Ladies European Tour community should #StandWithSaudiHeroes

In December 2019, the Ladies European Tour Tour announced that it would hold a tournament in Saudi Arabia from the 19th to the 22nd March 2020 in collaboration with Golf Saudi and the Saudi Golf Federation.

While this announcement can be seen as an embedment of Saudi Arabia’s “Vision 2030” economic reform plan, it also contributes to “sports-washing”—hosting major events that seek to gloss over serious human rights violations committed by the Saudi authorities in recent years.

Since the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in October 2018 at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, Saudi Arabia has faced increased international criticism over its human rights record; particularly its lack of a transparent investigation into the prominent journalist’s murder, the torture and detention of women’s rights activists and its role in war crimes committed during its military operations in Yemen.

In June 2019, the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions presented to the Council her investigation into Khashoggi’s murder, which found the State of Saudi Arabia responsible and highlighted that the killing reflected a broader crackdown against activists, journalists and dissenters, as well as a culture of impunity at the highest levels. The Special Rapporteur called on corporations to “establish explicit policies to avoid entering into business deals with business, businesspeople, and organs of the State that have had a direct or indirect role with Khashoggi’s execution or other grave human rights violations”.[1]

The Saudi government has created a hostile environment for human rights defenders— applying a counter-terrorism framework to arbitrarily detain, torture and put on trial dozens of them for their peaceful advocacy. Among those who remain detained are notable Saudi women’s rights activists Loujain al-Hathloul, Nouf Abdulaziz, Maya al-Zahrani, Nassima Al Saddah and Samar Badawi, who advocated for women’s right to drive and an end to the country’s discriminatory male guardianship system.

These women were among a dozen women’s rights defenders arrested in 2018 in retaliation for peacefully campaigning for the protection and promotion of women’s rights throughout the kingdom. It was reported that they were subjected to electric shocks, flogging, sexual threats and other forms of torture during interrogation. These women, who remain detained, along with other women’s rights activists temporarily released, are on trial on charges solely related to their activism. We remain concerned that they will not be able to exercise their right to a fair trial in accordance with the international human rights standards, which Saudi Arabia is obliged to adhere to.

While Saudi Arabia adopted some positive measures, including permitting women to drive and removing travel restrictions for women over 21, the authorities have yet to fully dismantle the male guardianship system, tackle severe lack of gender inequality, and end the arbitrary detention and prosecution of women’s rights activists and human rights defenders.

The world’s top human rights body, the United Nations Human Rights Council (the Council) has unprecedentedly scrutinized the human rights record of Saudi Arabia in 2019. In March 2019, Iceland on behalf of 36 States delivered the first-ever joint statement on Saudi Arabia which, expressed serious concern over the continuing arrests and arbitrary detentions of human rights defenders and called for the release of ten named women’s rights activists from detention as well as accountability for the extrajudicial killing of Khashoggi. In September 2019, Australia delivered another joint statement that set out a list of measures that the Saudi government should take to improve its human rights record, which to this date the Saudi government failed to comply with.

Lastly, we also draw your attention to the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights which provide that businesses should seek to prevent (...) adverse human rights impact that they are directly linked to through their business relationships, even where they do not contribute to those impacts. The ability of civil society to operate where you hold or participate in events is essential to upholding your credibility.

Take Action:

In light of Saudi Arabia’s numerous and ongoing violations of international human rights and humanitarian law, the undersigned NGOs have called on Ladies European Tour organizers, players, and official broadcasters to urge the Saudi authorities to drop all charges against Saudi women’s rights activists and immediately and unconditionally release all those detained for their peaceful and legitimate human rights activism.

Because you can genuinely make a difference in these activists’ lives and their struggle for freedom and gender equality, we are asking Ladies European Tour fans to help increase awareness and show solidarity by sharing on social media messages of support and solidarity with #StandWithSaudiHeroes.

While official Ladies European Tour voices and players are important in pressuring Saudi authorities to act, it is important that fans of the sport around the world speak up, too. You too can help the activists get their freedom and continue their human rights struggle. In the lead up to the tournament, please add your voice to the campaign by sharing support on social media channels using the hashtag #StandWithSaudiHeroes, follow campaign developments online, and reach out to competitors representing your home country to participate.

Signatories:

  1. ALQST
  2. Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB)
  3. CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
  4. Equality Now!
  5. Gulf Center for Human Rights
  6. International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)
  7. MENA Rights Group
  8. Women’s March Global

[1] See full recommendations to corporations on page 98- Section K: https://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/HRC/RegularSessions/Session41/Documents/A_HRC_41_CRP.1.docx

 

Myanmar: Lift Internet Restrictions in Rakhine and Chin States

Mobile internet blackout in four townships in Rakhine State among the world’s longest running.

 

Why we are not engaging with the G20’s civil society process in 2020

العربية

The annual G20 summit often seems like a talking shop for the world’s most powerful governments. The leaders of 19 of the largest national economies plus the European Union get together, shake hands in front of the cameras, and make vague agreements, many of which they don’t implement. The summits draw the attention of the world’s media, and – frequently – protesters from around the world who want to hold those governments to account.

Less well known is the extensive cycle of preparatory meetings leading up to the G20 leaders’ summit. Despite the many limitations and challenges of the process, for many voices from outside government –especially trade unions, rights groups and civil society – these are rare opportunities to make policy recommendations directly to national authorities and to influence the global agenda on issues that affect billions of people. For the last few years, there has even been a dedicated stream of meetings for civil society within the G20, known as the Civil 20 (C20).

In 2020, however, we as civil society organisations will be keeping our distance from the official C20 process, which will be hosted by and in Saudi Arabia.

G20 host Saudi Arabia has tried to promote an image of itself as a modern country attractive for foreign investors. The government has recruited expensive Western PR advisors and spent millions of dollars to polish its image and suppress criticism from international media. Meanwhile, at home the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia regularly arrests and prosecutes human rights defenders, censors free speech, limits free movement, and tortures and mistreats detained journalists and activists. Vaguely worded counter-terror laws are used to silence government critics, including through the imposition of the death penalty. In October 2018, the world was shocked by the brutal murder of journalist and dissident Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Women face systematic discrimination in law and practice. In addition, women human rights defenders who dare defend the rights of women are subjected to judicial persecution, arbitrary arrests and detention.

Instead of real reform, the Saudi government has been trying to whitewash its dire human rights record by holding major international events in the country. This includes the G20 and – through a government-authorized NGO – the C20. As leading civil society organisations present in most countries around the world (but notably not Saudi Arabia), we cannot participate in a process that seeks to give international legitimacy to a state that provides virtually no space for civil society, and where independent civil society voices are not tolerated.

In June 2019, the C20 established a set of principles, including a basic structure and operating mechanisms, to ensure its sustainability and effectiveness. The C20 principles emphasize inclusion of a variety of civil society actors, from local to global; transparency of decision-making; freedom and independence from undue influence by any non-civil society actors; inclusiveness and diversity; and the guiding values of human rights, gender equality and women’s empowerment. Most of these principles will be absent in 2020, and more alarmingly we are already seeing the Saudi G20 presidency undermining these principles.

Virtually no domestic civil society actors will be able to participate in the upcoming C20 in Saudi Arabia, other than a token number of organisations working on issues deemed inoffensive by the Saudi government, since the Saudi authorities do not allow the existence of political parties, trade unions or independent human rights groups. Most progressive civil society activists are on trial or serving long prison sentences for speaking up, or have been forced into exile in order to avoid prison or worse. Returning to the country is not an option, as it will put them at risk. Without these independent and critical voices in the room, the credibility of the C20 is severely compromised.

Foreign and international civil society actors would also face significant challenges in freely participating in a Saudi-organised C20 event.

Existing laws and policies in Saudi Arabia not only directly affect the rights to freedom of association, expression and peaceful assembly, but also create a chilling effect that acts to silence certain categories of activists who, if they were to speak out, would be jeopardizing their own safety. Moreover, in November 2019, Saudi Arabia’s state security agency categorised feminism and homosexuality as crimes. While the announcement was rectified, Saudi Arabia’s leading women human rights defenders are still behind bars and prosecuted for their human rights work. These laws and practices contradict C20 principles on diversity, gender equality and the empowerment of women, and they would stifle freedom of expression in discussions on women’s rights, sexual and reproductive rights, and LGBTI rights.

This is compounded by a serious lack of press freedom in Saudi Arabia. Strict media controls, censorship and surveillance of social media, mean any discussions held at a Saudi-led C20 would never reach the wider Saudi population beyond a state-sanctioned narrative. Even if any such discussions were possible, without free media all meaningful discussions at the C20 would benefit only a limited audience. This is inconsistent with the C20’s guiding principles of inclusiveness, openness, transparency and participation.

Previous G20 summits have seen protests by activists from the host state and elsewhere. Freedom of peaceful assembly is a right, but in a country where all gatherings, including peaceful demonstrations, are prohibited, there is no possibility that this fundamental right will be respected.

The Saudi-led C20 process is lacking in many respects, most notably in guaranteeing the C20’s fundamental principles. Even this early in the 2020 C20 process we have observed a marked lack of transparency from the C20 hosts. The appointment of the Chairs of working groups and various committees was opaque and non-consultative, while arbitrary decisions have excluded experienced international groups. The C20 process led by the King Khalid Foundation, which is connected to the Saudi Royal Family, cannot be considered as transparent, inclusive and participatory, as required by the C20 Principles.

At a time when the world is facing a wide range of challenges, independent voices are needed more than ever. A state that closes civic space until it is virtually non-existent cannot be trusted to guarantee the basic conditions for international civil society to exchange ideas and collaborate freely on any issue, let alone those issues it deems sensitive or offensive.

While we will not participate in the C20 this year, we commit to work together to make sure those voices are heard in 2020.

 

Dakar Rally community must #StandWithSaudiHeroes

The Dakar Rally (formerly known as the Paris-Dakar Rally) is an annual off-road endurance rally organized by the French company Amaury Sport Organisation (A.S.O). In April 2019, it was announced that the upcoming 2020 rally would be held throughout Saudi Arabia. The announcement, which outlined the race route from January 5-17, 2020, also promised a five-year partnership with Saudi Arabia as host.

While this announcement plays a part of Saudi Arabia’s “Vision 2030” economic reform plan, it also contributes to “sports-washing” — hosting major events that seek to gloss over serious human rights violations committed by the Saudi authorities in recent years. Since the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in October 2018 at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, Saudi Arabia has faced increased international criticism over its human rights record; particularly its lack of a transparent investigation into Khashoggi’s murder, the torture and detention of women’s rights activists and its role in war crimes committed during its military operations in Yemen.

The Saudi government has created a hostile environment for anyone speaking out, including journalists, writers and human rights defenders — arbitrarily detaining, torturing and putting on trial dozens of human rights defenders for their peaceful advocacy. Among those who remain detained are notable Saudi women’s rights activists Loujain al-Hathloul and Samar Badawi, who advocated for women’s right to drive and an end to the country’s discriminatory male guardianship system.

Al-Hathoul and Badawi, along with Nassima al-Sadah and Nouf Abdulaziz, were among a dozen women’s rights defenders arrested in a 2018 crackdown in retaliation for peacefully campaigning for the protection and promotion of women’s rights throughout the kingdom. Some women reported that they were subjected to electric shocks, flogging, sexual threats and other forms of torture during interrogation. Some have also been held in prolonged solitary confinement. These women, who remain detained, along with other women’s rights activists temporarily released, are on trial on charges solely related to their activism. Another 14 supporters of these women’s rights defenders were arrested in March and April 2019 and remain in prison without charge.

While Saudi Arabia adopted some positive measures, including permitting women to drive and removing travel restrictions for women over 21, the authorities have yet to fully dismantle the male guardianship system, tackle severe gender inequality, and end the arbitrary detention and prosecution of women’s rights activists.

In 2019, the world’s top human rights body, the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council, has unprecedentedly scrutinized Saudi Arabia’s record. In March, Iceland, on behalf of 36 States, delivered the first-ever joint statement on Saudi Arabia which, inter alia, called for the release of ten named women’s rights activists from detention and accountability for the extrajudicial killing of Jamal Khashoggi. In June, the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Ms. Agnes Callamard, presented the conclusions of her investigation into Khashoggi’s killing, which found the State of Saudi Arabia responsible and highlighted that the extrajudicial killing reflected a broader crackdown against defenders, journalists and dissenters, as well as a culture of impunity at the highest levels. The Rapporteur also called on corporations to “establish explicit policies to avoid entering into deals with businesses, business people, and organs of the State that have had a direct or indirect role in Khashoggi’s execution or other grave human rights violations”.

Lastly, we also want to draw your attention to the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, which provide that businesses should “seek to prevent [...] adverse human rights impacts that they are directly linked to through their business relationships, even where they do not contribute to those impacts.” The ability of civil society to operate where you hold or participate in sports events is essential to upholding your credibility and avoiding any contribution or linkage to human rights violations.

Take Action:

In light of Saudi Arabia’s numerous and ongoing violations of international human rights and humanitarian law, the undersigned NGOs call on Dakar Rally organizers, participants, sponsors and official broadcasters to urge the Saudi authorities to drop all charges against Saudi women’s rights activists and immediately and unconditionally release all those detained for their peaceful and legitimate human rights activism. Because you can genuinely make a difference in these activists’ lives and their struggle for freedom and gender equality, we are asking Dakar Rally participants to help increase awareness and show solidarity by wearing a #StandWithSaudiHeroes pink armband during the event.

While official Dakar Rally voices and drivers – both male and female – are important in pressuring Saudi authorities to act, it is important that fans of the Rally around the world speak up too. You too can help these activists get their freedom and continue their human rights struggle.

In the lead up to the Rally, please add your voice to the campaign by sharing support on social media channels using the hashtag #StandWithSaudiHeroes, follow campaign developments online, and reach out to competitors representing your home country to participate.

Signatories:

  1. ACAT-France (Action by Christians against Torture)
  2. ALQST
  3. Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB)
  4. ARTICLE 19
  5. CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
  6. Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)
  7. European Centre for Democracy and Human Rights
  8. Gulf Center for Human Rights (GCHR)
  9. International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
  10. Front Line Defenders
  11. International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)
  12. Ligue des Droits de l'Homme (LDH)
  13. MENA Rights Group
  14. Reporters Without Borders (RSF)

 

Urgent Request for UN Intervention in the case of activist in Tanzania

Mr. Michel Forst
United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders

Professor Rémy Ngoy Lumbu
African Commission Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders and Focal Point on Reprisals in Africa


Dear Sirs,                    

Re: Urgent Request for Intervention in the Case of Human Rights Defender, Tito Elia Magoti.

We, the undersigned civil society organizations (CSOs) working to promote and defend human rights across the globe, including in Tanzania, urgently write requesting your intervention in the arrest and detention of human rights defender, Tito Elia Magoti. We are not only concerned that his arrest and detention is in retaliation for his legitimate human rights work but that the manner of his arrest, indicates a pattern by the State of disregarding due process procedures. We are further concerned that the charges against him, more specifically that of “money laundering” which automatically denies him the right to bail under Tanzanian law, poses an existential threat to all human rights defenders, journalists and civil society in Tanzania. Those charged under this law, regardless of the frivolousness of the allegations, can be indefinitely detained without trial.

On December 20, 2019, Mr. Tito Magoti, a young lawyer and Program Officer with the Legal and Human Rights Center (LHRC), was reportedly abducted by four unidentified men, handcuffed and driven off in what seemed to be a civilian vehicle.[1] LHRC is a Tanzanian based organization that works to promote, reinforce and safeguard human rights and good governance in the country.[2] Members of LHRC and other human rights organizations frantically visited various police stations in search of Mr. Magoti but were unable to locate him. It was feared he had been abducted. In the evening of December 20, 2019, the Dar es Salaam Zone Police Commander, SACP Lazaro Mambosasa, eventually released a press report indicating that he had not been abducted but was in police custody with several other arrested individuals.[3] No mention was made of where he was being detained or what allegations he was facing.[4] Police Commander Mambosasa’s statement was subsequently contradicted by the Regional Police Commander for Kinondoni region, where Mr. Magoti was arrested, alleging that he had no knowledge of the arrest.[5]

On December 23, 2019, having failed to locate their employee, LHRC filed an urgent petition against the Dar es Salaam Special Zone Police Commander and the Attorney General demanding the release of Mr. Magoti whose whereabouts and charges against him had yet to be divulged.[6] It is only after this application was made that Mr. Magoti together with his colleague, Mr. Theodory Faustin Giyan, a software developer and commentator of matters of public interest, were brought before the Kisutu Resident Magistrate Court in Dar es Salaam, on December 24, 2019, and jointly charged with (i) leading an organized crime; (ii) possession of a computer program designed for the purpose of committing an offence; and (iii) money laundering. (The charges are attached as Annexure “A”)

We are gravely concerned with the manner of arrest and detention of Mr. Magoti. Regional and international human rights standards are clear that an accused person has the right to be immediately informed of the reason for his arrest; the immediate right to legal representation; and the right to inform his family of his arrest; and where he is being detained.[7] The State also has a legal obligation to present an accused before a court of law within 48 hours of arrest.[8] Mr. Magoti’s arrest by unidentified men who subsequently held him in incommunicado detention for four days was not only a violation of his due process rights, but such practices raise the risk of cruel and inhuman treatment or torture while in custody as well as disappearances.[9] (The Tanganyika Law Society's statement clearly outlining the failure of the Tanzanian government to respect due process procedures in the arrest of Mr. Magoti is attached as Annexure "B")

There have been numerous reported cases of abductions in Tanzania including those of prominent government critics.[10] In July 2019, investigative journalist, Erick Kabendera was forcefully removed from his home by unidentified men who claimed to be the police.[11] Similarly, for several days, his family and lawyers did not know where he was being detained as he was moved from station to station and denied access to his lawyers.[12] In November 2017, investigative journalist, Azory Gwanda disappeared under suspicious circumstances and has not been seen since.[13] Given this environment, it is of paramount importance that the Tanzanian government when arresting citizens refrain from abductions by the police and respect fundamental due process procedures recognized under its own constitution and regional and international standards.

We strongly believe that the allegations against Mr. Magoti are in retaliation for his legitimate human rights work. During Mr. Magoti’s unlawful detention, he was reportedly questioned for his use of social media (Twitter) and his association with media owner and activist Maria Sarungi-Tsehai; former Tanganyika Law Society President Fatma Karume; and opposition politician Zitto Kabwe, all of whom are vocal critics of the Tanzanian government, and are all currently facing various forms of retaliation for demanding government accountability and transparency.[14] We are even more concerned with the specific charges of “money laundering” against Mr. Magoti and his colleague. According to the charges, the joint accused, between February 1, 2019 and December 17, 2019, “willfully organized a criminal racket namely possession of a computer program that is designed for the purpose of committing an offence, thereby acquiring a sum of money amounting to Tanzanian Shillings, Seventeen Million, Three Hundred Fifty-Four Thousand, Five Hundred Thirty-Five only”. It is further alleged that the accused acquired the above sum knowing that the money was proceeds of a predicate offense, namely “leading organized crime” and as such charged with “money laundering” under the Anti-Money Laundering Act as read with the Economic and Organized Crimes Control Act.[15] Under Tanzanian laws, money laundering which is an economic crime is a non-bailable offence.[16] As such, Mr. Magoti is not entitled to bail and the resident magistrate postponed his case to January 7, 2020.[17] His case was again postponed to January 24, 2020 for further investigation.[18]

Erick Kabendera mentioned above, who was also charged with “money laundering”, has been in detention since his arrest in July 2019, with his case being postponed at least 10 times while the prosecution “carries out investigations”.[19] Individuals charged with non-bailable offences have reportedly spent months and even years in detention without trial.[20] We fear that Mr. Magoti and his colleague can be held in pretrial detention indefinitely. A fundamental principle of any criminal justice system is the presumption of innocence which dictates that an accused person is innocent until proven guilty by a competent and independent court. The right to pre-trial release is recognized under regional and international law which dictates that as a general rule, bail should be granted and only in certain circumstances denied. Each case must be judged on its own merits with courts taking into consideration factors such as (1) the seriousness of the alleged crime (2) whether there is overwhelming evidence against the accused (3) possibility of the accused interfering with witnesses and evidence; and (4) where the accused poses a flight risk or is a danger to the community if granted bail.[21] Even then courts must strive to put conditions that favour the liberty of an accused in order to minimize the risk of an innocent person serving a sentence prior to conviction. Tanzania’s blanket denial of bail for certain crimes without individual assessment of each case is thus inconsistent with international standards.

There is an undeniable clampdown of civil society in Tanzania. Organizations have documented the “unwarranted closure of media outlets, judicial persecution and harassment of independent journalists, the targeted assassination of opposition party members, blanket restrictions on peaceful protests and the introduction and invocation of a raft of laws to undermine freedom of online speech”.[22] It is our deep fear that the arrest of Mr. Magoti and his colleague are but one of many cases of the continued targeting of government critics. We are additionally concerned with the developing pattern of charging government critics with the crime of “money laundering” thereby denying them the right to bail and condemning them to indefinite prison sentences.

Civil society especially human rights defenders play an important role in promoting and protecting the rights recognized under international human rights treaties, and help ensure that States respect economic, social, cultural, civil and political rights. The United Nations Declaration on the Rights and Responsibilities of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (Declaration on Human Rights Defenders)[23] specifically recognizes the right that everyone, including human rights defenders, have to “discuss, form and hold opinions on the observance … of all human rights … and, through these and other appropriate means, to draw public attention to these matters…”[24] The government of Tanzania has an obligation to create a conducive environment where civil society can contribute to the development of Tanzania which involves holding the government transparent and accountable. Under international law, no one shall be arrested for exercising their fundamental rights and if so, that arrest is arbitrary.[25] It is deeply troubling when the criminal justice system is being used in such a manner. If left unchecked, this is a very dangerous practice that threatens civil society and the very fabric of Tanzania’s democracy.

In light of the above, we respectfully request that your offices urgently intervene in the case of Tito Magoti and other human rights defenders and journalists in Tanzania, who are facing criminal prosecution for exercising their fundamental rights and urge the government to immediately drop these charges. We also urge that you strongly remind the government to ensure that all citizens, from the moment of their arrest for any crime, are afforded the full due process of the law without derogation.

Sincerely,

  1. Africans Rising
  2. mobi
  3. Amnesty International
  4. Anti-Corruption Trust of Southern Africa (ACT-SA) - ACT-Southern Africa
  5. Association of Concerned Africa Scholars (ACAS), USA
  6. Center for Civil Liberties (Ukraine) 
  7. CIVICUS
  8. Civic Education Network for Eastern and Southern Africa
  9. Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA)
  10. Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)
  11. Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition
  12. DefendDefenders (East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project)
  13. Ethiopian Human Rights Defenders Coalition
  14. Friends of Angola
  15. GEARS Initiative Zambia
  16. Human Rights Concern - Eritrea (HRCE)
  17. Human Rights Defenders Network-SL
  18. Human Rights Defenders Solidarity Network Uganda
  19. Human Rights Institute of South Africa (HURISA)
  20. International Commission of Jurists (ICJ)
  21. Legal Resources Centre (LRC)
  22. Nelson Mandela University Refugee Rights Centre
  23. Odhikar (Bangladesh)
  24. Safe Space for Children and Young Women Tanzania
  25. Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network (SAHRDN)
  26. Tanzania Human Rights Defenders Coalition (THRDC)
  27. Zambia Civic Education Association
  28. Zambia Council for Social Development (ZCSD)

Cc. Mr. Diego García-Sayán
United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers.

Mr. David Kaye
United Nations Special Rapporteur on Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression. 


[1] Tanganyika Law Society, Statement of the National Bar on the Abduction of Mr. Tito Magoti, the Program Officer Legal and Human Rights Centre, December 24, 2019.

[2] Legal and Human Rights Center, website, available at https://www.humanrights.or.tz/page/introduction

[3] Id. Note 1. As it stands, no mention has been made of who these individuals are nor have they been presented before the courts.

[4] The Citizen, Police bosses differ over knowledge over Tanzanian rights activist Tito Magoti arrest, December 2019, available at https://www.thecitizen.co.tz/news/1840340-5395966-9wuow7/index.html.

[5] Id.

[6] The Citizen, Tito Magoti: Case filed against Dar Police Chief and the AG over his detention, December 23, 2019, available at https://www.thecitizen.co.tz/news/1840340-5395848-format-xhtml-imvy00/index.html.

[7]Article 4 and 7, African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights. Adopted 27 June 1981, OAU Doc. CAB/LEG/67/3 rev. 5, 21 I.L.M. 58, 1982, entered into force 21 October 1986. Article 14, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Opened for signature Dec. 16, 1966, 999 U.N.T.S. 171. See also United Nations Principles and Guidelines on Access to Legal Aid in Criminal Justice Systems, UNODC (2013) and African Commission on Human and People’s Rights, Principles and Guidelines on the Right to a Fair Trial and Legal Assistance in Africa, 2003.

[8] Article 9(3) of the ICCPR states that anyone arrested “shall be brought promptly before a judge or other officer authorized by law”. The UN Human Rights Committee, the body charged with authoritative interpretation of the ICCPR, has explained that delays should not exceed a few days from the time of arrest and that 48 hours is ordinarily sufficient. See Freemantle v. Jamaica, H.R. Comm. 625/1995, paragraph 7.4 (2000) where the committee held that four days was not prompt.

[9] The UN Human Rights Committee has stated that longer detention in the custody of law enforcement officials without judicial control unnecessarily increases the risk of ill-treatment. See concluding observations: Hungary, CCPR/CO/74/HUN, paragraph 8 (2002).

[10] Vanguard Africa, In Tanzania, Abductions and Disappearances of Government Critics Continue Unabated, July 30, 2019, available at http://www.vanguardafrica.com/africawatch/2019/7/30/in-tanzania-abductions-and-disappearances-of-government-critics-continue-unabated.

[11] Committee to Protect Journalists, Unidentified men take Erick Kabendera from Tanzania home, July 29, 2019, available at https://cpj.org/2019/07/tanzania-erick-kabendera-police-abducted.php.

[12]Committee to Protect Journalists, Tanzania switches track, charges Kabendera with economic crimes, August 5, 2019, available at https://cpj.org/2019/08/tanzania-switches-track-charges-kabendera-with-eco.php.

[13] Human Rights Watch, Tanzanian Journalist’s Disappearance Remains Unsolved, April 8, 2019, available at https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/04/08/tanzanian-journalists-disappearance-remains-unsolved.

[14]Kwanza Broadcasting Limited whose director is Ms. Maria Sarungi-Tsehai was earlier in the year suspended for 6 months by the Communications Regulatory Authority for allegedly violating regulations under the Electronic and Postal Communications Online Content Regulations 2028. See Reporters Without Boarders, Tanzania Slaps Harsh Sanctions on three online TV Channels, September 30, 2019, available at https://rsf.org/en/news/tanzania-slaps-harsh-sanctions-three-online-tv-channels. Ms. Fatuma Karume, who is the former president of the Tanganyika Law Society, was recently arbitrarily suspended from practicing law in mainland Tanzania for her submissions in a constitutional court case challenging the appointment of the Attorney General. See The Citizen, Uproar over Fatma Karume Suspension, September 22, 2019, available at https://www.thecitizen.co.tz/news/1840340-5282716-9d4ama/index.html . Mr. Zitto Kabwe is currently facing criminal charges following statements he made demanding police accountability for extra-judicial killings. See also The EastAfrican, Zitto Kabwe charged with incitement, freed on bail, November 2, 2018, available at https://www.theeastafrican.co.ke/news/ea/Tanzania-opposition-MP-charged-with-incitement/4552908-4834324-m74a5jz/index.html.

[15] In the Resident Magistrate’s Court of Dar es Salaam at Kisutu, Economic Crime Case 137 of 2019, Republic vs Tito Elia Magoti & Theodory Faustin Giyan.

[16] Section 148 (5) (a)(v) of the Criminal Procedure Act lists money laundering as one of the non-bailable offences. Read also FB Attorneys, Non bailable offences in Tanzania, July 22, 2019, available at https://fbattorneys.co.tz/qa-22-july-2019/.

[17] The Citizen, Rights activist charged with money laundering, December 24, 2019, available at https://www.thecitizen.co.tz/news/1840340-5397074-9wvvi9/index.html.

[18] allAfrica, Tanzania Investigation on LHRC Official’s Case in Top Gear, January 8, 2020, available at https://allafrica.com/stories/202001080418.html.

[19] BBC News, Tanzania journalist to spend Christmas in jail, December 18, 2019, available at https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-50837986.

[20] The Guardian, Tanzanian journalist could face up to five years in jail, September 12, 2019, available at https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2019/sep/12/tanzanian-journalist-could-face-up-to-five-years-in-jail-without-trial-erick-kabendera.

[21] United Nations Human Rights Committee, General Comment No. 32, Article 14: Right to Equality Before the Courts and Tribunals and to a fair Trial, U.N. Doc CCPR/C/CG/32 (2007).

[22] CIVICUS, Tanzanian: Civil society groups express concern over rapid decline in human rights, May 10, 2018, available at https://www.civicus.org/index.php/media-resources/media-releases/open-letters/3163-civil-society-groups-express-concern-over-worrying-human-rights-decline-in-tanzania

[23] The Declaration was adopted with broad support by the United Nations General Assembly, UN Doc.A/Res/53/144, 8 March 1999. It represents a strong commitment by states to its implementation on the principles and rights enshrined in legally binding, key international human rights instruments such as the ICCPR and the African Charter. The Declaration represents a clear commitment by States to acknowledge, promote and protect the work and rights of human rights defenders around the world.

[24] Id.

[25] United Nations Human Rights Committee, General Comment No. 35, December 16, 2014, CPR/CGC/35. Paragraph 17 specifically states that the “arrest or detention as punishment for the legitimate exercise of the rights as guaranteed by the Covenant is arbitrary, including freedom of opinion and expression (Article. 19), freedom of assembly (Article. 21), freedom of association (Article. 22).”

 

Cambodia: Charges against journalists must be dropped

Joint Statement: Civil society organizations call for all baseless charges against journalists to be dropped

We, the undersigned media institutions and local and international civil society organizations call for charges against two former Radio Free Asia (RFA) journalists, Mr. Uon Chhin and Mr. Yeang Sothearin (known as Yeang Sochea Meta), to be dropped.  We also call on the government to take immediate action to cease the harassment, arbitrary detention, threat and intimidation of, as well as discrimination against, the independent media.

The two former RFA journalists, Uon Chhin and Yeang Sothearin, were charged by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court with supplying a foreign state with information prejudicial to national defence, under Article 445 of Cambodia’s Criminal Code and with the alleged production of pornography under Article 39 of the Law on the Suppression of Human Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation. The pair were arrested on 14 November 2017 and held in pre-trial detention for nine months. They were released on bail and placed under judicial supervision on 21 August 2018.

On 3 October 2019, the Court announced its decision to continue its investigation, despite the fact that there is a lack of credible evidence against the pair required to hold them criminally liable as per the burden of proof standards enshrined in Article 38 of the Constitution of the Kingdom of Cambodia. Throughout the case of Uon Chhin and Yeang Sothearin, the pair’s fair trial rights have not been upheld in line with national and international law.

We hope that the Appeal Court’s hearing on 23 December 2019, on the charges of production of pornography, as well as the hearing on 20 January 2020 on the charges of supplying a foreign state with information prejudicial to national defence, will provide justice for the pair and the baseless charges will be dropped. It should be noted that according to the summons the facts of the case are going to be heard for the first time in the Appeal Court, constituting a significant and concerning procedural irregularity. The case against Uon Chhin and Yeang Sothearin is one of many in which criminal charges have been used to silence independent and critical voices.

We also call for all charges against Mr. Aun Pheap, and Mr. Peter Zsombor, former Cambodia Daily journalists, to be dropped. On 28 August 2017, after conducting interviews with villagers regarding the commune council elections in Pate Commune, O'Yadav District, Ratanakiri Province, both were charged with incitement to commit a felony under Articles 494 and 495 of the Cambodian Criminal Code, and summoned to appear at a trial hearing on 25 December 2019. The interviews were conducted in their capacity as journalists for the Cambodia Daily, which has since been forced to close due to a tax requirement. The prosecutions serve to further threaten and intimidate other independent journalists.

On 19 November 2019 the Mondulkiri Provincial Court of First Instance summonsed Mr. Sath Chanboth, a journalist for Rasmei Kampuchea and Apsara TV, to appear in court on 2 December 2019, where he was questioned under charges of public defamation and incitement to commit a felony. The summons follows a lawsuit filed by Lieutenant Colonel Sophat Serivuthy, a soldier commander in Mondulkiri. We call for the judicial harassment of Sath Chanboth to be ceased.

In addition to the above cases, we express our concern over the prosecution of Mr. Rath Rott Mony, a translator for Russia Today, and former trade union leader, whose case further threatens the free media.  He was accused of incitement to discriminate, and later sentenced to two years imprisonment and ordered to pay 70 million riels ($17,200) in compensation to plaintiffs for his role in supporting foreign journalists to produce a documentary on sex trafficking in Cambodia. His sentence was upheld in November 2019 by the Court of Appeal at a hearing where none of the plaintiffs or concerned parties were present, undermining the legitimacy of proceedings.

The harassment of journalists also takes other forms. A number of independent journalists have been denied the identification cards necessary to conduct their work. Additionally, some journalists report harassment from their employers for attempting to respect the principle of independence of the media.

