Civil society around the globe is “contested and under pressure” according to a 22-country research findings report released by CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance, and The International Center for Not-for-Profit Law (ICNL). The report, Contested and Under Pressure: A Snapshot of the Enabling Environment of Civil Society in 22 Countries, brings together insights from Enabling Environment National Assessments (EENA) conducted around the world between 2013 and 2016.
Global civil society alliance CIVICUS, the International Partnership for Human Rights (IPHR) and the Turkmen Initiative for Human Rights (TIHR) today highlight a near total absence of civic space in Turkmenistan, as the country prepares to go to the polls for presidential elections this Sunday, 12 February 2017.
On Saturday, 21 January 2017, millions will gather in Washington D.C. and in hundreds of other cities around the world to take part in the Women’s March. CIVICUS stands in solidarity with the demonstrators who in the spirit of democracy, seek to honour the champions of human rights, dignity, and justice, and reject the sexist and bigoted rhetoric used during the US election against minorities and excluded groups.
Globally, the sister marches carry a message of solidarity in celebration of our multiple, diverse and intersecting identities and reject all forms of patriarchy and the discriminatory systems that support them worldwide. We will not rest until women have parity and equity at all levels of leadership in society.
Global civil society alliance CIVICUS urges the release of recently arrested leaders of the Cameroon Anglophone Civil Society Consortium (CACSC) and all activists and citizens unlawfully detained in a wide ranging crackdown on peaceful protests ongoing since October 2016.
“The situation in Cameroon is extremely serious and is being closely followed by the Chairperson of the African Union who has urged restraint and dialogue,” said Mandeep Tiwana, Head of Policy and Research at CIVICUS. “We are deeply concerned about the arbitrary actions of the government and about the well-being of detained, citizens, protestors and civil society members.”
On 17 January 2017 authorities in Buea, the South West Region, arrested CACSC leaders Agbor Balla and Fontem Neba. Both were taken to the Military Mobile Intervention Unit, also known as the GMI, in Buea before being transferred to the capital, Yaoundé. There are serious concerns about the well-being and safety of the two civil society members as others arrested under similar circumstances have been tortured, and several remain unaccounted for.
Agbor Balla is the President and Fontem Neba is the Secretary General of CACSC, a network of civil society organisations, unions and citizens of Anglophone Cameroon advocating for, and seeking dialogue around, the rights of English speaking Cameroonians. The South West and North West regions are the only 2 Anglophone territories - the other 8 regions are French-speaking. The arrest of the two CACSC leaders has been swiftly followed by the arrest of activist Mancho Bibixy, in Bamenda, North West region, shortly after midnight on 19 January 2017. He has been taken to an unknown destination.
Since October 2016 citizens, lawyers and teachers’ unions of Anglophone Cameroon have stepped up their efforts to raise concerns over the suppression of the identity of Anglophone Cameroon. They have called for a review of the imposition of civil law practices and civil law trained judges in courts which have common law tradition, as well as raised concerns about the challenges faced by teachers, students and civil servants in Anglophone Cameroon.
Over the last three months, security forces have used live ammunition and tear gas to disperse peaceful protesters, resulting in several deaths. There are also reports of arbitrary detention and torture while in custody. The whereabouts of several detainees remain unknown. