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:

Volunteer Activists Institute

CIVICUS Global Alliance for Citizen Participation

Women’s March Global

Center for Human Rights in Iran

Citizens Friend

West African Human Rights Defenders Network

 

[1] OHCHR (2019) Iran: Urgent medical treatment needed for detainees with life-threatening conditions – UN experts: ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=24813&LangID=E

 

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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/.

 

The Belgrade Call to Action

French

A Civil Society Call to Stand Together to

Defend Peoples’ Voices for a Just and Sustainable World

Reverse the Closing and Shrinking Space for Civil Society

Stop the Increasing Attacks on Human Rights Defenders and the Undermining of Democratic Participation

Renew the Prospects for an Inclusive Agenda 2030 and the Full Realization of the SDGs

Launched in Belgrade, April 8, 2019

We, leaders from Global Civil Society, coming from civil society organizations, activists and campaigners from all parts of the World, on this day in Belgrade call on international and national civil society to stand together and declare aloud: Enough is enough! Stop the relentless attacks on civil society, social leaders and human rights defenders!

The global community is currently moving down a path that will leave hundreds of millions of people behind; real and transformative progress towards achieving the systemic changes for people and planet promised by Agenda 2030 will not be possible without a fully engaged civil society and people’s genuine participation through their organizations and communities.

It is deeply troubling that more than eighty percent (80%) of the world’s population - 6 billion people living in 111 countries - face a situation where either the conditions are closed for civil society (23 countries), or where civil society is highly repressed (35 countries), or where civil society faces substantial legal and political obstacles (53 countries). [CIVICUS Civil Society Monitor] In these countries there is little chance for a fully engaged and mobilized civil society, which is an essential foundation for democracy, human rights safeguards, and progress on the SDGs and for a transformative Agenda 2030.

We urge all Member States of the United Nations to take concrete urgent action to reverse these trends.

Despite rhetorical promises of action by many Member States to “reverse the trend of shrinking civic space wherever it is taking place,” attacks on CSOs, social leaders and human rights defenders continue unabated. [Nairobi Outcome Document, Global Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation]

Civic actors across many sectors are being threatened, persecuted and killed – including those supporting and representing rural communities, Indigenous peoples, journalists, trade unions, women’s rights activists, LGBTQ* activists, youth, people living with disabilities and environmentalists. They are being harassed through arbitrary arrest, detention, the targeted use of legal and regulatory measures and restrictions on CSO finances. Others are deliberately discredited as criminals or “foreign agents.” Civic leaders are being physically harmed, with women’s human rights defenders facing sexual harassment and abuse. All because they seek to protect peoples’ human rights, while promoting democratic participation on issues that affect their lives.

Real and transformative progress, leaving no one behind, in achieving core SDGs – including eradicating poverty (SDG1), eliminating hunger (SDG2), addressing gender and all forms of inequality (SDG5), reducing inequalities (SDG10), promoting decent work and sustainable livelihoods for all (SDG8), and taking action for climate justice and a just transition (SDG13) – will not be possible without a fully engaged civil society and population. The strengths of civil society are its diversity, its rootedness in communities and territories, its direct development experience, and its capacities for public engagement.

SDG 16, for peace, justice and effective institutions, is well beyond reach, in places where civic space is closed and repressed, where civil society cannot freely act with poor and marginalized populations to contribute to and safeguard accountable and inclusive institutions.

The time for rhetoric and noble international statements and declarations is over. The agenda is urgent, and the time to act is now. Practical action is possible. We cannot wait until there is little space for CSOs and their leaders, for human rights activists and for peoples’ voices and actions!

This Belgrade Call to Action is calling for specific commitments and actions, appropriate to each country, with an overarching reference in the Political Declaration of the 2019 High Level Political Forum, and with a timetable by which Member States can be held accountable.

We call on all Member States, meeting in September 2019:

  1. To take concrete steps to protect and enable space for civil society, including enabling laws and regulations, democratic accountability based on human rights norms and human rights standards, and the full protection of civil society under attack – such as social leaders, human rights defenders and gender equality activists.
  2. To embed inclusion and meaningful accountability to people in development practices.
  3. To implement and respect democratic country ownership of national development plans and implement transparency and accountability for inclusive SDG delivery.
  4. To lead by example with concerted action to challenge major human rights violations, including deteriorating conditions facing peoples’ organizations, trade unions, women’s rights organizations, indigenous peoples, and community-based environmentalists, among many others.
  5. To recognise the importance of the inter-connected themes in achieving Agenda 2030 -- civil society voice, eradicating poverty, women’s empowerment, fighting inequality, decent work, climate action and environmental justice. 

Implementing an Action Agenda based on these commitments will require robust, pro-active and collaborative political leadership on the part of all Member States, Development Stakeholders and Civil Society Organizations.  

Civil Society is fully committed to the achievement of the SDGs. But our efforts will be in vain, if we cannot count on new measures and actions at the local, national, regional and global level to reverse the debilitating trends that are shrinking and closing civic space.

We commit to raise these urgent concerns and demand action at all inter-governmental and preparatory meetings as the international community reviews progress in Agenda 2030 in the coming months and years.

This Call to Action, with an accompanying Action Agenda, is being launched simultaneously in countries around the world to draw attention to its urgency.

Belgrade

April 8, 2019

________________________________

[1] Nairobi Outcome Document, Global Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation.

 

 

UAE: Ahmed Mansoor remains on hunger strike in poor conditions as eyesight deteriorates

Imprisoned human rights defender and blogger Ahmed Mansoor has been on hunger strike since 17 March 2019 in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and is in very poor condition. He started the hunger strike to protest poor prison conditions and his unfair trial which led to a ten-year prison sentence for his human rights activities. We call on the UAE to immediately and unconditionally release Mansoor, and other unlawfully detained human rights defenders.

 

Five CIVICUS members join the Youth Action Team

Meet the new YAT

This April, five new members joined the CIVICUS Youth Action Team (YAT). They were elected by CIVICUS youth voting members and will serve a renewable 18-month term until September 2020. Their role will be to mainstream youth and youth issues into CIVICUS’ programmes and activities and to champion youth engagement and civic space.

 

Singapore: Anti-fake news bill another tool to suppress criticism and dissent

laptop keypad

The Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) and CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance, are extremely concerned by a new bill that has been proposed by the Singaporean authorities to counter false news. Our organisations believe that the stated aim of the bill - to deal with online misinformation - is merely a smokescreen to increase curbs on the freedom of expression, and to further silence dissent in this already tightly controlled State. We urge the authorities to discard the bill immediately.

 

CIVICUS alliance new board members

Global civil society alliance CIVICUS was pleased to announce the new elected CIVICUS board during the International Civil Society Week - ICSW in Serbia, 8 -12 April 2019. Two new Board members were appointed. They will join our current board from June 2019 in helping to steer and govern the CIVICUS Alliance from July 2019 to December 2020.

 

CSOs call for action for inclusive Sustainable Development process at Civil Society Summit in Belgrade

Belgrade, Serbia – Civil society organisation (CSO) representatives, development workers, activists, and campaigners from all over the world are gathering in Belgrade, Serbia on April 8, 2019 for the Civil Society Summit as part of International Civil Society Week. The Civil Society Summit 2019 aims to leverage the energy and commitment of civic leaders representing thousands of CSOs, and human rights and climate activists around the world to demand that governments, parliamentarians, businesses, inter-governmental bodies, and citizens take action in promoting people’s participation in building a sustainable world.

 

Global civil society condemns the criminalisation of human rights defenders in Guatemala

 

Joint letter condemns the criminalisation of human rights defenders Claudia Samayoa and José Martínez in Guatemala

We the undersigned organizations are gravelly alarmed by the ongoing, targeted criminalization of human rights defenders in Guatemala including the recent judicial harassment of defenders Mrs. Claudia Virginia Samayoa Pineda and Mr. José Manuel Martínez Cabrera. The targeted judicial harassment of Ms. Samayoa Pineda and Mr. Martinez Cabrera is illustrative of the authorities’ growing intolerance of independent dissent, including defenders working on land and environmental defense.

Mrs. Samayoa Pineda is President of the Board of Directors of UDEFEGUA, an organization which works to support human rights defenders in Central America, and member of the OMCT Executive Committee; while Mr. José Manuel Martínez Cabrera is a member of the Justicia Ya Collective, a citizen movement which opposes corruption and impunity. Both human rights defenders are being subjected to a criminal complaint by Mr. Nester Mauricio Vásquez Pimentel, in his capacity as President of the Supreme Court of Justice (CSJ) and representing the CSJ, on spurious charges of illegally obtaining a court document and influence peddling. It is broadly acknowledged that civil society groups, including UDEFEGUA and the Justicia Ya collective, have been instrumental in the fight against impunity and public corruption in the country.

The criminal case against both defenders is a direct response to a complaint the defenders filed on January 17, 2019 requesting the withdrawal of the privilege of immunity from 11 judges of the CSJ. The complaint contends that the 11 judges breached the Constitution of Guatemala and committed judicial prevarication by allowing criminal proceedings against three judges from the Constitutional Court (CC). Along with the complaint presented to CSJ on January 17, 2019, Ms. Samayoa Pineda and Mr. Martínez Cabrera annexed a copy of the CSJ decision which allows the criminal proceedings against the CC judges to continue. Despite the fact that this document had been widely circulated in the national press and on social media, the President of the CSJ is accusing these two human rights defenders of illegally obtaining it.

The criminalization of both defenders is yet another example of the targeted reprisals leveled against civil society organisations and human rights defenders that have mobilised against a series of attacks on Guatemala's democratic institutional framework. Among other worrying attempts to undermine democratic norms and the rule of law in Guatemala, the authorities have sought to delegitimize the judges of the Constitutional Court and unilaterally cancel an agreement with the UN ending the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG). 

In the framework of our commitment to justice and human rights, we make a public call to the Guatemalan Government to:

  1. End all acts of harassment, misuse of criminal law and criminalization against individuals and communities that defend human rights in Guatemala, including Ms. Claudia Virginia Samayoa Pineda and Mr. José Manuel Martínez Cabrera. In particular, we ask the Public Ministry to dismiss the criminal complaint against both human rights defenders.
  2. Adopt the most appropriate measures to guarantee the safety and physical and psychological integrity of Ms. Claudia Virginia Samayoa Pineda and Mr. José Manuel Martínez Cabrera and of all human rights defenders in Guatemala.
  3. Protect, respect and guarantee the realization of human rights and fundamental freedoms in all regions of Guatemala, as well as the validity of a democratic State.

Organizaciones signatures:

350.org
Action Aid, Guatemala
African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies (ACJPS), Sudan
Alianza Frente a la Criminalización (AFC), Guatemala
Asamblea socioambiental de General Roca . Argentina
Asian Legal Resource Centre (ALRC)
Asociación Ambiente y Sociedad - Colombia
Asociación COMUNICARTE, Guatemala
Asociación de Mujeres de Guatemala AMG, España
Asociación de Trabajadoras del Hogar a Domicilio y de Maquila ATRAHDOM
Asociación Interamericana para la Defensa del Ambiente (AIDA), Colombia
Asociación para una Ciudadanía Participativa (ACI PARTICIPA) – Honduras
Association for Human Rights in Ethiopia (AHRE), Ethiopia
AWID (Association for Women’s Rights  in Development)
Banglar Manabadhikar Suraksha Mancha (MASUM), India
Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR), Cambodia
Carea e.V., Alemania
Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL)
Central General de Trabajadores de Guatemala
Centro de Incidencia Ambiental de Panamá (CIAM)
CIVICUS
Civil Society Organizations Network for Development (RESOCIDE), Burkina Faso
Colectivo CADEHO, Alemania
Collectif Guatemala, Francia,
Comité de Familiares de las Víctimas de los Sucesos de Febrero-Marzo de 1989 (COFAVIC) – Venezuela
Comité de Solidaridad con los Presos Políticos (CSPP) – Colombia
Comite Noruego de solidaridad con America Latina, Noruega
Committee Against Torture, Russian Federation
Comunidades en Resistencia Pacífica de La Puya, Guatemala
Confederación Unitaria de Trabajadores de Honduras
Congregation of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd, US Provinces
Consorcio para el diálogo parlamentario y la equidad Oaxaca A.C .- México
Coordinadora Civil-Nicaragua
Coordinadora Nacional de Derechos Humanos (CNDDHH) - Perú
CUTH
Derecho Ambiente y Recursos Naturales DAR (Perú)
Dienst fuer  Mission, Oekumene und Entwicklung der Evangelischen Landeskirche Stuttgart, Alemania
DKA Austria
Federación Guatemalteca de Escuelas Radiofónicas (FGER), Guatemala
Festivales Solidarios, Guatemala
Foro de Organizaciones No Gubernamentales Internacionales en Guatemala (FONGI)
Front Line Defenders
Fundación Ambiente y Recursos Naturales (FARN)
Fundación Ciudadanía Inteligente
Fundación de Estudios para la Aplicación del Derecho (FESPAD)
Fundación Karmel Juyup’, Guatemala
Fundación para el Debido Proceso (DPLF)
German Zepeda, Solidarity Center
Global Witness
Guatemala-Netz Zürich
HondurasDelegation, Alemania
Human Rights Defenders Network- SL
Iglesia Luterana ILUGUA de Guatemala, Guatemala
Impunity Watch, Países Bajos
International Commission of Jurists (ICJ)-Kenya, Kenya
International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF)
International Land Coalition (ILC) - América Latina y el Caribe
International Land Coalition (ILC) - Secretariat
JASS (Just Associates)
Karapatan Alliance for the Advancement of People's Rights, Philippines
Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and the Rule of Law (KIBHRL), Kazakhstan
KM207 Guatemala-Suisse
Latin America Working Group
Ligue Burundaise des droits de l’homme Iteka, Burundi
Maryknoll Affiliates
Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns
Metro Center, Journalists Rights & Advocacy
Movimiento por la Paz (MPDL)
Mugen Gainetik, del País Vasco, España
Oekumenische Initiative Mittelamerika e.V., Alemania
Organización Mundial Contra la Tortura (OMCT) – Internacional
OXFAM
Oxfam America
Peace Watch Switzerland (PWS), Suiza
People in Need
Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates (PAHRA), Philippines
Plataforma Internacional contra la Impunidad
Presbyterian Church (USA)
Presbyterian Peace Fellowship
Programme Against Custodial Torture & Impunity (PACTI), India
Project on Organizing, Development, Education and Research (PODER)
Protection International Mesoamérica
Public Association “Spravedlivost” Jalal-Abad Human Rights Organization, Kyrgyzstan
Public Verdict Foundation, Russian Federation
Reacción Climática, Bolivia
Red Latinoamericana y del Caribe por la Democracia
Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights
Seguridad en Democracia (SEDEM)
Sindicato de trabajadoras domésticas de maquila, nexas y conexas SITRADOM
Sisters of Mercy of the Americas - Institute Justice Team
Solidaridad con Guatemala de Austria (Guatemala Solidarität Österreich)
SOS-Torture/Burundi, Burundi
The Fund for Global Human Rights
UDEFEGUA, Guatemala
UNSITRAGUA HISTÓRICA
Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), United States
West African Human Rights Defenders Network
World Movement for Democracy
ZEB / Zentrum fuer entwicklungspolitische Bildung der Evangelischen Landeskirche Stuttgart, Alemania
Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum


Individual signatures:

Ana Lucía Ixchíu Hernández, Guatemala
David O., ciudadano de los E.E.U.U.
Dra. Lisette Aguilar Prado, Guatemala
Esther Gut de Zurich, Suiza
Eve Chayes Lyman
Iduvina Hernández Batres, Guatemala
Karla AVELAR activista trans refugiada
Maya Alvarado Chávez, Guatemala
Mirna Ramírez, Guatemala
Padre Cirilo Santamaria Sáez, Guatemala
Samwel Mohochi, Executive Director, ICJ Kenya
Tony Smith, ciudadano de los E.E.U.U.
Victoria Sanford, PhD, Director, Center for Human Rights & Peace Studies, Lehman College, City University of New York, United States

 

Emirati Women continue to face Systemic Oppression by Authorities

Women in the United Arab Emirates continue to face incredible barriers to their rights to civic freedoms by state and non-state actors. Living under the male guardianship system, that grants control over their movement, finances and interactions, these women can face detainment for merely reporting sexual violence in authorities. Because of this already patriarchal system, women human rights defenders face additional barriers in campaigning for their rights – they are frequently targeted and shamed by state and non-state actors (including family, communities and society at large). While imprisoned, women are also subject to torture and violence – but largely erased from the public sphere because of entrenched patriarchy. During CSW63, we highlight the great challenges facing WHRDs in the UAE and ask you to stand with them – calling for greater protections for Emirati women by state actors. The United Arab Emirates is rated ‘closed’ on the CIVICUS Monitor.

UAE Infographic

 

Five countries added to watchlist of countries where civic freedoms are under serious threat

 

  • Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, Sudan, and Venezuela join global watchlist
  • Escalating rights violations include killings, attacks on protesters, media restrictions and arbitrary detentions of human rights defenders
  • International community must pressure governments to end repression

Five countries from Asia, the Middle East, Africa, Europe 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 threats to civil society across the globe, identifies growing concerns in Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, Sudan, and Venezuela.

Activists and civil society organisations in these countries are experiencing an infringement of their civic freedoms as protected by international law. These violations include the use of excessive force by security forces during peaceful protests and journalists being arbitrarily detained and harrassed in both Sudan and Venezuela. In Serbia, space for independent media is under concerted attack while massive anti-government demonstrations are taking place. In Saudi Arabia, authorities continue the crackdown on women human rights defenders, who are being subject to arbitrary detentions and ill treatment for their activism on gender issues. While, in Afghanistan, there has been a record high number of civilian casualties (3,800 in 2018). The upcoming July presidential elections pose additional security risks and a threat to shrinking civic space, as over 400 civilians and voters were killed or injured (including eight candidates), during last October’s parliamentary elections.

“It is deeply concerning to see escalated threats to basic rights in these countries,” said Marianna Belalba Barreto, CIVICUS Civic Space Research Lead. “It is critical that these five governments wake up to their failure to respect international law and take swift action to respect their citizens’ most basic freedoms in a democratic society and create an enabling environment for civil society organisations” Belalba said. “We also call upon neighbouring states and international bodies to put pressure on these countries to end the repression and ensure positive steps are taken to guarantee the safe space for civil society to continue their legitimate work”

Large-scale anti-government demonstrations have been ongoing across Sudan since 19th December 2018 calling for President Omar Al-Bashir to step down in the context of a growing frustration over the harsh economic and social situation. In response, the authorities have launched a violent campaign targeting protesters, including doctors, teachers, journalists, women activists and opposition political leaders. With the declaration of a state of emergency, civic space restrictions continue to increase with hundreds of protesters on trial and dozens sentenced in summary trials on charges of participating in demonstrations.

Serbia has witnessed sustained protest since December 2018. Protests started after an opposition politician was assaulted by unknown assailants wielding metal rods. For the most part, authorities in Serbia have largely ignored or attempted to downplay the scale of the protests. However on 17th March 2019 after 14 consecutive weeks of demonstrations, police in Belgrade used excessive force to disperse protesters that were calling for greater press freedom and fair elections. After encircling the Presidential building, clashes between protesters and police broke out, leading to the use of tear gas by Serbian authorities. Ten people were arrested in the confrontation. The government has also orchestrated a smear campaign against protesters  labelling opponents of the government as “paid” activists working against Serbian interests.

Despite claims that the Saudi Arabian government is leading reforms to improve the situation of women in the country, Saudi authorities continue to persecute women activists. Since the crackdown began in May 2018, at least 22 women human rights defenders have been arrested and subjected to human rights violations because of their activism on gender issues. Reports indicate that several detained rights defenders have been subjected to torture including sexual assault and harassment.

In Venezuela, since January 2019, massive anti-government protests have continued to take place in the country. The government has responded by using excessive force against demonstrators, arbitrarily detaining protestors, including teenagers, as well as detaining and harassing human rights defenders and journalists. Just between 21 and 25 January, at least 41 people died in circumstances linked to the protests,and more than 900 people were arbitrarily detained. For years, protesters in Venezuela have been met with excessive force by authorities, as people take to the streets to demand a change in government, the pattern of repression will likely intensify. Human rights organisations working to deliver humanitarian aid are especially targeted with harassment, and in some cases, their offices have been raided. It is estimated that more than three million venezuelans have fled the country due to the humanitarian crisis and denial of basic rights such as health and food.

Since the beginning of 2019, at least three journalists have been killed in Afghanistan. The country was the world's deadliest for journalists in 2018 with 13 reporters and 2 other media professionals killed. Citizens risk being killed and attacked for participating in government elections and civil society is currently excluded from peace negotiations between the Taliban and the United States (U.S.), and parallel peace talks in Moscow. Women’s groups and persecuted communities are campaigning to have their voices heard in the peace process, and to ensure that any agreement guarantees human rights and democratic freedoms.

In the coming weeks, 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. CIVICUS calls upon these governments to do everything in their power to immediately end the ongoing crackdowns and ensure that perpetrators are held to account.

See full CIVICUS Monitor Watchlist Summary


For more information and to speak with regional and country specific contacts, please message:

Marianna Belalba Barreto, CIVICUS Civic Space Research Lead

 

Attacks on women’s day march in Malaysia inconsistent with the government’s commitment to fundamental freedoms

Amnesty International, Article 19 and CIVICUS strongly condemn the government backlash against the International Women’s Day march held in Malaysia on 9 March 2019. A few days after the event, the country’s Home Minister announced that police were investigating the organisers of the march for allegedly conducting an illegal assembly, while the Minister in charge of Religious Affairs criticized the march as “a misuse of democratic space.” On 14 March 2019, the organisers were also informed that they were being investigated under the Sedition Act. These actions undermine the rights to freedom of expression and assembly and are inconsistent with human rights commitments made by the Pakatan Harapan government in its election manifesto and at the UN Human Rights Council.

 

Demanding gender equality is not terrorism! Saudi Arabia must drop all charges against detained WHRDs

Last week 36 member states condemned the human rights violations of Saudi Arabia, calling for the release of Women Human Rights Defenders (WHRDs), including Loujain Al Houthal. This is a developing campaign, read more on the call for accountability among civil society standing in solidarity with Saudi WHRDs here.

Dozens of women’s rights activists continue to be detained solely for demanding an end to the discriminatory male guardianship system and the right to drive. Loujain Al-Hathloul, a prominent Saudi woman human rights defender and one of the leaders of the right to drive campaign, is scheduled to appear on March 13th before the Specialized Criminal Court (SCC), which deals with terrorism cases.[1] Other women human rights defenders may also appear in court tomorrow, however there has been a lack of information provided by authorities as to who they are. This will be the first time women human rights defenders who were arrested in mid-May 2018 will be brought to court since their arrest.[2] They have been tortured, sexually harassed, intimidated, and targeted by smearing campaigns. The Saudi Crown Prince has claimed he is leading reforms to improve the situation of Saudi women, while at the same time the authorities are detaining and torturing women who have called for the same reforms for Saudi women, including the right to drive.

The trial against Loujain Al-Hathloul, and possibly other women human rights defenders, before the anti-terrorism court clearly demonstrates that the Saudi authorities view the demands of gender equality as a criminal and “terrorist” activity.[3] Women’s rights activists are equated to fundamentalist terrorists. The Saudi authorities have a zero-tolerance policy for any form of peaceful activism, including those calling for equality and advancing women’s rights in the country.

Despite claims by the Saudi Public Prosecution[4] that all women detainees have their legal rights upheld, Loujain Al-Hathloul and her colleagues[5] were not informed about the arrest warrant. Some were detained incommunicado with no access to their families or lawyers during the first three months of their detention. They were also not allowed the right to access an attorney to represent them during the investigation, which ended in early March.

For the first time ever, 36 States, including all members of the European Union, called on Saudi Arabia at the UN Human Rights Council in March 2019 to immediately and unconditionally release women human rights defenders who are being detained for exercising their fundamental rights. States also condemned the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and demanded that those responsible be held accountable.

We call on the Saudi authorities to:

  • Immediately and unconditionally release Loujain Al-Hathloul and all other detained women human rights defenders, and to drop all charges against them
  • Ensure their rights to physical and psychological integrity
  • Ensure their right to appropriate legal representation
  • Ensure their right to fair and transparent trials in accordance with international standards of fair trials
  • Ensure access to the trials by independent international monitors

We call on the international community to:

  • Urge the Saudi authorities to implement the above recommendations
  • Monitor the trial of the women human rights defenders and report publicly on its adherence with international standards

Since the arrest of the Saudi defenders, a coalition of civil society organizations have been campaigning for their immediate and unconditional release and calling for greater solidarity across the international community.

[1] As reported by her brother on his twitter account

[2] Al Hathloul was arrested on 17 May 2018.

[3] In 2016 the Committee Against Torture in its second periodic report of Saudi Arabia expressed concern at the application of terrorism legislation, through Specialised Criminal Courts, which enables the criminalisation of acts of peaceful expression considered as ‘endangering national unity’ or ‘undermining the reputation or position of the State’. These courts, which have been used to try human rights defenders, violate international standards for the right to a fair trial and allow authorities to detain individuals without providing them with access to justice, including access to family members or legal representation.

[4] On March 1, the Public Prosecution issued statement announcing the end of investigations and that they will be referred to trial

[5] Detained women’s rights defenders include Aziza al-Yousef, Eman al-Nafjan, Nouf Abdelaziz, Dr. Hatoon al-Fassi, Samar Badawi, Nassima al-Sadah, Mohammed Al-Bajadi, Amal Al-Harbi, and Shadan al-Anezi.

 

Singapore: Joint Statement on the Sentencing of Human Rights Defender Jolovan Wham

We, the undersigned human rights organisations, strongly condemn the politically-motivated prosecution of Singaporean human rights defender Jolovan Wham. After convicting Wham in January 2019 of ‘organising a public assembly without a permit,’ the State Court sentenced him, on 21 February, to a fine of S$3,200 (US$2,367), or by default, 16 days in prison. 

 

CIVICUS calls for urgent investigation into death of woman human rights defender in Kenya

Global civil society alliance CIVICUS, has called on authorities in Kenya to urgently investigate the death of a woman rights defender.

The body of activist Caroline Mwatha Ochieng was discovered almost a week after she had been reported missing on 6 February 2019.

 

Global civil society condemns violent repression of anti-government protests in Venezuela

  • 40 people killed and more than 800 detained since public protests began on January 23
  • Journalists covering demonstrations have been attacked
  • The UN has called for an independent investigation into the state’s alleged used of force against protesters
  • The government of President Nicolás Maduro has often used violence against protesters since coming to power in 2013.
  • Global civil society groups have urged authorities to release all detainees and uphold citizens’ rights and the rule of law

     

Global Statement on the 20th Anniversary of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders

French l Portuguese l Spanish

The 9th of December 2018 marked 20 years since global leaders adopted the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders. This was a major victory for the human rights movement as the international community finally gave due recognition to those brave individuals who devote their lives to fighting for all of our rights. The Declaration is an inspirational text that upholds the rights of all human rights defenders (HRDs) to promote, protect and defend human rights, from individual to global spheres. It affirms that states have a responsibility and duty to protect defenders against violence, threats, retaliation and arbitrary actions resulting from the exercise of the fundamental rights of defenders. The Declaration notes that when these rights are violated, victims have the right to file a complaint and such complaints should be reviewed promptly by independent, impartial and competent judicial authorities and that redress is made to the victims.

Unfortunately, twenty years after its adoption, our assessment shows huge gaps in the implementation of the Declaration. Evidence of this is the persistent attacks on HRDs and their organisations that continue unabated, 20 years after the Declaration was adopted. In all types of political systems, democratic and otherwise across the world, the settings in which human rights defenders work is becoming more contested and volatile. Very few states have promulgated laws on HRDS or developed policies that seek to recognise and protect them. Some of those who have are; Burkina Faso, Brazil, Cote d’Ivoire, Colombia, Mexico and Mali. Even in some of these states HRDs are at risk.

The undersigned civil society organisations express our deepest concerns over the challenges of HRDs. Our monitoring of the situation facing HRDs shows that those at the forefront defending, promoting and protecting human rights are prime targets of attacks perpetrated by state and non-state actors. The CIVICUS Monitor, a tool used to track the state of civic space in countries around the world reveals that the arbitrary and unlawful detention of HRDs is the number one tactic of repression used by states. Between June 2016 and March 2017, 160 reports related to the detention of HRDs was published by the Monitor. Most HRDs are detained under restrictive legislation and are prosecuted under trumped up charges ranging from “terrorism,” “secession,” “drug trafficking,” “treason,” to attempting to destabilise the state and national security. These charges often carry heavy penalties including the death penalty and life imprisonment and in some cases judicial processes are flawed and HRDs are tried in military courts.

Statistics on HRDs who have paid the ultimate price for defending human rights are alarming and should be a source of concern to all of us. Global human rights organisation Frontline Defenders reported that in 2017 alone 312 HRDs were killed in 27 countries. Even though in almost all cases, the brutal killings of these HRDs are preceded by threats which are often reported to the authorities, pleas for help and protection are routinely ignored. Amnesty International sheds light on an estimated 3,500 HRDs killed over the last twenty years. In a majority of these cases the perpetrators have not been held accountable and they continue to attack others as they enjoy high levels of impunity.

HRDs are often victims of physical assaults, unlawful surveillance and are threatened by state and non-state actors. The offices and homes of some have been attacked to intimidate them and the movements of others are monitored by state agents. Others are handed travel bans particularly when they plan to travel abroad to attend meetings or conferences that focus on human rights. Many have been abducted or kidnapped by members of security forces or unidentified persons and some have been found dead. Many more have simply disappeared and have not been heard from again. Senior government officials subject HRDs to smear campaigns to discredit them and the work they do and this makes them vulnerable to attacks in their communities. In many societies attacks on Women Human Rights Defenders (WHRDs), youth activists and those working on LGBTQI issues have increased. Amidst this onslaught, HRDs have had to self-censor and others have fled their home and countries.

States have the primary duty, under international law, to guarantee that HRDs can carry out their activism safely. However, many HRDs face specific and heightened risks because they challenge business interests. International law – interpreted via the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights – obliges business to respect the right of citizens to express their views and protest. Companies and investors must therefore guarantee that they and their clients refrain from harming HRDs or impeding their rights. They should heed the Guiding Principles’ recommendation to engage with all stakeholders, as well as international law on participation, consultation and consent - thus preventing conflicts at the outset.

We are extremely concerned that, in most countries, the lack of effective police and judicial response to these killings, attacks, threats, harassment and intimidation suffered by human rights defenders creates a climate of impunity and encourages and perpetuates these violations. The inclusion of Goal 16 in the Agenda 2030 is a recognition by states that development and human rights cannot be separated. Goal 16 calls on states to protect fundamental freedoms in accordance with national legislation and international agreements. The human costs associated with these attacks on HRDs cannot be easily quantified but if states don’t take requisite actions to halt this onslaught, key targets of Agenda 2030 will be missed.

This is our collective call to states, government representatives, international organisations and non-state actors to recognise HRDs as important actors in nation building processes, respect their rights, support their work and protect them at all times.

Recommendations

To governments

The undersigned groups urge governments to create an enabling environment for HRDs to operate in line with regional and international human rights obligations and standards. At a minimum, the following conditions for HRDs working across all sectors should be ensured; freedom of association, expression and assembly, the right to operate from unwarranted state interference and the states duty to protect. In light of this we make the following recommendations.

Develop and implement a law that recognises the activities of HRDs, protects them and makes provisions for those who target them to be held accountable. Ensure that there are clear policies, guidelines or resolutions for the implementation of the law.

Create protective mechanisms that respond to the specific needs of HRDs. These mechanisms should be able to monitor and report on the situation of HRDs and make recommendations to repeal or amend laws and policies that are inconsistent with the rights of HRDs or place them at risk.

Carry out prompt, independent and impartial investigations into all cases in which HRDs have been killed, threatened, attacked, abducted, intimidated and harassed and ensure that those found guilty are held accountable and victims provided reparations.

Repeal or amend all restrictive laws and policies that are unjustly used to restrict the activities of HRDs so that they comply with regional and international human rights law and standards and prevent the harassment of HRDs.

To Businesses

Guarantee that no business project goes ahead without the free, prior and informed consent of affected communities at every stage of the project cycle.

Implement specific policies for the recognition, support and protection of human rights defenders, and guarantee the human and financial resources necessary for their effective implementation.

Desist from threats and attacks, including legal attacks, against defenders, and seek means by which to legitimise and support their work.

Where threats and attacks against defenders occur, speaking out – publically or privately – and advocate for both protection to be provided and justice to be done.

Suspend those specific business projects where defenders have been threatened, until robust measures are taken to prevent further threats against those at risk.

Carry out due diligence to assess whether defenders can operate safely in specific industry sectors and countries and – where this is not the case – cease to promote, implement or back projects, until guarantees of defenders’ safety have been made.

To financial institutions

Refuse funding for projects that violate the rights of peoples to free, prior and informed consent before engaging in operations that may lead to displacement of communities and/or impacts on their traditional cultures or sources of livelihood.

To multilateral Institutions

Prioritise civil society participation in decision making processes and open spaces for the participation of HRDs in their activities.

Work with civil society to make a case for people-centred multilateralism that reinforces the primacy of internationally agreed norms and human rights.

Multilateral institutions and states should ensure policy coherence in implementing diplomatic initiatives on the protection of human rights defenders. 

Speak boldly when HRDs are threatened, attacked, targeted or intimidated and condemn such actions.

Annex 1: HRDS killed in the past three years for defending human rights

Annex 2: HRDs currently in jail or facing judicial persecution for promoting human rights

This statement was endorsed by the organisations listed here

Use this statement as an advocacy tool to inform specific governments and businesses about the current state of human rights defenders.

 

Thousands of Bangladesh garment workers fired for demanding better wages

  • Almost 5,000 workers producing clothes for international brands were sacked for participating in protests and strikes for improved pay
  • At least one person was killed, and hundreds injured after police used excessive force against protesters
  • Almost 100 have reportedly been arrested and charged for participating in labour actions

The firing of almost 5,000 low-paid garment workers in Bangladesh in reprisal for participating in protests and strikes for higher wages is a clear violation of fundamental freedoms, global civil society alliance CIVICUS said today.

Condemning the reported dismissals by factory bosses as disturbing, CIVICUS has called for the sacked workers to be reinstated immediately and for the charges against those arrested to be dropped.

Last September, the government promised garment workers an increase in their minimum monthly wage from 8,000 taka (US$100). Workers walked out in protest on January 6 and held demonstrations demanding decent wages after rejecting this offer. During the protests, Bangladeshi police used excessive force including firing rubber bullets and tear gas, which left one worker dead and at least a hundred others injured. There have also been reports of widespread arrests.

In an attempt to contain widespread anger over police violence as well as calls for further protests, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina appointed a tri-partite committee consisting of Bangladesh Garment Manufacturing and Exporters Association (BGMEA) representatives, trade union leaders and government ministers, address the issues. Although workers rejected the committee’s findings proposing minimal increases, on January 13 they returned to work in the face of union demands to end the strike and under threat of lockouts and further police repression.

Although the tri-partite committee agreed that no action would be taken against the workers, many learned they were sacked after arriving at work to see notices bearing their names and images attached to factory gates.

“These actions are clearly a retaliation by the companies against those speaking up and is an attempt to silence their voices,” said Josef Benedict, a CIVICUS Civic Space researcher.

“The Bangladesh authorities must put to a stop to this, in accordance with their international human rights obligations and hold these companies accountable for their actions,” Benedict said. 

The United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights state that businesses must respect internationally recognised human rights, including the right to expression and peaceful assembly which are provided for under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). They should also refrain from reprisals against those exercising their civic freedoms, and protest against the business or its interests.

Bangladesh is home to some 4,500 clothing factories employing 4.1 million workers, who have been fighting for a 16,000 taka (US$200) monthly minimum wage since 2016. Many have suffered unfair dismissals, brutal police violence and fabricated criminal cases for their involvement in protests and strikes. In most cases, there has been a lack of accountability.

In early January 2017, about 20 global brands sourcing clothing manufacturing from Bangladesh, including H&M, Inditex, Gap, C&A, Next, and Primark, wrote to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina supporting a wage review and expressing their concerns that union leaders and workers’ rights activists were being targeted.

Instead of sacking the workers for exercising their civic freedoms and demanding better wages, businesses should instead engage in dialogue with them and their representatives. Global garment brands sourcing from Bangladesh should also press these companies to reinstate these workers,” Benedict said.

It is extremely worrying to hear reports that some workers have been arrested and charged in round ups by the police for their involvement in the protests. The authorities must release these workers immediately and drop all charges against them,” he said.

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.

ENDS

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

 

Global youth-led data initiative launched for UN's Sustainable Development Goals

 

New youth-led global data initiative for the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals kicks-off in Tanzania

Selected from over 2,000 applicants, 26 young data innovators from around the world are meeting in Arusha, Tanzania from 21-25 January to launch the Goalkeepers Youth Action Accelerator, a one-year initiative focused on sourcing and using data to drive progress towards the UN’s Global Goals.

  • Participants are from 22 countries (spanning Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East) and will receive technical support from a team of international development professionals and upwards of $30,000 each to deliver their projects.
  • Each grantee (all under the age of 35) will implement their bespoke data projects in their respective countries, tackling challenges related to poverty, hunger, health, education, gender equality and water and sanitation (related to Global Goals 1-6).

The initiative was announced in September at Goalkeepers 2018, an annual event put on by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation during the UN General Assembly. It was was set up with the recognition that young people are the key to success for the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, yet only a small fraction of donor funding goes to young people and youth-led organisations. Even when financial resources are available, the technical support (e.g. mentoring, technology, mass media) is often missing. With this in mind, initiative partners (Gates Foundation, CIVICUS, Restless Development, Action for Sustainable Development, The George W. Bush Institute, and the Obama Foundation) set out to identify youth-led data projects from the global south that are already using innovative forms of data collection and have the potential to be scaled-up to have an even greater impact in their communities.

The ground-breaking data projects include an initiative to curb deforestation by providing rural communities with alternative sources of income; a campaign to strengthen food security by providing farmers with data on land fertility; and a plan to produce low cost drones to deliver medicine and HIV tests for young children and pregnant women living in remote areas. See the full list of projects.

 

Successful project proposals were selected by a global steering group of accomplished youth advocates based on their feasibility, level of innovation, and scalability. The thematic areas of the projects vary, but they all share the objectives to assess local implementation of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and to hold governments accountable for achieving these commitments. The projects fall under two primary workstreams: data sourcing and accountability, and data translation and storytelling.

The Arusha workshop will provide an opportunity for participants to learn from one another, as well as other leaders and experts in their fields. It will be hosted at the MS Training Centre for Development (MS-TCDC), which has been in operation since the 1970’s supporting a wide range of civil society initiatives related to democratic decision making and sustainable development.

Further background information

The Goalkeepers Youth Action Accelerator is a part of Goalkeepers, which is a multi-year campaign dedicated to accelerating progress towards the Global Goals: using powerful stories, data, and partnerships to highlight progress achieved, hold governments accountable and bring together a new generation of leaders to address the world’s major challenges.

To arrange an interview, please contact: Clara Sanchiz (Clara.sanchiz[at]civicus.org)

 

NICARAGUA: Observatory established to monitor human rights crisis

International Organisations Establish International Observatory of the Human Rights Situation in Nicaragua

April 18, 2018 marked a watershed moment in the recent history of Nicaragua, with the outbreak of a political and social crisis that has seriously impacted the respect for and guarantee of human rights of the Nicaraguan people.

Nine months since the start of the human rights crisis, state repression against protesters, leaders, human rights organisations and social movements continues, placing the defence of human rights and social participation difficult to sustain. The government of President Daniel Ortega and Vice President Rosario Murillo has also been denying opportunities for international monitoring, which they had initially invited, such as the Follow-up Mechanism for the Situation in Nicaragua (MESENI) of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, (IACHR) and the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

According to the statement made by the executive secretary of the IACHR, Paulo Abrão, in his last presentation to the Permanent Council of the Organization of American States (OAS), "the characteristics of state violence show that there was a decision by the State to use forces in such a way that involved the commission of multiple criminal acts against demonstrators and political opponents; specifically murder, imprisonment, persecution, rape, torture and, eventually, enforced disappearances."

According to what has been documented by the IACHR, the escalation of violence has resulted in 325 people killed and more than 2000 people injured; 550 people detained and prosecuted; around 300 health professionals dismissed from their jobs; and the expulsion of at least 144 students from the National Autonomous University of Nicaragua (UNAN).

With the possibility of international observation terminated, the blocking of spaces for civil society organisations to monitor and follow up human rights violations, the criminalisation of human rights defenders (HRDs) and their organisations, the closure of civil society organisations and the increasing forced migration of thousands of people due to the political violence, the need to establish an international mechanism to observe the situation in the country is extremely urgent.

It is in this context that a group of international and regional human rights organisations have come together to establish the International Observatory of the Human Rights Situation in Nicaragua, including: Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL), Civicus- World Alliance for Citizen Participation, Urgent Action Fund-Latin America (FAU-AL), Front Line Defenders, Due Process of Law Foundation (DPLF), EU -LAT Network , JASS - Just Associates, Iniciativa Mesoamericana de Mujeres Defensoras de Derechos Humanos (IMD), Brot für die Welt (Bread for the World), Plataforma Internacional contra la Impunidad, Race and Equality, Unidad de protección a defensores y defensoras de Guatemala (UDEFEGUA) and the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA).

The Observatory is constituted by virtue of the crisis in Nicaragua, which makes it imperative that international civil society reinforce its work of documenting and monitoring the human rights situation in a coordinated and proactive manner.


Civic space in Nicaragua is rated as ‘Repressed’ by the CIVICUS Monitor

 

Human rights groups demand Zimbabwe stop violent repression of protesters and respect fundamental freedoms

  • Security forces violently repress protests, killing at least eight and injuring more than a dozen after using live ammunition against demonstrators
  • Hundreds of protesters arrested during a three-day national shutdown called to protest massive fuel price hikes, with reports of security forces assaulting citizens in their homes
  • Leading human rights defender Evan Mawarire among those arrested and charged with public violence
  • Authorities shut down social media sites and the internet, only partially restoring online access after the end of the strike action
  • Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition and Civil Society alliance, CIVICUS call on South Africa and the African Union to act to prevent more violence

Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition and Global civil society alliance, CIVICUS, have called on the authorities in Zimbabwe to exercise restraint and desist from using violence against peaceful protesters who have been demonstrating against a massive increase in fuel prices.

Security forces used brute force against Zimbabweans who took to the streets during a three-day national strike to protest President Emerson Mnangagwa’s decision to raise the fuel price by more than 150%. This astronomical price hike would see the cost of petrol increase from US$ 1.4 per litre to US$ 3.31 per litre and diesel from US$ 1.36 to US$ 3.31 per litre. The national protests come amidst a deterioration in economic conditions, fuel shortages and ever-increasing prices of food and basic necessities.

To protest Mnangagwa’s announcement, the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions and activists called for a national shutdown of businesses, schools and places of work.

In response, security forces used live ammunition on protesting crowds while in the Matabeleland region, in particular, soldiers reportedly invaded protesters’ homes and shot occupants. Yesterday, army and police officers surrounded the home of human rights defender and leader of the #ThisFlag movement, Evan Mawarire, before arresting and detaining him. Mawarire has been charged with inciting public violence through social media and is yet to appear in court.

Reports from the ground indicate that armed police, soldiers and masked men have caused mayhem as they kidnapped, harassed, intimidated and attacked citizens, while the streets remained heavily militarized.

“We are alarmed by incidents of extreme violence being reported, which include shooting at peaceful protestors and forcefully removing people from their homes. This is a gross violation of people’s right to organise and freely express themselves, said Lysa John, Secretary General of CIVICUS.

“Zimbabwean authorities must immediately stop using violence against its citizens and withdraw the military from the streets. We urge the South African government to intervene immediately to contain this crisis. The African Union must act with urgency to ensure that peace returns to Zimbabwe and hold those involved in the killing and harming of civilians accountable for their actions,” John said.

“We are concerned about threats targeting leaders of civil society, specifically Crisis in Zimbabwe Action leaders and its Secretariat who are falsely accused of hosting numerous meetings with a plan to unseat the Mnangagwa administration.” Said Tabani Moyo, Spokesperson for the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition.

“This statement is quite unfortunate as the public space is awash with our position calling for an inclusive national dialogue with all stakeholders.” Moyo continued.

In a move reminiscent of the manner in which the previous government of President Robert Mugabe often operated, authorities shut down social media sites and completely cut off access to internet during the mass action. Online access has now reportedly been partially restored but social networks remains inaccessible.

The CIVICUS Monitor, an online platform that tracks threats to civil society in all countries, has rated civic space – the space for civil society – in Zimbabwe as “Repressed”. This means civil society is significantly constrained and active individuals and civil society members who criticise power holders risk surveillance, harassment, imprisonment, injury or death.

For more information, please contact:

Teldah Mawarire

Grant Clark

Click here for our Press Centre

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CIVICUS/

Twitter: @CIVICUSalliance

 

Government shuts down civil society organisations as part of ongoing campaign of repression in Nicaragua

  •  Parliament has cancelled the legal registration of nine civil society organisations (CSOs)
  • The move comes after some of the CSOs participated in hearings into human rights violations at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights
  • The shutdown of CSOs comes at a time of serious attacks on fundamental freedoms in Nicaragua
  • Global civil society groups express concern that more Nicaraguan CSOs may be targeted

Global civil society alliance, CIVICUS, has condemned the cancellation of the legal registration status of nine civil society organisations in Nicaragua as an affront to the right to freedom of association. The move to shut down the groups is seen to be in retaliation for their participation in hearings on Nicaragua’s deteriorating human rights situation at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

On December 12, Nicaragua’s parliament voted to cancel the legal registration of the human rights organisation, Centro Nicaraguense de Derechos Humanos (CENIDH). The following day they voted again to cancel the registration of five more organisations including Instituto de liderazgo las Segovias (ILLS), Instituto para el Desarrollo de la Democracia (IPADE), Fundación del Rio, Centro de Investigación de la Comunicación (CINCO) and Fundación Popol Na.

Just a week prior, CENIDH has been part of a delegation of rights groups who provided a hearing before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights with information on the social impact of ongoing human rights violations. They called on the government to stop violently repressing peaceful protests and attacking critical voices.

“After using violence to target peaceful protesters, the government of Nicaragua now extends its repression to civil society organisations because of its perception that they have publicly criticized human rights violations committed since the start of protests in April 2018.” said CIVICUS’ Natalia Gomez.

Restrictions on fundamental freedoms in Nicaragua increased substantively in April when the government violently dispersed demonstrations against changes to the country’s social security system. Since then, more than 300 people have been killed and more than 600 remain detained. The government is now targeting CSOs that denounce these human rights violations. Ana Quiroz, the head of one of the organisations and a Costa Rican by birth who had lived and worked in Nicaragua for more than 40 years, was stripped of Nicaraguan nationality and deported.  

Shortly before CENIDH’s registration was cancelled, police rejected their request to conduct a peaceful march in commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. CENIDH cancelled the march and only said, they would go to the judicial authorities to ask for the protection of their rights.

“Freedom of association is guaranteed in the constitution of Nicaragua and must be respected at all times. Instead of targeting civil society groups, the government of Nicaragua should rather create an enabling environment for civil society and seek ways to address the needs of its citizens.” Gomez continued.

CIVICUS has called on the Nicaraguan authorities to reverse the cancellation of the registration of all civil society organisations, to respect the right to freedom of association and assembly and release all those in detention for participating in peaceful protests.

In September, the CIVICUS Monitor, an online platform that tracks threats to civil society in countries across the globe, downgraded its rating of civic space – the space for civil society – in Nicaragua from “narrowed” to “repressed”. Nicaragua is also on the platform’s watchlist of countries that have seen an sudden, alarming spike in restrictions on civil space.

For more information please contact:

Natalia Gomez:

The CIVICUS media team:

To request interviews, you can also contact the CIVICUS Press Centre here.

 

Syria: We remember Razan, Samira, Nazem and Wa’el five years after their kidnapping

On 09 December, people around the world remember Razan Zaitouneh, Samira KhalilNazem Hamadi and Wa’el Hamada, kidnapped in Douma, Syria on this day five years ago. We, the undersigned human rights organisations, call on the United Nations, international and regional actors, and all parties to the Syrian conflict to actively facilitate an investigation into what happened to the four human rights defenders. They are among many Syrians who have been kidnapped, jailed, murdered or exiled for their peaceful human rights activities. We ask all friends and supporters to help remember Zaitouneh and her colleagues by sharing her work.

On 09 December 2013, a group of armed men presumed to be connected to the Army of Islam, a large local rebel faction at the time, broke into the Violations Documentation Centre (VDC) office in Douma city, kidnapped the four human rights defenders and took them to an unknown destination. According to unconfirmed reports, the Army of Islam kept captives, including possibly the VDC staff, at Tawbeh Prison for some time, but it has since been abandoned following the armed group’s departure from Douma in 2017.

Zaitouneh has published dozens of articles and reports on various websites and in newspapers about human rights including freedom of opinion and expression in Syria since 2004. In order to keep her work in the spotlight, her family has now published a website with a collection of her articles, as well as testimonies from people who admire her and worked with her.

Zaitouneh is one of the most prominent human rights defenders in Syria and along with other activists established the VDC, among several human rights NGOs that she helped found. She has played a key role in the promotion and protection of human rights through her brave work as a lawyer, human rights defender and journalist.

She was awarded the 2011 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought and the 2011 Anna Politkovskaya Award of Reach All Women in War (RAW in WAR). In 2013, the then-U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama honoured her as an International Woman of Courage. In February 2016, Zaitouneh was named prisoner of the month for the “Their freedom is their right” campaign by Maharat Foundation, the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) and the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR), with support from IFEX and its regional members. Zaitouneh was also a finalist for the 2016 Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders.

At the beginning of the popular protests that spread across Syria in 2011, Zaitouneh was forced into hiding owing to her media activism and her reporting on what was happening on the ground to various media outlets. Zaitouneh’s home in Damascus was raided in May 2011 by the government’s Air Force Intelligence, which then detained her brother-in-law and her husband Wa’el Hamada for three months. A few months before her abduction in 2013, Zaitouneh wrote about the threats she had been receiving and reported to human rights organisations outside Syria that the threats were from local armed groups in Douma.

“Creating this website was my way of coping with her kidnapping,” said her sister Rana Zaitouneh, who lives in Canada with other family members. “I felt that there were people who did not understand or were not aware of her important work. Razan has done so much for so many people, and yet never felt it was much at all. Her courage and determination are why we have to make her case a priority in these difficult times.”