We notice that a number of positive steps have been taken by the Royal Government of Cambodia (RGC) recently such as the grant of licence to the Voice of America’s bureau in Cambodia, allowing it to buy airtime from two local radio stations to broadcast its daily news programs, a meeting between Information Minister and RFA’s representative, as well as the decision to provide a licence to The Cambodian Journalists Alliance (CamboJA) on 09 September 2019, an independent journalists network. Despite these steps, journalists still face numerous barriers to conducting their work professionally and exercising their right to freedom of expression.

May Titthara, Executive Director of CamboJA, states that “to restore a better space for media, complaints against journalists and intimidations against journalists must be immediately ceased. The prosecution of Yeang Sothearin, Uon Chhin, Aun Pheap and recent criminal complaints against journalists must be dropped. Radio licenses which have been revoked should be renewed.

Chak Sopheap, Executive Director of Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR), adds: “Cases such as these form a pattern of arbitrary and retaliatory prosecutions of critical voices, including those of human rights defenders, journalists, union leaders, community representatives and the political opposition. We emphasise that journalism is not a crime and should not be treated as such. Respecting the right to freedom of expression and ensuring a space in which journalists can conduct their work freely and safely without fear of reprisal are important steps toward building a strong democracy and rule of law.”

We, the undersigned media institutions and local and international civil society organizations urge the RGC to accept our above requests and take concrete actions to ensure that the right to freedom of expression is respected and to create an environment in which independent media and journalists can perform their important role freely.

This joint statement is endorsed by:

  1. Cambodian Journalists Alliance (CamboJA)
  2. Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR)
  3. Cambodian Center for Independent Media (CCIM)
  4. Cambodian Food and Service Workers Federation (CFSWF)
  5. Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC)
  6. Minority Rights Organization (MIRO)
  7. Ponlok Khmer (PKH)
  8. Youth Resource Development Program (YRDP)
  9. Affiliated Network for Social Accountability (ANSA) Cambodia
  10. Community Legal Education Center (CLEC)
  11. Khmer Kampuchea Krom for Human Rights and Development Association (KKKHRDA)
  12. Independent Democracy of Informal Economy Association (IDEA)
  13. Center for Alliance of Labor and Human Rights (CENTRAL)
  14. Cambodian Tourism Workers Union Federation (CTWUF)
  15. Equitable Cambodia (EC)
  16. Gender and Development for Cambodia (GADC)
  17. Sahmakum Teang Tnaut (STT)
  18. Coalition of Cambodian Farmer Community (CCFC)
  19. International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX)
  20. Article 19
  21. FIDH, within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
  22. World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
  23. Building Community Voices (BCV)
  24. Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (COMFREL)
  25. Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (LICADHO)
  26. CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
  27. Alliance for Conflict Transformation (ACT)
  28. International Federation of Journalists (IFJ)
  29. Reporters Without Borders (RSF)
  30. International Commission of Jurists (ICJ)
  31. Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)
  32. Cambodian Independent Teachers’ Association (CITA)
  33. Amnesty International (AI)
  34. Cambodian Volunteers for Society (CVS)
  35. Cambodian Independent Civil-Servants Association (CICA)
  36. ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR)
  37. Cambodian Youth Network (CYN)

For more information, please contact:

Mr. May Titthara, Executive Director of CamboJA
Tel: +855 17 500 503 or email:
Ms. Chak Sopheap, Executive Director of CCHR,
Tel: +855 11 943 213 or email:

 

Re: Cambodia’s Law on Trade Unions and Cases Against Union Leaders

Prime Minister Samdech Hun Sen
Government Peace Building, No. 38
Confederation Russia Blvd (110)
Phnom Penh
Cambodia

Dear Prime Minister,

We, the undersigned Cambodian and international civil society organizations, are deeply concerned about the proposed amendments to the Law on Trade Unions (“TUL”), as approved by the Cambodian Senate on December 9, 2019. The 10 proposed amendments to articles 3, 17, 20, 21, 27, 28, 29, 54, 55, and 59 fall short of international labor rights standards and were adopted without an inclusive and genuine consultative process of relevant stakeholders.

Numerous provisions in the TUL need significant revision. The latest round of TUL amendments further curtail workers’ labor and human rights by severely limiting their freedom of association, and rights to organize and collective bargaining. While we note the proposed minor amendments to the TUL introduced improvements to the previous text, they do not go far enough and have failed to address other problematic issues. The International Labor Organization’s Committees of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations and on Freedom of Association have made a number of calls for amendments to the TUL that are not reflected in the proposed amendments, for example, with regards to articles 3, 10, 12, 13, 20, 21, 28, 38, 59, and fines under Chapter 15.

Our concerns regarding the TUL and the proposed amendments include:

  1. Article 3 (amended): The current article still does not extend application of the TUL to “all persons,” as previously recommended by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). Article 3 of the TUL states the law applies to “all persons who fall within the provisions of the labour law.” This undermines article 36 of Cambodia’s Constitution which guarantees that “Khmer citizens of either sex shall have the right to form and to be members of trade unions.” The proposed amendments to the TUL thereby fail to widen the coverage of the law to workers in the informal sector, teachers, and other public servants. Related to this, domestic workers and small businesses with fewer than 10 employees will always fail to meet the minimum requirement of 10 workers in order to create a local union, as enshrined in article 10 of the TUL, resulting in a de facto denial of their right to unionize.
  2. Article 5 (unchanged): The article states that all workers and employers have the right to form a union of their choice “for the exclusive purpose” of study, research, training, promotion of interests, and protection of the rights of persons covered by the union. The OHCHR has recommended removing the phrase “for the exclusive purpose of” as it could unduly restrict the right of the organization to freely decide on their activities and programs.
  1. Article 12 (unchanged): The article details that an application for registration of a union shall be approved “if it adequately meets all requirements” including copies of union statutes, regulations that govern leadership, names of leaders, copies of financial books, bank accounts, and official minutes of elections. Article 12 grants a high degree of discretion to the government and sets out considerably burdensome registration requirements for unions.
  1. Article 17 (amended): The article infringes on unions’ rights to determine their internal affairs. The amendment added an additional independent auditing mechanism if 10 percent of union members or 5 percent of union donors call for it. The auditing mechanism requires the institution be legally registered in Cambodia, which may eliminate the use of reputable independent auditors who are licensed overseas. The amendment has not reduced or simplified the required documentation that unions must annually submit to the Ministry of Labor and Vocational Training (MoLVT). When article 17 is read in conjunction with the unchanged article 18, the law effectively empowers the MoLVT to revoke union registration if the union has not fulfilled obligations stipulated by regulators in two warning notifications.
  2. Article 18 (unchanged): This article empowers the MoLVT to file a lawsuit in the labor court to revoke the registration of a union if it has not fulfilled its obligations outlined under the current TUL. Considering the cumbersome administrative and documentary demands imposed by the law, and regulator’s arbitrary powers to determine whether those requirements have been met, workers’ unions' risk dissolution based on arbitrary grounds and unreasonable requests.
  1. Articles 20, 21 and 38 continue to infringe on the right of unions to elect their representatives in full freedom.
  1. Article 54 (amended): The amendments fail to bring the law into conformity with international standards because they do not grant the right to collective bargaining and collective dispute resolution to all unions, regardless of their “most representative status.” Under TUL, unions that do not have most representative status are currently prevented from defending the interests of their members, including being blocked from making representations on their behalf and representing them in grievances before the Arbitration Council.
  1. Union registration procedures and union statute requirements: The TUL’s registration requirements conflict with international standards by requiring previous authorization by the authorities (violating article 2 of ILO Convention No. 87) and infringing on unions’ rights in drawing up their own constitutions and rules (violating article 3 of ILO Convention No. 87). In addition, determination of the union with most representative status is subject to approval and recognition by the authorities when this discretion should lie with an independent body. The amendments, therefore, fail to ensure a transparent, effective and simple registration process that will guarantee freedom of association for all workers as well as address the backlog of pending union registration applications.
  2. The current law does not include any provisions to increase protection for workers employed on fixed-duration contracts to exercise their right to freedom of association. To date, the widespread use of short-term employment contracts causes fears among workers that if they join a union, management will not renew their contract.

We, therefore, urge you to revisit these provisions of the TUL, and seriously consider the recommendations made in submissions by civil society stakeholders, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and the International Labor Organization. By doing so, the Cambodian government could ensure that legal revisions to the TUL conform to its obligations under international human rights treaties and international labor conventions.

We would be remiss if we did not also raise concerns about the consultation procedures to date on the TUL. In July 2019, the MoLVT issued invitations for a second tripartite meeting to discuss the TUL. At that meeting, there was an overrepresentation of pro-government unions, government officials, and employers’ representatives. Many independent unions did not receive an invitation or were told they needed to collect a physical invitation from MoLVT.

Both before and after the 2018 elections, labor advocates, union leaders and activist workers have been increasingly targeted by the Cambodian government. While we note the Cambodian government has taken steps to resolve some of the fabricated criminal charges against federation level union leaders – with some notable exceptions such as the recent conviction of Kong Athit connected to the Capitol bus drivers protest in 2016 – we are concerned there has been little progress in lifting cases against local union leaders. The result of this repression has been to silence independent and critical opinions, and to broaden fears among rank-and-file workers to assert their rights.

The current environment for labor rights advocates, trade union leaders, and civil society activists is not conducive to ensure a genuine improvement of the human rights and labor rights situation in Cambodia. We, therefore, urge the Cambodian government to take the following steps:

  1. Initiate a fresh round of inclusive, genuine and transparent consultations around proposed TUL amendments in January 2020 to ensure that the law is amended to fully comply with international labor and human rights standards. These consultations should include the OHCHR, ILO, and local and international civil society organizations – in particular, independent trade unions -- and submissions from the participants should be invited in advance. A full report and a draft of final amendments based on these consultations should be published and formally shared with the National Assembly and the Senate to inform revisions in the TUL amendments.
  2. Drop all baseless criminal cases against union leaders, workers and labor rights advocates.
  3. Stop all forms of harassment of union leaders, workers and labor rights advocates.

We thank you for your consideration.


Sincerely,

  • Amnesty International
  • Asia Floor Wage Alliance (AFWA)
  • Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)
  • Asian Network for Free Elections (ANFREL)
  • Building and Wood Worker's International (BWI)
  • Building and Wood Workers Trade Union Federation of Cambodia (BWTUC)
  • Cambodia's Independent Civil Servants Association (CICA)
  • Cambodian Alliance of Trade Unions (CATU)
  • Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR)
  • Cambodian Food And Service Workers Federation (CFSWF)
  • Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee (CHRAC)
  • Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC)
  • Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (LICADHO)
  • Cambodia Tourism Workers Union Federation (CTWUF)
  • Cambodian Youth Network (CYN)
  • Center for Alliance of Labor and Human Rights (CENTRAL)
  • Civil Rights Defenders
  • CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
  • Clean Clothes Campaign International Office
  • Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers Democratic Unions (C.CAWDU)
  • Coalition of Cambodian Farmer Community (CCFC)
  • Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (COMFREL)
  • Global Labor Justice
  • Human Rights Watch
  • Independent Free Union Federation (FUFI)
  • Independent Trade Union Federation (INTUFE)
  • Informal Democratic Economy Association (IDEA)
  • International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
  • International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF)
  • Labor Rights Supported Union of Khmer Employees of Nagaworld
  • Local Initiative for OHS Network (LION) Indonesia
  • Maquila Solidarity Network (MSN)
  • Sedane Labour Resource Centre (LIPS)
  • Solidar Suisse
  • Union Coalition for Labor (UCL)
  • United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS)

Cc:
Minister of Labor and Vocational Training
Minister of Commerce
Ministry of Justice

 

Groups call for respect for peaceful protest in Colombia

December 9 marked the 18th day of peaceful nationwide protests by labor unions, students, peace activists, Afro-Colombians, indigenous, victims, women, farmers negatively impacted by free trade agreements, and many other Colombians. As the demonstrations were launched, U.S. organizations and activists pledged their support to the peaceful protests in a public statement. Days prior to the strike, the Duque administration implemented unnecessary security measures that sent the message that they wanted to squash the protests.

On November 19, the police raided and searched some 37 homes of activists, artists, and alternative media services. 21 of the raids were declared illegal by Colombian courts. In an attempt to justify repression, the President and members of the Democratic Center Party publicly stigmatized the protestors, criminalizing the right to protest and incorrectly stating that there was a foreign influence driving the protests to destabilize the government. Given this initial response from the highest level of government, we felt compelled to speak out against possible attacks and abuses against protestors.

Two weeks later, we sadly see that our concerns were justified. Even though the majority of the hundreds of thousands of Colombians protested peacefully, they were met with a brutal response from the Colombian National Police’s Mobile Anti-Disturbances Squadron (ESMAD, a 3,300-member riot police unit founded in 1999). On November 22, a curfew was issued in both Bogota and Cali due to false rumors spread on social media that thieves—some of them Venezuelans—were taking advantage of the police being busy to attack people’s homes. These rumors caused panic and led to the formation of “para-police” patrolling the streets and fomenting fear and chaos. The government fueled xenophobia against Venezuelans by deporting 60 Venezuelans with no due process.

The next day, Saturday 23, the ESMAD worked methodically and violently to break up any peaceful gathering of protesters, apparently under an order “to disperse any demonstration that might block traffic.” Members of the ESMAD shot 18-year-old Dilan Cruz in the back of the head with a “bean bag” weapon, a “non-lethal” projectile intended, according to UN standards, to “be used in direct fire with the aim of striking the lower abdomen or legs of a violent individual and only with a view to addressing an imminent threat of injury to either a law enforcement official or a member of the public.” Multiple protestors caught the incident on video. Dilan died from his injuries on November 25. The coroner determined that his death was a homicide.

According to the coalition Defendemos la Libertad, made up of 60 organizations working together to conduct observation of social protests, over 400 cases of abuse at the hands of the ESMAD and other police were reported just between November 21 and 27. This includes 16 eye injuries caused by tear gas canisters and other projectiles, which are forbidden by Colombian police procedures and international law to be shot at protesters' faces.

This is not the first time that actions taken by the ESMAD have resulted in death and injuries. Since its creation in 1999, the unit has killed at least 34 people. Their disproportionate use of force and brutal attacks against unarmed civilians in rural protests—especially those led by indigenous communities—have been denounced to authorities on numerous occasions.

To our knowledge, U.S. public funds do not fund the ESMAD directly. However, many of the ESMAD’s weapons, including tear gas and “bean bags,” are purchased with the Colombian government’s own funds through U.S. arms sales programs. Much of its materiel, for instance, comes from one Pennsylvania-based company, Combined Systems, Inc., which sells tear gas canisters and stun grenades to Colombia. We call on the State Department and the U.S. Congress to place a moratorium on sales of crowd control weapons to Colombia until the ESMAD has either been replaced by a new force or undergone a full overhaul toward building a dramatically different, more rights-respecting culture and doctrine based on de-escalation, respect for peaceful protest, and minimal use of force. The U.S. Embassy and State Department should support civil society’s rightful demands for peace, labor rights, safety for human rights defenders, and environmental protection. The Secretary of State’s reiteration of rumors that widespread social protests across the Americas are driven by Venezuelan and Cuban intervention rather than the real national concerns that lead people to protest in each country, including Colombia, is harmful.

Lastly, we call on the Duque administration to resolve these protests peacefully through a negotiation involving the broad leadership of the various sectors involved in the protests that leads to a deeper resolution of the issues driving this widespread social discontent. A thorough investigation of the killing of Dilan Cruz and other abuses taking place during the protests should be carried out in civilian courts. The Inspector General’s office (Procuraduria General de la Nación) and the Ombudsman’s Office (Defensoría del Pueblo) should be encouraged and permitted to play their crucial roles in issuing disciplinary measures for public officials and verifying and documenting citizen complaints. Finally, the Duque administration should ensure that the existing protocol for addressing social protest (Resolution 1190 of 2018 of the Ministry of the Interior) is employed at all times instead of completely ignoring it.

Sincerely,

  • Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA)
  • Witness for Peace Solidarity Collective
  • United Church of Christ, Justice and Witness Ministries
  • UNIAFRO
  • The International Institute on Race, Equality, and Human Rights
  • OXFAM America
  • Movement for Peace in Colombia, New York
  • MADRE
  • Latin America Working Group (LAWG)
  • Latin American Studies Association (LASA) – Colombia Section
  • Interdisciplinary Colombian Studies at University of New Mexico
  • Global Ministries of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and the United Church of Christ
  • Colombia Human Rights Committee, Washington, DC
  • Colombia Grassroots Support, New Jersey.
  • Codhes
  • CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
  • Chicago Religious Leadership Network on Latin America
  • Center for Justice & International Law (CEJIL)
  • Amazon Watch
  • AFRODES USA
  • ACSN
  • Victoria Sanford, PhD - Director, Center for Human Rights & Peace Studies, Lehman College-NY
  • Sinclair Thomson - New York University-NY
  • Sandra Granobles - DC Government Educator
  • Ofunshi Oba Koso, Minnesota Yoruba Cuba Association- MN
  • Nicolás Sánchez - Department of Latin American Studies, Duke University
  • Nancy Appelbaum - Director, Latin American and Caribbean Area Studies Program, Binghamton University-NY
  • Michael Birenbaum Quintero - Chair, Musicology and Ethnomusicology Department, Boston University
  • Mary Roldán - Epstein Professor of Latin American History Hunter College, CUNY-NY
  • Margaret Powrer – Profesor of History, Illinois Institute of Technology
  • Luz M Betancourt, PhD., CUNY, Graduate Center-NY
  • Lirio Gutiérrez Rivera - Universidad Nacional de Colombia-Colombia
  • Lina Britto - Assistant Professor, Northwestern University- IL
  • Kiran Asher - Professor, University of Massachusetts-MA
  • Jonathan Fox – Professor, School of International Service, American University-DC
  • John C. Dugas - Kalamazoo College-MI
  • Joel Wolfe - Professor of History, University of Massachusetts
  • Jessica Srikantia, Associate Professor at George Mason University's Schar School of Policy and Government-VA
  • James E. Sanders - Utah State University-UT
  • Gloria Monroy-DC
  • Gina McDaniel Tarver - Associate Professor of Art History, Texas State University-TX
  • Gabriel Rudas-Burgos - Professor of Hispanic Languages and Literatures, Stony Brook University
  • Felipe Gómez G - Professor, Carnegie Mellon University-PA
  • Fabian Prieto-Ñañez - Postdoctoral Researcher, Virginia Tech-VA
  • Erin K. McFee, PhD - The University of Chicago-IL
  • Danesis Arce - Afromedios
  • Constanza López - Associate Professor, University of North Florida-FL
  • Barbara Gerlach - Minister, United Church of Christ
  • Alexander Fattal - Assistant Professor, University of California, San Diego-CA

 

India: Excessive force used by police to crackdown on protests against citizenship law

CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance is alarmed at the violent crackdown on protests across India in response to a controversial citizenship law passed by the country’s parliament last week. We urge the authorities to exercise maximum restraint and respect the right to peaceful assembly.

Protests began on 12 December in Assam’s capital Guwahati, after India’s lower house passed the new Citizenship (Amendment) Act 2019. The law seeks to provide citizenship to non-Muslim irregular migrants facing persecution from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan. The Office of the UN High Commissioner of Human Rights has described the controversial new law as ‘fundamentally discriminatory in nature’ while human rights groups have called the law ‘unconstitutional and divisive’.

Tens of thousands have since taken to the streets in opposition to the law in various cities in India. According to reports, at least six protesters have been killed during the protests, with at least four who have been shot by the police in Assam and over one thousand detained.

In New Delhi, on 15 December, more than a hundred people protesting the law were injured after police used tear gas and baton charges to disperse a demonstration of students from Jamia Milia Islamia (JMI) University, as well as New Delhi residents. Police violently dispersed the protesters as they marched towards Parliament, and after protesters fled to the university campus, the police reportedly stormed the JMI and fired tear gas into classrooms. Nearly 100 protesters were detained and subsequently released in the early hours of Monday morning.

At Aligarh Muslim University in Uttar Pradesh, thousands of students protesting the law outside the university entrance were attacked by police wielding batons and firing tear gas.

‘Peaceful protest is a legitimate form of dissent and this heavy-handed and violent response from police is unwarranted. Nothing can justify the attacks on protesters which is a clear violation of the right to peaceful assembly. These actions highlight the increasingly repressive civic space we have seen in India over the last year,’ said Lysa John, CIVICUS Secretary General.

The Indian authorities must urgently uphold India’s international and constitutional human rights obligations to respect freedom of peaceful assembly. The authorities should refrain from using excessive force or firearms against peaceful protesters. We call for a prompt, independent and impartial investigation into the abuses by police and for the perpetrators to be brought to justice.

CIVICUS is further alarmed at the government-imposed curfew and internet blackout in Assam in response to the protests. Although the curfew and blackout have been relaxed since the start of the protests, restrictions remain in place, limiting access to information in the region.

“The Indian authorities must put a stop to using internet shutdowns to silence dissent. These actions harm human rights including blocking emergency services, creates a media vacuum barring critical information from reaching the public and also affects the economy,” added John.

This month, India’s rating in the CIVICUS Monitor was downgraded from ‘obstructed’ to ‘repressed’, owing to its increased restriction of space for dissent during 2019 and particularly following Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s re-election in May 2019. Students and civil society organisations have been particularly targeted by repressive laws and judicial harassment.

For more information or to arrange interviews please contact:

 

Laos and Thailand must investigate enforced disappearances

Civil society groups urge Laos, Thailand to investigate enforced disappearances, reveal fate of Sombath Somphone and Od Sayavong

On the seventh anniversary of the enforced disappearance of Lao civil society leader Sombath Somphone, we, the undersigned organizations, urge the Lao and Thai governments to investigate enforced disappearances, and demand Vientiane finally reveal Sombath’s whereabouts and ensure justice for him and his family.

Considering the Lao police’s protracted failure to effectively investigate Sombath’s enforced disappearance, a new independent and impartial investigative body tasked with determining Sombath’s fate and whereabouts should be established without delay. The new body should have the authority to seek and receive international technical assistance in order to conduct a professional, independent, impartial, and effective investigation in accordance with international standards.

Sombath was last seen at a police checkpoint on a busy street of the Lao capital, Vientiane, on the evening of 15 December 2012. Footage from a CCTV camera showed that Sombath’s vehicle was stopped at the police checkpoint and that, within minutes, unknown individuals forced him into another vehicle and drove him away in the presence of police officers. CCTV footage also showed an unknown individual driving Sombath’s vehicle away from the city center. The presence of police officers at Sombath’s abduction and their failure to intervene strongly indicates state agents’ participation in Sombath’s enforced disappearance.

Lao authorities have repeatedly claimed they have been investigating Sombath’s enforced disappearance but have failed to disclose any new findings to the public since 8 June 2013. They have met with Sombath’s wife, Shui Meng Ng, only twice since January 2013 – the last time in December 2017. No substantive information about the investigation has been shared by the police with the family, indicating that, for all intents and purposes, the police investigation has been de facto suspended.

We also call on the Lao and Thai governments to resolve all cases of enforced disappearances in their countries. The most recent case is that of Od Sayavong, a Lao refugee living in Bangkok, who has been missing since 26 August 2019. Over the past several years, Od engaged publicly in drawing attention to human rights abuses and corruption in Laos, and met with the United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights on 15 March 2019 in Bangkok, prior to the latter’s mission to Laos. The concerns regarding Od’s case were expressed in a joint statement that the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances and three Special Rapporteurs issued on 1 October 2019. 

We would also like to draw particular attention to reports that Ittiphon Sukpaen, Wuthipong Kachathamakul, Surachai Danwattananusorn, Chatcharn Buppawan, and Kraidej Luelert, five Thai critics of the monarchy and Thailand’s military government living in exile in Laos, went missing between June 2016 and December 2018. In the case of the latter three, the bodies of Chatcharn and Kraidej were found about two weeks later on the Thai side of the Mekong River, mutilated and stuffed with concrete, while a third body - possibly Surachai’s - reportedly surfaced nearby and then disappeared. DNA tests carried out in January 2019 confirmed the identity of Chatcharn and Kraidej.

We call on the Lao and Thai governments to investigate these cases in line with international legal standards with a view towards determining their fate and whereabouts.

Both the Lao and Thai governments have the legal obligation to conduct such prompt, thorough and impartial investigations and to bring all individuals suspected of criminal responsibility for crimes under international law and gross human rights violations to justice in fair trials.

We also urge the Lao and Thai governments to promptly ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, which Laos and Thailand signed in September 2008 and January 2012 respectively, to incorporate the Convention’s provisions into their domestic legal frameworks, implementing it in practice, and to recognize the competence of the Committee on Enforced Disappearances to receive and consider communications from or on behalf of victims or other states parties.

Finally, we call on the international community to use the upcoming Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Laos to demand the Lao government promptly and effectively investigate the enforced disappearance of Sombath Somphone. The third UPR of Laos is scheduled to be held on 21 January 2020 in Geneva, Switzerland.

During the second UPR of Laos in January 2015, 10 United Nations member states (Australia, Canada, Finland, Germany, Luxembourg, Poland, Portugal, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom) recommended the Lao government conduct an adequate investigation into Sombath’s enforced disappearance.

Until the fate and whereabouts of those who are forcibly disappeared are revealed, the international community should not stop demanding that they be safely returned to their families. The Lao government should be under no illusion that our demands will go away, we will persist until we know the real answer to the question: “Where is Sombath?”

Signed by:

1.    11.11.11
2.    Action from Ireland (Afri)
3.    Alliance Sud
4.    Alternative ASEAN Network on Burma (ALTSEAN-Burma)
5.    Alyansa Tigil Mina (Alliance to Stop Mining) 
6.    Amnesty International
7.    Armanshahr / OPEN ASIA
8.    Article 19
9.    ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) 
10.    Asia Europe People’s Forum
11.    Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances (AFAD)
12.    Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)
13.    Asian Resource Foundation
14.    Association of Women for Awareness and Motivation (AWAM)
15.    Awaz Foundation Pakistan – Centre for Development Services
16.    Banglar Manabadhikar Sutaksha Mancha (MASUM)
17.    Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC)
18.    CCFD-Terre Solidaire
19.    Center for Human Rights and Development (CHRD)
20.    Centre for the Sustainable Use of Natural and Social Resources (CSNR)
21.    China Labour Bulletin (CLB)
22.    CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
23.    Civil Rights Defenders
24.    Commission for the Disappeared and Victims of Violence (KontraS)
25.    Community Resource Centre (CRC)
26.    Community Self-Reliance Centre (CSRC)
27.    DIGNIDAD Coalition
28.    Dignity – Kadyr-kassiyet (KK)
29.    Equality Myanmar
30.    Europe solidaire sans frontières (ESSF)
31.    Families of Victims of Involuntary Disappearance (FIND) 
32.    FIAN International
33.    FIDH – International Federation for Human Rights
34.    Focus on the Global South
35.    Fresh Eyes - People to People Travel
36.    Front Line Defenders
37.    Global Justice Now 
38.    Globe International
39.    Human Rights and Development Foundation (HRDF)
40.    Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP)
41.    Human Rights in China (HRIC)
42.    Human Rights Watch (HRW)
43.    Indonesian Legal Aid Foundation (YLBHI)
44.    INFORM Human Rights Documentation Centre
45.    International Commission of Jurists (ICJ)
46.    Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw)
47.    Justice for Iran (JFI)
48.    Karapatan Alliance Philippines (Karapatan)
49.    Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and the Rule of Law (KIBHR)
50.    Korean House for International Solidarity (KHIS)
51.    Land Watch Thai
52.    Lao Movement for Human Rights (LMHR)
53.    Lawyers' Rights Watch Canada (LRWC)
54.    League for the Defence of Human Rights in Iran (LDDHI)
55.    MADPET (Malaysians Against Death Penalty and Torture) 
56.    Maldivian Democracy Network (MDN)
57.    Manushya Foundation
58.    MONFEMNET National Network
59.    National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP)
60.    Nomadic Livestock Keepers' Development Fund
61.    Odhikar
62.    People's Solidarity for Participatory Democracy(PSPD) 
63.    People’s Empowerment Foundation (PEF)
64.    People’s Vigilance Committee on Human Rights (PVCHR)
65.    People’s Watch  
66.    Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates (PAHRA) 
67.    Programme Against Custodial Torture & Impunity (PACTI)
68.    Psychological Responsiveness NGO
69.    Pusat KOMAS
70.    Right to Life Human Rights Centre (R2L)
71.    Rights Now Collective for Democracy (RN)
72.    South India Cell for Human Rights Education and Monitoring (SICHREM)
73.    Stiftung Asienhaus
74.    STOP the War Coalition - Philippines (StWC-Philippines) 
75.    Sustainability and Participation through Education and Lifelong Learning (SPELL)
76.    Taiwan Association for Human Rights (TAHR)
77.    Tanggol Kalikasan – Public Interest Environmental Law Office (TK)
78.    Task Force Detainees of the Philippines (TFDP)
79.    The Corner House
80.    Think Centre
81.    Transnational Institute
82.    Union for Civil Liberty (UCL)
83.    Vietnam Committee on Human Rights (VCHR)
84.    Vietnamese Women for Human Rights (VNWHR)
85.    WomanHealtth Philippines
86.    Women’s Rehabilitation Centre (WOREC)
87.    World Organization Against Torture (OMCT)
88.    World Rainforest Movement (WRM)

Individuals:

Andy Rutherford 
Anuradha Chenoy 
David JH Blake
Glenn Hunt
Jeremy Ironside
Jessica diCarlo
Kamal Mitra Chenoy
Mary Aileen D. Bacalso
Miles Kenney-Lazar
Nico Bakker
Philip Hirsch

 

Iranian authorities must put an end to violence against peaceful protesters across the country

Starting on 15 November 2019, mass protests have erupted in Iran in response to a three-fold rise in petrol costs. Protesters have called for improved living conditions amidst high levels of corruption, unemployment, poverty and discrimination across the country. Some reports have indicated that protests have occurred in 500 locations in at least 120 cities in 28 provinces, including in Isfahan, Tehran, Shiraz and Tabriz – the largest scale in recent history. In response to the protests, Law Enforcement has responded with violence, with reports indicating that as of 2 December 2019, at least 208 protesters have been killed; other sources fear the number of casualties might be higher.

These new protests come on the wave of increasing restrictions on civic space by Iranian authorities. In the context of an already repressed civic environment, authorities have in the past year targeted conservationists, civil society activists - especially labor union and teachers’ union activists - as well as human rights defenders, who have been wrongfully prosecuted for exercising their rights to freely assemble and form human rights associations.

Besides the impunity with which it functions in the face of human rights violations, authorities have deployed various tactics to silence protesters: based on citizens’ reports, the military and security forces have opened live ammunition on protesters and hundreds have been injured. Iranian officials have announced the arrest of over 7000 protesters. The government has warned protesters of the consequences of participating in such protests through text messages, including summoning protesters to security centres to provide details of their involvement in protests.

The Iranian government also shut down internet access during the protests, with reports indicating that up to 95% of Iranians were unable to access the internet, starting on 16 November until 21 November. As the intensity of the protests surge, Iranians can only access the national internet and websites approved by Council of Country Security. This means that monitoring the status of the protests is not possible for the international community, allowing for further impunity on the part of Law Enforcement.

Every day the level and scope of the violence and arrests has increased and specifically the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, has given a green light to widespread repression of the protesters.

In light of these restrictions, the undersigned organizations call on the Government of Iran to:

  • Immediately and unconditionally release all individuals and civil society activists who have been arrested during the protests, upholding the right to freedom of assembly in accordance with the rights enshrined in the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders and Human Rights Council resolutions 22/6, 27/5 and 27/31.
  • Immediately cease the violent crackdown on protesters and ensure that law enforcement abides by international best practice as articulated by the UN Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials and the UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement.
  • Bring to justice, by fair and transparent trial, those responsible for the deaths of protesters.
  • Reinstate access to the internet and ensure free access to and exchange of information among Iranians, and with the outside world, and remove the barriers for such access and exchange.

The undersigned:

  1. Volunteer Activists (VA)
  2. CIVICUS : World Alliance for Citizen Participation
  3. Abdorrahman Boroumand Center for Human Rights in Iran
  4. Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR)
  5. The World Movement for Democracy
  6. Cultura Democratica AC       (Argentina)
  7. Centro para la Apertura y el Desarrollo de América Latina (CADAL)
  8. Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI)
  9. World Youth Movement For Democracy
  10. Human Rights Activists in Iran
  11. Kurdistan Human Rights-Geneva (KMMK-G)
  12. Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law
  13. Andalus Institute for Tolerance and anti-Violence Studies (Egypt and the MENA region )
  14. Siamak Pourzand Foundation (SPF)
  15. Defenders of Human Rights Center (Co-founded by Nobel Peace Laureate Shirin Ebadi)
  16. United For Iran
  17. Iran Human Rights Documentation Center
  18. Women’s Learning Partnership
  19. Freedom House
  20. Asia Democracy Network (ADN)
  21. Ensemble Contre la Peine de Mort (ECPM)
  22. Iran Human Rights
  23. You for Democracy (Tbilisi-based NGO)
  24. Arseh Sevom
  25. Kurdistan Human Rights Network
  26. World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)
  27. Balochistan Human Rights Group (BHRG)
  28. Baloch Activists Campaign
  29. Legal Resources Centre from Moldova
  30. Metro Center For Journalists Rights & Advocacy (Iraqi Kurdistan Region)
  31. Educational Society for Malopolska (MTO) (Poland)
  32. Impact Iran
  33. Pan African Human Rights Defenders Network
  34. DefendDefenders (East & Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project)
  35. JoopeA Foundation
  36. Tavaana (E-Learning Institute for Iranian Civil Society)
  37. All Human Rights for All in Iran
  38. Association for the Human Rights of the Azerbaijani people in Iran (AHRAZ)
  39. Hromadske Radio (Ukraine)
  40. Human Rights Watch
  41. SURSUM CORDA Association ("Hearts Up”-Poland)
  42. Boris Nemstov Foundation for Freedom (Russia)
  43. Forum 2000 (Czech Republic)
  44. Article 20 Network
  45. Minority Rights Group International (MRG)
  46. Free Russia Foundation
  47. Equality Now

 

Iraq: Authorities must immediately stop targeting protesters, activists, journalists and the media

 بالعربية

We, the undersigned human rights organisations, call on the Iraqi government to immediately cease the use of lethal and excessive force against protesters. As peaceful demonstrations continue throughout central and southern Iraq, security forces, particularly the riot police, have used lethal force to disperse protesters in Baghdad, Basra, Nasiriyah, and Najaf. In addition, activists and journalists have been abducted, arbitrarily arrested and murdered in order to prevent them from participating in or covering these demonstrations. In order to enforce control over the media, the Communications and Media Commission ordered several TV channels and radio stations to be closed, and warned other channels to be cautious in their reporting.

