushya Foundation, FORUM ASIA and CIVICUS outlined some of the most serious concerns facing civil society in Lao PDR. The submission found that the country’s persistent failure to uphold its commitments has resulted in continued unwarranted restrictions to civic space and acute shortcomings with respect to right to freedom to freedom expression, assembly and association, and in the protection of human rights defenders.

In Laos’s pre-UPR session, held in December 2019, independent civil society organizations highlighted that the situation for fundamental freedoms had worsened, particularly in relation to online surveillance.

We are encouraged by Laos’s renewed commitment to the sustainable development goals which it reaffirmed during its UPR pre-session. However, we remind states, and the Lao government, that civic space is central to the achievement of all of the SDGs, and without engagement of independent civil society, any improvements in SDGs are cosmetic at best.

Based on our research, the government continues to exercise pervasive control over civil society, which faces severe restrictions as a result. Extensive surveillance, reprisals and the criminalisation and enforced disappearance of human rights defenders have created an environment in which it is all but impossible to speak out.

While the right to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association are guaranteed in the Constitution of Lao PDR, an array of restrictive laws and government decrees continue to exist that serves to restrict civic freedoms and criminalise any expression perceived as critical of the government. This lack of civic space has meant many people fear speaking up about corruption or the violation of rights resulting from development projects and investments, specifically those related to land and sustainable development.

A new Decree No. 238 on Associations that came into effect in November 2017 imposes severe restrictions on civil society organisations (CSOs) and force CSOs to maintain close relations with the state, making independent human rights organisations virtually non-existent. Further, international CSOs also face challenges operating in the country.

The UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights said in March 2019 after his visit to Lao PDR that he “received countless reports from people inside the country and who have recently fled Laos about the extent to which people feel they are not able to speak freely and fear reprisal for expressing criticism of government policies”.

Given this environment, and the lack of political will demonstrated thus far by the government of Lao PDR to uphold its civil space obligations, we urge states to ensure that civic space remains a key issue raised during this third cycle of Laos’s UPR.

This means ensuring freedom of association, freedom of expression, freedom of peaceful assembly, the right to operate free from unwarranted state interference, the right to communicate and cooperate, the right to seek and secure funding, and the state’s duty to protect. At a minimum, such recommendations should include:

  • Take measures to foster a safe, respectful, enabling environment for civil society, including through removing legal and policy measures, which unwarrantedly limit the right to association.
  • Relevant laws and regulations should be revised - in particularly, Decree No. 238 on Associations and Decree No. 13 of 2010 on INGOs - to guarantee that undue restrictions on freedom of association are removed and to bring them into compliance with 22 of the ICCPR.
  • Ensure that human rights defenders are able to carry out their legitimate activities without fear or undue hindrance, obstruction or legal and administrative harassment.
  • Establish a new commission tasked with carrying out a prompt, thorough, independent, and impartial investigation aimed at determining the fate or whereabouts of human rights defender Sombath Somphone.
  • Ensure freedom of expression and media freedom by all bringing national legislation into line with international standards. In particular, Article 65 the Penal Code (propaganda against the state), the Media Act of 2008 and Decree No. 327 on Internet-Based Information Control/Management, should be reviewed to ensure that national legislation are in line with the best practices and international standards in the area of freedom of expression.
  • Extend a standing invitation to all UN Special Procedures mandate holders and prioritize official visits with the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression and the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association.

Yours sincerely,

Emilie Pradichit, Director, Manushya Foundation    
Ahmed Adam, Programme Manager, United Nations Advocacy, FORUM-ASIA
David E. Kode, Advocacy & Campaigns Lead, CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation

 

UN must condemn systematic violations of fundamental freedoms in Hong Kong

The UN’s highest official principally responsible for human rights, High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet, should publicly denounce the Hong Kong Government for its systematic violations of the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of expression, and condemn the unnecessary and disproportionate use of force by police in Hong Kong. 

The Hong Kong Police Force have systematically suppressed the right to peaceful assembly by using excessive force against individuals exercising their rights, including beating peaceful protesters and using tear gas, pepper spray, and rubber bullets. Police have increasingly denied permits for assemblies and marches and arbitrarily detained individuals for “unlawful assembly.” 

The Hong Kong and Chinese Central governments have allowed police to operate with complete impunity. No police officer has faced legal action over excessive use of force or abuse of power in connection to the violent suppression of the protests since the demonstrations broke out. In contrast, police have arrested almost 4,500 individuals in connection to the protests since June 9. There has been credible evidence of torture and ill-treatment of protestors by police in detention.

On November 19, the Office of the High Commissioner released a press briefing which stated incorrectly that the Hong Kong “authorities have by and large respected the exercise of [the] right [to peaceful assembly].” The Office of the High Commissioner failed to condemn police violence. This amounts to a denial of the extensive documentation from credible sources of violations of human rights in Hong Kong and ignores concerns raised by other UN independent experts.

According to the mandate determined by the UN General Assembly, the High Commissioner has the responsibility to “promote and protect the effective enjoyment by all of all human rights,” and to “play an active role in removing the current obstacles and in meeting the challenges to the full realization of all human rights and in preventing the continuation of human rights violations throughout the world.”

This mandate asks that the High Commissioner use her position to raise serious concerns about human rights abuses everywhere in the world. By not doing so, the Office has harmed its credibility by ignoring police brutality and the suppression of the Hong Kong people’s largely peaceful exercise of their fundamental freedoms. 

China’s Government in Beijing has increasingly signalled that it is ultimately in charge in Hong Kong. On November 16, People’s Liberation Army soldiers cleared up debris and bricks, without being invited by the Hong Kong Government to assist, as required by the Basic Law. On November 18, China’s Ambassador to the United Kingdom Liu Xiaoming said, “We [the Central Government] have enough resolution and power to end the unrest.” Holding the China-controlled Hong Kong Government accountable for its human rights abuses is a key test if the UN can resist interference in the UN human rights system by an increasingly powerful China. 

Beginning in June, millions of people in Hong Kong have publicly demonstrated against an extradition bill to Mainland China that would have undermined the separate freedoms that are enshrined in law in Hong Kong. The police have repeatedly responded to these peaceful protests with excessive force, and the protests have since morphed into a movement denouncing police violence and demanding full democratic rights for the people of Hong Kong. Police inaction in the face of attacks on protesters, journalists and bystanders at the Yuen Long MTR Station on July 21 represented a clear failure to protect the rights to life and security of persons. Journalists trying to cover the protests have faced violence, intimidation, and threats from police, including an incident in which police shot an Indonesian journalist in the face with a rubber bullet while she covered the protests, permanently blinding her in one eye. Medics and social workers providing assistance to arrestees and injured individuals have also faced police obstruction.

The political situation in Hong Kong has deteriorated since October. Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam used colonial-era emergency powers to ban face-masks at assemblies (which was later ruled unconstitutional) and police have used live ammunition to shoot three young protesters. The death of 22-year-old student Chow Tsz-lok (周梓樂) on November 8 after being injured close to a police operation sparked the most recent outbreak of violence; the campuses of Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) and Polytechnic University have been turned into battlefields. While certain protestors have used violence, including petrol bombs, bricks and arrows, the Hong Kong Police Force’s response has been severe and disproportionate. Hong Kong police must distinguish violent elements from peaceful protestors and restrict the use of force to the minimum extent necessary, in accordance with the UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials.

On June 28, four UN independent human rights experts appointed by the UN Human Rights Council sent a communication to the Chinese Government raising concern over allegations of excessive use of force by Hong Kong police on June 12 against “overwhelmingly peaceful” demonstrators. These same four experts then issued a public statement on September 12 stating, “We are seriously concerned by credible reports of repeated instances where the authorities failed to ensure a safe environment for individuals to engage in public protest free from violence or interference.” We are disappointed that this language does not appear in the Office of the High Commissioner’s November 19 press statement. 

On August 13, the High Commissioner’s spokesperson said the Office has “credible evidence” of law enforcement officials using some anti-riot measures which are “prohibited by international norms and standards” and urged the Hong Kong authorities to “act with restraint.” The failure of Hong Kong authorities to heed this call from the High Commissioner’s office should have been raised in the latest press statement. Instead, the statement lacks a sense of proportion between the violent actions of small groups of protesters and the systematic use of unnecessary and disproportionate force by police against unarmed protesters.

The High Commissioner herself called on the Hong Kong Government to immediately carry out an “effective, prompt, independent and impartial investigation” into violence during a press conference on October 5. Hong Kong has no independent mechanism to investigate excessive use of force by authorities, as the Independent Police Complaints Council (IPCC)’s expert advisers themselves re-confirmed recently. The IPCC does not have investigatory powers such as subpoenaing documents and summoning witnesses. The Human Rights Committee, which monitors the implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, raised concern over the lack of independence of the IPCC to the Hong Kong Government in 2013. 

The High Commissioner for Human Rights must call on Hong Kong authorities to take concrete steps to de-escalate tensions and reduce violence on both sides - police and protesters. As a minimum first step, Hong Kong authorities must establish an independent commission of inquiry into excessive use of police force, bringing to justice any law enforcement official responsible for unlawful use of force, as well as their superior officers. Any response to allegations of violent attacks on police must be handled through a fair judicial process. Those detained solely for exercising their rights to peaceful assembly and free expression should be unconditionally released and charges against them should be immediately dropped.

This statement is endorsed by: 

Amnesty International 
Article 19 
Australia Tibet Council
Child Rights International Network (CRIN)
Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD)
CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
Covenants Watch Taiwan
CSW (Christian Solidarity Worldwide)
Free Tibet
Geneva for Human Rights
International Campaign for Tibet 
International Movement Against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism (IMADR)
International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) 
International Tibet Network Secretariat
International Women's Rights Action Watch Asia Pacific
Safeguard Defenders
Students for a Free Tibet
Taiwan Association for Human Rights
Tibet Action Institute
Tibet Justice Center
World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)
World Uyghur Congress 

 

Civil Society calls on Fiji to address civic space concerns

On 6 November 2019, Fiji’s human rights record will be reviewed by UN member states as part of the 34th session of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR).  Civil society groups CIVICUS, the Pacific Islands Association of Non-Government Organisation (PIANGO), Fiji Women’s Rights Movement (FWRM) and Citizens’ Constitutional Forum (CCF) urge the Fiji government to use this opportunity to make commitments to improve civic freedoms in the country. We also call on the international community to use this opportunity to make recommendations to expand the democratic space in the country.

Civic space in Fiji is currently rated as ‘obstructed’ by the CIVICUS Monitor, a global tool tracking civic space, owing to the serious constraints on fundamental rights in the country. This is due to an array of restrictive laws that have been used to silence freedoms of opinion and expression as well as ongoing restrictions to the right to peaceful assembly.

During a country visit in February 2018, then-UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, said that civil society groups are facing a “narrow civic space and the suppression of dissenting voices." As documented in a joint submission to the Human Rights Council in March 2019, since Fiji’s last review in 2014, human rights defenders have continued to face harassment for undertaking their work.

Although Article 17 of the Constitution of Fiji guarantees the “right to freedom of speech, expression, thought, opinion and publication” in law, policy and practice, restrictions on the freedom of expression and media freedom persist. Sedition provisions in the Crimes Act have been used by the Fijian authorities to target the media and opposition politicians while the Public Order (Amendment) Act has also been used to harass journalists and civil society. The Media Industry Development Act (Media Act) has also created a chilling effect for media and press freedom.

The right to peaceful assembly has been arbitrarily restricted with the use of the Public Order (Amendment) Act 2014, particularly for trade unions. The Fiji Trade Union Congress were denied authorization to hold a march at least six times between 2018 and 2019, without any valid reason and often at the last minute.

Our joint submission presented a number of recommendations to the Fiji government to address these civic space concerns.

These include, among others:

  • Take measures to foster a safe, respectful and enabling environment for civil society, including by removing legal and policy measures that unwarrantedly limit the right to association.
  • Ensure freedom of expression and media freedom by bringing all national legislation into line with international standards.
  • Halt the use of sedition, contempt for scandalising the courts and judiciary, and other laws against individuals simply for peacefully exercising their right to the freedom of expression.
  • Amend the Public Order (Amendment) Act in order to guarantee fully the right to the freedom of assembly and to remove restrictions other than those provided for within the framework of international law.