“Razan and Wael and their friends need to be found and released. I know my sister wants the whole world to know what has been happening in Syria and since she cannot currently tell people herself, I have to. My daughter and I decided to collect her articles and translate them to English so that they can be more widely accessible. It is also very important that the information be available to everyone who wishes to read it,” she said.

Visit: http://www.razanwzaitouneh.com/. Please share her work and help the world remember Razan Zaitouneh, Wa’el Hamada, Samira Khalil and Nazem Hamadi.

In solidarity,

Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI)

CIVICUS

English PEN

Front Line Defenders

Global Fund for Women

Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR)

International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)

Maharat Foundation

Martin Ennals Foundation

PEN International

Reach All Women in War (RAW in WAR)

Reporters Without Borders (RSF)

Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM)

Urgent Action Fund for Women’s Human Rights

Women's March Global 

 

Ethiopia: Dear Prime Minister, act to protect the rights of civil society organisations

Joint civil society letter to the Prime Minister of Ethiopia on the need to revise a draft law that would restrict freedom of association in the country.

 
  • Human rights groups in Ethiopia have suffered from funding constraints and the intrusive powers of a key government agency that oversees the registration of civil society organisations.
  • Since Prime Minister Abiy came to power, a draft law has been developed that still contains some restrictions on the funding and activities of civil society organisations. The draft law is to be considered by Parliament in the coming weeks.
  • CIVICUS and a coalition of rights groups, have written the below letter to Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, to draw attention to civil society's concerns in the draft law

 

To: Prime Minister-, Dr. Abiy Ahmed
Cc: Tagesse Chafo, Speaker of the House of Peoples’ Representative

Your Excellency,
 
The undersigned international, regional and national human rights and development organisations write to urge your government to ensure that the draft Charities and Societies (CSO) Proclamation complies with regional and international human rights norms and standards relating to freedom of association. The tabling of the draft law represents a pivotal moment to address long standing deficits in existing legislation, create a robust and resilient civil society and an enabling environment for human rights defenders in Ethiopia. Authorities should ensure that the new text is in line with the African Commission’s Guidelines on Freedom of Association and Assembly in Africa, the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and international law.

We understand that the draft law developed by the Legal Advisory Council, and currently under consideration by the Office of the Attorney General, is expected to be tabled in Parliament in the coming weeks. The draft addresses long standing concerns over funding constraints, the intrusive powers of the CSO Agency, and the lack of an appeal process over registration; while it is a marked improvement on the current legal framework governing the operations of civil society organisations, we remain concerned that it includes a number of unwarranted restrictions on the activities and independence of international and national civil society organisations.

Of critical concern are vague and unduly cumbersome limitations on the independence and operating environment for national civil society. In particular, the law imposes an authorisation regime compelling all CSOs in Ethiopia to register with the CSO Agency, potentially allowing for organizations to be criminally liable should they be operating informally. Civil society organisations already registered under the previous law would have to re-register. This proposed process, which can take up to four months, is primarily overseen by government-appointed CSO Agency that is endowed with broad discretion to order closures and asset freezes of civil society organisations. 

Moreover, requirements capping the administrative costs of civil society organisations at 20 percent of their income would subvert their ability to independently determine the range of legitimate activities they support and prioritise. Given the diversity of initiatives assumed by civil society organisations in Ethiopia, such inflexible limitations will unreasonably hamper the work of many civil society organisations.

We are further concerned that overly broad provisions would curtail the extent to which international civil society organisations can engage in advocacy and lobbying, and that burdensome registration requirements may be invoked to suppress the activities of international civil society organisations and threaten essential rights-based initiatives.

Such measures erode Ethiopia’s commitment to protect, promote and fulfil the right to freedom of association. On repeated occasions, independent international and regional experts have called on the Ethiopian authorities to amend or repeal the CSO Proclamation by addressing unwarranted restrictions on freedom of association.

The announcement to revise laws that have in the past been used to stifle dissent was one of a series of planned reforms announced by your office that has rightly earned praise from Ethiopians and international actors alike. As such, we the undersigned, have watched closely to see whether the revision of the first of those laws, the CSO Proclamation, would reflect the long-standing concerns that many domestic and international actors have had. Despite the above reservations, we are encouraged by the Legal Advisory Council’s draft and watch with keen interest how the draft proclamation will move through the Attorney General’s office to the Council of Ministers for eventual approval by the House of Representatives. The process by which the CSO Proclamation was revised by the Legal Advisory Council and will eventually be considered for approval by the House of Representatives, the first of the three laws to go through such a process, is an important harbinger of how different organs of the government will show their commitment to revising laws in line with international human rights norms ahead of the 2020 elections.

During this time of critical reform, we urge the government of Ethiopia to consider these recommendations and take the following measures:

  1. Ensure that the majority of CSO Board members are sourced from civil society through a transparent appointment process;
  2. Replace provisions requiring an authorisation regime for registration with one requiring simple notification;
  3. Where applicable, reduce the time frame for decisions on CSO registration applications and appeals and ensure that the CSO Agency and the Board provide detailed written grounds for rejecting registration applications;
  4. Include precise and limited justification for under what conditions the CSO Agency can investigate and freeze the assets of civil society organisations and ensure that they are subject to judicial oversight;
  5. Revise the mandatory cap on administrative costs at 20% of income and replace it with a non-mandatory best practice standard;
  6. Ensure that all foreign and domestic civil society organisations operating in Ethiopia, are able to choose the areas they will work in and permit them to engage in lobbying and advocacy initiatives. 

Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,

  • ARTICLE 19 Eastern Africa
  • Association for Human Rights in Ethiopia (AHRE)
  • CIVICUS
  • Civil Rights Defenders
  • Consortium of Ethiopian Rights Organizations (CERO)
  • DefendDefenders (EHAHRDP)
  • FIDH, within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
  • Front Line Defenders 
  • Human Rights Watch (HRW)
  • PEN International
  • Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights (RFKHR)
  • World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders

 

New Report: 6 in 10 countries now seriously repressing civic freedoms

Espanol | Francais

Findings based on data released today by the CIVICUS Monitor a global research collaboration which rates and tracks the respect for fundamental freedoms in 196 countries. 

CIVICUS has today released People Power Under Attack 2018, a new report showing that nearly six in ten countries are seriously restricting people’s fundamental freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression. This reflects a continuing crisis facing civil society organisations and activists across the world, with the space for civic activism most commonly undermined through censorship, attacks on journalists and harassment of human rights defenders.

“This data is a wake-up call. Given the scale of the problem, global leaders, including the G20 who are meeting this week, need to take the protection of civic freedoms far more seriously,” said Cathal Gilbert, Civic Space Research Lead at CIVICUS. “For civil society, 2018 was a story of states innovating to suppress and restrict criticism by those who dare to challenge people in power.”

The report, which is based on data from the CIVICUS Monitor - a global research collaboration - shows that civil society is under serious attack in 111 out of 196 countries. This is up from 109 countries at our last update in March 2018. In practice, this means that repression of peaceful civic activism continues to represent a widespread crisis for civil society in all parts of the world, with just 4% of the world’s population living in countries where governments are properly respecting the freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression.

Nine countries’ civic space ratings have worsened in this latest update, while seven countries improved their ratings. Countries on the slide include Austria, Azerbaijan, Gabon, Kuwait, Italy, Nauru, Papua New Guinea, Tanzania and Senegal. Those improving are Canada, Ecuador, Ethiopia, Gambia, Liberia, Lithuania and Somalia.

People Power Under Attack 2018 also provides analysis of the kinds of violations most frequently recorded on the CIVICUS Monitor over the past two years. Globally, attacks on journalists and censorship are the two most common violations, indicating that power holders are going to great lengths to control public narratives and repress freedom of expression. Harassment of activists and the use of excessive force by security forces during protests are the third and fourth most common violations recorded on the CIVICUS Monitor since October 2016.

“While there is rightly a lot of concern about the proliferation of bad laws which stifle civic freedoms, our data shows these are just the tip of the iceberg. Extra-legal measures, such as attacking journalists or beating up protestors, are much more common,” said Gilbert. “These tactics are cynically designed to create a chilling effect and deter others from speaking out or becoming active citizens.”

CIVICUS data released today also contains good news stories. In the seven countries which improved their civic space ratings, and elsewhere, we see clear evidence that peaceful activism can force repressive governments to take a different path. In Ethiopia, for instance, following years of popular unrest and the severe repression of all forms of dissent, 2018 has witnessed a remarkable about-turn. New prime minister Abiy Ahmed has released political prisoners, eased restrictions on electronic communication and made important progress towards reforming some the country's most repressive laws. Changes in political leadership in Gambia and Ecuador have similarly led to an improved environment for the exercise of fundamental freedoms.

“Recent improvements in Ethiopia show what is possible when political will is present and leaders take courageous decisions to respond to the calls of civil society,” said Gilbert. “This should encourage those seeking change in repressive countries everywhere. By removing restrictions and protecting civic space, countries can tap into civil society’s true potential and accelerate progress on a wide range of fronts.”

Over twenty organisations collaborate on the CIVICUS Monitor to provide an evidence base for action to improve civic space on all continents. The Monitor has published more than 1,400 civic space updates in the last two years, data which is analysed in People Power Under Attack 2018. Civic space in 196 countries is categorised as either closed, repressed, obstructed, narrowed or open, based on a methodology which combines several sources of data on the freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression.

Regional press statements:

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

Cathal Gilbert, Civic Space Research Lead, CIVICUS,

 

Open Letter to Drivers, Teams and Performers at the Abu Dhabi F1 Grand Prix 2018

Joint Logos

Dear friends,

As you ready yourselves to hold the limelight on the stages and tracks of the final Formula One race of the season, we the undersigned NGOs, wish to draw your attention to the reality of the human rights situation in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which is a far cry from the glitz and glamour the country intends to project to the world.

Since 2011, the UAE authorities have embarked on a crackdown to silence their critics including human rights defenders, judges, lawyers, academics, students and journalists. They have been harassed, arbitrarily detained, subjected to enforced disappearance, tortured and otherwise ill-treated, and convicted following trials that failed to meet international standards of fairness. Critics and dissidents in the UAE are serving lengthy prison sentences simply for peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression and we consider them to be prisoners of conscience who should be released immediately and unconditionally.

The UAE authorities have tightened and amended their already repressive laws to further suppress human rights and particularly to silence peaceful dissent and other expression on public issues. As a result, human rights defenders and other critics of the government have been sentenced to lengthy prison terms.

The UAE is listed as ‘closed’ on the CIVICUS Monitor which is the lowest and most oppressive category as far as protection of civic freedoms of expression, association and peaceful assembly is concerned.

Today we are launching a campaign to call for the release of prisoners of conscience in the UAE and we urge you to lend us your support.

We call upon you, drivers, teams and performers to be the champions of human rights on the circuit and on stage; to be the voices of those who have been silenced and unfairly detained. We urge you to use your celebrity status to call on the UAE authorities to immediately and unconditionally release all prisoners of conscience who have been detained solely for peacefully criticizing the authorities, or for calling or advocating for the respect and protection of human rights.

Please tweet, post and speak about their stories online and in your media appearances so that these prisoners are not forgotten. You can use the hashtags #AbuDhabiGP #F1 and #Formula1.

These are the stories of some of the hundreds of prisoners of conscience detained for peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression:

Blogger and poet Ahmed Mansoor is a prominent human rights defender, who received the prestigious Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders in 2015. He is a member of the advisory committee of Human Rights Watch’s Middle East and North Africa Division, as well as of the advisory board of the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR). He has documented the human rights situation in the UAE since 2006 and has publicly spoken out in defence of human rights in his blog, social media and in interviews with international media. Up until his arrest on 20 March 2017, Ahmed Mansoor was the last remaining human rights defender in the UAE who had been able to criticize the authorities publicly. On 29 May 2018, Ahmed Mansoor was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment. The trial was held in secret, and there is no public record of the proceedings. It is unclear if he had a lawyer. On 4 October, the European Parliament passed a resolution calling for his release. He is held in solitary confinement at al-Sadr prison in Abu Dhabi.

Dr Mohammed al-Roken is a prominent human rights lawyer from the emirate of Dubai, and former president of the UAE’s Jurists Association. He was arrested on17 July 2012 and for the next three months, he was held in solitary confinement at an undisclosed location. His fate and whereabouts were unknown in what amounted to enforced disappearance. He was sentenced in July 2013 to 10 years’ imprisonment, at the end of the grossly unfair trial of 94 reform advocates which became known as the “UAE 94” trial.

Many of the UAE 94 defendants and others standing trial before the State Security Chamber of the Federal Supreme Court have alleged in court that they were tortured or otherwise ill-treated in pre-trial detention, where they were often held incommunicado for months in secret State Security detention facilities. The State Security Chamber of the Federal Supreme Court has not adequately investigated these allegations, despite mounting evidence that State Security is abusing detainees.

Online activist Osama al-Najjar was arrested on 17 March 2014 and sentenced to three years in prison after sending tweets to the Minister of Interior expressing concern that his father Hussain Ali al-Najjar al-Hammadi had been ill-treated in prison, where he is serving over 11 years. Osama al-Najjar was due for release from al-Razeen Prison in Abu Dhabi in March 2017, having fully served his prison sentence. However, the authorities decided to extend his detention on the pretext that he remained a threat. Following his arrest, Osama al-Najjar was denied access to a lawyer for over six months. After his arrest he was held in solitary confinement for four days at a secret detention facility where he said he was tortured and otherwise ill-treated.

Prominent economist, academic and human rights defender, Dr Nasser bin Ghaith, was arrested in August 2015 and subjected to enforced disappearance for more than seven months. He did not have access to a lawyer until the beginning of his trial in April 2016 and was not allowed to prepare an effective defence. In March 2017, he was sentenced to ten years in prison on charges including “posting false information” about UAE leaders and their policies on Twitter.

Signed:

Americans for Democracy and Human Rights (ADHRB)

Amnesty International

CIVICUS

FIDH, within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders

Gulf Center for Human Rights (GCHR)

International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)

Martin Ennals Foundation

Pen International

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

 

 

Austria’s civic space rating 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 Austria’s civic space rating from open to narrowed. This decision was taken following a thorough assessment of conditions in the country for the free exercise of civic freedoms, as protected by international law. The downgrade follows nearly a year of rule by the ÖVP-FPÖ coalition government, during which the space for civil society has worsened. A narrowed rating indicates a situation in which the state mostly allows individuals and civil society organisations to exercise their rights to freedom of association, peaceful assembly and expression, however certain restrictions on these rights take place.

“The Austrian government appears intent on turning its back on the values of the European Union, as it chooses division over dialogue and restrictions over rights,” said Cathal Gilbert, Civic Space Research Lead at CIVICUS. “Austria’s failure to protect fundamental freedoms is borne out by verbal attacks and administrative encroachment on media freedoms, as well as restrictive measures such as an increase in the notice period required for protests from 24 to 48 hours.”

Protests against the new government took place in January 2018, in the face of a heavy police presence, helicopters and water cannon. Since then, the new administration has steadfastly refused to engage in structured dialogue with civil society in a range of sectors. Instead, leaders have made a number of derogatory remarks about non-governmental organisations. This includes Chancellor Sebastian Kurz who accused international humanitarian NGO - Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) of cooperating with people smugglers. More recently, the environment minister introduced amendments which will significantly limit consultation with many NGOs working to protect the environment in Austria. Funding to NGOs in many sectors has also been drastically reduced.

Freedom of expression has also come under attack this year, with government ministers denigrating journalists and the media. One minister even went so far as to expressly instruct officials not to brief certain media outlets which are critical of the government. Earlier in the year, media monitors in Austria reported a spate of attacks, including online hate speech, directed at independent media. Also in 2018, the CIVICUS Monitor reported worrying moves by Vice-Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache to weaken Austria’s public broadcaster, ORF.

Meanwhile, a law passed in 2017 by the former SPÖ-led government coalition is restricting the freedom of peaceful assembly, by increasing the notice period required for protests to 48 hours and designating certain “protection zones”, in which protests are prohibited. 

“CIVICUS calls on the Austrian authorities to discard its policy of exclusion and denigration of civic activists,” said Gilbert. “We call on the government to instead begin a constructive dialogue with CSOs in all sectors, and to review laws and policies which are out of step with Austria’s commitments under international law and as a member of the European Union.” 

These developments are supported in a damning new report published this month by the Chamber of Austrian Lawyers, which sets out a bleak perspective for the protection of fundamental freedoms in Austria in the coming years. 

Austria is now rated narrowed on the CIVICUS Monitor. Visit Austria’s homepage for more information and check back regularly for the latest updates. Next week, on 27th November 2018, CIVICUS will release People Power Under Attack 2018 - a fresh global analysis on civic space. 

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

Cathal Gilbert, Civic Space Research Lead, CIVICUS 

cathal.gilbert[at]civicus.org or media[at]civicus.org

 

Global Statement on the 20th Anniversary of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders

French l Portuguese l Spanish

The 9th of December 2018 marks 20 years since global leaders adopted the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders. This was a major victory for the human rights movement as the international community finally gave due recognition to those brave individuals who devote their lives to fighting for all of our rights. The Declaration is an inspirational text that upholds the rights of all human rights defenders (HRDs) to promote, protect and defend human rights, from individual to global spheres. It affirms that states have a responsibility and duty to protect defenders against violence, threats, retaliation and arbitrary actions resulting from the exercise of the fundamental rights of defenders. The Declaration notes that when these rights are violated, victims have the right to file a complaint and such complaints should be reviewed promptly by independent, impartial and competent judicial authorities and that redress is made to the victims.

Unfortunately, twenty years after its adoption, our assessment shows huge gaps in the implementation of the Declaration. Evidence of this is the persistent attacks on HRDs and their organisations that continue unabated, 20 years after the Declaration was adopted. In all types of political systems, democratic and otherwise across the world, the settings in which human rights defenders work is becoming more contested and volatile. Very few states have promulgated laws on HRDS or developed policies that seek to recognise and protect them. Some of those who have are; Burkina Faso, Brazil, Cote d’Ivoire, Colombia, Mexico and Mali. Even in some of these states HRDs are at risk.

The undersigned civil society organisations express our deepest concerns over the challenges of HRDs. Our monitoring of the situation facing HRDs shows that those at the forefront defending, promoting and protecting human rights are prime targets of attacks perpetrated by state and non-state actors. The CIVICUS Monitor, a tool used to track the state of civic space in countries around the world reveals that the arbitrary and unlawful detention of HRDs is the number one tactic of repression used by states. Between June 2016 and March 2017, 160 reports related to the detention of HRDs was published by the Monitor. Most HRDs are detained under restrictive legislation and are prosecuted under trumped up charges ranging from “terrorism,” “secession,” “drug trafficking,” “treason,” to attempting to destabilise the state and national security. These charges often carry heavy penalties including the death penalty and life imprisonment and in some cases judicial processes are flawed and HRDs are tried in military courts.

Statistics on HRDs who have paid the ultimate price for defending human rights are alarming and should be a source of concern to all of us. Global human rights organisation Frontline Defenders reported that in 2017 alone 312 HRDs were killed in 27 countries. Even though in almost all cases, the brutal killings of these HRDs are preceded by threats which are often reported to the authorities, pleas for help and protection are routinely ignored. Amnesty International sheds light on an estimated 3,500 HRDs killed over the last twenty years. In a majority of these cases the perpetrators have not been held accountable and they continue to attack others as they enjoy high levels of impunity.

HRDs are often victims of physical assaults, unlawful surveillance and are threatened by state and non-state actors. The offices and homes of some have been attacked to intimidate them and the movements of others are monitored by state agents. Others are handed travel bans particularly when they plan to travel abroad to attend meetings or conferences that focus on human rights. Many have been abducted or kidnapped by members of security forces or unidentified persons and some have been found dead. Many more have simply disappeared and have not been heard from again. Senior government officials subject HRDs to smear campaigns to discredit them and the work they do and this makes them vulnerable to attacks in their communities. In many societies attacks on Women Human Rights Defenders (WHRDs), youth activists and those working on LGBTQI issues have increased. Amidst this onslaught, HRDs have had to self-censor and others have fled their home and countries.