Use of Lethal Force

Security forces continue to fire live bullets during protests throughout the country, particularly in Baghdad, Basra, Nasiriyah, and Najaf, where a large number of peaceful demonstrators have been killed and injured. Reliable local sources have confirmed the use of anti-aircraft weapons against demonstrators in Basra governorate.

On 28 November 2019, the Iraqi army reportedly deployed tanks and armored vehicles in the centre of Najaf, as well as security forces who reinforced their presence near the demonstration areas using live ammunition and tear gas to disperse the demonstrators, killing 12 demonstrators and wounding 70 others. Demonstrations resumed despite a curfew imposed by the authorities on 27 November.

In Baghdad, on 27 November 2019, security forces used live bullets and tear gas in their attack on protesters at Al-Ahrar Bridge in the city centre, killing two of them and wounding at least 25 others.

The local government in Basra continues to use live bullets against demonstrators and make arbitrary arrests throughout the area. Demonstrations continue at Majnoon oil field, Umm Qasr port, and the rest of the Governorate, which resulted in the deaths of five people and the injury of more than 100 peaceful demonstrators. Their demands are similar to their peers in other cities: the resignation of the government, an end to corruption, and social justice and respect for public freedoms.

The city of Nassiriyah (pictured above) witnessed on 28 November 2019 a bloody night, where 33 peaceful demonstrators were killed and about 125 others were injured after security forces used live bullets heavily to disperse the demonstrations in Al-Haboubi Square in the city centre and surrounding areas. This came a day after the Iraqi government formed a crisis cell led by Lieutenant General Jamil Al-Shammari, but he was almost immediately dismissed after the use of excessive force by the forces under his command against demonstrators in the city centre.

Targeting Civil Society Activists

On 01 November, civil society activist Majid Al-Zubaidi survived an assassination attempt in front of his house in Al-Amara, the capital of Maysan province. He escaped with injuries to his abdomen after being fired at by unidentified men in a white car with no plates.

On 23 November 2019, in Al-Amara, human rights defender Jawad Al-Harishawi was shot at by gunmen in civilian clothes in a white car with no numbers. Al-Harishawi, who survived the incident, is an activist known for his active participation in and ongoing coverage of the demonstrations.

On01   December 2019, civil society activist Samir Al-Faraj was released after being arrested from his home in Al-Ramadi by security forces early on 27 October 2019. He was arrested after posting a call on his Facebook page for civil disobedience and solidarity with the demonstrators in Baghdad's Tahrir Square. Young supporters of protests in Al-Anbar Governorate are also being arrested or threatened with arrest by officials in the area.

Meanwhile, several other civil society activists have been released after being kidnapped in Baghdad. On 13 November, two activists were released - Saba Al-Mahdawi, who was held for 11 days, and Ali Hashim, who was held for six days, and whose personal phones were confiscated. On 22 November 2019, Ahmed Baqer Bukli was released after six days. Local reports confirmed that the abduction of the activists was carried out by government security agencies in cooperation with armed groups.

On 19 November 2019, civil society activist Hussain Al-Kaabi was released after he was arrested on 07 November by security forces at a protest in the Al-Rifai district in Dhi Qar Governorate, for leading protests, and inviting citizens to participate.

However, human rights lawyer Ali Jaseb Hattab is still being held after being kidnapped on 07 October 2019 in the city of Amara by an armed group that is known to the security forces in the Governorate.

Targeting Journalists and the Media

On 26 November 2019, Alaa Al-Shammari, a reporter of Dijla Satellite in the city of Najaf was severely beaten by riot police using batons. On the same day, riot police attacked other representatives of Dijla TV in Samawah, the centre of Al-Muthanna governorate, Photographer Mustafa Al-Rikabi was seriously injured in the head while he was covering a student demonstration in the centre of the city that was intended to close the governorate's education directorate.

On 21 November 2019, the Communications and Media Commission, which is the governmental regulatory body for media in Iraq, issued a letter number 114 S, which orders the closure of the following channels for three months: Al-Arabiya Al-Hadath, NRT, ANB, Dijlah, Al-Sharqiya, Al-Fallujah, Al-Rasheed, and Hona Baghdad, in addition to extending the closure of Al-Hurra for another three months.

The Commission threatened to take more deterrent legal action in the case of "non-compliance with the charter of the broadcast media rules" without giving any details about the violations committed by these channels. Also, the letter itself issued an ultimatum to the following channels: Al-Sumaria, Asia, Rudaw, Sky News Arabia, and Ur; and ordered the closure of the following radio stations: Nas, Sawa, Al-Yaum, and Nawa. The statement did not address the reasons for all these arbitrary decisions, which seriously threaten press freedom and freedom of expression in the country. Reliable local sources have framed these decisions as a concerted policy being pursued by top authorities in Iraq to silence voices, deter critical opinions, and prevent coverage of ongoing peaceful demonstrations.

In a statement issued on 27 November 2019, Dijlah TV channel announced that it, "had been exposed on Thursday at midnight to a violation of its constitutionally-guaranteed rights by having its office in Baghdad closed and its private broadcasting equipment confiscated."

The Iraqi High Commissioner for Human Rights (IHCHR), in a statement published on its official Facebook page, announced "an increase in the use of excessive violence, which led to the deaths of many martyrs and wounded." The statement also mentioned the following figures of victims among the demonstrators on 26, 27 and 28 November 2019:

  • Dhi Qar: 25 demonstrators killed and 250 injured
  • Baghdad: Two demonstrators killed and 67 wounded, and 25 security personnel injured
  • Muthanna: 308 protesters and security forces injured, most of them among demonstrators based on local reports
  • Najaf: Four demonstrators killed and 354 wounded, and 50 security forces injured

Once again, the undersigned organisations condemn in the strongest terms the excessive use of force by Iraqi security forces, including firing live bullets, and call upon them to fulfill their international obligations, as established by the Iraqi Constitution, to protect the right of their citizens to life, as well as all other human rights, in particular freedom of peaceful assembly, freedom of expression, and freedom of the press. The Iraqi government should immediately and unconditionally cease all forms of violence and protect peaceful demonstrators throughout the country.

The Iraqi government should conduct prompt, independent, impartial and thorough investigations into the killing of protesters, with a view to disseminating the results and bringing all those responsible to justice in accordance with international standards.

In light of the gravity of the situation, we also request the United Nations Human Rights Council to convene a special session to investigate human rights violations in Iraq and to take the necessary measures to ensure that the Iraqi government stops using excessive force in all its forms against peaceful protesters and activists across the country.

Signatories:

  • Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI)
  • ARTICLE 19
  • Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS)
  • Ceasefire Centre for Civilian Rights
  • CIVICUS
  • Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR)
  • International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
  • Iraqi Al-Amal Association
  • Iraqi Network for Social Media (INSM)
  • Iraqi Observatory for Human Rights (IOHR)
  • Iraqi Women Network
  • PEN Center in Iraq
  • PEN International
  • Metro Center for Journalists' Rights and Advocacy
  • World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)

 

 

 

 

Concerns over violent repression of protests in Latin America and the Caribbean

lac statement

  • A wave of social protests has engulfed Latin America and the Caribbean, with people in Ecuador, Haiti, Chile, Bolivia and Colombia taking to the streets to demand their rights
  • More often than not, these protests have been violently suppressed
  • Human Rights institutions have denounced heavy repression and excessive use of force throughout the region

 

Global civil society alliance, CIVICUS condemns the violent response by security forces to the genuine demands of demonstrators in several countries in Latin America and the Caribbean who have taken to the streets to protest against deteriorating socio-economic conditions, corruption and unaccountable governance. We urge all governments in affected countries to abide by international human rights standards which provide for every person to exercise their right to peaceful assembly. The closed nature of political spaces and the difficulties citizens face in getting their concerns heard through formal government channels have forced millions in the region to engage in public protests. The response from security forces in most of these countries has been violent.

The protests in Colombia and the response by the authorities reflect the deterioration of civic space. The authorities have used violence against protesters condemning and demanding justice for the killing of human rights defenders. Colombia is now on the CIVICUS Monitor’s “Watch List which draws attention to countries where there is a serious and rapid decline in respect for fundamental freedoms. In Ecuador, the country came to a standstill when protesters rejected an economic package meant to boost the economy. According to the Ombudsman’s Office eight people have been killed, 1,340 injured and 1,192 detained. Indigenous peoples were particularly targeted by security forces during the protests.

“There is no justification for the violent actions of the police and the excessive use of force over citizens that are protesting peacefully to express their discontent with their governments. The governments of Latin America and the Caribbean should comply with its international human rights obligations and stop clamping down on the rights of citizens,” said CIVICUS’ advocacy and engagement officer Natalia Gomez.

In Chile, the human rights institute, Instituto Nacional de Derechos Humanos de la República de Chile (INDH), recorded that 4,271 people were detained and 1,305 injured in protests from 17th October to 31st October 2019. The INDH has also received 120 complaints of torture and 18 of sexual assault and noted that at least 18 people have been killed. In Bolivia, the confrontations have largely involved groups of government supporters and the opposition. News outlets report that at least thirty people were injured in demonstrations on 28 October 2019. Even after President Evo Morales left the country, the violence and the disproportionate use of force continued to escalate.

In Haiti thousands have been protesting the current government and various social policies. According to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the police has responded with excessive force to repress the demonstrations. The Commission denounced the killing of at least 17 people, many of them by police forces, during the protests in September 2019.

CIVICUS calls on the authorities of Ecuador to ensure that the incidents of violence that occurred during the October protests are effectively investigated, and the perpetrators are brought to justice. We also urge the authorities in Chile, Bolivia, Haiti and Colombia where current protests are taking place to ensure a safe environment for protestors and respect their right to raise concerns and assemble peacefully.

For more information please contact:

Advocacy and Campaigns Lead for LAC

CIVICUS monitor lead for LAC

The CIVICUS media team:

 

International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists: NGOs call for immediate actions

بالعربية

Beirut – To mark the 6th International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists, on 02 November 2019, which was approved by the General Assembly of the United Nations at its 68th session in 2013, 18 NGOs called for immediate actions at the conclusion of an event in Beirut entitled "No to impunity for the crimes committed against journalists in the Arab region."

International day to end crimes against journalists 1

The sponsoring NGOs are the Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB), Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), Bahrain Press Association (BPA), CIVICUS, Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Development Refqan Organisation in Yemen, Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR), IFEX, International Media Support (IMS), Iraqi Observatory for Human Rights (IOHR), Maharat Foundation, Media Association for Peace (MAP), Metro Center for Journalists' Rights and Advocacy, Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms (MADA), PEN International, Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM), Syrian League for Citizenship, and the World organisation Against Torture (OMCT).

The event included a seminar which was moderated by Khalid Ibrahim from GCHR in addition to speakers Adel Marzooq from BPA, Abeer Bader Yassin, an independent journalist from Yemen, and Mustafa Saadoon from the IOHR. Two speakers, Roula Mikhael of Maharat and Vanessa Bassil of MAP, were unable to attend due to the closure of some roads as a result of popular protests in Lebanon.

Marzooq talked about the massive violations that have been committed against journalist in Bahrain by authorities and the fact that after the closure of the only independent newspaper in the country “Al-Wasat” there is no space left for journalists to publish their views freely. He added that the government is using the Cyber Crimes law to target online activism. Marzooq called on the international community to act immediately and provide support for at-risk journalists and put more pressure on repressive governments to respect freedom of the press.

Yassin talked about the situation of journalists in Yemen, describing it as a tragic reality in one of the most dangerous countries to live and work as a journalist, which has resulted in many independent journalists fleeing outside the country. She added that the international community and its organisations did not provide the required protection to journalists in order to dispel the fear of violations against them, so there must be firm and strong mechanisms regarding crimes committed against the media, otherwise it is no wonder that they remain targeted and exposed to the risk, and that the voice of truth remains silent.

Saadoon said that since the beginning of the popular protests in Iraq on 01 October 2019, journalists have experienced difficult situations, there are many threats from authorities or groups loyal to them, and there are dozens of journalists who left Baghdad for the Kurdistan region of Iraq as well as Beirut, Istanbul and Amman. He added that the international community falls short on supporting Iraqi journalists and enhancing their protection and should reconsider typical mechanisms of supporting civil society organisations as well as journalists.

International day to end crimes against journalists 2

A photo exhibition was also organised to mark the International Day to End Impunity, in order to shed light on journalists in the Arab region who have been killed or disappeared in the past years, including in Palestine, Libya, Egypt, Bahrain, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Lebanon, and Saudi Arabia.

The events aimed to draw attention to the serious risks faced by journalists as they do their peaceful work in these nine countries and other countries in the Middle East and North Africa, in addition to raising voices to demand the strengthening of protection and security for journalists, an essential requirement. This includes journalists and professionals working in various media outlets in war and conflict zones as well as those carrying out their work during times of peace.

Recommendations:

Following up on recommendations made during events organised by GCHR with partners including UNESCO to mark the occasion of the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists on 02 November 2018, and at GCHR’s Gulf Platform for Human Rights Defenders in the MENA region in January 2019, GCHR calls for immediate action and:

  1. Calls on all concerned institutions to take note that most of the murders and other criminal violations committed against journalists and human rights defenders by government agencies or extremist militias have been carried out by unknown persons yet to be identified;
  2. Urges an immediate and serious investigation in order to find practical and effective mechanisms that decisively end impunity in crimes against journalists in all countries in our region;
  3. Urges governments and other relevant agencies work strenuously to hold accountable those who committed crimes against journalists and that perpetrators (and masterminds) of these violations will not remain unidentified and escape impunity;
  4. Calls on all concerned parties provide proper protection to journalists in MENA countries and beyond so that they can carry out their work to the fullest extent;
  5. Calls on all countries in the MENA region to adopt the recommendations of the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity.

For more information, please read GCHR’s report on impunity available at:

https://www.gc4hr.org/report/view/107

 

Iraq: Vicious tactics used against protesters and human rights defenders

بالعربية

The Iraqi government has stepped up its violent crackdown on peaceful demonstrators, including human rights defenders and other activists, as the campaign of mass arrests and fatal attacks continues. Meanwhile, the Internet has been repeatedly shut down, and a number of journalists and bloggers have received direct threats ordering them to refrain from covering peaceful demonstrations, which started on 01 October 2019. The undersigned organisations call on the Iraqi authorities to immediately end violence and reprisals against protestors, and uphold the rights to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression.

In an attempt to break up peaceful sit-ins in the capital Baghdad, Basra and other central and southern Iraqi cities, security forces have used live bullets, tear gas, and sound bombs against demonstrators. In addition, unidentified armed groups have killed and abducted civil society activists.

The latest reliable reports from rights groups in Baghdad and Basra confirmed that since 07 November, the authorities have been using heavy tear gas cannisters, smoke grenades and sound bombs for crowd control, followed by live ammunition to target protesters, including high school and university students and other unarmed citizens holding only the Iraqi flag. In Basra, the authorities used shotguns to fire iron pellets against protesters. The authorities also burned protesters’ tents and targeted medical teams in various cities. These violent actions resulted in large numbers of demonstrators being killed or injured across the country.

On 06 November 2019, late at night, prominent writer and civil activist Amjad Al-Dahamat (pictured on the top right) was assassinated by an unidentified armed group driving a black car without numbers using pistols with silencers. The murder took place just 500 metres from the Headquarters of the Police Command in Al-Amarah city, after Al-Dahamat attended a meeting with the Police Commander together with several activists.

Civil society activist Bassam Mehdi, who accompanied Al-Dahamat, was reported to have been seriously injured in the armed attack.

Al-Dahamat, who is considered one of the most important leaders of the popular demonstrations in Maysan governorate, has trained thousands of young people in his area on how to volunteer for civil work and contributed effectively to all the protests that took place in the governorate. In one of his last published articles, he stated, "It is up to the youth themselves. Yes, no one will give you anything. You have to take it for yourself, beginning with your slogans: ‘We want a homeland’, and ‘I came down to take my rights.’"

Also on the night of 06 November 2019, physician Abbas Ali was killed in Baghdad when a member of the Riot Police Force, shot at him, and a bullet penetrated his chest. The murder occurred near the Martyrs' Bridge in Baghdad as he tried to reach wounded demonstrators in this area to give them urgent treatment. He was taken to hospital by Tuk Tuks drivers, who have been hailed as heroes for using their vehicles as ambulances, but he died on the road. A video has emerged showing his colleagues raising his stained white medical jacket and offering respect for his dedication to the work.

On the evening of 07 November 2019, a member of the security forces in civilian clothes abducted journalist and civil society activist Ali Hashim and took him to an unknown destination. Hashim participated actively in the demonstrations of Tahrir Square in Baghdad and published several photos on his Facebook account about his participation in peaceful demonstrations. He participated in previous protests and was arrested and tortured after taking part in the 2015 demonstrations.

Also, on 07 November 2019, civil society activist Hussain Al-Kaabi was arrested by security forces at a protest in the Al-Rifai district in Dhi Qar Governorate, for leading protests, and inviting citizens to participate.

On 02 November 2019, civil society activist and paramedic Saba Al-Mahdawi (pictured on the top left) was kidnapped by unidentified gunmen on her way home from Tahrir Square in Baghdad. Reliable reports confirmed that she was kidnapped before arriving home, and there was no contact with her after 11:15 pm. Al-Mahdawi, who works for a private sector company, volunteered as a paramedic in Tahrir Square to help wounded protesters.

A month before, on 07 October 2019, at 7:15 pm, civilian activist and physician Maytham Mohammed Al-Helo was kidnapped as he left his clinic in the fourth police district, west of Baghdad, by an undefined armed group in a four-wheel drive vehicle with tinted windows, who took him to an unknown destination. He was only released on 24 October 2019.

Also, on 07 October 2019, human rights lawyer Ali Jaseb Hattab was kidnapped in the city of Al-Amarah in Maysan Governorate, southern Iraq, by a group of armed men who surrounded his private car, removed him by force and took him to an unknown destination.

There have been credible reports that several other civil society activists in Baghdad and the rest of the cities where protests are happening have been kidnapped by unknown armed groups. In addition, a number of released human rights defenders and activists confirmed that they were subjected to torture and severe beatings and forced to sign pledges not to participate in peaceful demonstrations.

We the undersigned strongly protest the arbitrary measures taken by the Iraqi authorities to summon some demonstrators under the Anti-Terrorism Law, in addition to threats made to dismiss state employees from their jobs or suspend students for participating in demonstrations.

Preliminary statistics indicate that around 300 protesters have been killed and 14,000 injured since 01 October 2019, when popular protests began, up until 08 November 2019, that were caused solely due to the use of excessive force by security forces, riot police and armed groups against peaceful demonstrators.

Reliable sources reported that, on some occasions, Forensic Medical Departments in various areas, including Karbala, have refused to hand over the bodies of protesters unless their families signed a declaration that the government is not responsible for the killing. Families who did not sign have yet to receive the bodies of their loved ones.

Last week, the authorities completely shut down the Internet starting in the afternoon on 05 November 2019 and returned it on 07 November 2019 for just one hour. The Internet has been repeatedly cut off for long periods of time during recent days in an effort to prevent journalists and human rights organisations from circulating news of violations and the grave acts committed by the authorities against civilians in sit-ins in various parts of the country. The blockage also prevents protesters from communicating with each other and organising protests and peaceful movements. Social networking sites have been mostly blocked for 45 days since the beginning of the protests.

Broadcast media have been affected as well. In addition, broadcast media have been attacked. On 05 October, armed groups stormed satellite TV Channels, Al-Arabiya Al-Hadath, Dijlah and NRT Arabic.

Local sources confirmed that security forces used expired tear gas and heavier teargas cannisters not normally used for crowd control against demonstrators, in addition to firing directly and deliberately at the heads of demonstrators with heavy teargas cannisters and smoke grenades, maiming or killing them immediately. Based on testimonies from the field, some of the cannisters contain unusual gases which leave protesters breathless and losing consciousness, in need of intensive medical treatment.

The undersigned organisations strongly condemn the excessive use of force by the Iraqi authorities, including live bullets, expired tear gas or smoke grenades against peaceful people, and demand that they cease all violence immediately and protect peaceful demonstrators throughout the country in a transparent and serious manner. The Iraqi authorities must uphold the country’s international obligation to protect the right to life of its citizens, among other human rights, including by addressing the recommendations of Iraq’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR), which took place at the United Nations on 11 November 2019.

The undersigned organisations call upon the Iraqi government to immediately and unconditionally:

  1. Fulfill its international obligations to protect human rights, through the UPR and other mechanisms, in particular to respect the civil and human rights of all citizens of Iraq, including by protecting their right to peaceful demonstration throughout the country;
  2. Conduct independent, impartial, thorough and prompt investigations into lethal force used against demonstrators, resulting in over 300 deaths, with a view to disseminating the results and bringing those responsible to justice in accordance with international standards;
  3. Release all peaceful protesters who have been detained, including those who have been kidnapped by armed groups;
  4. Respect and protect the right of all the citizens of Iraq to access the Internet and information on and offline, which should be considered the most basic human rights; and
  5. Ensure that all human rights defenders, journalists and bloggers in Iraq are able to operate without restrictions, including judicial harassment.

Signatories:

Access Now
Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI)
Article 19
Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS)
Ceasefire Centre for Civil Rights
CIVICUS
Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR)
International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
International Media Support (IMS)
International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)
Iraqi Al-Amal Association
Iraqi Network for Social Media (INSM)
Iraqi Observatory for Human Rights (IOHR)
Iraqi Women Network
Metro Center for Journalists' Rights and Advocacy
PEN Center in Iraq
PEN International
World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)

 

The CIVICUS Youth Action Team welcomes new members

Five new members recently joined the CIVICUS Youth Action Team (YAT). They will serve a renewable 14-month term until December 2020. Their role will be to mainstream youth issues into the CIVICUS alliance, to champion youth engagement in civil society and to stand in solidarity with young activists facing civic space restrictions.

New members Alan Jarandilla Núñez (Bolivia) and Martín Iván Tinoco (Mexico) will be representing the Americas. Jelena Mitrović (Serbia) and Dragana Jovanovska (North Macedonia) will be representing Europe and Natasha Chaudhary (India) joins in as a representative for Asia. 

They will be working alongside current YAT members Wiem Chamsi (MENA), Justin Francis Bionat (Asia), Joshua Alade and Daniel Nwaeze (Africa). 

Former YAT members Ana Pranjic and Amanda Segnini finished their terms in August, and Anastasia Hengestu’s resignation happened in the same month. We thank them deeply for their great contribution to youth inclusion in the CIVICUS alliance and we wish them the best in their upcoming endeavours. 

A word from the brand new Youth Action Team:

"Our main goal in the coming months will be to ensure that youth Youth are meaningfully engaged in all of the alliance’s structures and strategies. We will achieve this by promoting the creation of spaces for the leadership and participation of young people in civil society through everyday practices and systems. Our work will prioritise the participation of youth from marginalised communities. We hope for the Youth Action Team to constitute a benchmark for other organisations who want to improve youth engagement through similar models. 

"We are currently working on developing our objectives, and many questions are still open. For instance, we are trying to establish how we can best ensure we are accountable to members. We are also working in an approach to stand in solidarity with young people facing civic space restrictions, and there are many other issues we are currently trying to decide upon. If you have ideas or suggestions around these or other questions, please contact us directly by sending an email to yat2020 [at] googlegroups.com. We will also be active in the CIVICUS Youth United! Facebook group so don’t hesitate to open up a conversation there. We welcome your input and we are excited to take on this key mandate. We look forward to meaningful collaboration in the coming months.

More about the five new YAT members:

Alan1

Alan Jarandilla Núñez

Alan is a lawyer and passionate human rights defender from Bolivia. He serves as the Director of Policy and Advocacy of the International Youth Alliance for Family Planning, and is the Founder of Change the System (CTS), a Bolivian youth-led organization working towards sustainable development, human rights and youth participation, from a systemic change perspective.

 

He is a vocal advocate for human rights, sexual and reproductive health and rights, and meaningful youth engagement in decision making. He believes that an intersectional and holistic approach to global issues is fundamental for addressing the issues that are central to his work. He has followed and led advocacy strategies in different international processes.

 

Dragana

Dragana Jovanovska

Dragana is a Management Board member at the Center for Intercultural Dialogue (CID), a youth-led organisation in North Macedonia working with young people from different ethnic, religious and cultural backgrounds in a post-conflict society. As part of her role, she is running an open youth centre, MultiKulti (MultiКулти), in the city of Kumanovo, where she works on her fields of expertise, including intercultural dialogue, human rights and youth participation by using integrated education. She also works as an educator on these themes with youth and adults at a local, national and international level.

Jelena

Jelena Mitrović 

Jelena has been an activist and volunteer since the age of 14. She has gained experience in different organisations, participating locally in the Becej Youth Association and nationally as a Governing Board Member of the National Youth Council of Serbia. She currently serves at Group COME OUT in the city of Novi Sad as a dedicated and certified youth worker with LGBT+ youth, and she is pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in Sociology. Her priority is to advocate for equal opportunities for all, and ensuring that youth voices are not only heard, but also listened to and accepted in decision making processes.

Martin

Martín Iván Tinoco

Martín is a young changemaker driven by a passion for human rights, sexual and reproductive health and rights, and youth participation in public policy in Mexico. He has been involved in civil society since the age of 15, having participated in local, regional and international processes related to the monitoring of the Sustainable Development Goals. Martín currently serves as the Director of Fractal Effect, an organization that seeks to facilitate the meaningful inclusion of youth into decision making spaces. He is pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in Social Studies and Local Management at the National Autonomous University of Mexico.

Natasha

Natasha Chaudhary

Natasha is the Co-Director at Haiyya, a grassroots campaign consulting organisation based in India. She oversees larger organizational scaling and growth strategy and works on fundraising. She is a trainer, coach and strategy consultant having worked across different programs, including sexual and reproductive health and rights for women, women's voting rights, the youth climate movement, resourcing and incubation models and many more. She deeply cares about gender, health and caste issues with a focus on intersectional leadership and designing interventions that shift away from traditional service delivery models. She holds a Masters degree in Development Studies from the University of Sydney, where she advocated for and worked in the implementation of a sexual harassment policy as the Women’s Officer.

 

 

Omar Barghouti at risk of deportation as Israel plans to revoke his residency status

بالعربية

“I plan to act quickly to revoke Omar Barghouti’s resident status in Israel” Arye Deri, Israel’s Interior Minister, 6 October 2019

On 6 October 2019, Israeli Interior Minister Arye Deri announced that he is working towards revoking the residency status of Palestinian resident and human rights defender Omar Barghouti. The Israeli Interior Minister has “instructed the legal department of the Population, Immigration and Borders Authority to prepare the legal framework to revoke Barghouti’s resident status,”[1] placing him at imminent threat of deportation. Prior to this announcement, Israel’s Attorney-General, Dina Zilber, confirmed that the Minister of the Interior has the prerogative to revoke the residency status of a person who is accused of ‘breaching allegiance’ to Israel.[2] Barghouti is a resident of Israel, a status he received in 1994, following a process of family unification with his wife who is a Palestinian citizen of Israel.

According to the Interior Minister’s announcement, he plans to act quickly to revoke Barghouti’s resident status, because “[h]e is a person who is doing everything to hurt the country, and therefore, he cannot enjoy the privilege of being a resident of Israel.”[3] As a Palestinian human rights defender and co-founder of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Movement, Omar Barghouti has been targeted by Israel for his calls for freedom, justice, and equality for the Palestinian people in accordance with international law. Accordingly, Barghouti’s threatened residency revocation amounts to a clear assault on his right to freedom of expression, including his work as a human rights defender and his calls for accountability for Israel’s widespread and systematic human rights violations against the Palestinian people.

The statement made by Interior Minister Deri, dated 6 October 2019, is only the latest manifestation of Israel’s State-led repression against Omar Barghouti for his human rights work. To date, several Israeli ministers, including Deri, have targeted Barghouti, frequently delaying the renewal of his travel document, which in effect means banning him from travel, threatening his right to family life and unity by calling for the revocation of his residency status, and making statements containing threats to his life and personal safety[4]. Barghouti’s threatened residency revocation comes in light of an ongoing and systematic effort led by the Israeli Government to create a coercive environment designed to silence and undermine the work of human rights defenders and activists promoting the rights of the Palestinian people and challenging Israel’s widespread violations and suspected crimes. It is within this context that the Israeli authorities have increasingly resorted to smear and de-legitimisation campaigns against human rights defenders, activists, and civil society organisations advocating for the rights of Palestinians and calling for justice and accountability.

In addition, Israel’s practice of punitive residency revocation on the basis of so-called ‘breach of allegiance’ to the State,[5] has been used as a tool to suppress Palestinians’ activism and to restrict their right to freedom of expression when challenging Israel’s systematic violations of international law. On 17 October 2017, in response to a request based on the Freedom of Information Act, the Israeli Interior Ministry acknowledged it had revoked the residency status of 13 Palestinians on the basis of ‘breach of allegiance’ to Israel.[6] This overbroad criterion could be widely applied to Palestinians voicing opposition to the Israeli authorities in their exercise of their fundamental right to freedom of expression.[7] Israel’s policy of silencing opposition through threatened deportations and punitive residency revocation stands in clear violation of international human rights standards and treaties, which Israel is bound to respect, protect, and fulfil towards the Palestinian people, in particular the right to freedom of expression and to freedom of movement and residence, including to leave one’s country and to return.

In light of the above, the undersigned organisations call on the international community to:

1/ Act immediately to prevent the revocation of Omar Barghouti’s residency status on the basis of ‘breach of allegiance’ to Israel or on the basis of any other criteria, which, if carried out, will result in violations of his rights to freedom of expression, freedom of movement and residence, and would contribute to the commission of the serious crime of population transfer of the Palestinian people under international law;

2/ Call on the international community and UN member states to exert pressure on Israel to comply with international law, by immediately revoking its Entry into Israel Law, which has been used to systematically violate the right of Palestinian citizens to freedom of movement and residence, including to leave their country and to return.

  1. Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS)
  2. Al-Haq
  3. 7amleh - Arab Center for the Advancement of Social Media
  4. Albanian Media Institute
  5. Addameer
  6. Adil Soz
  7. The African Centre for Democracy and Human Rights Studies (ACDHRS)
  8. BADIL Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights
  9. Cartoonists Rights Network International (CRNI)
  10. Civic Coalition for Palestinian Rights in Jerusalem (CCPRJ)
  11. CIVICUS
  12. Community Action Center – Al Quds University
  13. Defense for Children International - Palestine
  14. Free Media Movement - Sri Lanka
  15. Freedom of Expression Institute (FXI)
  16. Hurryyat - Center for Defense of Liberties and Civil Rights
  17. IJC Moldova
  18. International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)
  19. Jerusalem Legal Aid and Human Rights Center (JLAC)
  20. Media Institute of South Africa (MISA) - Zimbabwe
  21. Pacific Islands News Association (PINA)
  22. Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)
  23. Palestinian Counseling Center
  24. Palestinian Non-Governmental Organizations Network (PNGO)
  25. Ramallah Center for Human Rights Studies
  26. ROADDH/WAHRDN
  27. Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network (SAHRDN)
  28. Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM)
  29. The African Centre for Democracy and Human Rights Studies
  30. Vigilance for Democracy and the Civil State
  31. Visualizing Impact

ANNEX: Background Information

Barghouti is not the first Palestinian to have been threatened with punitive residency revocation on the basis of ‘breach of allegiance’ by the Israeli authorities, despite the illegality of the practice. Following a request sent to the Ministry of the Interior based on the Freedom of Information Act, the Interior Ministry acknowledged on 17/10/2017 that it had revoked the residency status of 13 Palestinians on the basis of ‘breach of allegiance’.

The first punitive residency revocation carried out by the Israeli authorities dates back to 2006, when the Minister of the Interior revoked the residency status of three Palestinian parliamentarians in addition to the former Palestinian Minister of Jerusalem, claiming they had ‘breached allegiance’ to Israel. The revocation of the residency status of Palestinians in a punitive manner has thus already been used by Israel against politically active Palestinians, in a manner, which violates their rights to freedom of expression and association.

In 2006, the four Palestinians filed a petition (HCJ 7803/06) to the Israeli Supreme Court. Rendering its judgment on 13 September 2017, more than eleven years after the petition had been filed, the Israeli Supreme Court acknowledged the absence of any legal grounds in Israeli legislation permitting punitive residency revocation on the basis of so-called ‘breach of allegiance.’ Despite this conclusion, the Supreme Court nevertheless upheld the revocation of the petitioners’ residencies for six months, allowing the illegality to continue, and gave the Israeli Parliament (the Knesset) this period of time to change the law in order to legalise punitive residency revocation on the basis of ‘breach of allegiance’ to the State of Israel.

Following the Supreme Court judgment, the Entry into Israel Law of 1952 was amended on 7 March 2018, thereby granting the Israeli Interior Minister the power to revoke residency rights of Palestinians based on the additional criterion of ‘breach of allegiance’ to Israel. According to the Law, as amended, ‘breach of allegiance’ is defined as committing, or participating in, or incitement to commit a terrorist act, or belonging to a terrorist organization, as well as committing acts of treason or aggravated espionage. By using this overbroad and vague definition of ‘breach of allegiance,’ the Israeli Parliament has made it possible for current and future Israeli Interior Ministers to revoke the residency rights of Palestinians, based solely on their own interpretation that the resident “has committed an act which is considered a breach of allegiance to the State of Israel.” With this amendment, Israel has made it possible to revoke the residency status of any Palestinian based on vague, overbroad, and subjective grounds, thereby contributing to the serious crime of population transfer and demographic manipulation, in violation of established norms of international law.

 

[1] https://twitter.com/ariyederi/status/1180884050749382656

[2] https://www.kipa.co.il/userFiles/files/1475c7aebd9515ce59bf964572c931c2.pdf

[3] https://www.jpost.com/Israel-News/Arye-Deri-moves-to-deport-BDS-founder-Barghouti-603889

[4] https://www.amnesty.org/download/Documents/MDE1598112019ENGLISH.PDF

[5] http://www.alhaq.org/cached_uploads/download/alhaq_files/publications/papers/VP-ResidencyRevocation-FINAL-20170612.pdf

[6] http://www.alhaq.org/advocacy/6257.html

[7] http://www.alhaq.org/advocacy/6257.html

 

Global rights group condemns detention of human rights activist in Pakistan

  • Global rights alliance condemns the detention of Muhammad Ismail, a human rights activist and CIVICUS member who has been promoting human rights in Pakistan for more than a decade
  • Ismail and his family have been facing months of harassment and intimidation
  • This incident highlights the hostile environment for human rights defenders and others in Pakistan to exercise their freedom of expression

CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance, is extremely concerned about the arbitrary detention of Muhammad Ismail, a human rights activist and CIVICUS member, and calls for his immediate release. His detention is a serious escalation of the ongoing judicial harassment and intimidation of Ismail and his family that has persisted for months.

In July 2019, Muhammad Ismail was accused of baseless charges under the Anti-Terrorism Act in connection with the legitimate human rights work of his daughter, Gulalai Ismail. On 24 October 2019, he travelled to the Peshawar High Court for a hearing, which had been routinely postponed. He was leaving the premises when he was accosted outside the court by men dressed in black militia uniform, who forced him into a black vehicle. His whereabouts remained unknown until the morning of 25 October, when he appeared in the custody of Pakistan’s Federal Investigations Agency before a judicial magistrate and brought with further charges under the Pakistan Electronic Crimes Act. He was served a 14-day judicial remand and remains detained.

Muhammad Ismail is a prominent member of Pakistani civil society and the focal person for the Pakistan NGO Forum (PNF), an umbrella body composed of five networks of civil society organizations (CSOs) in Pakistan. He is a long-standing member of the Affinity Group of National Associations (AGNA), a network of national associations and regional platforms from around the world. His daughter Gulalai Ismail is a human rights defender who has faced persecution from authorities for her advocacy for the rights of women and girls, and her efforts to end human rights violations against the ethnic Pashtun people. She was subsequently granted asylum in the United States of America.

“The Pakistan authorities must immediately release Muhammad Ismail from pre-trial detention and drop all charges against him. The new set of baseless charges levelled against him today are a clear continuation and escalation in an ongoing campaign of judicial harassment,” said Josef Benedict, Civic Space Researcher with CIVICUS.

Prior to his detention, Muhammad Ismail and his family had faced months of harassment and intimidation, including at least three raids on their family home in Islamabad, as well as threats of physical harm to Gulalai Ismail’s younger sister. Security forces also took away the family’s driver, interrogated him, and subjected him to physical acts of ill-treatment. Previously, on 18 October 2019, Muhammad Ismail survived an attempt to abduct him from his home in Islamabad.

“The authorities must also cease all forms of harassment and threats against Ismail’s family. This highlights the hostile environment for human rights defenders and others in Pakistan to exercise their freedom of expression,” said Josef Benedict.

CIVICUS has documented systematic harassment and threats against human rights defenders and political activists, many who have been charged for exercising their freedom of expression. Journalists have also been targeted and media coverage critical of the state have been suppressed. There have been ongoing cases of enforced disappearances in Pakistan despite pledges by the government of Prime Minister Imran Khan to criminalise the practice

These violations are inconsistent with Pakistan’s international obligations, including those under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) which it ratified in 2008. These include obligations to respect and protect civil society’s fundamental rights to the freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression. These fundamental freedoms are also guaranteed in Pakistan’s Constitution.

The CIVICUS Monitor, an online platform that tracks threats to civil society in countries across the globe, rates civic space – the space for civil society – in Pakistan as Repressed.


For more information or to arrange an interview, please contact:

Josef Benedict ;

 

14 member states elected to UN Human Rights Council

Last week (17 October), 14 new member states were elected to the 47-member state Human Rights Council for the 2020-2022 term.

Among them were 11 states with a rating of ‘narrowed’ or worse by the Civic Space Monitor, a platform which tracks the state of civil society freedoms worldwide.

In the Latin America and Caribbean regional group, Brazil and Venezuela, respectively rated as obstructed and repressed, were elected in a three-way contest with Costa Rica, which is rated as open. We regret that states did not take the opportunity presented by Costa Rica’s late-stage candidacy to build a stronger Human Rights Council, which can only be achieved through a membership committed to cooperating with its mechanisms and upholding its aims and values.

Since the current administration of Brazil came to power in 2018, the country has seen an increase in violent rhetoric and, over the last year, a curtailment of human rights protections and undermining of Human Rights Council mechanisms. This falls far short of the behavior which any member of the Council should demonstrate, and we are particularly concerned by Brazil’s reelection given its influence in the region and beyond. 

Just one month ago, a report presented at the 42nd Session of the Human Rights Council by the UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights detailed serious human rights violations by the Venezuelan government, including arbitrary arrests, torture, and extrajudicial executions. Nevertheless, 105 states at the UN General Assembly states voted for Venezuela to join the Council. The election of Brazil and Venezuela by UN member states at the expense of Costa Rica’s membership severely undermines the commitments of the Human Rights Council.
 
Namibia (narrowed), Libya (closed), Mauritania (repressed) and Sudan (closed) won the four seats available to the Africa group. Benin also stood for election. We urge the transitional government of Sudan to take steps towards ensuring full accountability for past human rights violations, and to use this opportunity to play a more constructive role in the international community as an advocate for human rights given its strategic position in the Horn of Africa. The ongoing serious human rights violations in Libya makes it unfit for membership and we urge the Human Rights Council to make clear that membership does not preclude it from continued international scrutiny.

Armenia (obstructed) and Poland (narrowed) took the two open Eastern European Group seats, elected over the Republic of Moldova (obstructed). In the Asia-Pacific Group, Indonesia (obstructed), Japan (narrowed), Marshall Islands (open) and Republic of Korea (narrowed) won the four available seats over Iraq, which had also stood for election. We urge these new members states to use their election to the Human Rights Council as an opportunity to strengthen their commitments to human rights and civic space.

Germany (open) and the Netherlands (open) take the remaining Western European and Others Group seats, having stood unopposed. 

The election of so many states with poor civic freedoms records means that civil society engagement at the Council itself is even more vital in order for people to be given a voice at the international level that is denied to them at the national level, and we urge the Human Rights Council to protect and enhance space for civil society within all multilateral institutions.
 
CIVICUS looks forward to working with the delegations in Geneva which share our vision, and that of our members, for universal human rights. We will continue to work with civil society in every member state to strengthen civic space on the ground, and to hold to account states which seek to repress the voices of civil society.

 

Five countries added to the civic space watchlist

  • Egypt, China (Hong Kong), Colombia, Guinea and Kazakhstan join global watchlist
  • Escalating rights violations include arrests, abductions and assassinations of activists, as well as the persecution of journalists and media blackouts
  • International community must pressure governments to end repression and bring perpetrators to account

Five countries from Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Latin America have been added to a watchlist of countries which have seen a rapid decline in fundamental freedoms in recent weeks and months. The new watchlist released by the CIVICUS Monitor, an online platform that tracks the latest developments to civic freedoms across the globe, identifies growing concerns in Egypt, China (Hong Kong), Colombia, Guinea and Kazakhstan.

Activists, civil society groups and peaceful protesters in these countries are experiencing an alarming number of attacks to their civic freedoms as protected by international law. In particular, the freedoms of expression, assembly and association. Violations include the murder of human rights defenders and social leaders in Colombia; excessive force and mass arrests against protesters in Hong Kong, Egypt and Kazakhstan; and the arbitrary arrest of activists in Guinea who are trying to uphold the constitution and presidential term limits as the country prepares for 2020 elections. 

“It is deeply alarming to see ongoing and serious  attacks to basic rights in these countries,” said Marianna Belalba Barreto, CIVICUS Civic Space Research Lead. “The scale of these violations is often under reported as journalists in these countries are facing their own host of restrictions” Belalba said. “We call upon neighbouring states and international bodies to put pressure on these countries to end the repression.”

In September 2019, demonstrations against alleged government corruption in Egypt were met with excessive force. The use of tear gas was widespread and videos have surfaced of police beating protesters before being taken into custody. In a bid to silence government critics, security forces have carried out sweeping arrests of protesters, detained journalists, blocked news websites and disrupted online messaging services. Civic space in Egypt is rated as Closed.

Human rights groups in Hong Kong have documented excessive and unlawful force by security forces against protesters including the use of truncheons, pepper spray, tear gas and rubber bullets. Protesters have also been attacked by pro Beijing mobs. More than 1,300 people have been arrested in the context of the mass protests as of mid-September 2019 and some have been ill-treated in detention. Civic space in China (Hong Kong) is rated as Closed.

In Colombia, dozens of community leaders have been killed this year, and violence has escalated ahead of October's Municipal Elections. Thousands have marched across the country calling for an end to the violence and impunity for these crimes. Colombia remains one of the most dangerous countries in the world for human rights defenders and environmental activists. Civic space in Colombia is rated as Repressed.

In Guinea, plans to change the constitution, which could see the presidential term limit abolished, has sparked opposition and protests. Activists opposing constitutional changes have been arbitrarily arrested, and security forces have used live ammunition and tear gas during protests, killing several people and injuring dozens more. Civic space in Guinea is rated as Obstructed.

While in Kazakhstan, since June 2019 elections human rights abuses have hit a new high. The work of journalists and electoral observers has been obstructed, while thousands have been detained in post-election protests. Civic space in Kazakhstan is rated as Obstructed.

In the coming weeks and months, the CIVICUS Monitor will closely track developments in each of these countries as part of efforts to ensure greater pressure is brought to bear on governments and the perpetrators of these attacks. The CIVICUS Monitor rates countries based on the state of their civic space as either open, narrow, obstructed, repressed or closed. These ratings are based on multiple streams of data that assess the state of freedom of expression, freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association.

 

Mozambique: Killing of activist Dr. Matavel & restrictions on civic space mar upcoming elections

Portuguese

Open letter to the Government of Mozambique

Your Excellency,

We, the undersigned orgnisations, are deeply alarmed by the escalating crackdown on fundamental freedoms and the persecution of activists in the context of the upcoming presidential, legislative and provincial elections scheduled for 15 October 2019 in Mozambique. The recent spate of killings, intimidation and arbitrary detention of human rights defenders and journalists, particularly those involved in election monitoring, including Dr. Anastácio Matavel, gravely undermines the possibility of free and fair elections. We urge the authorities to take all necessary steps to end the pre-election campaign to suppress independent dissent.

President Filipe Nyusi is seeking a second five-year term in the upcoming elections. The vote comes just two months after Nyusi and the opposition Renamo party signed a permanent cease-fire meant to stop the fighting that has flared sporadically in the 27 years since the end of a 15-year civil war that killed an estimated 1 million people and devastated the country.

The space for civil society in Mozambique has significantly deteriorated since October 2018 municipal elections. Most recently, on 7 October 2019 Human Rights Defender Dr. Anastácio Matavel was brutally murdered. Dr. Matavel was killed after he attended a training session for election observers. A group of five individuals, four of whom are active police officers, unloaded at least 10 live rounds on Dr. Matavel's vehicle. He died in hospital at the age of 58.

Dr. Matavel was the founder and Executive Director of FONGA-Gaza NGO Forum and chairman of the General Assembly of JOINT Liga of NGOs in Mozambique. The murder of Dr. Matavel is a direct attack on civil society for undertaking its legitimate activities to engage in election observation.  Dr. Matavel believed fair and free elections are a key factor for the consolidation of peace, democracy and human rights necessary for the development of Mozambique.

In March 2018, journalist and human rights lawyer, Ericino de Salema was abducted and beaten by unidentified individuals. There have been no arrests in the case and no one has been held accountable for the attack. There remain ongoing harassment and intimidation of journalists with critical views.  On 5 January 2019 journalist Amade Abubacar was arrested without a warrant by police officers of Macomia district, while interviewing villagers fleeing from insurgent attacks. Amade was held in pre-trial detention for nearly 100 days, including 12 days in incommunicado military detention. Amade is currently awaiting trial.

A vibrant civil society is key for any democracy to thrive. Such brutal attacks and targeted persecution of a member of civil society should be condemned in the most rigorous way. We call for a prompt and impartial investigation to ensure justice for Dr. Matavel and all civil society activists who have been targeted for exercising their right to independent dissent. These and other unwarranted restrictions on civic space deeply mar upcoming elections and raise the specter of further entrenching democratic backsliding. 

Sincerely,

  1. Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)
  2. Association for Human Rights in Ethiopia (AHRE)
  3. CIVICUS
  4. Civil Rights Defenders
  5. Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA)
  6. FIDH, in the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
  7. Front Line Defenders
  8. Groupe d'Action pour le Progrès et la Paix (G.A.P.P.-Afrique) (Canada, France, Bénin et Mali)
  9. International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)
  10. Southern Africa Litigation Centre
  11. Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights
  12. Oxfam
  13. Odhikar – Bangladesh
  14. L'organisation Tchadienne Anti-corruption (OTAC) – Chad
  15. Justice and Peace Netherlands
  16. JOINT Liga de ONGs em Mocambique 
  17. JASS (Just Associates)
  18. Japan NGO Action Network for Civic Space (NANCiS) Charter
  19. Japan International Volunteer Center (JVC)
  20. World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), in the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defender               

 

Serbia’s Civic Space Downgraded

The downgrade is based on an assessment of conditions for the exercise of the freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression on the CIVICUS Monitor.

CIVICUS has today downgraded Serbia’s civic space rating from Narrowed to Obstructed. The decision was taken following a thorough assessment of the state of civic freedoms in the country as protected by international law. The downgrade follows CIVICUS’ regular monitoring of the situation with our members and partners, after the government has taken a number of steps to restrict the work of independent journalists and civil society groups. The decision comes after over two years of rule by the Serbian Progressive Party (SNS), during which the space for civil society has come under concerted attack. The cumulative impact of threats, smears and the threat of physical attacks against civil society have led to the Serbia’s downgrade in the CIVICUS Monitor. An Obstructed rating indicates a situation where the state imposes a variety of legal and extra-legal restrictions on civil society through demeaning statements and bureaucratic restrictions.

“The Serbian government appears intent on turning its back on civic freedoms, by allowing and enabling numerous abuses against civil society to go unpunished,” said Dominic Perera, Civic Space Research Advisor at CIVICUS. “Serbia has witnessed a steady decline in civic space through smear campaigns and threats directed at critics of the government coupled with a worryingly sharp increase in attacks against journalists.”

The downgrade takes place against the backdrop of widespread protests which took place across Serbia for much of 2019. In this environment, the government has ramped up tactics designed to intimidate those who question power holders, especially on contentious issues such as corruption. Instead of conducting thorough and impartial investigations into abuses of power, public officials have doubled down on their efforts to publicly discredit journalists and organisations working to promote social justice. This includes several prominent members of the SNS party openly accusing anti-corruption activists of working to promote foreign interests for acting as government watchdogs.

Freedom of expression has also experienced a rapid decline, with the number of attacks against journalists doubling since 2016, rising to 77 separate incidents in 2018 alone. This is further compounded by the government’s appropriation of media outlets, which has led to a situation where investigative journalists and news programmes have been mysteriously taken off air or fired. This alarming combination of tactics signals a closure of spaces for independent dissent.

Meanwhile, the number of government-affiliated NGOs has soared. These state sponsored organisations often orchestrate smear campaigns against independent organisations and activists which criticise the government.

“CIVICUS calls on the Serbian authorities to halt the erosion of spaces for dissent”, said Perera. “We call on the government to engage in a meaningful dialogue with civil society and to heed the calls of civil society and the EU to promote an enabling environment for civil society.”

Serbia is now rated Obstructed on the CIVICUS Monitor. Visit Serbia’s homepage for more information and check back regularly for the latest updates. In December 2019, CIVICUS will release People Power Under Attack 2019 - a global analysis on the threats and trends facing civil society in 196 countries.

 

On 10th anniversary of ACPRA, NGOs call on Saudi authorities to release all detained members

ARABIC

On October 12, 2019, which marks the 10th anniversary of the founding of the Saudi Association for Civil and Political Rights (ACPRA), the undersigned organisations call on Saudi authorities to immediately and unconditionally release all detained ACPRA members.

ACPRA 10th anniversary

Created in 2009 by 11 human rights defenders and academics, ACPRA was established to promote and protect fundamental rights and freedoms in Saudi Arabia. While ACPRA was never legally recognised by the government, it was formally banned as an organisation in 2013. As of May 2016, all of its 11 members had been prosecuted and subjected to severe treatment by Saudi authorities for their human rights activism and cooperation with the United Nations human rights mechanisms. Yet, Saudi Arabia has been a member of the UN Human Rights Council for a total of 12 years.

As part of its mission, ACPRA advocated peacefully for a constitutional monarchy, a universally elected parliament, an independent judiciary, and for the protection of fair trial rights in Saudi Arabia. ACPRA has documented cases of human rights violations and communicated them to the relevant UN Special Procedures. Additionally, a number of ACPRA’s members had been mentioned in the UN Secretary General’s yearly report on Cooperation with the United Nations, its representatives and mechanisms in the field of human rights.

The 11 co-founding members of ACPRA are: Essa Al-Hamid (sentenced to 11 years in prison, followed by an 11-year travel ban); Dr Abdulrahman Al-Hamid (sentenced to 9 years in prison, followed by a 9-year travel ban); Dr Abdullah Al-Hamid (sentenced to 11 years in prison and an 11-year travel ban); Dr Abdulkarim Al-Khoder (sentenced to 10 years in prison, followed by a 10-year travel ban); Omar Al-Said (sentenced to 7 years in prison and a 10-year travel ban); Mohammed Al-Bajadi (sentenced to 4 years in prison, 4 years of suspension and a 10-year travel ban, and currently detained since May 2018 as part of a crackdown on women’s rights defenders); Sheikh Sulaiman Al-Rashudi (sentenced to 15 years in prison and a 15-year travel ban); Dr Mohammad Al-Qahtani (sentenced to 10 years in prison and a 10-year travel ban); Saleh Al-Ashwan (sentenced to 5 years in prison followed by a 5-year travel ban); Fowzan Al-Harbi (sentenced to 10 years in prison and a 10-year travel ban); and Abdulaziz Al-Shubaili (sentenced to 8 years in prison and an 8-year travel and social media ban).

The prosecuted ACPRA members were sentenced to lengthy prison sentences ranging from 5 to 15 years by the Specialised Criminal Court (SCC), which was set up in 2008 to try acts of terrorism but has instead been used to prosecute human rights defenders and other peaceful activists. These ACPRA members all faced vaguely defined charges such as “insulting the judiciary,” “calling to break allegiance with the ruler,” “accusing the judiciary of being unable to deliver justice,” “communicating with international organisations in order to harm the image of the State,” and “forming or joining an illegal organisation,” in reprisals for having peacefully advocated for constitutional reform and the respect of fundamental rights and freedoms in Saudi Arabia.

The undersigned human rights organisations urge the authorities of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to:

  1. Immediately and unconditionally release all human rights defenders without charges or reservations;
  2. Allow ACPRA and other NGOs to continue to carry out their work supporting families of detainees and promoting human rights in their country;
  3. Allow ACPRA to register, in order to enable its members to continue their peaceful and legitimate activities in the defense of human rights; and
  4. Guarantee, under all circumstances, that all human rights defenders in Saudi Arabia are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals and without restrictions. 

Signatories:

ACAT-France
Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB)
Amnesty International
ALQST
ARTICLE 19
CIVICUS
FIDH, under the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
Front Line Defenders
Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR)
Human Rights Watch
International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)
MENA Rights Group
Right Livelihood Foundation (Abdullah Al Hamid and Mohammad Al Qahtani are among the 2018 Right Livelihood Award Laureates)
World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), under the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders

 

Iraq: Freedom of speech and assembly under attack as over 100 killed & hundreds arrested

ARABIC

The undersigned international, regional and Iraqi human rights organisations demand that the authorities in Iraq immediately uphold promises to put an end to violent reprisals against the popular protest movement taking place across the country, which has left over 100 people dead, with thousands more injured and hundreds detained. We call for the state to ensure that Iraqis’ rights to freedom of assembly and expression to be respected by ensuring that there are no further attacks on protests or media offices, and to spare no effort to investigate the excessive use of force. We further call for the United Nations Human Rights Council to hold an urgent debate or a special session to address the rights crisis in Iraq.

Iraq Protests 10 October 2019 A

Peaceful demonstrations began on 01 October in the central and southern cities of Iraq, including Baghdad, Basra, Najaf, Babylon and Diwaniya. They reiterated the demands of previous protests that began in July 2018, calling for an end to corruption and unemployment, denouncing poor service delivery, and building a law-abiding state that respects the public freedoms of all citizens.

As the protests continued in defiance of a curfew, riot police and other members of the security services began to use excessive force, such as firing live ammunition directly at crowds instead of overhead, and using stun grenades, water cannons (with hot water) and tear gas against protesters. On two occasions, armoured vehicles ran over protesters. Several reports confirmed that snipers on top of buildings fatally shot protesters, but the authorities claimed they were not state forces. These acts are in direct violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Iraq is a party.

According to the Iraqi High Commission for Human Rights, the recorded number of victims, including protesters and security forces dead and wounded, as of midnight on 6 October includes:

  • 103 dead
  • 4035 wounded
  • 814 people arrested
  • 500 people released

Media and activists monitoring the demonstrations reported that the real numbers could be much higher. Security forces also arrested hundreds of peaceful demonstrators and human rights defenders in various Iraqi cities, and some of those arrested were reportedly beaten. Witnesses reported that others were arrested from inside Baghdad hospitals, despite being wounded, without judicial warrants.

On 4 October, eight human rights defenders in Basra were arbitrarily detained without warrant by Iraqi security forces, including human rights defender Hussam Al-Khamisy, according to witnesses who spoke to the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) and local Iraqi rights groups. They were held for six hours and released only after being forced to sign a document, which they were not even allowed to read.

In a tragic incident reported by GCHR and local Iraqi sources, on 2 October 2019, neighbours told GCHR’s Iraqi sources that they saw masked gunmen storm the Basra apartment of human rights defenders Hussein Adel and Sara Taleb, and shoot them dead in front of their two-year-old daughter. They had provided first aid to injured protesters. After taking part in popular protests in Basra earlier in 2019, the couple reported to the local police that they had received several threats by armed groups.

In addition, freedom of expression and access to information are greatly at risk. On 5 October, armed groups stormed satellite TV Channels Al-Arabiya, Al-Hadath, Dijlah and NRT Arabic, and Dijlah remains closed for a month by order of the Communications and Media Commission. The government shut down the internet on the evening of 2 October for five days, as well as blocking Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, Instagram and other social media platforms, and Internet access remains sporadic.

We the undersigned organisations call upon the authorities in Iraq to abide by their international commitments, including recommendations to Iraq’s upcoming Universal Periodic Review, to:

  1. Fulfil promises made by the Prime Minister to conduct independent, impartial, thorough and prompt investigations into the deaths that occurred during street demonstrations, with a view to disseminating the results and bringing those responsible to justice in accordance with international standards;
  2. Fulfil their international obligations to protect the freedoms of assembly and expression, by allowing protesters to peacefully gather without fear of repression or arrest, and ensuring that media may freely operate and that access to the Internet is not blocked;
  3. Promptly investigate the murders of human rights defenders and protesters targeted in their homes, with a view to disseminating the results and bringing those responsible to justice in accordance with international standards;
  4. Immediately and unconditionally release all peaceful protesters who have been detained and provide medical treatment to all those who need it; and
  5. Ensure that all human rights defenders and media are able to operate without restrictions, including judicial harassment.

Signed,

Access Now
Amnesty International
Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI)
Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS)
Ceasefire Centre for Civilian Rights
CIVICUS
Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)
FIDH
Front Line Defenders
Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR)
International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)
Iraqi Al-Amal Association
Iraqi Observatory for Human Rights (IOHR), Iraqi Network for Social Media (INSM)
Metro Center for Journalists Rights & Advocacy
PEN Center in Iraq
PEN International
Social Media Exchange (SMEX)
World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)

 

Civil Society Organisations condemn the continued investigation of ex-RFA journalists Yeang Sothearin and Uon Chhin

Phnom Penh, 07 October 2019 - We, the undersigned civil society organisations strongly condemn the decision by the Municipal Court judge to continue the investigation into unsubstantiated espionage charges against Yeang Sothearin and Uon Chhin. The pair were arbitrarily arrested, detained and charged for the peaceful exercise of their freedom of expression and for their work as investigative journalists on issues of social justice. Yesterday’s hearing showed that there is a complete lack of evidence in support of these baseless charges exposing fair trial rights violations and highlighting the trial as a blatant affront to freedom of expression and media freedom in Cambodia. We urge the authorities to immediately drop all charges against the pair.

exRFA journalists

Yeang Sothearin and Uon Chhin, former Radio Free Asia (RFA) journalists, were arrested on 14 November 2017 and detained in Prey Sar prison. They were provisionally charged four days later with ‘supplying a foreign state with information prejudicial to national defence’, under Article 445 of Cambodia’s Criminal Code. The pair – who worked for RFA’s, now closed, Cambodia bureau – were denied their first bail application on appeal before the Supreme Court on 16 March 2018 and soon afterwards were charged by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court with the alleged production of pornography under Article 39 of the Law on the Suppression of Human Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation. As a result of the accumulated charges, each face 16 years in prison. On 21 August 2018 they were both released from Prey Sar prison on bail, after more than nine months in pre-trial detention, however remain under judicial supervision.

The original verdict hearing was scheduled for 30 August 2019 but on the morning of the hearing it was delayed due to an unannounced absence of the judge. It was subsequently scheduled for 03 October 2019, however the Phnom Penh Municipal Court again failed to deliver a verdict on the grounds that further investigation was required. The failure to reach a verdict is indicative of a lack of credible evidence against the pair and as such illustrates that there is insufficient evidence to hold them criminally liable as per the burden of proof standards enshrined in Article 38 of the Constitution of the Kingdom of Cambodia (Constitution). Throughout the process of their arrest, detention, and ongoing trial, Yeang Sothearin and Uon Chhin have been denied the rights to fair trial, liberty and security protected under domestic and international human rights law.

Article 9(1) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), incorporated into domestic law by the Constitution, states that ‘no one shall be deprived of his liberty except on such grounds and in accordance with such procedures as are established by law.’ Article 14 thereafter preserves the rights to ‘be entitled to a fair and public hearing by a competent, independent and impartial tribunal established by law’ and to presumption of innocence. The charges levelled against Yeang Sothearin and Uon Chhin are unsubstantiated and lack a clear legal basis. Instead, they have been employed as a means to punish the legitimate exercise of the right to freedom of expression and silence journalism critical of the government. The pair had previously reported on a wide range of human rights issues.

In addition to baseless charges, the holding of these two men in pre-trial detention in deplorable conditions for more than nine months, and their continued placement under judicial supervision of already 12 months, violates their right to liberty and to a fair trial guaranteed under international law and the Constitution. International law stipulates that people charged with criminal offenses should not, as a general rule, be held in custody pending trial - a requirement not adhered to in Yeang Sothearin and Uon Chhin’s case.

In May 2019, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention issued an opinion on the case, finding that the Cambodian government had failed to (1) establish a legal basis for arrest and detention, and (2) provide proof that it had considered alternatives to pre-trial detention. Concluding that the pre-trial detention of the journalists resulted from their peaceful exercise of the right to freedom of association and the freedom of expression, the Working Group found their deprivation of liberty to be arbitrary.

The prosecution of Yeang Sothearin and Uon Chhin is but one piece of the broader legal assault on journalists, human rights defenders, members of the political opposition, union leaders, activists, civil society representatives and individuals expressing their views on matters of public interest, including expressions of critical dissent. While the situation of press freedom was already constricted prior to 2017, since then Cambodia has seen almost all of its independent and local media silenced. Critical Khmer-language media outlets have had their activities severely restricted, including via the closure of 32 radio stations relaying RFA, Voice of America (VOA) and Voice of Democracy (VOD). RFA closed its Cambodia bureau in September 2017, citing the repressive environment and ongoing harassment of their journalists. The change of ownership of the Phnom Penh Post in May 2018, Cambodia’s last remaining independent English-Khmer language daily, was widely regarded as the last blow to press freedom in Cambodia. The space for freedom of expression online is also severely curtailed, illustrated through the increase in harassment of individuals who merely peacefully dissent or express their opinions through shares, posts or likes on Facebook.

The right to freedom of expression, protected by Article 19 of the ICCPR and Article 41 of the Constitution, is essential for the guarantee of the exercise of all human rights, including the rights to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, freedom of information, and the right to develop one’s personality and private life. As such, the importance of creating an enabling environment in which journalists are free to conduct their work – including by exposing corruption, expressing diverse viewpoints and shedding light on human rights violations – cannot be understated.

The failure to vacate the charges against Yeang Sothearin and Uon Chhin strikes yet another blow against what little remains of freedom of expression and media freedom in Cambodia. This case sends a clear warning to individuals who dare to exercise their fundamental right to freedom of expression and fosters an environment of intimidation and censorship. The legitimate and invaluable work of these individuals should be recognized, in line with Cambodia’s human rights obligations, and they should be able to carry out their activities in the future without fear of reprisal, obstruction or threat of prosecution. We encourage the Royal Government of Cambodia to cease its intimidation and harassment of all individuals exercising their right to freedom of expression and to re-establish an enabling environment for a free and pluralistic media and a thriving civil society in line with its obligations under the Constitution and international human rights law.

This joint statement is endorsed by:

  1. Alliance for Conflict Transformation (ACT)
  2. Amnesty International
  3. Article 19
  4. ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR)
  5. Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)
  6. Asian Network for Free Elections (ANFREL)
  7. CamAsean Youth’s Future (CamASEAN)
  8. Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR)
  9. Cambodian Center for Independent Media (CCIM)
  10. Cambodian Food And Service Workers Federation (CFSWF)
  11. Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC)
  12. Cambodian Independent Teachers’ Association (CITA)
  13. Cambodian Volunteers for Society (CVS)
  14. Cambodian Youth Network (CYN)
  15. Coalition for Integrity & Social Accountability (CISA)
  16. Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (COMFREL)
  17. Community Legal Education Center (CLEC)
  18. Center for Alliance of Labor and Human Rights (CENTRAL)
  19. CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
  20. Human Rights Watch (HRW)
  21. Independent Democracy of Informal Economy Association (IDEA)
  22. Independent Trade Union Federation (INTUFE)
  23. Indradevi Association (IDA)
  24. International Commission of Jurists (ICJ)
  25. International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX)
  26. Khmer Kampuchea Krom for Human Rights and Development Association (KKKHRDA)
  27. Klahaan
  28. Labor Rights Supported Union of Khmer Employees of Naga World (L.R.S.U)
  29. Minority Rights Organization (MIRO)
  30. People Center for Development and Peace (PDP-Center)
  31. Ponlok Khmer (PKH)
  32. Reporters Without Borders (RSF)
  33. Sahmakum Teang Tnaut (STT)
  34. Urban Poor Women Development (UPWD)
  35. World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)
  36. Youth Education for Development and Peace (YEDP)
  37. Youth Resource Development Program (YRDP)

 

India: End communication blockade in Jammu and Kashmir without further delay

India blockage statement

Kathmandu/Bangkok/Paris/Geneva, 4 October 2019:

Today completes two months of the unprecedented communication blockade in Jammu and Kashmir, India. The Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA), CIVICUS, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) urge the government of India to immediately restore internet and mobile phone connections in Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir. We are deeply concerned over the wide-ranging impact on the enjoyment of basic human rights caused by this continuous restriction on communications.