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 at the multilateral level through its engagement with and leadership within the UN Human Rights Council and its mechanisms. We urge the government of Fiji to take this opportunity to create and maintain, in law and practice, an enabling environment for civil society, in accordance with the rights enshrined in international human rights law.

 

Maldives: Civil society groups call for better respect for civic freedoms in report to the UN

Joint statement on Maldives ahead of human rights review in 2020

Civil society groups CIVICUS and FORUM-ASIA have submitted information to the UN Human Rights Council on civic freedoms in the country ahead of its review in 2020. While welcoming the human rights improvements undertaken by the new government since it came to power, the submission highlights ongoing restrictions to freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression, and unwarranted restrictions on human rights defenders since its previous examination in 2015.

The UN Human Rights Council will review the Maldives’ human rights record at its Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in May 2020. This marks five years since its last review, when UN member states made 258 recommendations to the Maldivian government including 16 recommendations that directly relate to barriers to open civic space. They included protecting journalists, human rights defenders and other civil society actors and creating an enabling environment for them. Other recommendations include guaranteeing freedom of expression and the media and upholding freedom of assembly. As of today, the government has only partially implemented these recommendations.

The report welcomes the significant strides by the government in opening up the space for the exercise of fundamental freedoms, establishing a commission to probe unresolved disappearances and reviewing legislation restricting civic space since its last UPR examination We also welcome the proposed bill to protect whistleblowers. However, there are still implementation gaps with regard to the protection of human rights defenders and the freedom of expression.

Our organisations are alarmed by ongoing reports of harassment of and threats against human rights defenders and journalists, particularly by extremist groups, and the lack of effective action by law enforcement authorities. We also concerned by efforts to silence civil society groups as illustrated most recently by the decision to “temporarily suspend” the Maldivian Democracy Network (MDN), a leading human rights organization following accusations of blasphemy. This is a regressive move that sets a dangerous precedent for freedom of expression and association, and threatens the positive steps towards restoration of fundamental freedoms and human rights. The government must reverse its decision to suspend MDN, and create a safe and enabling environment for human rights defenders and organisations to carry out their legitimate work without fear of reprisals and harassment.

On freedom of expression, we welcome the repeal of the Anti-Defamation and Freedom of Expression Act, enacted in 2016, which was systematically used against the media, opposition activists and dissidents. However, we remain concerned about threats and attacks on government critics. In January 2019, Ibrahim Ismail, the chairman of Mandhu College and a former lawmaker, came under attack for criticising the sentencing of a woman to death by stoning for adultery.

The report also highlights the slow progress in undertaking comprehensive reforms of the laws related to the freedoms of association and peaceful assembly. The Freedom of Peaceful Assembly Act 2013 imposes undue limitations on assemblies and gives the police wide discretion in granting permission and must reviewed. We also urge any revisions to the Associations Act – which was often used by the previous government to stifle critical civil society groups – to be consistent with international human rights law and standards.

The Universal Periodic Review of the Maldives is an important opportunity for the Maldives to display its commitments toward human rights reforms. We have seen encouraging developments but much more needs to be done. In the lead up to the UPR review we call on the Maldives government to increase its efforts to fulfil the commitments made in the 2015 review and systematically consult with civil society on the implementation of UPR recommendations, including by holding periodical comprehensive consultations with a diverse range of civil society.

We also urge the international community to support both the people and the government of the Maldives in addressing the shortcomings in the protection of civic freedoms as well as work of human rights defenders in the Maldives. International scrutiny is necessary to sustain the improvement we have seen in the Maldives over the past year, and ensure any positive reforms made are not reversed.

The CIVICUS Monitor, an online platform that tracks threats to civil society in countries across the globe, rates the space for civil society in the Maldives as Obstructed 


For more information or to arrange an interview, please contact: Josef Benedict, CIVICUS Civic Space Research Officer,  
 

 

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