States have the primary duty, under international law, to guarantee that HRDs can carry out their activism safely. However, many HRDs face specific and heightened risks because they challenge business interests. International law – interpreted via the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights – obliges business to respect the right of citizens to express their views and protest. Companies and investors must therefore guarantee that they and their clients refrain from harming HRDs or impeding their rights. They should heed the Guiding Principles’ recommendation to engage with all stakeholders, as well as international law on participation, consultation and consent - thus preventing conflicts at the outset.

We are extremely concerned that, in most countries, the lack of effective police and judicial response to these killings, attacks, threats, harassment and intimidation suffered by human rights defenders creates a climate of impunity and encourages and perpetuates these violations. The inclusion of Goal 16 in the Agenda 2030 is a recognition by states that development and human rights cannot be separated. Goal 16 calls on states to protect fundamental freedoms in accordance with national legislation and international agreements. The human costs associated with these attacks on HRDs cannot be easily quantified but if states don’t take requisite actions to halt this onslaught, key targets of Agenda 2030 will be missed.

This is our collective call to states, government representatives, international organisations and non-state actors to recognise HRDs as important actors in nation building processes, respect their rights, support their work and protect them at all times.

Recommendations

To governments

The undersigned groups urge governments to create an enabling environment for HRDs to operate in line with regional and international human rights obligations and standards. At a minimum, the following conditions for HRDs working across all sectors should be ensured; freedom of association, expression and assembly, the right to operate from unwarranted state interference and the states duty to protect. In light of this we make the following recommendations.

Develop and implement a law that recognises the activities of HRDs, protects them and makes provisions for those who target them to be held accountable. Ensure that there are clear policies, guidelines or resolutions for the implementation of the law.

Create protective mechanisms that respond to the specific needs of HRDs. These mechanisms should be able to monitor and report on the situation of HRDs and make recommendations to repeal or amend laws and policies that are inconsistent with the rights of HRDs or place them at risk.

Carry out prompt, independent and impartial investigations into all cases in which HRDs have been killed, threatened, attacked, abducted, intimidated and harassed and ensure that those found guilty are held accountable and victims provided reparations.

Repeal or amend all restrictive laws and policies that are unjustly used to restrict the activities of HRDs so that they comply with regional and international human rights law and standards and prevent the harassment of HRDs.

To Businesses

Guarantee that no business project goes ahead without the free, prior and informed consent of affected communities at every stage of the project cycle.

Implement specific policies for the recognition, support and protection of human rights defenders, and guarantee the human and financial resources necessary for their effective implementation.

Desist from threats and attacks, including legal attacks, against defenders, and seek means by which to legitimise and support their work.

Where threats and attacks against defenders occur, speaking out – publically or privately – and advocate for both protection to be provided and justice to be done.

Suspend those specific business projects where defenders have been threatened, until robust measures are taken to prevent further threats against those at risk.

Carry out due diligence to assess whether defenders can operate safely in specific industry sectors and countries and – where this is not the case – cease to promote, implement or back projects, until guarantees of defenders’ safety have been made.

To financial institutions

Refuse funding for projects that violate the rights of peoples to free, prior and informed consent before engaging in operations that may lead to displacement of communities and/or impacts on their traditional cultures or sources of livelihood.

To multilateral Institutions

Prioritise civil society participation in decision making processes and open spaces for the participation of HRDs in their activities.

Work with civil society to make a case for people-centred multilateralism that reinforces the primacy of internationally agreed norms and human rights.

Multilateral institutions and states should ensure policy coherence in implementing diplomatic initiatives on the protection of human rights defenders. 

Speak boldly when HRDs are threatened, attacked, targeted or intimidated and condemn such actions.

Annex 1: HRDS killed in the past three years for defending human rights

Annex 2: HRDs currently in jail or facing judicial persecution for promoting human rights

This statement was endorsed by the organisations listed here

Use this statement as an advocacy tool to inform specific governments and businesses about the current state of human rights defenders.

 

 

Dear African Commission on Human Rights: Don’t provide cover for repressive Egyptian government

Joint letter to Chair of the African Commission on Human and People's Rights: Don’t provide political cover for brutal repression of Egyptian government (below letter sent to Chair Soyota Maiga, while ACHPHR meets in Banjul, Gambia)

Dear Chair Soyota Maiga,

We are writing to urge you to reject the bid to hold the upcoming African Commission on Human Rights and People's Rights (ACPHR) 64th ordinary session in Egypt. This decision, if taken could tantamount to ignoring the current violations taking place in the country. Egypt, under the rule of President Sisi, is in the throes of the most widespread and brutal crackdown on human rights committed by any Egyptian government in its modern history. Reflecting this reality, the United Nations (UN) human rights system, including the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and Special Procedures, has become increasingly vocal and robust in its criticism of the human rights situation in the country. This includes  recent  statements that strongly denounce the recent issuance of mass death sentences for individuals who have participated in protests within the country –and a rare call by experts representing six thematic mandates of the UN Human Rights Council to “urgently respond” to the government’s “appalling” behaviour. The EU’s European External Action Service has made similar criticism.

The Egyptian government’s continuous disregard to constitutional law and international human rights obligations lead to a series of appalling human rights violations (see annex attached to this letter). The judiciary has largely failed to hold to account those responsible for grave violations of international and national law and, in many cases, the courts have served as an instrument of repression for the authorities. Egyptian NGOs have documented 1,520 cases of enforced disappearance in Egypt between July 2013 and August 2018. More than 60,000 political prisoners are currently detained in Egypt, in dreadful conditions. The Egyptian NGO Committee for Justice documented at least 129 cases of death in custody in 2017 alone. Moreover, The UN Committee Against Torture’s 2017 annual report concluded “torture is a systematic practice in Egypt” fed by security forces’ impunity and high-level State acquiescence, and may amount to crimes against humanity.
 
Amid a national milieu distinguished by endemic torture and enforced disappearance and impunity, Egypt is currently in the middle of the most sweeping and repressive crackdown on fundamental freedoms, including dissent and other political expression in its modern history. This systematic repression threatens to wipe out any form of independent journalism and civil society in the coming period and had sweeping effects on the enjoyment of all individuals to their right to freedoms of expression, association and reunion. Indeed, the Egyptian government’s rejection of fundamental democratic processes and human rights principles is represented by its recent presidential elections held in March this year, which were assessed by fourteen regional and international organizations as neither free nor fair. Leading Egyptian human rights organizations previously warned the elections had become a dangerous "charade” likely to “exacerbate violence, terrorism and instability" in the country. Now the authorities are widely expected to soon make concrete moves to amend Egypt’s Constitution to abolish presidential term limits and allow President Sisi to run for a third term in 2022.

In face of this, a free and effective participation of Egyptian and non-Egyptian civil society organizations during the ACHPR sessions is also put into question. Our organizations have serious doubts all conditions would be met to allow NGOs to access the ACHPR, according to its mandate and practices. The security and safety of human rights defenders participating in this session may also not be guaranteed. The ACHPR has a key role to play and should reinforce its engagement with Egyptian national authorities, in order to contribute to upholding respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in the country.

The ACPHR should not turn a blind eye to these atrocities. We fully support the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet’s recent denunciation of the injustice of the Egyptian court. We urge the ACHPR to follow the High Commissioner lead in denouncing these violations in Egypt instead of rewarding it with hosting the 64th ordinary session. The African Commission should not raise its flag over the gravestone of human rights in Egypt.

Thank you for your consideration of our request.

We remain at your service should you require further information.

See Annex for more detailed information on the state of human rights and civic space in Egypt.

With Assurances of our Highest Consideration:

1    Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS);    
2    Committee for Justice (CfJ)
3    Action for Community Transformation (ACT-NOW)
4    Adalah Center for Rights & Freedoms (ACRF)- Egypt
5    African Centre for Democracy and Human Rights Studies (ACDHRS)
6    Afrique arc-en-ciel
7    Afrique Arc-en-Ciel Togo
8    Algerian League for Human Rights (LADDH)
9    Arab Foundation for Civil and Political Rights-Nedal- Egypt
10    Associação Justiça, Paz e Democracia (AJPD) Angola
11    Association for Human Rights in Ethiopia (AHRE)
12    Associazione Ricreativa Culturale Italiana – (ARCI)
13    Belady Island for Humanity
14    Border center for support and consulting- Egypt
15    Center for Civil Liberties-Ukraine
16    CIVICUS
17    CNCD-11.11.11
18    Coalition of African Lesbians
19    Independent Commission for Human Rights in Western Sahara
20    Conectas Direitos Humanos
21    Consortium for Refugees and Migrants in South Africa (CoRMSA)
22    Defend Defenders (the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project)
23    Dignity
24    Egyptian Front for Human Rights
25    EuroMed Rights
26    Great Lakes Initiative for Human Rights and Development (GLIHD)
27    Human Rights and Development in Africa (IHRDA)
28    Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum- Uganda
29    Human Rights Concern - Eritrea (HRCE)
30    Human Rights Defenders Network- Sierra Leone
31    HuMENA for Human Rights and Sustainable Development
32    Initiative For Equal Right- Nigeria
33    Initiative for Equality and Non- Discrimination- Kenya
34    Initiative for Strategic Litigation in Africa (ISLA)
35    International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute
36    International Commission of Jurist (ICJ)
37    International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
38    International Institute for Child Protection
39    International Lawyers (Geneva)
40    International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)
41    Iranti-South Africa
42    Kenya Human Rights Commission 
43    Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation
44    Moroccan Association for Human Rights (AMDH)
45    Moroccan Organization for Human Rights (OMDH)
46    Nadeem Center- Egypt
47    National Coalition for Human Rights Defenders-Uganda
48    National Coalition of Human Rights Defenders - Kenya (NCHRD-K)
49    National Human Rights Defenders Network Sierra Leone
50    National Human Rights Defenders Somalia/ Somaliland
51    Network for Solidarity, Empowerment and Transformation for All – NewSETA
52    Odhikar-Bangladesh
53    Organization for Women and Children (ORWOCH)
54    Queer Youth Uganda
55    Réseau des Défenseurs des Droits Humains en Afrique Centrale (REDHAC)
56    Réseau Doustourna (Tunis)
57    Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network
58    Synergia Initiatives for Human Rights
59    The Freedom Initiative
60    The Regional Center for Rights And liberties
61    Tunisian League for Human Rights (LTDH)
62    Uganda National NGO Forum
63    West African Human Rights Defenders ‘Network (ROADDH/WAHRDN)
64    World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)
65    Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights

 

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