Internet shutdowns, of which there have been dozens in Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir since the beginning of the year, have significant consequences, negatively impacting the economy, education, access to health care and emergency services, press freedom, freedom of expression, and the right to engage in political decision making. This is particularly grave given the context, in which the government of India, on 5 August, 2019, revoked the autonomous status of the State of Jammu and Kashmir and bifurcated the State into two Union Territories. With the suspension of communications, people have effectively been denied the right to make informed political opinions and to express themselves regarding these decisions.

Although limited landline connections were reportedly restored across Jammu and Kashmir on 13 September 2019, access to those connections remains limited. No enforceable law in India permits such unprecedented and prolonged internet shutdown without any valid justification. Moreover, freedom of expression is protected under Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which India is a state party, and under Article 19 of the Indian Constitution.

A petition filed before the Supreme Court of India noted that the communication shutdown had fueled “anxiety, panic, alarm, insecurity and fear among the residents of Kashmir” and created hurdles for journalists to report on the situation in the region. In a statement on 22 August 2019, five UN human rights experts expressed deep concern over the shutdown and called it “inconsistent with the fundamental norms of necessity and proportionality.’

There have also been reports of hundreds of detentions of political activists, human rights defenders, community leaders, and others, including children between 9 and 11 years of age, under the draconian Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act (PSA) of 1978, which permits preventive detention without charge. The communication blockade has also impeded access to legal aid.

FORUM-ASIA, CIVICUS, FIDH, and OMCT strongly believe that this prolonged restriction on communication, coupled with arbitrary mass detentions, denial of freedom of expression and access to information, is unnecessary and disproportionate to the situation and will further lead to a deterioration of human rights and basic freedoms. We urge the government of India to end the communications blockade immediately and to adopt remedial measures to undo the damage done so far in Jammu and Kashmir. We reiterate our call to the government of India to resort to peaceful democratic means and refrain from use of brute force.

For more information, please contact:

  1. CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation, majumdar[AT]civicus.org
  2. South Asia Programme, FORUM-ASIA, sasia[AT]forum-asia.org
  3. FIDH, jrousselot[AT]fidh.org
  4. OMCT, nb[AT]omct.org, sa[AT]omct.org

 

A year on, NGOs amplify calls for justice and accountability for Jamal Khashoggi's murder

On 2 October 2018, Jamal Khashoggi entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to obtain official documents in order to get married, but he did not make it out alive. He was brutally killed inside the consulate in what the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Dr Agnes Callamard, called a “premeditated extrajudicial killing” for which the state of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is responsible.

Khashoggi was a well-known Saudi journalist and intellectual who, due to safety concerns and the inability to continue his work inside Saudi Arabia, decided to live in self-imposed exile in the United States. He was a firm promoter of freedom of speech and press freedom in the Arab world. While he was no outright opponent of the Saudi royal family and did not call for regime change in the country, he criticised the arrest of human rights defenders and the reform plans of the Crown Prince. This alone may have been enough to seal his fate.

After more than two weeks of deception and denial about his death, on 19 October 2018 the Saudi authorities admitted that Khashoggi had been killed inside the consulate by a group of men connected to the authorities, but continued to deny any direct knowledge or responsibility for the crime. One year after his murder, the remains of Khashoggi’s body are still missing and have not been returned to his family. The Saudi authorities implicated 11 individuals responsible for Khashoggi’s killing, some of whom face the death penalty. They are currently being tried in the Specialised Criminal Court, a jurisdiction notorious for violations of fair trial guarantees. The trial proceedings remain in large part secret, and criminal responsibility in the chain of command has not yet been established.

Khashoggi’s death sparked outrage and was widely condemned. In the days and weeks following his killing, the international community began to ask questions and to demand clarity. The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights issued several press releases, while the UN Special Procedures on enforced disappearance, summary executions and freedom of expression issued a joint Urgent Appeal. Moreover, the UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, stressed the need for a prompt, thorough and transparent investigation into the circumstances of Khashoggi’s death and full accountability for those responsible.

On 24 October 2018, the EU Parliament issued a resolution urging the Saudi authorities to disclose the whereabouts of Khashoggi’s remains. In addition to demanding an independent and impartial international investigation into the journalist’s death, the resolution also classified it as being part of a pattern of a widespread crackdown against prominent human rights defenders, women activists, lawyers, journalists, writers and bloggers, which has intensified since Mohammad bin Salman began consolidating control over the country’s security institutions. It stated that the systematic practice of enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings could amount to a crime against humanity. Lastly, it requested that the perpetrators of Khashoggi’s murder be identified and brought to justice, following a fair trial held in accordance with international standards before an impartial court and with international observers present.

On 5 November, 2018, Saudi Arabia’s human rights record was examined by UN Member States as part of the third cycle of the Universal Periodic Review. The killing of Khashoggi was raised extensively during the review and featured heavily among the 258 recommendations the Saudi authorities received to improve the human rights situation in the country. At least 27 states raised concerns about Khashoggi’s extrajudicial killing, with many reiterating the need for a transparent, impartial, independent and effective investigation.

In January 2019, Dr Callamard decided on her own initiative and under the terms of her mandate as UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions to open a special human rights investigation into Khashoggi’s killing.

On 7 March 2019, in a landmark initiative, a group of 36 UN Member States led by Iceland delivered a joint statement during the 40th session of the Human Rights Council (HRC) expressing serious concern over the human rights situation in Saudi Arabia and condemning in the strongest possible terms the killing of Khashoggi. The statement reiterated the call for a prompt, independent, impartial and transparent investigation into his murder and stressed the need to protect journalists and to uphold the right to freedom of expression.

During the 41st session of the HRC, on 19 June 2019, Dr Callamard presented her report, which concluded that the murder of Khashoggi was “overseen, planned and endorsed by high-level state officials of Saudi Arabia”. The Special Rapporteur found that both the investigations conducted by Saudi Arabia and Turkey failed to meet international standards and that the ongoing trial in Saudi Arabia of 11 suspects, while seemingly an important step towards accountability, also fails to meet international fair trial standards. Dr Callamard believes that the killing of Khashoggi constitutes an international crime over which states should claim universal jurisdiction. Asserting that her human rights inquiry is not a substitute for a criminal investigation or a court of law, the UN Special Rapporteur called on the Human Rights Council, the Security Council or the UN Secretary-General to demand a follow-up criminal investigation.

Most recently, on 23 September 2019, during the 42nd session of the HRC, Australia delivered a joint statement on behalf of 23 UN Member States raising concerns over the persecution and intimidation of activists, the practice of enforced disappearance and arbitrary detention, and reports of torture and unfair trials as well as extrajudicial executions. Furthermore, the statement called for an end to impunity over the murder of Khashoggi and highlighted the need for the truth to be established and accountability achieved. We deeply regret that a number of states that had joined the March 2019 statement have now decided to no longer support this immediate call for action. We would like to highlight that states still have the possibility to become co-signatories until 11 October 2019.

Additionally, during the course of the past year and as a response to Khashoggi’s murder as well as the war in Yemen, some governments have suspended weapon sales to Saudi Arabia.

While we welcome the appeals, pledges and measures taken by some states over the past year and consider them as steps in the right direction towards accountability for the murder of Khashoggi, more tangible actions must follow. There is an undeniable risk that with big events scheduled to take place in Saudi Arabia in 2020, such as the G20 summit and the famous Dakar Rally, state-to-state relations could normalise. We cannot stand by and allow the return of business as usual as this would mean that Khashoggi died in vain and that there is little hope for hundreds of other unlawfully disappeared, detained, tortured or executed activists whose cases failed to attract similar levels of international attention.  

As Dr Callamard rightly said during a side event at the 42nd session of the HRC: “While one year must feel like a lifetime to Khashoggi’s family and friends, in human justice time and the search for truth it is very brief. Thus we should not lose sight of what we are trying to achieve; we should not lose hope and courage that justice can be attained.” In that spirit, the undersigned organisations renew their call for action, demanding the following:

We call on the international community, and in particular the UN, to:

  1. Take action to ensure that a further impartial, prompt, thorough, independent and effective criminal investigation into the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi is opened;
  2. Ensure that all perpetrators of the crime, including those at the head of the chain of command, are identified and prosecuted in a fair and transparent trial without recourse to the death penalty;
  3. Establish an immediate moratorium on all arms sales and exports of surveillance technology to Saudi Arabia;
  4. Co-sign the joint statement led by Australia on behalf of 23 UN Member States by 11 October;
  5. Introduce and endorse a UN resolution establishing a monitoring mechanism over the human rights situation in Saudi Arabia; and
  6. Urge the authorities in Saudi Arabia to implement the recommendations below.

We call on the authorities in Saudi Arabia to:

  1. Return the remains of Khashoggi’s body to his family;
  2. Invite independent international experts to oversee investigations into his murder; cooperate in good faith with all UN mechanisms; and ensure that those responsible for his death are brought to justice;
  3. Immediately and unconditionally release all human rights defenders, writers, journalists and prisoners of conscience in Saudi Arabia whose detention is a result of their peaceful and legitimate work in the promotion and protection of fundamental human rights;
  4. Establish a moratorium on the death penalty, including as punishment for crimes related to the exercise of the rights to freedom of opinion and expression, and peaceful assembly;
  5. Guarantee in all circumstances that all human rights defenders and journalists in Saudi Arabia are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities and public reporting without fear of reprisals; and
  6. Ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and bring all national laws limiting the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association into compliance with international human rights standards.

List of signatories:

  • ALQST
  • Americans for Democracy and Human Rights
  • Amnesty International
  • CIVICUS
  • English PEN
  • European Center for Democracy and Human Rights
  • European Saudi Organisation for Human Rights
  • Gulf Center for Human Rights
  • Index on Censorship
  • International Service for Human Rights
  • MENA Rights Group
  • PEN America
  • Rights Realisation Centre
  • World Organisation Against Torture

 

UN: Address Egypt’s Assault on Rights

ARABIC

(Geneva, September 17, 2019) – The United Nations Human Rights Council should use the upcoming review of Egypt’s human rights records to address unprecedented levels of repression, 17 organizations including Human Rights Watch said today in an open letter to the council’s member countries.

The organizations made a series of recommendations concerning the death penalty, torture, violence against women and girls, detention of activists and rights defenders, and a crackdown on freedom of expression and assembly, among other human rights violations.

The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) is a process which involves the review of the human rights records of all UN Member States on a rotating basis every four years. Egypt’s upcoming UPR will be held on November 13.

The following is the letter: 

 

Open letter to EU Member States Ahead of the Universal Periodic Review of Egypt

Your Excellency,

The next Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Egypt’s human rights record is scheduled for 13 November 2019, under the auspices of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. We are writing to strongly urge your government to use this occasion to address the ongoing human rights crisis in Egypt.

Since the last review of Egypt’s record in 2014, human rights violations have increased sharply and the undersigned organisations and our partners have documented unprecedented levels of repression against human rights organisations and human rights defenders. The UPR is an opportunity for States to contribute to reversing these trends and promoting respect for human rights in Egypt.

We urge your government to take part in the UPR process and to make concrete recommendations to the Egyptian authorities to urgently address the following issues:

  1. Establish a moratorium on the use of the death penalty with a view to abolishing it. Review the penal code, code of criminal procedure, military code; the Law on Counter-Terrorism (Law 94/2015), and the Law on Terrorist Entities (8/2015), in line with minimum fair trial guarantees and ensure that civilians are not referred to exceptional or military courts on any grounds; and respect the principle of individual criminal responsibility by putting an end to the use of mass trials.
  1. End the use of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, including incommunicado detention and prolonged solitary confinement. Allow detainees requiring urgent medical attention to be transferred to appropriate medical facilities and give them prompt and regular access to their legal representatives and families. Investigate allegations of torture, enforced disappearance and ill-treatment. To ensure accountability, the authorities should allow independent, unrestricted and unannounced visits to all places of detention; adopt a comprehensive anti-torture law in line with the 2014 Constitution and the United Nations Convention against Torture.
  1. Amend, adopt and effectively implement legislation to eliminate all forms of discrimination and criminalise all forms of violence against women and girls, including by amending the Personal Status Law and introducing legal provisions prohibiting domestic violence, including marital rape, as well as sexual harassment, assaults and rape. Further, the authorities should effectively carry out the National Strategy to Combat Violence Against Women in partnership with independent civil society organisations with recognised expertise in the field.
  1. Immediately and unconditionally release all human rights defenders, civil society activists and all those detained or imprisoned solely for exercising their rights to freedom of expression, assembly and association, including lawyers, journalists, labour rights activists, minority rights activists, and LGBTQI activists. Put a stop to excessive police probation measures and the use of prolonged pre-trial detention to punish dissenters, close Case 173/2011 against Egyptian NGOs and lift arbitrary travel bans on human rights defenders.
  1. Protect freedom of expression, association and assembly by immediately repealing or amending, in compliance with the 2014 Constitution and international standards, the deeply restrictive Protest Law (Law 107/2013) to allow gatherings by notifying the authorities in advance and to limit the use of force by security forces, the Assembly law (Law 10/1914), the Media Law (Law 180/2018), the Cyber-Crime Law (Law 175/2018), and the Law of Associations and Other Foundations Working in the Field of Civil Work (Law 149/2019). Stop closing down human rights organisations by administrative orders. Stop blocking internet sites, especially websites belonging to human rights organisations and news websites.
  1. Allow, humanitarian aid organisations, independent observers and journalists access to North Sinai and investigate all abuses by the militant groups and government forces. Compensate all residents whose houses were demolished, cease home demolitions until further consultations with local communities and make sure that displaced populations are offered adequate humanitarian aid and support for temporary housing.
  1. Support requests by UN treaty bodies and special procedures to carry out official missions to Egypt and ensure that no one is subjected to reprisals, such as arbitrary arrest or intimidation, for cooperating with the UN human rights mechanisms.

We urge your government to keep a close watch on the human rights situation in Egypt after the outcome of the review has been adopted. This can be done, for instance, by requesting an update one year down the line. Most of the recommendations Egypt accepted during the previous UPR review have not been carried out. This highlights the need to follow up on the UPR recommendations and the importance of this UPR in reiterating to Egypt that its disregard of human rights remains unacceptable.

Finally, as to ensure that this UPR is a forum for effective engagement on Egypt’s human rights record, Egypt should lift the arbitrary travel bans imposed on human rights defenders, so that they can participate freely in the UPR in Geneva, and to do so without fear of reprisals.

With assurances of our highest consideration,

Amnesty International

Andalus Institute for Tolerance and anti-Violence Studies

Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies

CIVICUS

Committee to Protect Journalists

DIGNITY - Danish Institute Against Torture

EuroMed Rights

Front Line Defenders

Human Rights Watch

International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)

International Service for Human Rights

Ligue des droits de l'Homme

Reporters Without Borders

SOLIDAR

International Commission of Jurists

The Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy (TIMEP) 

World Organisation Against Torture

An Overview of the Human Rights Situation in Egypt

In utter disregard for its constitutional and international human rights obligations, Egypt has reached unprecedented levels of repression, often in the name of security. In recent years, the authorities have accelerated the use of the death penalty, while denying minimum fair trial guarantees and frequently subjecting detainees and prisoners to human rights violations.

The United Nations Committee Against Torture in 2017 reached the “inescapable conclusion that torture is a systematic practice in Egypt.” In 2018, 75 defendants were sentenced to death in an unfair mass trial in connection with the 2013 Rabaa sit-in. The UN high commissioner for human rights described the trial as “a gross and irreversible miscarriage of justice.”

In contrast, no security official has been brought to justice for the massacre of over 800 demonstrators at the sit-in. This is a clear illustration of the impunity for state-sponsored crimes in Egypt.

The Egyptian authorities are increasingly employing repressive tactics such as prolonged pre-trial detention, enforced disappearance, and judicial harassment to suppress all independent voices, including through unfounded investigations for national security-related charges. Egypt is one of the world’s biggest jailers of journalists and independent human rights groups are being systematically annihilated.

The Egyptian government enacted a new law regulating the work of non-governmental groups (NGO law) on 22 August, said to be an improved version of the draconian 2017 law. However, the new law maintains the repressive essence of its predecessor, such as imposing large fines for vaguely defined violations and preventing organisations from undertaking any work viewed to be “political.” Human rights defenders have been banned from travelling and had their assets frozen since the 2014 reopening of investigations into the “foreign funding” of their organisations.

Constitutional amendments have further undermined the rule of law, increased unfair trials, enshrined impunity of the armed forces and placed them above all elected authorities. These were hastily adopted through a referendum in April amid a worsening crackdown on freedom of expression that includes the censoring of over 500 websites inside Egypt and severe restrictions on independent media, as well as the arrest of critics and opponents.

 

Stop Restrictions on Freedom of Assembly and Association in Iran

Arabic 

 

President of the Islamic Republic of Iran

Address: Pasteur St., Pasteur Sq., Tehran

Phone number: +98(21)64451

To His Excellency, President Hassan Rouhani

Re: Stop Restrictions on Freedom of Assembly and Association in Iran

Your excellency,

With recent reports surfacing of the arbitrary detention and enforced disappearances of civil society actors in Iran, international civil society notes with concern the violent closing of civic space in the country. We write to urge you, Your Excellency, to immediately and unconditionally release all detained civil society actors and uphold the rights to freedom of assembly and association as per international conventions and the Iranian constitution.

Iranian civic space is shrinking at an unprecedented pace – even for Iranian standards – as authorities in Iran increasingly suppress independent civic action heavily and unlawfully. In the past year, Iran has seen the unparalleled rise of peaceful social protests and civic dissent despite a violent, authoritarian regime. The last two years have seen an alarming number of arrests and detention of civil society activists across a broad spectrum of environmental issues, human rights defenders, teachers’ and labor unionists, students and women’s rights. To this end CIVICUS, a global alliance of civil society around the world, and Volunteer Activists Institute, a NGO focusing on democracy, human rights, and peace building in the MENA region and specifically Iran, have launched a global campaign to hold the Iranian government accountable for its stark violations of the rights to freedom of association and peaceful assembly in the country.

Despite Iran being signatory to the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights, and provisions in the Constitution protecting freedom of assembly and association (article 26 and 27 of the Iranian constitution), activists are frequently detained and harassed for their human rights work. Some prominent figures of Iranian civil society, like Nasrin Sotoudeh who faces 38 years in prison and 148 lashes, have received lengthy prison sentences for providing legal assistance to human rights defenders, whereas others are awaiting trial on false charges of espionage and “corruption on earth” – punishable by death sentence if convicted. The state of human rights defenders in prison is also alarming. In July 2019, human rights experts from the United Nations expressed concern at the state’s failure to provide care to detainees, including human rights defender Arash Sadeghi.[1] One environmental expert and activist, Dr. Kavous Seyed Emami, a Professor at Imam Sadeq University and Director of Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation, died in prison on 8 February 2018, two weeks after detention in Evin prison. The circumstances of his death remain unclear. Other activists currently detained include Nasrin Sotoudeh, Narges Mohammadi, Farhad Meysami, Esmail Bekhshi, Sepide Gholian, and many more.

We are also extremely concerned with new appointments within the highest ranks of the military (Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps), who have enforced restrictions on civic space by establishing a new office (Baqiattallah) to organize social forces and government-affiliated civil society organizations, to marginalize the independent civil society. These new appointments signal that Iran is adopting a maximum strategy to forcefully strike against any instances of civic disobedience. As sanctions and economic hardships are pushing Iranians to the limit, and resulting in peaceful protests, the government of Iran is closing down on civic acts of dissent, and we are extremely concerned about the coming months ahead of the upcoming parliamentary elections in 2020.

As a result, we the undersigned call for the government of Iran to ensure greater protections of the rights to freedom of association and peaceful assembly. Specifically, we call for:

  • The government to extend an invitation to the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders, and the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Associations to investigate the human rights situation in Iran.
  • For all human rights defenders, including but not limited to Nasrin Sotoudeh, Narges Mohammadi, Farhad Meysami, Esmail Bekhshi, Sepide Gholian, to be immediately and unconditionally released, with all charges against them dropped.
  • To ensure gender sensitive protections for all which Iranian women human rights defenders are uniquely targeted in Iran, and work with the Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, its Causes and Consequences to ensure that all forms of violence against Iranian WHRDs are reported as violence against women.
  • To align practice of the implementation of the rights to Freedom of Assembly and Association as highlighted in the constitution to international best practice.

Sincerely, the undersigned:

  1. Volunteer Activists Institute
  2. CIVICUS Global Alliance for Citizen Participation
  3. Women’s March Global
  4. Center for Human Rights in Iran
  5. Citizens Friend
  6. West African Human Rights Defenders Network
  7. Women Against Violence
  8. The Needy Today
  9. Association de la Jeunesse pour la Promotion des Droits de l'Homme
  10. CASAD Bénin
  11. Initiative for Peace and Innovation - IPI
  12. Youth initiative for change and development
  13. Future Leaders Network Gambia Chapter
  14. AGIR POUR LA SECURITE ET LA SOUVERAINETE ALIMENTAIRE
  15. YOUNG AFRICAN FIGHTERS ORGANISATION YAFO
  16. Anti-Corruption International, Uganda Chapter
  17. Discourage Youths From Poverty
  18. Women Empowerment Group
  19. Organisation des Jeunes pour la Promotion et le Développement
  20. PACOPA
  21. WORLDLITE
  22. SOPEVUDECO ASBL
  23. FHRRDA
  24. Cameroon
  25. Fraternity Foundation for Human Rights
  26. Gutu United Residents and Ratepayers Association
  27. Palestinian Center For Communication and Development Strategies
  28. Tim Africa Aid Ghana
  29. Shanduko Yeupenyu Child Care
  30. APLFT
  31. Advance Centre for Peace and Credibility International
  32. Elizka Relief Foundation
  33. TOfAD
  34. Association pour les victimes du monde
  35. Network of Estonian Non-Profit Organizations
  36. VIFEDE
  37. Bangladesh Institute of Human Rights
  38. Save Our Continent, Save Nigeria.
  39. Friends of Emergence Initiatives
  40. Fundacion CELTA
  41. MPS GABON
  42. I2BA
  43. One Future Collective
  44. RECOSREC
  45. Achievers Innovative Advocates International Foundation
  46. GULF LINK VENTURE
  47. Centre for Intercultural Understanding
  48. Ugonma Foundation
  49. Center for Youth Civic Leadership and Environmental Studies - CYCLES
  50. FUNDACION CIUDADANOS
  51. Centre for Social Concern and Development
  52. Curtis business
  53. Bina Foundation for people with special needs
  54. GreenLight Initiative
  55. Community Wellness International
  56. Civic Initiatives Kyrgyzstan
  57. Jeunesse-Assistance
  58. Bella Foundation for Child and Maternal Care
  59. Fondation Kalipa pour le Développement
  60. SADF ONG
  61. ASSOCIATION OF UGANDA SCHOOL LEAVING YOUTH -AUSLEY
  62. FINESTE
  63. Sierra Leone School Green Clubs
  64. Centre for Sustainable Development and Education in Africa
  65.  

New data analysis shows that Latin American civil society has poor access to development resources

CIVICUS, and the Colombian social impact startup, Innpactia, released the report, Access to Resources for Civil Society Organisations in Latin America: Facts and Challenges, which presents a challenging funding landscape for CSOs in Latin America. It reviews over 6,500 calls for proposals, for a total amount of almost US$5.9 billion, offered between 2014-2017 by 2,000 donors to individuals, CSOs, the private sector and other actors in the region.

Read the report

 

Open letter: Pope Francis' visit to Mozambique presents an opportunity to address human rights violations

Read it in Portuguese | Italian

JOINT OPEN LETTER

Your Holiness, Pope Francis
Apostolic Palace
00120 Vatican City

Re: Open letter on human rights to Pope Francis from Civil Society groups on his visit to Mozambique

Your Holiness, Pope Francis

We, the undersigned, are writing as a group of non-governmental organisations working to promote and defend human rights in many countries around the world, including Mozambique. Ahead of your visit to Mozambique scheduled to take place between 4 and 6 September 2019, we would like to bring to your attention a number of human rights issues of concern and to urge you to use your visit as an opportunity to publicly support our call for the protection and promotion of human rights particularly as the country prepares to hold its 6th general elections in October 2019, since the end of the civil war in 1992.

We are gravely concerned by the increasing intimidation and harassment of human rights defenders, activists, civil society organisations and media, the deterioration of the human rights situation in Cabo Delgado, the lack of accountability, justice and effective remedies for victims of human rights violations and abuses as well as violations of the rights of refugees and asylum seekers.

Crackdown on freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly, and media freedom

In the past year, there has been an increasing crackdown on dissent particularly the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association, freedom of expression, and media freedom by the Mozambican government. Freedom of movement of Human Rights Defenders (HRD’s), political actors, journalists and civil society groups has also come under increasing attack.

In the aftermath of the October 2018 municipal elections, several human rights defenders, civil society activists and local journalists received anonymous death threats, intimidating phone calls and messages. This was in apparent retaliation for their participation in the election process, which included monitoring polling stations and publishing live municipal elections results.[1]

Among those targeted for their participation in monitoring the 2018 municipal election were priests Father Benvindo Tapua and Father Cantífulas de Castro, Director and Deputy Director of Radio Encontro respectively.[2] Journalists from Catholic run radio stations, Watana and Radio Encontro, were intimidated and harrassed. Others were assaulted, including a reporter for Miramar television station who was attacked by a member of the main opposition party, the Mozambique National Resistance’s (RENAMO), when he was covering a riot at the local RENAMO’s office in Chimoio, Manica province.[3]

We have also seen repression by Mozambican authorities of the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association. From 21 to 24 January 2019, the police surrounded the office of the Centre for Public Integrity (CIP), an independent civil society organisation, which launched a campaign against the repayment of alleged illegally acquired secret loans amounting to USD2.2 billion which were taken under former president Armando Guebuza. The police also ordered people to remove campaign T-shirts and CIP’s employees to stop distributing the T-shirts.[4]

In March 2019, authorities disrupted one march and initially blocked another both in the capital Maputo. On March 1, police officers armed with rifles disrupted a march organized by a local primary school to mark the city’s annual carnival. Four days later, the mayor of Maputo rejected plans for Mozambique’s leading women’s rights group, Forum Mulher, to march against domestic violence on International Women’s Day.[5]

We fear escalation of the crackdown and climate of repression of the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association and media freedom ahead of the forthcoming general elections.

Human Rights violations and abuses in the Cabo Delgado province

Since October 2017, the northern districts of Cabo Delgado province have experienced appalling attacks by individuals believed to be members of an armed group known as “Al-Shabaab”. The attackers have invaded villages, set houses on fire, hacked villagers to death with machetes and looted their food. In response, the government increased military presence in the region, however, the authorities’ response has been concerning. Security forces have reportedly intimidated, harassed, arbitrarily arrested and detained people on suspicion of belonging to the armed group. In addition, there are allegations of the detainees being subjected to torture and other ill-treatment. Deeply concerning are reports of cases of summary executions. Security forces have also intimidated, detained and even charged journalists and human right defenders and researchers who have been investigating the humanitarian crisis as well as the violations and abuses by state security forces.[6]

On 5 January 2019, journalist Amade Abubacar was arrested by police officers of Macomia district without a warrant while he was interviewing villagers who had fled their homes due to intensified attacks carried out by individuals believed to be members of an armed group.[7] Amade was held in pre-trial detention for nearly 100 days, including 12 days in incommunicado military detention.[8] On 23 April, Amade was granted provisional release from Mieze prison in Pemba city.[9] He is still facing accusations of crimes of “public incitement through electronic media” and “incitement” and “injury against public officials”.[10]

In December 2018, Estacio Valoi, an investigative journalist, and David Matsinhe, a researcher at Amnesty International, were arrested by the military and held incommunicado for two days in Mocímboa da Praia district, accused of spying and aiding and abetting the armed group “Al-Shabaab”. They were released without charges, but their equipment remains confiscated by the military for “further investigation.”[11] The area remains a virtual no-go area for the press, with negative implications for citizens’ right to know.

Accountability and justice for victims of human rights violations and abuses

We are very concerned about the continued impunity for human rights crimes, including extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearance, torture and other ill-treatment which has created an environment of public fear and insecurity. Several organizations have documented numerous cases which remain unresolved, including:

On 8 October 2016, Jeremias Pondeca, a senior member of the Mozambique National Resistance opposition party (RENAMO) and was also part of the mediation team seeking to end the clashes between RENAMO and the government, was shot dead in Maputo by unknown men suspected of being part of a death squad composed of state security officers.[12]

On 27 March 2018, unknown gunmen abducted human rights lawyer Ericino de Salema outside the offices of the Mozambican Union of Journalists in Maputo.[13] The men then beat and abandoned him on the Maputo Ring Road. As a result of the assault, Mr. Salema suffered serious fractures to his arms and legs. At the time of the attack, Mr. Salema was the resident political commentator on the television show, STV’s Pontos de Vista, on which he has often taken positions critical of the government’s policies. It is feared that the attack was likely in retaliation for his critical views in the course of his professional duties.

On 4 October 2017, an unidentified gunman assassinated the then mayor of Nampula City, Mahamudo Amurane, at his home.[14] Since his election as mayor of Nampula in 2013, Mahamudo Amurane had embarked on a public quest to root out alleged corruption in the city’s administration and revitalize public infrastructure.

Violations of the rights of refugees and asylum seekers

Despite the government’s international commitment to respect and protect the rights of refugees and asylum seekers, we documented worrying reports of arbitrary arrests and deportation of refugees by the state security forces and immigration officers.

On 17 January 2019, police and immigration officers arrested 15 refugees and asylum seekers (14 men and one woman) from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and one male refugee from Ethiopia who were at the time residing in Maratane Camp in Nampula province. According to their testimonies, they were arrested without a warrant, hand-cuffed and beaten. They were not immediately informed of the reasons for their arrest and detention.[15]

The 16 refugees and asylum seekers are currently detained at the Third Police Station in Pemba. The 16 people have been held for more than seven months, and they have not been notified of the reason for their detention or of any criminal charges against them. They have also not been brought before a court. According to interviews conducted with the detainees by Amnesty International, they are being held in inhumane conditions. The detainees were forced to dig a hole in the police station’s patio to use as a toilet. They have been drinking possibly contaminated water that is yellow in colour from the cell’s sink. Sometimes those who can afford it pay someone to buy them bottled water.[16]

On 23 January 2019, the government of Mozambique deported seven men from the group of 16 refugees and asylum seekers, who were originally from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). They were not notified of a deportation order, nor were they permitted to challenge their deportation in court. According to testimony from the seven men, the immigration officers forced them to board a flight to Kinshasa, DRC. When they arrived at the Kinshasa airport, the immigration officer denied them entry and ordered their return to Mozambique. They were returned to Pemba city on 26 January and taken to the Third Police Station, where they are still being detained.

In light of the above, we are calling on Your Holiness to raise these human rights concerns with the Government of Mozambique and request that the government immediately look into the matters and take concrete and meaningful steps to respect, protect, promote and fulfill human rights.

In addition, we ask that Your Holiness reiterate to the government that it must ensure that members of civil society including journalists, researchers and lawyers can carry out their work freely and without fear of attacks, intimidation, harassment. The government must also ensure prompt, thorough, impartial and independent investigations into cases of extrajudicial killings, arbitrary arrests and detention and other cases of human rights violations and abuses and that those suspected to be responsible are brought to justice in fair trials.

We hope that Your Holiness’ visit to Mozambique presents a genuine opportunity to the government of Mozambique to reaffirm its commitment to upholding the human rights enshrined in the Constitution of the Republic, as well as the government’s regional and international human rights obligations and commitments.

Thank you for your consideration of this letter.

Yours Sincerely,

African Freedom of Expression Exchange (AFEX)

Africans Rising

Amnesty International

CIVICUS

Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)

Federation of Journalists of Portuguese Language (FJLP)

Human Rights Watch

IFEX

International Press Institute (IPI)

MISA-Mozambique

Parlamento Juvenil – Moçambique

Reporters Sans Frontiers

Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC)

Solidariedade Moçambique (SOLDMOZ-ADS)

#ReageMoçambique

 

[1] Amnesty International (19 October 2018) Mozambique: Journalists and Activists Threatened – AFR 41/9263/2018. Available at: https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/afr41/9263/2018/en/. Amnesty International (17 October 2018) Mozambique: Journalists and activists face death threats and intimidation in post-election witch-hunt. Available at: https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2018/10/mozambique-journalists-and-activists-face-death-threats-and-intimidation-in-post-election-witch-hunt/.

[2] Amnesty International (19 October 2018) Mozambique: Journalists and Activists Threatened – AFR 41/9263/2018. Available at: https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/afr41/9263/2018/en/.

[3] All Africa (3 May 2019) Mozambique: Misa warns of deteriorating press freedom. Available at: https://allafrica.com/stories/201905030729.html

[4] Amnesty International (29 January 2019) Mozambique: Woman human rights defender facing threats online: Fátima Mimbire. Available at: https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/afr41/9744/2019/en/

[5] Human Rights Watch (13 March 2019) Armed police break up Mozambique Children’s march – Women’s day protest proceeds after initial ban. Available at: https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/03/13/armed-police-break-mozambique-childrens-march

[6] Human Rights Watch (4 December 2018) Mozambique: Security forces abusing suspected insurgents. Available at: https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/12/04/mozambique-security-forces-abusing-suspected-insurgents

American Bar Association (11 April 2019) Mozambique: Effective counter-terrorism strategies do not include arresting journalists. Available at: https://www.americanbar.org/groups/human_rights/reports/ArrestsInCaboDelgado/

[7] Amnesty International (11 January 2019) Mozambique: Journalist Arbitrarily detained incommunicado: Amade Abubacar. Available: https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/afr41/9674/2019/en/

[8] Amnesty International (5 February 2019) Mozambique: Further Information: Detained journalist denied family visits: Amade Abubacar. Available: https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/afr41/9792/2019/en/

[9] Reporters Without Borders (23 April 2019) Two Mozambican journalists freed after being held for months. Available at: https://rsf.org/en/news/two-mozambican-journalists-freed-after-being-held-months

[10] Amnesty International (19 August 2019) Mozambique: Further information: Journalist awaits prosecutor’s decision: Amade Abubacar. Available at: https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/afr41/0890/2019/en/

[11] Committee to Protect Journalists, Mozambican journalist arrested, held in military prison, 9 January 2019. Available: https://cpj.org/2019/01/mozambican-journalist-arrested-held-in-military-pr.php

[12] Human Rights Watch (11 October 2016) Mozambique: Prominent opposition leader killed. Available at: https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/10/11/mozambique-prominent-opposition-leader-killed

[13] Committee to Protect Journalists (28 March 2018) Mozambique journalist abducted, assaulted. Available at: https://cpj.org/2018/03/mozambique-journalist-abducted-assaulted.php

[14] Amnesty International (5 October 2017) Mozambique: Killing of anti-corruption mayor must be investigated. Available at: https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2017/10/mozambique-killing-of-anti-corruption-mayor-must-be-investigated/

[15] Amnesty International, Mozambique: refugees, asylum seekers held arbitrarily, 13 June 2019. Available at: https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/afr41/0465/2019/en/

[16] Amnesty International, Mozambique: Further information: refugees, asylum seekers held without charge, 16 August 2019. Available at: https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/afr41/0880/2019/en/

 

Sudan: Ensuring a credible response by the UN Human Rights Council at its 42nd session

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

Excellencies,

Ahead of the 42nd regular session of the UN Human Rights Council (“HRC” or “the Council”), we, the undersigned civil society organisations, urge you to ensure the Council takes action to address serious human rights violations and abuses that have been and continue to be committed in Sudan, and to support systemic reforms in the country. As detailed below, the Council should formulate a holistic response to the situation in the country, including by ensuring an investigation of violations committed since December 2018, renewing the mandate of the Independent Expert on Sudan, and strengthening monitoring and reporting by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).

On 17 August, the Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC), opposition umbrella groups, as well as the Transitional Military Council (TMC), which took power upon the ouster of former president Omar al-Bashir, signed an agreement on transitional governance arrangements for the next three years, followed by elections. However, the human rights situation in Sudan continues to be of grave concern, including with violence against protesters and ongoing lack of accountability for violations and abuses since December, and poses major risks to long-term stability in the country, as well as in the East African, Horn of Africa and Middle East regions.[1]

Yet, since peaceful protests calling for civilian rule started, in December 2018, the Council has missed several opportunities to contribute to the formulation of a meaningful international response to the Sudanese crisis. It remained silent ahead of its 40th session (February-March 2019); after the 3 June 2019 massacre; and during its 41st session (June-July 2019), failing to convene a special session, or an urgent debate, or even to adopt a resolution on the country’s extraordinary human rights situation.

Silence is no longer an option. The transitional agreement is no guarantee of improved respect for human rights. As the UN’s top human rights body, the Council should fulfill its responsibilities towards the Sudanese people and contribute to ensuring that human rights compliance and systemic reforms are central parts of a sustainable political solution to the crisis and that peaceful transitional arrangements are respected, in line with its mandate to promote and protect human rights.

As the Council’s 42nd session approaches, Member and Observer States should actively work towards the adoption of a resolution using the range of tools available to address Sudan’s short-, mid-, and long-term human rights challenges. The Council should act in accordance with its mandate to address human rights violations and be guided by the overarching need to protect the rights and freedoms of the Sudanese people.

Major human rights developments in Sudan since December 2018 are detailed in the annex to this letter.

With the above considerations and the human rights situation in Sudan in mind, at its 42nd session, the Council should:

  • Establish an independent investigation, in the form of a fact-finding mission or similar, into all human rights violations and abuses, including sexual and gender-based violence, committed in the context of peaceful protests since December 2018.

The investigation should:

  • Be independent, impartial, transparent, thorough, and effective. It should address patterns of violations and the chain of command of all relevant State organs; examine the role of all such organs, including the Transitional Military Council (TMC), Rapid Support Forces (RSF), National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS), and associated elements; and seek to identify those most responsible for the violations, irrespective of their rank or social standing;
  • Rely on a standard of proof that enables the identification of individual perpetrators and future criminal prosecutions, and recommend ways of holding perpetrators accountable;
  • Address the gaps in the national investigation[2] by covering all violations and abuses committed in relation to peaceful protests since December 2018, including after the 3 June 2019 massacre;
  • Address patterns of violations, including the legal, institutional, and policy framework that enable violations associated with State responses to peaceful protests and citizens’ exercise of their human rights and fundamental freedoms; and
  • Cover violations and abuses committed in Khartoum and the rest of the country, including conflict areas of Darfur, South Kordofan, and Blue Nile.

The Council should request the investigative mechanism to share its report and recommendations with the African Union (AU), the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), and all relevant organs of the UN.

  • Renew and strengthen the mandate of the independent expert (IE) and ensure robust monitoring and public reporting mandate for the OHCHR throughout 2020 and beyond by:
  • Renew and strengthen the mandate of the Independent Expert until a fully mandated OHCHR country office is declared operational by the OHCHR and the government of the Sudan;
  • Continue to extend technical assistance and capacity-building to Sudan, including in the form of training on human rights compliance for security and law enforcement bodies and technical advice on bringing legislation, policies, and practices in line with international standards and Sudan’s obligations, including by amending or repealing laws and regulations and reforming State organs;
  • As technical cooperation relies on and goes hand in hand with, a thorough and ongoing assessment of the human rights situation, issues, and challenges, the Council needs to ensure that the OHCHR enjoys a robust monitoring and reporting capacity. Such reporting should include recommendations for systemic (including legislative, institutional, and policy) reforms needed to improve Sudan’s human rights situation and to bring about transformational change for the benefit of the Sudanese people, including women and girls, marginalised and at-risk groups;
  • Ensure public discussion of the human rights situation in Sudan and systemic reforms needed to improve it through an Enhanced Interactive Dialogues once a year, bringing together the Independent Expert, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Government of Sudan, relevant UN actors, and civil society representatives, in addition to the regular Interactive Dialogues at the Council’s September sessions;
  • The Council should further make clear that UN and independent actors must have access to all places and persons of interest throughout the country, including the conflict areas of Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile and that the Sudanese Government has an obligation to create and maintain a safe and enabling environment in which civil society, human rights defenders, the media and other independent actors can operate free from hindrance, insecurity, and reprisals.

The Council should encourage, as a matter of urgency, the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the Government of Sudan and OHCHR, regarding the opening and operationalization of a fully mandated OHCHR country office to monitor the full range of human rights including the domestic investigation into abuses against protesters on June 3, as envisioned in the constitutional charter.

Yet again, we urge you to take immediate and long-overdue action to ensure the Council provides a credible response to the human rights situation in Sudan, and stand ready to provide your Delegation with any further information.

With assurances of our highest consideration,

  1. African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies (ACJPS)
  2. Amnesty International
  3. Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS)
  4. CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
  5. CSW
  6. DefendDefenders (the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project)
  7. Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect (GCR2P)
  8. Human Rights Watch
  9. International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
  10. International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)
  11. MagkaSama Project
  12. MENA Rights Group
  13. Physicians for Human Rights
  14. REDRESS
  15. Strategic Initiative for women in the Horn of Africa (SIHA Network)
  16. Sudanese Human Rights Initiative (SHRI)
  17. Sudanese Human Rights Monitor

 

Annex: Human rights developments in Sudan since December 2018

In December 2018, a threefold increase in the price of bread triggered peaceful mass protests against economic hardship, inequality and poverty, which quickly expanded to include grievances over lack of good governance, authoritarian rule, and human rights violations in Sudan. Tens of thousands of Sudanese started peacefully protesting on a daily basis, organised sit-ins, most notably in the capital Khartoum, and demanded long-term political change. The protests came to be referred to as the “Sudanese Uprising” or “Sudanese Revolution.”

The authorities responded by using excessive and lethal force, indiscriminately firing live ammunition and tear gas into crowds of peaceful protesters, killing dozens of civilians. In a joint letter published in January 2019, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and human rights defenders (HRDs) called on the Council to dispatch a fact-finding mission to Sudan. The signatories wrote: “These attacks are not taking place in a vacuum: they follow decades of violations committed during systematic and widespread attacks on civilians – amounting to crimes against humanity – both in the context of popular protest and multiple conflicts waged against populations in Sudan’s designated peripheries.”[3] At its 40th regular session, however, the Council remained silent on the situation.

On 5 March 2019, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) adopted a resolution on the human rights situation in Sudan. The resolution expressed concern over “the use of excessive and disproportionate force to disperse protests, resulting in the deaths and injuries of several protesters,” alarm over “reports that security forces fired live ammunition and tear gas into hospital premises, where protesters were taking shelter,” and concern over “allegations relating to the arbitrary arrest, detention, torture and ill-treatment of persons suspected of participating in or supporting the protests.” The ACHPR made a series of recommendations to the Government and called on it to authorise the Commission to undertake a fact-finding mission to the country.[4]

In the night of 10-11 April 2019, the protest movement and power shifts within the political, military and security apparatus led to the ouster of President Omar al-Bashir, who had ruled Sudan for almost 30 years and is wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) on several counts of crimes against humanity, war crimes, and genocide for crimes committed in Darfur.[5] The military installed a Transitional Military Council (TMC) and peaceful protests continued. Protesters and their representatives, including the Sudanese Professionals’ Association (SPA) and other civilian and professional associations, demanded a quick transition to civilian rule through a civilian-led transition process.

On 14 May 2019, in another resolution on Sudan, the ACHPR reaffirmed its statements and recommendations as well as the State’s obligations pursuant to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. It called on Sudan’s transitional authorities to “protect the right of citizens to participate freely in the government of their country through freely chosen representatives,” “respect and uphold the fundamental human rights and freedoms of citizens, particularly the right to assembly, freedom from torture and ill-treatment, liberty and security, as well as due process of law, during and after the transition to a Civilian-led Transitional Authority,” “refrain from the use of excessive force against protesters […],” “conduct prompt, impartial and independent investigations into the alleged human rights violations and hold perpetrators, including state security agents accountable,” and “ensure that victims of the violations and their families obtain full and adequate redress.”[6] The standoff between peaceful protesters and the State’s military and security apparatus continued.

On 3 June 2019, Rapid Support Forces (RSF) – or “Janjaweed,” a paramilitary force under the authority of General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, known as “Hemedti,” who also serves as deputy head of the TMC, attacked peaceful demonstrators at a sit-in in Khartoum. More than one hundred civilians have been reported killed, and hundreds more injured. Protesters were also beaten and arbitrarily detained, subjected to rape, including gang rape, and other forms of intimidation and humiliation.

The attacks occurred in the very early morning, with soldiers opening fire on protesters then chasing them into buildings. Forces attacked or prevented care at at least three hospitals with reports of doctors being assaulted.[7] Attacking forces burned down the sit-in tents and looted goods. Reports also indicate that RSF carried out similar attacks on peaceful protesters in Darfur and other parts of the country.

The crimes and human rights violations committed during the crackdown on June 3 shocked the capital, and recall violations committed by government forces and the RSF in other parts of the country over the last decades, including in conflict areas of Blue Nile, South Kordofan, and Darfur. [8]

After the attack, talks between the TMC and FFC, facilitated by H.E. Dr. Abiy Ahmed, Ethiopia’s Prime Minister (as the Chairperson of IGAD), faltered. On 6 June 2019, the AU suspended with immediate effect the participation of Sudan in all AU activities until the effective establishment of a civilian-led Transitional Authority.

In a letter to the HRC, a group of NGOs wrote: “These horrific acts clearly demonstrate [the TMC’s] lack of commitment to a peaceful transition to a civilian government and their determination to consolidate control by the harshest elements in the security services. It highlights the risk of further political polarization and of mass violent confrontation if urgent action is not taken in support of a peaceful transition to civilian rule.” The signatories urged the Council to convene a special session and to adopt a resolution requesting the UN High Commissioner to set up a fact-finding mission.[9]

In another letter addressed to the UN Security Council (UNSC), NGOs[10] highlighted that the RSF, riot police, and national security officials that attacked the protest site “blocked the exit so that protesters could not easily leave and used live ammunition. Gunmen reportedly threw bodies into the Nile, weighing them down with bricks. According to the Central Committee of Doctors, 40 bodies were retrieved from the waters.[11] Attackers also reportedly raped protesters. At least three hospitals were attacked, with reports of doctors assaulted. Since then, targeted harassment of medical personnel has led to the closing of eight hospitals, according to the Central Committee of Doctors.[12]

We note the call by a group of NGOs on the UNSC to support regional efforts by, among other things, condemning the violence, supporting the establishment of an independent investigation, demanding a rapid transfer of power to civilian authorities and a transition period led by civilian authorities, freezing plans to draw down the forces of the joint UN-AU Mission in Sudan (UNAMID), demanding the demobilisation of the RSF under international supervision, and expanding the imposition of targeted sanctions in Sudan, now only focused on Darfur, to individuals most responsible for violence against peaceful protesters and other peaceful opposition. Meanwhile, the RSF committed further human rights violations in Darfur. New satellite evidence and testimonies confirm that government forces, including the Rapid Support Forces and associated militias, have damaged or destroyed at least 45 villages in Jebel Marra between July 2018 and February 2019.[13]

However, ahead of, and at, its 41st session, the HRC failed to take any action on Sudan. It did not convene a special session or an urgent debate, and failed to adopt any resolution on the situation.

Crimes and human rights violations by forces under the command of the TMC continued, and on 30 June 2019, as the Council’s 41st session was ongoing, RSF forces attacked protesters in Omdurman, killing at least ten people.[14] On 29 July 2019, security forces broke up a student protests in the city of El-Obeid, shooting dead at least six protesters, including three minors.[15] Killings of civilians have also con­ti­nued to be reported in other areas of the country.

On 5 July 2019, a power-sharing deal was agreed between the TMC and representatives of the civilian protest move­ment, the Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC). The deal envisioned a 39-month tran­sition period led by a Sovereign Council (SC) with a rotating (TMC/FFC) presidency, followed by elections. The agreement also called for an investigation into the 3 June mas­sacre and other instances of violence, as well as a (seemingly unrealistic) six-month time frame to try and reach a peace agreement with all armed rebel groups throughout the country, including Blue Nile, Darfur and South Kordofan.

On 4 August, the parties signed a constitutional charter that provides for transitional bodies, sets out mandated tasks and time periods. On 17 August, the parties signed the power-sharing agreement incorporating both the political and constitutional agreements. On 21 August, the new SC members, chaired by the army general and former TMC chair, Abdel Fattah Burhan, were sworn in along with the prime minister. A new cabinet was scheduled to be appointed on 1 September 2019, and a 300-member legislative council is to be appointed within 3 months.[16]

The agreement contains many ambitious goals for reforming institutions and protecting rights, but no benchmarks for progress.[17] A critical gap in the agreement is the absence of any mechanism to ensure its implementation and consequences for breaching it. The agreement is also sorely lacking in broad accountability for human rights violations. The agreement calls for a new “independent national committee” to investigate the 3 June 2019 massacre with possible African support[18] – but it is unclear if and how those responsible (including commanders who are on the SC) will be held accountable, and if they will be investigations into crimes under international law and other serious human rights violations perpetrated outside of the 3 June event, including before December 2018.

Many ques­tions therefore remain. They include, inter alia, the legal enforceability of the constitu­tional de­cla­ra­tion and consequences for breaching it; details regarding the State’s decentralisation; decision-making in the SC (and de facto veto powers by either of the parties as well as ways of overcoming these vetoes); the status of the RSF and their rela­tion­ship to the Sudanese Armed For­ces (SAF); details of the pro­cess of dismantling the means of control of the former regime; and how to establish and guarantee the maintenance of an independent judiciary.

 

[1]          See annex.

[2]          See annex.

[3]                DefendDefenders et al., “Joint Letter from Nongovernmental Groups: Human Rights Council Should Create Independent Fact-Finding Group for Sudan,” 31 January 2019, https://www.defenddefenders.org/statement/joint-letter-from-nongovernmental-groups-human-rights-council-should-create-independent-fact-finding-group-for-sudan/ (accessed on 6 August 2019).

[4]                African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, “413 Resolution on the Human Rights Situation in the Republic of The Sudan – ACHPR/Res. 413 (EXT.OS/ XXV),” 5 March 2019, https://www.achpr.org/sessions/resolutions?id=431 (accessed on 6 August 2019).

[5]                International Criminal Court, “Al Bashir Case: The Prosecutor v. Omar Hassan Ahmad Al Bashir,” as of 6 August 2019, ICC-02/05-01/09 https://www.icc-cpi.int/darfur/albashir (accessed on 6 August 2019).

[6]                African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, “421 Resolution on the Human Rights Situation in the Republic of The Sudan – ACHPR / Res. 421 (LXIV) 2019, 14 May 2019, https://www.achpr.org/sessions/resolutions?id=445 (accessed on 6 August 2019).

[7]                Physicians for Human Rights, “With Sudan Power-Sharing Plan, PHR Urges Renewed Focus on Accountability, Independent Investigation and Long-Term International Monitoring,” 5 July 2019, https://phr.org/news/with-sudan-power-sharing-plan-phr-urges-renewed-focus-on-accountability-independent-investigation-and-long-term-international-monitoring/ (accessed on 2 August 2019).

[8]          HRW, “ “Men With No Mercy” Rapid Support Forces Attacks against Civilians in Darfur, Sudan”, 9 September 2015, https://www.hrw.org/report/2015/09/09/men-no-mercy/rapid-support-forces-attacks-against-civilians-darfur-sudan.

[9]                Sudan Consortium et al., “Killings of Peaceful Sudanese Democracy Protesters Demand Accountability,” 6 June 2019, http://sudanconsortium.org/2019/06/06/killings-of-peaceful-sudanese-democracy-protesters-demand-accountability/ (accessed on 6 August 2019).

[10]        Act for Sudan, African Federation Association AFA WFM UGANDA, African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies (ACJPS), AlKhatim Adlan Centre for Enlightenment and Human Development (KACE), Atrocities Watch Africa, Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS), CSW, Darfur Bar Association (DBA), DefendDefenders (the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project), Euro-African Forum on Rights and Development (EAFRD), Horn of Africa Civil Society Forum, Human Rights Watch, Human Rights Institute of South Africa (HURISA), International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), International Refugee Rights Initiative, Investors Against GenocideJustice Centre for Advocacy and Legal Consultations, Kamma Organization for Development Initiatives (KODI), The MagkaSama Project, Massachusetts Coalition to Save Darfur, MENA Rights Group, Never Again Coalition, Nubsud Human Rights Monitors Organisation (NHRMO), Skills for Nuba Mountains, Stop Genocide Now, Sudan Consortium, Sudan Unlimited, Sudanese Rights Group, World Peace Foundation

[11]        Central Committee of Sudan Doctors (CCSD), “June 5th, 2019”, 5 June 2019, https://www.facebook.com/Sudandoctorscommittee/posts/central-committee-of-sudan-doctors-ccsdjune-5th-2019-urgentwe-sadly-report-that-/2339370886348814/ (accessed on 26 August 2019).

[12]               African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies et al., “30 CSOs Appeal to UN Security Council for Urgent Intervention to Prevent further Bloodshed in Sudan,” 11 June 2019, https://www.acjps.org/30-csos-appeal-to-un-security-council-for-urgent-intervention-to-prevent-further-bloodshed-in-sudan/ (accessed on 6 August 2019).

[13]              Amnesty International, Sudan: Fresh evidence of government-sponsored crimes in Darfur shows drawdown of peacekeepers premature and reckless, 11 June 2019, https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2019/06/sudan-fresh-evidence-of-government-sponsored-crimes-in-darfur-shows-drawdown-of-peacekeepers-premature-and-reckless/

[14]        UN News, “Restrictions, unmet promises, unbridled violence in Sudan, a ‘recipe for disaster’, says Bachelet”, 3 July 2019, https://news.un.org/en/story/2019/07/1041802 (accessed on 26 August).

[15]               African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies, “North Kordofan: Urgent call to investigate the killing of six peaceful protesters including 3 minors in El Obeid,” 2 August 2019, https://www.acjps.org/north-kordofan-urgent-call-to-investigate-the-killing-of-six-peaceful-protesters-including-3-minors-in-el-obeid/ (accessed on 6 August 2019).

[16]               Reuters, “Sudan factions initial pact ushering in transitional government,” 4 August 2019, https://uk.reuters.com/article/uk-sudan-politics-idUKKCN1UU09P (accessed on 6 August 2019).

[17]               Human Rights Watch news release, August 23, 2019, “Prioritize Justice, Accountability,” https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/08/23/sudan-prioritize-justice-accountability

[18]               See Radio Dabanga, “Sudan: Signing of Constitutional Declaration heralds start of comprehensive peace process,” 5 August 2019, https://www.dabangasudan.org/en/all-news/article/sudan-signing-of-constitutional-agreement-heralds-start-of-comprehensive-peace-process (accessed on 6 August 2019).

 

UN resolution needed to help address human rights crisis in Cambodia

To Members and Observer States of the United Nations Human Rights Council

Dear Excellency,

The undersigned civil society organizations, representing groups working within and outside Cambodia to advance human rights, rule of law, and democracy, are writing to alert your government to an ongoing human rights crisis in Cambodia and to request your support for a resolution ensuring strengthened scrutiny of the human rights situation in the country at the upcoming 42nd session of the UN Human Rights Council (the “Council”).

National elections in July 2018 were conducted after the Supreme Court, which lacks independence, dissolved the major opposition party, the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP). Many believe that this allowed the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) under Prime Minister Hun Sen to secure all 125 seats in the National Assembly and effectively establish one-party rule. Since the election, respect for human rights in Cambodia has further declined. Key opposition figures remain either in detention – such as CNRP leader Kem Sokha, who is under de facto house arrest – or in self-imposed exile out of fear of being arrested. The CNRP is considered illegal and 111 senior CNRP politicians remain banned from engaging in politics. Many others have continued to flee the country to avoid arbitrary arrest and persecution.

Government authorities have increasingly harassed opposition party members still in the country, with more than 147 former CNRP members summoned to court or police stations. Local authorities have continued to arrest opposition members and activists on spurious charges. The number of prisoners facing politically motivated charges in the country has remained steady since the election. The government has shuttered almost all independent media outlets and totally controls national TV and radio stations. Repressive laws – including the amendments to the Law on Political Parties, the Law on Non-Governmental Organizations, and the Law on Trade Unions – have resulted in severe restrictions on the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association.

It is expected that a resolution will be presented at the 42nd session of the Human Rights Council in September to renew the mandate of the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia for another two years. We strongly urge your delegation to ensure that the resolution reflects the gravity of the situation in the country and requests additional monitoring and reporting by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). Mandated OHCHR monitoring of the situation and reporting to the Council, in consultation with the Special Rapporteur, would enable a comprehensive assessment of the human rights situation in Cambodia, identification of concrete actions that the government needs to take to comply with Cambodia’s international human rights obligations, and would allow the Council further opportunities to address the situation.

Since the last Council resolution was adopted in September 2017, the situation of human rights in Cambodia, including for the political opposition, human rights defenders, and the media, has drastically worsened. Developments since the 2018 election include:

Crackdown on Political Opposition

On March 12, 2019, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court issued arrest warrants for eight leading members of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party who had left Cambodia ahead of the July 2018 election – Sam Rainsy, Mu Sochua, Ou Chanrith, Eng Chhai Eang, Men Sothavarin, Long Ry, Tob Van Chan, and Ho Vann. The charges were based on baseless allegations of conspiring to commit treason and incitement to commit a felony. In September 2018, authorities transferred CNRP head Kem Sokha after more than a year of pre-trial detention in a remote prison to his Phnom Penh residence under highly restrictive “judicial supervision” that amounts to house arrest. Cambodian law has no provision for house arrest and there is no evidence that Sokha has committed any internationally recognizable offense.

During 2019, at least 147 arbitrary summonses were issued by the courts and police against CNRP members or supporters. Summonses seen by human rights groups lack legal specifics, containing only vague references to allegations that the person summoned may have violated the Supreme Court ruling that dissolved the CNRP in November 2017.

Human Rights Defenders and Peaceful Protesters

In November 2018, Prime Minister Hun Sen stated that criminal charges would be dropped against all trade union leaders related to the government’s January 2014 crackdown on trade unions and garment workers in which security forces killed five people. However, the following month, a court convicted six union leaders – Ath Thorn, Chea Mony, Yang Sophorn, Pav Sina, Rong Chhun, and Mam Nhim – on baseless charges and fined them. An appeals court overturned the convictions in May 2019, but in July 2019 the court announced its verdict in absentia convicting Kong Atith, newly elected president of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers Democratic Union (CCAWDU), of intentional acts of violence in relation to a 2016 protest between drivers and the Capitol Bus Company. The court imposed a three-year suspended sentence, which will create legal implications under Article 20 of the Law on Trade Unions, which sets out among others that a leader of a worker union cannot have a felony or misdemeanour conviction.

In December 2018, Thai authorities forcibly returned Cambodian dissident Rath Rott Mony to Cambodia. Cambodian authorities then prosecuted him for his role in a Russia Times documentary “My Mother Sold Me,” which describes the failure of Cambodian police to protect girls sold into sex work. He was convicted of “incitement to discriminate” and in July 2019 sentenced to two years in prison.

In March 2018, the government enacted a lese majeste (insulting the king) clause into the Penal Code, and within a year four people had been jailed under the law and three convicted. All the lese majeste cases involved people expressing critical opinions on Facebook or sharing other people’s Facebook posts. The government has used the new law, along with a judiciary that lacks independence, as a political tool to silence independent and critical voices in the country.

In July 2019, authorities detained two youth activists, Kong Raya and Soung Neakpoan, who participated in a commemoration ceremony on the third anniversary of the murder of prominent political commentator Kem Ley in Phnom Penh. The authorities charged both with incitement to commit a felony, a provision commonly used to silence activists and human rights defenders. Authorities arrested seven people in total for commemorating the anniversary; monitored, disrupted, or cancelled commemorations around the country; and blocked approximately 20 members of the Grassroots Democracy Party on their way to Takeo province – Kem Ley’s home province.

Attacks on Journalists and Control of the Media

Prior to the July 2018 election, the Cambodian government significantly curtailed media freedom, online and offline. In 2017, authorities ordered the closure of 32 FM radio frequencies that aired independent news programs by Radio Free Asia (RFA) and Voice of America. RFA closed its offices in September 2017, citing government harassment as the reason for its closure. The local Voice of Democracy radio was also forced to go off the air.

Since 2017, two major independent newspapers, the Phnom Penh Post and The Cambodia Daily, were subjected to dubious multi-million-dollar tax bills, leading the Phnom Penh Post to be sold to a businessman with ties to Hun Sen and The Cambodia Daily to close.

Social media networks have come under attack from increased government surveillance and interventions. In May 2018, the government adopted a decree on Publication Controls of Website and Social Media Processing via the Internet and the Law on Telecommunications, which allow for arbitrary interference and surveillance of online media and unfettered government censorship. Just two days before the July 2018 elections, authorities blocked the websites of independent media outlets – including RFA and VOA – which human rights groups considered immediate enforcement of the new decree.

Since then, Cambodian authorities have proceeded with the politically motivated prosecution of two RFA journalists, Yeang Sothearin and Uon Chhin. They were arrested in November 2017 on fabricated espionage charges connected to allegations that the two men continued to report for RFA after RFA’s forced closure of its Cambodia office. They were held in pre-trial detention until August 2018. Their trial began in July 2019 and a verdict on the espionage charges is expected late August. They face up to 16 years in prison.

***

The Cambodian government’s actions before and since the July 2018 election demonstrate a comprehensive campaign by the ruling CPP government to use violence, intimidation and courts that lack judicial independence to silence or eliminate the political opposition, independent media, and civil society groups critical of the government.

We strongly urge your government to acknowledge the severity of the human rights situation and the risks it poses to Cambodia’s fulfilment of its commitments to respect human rights and rule of law as set out in the Paris Peace Accords 1991. It is crucial that concerned states explicitly condemn the Cambodian government’s attacks on human rights norms and take steps to address them.

For these reasons, we call on the Human Rights Council to adopt a resolution requesting the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to monitor and report on the situation of human rights in Cambodia and outline actions the government should take to comply with its international human rights obligations. The High Commissioner should report to the Council at its 45th session followed by an Enhanced Interactive Dialogue with the participation of the Special Rapporteur on Cambodia, other relevant UN Special Procedures, and members of local and international civil society.

We further recommend that your government, during the Council’s September session, speaks out clearly and jointly with other governments against ongoing violations in Cambodia.

We remain at your disposal for any further information.

With assurances of our highest consideration,

  1. Amnesty International
  2. ARTICLE 19
  3. ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR)
  4. Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)
  5. Asian Legal Resource Centre (ALRC)
  6. Cambodian Alliance of Trade Unions (CATU)
  7. Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR)
  8. Cambodian Food and Service Workers' Federation (CFSWF)
  9. Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC)
  10. Cambodian League for the Promotion & Defense of Human Rights (LICADHO)
  11. Cambodian Youth Network (CYN)
  12. Cambodia's Independent Civil Servants Association (CICA)
  13. Center for Alliance of Labor and Human Rights (CENTRAL)
  14. CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
  15. Civil Rights Defenders (CRD)
  16. Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)
  17. Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) 
  18. FIDH – International Federation for Human Rights
  19. Fortify Rights
  20. Human Rights Now
  21. Human Rights Watch (HRW)
  22. International Commission of Jurists (ICJ)
  23. Independent Democracy of Informal Economy Association (IDEA)
  24. International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)
  25. Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada (LRWC)
  26. National Democratic Institute (NDI)
  27. Reporters Without Borders (Reporters Sans Frontières - RSF)
  28. World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) 

 

Yemen: Over 75 organisations call for mandate of Group of Eminent Experts to be renewed

Over 75 organisations call for mandate of Group of Eminent Experts to be renewed, emphasising violations against human rights defenders

Arabic

We, the undersigned more than 75 international, regional and Yemeni CSOs, call for the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC) to extend and broaden the mandate of the Group of Eminent Experts on Yemen (GEE), including a thorough investigation into specific violations against human rights defenders, journalists and bloggers, and the closure of civic space.

 

Hong Kong: De-escalate violence and respect freedom of peaceful assembly

Bangkok, 16 August 2019 – We, the undersigned civil society organisations, express our deep concerns on the escalating violence in Hong Kong and urge the authorities to ensure conditions for peaceful assembly and association are present, and the protestors to exercise their rights to protest peacefully. We call on the Hong Kong Government to take meaningful action to curtail actions by law enforcement that escalate this violence and to proactively address the demands of the Hong Kong protesters.

The protests started over proposed amendments to the extradition laws which would have allowed local and foreign suspects to be extradited to mainland China. Such a move would undermine Hong Kong’s judicial independence and exposes suspects to risks of human rights violations. Despite statements that the bill is ‘dead,’ the Chief Executive of Hong Kong has stopped short of withdrawing it. Protesters are calling for its complete withdrawal, as well the unconditional release of arrested protesters and the subsequent dropping of charges against them. They are also calling for the Government to drop the use of the word ‘riots’ in relation to the protests, initiate an inquiry to police brutality, and implement genuine universal suffrage in Hong Kong.

Over the past few weeks, the police have repeatedly used tear gas, pepper spray and rubber bullets to disperse protesters, in several cases, causing severe injuries. Protesters have been subjected to indiscriminate violent attacks both from the police and from unidentified individuals. These actions are often excessive and violate international human rights norms. Protesters have also been witnessed attacking police officers and destroying property. Recent reports of Chinese military troops in the Hong Kong border may signal a further escalation of tensions over the coming days.

The undersigned organisations also raise concerns over the use of the term 'terrorism' by Chinese officials to describe these protests. Such discourse delegitimises the valid concerns of the protesters and seeks to justify possible extreme measures against them. We particularly note allegations that China’s State-sponsored media have started to label the Hong Kong democracy group Demosisto as a separatist movement, in efforts to stain their credibility.

The undersigned organisations condemn these violations as they continue unabated in the absence of meaningful action from the Government. We call on the Government of Hong Kong to immediately take meaningful action to de-escalate the situation, including through taking steps to genuinely engage with pro-democracy leaders and address concerns on the violations of the rights of the Hong Kong people.

We call on all parties to help ensure that the rights to freedom of expression, assembly and association can be exercised peacefully, and to immediately end all forms of violence. Police forces must ensure their actions are justified, and strictly proportionate to the risks faced at hand, including when considering the use of pepper spray, tear gas, and rubber bullets, among other measures. The use of any such weapons should be done in strict observance of the UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials. The Government should initiate investigations into violations of freedom of peaceful assembly by state forces. Protesters should express their views in peaceful ways, and refrain from resorting to violence.

We also call on the Hong Kong Government to immediately release all who have been arrested for conducting peaceful assembly and association and to drop all charges against them.

As protests continue, we call on the international community to keep monitoring the human rights violations and abuses and use bilateral and multilateral fora to speak out against such. We also urge the international civil society to provide solidarity to the Hong Kong people as they strive to claim and protect their rights.

Signatory organisations:

  1. Asia Democracy Network (ADN)
  2. Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)
  3. Asian Network for Free Elections (ANFREL)
  4. CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation (CIVICUS)
  5. Human Rights Watch

For further information, please contact:

  • ANFREL, Karel Jiaan Antonio Galang, karel[AT]anfrel.org
  • CIVICUS, Josef Benedict, josef.benedict[AT]civicus.org
  • East Asia and ASEAN Programme, FORUM-ASIA, ea-asean[AT]forum-asia.org
  • Human Rights Watch, Phil Robertson, RobertP[AT]hrw.org, mobile: +66-85-060-8406

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

 

Burundi: Continued investigation needed into grave human rights violations

FRENCH

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

Excellencies,

Ahead of the 42nd session of the UN Human Rights Council (“HRC” or “the Coun­cil”), we, the undersigned national, regional, and international civil society organisations, write to call on your delegation to support a resolution extending the mandate of the Commission of Inquiry (CoI) on Burundi for a further year, until September 2020.

The work conducted by the CoI provides critical oversight of the human rights situation in Bu­run­di. The situation in the country deteriorated markedly following the announcement by President Pierre Nkurunziza, in April 2015, that he would run for a controversial third term in office. Over the last four years and three months, the Government and its affiliated agencies and forces, inclu­ding the police, the National Intel­li­gence Service (Service national de renseignement, or SNR), and the ruling CNDD-FDD par­ty’s youth league, the Imbonerakure, have been res­ponsible for gross, widespread, and syste­ma­tic human rights violations.

The CoI has documented violations of civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights. Inde­pen­dent and critical voices, including civil society members, human rights de­fenders (HRDs), and jour­nalists, have been particularly targeted. Over the last year, the Burundian Government forced the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) to leave the country, suspended one of the last remaining independent civil society organisations, Words and Actions for the Awa­kening of Consciences and the Evolution of Mentalities (PARCEM), suspended the operating license of the Voice of America and revoked the license of the British Broadcasting Cooperation, and forced at least 30 international non-governmental organisations to cease their activities. On 17 July 2019, the Ntahangwa Court of Appeal upheld the 32-year prison sentence against HRD Germain Rukuki. With 2020 elections approa­ching, we believe the scrutiny provided by the CoI remains vitally important.

The pre-electoral context is likely to escalate political tensions and we are concerned that there may be a subsequent rise in human rights violations. Burundian and international human rights organi­sa­tions have continued to document serious and widespread violations throughout 2018 and to date in 2019, which appear to take place in a context of complete impunity. Although the registration of the National Congress for Freedom (Congrès national pour la liberté) indicated a possible opening of po­li­tical space ahead of the 2020 polls, rights groups have documented rampant abuses against its mem­bers, including killings, arbitrary arrests, beatings, and intimidation. The decision to fund the elections by collecting so-called “voluntary contributions” from the population has also led to wide­spread ex­tor­tion. Members of the Imbonerakure and the ruling party and local administrators, who have been charged with collecting the contributions, have arbitrarily restricted peoples’ movement and access to markets, health care, education and administrative services.

The CoI presented its findings to the Council in 2017 and 2018, indicating that it has “rea­so­nable grounds to believe that serious human rights violations and abuses have been committed in Bu­run­di since 2015” and that some of the violations may constitute “crimes against humanity.” By ex­ten­ding the CoI’s mandate, the Council would:

  • Ensure continued scrutiny of the situation, as the CoI remains the only mechanism to monitor and publicly report on the situation in Burundi;[1]
  • Provide the CoI and its secretariat with the time they need to complete their work docu­men­ting violations and building case files for future prosecutions;
  • Ensure consistency of action and follow-up on its previous resolutions, including HRC resolu­tions 30/27 (2015), S-24/1 (adopted in a special session held on 17 December 2015), 33/24 (2016), 36/19 (2017), and 39/14 (2018), thereby contributing to fulfilling its implementation mandate;
  • Make clear that obstructionism and attacks against the integrity of the Council and the OHCHR are not rewarded, as the Burun­dian Gov­ern­ment continues to deny expert findings on the country’s human rights situation, insult and threa­t­en members of the CoI, refuse to cooperate with the UN human rights system, refuse to act on key recommendations formulated by the CoI, OHCHR, and the Council, and engage in sub-standard co­operation with regional mechanisms;[2] and
  • Avoid a monitoring gap ahead of the 2020 election, as the limited civic and democratic space in the country and the intimidation exercised by government forces, the ruling party, and members of the Imbo­ne­ra­kure hamper the pros­pects for a free and fair election.

At minimum, Council Members and Observers should support the extension of the mandate of the CoI on Bu­rundi for a further year, until September 2020, in accordance with the Council’s res­pon­sibility to address situations of human rights violations, in­cluding gross and systematic violations, to advance accountability, to prevent further human rights violations and abuses, and to follow up on its actions and recom­mendations.

The Council should also request the CoI to prepare a report with a specific focus on elections and risk factors of human rights violations and abuses and to present it during an enhanced interactive dia­lo­gue at the Council’s 43rd session.

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

Sincerely,

  1. Action des Chrétiens pour l’Abolition de la Torture – Burundi (ACAT-Burundi)
  2. African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies (ACJPS)
  3. AfricanDefenders (Pan-African Human Rights Defenders Network)
  4. Amnesty International
  5. ARTICLE 19
  6. Association Burundaise pour la Protection des Droits Humains et des Personnes Détenues (APRODH)
  7. Association for Human Rights in Ethiopia (AHRE)
  8. Centre for Civil and Political Rights (CCPR-Centre)
  9. CIVICUS
  10. Civil Rights Defenders
  11. Civil Society Coalition for Monitoring the Elections (COSOME)
  12. Coalition Burundaise pour la Cour Pénale Internationale (CB-CPI)
  13. Collectif des Avocats pour la Défense des Victimes de Crimes de Droit International Commis au Burundi (CAVIB)
  14. Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)
  15. DefendDefenders (the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project)
  16. Eritrean Law Society (ELS)
  17. Eritrean Movement for Democracy and Human Rights (EMDHR)
  18. Forum pour la Conscience et le Développement (FOCODE)
  19. Forum pour le Renforcement de la Société Civile au Burundi (FORSC)
  20. Front Line Defenders
  21. Geneva for Human Rights / Genève pour les Droits de l’Homme
  22. Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect (GCR2P)
  23. Human Rights Watch
  24. International Commission of Jurists (ICJ)
  25. International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
  26. International Federation of Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture (FIACAT)
  27. International Refugee Rights Initiative (IRRI)
  28. International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)
  29. Ligue Iteka
  30. Mouvement Citoyen pour l’Avenir du Burundi (MCA)
  31. Mouvement des Femmes et des Filles pour la Paix et la Sécurité (MFFPS)
  32. National Coalition of Human Rights Defenders – Burundi (CBDDH)
  33. Central African Network of Human Rights Defenders (REDHAC)
  34. Observatoire de la Lutte contre la Corruption et les Malversations Économiques (OLUCOME)
  35. Organisation pour la Transparence et la Gouvernance (OTRAG)
  36. Réseau des Citoyens Probes (RCP)
  37. SOS-Torture/Burundi
  38. TRIAL International
  39. Union Burundaise des Journalistes (UBJ)
  40. West African Human Rights Defenders Network (ROADDH/WAHRDN)
  41. World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)

[1] Interactive dialogues at the Coun­cil provide the only regular space for public reporting and debates on human rights deve­lop­ments in the country.

[2] While the African Union’s (AU) observers continue to monitor the human rights situation in Burundi despite a number of limitations imposed by the authorities, their findings are not publicly reported.


Civicspace in Burundi is rated as Closed by the CIVICUS Monitor

 

CSO's Letter to the African Union Commission about the State of Human Rights in Egypt

by H.E. Moussa Faki Mahamat 

We write to you in your capacity as the Chairperson of the African Union Commission, the secretariat of the continental organisation responsible for driving the political agenda and development of the people of Africa. As Chairperson of the AU Commission, we are assured of your mandate to promote the objectives of the AU. The undersigned organisations work to advance human rights in Africa and write to express deep concerns about the situation of human rights in the Republic of Egypt. In particular, this letter highlights some systematic violations of human rights in Egypt. While we acknowledge that you may well be aware of certain issues raised in this letter, we bring them to light due to the appalling situation and gravity of the violations.

Beyond hosting the Africa CUP of Nations (21 June- 19 July) which brought a lot of excitement to the people of Africa, human rights in Egypt face serious threats. Our concerns span from interference with the system of administration justice, enforced disappearances, attacks against human rights defenders and attacks against the independent media. Moreover, we are concerned about the use of systematic torture, lengthy pre-trial detention, the shrinking civic space and other related violations as detailed below.

Interference with the system of administration of justice and violation of fair trial rights

In April 2019, the Constitution of Egypt was amended to give the executive branch excessive powers to control the judiciary. Thus, in the amended constitutional articles 185, 189 and 193 the president has powers to appoint the head of judicial bodies including the chief of the Supreme Constitutional Court and the Public Prosecutor. Moreover, in article 200 the executive, and particularly the military, is attributed powers to “protect the constitution and democracy, and safeguard (…) individual rights and freedom”. Categorically, these amendments violate the notion of separation of power known for ensuring checks and balance between the arms of the government. Unless a proper system of checks is put into place, there are huge risks that, working under the military, the judicial arm of the government will not play its role effectively as it ought to do.

The death of Egypt’s former President Mohamed Morsi on Monday 17 June 2019, is yet another shocking event that exposes Egypt’s violation of fair trial rights. Morsi died in a defendant courtroom while attending a session in his trial on espionage charges.[1] Reports say that his death could be linked to negligence by Egyptian authorities to provide him with adequate medical treatment for diabetes, liver and kidney malfunction.[2]  

Enforced disappearances, mass arrest and attacks against activists

Security forces have used enforced disappearances to instil fear among the population in the country. Human Rights Watch (HRW) documented 1,530 cases of enforced disappearances in Egypt between July 2013 and August 2018. We are particularly concerned that enforced disappearances and mass arrests were used against rights activists and political opponents of President El-Sisi. This has occurred in an attempt to wipe out opposition in the country. The victims of such arrests include political activists such as rights defender Wael Abbas (now released); Shady al-Ghazaly Harb, a surgeon; Haitham Mohamadeen, a lawyer; Amal Fathy; and Shady Abu Zaid, a satirist.[3] Other persons affected include Hoda Abdelmonem, a 60-year-old lawyer and rights defender and Alaa Abdel Fattah (also released, recently). As of 1 November 2018, Ezzat Ghonim, Executive Director of an organisation called Egyptian Coordination for Rights and Freedoms (ECRF), was reported missing for several months.[4]

Attacks against the media

The 2018 law regulating the media provides overly broad powers to the Council of the Media to block websites, shut down television channels and other publishing forums without a judicial order to that effect. The law also places personal media accounts under the supervision of the Media Council. It means that one can be arrested for publishing fake news on their personal account, even if the publication was done as satire. The situation is exacerbated in a context where media experts such as journalists are detained. To mention a few, Mahmoud Abu Zeid (Shawkan) a photo-journalist was jailed for 5 years, Abdullah Elshamy, also a journalist was sentenced to 15 years in absentia simply for conducting his work, he also undertook a hunger strike in prison. Not so long ago, Hisham Gaafar, a journalist and human rights defender, and Director of an NGO that focuses on media studies was also detained. Gaafar was held for 3 years and only released in April 2019. We submit that the clampdown on media has negatively affected the enjoyment of the rights of freedom of expression and access to information. It is our view that if these rights are to flourish in Egypt, the authorities must seek to improve the country’s human rights record by allowing media freedom and by implication the right to access to information. The Egyptian authorities should also refrain from attacking media professionals.

Torture

The 2017 Committee against Torture report on Egypt noted that the practice of torture is “habitual, widespread and deliberate” in Egypt. It adds that torture appears to occur frequently following arbitrary arrests and is often carried out to obtain a confession or to punish and threaten political dissenters. Torture is perpetrated by police officers, military officers, national security officers and prison guards. Prosecutors, judges and prison officials also facilitate this ill practice by failing to curb practices of torture, arbitrary detention and ill-treatment, or to act on complaints.[5]

Pre-trial detention

Egypt’s Criminal Procedural Code[6] entrenches provisions that have overly vague grounds for pre-trial detention. This has led to lengthy detention of journalists and political activists who have been bold enough to criticize the system of governance in the country. Case in point includes the prolonged detention of Egyptian journalist Mahmoud Hussein Gomaa Ali, who was arrested for more than two years without charges. It is suspected that Mahmoud’s punitive pre-trial detention is a message from the government of Egypt to journalists who dare to speak openly against the ruling authorities.

Closing civic space

The 64th Ordinary Session of African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, held in Sharm El Sheikh in Egypt, was marred with daunting reports about restriction of civic space. Many delegates of civil society organisations operating in the continent faced serious difficulties obtaining entry visas. Participants from Ghana, Malawi, Sudan, Uganda and Tanzania were unable to obtain visas to attend the session. Indirect restrictions further included exorbitant fees for hosting side events led by civil society actors and the intentional miscommunication on logistics for events. Registration for the session proved difficult and some participants reported what appeared to be intrusive harassment by security agents. The above scene leads one to think about the challenges faced by rights groups based in Egypt.

Your Excellency, in 1984, Egypt ratified the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR), an instrument that compels member states to respect, protect and fulfil all the human rights recognized in the Charter. Moreover, Egypt is a member state and current chair of the AU and expected to lead as a human rights champion in upholding the human rights principles set out in AU’s Constitutive Act. Your Excellency, the on-going violations of human rights in Egypt are not in keeping with the country’s obligations and domestic laws, including the constitution and major international and regional human rights instruments ratified by Egypt. It also violates objectives 3(g) and (h) of the Constitutive Act of the AU which enjoins AU member States to promote popular participation and human and people’s rights, respectively. Recalling the role of the AU as the lead regional institution tasked to better the lives of the people of Africa, and particular the Egyptian citizens, we respectfully ask you to take measures to ensure that the government of Egypt restores respect for the rule of law, ensures ample protection of human rights and aligns its practice to ratified international and regional human rights standards including the Constitutive Act of the AU and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. We respectfully ask you to consider including the situation of human rights in Egypt as a point for discussion in the agenda of the next Summit of the Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the AU with recommendations for the Summit to deliberate on asking the government of Egypt to:

  1. Take steps to ensure full compliance with international and regional human rights standards;
  2. Respect separation of power by refraining from interfering with the system of administration of justice;
  3. Halt enforced disappearances, investigate and punish perpetrators of enforced disappearance;
  4. Investigate and punish perpetrators and stop attacks against political opponents, peaceful protesters and journalists;
  5. Respect the right to access to information and freedom of the media. In particular, lift the ban against independent press and media;
  6. Investigate and take actions to punish perpetrators of torture and ensure assistance and reparations to the victims;
  7. Address lengthy pre-trial detention and release all detainees who are being held in pre-trial detention without proper charges. and
  8. Promote a culture of dialogue and participation and comply with internationally and regionally recognised standards on the rule of law and civic space.

In addition, we request you to recommend the AU to:

  1. Ask Egypt to report on measures and progress achieved in the promotion and protection of human rights in the country.

Signed by

  1. Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS);
  2. Centre for Human Rights Education Advice and Assistance (CREAA);
  3. Freedom Initiative;
  4. Institute for Human Rights and Development in Africa;
  5. International-Lawyers.org;
  6. MENA Rights Group;
  7. Pan African Human Rights Defenders Network;
  8. Southern African Christian Initiative (SACHI);
  9. Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network (SAHRDN);
  10. West African Human Rights Defenders; and

 

[1] The Wall Street Journal at https://www.wsj.com/articles/egypt-s-ousted-islamist-president-mohammed-morsi-has-died-11560789900.

[2] Middle East Monitor report available at https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20180331-morsis-health-has-deteriorated-severely/amp/.

[3] Human Rights Watch Report - 2018, available at https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2019/country-chapters/egypt#f95966.

[4] See details at https://www.middleeasteye.net/news/egyptian-security-forces-arrest-19-rights-activists-and-lawyers.

[5] Para. 69 of the UN Committee against Torture report on Egypt, available at file:///C:/Users/mandlate/Downloads/G1717367.pdf (Doc A/72/44).

[6] The UN Working group on Arbitrary Detentions (WGAD) criticized Egypt severely for having vague laws on pre-trial detention. For further details see https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Issues/Detention/Opinions/Session80/A_HRC_WGAD_2017_83.pdf.

 

We Too Demand Peace: International Civil Society Organisations Join with Colombians Marching for Peace

Washington, D.C.—As Colombians march for peace in their country on July 26, we echo their call for a permanent end to the war that claimed 260,000 lives and forced 8 million people, the majority from Afro-descendant and indigenous communities, and mostly women and children, to flee their homes.

protect the defenders

We join their call for the Colombian government to protect the social leaders building peace in their communities. Hundreds have been killed since the peace accords were signed in 2016, while many more live under the constant pressure of daily threats and attacks. This tragedy must end.

We vigorously support their demand that the Colombian government fully and faithfully implement the peace accords signed between the government and the FARC guerrillas—or this once-in-a-lifetime chance for peace will be lost.

Finally, we call on the United States and the international community at large to back the effective implementation of the peace accords wholeheartedly.

We stand in solidarity with the millions of Colombians who are struggling to build a just, complete, and lasting peace and who tomorrow say #26deJulioElGrito.

Signed,

350.org
Abogadas y Abogados para la Justicia y los Derechos Humanos
Acción Solidaria
ActionAid USA
AFL-CIO
ÁGORA Espacio Civil Paraguay
Amazon Watch
Asistencia Legal por los Derechos Humanos A.C. (ASILEGAL)
Asociación Interamericana para la Defensa del Ambiente (AIDA)
Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL)
Center for Reproductive Rights
Centro de Derechos Humanos Fray Bartolomé de Las Casas, A.C. - México
Centro de Derechos Humanos y Ambiente (CEDHA)
Centro de Documentación en Derechos Humanos "Segundo Montes Mozo S.J." (CSMM)
Chicago Religious Leadership Network on Latin America (CRLN)
Christian Peacemaker Teams
Ciudadanos en Apoyo a los Derechos Humanos, A.C. (CADHAC)
CIVICUS - World Alliance for Citizen Participation
Colombia Grassroot Support, New Jersey
Colombia Human Rights Committee, Washington DC
Comisión Ecuménica de Derechos Humanos
Comisión Mexicana de Defensa y Promoción de los Derechos Humanos
Comité de América Latina y el Caribe para la Defensa de los Derechos de las Mujeres
Convergencia por los Derechos Humanos
Coordinadora Nacional de Derechos Humanos
Corporación Humanas Chile
CSW
Defensor de derechos humanos en México
Equipo de Reflexión, Investigación y Comunicación de la Compañía de Jesús en Honduras (ERIC-SJ)
Global Witness
International Institute on Race, Equality and Human Rights (Race and Equality)
International Labor Rights Forum
International Rivers
InterReligious Task Force On Central America and Colombia
Latin America Working Group (LAWG)
Movimiento Autónomo de Mujeres, Nicaragua
Mujeres Libres COLEM, A.C.
Grupo de Mujeres de San Cristóbal Las Casas, A.C.
NJ Peace Council
Not1More
Oxfam
Paz y Esperanza
Presbyterian Church USA
Presbyterian Peace Fellowship
Red Para la Infancia y la Adolescencia de El Salvador (RIA)
Redes por los Derechos de la Infancia (REDIM)
Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights
Servicio Internacional para los Derechos Humanos (ISHR)
United Church of Christ, Justice and Witness Ministries
Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA)
Witness for Peace Solidarity Collective

 

Government’s closure of Human Rights NGO another blow for fundamental freedoms in Equatorial Guinea

Global human rights groups have condemned a decision by the government of Equatorial Guinea to close down a prominent rights NGO, the Center for Studies and Initiatives for the Development of Equatorial Guinea (CEID).

The country’s Minister of the Interior and Local Corporations published a decree on July 5, revoking official authorisation granted to the CEID, one of the few independent NGOs that expose human rights violations in Equatorial Guinea. The resolution dissolving the civil society organisation (CSO) accuses the organisation of violating its own constitution and engaging in political activities.

“The dissolution of the CEID is a new low for human rights in a country that has failed for decades to respect fundamental freedoms,” said Paul Mulindwa, Advocacy and Policy Officer for CIVICUS, a global alliance of civil society organisations.

“The organisation’s closure is aimed at silencing independent and peaceful voices committed to defending human rights in Equatorial Guinea,” said Mulindwa.

The CEID’s closure follows physical assaults, arbitrary arrests and judicial persecution of the organisation’s Vice President Alfredo Okenve. The move is intended to silence independent and peaceful voices committed to defending human rights in Equatorial Guinea, and has a chilling effect on human rights defenders and CSOs in the country.

The repressive environment in Equatorial Guinea is fueled by the use of violence against human rights defenders, the militarisation of the state and politics, high levels of impunity enjoyed by perpetrators of human rights violations and the use of restrictive legislation – such as law No 1/1999 on the Regime of NGOs – to restrict CSO operations.

“The dissolution of the CEID is a reflection of the dire state of freedom of association and expression in the country and the government’s continued disregard for its national and international human rights obligations,” said Mulindwa.

The CIVICUS Monitor, an online platform that tracks threats to civil society in countries across the globe, rates civic space – the space for civil society – in Equatorial Guinea as closed.

CIVICUS calls on the government of President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo to publicly rescind the resolution, respect its international human rights obligations including commitments made recently to the United Nations’ Universal Periodic Review process and create an enabling environment for civil society organisation and human rights defenders.

For more information, please contact:


Paul Mulindwa
paul.mulindwa[AT]civicus.org
media[AT]civicus.org

 

Sudan: Peace deal welcome but all parties must commit for transition to be effective

Global civil society alliance, CIVICUS, has welcomed the announcement of a peace deal that has been reached in Sudan, between the Transitional Military Council and opposition leaders but has warned that all parties need to commit to the agreement’s terms for the transition to be effective.

The deal, as reported, proposes a three-year transition led by a Sovereign Council that will rotate the presidency between the Transitional Military Council and the opposition Forces for Freedom and Change. The Council’s first chairperson will be a military representative. Elections will be held at the end of the transition period.

“Sudan has come a long way over a short period of time and we welcome the deal that has been agreed and commend the efforts of the African Union and the Ethiopian Prime Minister. Sudan has come a long way in a short period of time but is facing a pivotal moment in its history,” said CIVICUS’ Advocacy and Campaigns Officer Paul Mulindwa.

“The successful implementation of this peace deal may build the foundation for a new Sudan and a move away from its controversial past,” Mulindwa said.

“We urge all parties, particularly the Transitional Military Council and the Forces for Freedom and Change, to respect all the terms of the agreement and commit to constructive approaches of their legitimate aspirations for a peaceful Sudan.”

The settlement, which was mediated by the African Union and Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, calls for investigations into violence against protesters on June 3 and other human rights violations committed over the past several months. However, for the transition to be effective, there needs to be independent investigations into all acts of violence and human rights violations committed since protests began in December 2018. The role played by the paramilitary forces – the Rapid Support Forces and the National Intelligence and Security Services – should also be investigated.

CIVICUS recommends that all stakeholders fully commit and ensure the timely, inclusive, and transparent implementation of the agreement and resolve any outstanding issues through dialogue.

The alliance also recommends that the Sudanese authorities conduct an independent investigation into the violence perpetrated against peaceful protesters, including civil society activists, and hold the perpetrators accountable. Also, all people who remain detained for their participation in protests should be urgently, unconditionally and immediately released.

A further recommendation is that all the parties maintain the spirit of negotiation, cooperation, and responsibility in the interests of Sudan.

CIVICUS also called for investigations into human rights abuses committed by the Rapid Support Forces and National Intelligence and Security Forces, and members found to be responsible be held to account for their actions.

For more information, please contact:

Paul Mulindwa
paul.mulindwa [AT] civicus.org

 

Malaysia: Positive step but further revisions needed of protest law

Komas civicus logo

Pusat KOMAS and global civil society alliance, CIVICUS, welcome the Malaysian government’s efforts to make amendments to the Peaceful Assembly Act, which regulates public assemblies and protests. While some of the proposed changes to the law appear positive, our organisations are concerned that the legislation still falls short of international human rights law and standards, related to the right to peaceful assembly.

 

Indian Government should withdraw criminal charges against NGO ‘Lawyers Collective’ and its representatives

Signatories India Letter

26 June 2019,

Bangkok/Colombo/Dublin/Geneva/Johannesburg/London/New Delhi/New York/Paris

We, the undersigned, strongly condemn the filing of criminal charges against Indian NGO ‘Lawyers Collective’, its Senior Advocate Anand Grover, and other representatives. Criminal charges were filed by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) on June 13, 2019, relying on an investigation report of January 2016 of the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA). The MHA report has been challenged by Lawyers Collective in January 2017 and the case is under consideration by the High Court of Bombay.

Lawyers Collective is a human rights organisation based in New Delhi with its registered office in Mumbai and was founded by noted Indian human rights defenders and lawyers Ms Indira Jaising and Mr Anand Grover. Ms Jaising and Mr Grover are senior advocates with an exceptional profile of public service, probity and personal and professional integrity as lawyers and as human rights defenders. Ms Jaising was an Additional Solicitor General of India between 2009 and 2014, and was also a member of the UN Committee on Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) between 2009 and 2012. Mr Grover held the mandate of UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health between 2008 and 2014. Ms Jaising and Mr Grover, through Lawyers Collective, have advocated for advancing the rights of the most vulnerable and marginalised sections of Indian society, thereby upholding constitutional values as enshrined in the Indian Constitution.

Lawyers Collective’s registration under the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act, 2010 (FCRA) was first suspended on May 31, 2016, and its bank accounts frozen. The FCRA license was not renewed on October 28, 2016, and was cancelled on November 27, 2016. Lawyers Collective petitioned the High Court of Bombay to challenge the FCRA cancellation and non-renewal in January 2017 and March 2017, respectively. In January 2017, its domestic accounts were unfrozen. Lawyers Collective’s challenge to the FCRA cancellation and non-renewal are currently pending before the High Court.

Filing of criminal charges while the matter is under consideration by the High Court is a blatant misuse of its agencies by the Indian Government to target critical human rights work undertaken by Lawyers Collective and its representatives, often involving sensitive cases against Indian ministers and senior officials of the ruling political party.

On May 15, 2019, the MHA wrote to CBI for ‘further investigation as per law’ into the matter relating to Lawyers Collective. On June 13, 2019, the CBI solely relying on the impugned MHA report registered a First Information Report under the Indian Penal Code (IPC) relating to charges of criminal conspiracy, criminal breach of trust, cheating, false statement made in declaration and various sections under the FCRA and Prevention of Corruption (PC) Act 1988. Given that there has been no change in circumstances since 2016 and also no material or evidential basis to support the provisions invoked under the IPC and PC Act, the filing of criminal charges is a blatant act of reprisal against Lawyers Collective and its representatives.

Such actions by the Indian Government are contrary to its pledge at the UN Human Rights Council and its obligations and commitments under several international human rights treaties and declarations. The FCRA has been time and again criticised by human rights defenders and NGOs within and outside India for its regressive and unfair interference in the functioning of organisations. Indian human rights defenders have condemned the use of FCRA and the accusations of “foreign funding” to quash dissent and smear individuals and groups.

In his analysis of the FCRA in 2016, former UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights to Freedom of Assembly and Association Maina Kiai concluded that certain provisions of FCRA were not in conformity with international human rights law and noted that “access to resources, including foreign funding, is a fundamental part of the right to freedom of association under international law, standards, and principles, and more particularly part of forming an association”. In June 2016 Kiai joined the UN Special Rapporteurs on Freedom of Expression and on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders calling on the Government of India to repeal the regressive FCRA, which was being used to “silence organisations involved in advocating civil, political, economic, social, environmental or cultural priorities, which may differ from those backed by the Government.[1],”

We strongly call upon the Indian Government to cease misusing the country’s laws, including the FCRA, against human rights defenders. In the specific case of Lawyers Collective, we urge the criminal charges be immediately withdrawn pending the decision of the High Court of Bombay. We appeal to the National Human Rights Commission of India to take cognizance of this matter and take immediate actions under the Protection of Human Rights Act 1993 (PHRA) and to undertake a legal review of the FCRA under Section 12 (d) of the PHRA.

We further call upon the Indian Government to put an end to all acts of harassment, including at the judicial level, against Lawyers Collective and Mr Anand Grover, as well as against all human rights defenders in India and ensure that they are able to carry out their activities without hindrance.

Signatory organizations:

Amnesty International

CIVICUS

Forum Asia

Front Line Defenders

Human Rights Defenders Alert

Human Rights Watch

International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), in the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders

International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)

South Asians for Human Rights (SAHR)

World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), in the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders

 

[1]https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=20112&LangID=E

 

Honduras government must stop violent clampdown on peaceful protests

June 26, 2019

Government violently represses citizens protests in Honduras

  • Three people killed and 20 wounded in brutal crackdown on protests in Honduras
  • Global civil society alliance condemns the harsh repression of demonstrations in Honduras and the decision of the government to use of military forces to control protests
  • Defenders in the country face an extremely risky environment experiencing violence and criminalization

 

Urgent appeal for the release of Malak Al-Kashif

FRENCH

We, the undersigned human rights organisations, call on UN Special Rapporteurs, Members of the European Parliament, and representatives in national Parliaments of the European Union to urgently intervene and communicate with the Egyptian authorities to immediately release jailed activist Malak Al-Kashif, who was arrested for expressing her views on Facebook.

Background

On 6 March 2019, after expressing her opinions on her personal Facebook account about how the authorities addressed a train station accident in Egypt which killed dozens of citizens, 19-year-old Malak Al-Kashif was arrested in a dawn police raid of her mother’s home. Malak was disappeared; both her location and conditions of detention were undisclosed until she was brought before the State Security Prosecution on 7 March 2019.

Malak was interrogated under State Security case no. 1739 on trumped-up charges of joining a terrorist group under Article 12 of the Anti-Terrorism Act 2015, exposing her to severe penalties including the maximum imprisonment penalty. Malak was also charged with using her Facebook account to commit a crime punishable by law under Article 27 of the Electronic Crimes Prevention Act of 2018, which could result in an additional sentence of up to two years’ imprisonment and a fine of no less than LE100,000 (approximately $5,970 USD). On 7 March 2019, the Prosecution gave Malak 15 days of pretrial detention, which she spent in solitary confinement at Al-Haram police station in Giza. On 19 March, the Prosecution extended her pretrial detention for another 15 days, which she spent in solitary confinement in the El-Zeraa section of Tora Prison. Malak is a transgender woman undergoing the advanced stages of gender reassignment treatment and requires continuous physical and physiological treatment due to an accident she had last year, as documented in medical reports in her possession at the time of her arrest.

A repressive trend in Egypt

Malak was one of many persons recently arrested by the Egyptian authorities for expressing opinions on social and political issues in the country, including the train station accident and the proposed constitutional amendments. ECRF has documented 116 persons arrested from 27 February until 2 March 2019. Some were forcibly disappeared and others were sent to the prosecution on charges of “joining a terrorist group” and “publishing fake news.”This recent surge in arrests was enabled by an oppressive legislative framework deployed by the Egyptian authorities against individuals who express opinions on any national issue; this framework includes repressive laws that do not comply with the Egyptian Constitution and international human rights laws, such as the 2015 Anti-Terrorism Act and 2018 Cybercrime Law.

The Egyptian authorities have increasingly used pre-trial detention as a punishment for political prisoners, especially since 2013. Although pre-trial detention violates the legal principle of the presumption of innocence of the accused person, Article 143 of the Code of Criminal Procedure permits prolonged pre-trial detention that can go on for two years in some cases.

Transgender and imprisoned

As a transgender woman, Malak is outspoken about her identity and conditions, and has advocated for the rights of transgender people in Egypt using social media platforms. Consequently, Malak’s arrest for expressing her opinion on the train accident has enabled the Egyptian state to silence her on all issues for which she has advocated, including transgender rights.

In addition, Malak’s identity has made her a target of cruel and humiliating treatment by the Egyptian authorities. Malak’s gender is classified as “male” in official documentation, compounding the state’s discrimination against her as a transgender woman, and placing her in male detention facilities where she is vulnerable to further mistreatment on the basis of her gender.

Malak testified that she had been subjected to a forced anal examination and sexual harassment in one of the government hospitals, as documented by ECRF. Malak also informed her lawyer that she was prevented from going to the toilet for long periods of time, and was bullied in the police station because of her gender identity. The police station administration also refused to provide Malak with essential healthcare requirements for her diabetes.

Malak’s arrest and treatment violate human rights laws and standards

Egypt is a part of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the UN
Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (UNCAT), which prohibit the treatment to which Malak has been subjected, as well as protect her right to express her views.

Article 7 of ICCPR and articles 2 and 16 of the 1984 Convention against Torture prohibit torture and all other forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, with no restriction on these prohibitions. Article 19 of ICCPR also states that everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression, which includes the freedom to hold opinions without interference.

In addition, the High Commissioner for Human Rights has recommended the prohibition of coercive medical procedures imposed by some countries on transgender people, as well as guaranteeing their right to obtain identity papers reflecting their self-defined gender identity.

ECRF considers the treatment and examinations to which Malak has been subjected as a flagrant violation of privacy and human dignity, which fall within a pattern of discrimination and violence against sexual minority groups in Egypt, and qualify as a form of cruel and inhumane treatment amounting to torture.

This is not the first time that Egypt has violated international human rights laws and standards. In its 2002 report, the Committee against Torture recommended that Egypt take the necessary steps to end all forms of degrading treatment during physical examinations. In 2009, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention stated that the forced anal examinations carried out by the Egyptian authorities had no medical value in determining whether a person had engaged in any homosexual practices, and that they violated international human rights law and contravened the prohibition on torture under the 1984 Convention against Torture.

Request for urgent intervention by UN Special Rapporteurs, Members of the European Parliament, and representatives in national Parliaments of the European Union

In consideration of the information above, we respectfully appeal to you to raise Malak’s case with the Egyptian authorities. We request immediate protection for Malak and other transgender individuals, by treating them accordingly to their gender identity and holding them in the corresponding detention facilities, without exposing them to sexual harassment and cruel, humiliating procedures that amount to physical and psychological abuse. The ultimate objective is Malak’s release, along with that of all other political detainees in Egypt imprisoned for expressing their opinions.

If you have any additional questions about Malak’s case, please do not hesitate to contact us.

Thank you for your consideration,

Sincerely,
• Arab Network for Knowledge about Human-rights
• Adil Soz
• Albanian Media Institute (AMI)
• Association Adala pour le droit à un procès équitable
• Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE)
• Associazione Ricreativa Culturale Italiana
• Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
• Centre national de coopération au développement
• Circolo Cultura Omosessuale Mario Mieli
• CIVICUS
• Committee for Justice
• DIGNITY
• EGYPTIAN COMMISSION FOR RIGHTS AND FREEDOMS
• EuroMed Rights
• FIDH, in the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
• Free Media Movement (FMM) - Sri Lanka
• Freedom of Expression Institute (FXI)
• Gulf Center for Human Rights (GCHR)
• Ifex
• Independent Journalism Center (IJC) - Moldova
• Index on Censorship
• Initiative Franco-égyptienne pour les Droits et les Libertés
• Ligue des droits de l’Homme
• Media Institute of South Africa (MISA)
• Media Rights Agenda (MRA)
• Mediacenter Sarajevo
• Norwegian PEN
• Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)
• PEN America
• SOLIDAR
• South East Asia Press Alliance (SEAPA)
• Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM)
• World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), in the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders

 

Sri Lanka: Release poet and drop spurious charges against him

Joint Statement from CIVICUS and Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC)

The arrest and ongoing detention of award-winning author and poet Shakthika Sathkumara on spurious charges are a clear violation of his right to freedom of expression, CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance and the Asian Human Right Commission (AHRC), said today ahead of his next court hearing on 18 June.

Shakthika Sathkumara was arrested on 1 April 2019 by the Polgahawela Police in response to a complaint alleging that Sathkumara’s short story ‘Ardha’ (Half) was derogatory and defamatory to Buddhism. The story is allegedly about homosexuality and child abuse in a Buddhist temple in Sri Lanka, and there is no evidence that the content contains anything that amounts to hate speech or defamation. He was initially remanded by the Polgahawela Magistrate’s Court until 9 April and has remained detained since his arrest. The Attorney General has twice rejected his bail request.

Sathkumara faces charges under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) Act of 2007, which criminalises the advocacy of “national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence”. If convicted, he faces a maximum of up to ten years’ imprisonment. No credible evidence has been presented to substantiate any of these charges.

This is a clear misuse of the law, which was enacted to protect human rights recognised by the international community including fundamental freedoms such as freedom of speech.

Shakthika Sathkumar’s arrest and ongoing detention are inconsistent with Sri Lanka’s constitutional and international human rights obligations, as well as the country’s ICCPR Act. The right to freedom of expression which includes artistic expression and creativity is guaranteed under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Sri Lanka is a party, as well as Article 14(1)(a) of the Constitution of Sri Lanka.  Sri Lanka is also bound by international human rights law to protect artists and all persons participating in artistic activities.

Further, under the law he can only be granted bail by a high court judge. Systemic delays inherent in the Sri Lankan justice system means that it could be months before he even appears before a high court. That he has been remanded only on the basis of a police report, without a magistrate ruling that there is basis for detention, is also a violation of fair trial rights and has worrying implications for due process rights in the country. The Inspector General of Police and the Attorney General of Sri Lanka must investigate these concerns immediately.

CIVICUS and AHRC call on the authorities to release Shakthika Sathkumara immediately and unconditionally, and to drop the spurious charges brought against him.  We also call on the authorities to ensure that writers and artists may work freely and without fear of retribution for expression critical opinions or covering topics that the government or others may find sensitive or offensive.

Shakthika Sathkumar’s arrest comes in the context of attacks on civic space more broadly in the country. Over the last year, CIVICUS has documented multiple attacks, threats and intimidation against journalists and human rights activists in Sri Lanka and the failure to bring the perpetrators of these abuses to account.

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

For more information, please contact:

Josef Benedict at josef.benedict{AT}civicus.org (CIVICUS) or
Mohammad Ashrafuzzaman at zaman{AT}ahrc.asia (AHRC)

 

Pakistan: Human Rights Defender Gulalai Ismail at risk

Pakistani authorities must end their judicial persecution of human rights defender Gulalai Ismail, global civil society alliance CIVICUS said today. She is being investigated for defamation and sedition, and other charges under Pakistan’s Anti-Terrorism Act, for a speech she made condemning authorities’ inaction in a case of rape and murder of a 10-year-old girl, and has been forced into hiding.

The accusation came after she delivered a speech condemning the state and its institutions, calling the murder “one among many” incidences of violence by the state and its security agencies. According to a news report, a First Information Request lodged against Ismail accuses her of ‘delivering hate speech, inciting ethnic sentiments against the state and Pakistan Army, and causing a sense of fear and terror among people’. At least one medical official has been sacked for criminal negligence over their handling of the case, and Prime Minister Imran Khan has ordered action against negligence officials involved in the case.

CIVICUS calls on the Pakistan government to drop these baseless charges against Gulalai Ismail and end the judicial persecution against her. These charges highlight the hostile environment for human rights defenders, journalists and others in Pakistan in the exercise of their freedom of expression, particularly with regards to criticism of the state.

This was not the first time Gulalai Ismail has been persecuted by authorities. In 2017 and 2018 she was targeted by both non-state and state actors for the work of her CSO - Aware Girls to empower women and girls. She has also been targeted for her a support of the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement which has mobilised nationwide against human rights violations against Pashtun people.

CIVICUS has documented systematic attacks against the PTM with scores of peaceful protesters arbitrarily arrested, detained and prosecuted on spurious charges, while protests by the PTM have been obstructed by security forces. The Pakistan authorities have blocked media coverage around the protests and harass activists and human rights defenders who have spoken out on the rights of Pashtun people. At least one of the PTM’s leaders has been allegedly killed.

In August 2018, Gulalai Ismail was accused, along with 19 other people, of making anti-state comments and using inflammatory language at a PTM rally in Swabi, Khyber Paktunkhwa province. In October 2018, she was briefly detained at Islamabad airport as she re-entered the country from the UK and her name is on the Exit Control List, which imposes a ban on travelling outside the country, or why. In February 2019, Ismail was briefly detained arrested as she and about 80 other PTM supporters gathered to protest the death in custody of PTM leader Arman Loni.

The Pakistani authorities must take serious measures to foster a safe, respectful, enabling environment for civil society by removing barriers that unwarrantedly limit freedom of association and expression. It must also ensure that human rights defenders like Gulalai Ismail are able to carry out their legitimate activities without fear or undue hindrance, obstruction or legal and administrative harassment.

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

For more information or to arrange an interview, please contact: Josef Benedict,

 

CSOs express concern over judicial harassment of former Cambodia National Rescue Party members

We, the undersigned civil society groups, express serious concern regarding the recent and ongoing judicial harassment of former Cambodia National Rescue Party (“CNRP”) elected officials and members through baseless arrests, summonses, and detentions across multiple provinces. We urge the Royal Government of Cambodia to immediately cease the harassment of members of the political opposition and instead take concrete measures to restore civic space and enable all individuals to exercise their rights to free expression, association, assembly and political participation.

 

BANGLADESH: HRD tortured while in arbitrary detention must be released and charges be dropped

 

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CIVICUS logo colour on transparency lowres

 

 

 

 

 

Bangladesh authorities must immediately release human rights defender Mohammad Abdul Kaium, who has been allegedly tortured in custody during his arbitrary detention. The fabricated case filed against him under the Digital Security Act (DSA)-2018 and other penal laws should be dropped immediately.

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has verified information that Mohammad Abdul Kaium, a human rights defender associated with Odhikar, an independent rights organisation working on key issues of civil and political rights, is facing state-orchestrated persecution from the Sheikh Hasina regime in Bangladesh.

Kaium edits online news portal www.mymensinghlive.com and is a journalist with www.bdpress24.com. He is also a web developer. In 2018, Kaium signed an agreement to provide web-development service for Idris Ali Khan, a close relative of a Member of Parliament of the ruling party, whom Kaium had criticised in the past. The agreement was worth BDT 120,000 (USD 1,394).

On 11 May 2019, Idris Khan summoned Abdul Kaium to his office to receive his payment. Upon Kaium's arrival Idris Khan offered USD 200, significantly lower than the agreed amount. Kaium refused to take the lower payment. As he left Idris Khan's office in Kristopur, Mymensingh district town – an area which is under the Kotwoali police station's jurisdiction – two plain-clothed officers of the Detective Branch (DB) Police arrested him. The police officers also seized a cell phone from Kaium.

The DB police ordered Abdul Kaium to give them ‘the USD 200' and searched him. Failing to find the money, the police tortured him and ordered Kaium to confess that he extorted money from Idris Khan. While he was in detention, a team of plain-clothes detectives raided Kaium's house in the Bhatiashor area of Mymensing town without a search warrant. The police seized the files and other items, including the signed web development agreement between Kaium's company and Idris Khan, as well as the key to Kaium's room. However, the police have not yet submitted a list of seized items to the court.

Kaium has told AHRC's Human Rights Fact-Finding Team that on the evening of 11 May, from his cell, he overheard Idris Khan bribing the police officers to torture him. Kaium also saw from his cell DB police Sub Inspector (SI) Akram placing money in the drawer of his office desk.

Later the same evening, DB Officer-in-Charge (OC) Shah Kamal, SI Akram, SI Monju, SI Jewel and SI Porimol ordered Kaium to confess to receiving US dollars from Idris Khan.   Kaium refused, and asked the police officers why he was being kept in detention without a court appearance. Kaium reports that the DB officers became angry and threatened to kill him under the pretext of 'crossfire' unless he provided a confessional statement on his alleged involvement in an illegal currency-exchange business. As Kaium continued to refuse, he was subjected to a prolonged physical attack by all officers present, including being slapped, punched, hit with his belt and struck with a wooden chair. The police also seized Kaium's National Identity Card and forced him to divulge the passwords of his social media and email accounts, and the login details of his online news portal.

On 12 May, a case was brought against Kaium by police in response to a complaint filed with Trishal Police Station by Idris Ali Khan on the same day.

It includes the following charges under the repressive Digital Security Act of 2018:

  • Section 23 – digital or electronic fraud; punishable by five years’ imprisonment and a BDT 500,000 (USD 5,809) fine; or seven years’ imprisonment and BDT 1 million (USD 11,619) fine;
  • Section 25 – publishing, sending of offensive, false or fear inducing data-information punishable by imprisonment of three to five years and a BDT 300,000 to one million fine;
  • Section 29 – publishing, broadcasting, etc., defamatory information, punishable by imprisonment of three to five years and a BDT 500,000 to 1 million fine.

The police also accused Kaium of offences under the Penal Code of 1860:

  • Sections 385 – putting a person in fear of injury in order to commit extortion punishable by five to 14 years' imprisonment with fines; and,
  • Section 386 – extortion by putting a person in fear of death or grievous hurt, punishable by 10 years' imprisonment with fine.

On 13 May, Kaium was brought before the Chief Judicial Magistrate's Court in Mymensingh. The police requested he remain in police remand for five days while Kaium's lawyer sought bail. On 14 May, the Magistrate rejected both petitions for remand and bail and ordered that Kaium be detained in prison. On 23 May, the Sessions Judge's Court rejected Kaium's bail petition.

The factual information in relation to Kaium's detention establishes that the police illegally arrested and detained him a day before the case was fabricated against him. Although according to the First Information Report the alleged incident occurred in the jurisdiction of the Kotowali police, the complaint was registered in a different jurisdiction. The police arbitrarily detained Kaium for over 36 hours following his arrest in violation of Article 33 (2) of the Constitution of Bangladesh and Section 61 of the Code of Criminal Procedure-1898.

The Court failed to protect Kaium's right to liberty and also ignored the fact that the police officers tortured Kaium in custody. It indicates that the Court's complicity in maintaining the culture of impunity in Bangladesh.

Bangladesh authorities must halt the practice of fabricating cases against independent human rights defenders and journalists.

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

For more information or to arrange an interview, please contact:

Josef Benedict, Civic Space Researcher,


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Pakistan: Joint letter on civic space violations against Pashtuns

Dr Shireen M Mazari
Federal Minister for Human Rights
Ministry of Human Rights
9th Floor, New Pak Secretariat (Kohsar Block)
Sector F-5, Islamabad, Pakistan

Concerns regarding civic space violations against the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM)

CIVICUS: the World Alliance for Citizen Participation is a global alliance of civil society organisations (CSOs) and activists dedicated to strengthening citizen action and civil society around the world. Founded in 1993, CIVICUS has members in more than 170 countries.

The Pakistan NGO Forum (PNF) is an umbrella body composed of five networks of civil society organisations (CSOs) in Pakistan. Collectively, the networks have about 5,000 community-based organisations and CSOs as members. PNF’s primary mission is to create a conducive working environment for CSOs in Pakistan

We are writing to you with regards to our concerns on civic space violations against the ethnic Pashtun people and in particular the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM). The PTM mobilised nationwide against human rights violations against Pashtun people, sparked by the killing of a young Pashtun man, Naqeebullah Mehsud, by the police in January 2018.

As well as seeking justice for Naqeebullah’s killing, the movement mobilised around wider calls. Protesters have demanded the formation of a truth and reconciliation commission to examine human rights violations committed by the state and non-state actors in Pashtun areas, including enforced disappearances allegedly perpetrated by the Pakistan army, and extrajudicial killings. Protesters also continue to call for equal rights for Pashtun people, as guaranteed by the constitution, and the restoration of peace in Pashtun areas and the region in general.[1]

The CIVICUS Monitor, which tracks civic freedoms on a global scale, has documented a series of violations by the authorities and other actors, as set out below.

The disruption of protests and arrest of protesters

Scores of protesters have been detained or charged since the beginning of the protests, some under terrorism charges. In most cases, many of those detained were released without charge after weeks in prison. 

  • In March 2018, criminal cases were filed against Manzoor Pashteen and four other PTM leaders. The men were investigated for ‘provoking with intent to cause riot’ and ‘promoting enmity between different groups’ under sections 153 and 153a of Pakistan’s criminal code. According to human rights groups, the accusations were fabricated in “an attempt to smear the PTM and punish its leaders for exercising their rights to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly.”[2]
  • In March 2018, Manzoor Pashteen reported that PTM supporters had received threats that they would be implicated in terrorism offences.[3] In December 2018, he was banned from entering Balochistan province on the grounds of “incitement of unrest in the province through his hate speech and incendiary statement against the state and its institutions.” The ban remains in place.[4]
  • In April 2018, at least 30 activists were arrested in the run-up to the Lahore rally. Police gave no reasons for the arrests; according to reports, “some bystanders kept asking the police as to why were they being picked up and where were they being taken to, but they gave no answer nor produced any arrest warrants as they whisked them away in their police van.”[5]
  • In May 2018, police lodged cases against more than 150 PTM supporters for holding rallies across Karachi. The 150 were accused of crimes ranging from sedition and rioting to terror offences. PTM leader and member of parliament (MP) Mohsin Dawar told news outlet Dawni that the cases were a “tactic” to sabotage PTM’s main Karachi rally, planned to be held on 13 May 2018.[6]
  • In June 2018, 37 PTM activists were arrested at a rally at the National Press Club in Islamabad. According to reports, they were made to sit in a prison van for three hours while the temperature was at almost 40 degrees Celsius before they were taken to Adiala jail. The 37 activists, who included several students, were subsequently charged with sedition.[7] Their cases were referred to an anti-terrorism court, and all were denied bail until 24 September 2018, when the Islamabad district commissioner withdrew anti-terrorism charges.[8]
  • In October 2018, authorities filed a police report (FIR) against activists who had organised a peaceful protest in Bannu, in southern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the previous day.[9]
  • In January 2019, scores of protesters and PTM leaders were arrested during a rally on the outskirts of Karachi. Between 250 and 300 people were accused of various crimes under Pakistan’s Penal Code and Anti-Terrorism Act.[10] Among those arrested was Alamzeb Mehsud, a prominent PTM activist who had been profiling missing persons and other war victims. Footage of his arrest showed his vehicle being intercepted by the police on a busy road, and armed police officers forcing him to disembark before he was taken into custody. He was subsequently charged with inciting a riot, defamation, ‘promoting enmity between different groups’, and ‘statements conducing to public mischief’ read with Section 7 of Pakistan’s Anti-Terrorism Act. The court ordered him to be kept in custody for four days. Ali Wazir, a PTM leader and MP, was also charged, along with 15 other people.[11]

According to reports, police routinely put pressure on local people to stay away from PTM protests in various cities in Pakistan. Local printing presses refused to print campaign posters while authorities pressured businesses to refuse to provide chairs and tents for protests. Ahead of an April 2018 rally in Swat, lawyer and PTM leader Iqbal Khan reported that officials in the Swat region made announcements from mosques to warn people against participating in the gathering.[12]

Unlawful killing

Our organisations are also concerned about the allegations of unlawful killing of a PTM leader Arman Loni, died in police custody on 2 February 2019.[13] He had been arrested earlier that day in the southwestern district of Loralai in Baluchistan after participating in a sit-in outside Loralai Press Club in protest against a recent terror attack. Several police officers reportedly physically assaulted him in public with rifle butts, and he suffered blows to the head and neck. A few hours later, he died in hospital.[14] To date, we are not aware of any credible investigation into the killing or any attempt to bring the perpetrators to justice. Arman’s death was only registered by the police after two months.[15] Our organisations are also seriously concerned about reports that witnesses to his killing have been tortured or otherwise ill-treated by security forces.[16]

Three days after the murder, more than 80 PTM protesters were detained by police after they gathered outside the National Press Club in Islamabad to protest about Aman’s death.[17] At least 17 PTM members were subsequently charged under the West Pakistan Maintenance of Public Order Act of 1960 and moved to Adiala prison.

Judicial harassment and threats against activists

Activists have also faced harassment and threats for supporting the PTM. In August 2018, woman human rights defender Gulalai Ismail was accused, along with 19 other people, of making anti-state comments and using inflammatory language at a PTM rally in Swabi, Khyber Paktunkhwa province.[18] The 19 PTM activists faced charges of ‘unlawful assembly’, ‘punishment for rioting’ and ‘punishment for wrongful restraint’. In October 2018, Gulalai was briefly detained at Islamabad airport as she re-entered the country from the UK. Officials kept her passport but could not tell her which government department had put her name on the Exit Control List (ECL), which imposes a ban on travelling outside the country, or why.[19] In May 2019, the Peshawar High Court quashed[20] the charges against the PTM activists but Gulalai and other activists remain on the ECL.

Hayat Preghal, a social media activist and supporter of the PTM, was released on bail on 3 October 2018 after more than two months in jail for social media posts that were deemed critical of the Pakistani authorities.[21] He had initially been detained in July 2018 while visiting his family and charged under sections 9 and 10 of Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act, 2016 for ‘anti-state activity through social media’, and sections 500 and 109 of the Pakistan Penal Code.

Restrictions on media coverage

We are also concerned that the authorities have attempted to suppress the PTM by silencing media coverage of the movement. In December 2018, internet service providers blocked the website of Voice of America's (VOA) Urdu language service. Its audience was primarily Pashto-speaking communities. Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry claimed the sites were blocked for “false and prejudiced reporting.” An intelligence source reported that the decision to block the website was triggered by VOA's coverage of PTM.[22] An article by Manzoor Pashteen in the New York Times on 12 February 2019, entitled ‘"The Military Says Pashtuns Are Traitors. We Just Want Our Rights" was censored by its local publisher in Pakistan.[23]

Journalists covering protests have been targeted in a similar manner to participants. Sailaab Mehsud of Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty's Mashaal radio and Zafar Wazir of a local TV channel were accused in December 2018 by police of “raising slogans against state institutions and inciting the public to violence, along with nearly 30 other people.” Authorities raised the allegations following the journalists’ presence at a rally in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. Sailaab said he and Zafar were covering the rally as journalists.[24] In February 2019, the authorities halted the broadcasting of an interview with Manzoor Pashteen on a local Pashtu channel AVT Khyber.[25]

International obligations

These violations are inconsistent with Pakistan’s international obligations, including those under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) which it ratified in 2008. These include obligations to respect and protect civil society’s fundamental rights to the freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression. These fundamental freedoms are also guaranteed in Pakistan’s Constitution. Further, during Pakistan’s Universal Periodic Review at the United Nations Human Rights Council in 2017, the government supported recommendations to safeguard freedom of expression, protect the right to life and freedom of expression of journalists and human rights defenders (HRDs), and to investigate all reports of attacks against them and bring perpetrators to justice. It also committed to combat all forms of discrimination, particularly against ethnic minorities.[26]

We therefore make the following recommendations to the government of Pakistan:

  • Put an end the harassment, stigmatisation, intimidation, unlawful surveillance, travel restrictions and arrest of peaceful PTM activists and ensure that they can freely express their opinions and dissent without fear of reprisals;
  • Conduct a swift, thorough, independent and impartial investigation into the death in custody of activist Arman Loni, and ensure that those responsible for his death are brought to justice;
  • Conduct impartial, thorough and effective investigations into all cases of attacks, harassment and intimidation against HRDs and journalists and bring the perpetrators of such offences to justice;
  • Drop all charges against protesters, community activists and HRDs for exercising their right to the freedom of peaceful assembly and instruct the police that it is their duty to facilitate peaceful assemblies, rather than hinder them;
  • Take immediate steps to ensure press freedom and halt all media restrictions against coverage of the PTM;
  • Ensure that HRDs are able to carry out their legitimate activities without fear or undue hindrance, obstruction or legal and administrative harassment such as travel restrictions under the Exit Control List (ECL);
  • Take steps to make enforced disappearances and torture a criminal offence and ensure that all allegations of such acts are thoroughly investigated and those responsible brought to justice.

We express our sincere hope that you will take these steps as a matter of priority and we hope to hear from you regarding our inquiries as soon as possible. We would be pleased to discuss these matters with you or other appropriate officials at any time.

Sincerely,      

David E. Kode
CIVICUS Advocacy & Campaigns Lead

Professor Mohamed Ismail
Pakistan NGO Forum

Cc:
Diplomatic missions in Pakistan

 

[1] ‘In Pakistan, long-suffering Pahtuns find their voice’, The New York Times, 6 February 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/06/world/asia/pakistan-pashtun-long-march.html.


[2] ‘Peaceful Pashtun activists face criminal cases’, Amnesty International, 19 March 2018, https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/asa33/8079/2018/en.

[3] ‘New Pashtun dissent meets old coercion tactics in Pakistan’, Gandhara, 26 March 2018, https://gandhara.rferl.org/a/Pakistan-pashtun-tahafuz-movement-coercion-tactics/29125095.html.

[4] ‘Balochistan extends ban on Pashteen’s entry,’ Dawn, 3 April 2019, https://www.dawn.com/news/1473567.

[5] ‘Civil Society condemns arrests of young activists’, The Daily Times, 27 April 2018, https://dailytimes.com.pk/232878/civil-society-condemns-arrests-of-young-activists.

[6] ‘Over 150 PTM activists booked for sedition, terrorism’, Dawn, 11 May 2018, https://www.dawn.com/news/1406903.

[7] ‘Islamabad police round up PTM supporters for holding anti-Taliban protest’, Pakistan Today, 9 June 2018, https://www.pakistantoday.com.pk/2018/06/09/islamabad-police-round-up-ptm-supporters-for-holding-anti-taliban-protest.

[8] ‘ATC case against 37 PTM activists withdrawn’, The Express Tribune, 24 September 2018, https://tribune.com.pk/story/1810320/1-atc-case-37-ptm-activists-withdrawn.

[9] ‘…meanwhile, FIR registered against PTM Bannu rally organisers’, Pakistan Today, 2 November 2018, https://www.pakistantoday.com.pk/2018/11/02/meanwhile-fir-registered-against-ptm-bannu-rally-organisers/

[10] ‘Scores held under anti-terrorism laws in Pashtun rights rally in Pakistan’, News 18, 22 January 2019, https://www.news18.com/news/world/scores-held-under-anti-terrorism-laws-in-pashtun-rights-rally-in-pakistan-2009657.html.

[11] ‘Pashtun rights activist Alamzeb Mehsud arrested in Pakistan’, Al Jazeera, 22 January 2019, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/01/prominent-pashtun-rights-activist-arrested-pakistan-190122121631198.html and ‘PTM leaders booked under anti-terror law, one held’, Dawn, 22 January 2019, https://www.dawn.com/news/1459029

[12] ‘Pashtun campaigners complain of hurdles,’ Gandhara, 26 April 2018, https://gandhara.rferl.org/a/pashtun-campaigners-complain-of-hurdles-ahead-of-protest-in-pakistan/29194419.html.

[13] ‘Rights group condemns arbitrary detention of protesters in Pakistan and the police killing of activist’, CIVICUS, 8 February 2019, https://www.civicus.org/index.php/media-resources/media-releases/3720-global-rights-group-condemns-arbitrary-detention-of-pashtun-protesters-in-pakistan-and-the-police-killing-of-a-leading-activist.

[14] ‘Killing of Mr. Ibrahim Arman Loni & arbitrary detention of Ms. Gulalai Ismail and several PTM members’, Worldwide Movement for Human Rights, 14 February 2019, https://www.fidh.org/en/issues/human-rights-defenders/pakistan-killing-of-mr-ibrahim-arman-loni-arbitrary-detention-of-ms.

[15] ‘Case registered against Loralai police officer for Arman Loni’s death’, Dawn, 2 April 2019, https://www.dawn.com/news/1473444.

[16] See Mohsin Dawar, 17 May 2019, https://twitter.com/mjdawar/status/1129489961378635776

[17] ‘Abdullah Nangyal, Gulalai Ismail among dozens of PTM workers held in capital’, Pakistan Today, 5 February 2019, https://www.pakistantoday.com.pk/2019/02/05/abdullah-nangyal-gulalai-ismail-among-dozens-of-ptm-workers-held-in-capital.

[18] ‘Prominent human rights activist briefly held by Pakistan authorities’, Voice of America, 14 October 2018, https://www.voanews.com/a/prominent-human-rights-activist-briefly-held-by-pakistan-authorities/4612861.html.

[19] ‘Release Pashtun human rights defenders immediately and unconditionally’, Amnesty International, 12 October 2018, https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2018/10/pakistan-release-pashtun-human-rights-defender-immediately-and-unconditionally.

[20] ‘PHC orders quashing of FIR against PTM leaders’, Dawn, 10 May 2019, https://www.dawn.com/news/1481340.

[21] ‘Immediately and unconditionally release Muhammad Hayat Khan Preghal’, Amnesty International, 24 September 2018, https://www.amnesty.org/download/Documents/ASA3391512018ENGLISH.pdf.

[22] ‘Pakistan Tightens Coverage of Pashtun Rights Movement’, Voice of America, 11 December 2018, https://www.voanews.com/a/pakistan-tightens-coverage-of-pashtun-nationalist-movement/4696344.html.

[23] ‘Pakistan censors New York Times article by activist critical of military’, Straits Times, 12 February 2019, https://www.straitstimes.com/asia/south-asia/pakistan-censors-new-york-times-article-by-activist-critical-of-military.

[24] ‘Two journalists from D.I. Khan booked for covering protest rally’, Pakistan Press Foundation, 12 December 2018, https://www.pakistanpressfoundation.org/two-journalists-from-d-i-khan-booked-for-covering-protest-rally.

[25] See Tabinda M. Khan, 20 February 2019, https://twitter.com/tabinda_m/status/1098251413312876544

[26] Recommendations 152.170 (Cyprus), 152.176 (Greece), 152.175 (Norway) and 152.83 (Cote d'Ivoire) in ‘Report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review: Pakistan’, United Nations Human Rights Council, 29 December 2017, https://www.ohchr.org/en/hrbodies/upr/pages/pkindex.aspx.

 

Philippines: Stop the Attacks against Human Rights Defenders and Protect Civic Space

 

Joint Statement:
We, the undersigned organisations, strongly denounce the recent death threats addressed to Karapatan Secretary General, Cristina Palabay in the Philippines. These threats and the wider attacks against human rights defenders, journalists and civil society representatives signify the further constricting of civic space and the silencing of dissent in the country. We collectively urge the Government of the Philippines to respond to the threats against human rights defenders by taking genuine and effective measures for their protection.

On 22 April 2019, Palabay received threatening messages from someone using an unknown phone number saying that she and other human rights defenders will be killed this year. These threats highlight the risks faced by human rights defenders, which have significantly increased since President Duterte took office in June 2016. Duterte has consistently spoken out against human rights and human rights defenders. He has previously threatened to behead human rights advocates [1],  and blamed them for the increase in the number of drug users in the country [2].  While the Office of the President has been quick to assert that these statements were merely made in jest, such statements have translated into real-life repercussions for human rights defenders, who face violence and threats from both state and non-state actors. 

In 2018, the Department of Justice filed a petition placing UN Special Rapporteur Vicki Tauli-Corpuz and other human rights defenders on a list of individuals who supposedly had terrorist connections. Being publicly accused of such connections greatly endangers their security [3].  A month later, Duterte told people to ‘kill those useless bishops’, [4]  referring, among others, to Bishop Pablo Salud, who is known for speaking out against the Government’s ‘war on drugs’. This too resulted in anonymous death threats. 

On the same day that Palabay received the latest threats against her life, human rights worker Bernardino Patigas was killed [5].  Another human rights defender, Archad Ayao was killed just days later [6].  Of the human rights defenders cases monitored by FORUM-ASIA in Asia in 2017-2018, the biggest percentage of killings - 48 per cent totalling 29 cases – took place in the Philippines [7]. 

Attacks and reprisals against human rights defenders continue as the Government wages a systematic campaign to attack the independence of democratic institutions and to constrict civic space in the country.  Individuals within the legislative and judiciary branches have faced reprisals for dissenting against Duterte’s policies, while journalists have been targeted for their critical reporting. This campaign has included efforts ranging from: a general failure to investigate attacks against human rights defenders; to the use of repressive laws to judicially harass critics; to outright violence.

We condemn these attacks, and express deep concern for the government policies and practices that restrict and repress civil society and human rights defenders in the Philippines. We call on the Government of the Philippines to ensure thorough and impartial investigations of the attacks against human rights defenders, and to ensure a safe and enabling environment for them to conduct their work. We also urge the House of Representatives to enact and implement the Human Rights Defenders Protection Bill that will provide legal recognition to and safeguards for human rights defenders, in accordance with the UN Declaration on the Rights of Human Rights Defenders.

We call on stakeholders in the international community to continue to closely monitor the situation in the Philippines, and to use their interactions with the Government, including in the area of trade and business, to emphasise the importance of reversing restrictive policies and building an enabling environment for the respect and protection of human rights. Specifically, we urge the UN Human Rights Council to advance accountability for human rights violations in the country by adopting a resolution establishing an independent international investigation into extrajudicial killings in the government's 'war on drugs', and to call for a halt to the  attacks on human rights defenders, independent media, and democratic institutions.

Signed,
Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)
CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
Front Line Defenders
FIDH (International Federation for Human Rights), within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)
World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders


1 Duterte threatens to behead human rights advocates.
https://www.gmanetwork.com/news/news/nation/611343/duterte‐threatens‐to‐behead‐human‐rights‐ advocates/story/
2 Duterte threats alarm rights groups https://www.rappler.com/nation/154110‐duterte‐threats‐alarm‐rights‐ groups
3 Palace: ‘Terrorist’ tag on UN special rapporteur based on intel. https://globalnation.inquirer.net/164881/victoria‐ tauli‐corpus‐un‐special‐rapporteur‐terrorist‐cpp‐npa
4 Philippines' Duterte: 'Kill those useless bishops' https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2018/12/philippines‐duterte‐ kill‐useless‐catholic‐bishops‐181205132220894.html
5 Negros Occidental city councilor shot dead. https://www.rappler.com/nation/228768‐negros‐occidental‐city‐ councilor‐shot‐dead‐april‐22‐2019
6 BARMM human rights worker shot dead in Cotabato City. https://www.rappler.com/nation/229468‐barmm‐ human‐rights‐worker‐archad‐ayao‐shot‐dead‐cotabato‐city‐may‐2019
7 Since 2010, FORUM‐ASIA has been using an integrated database documenting system, to document violations and abuses against HRDs in Asia. The data can be accessed at https://asianhrds.forum‐asia.org/.

 

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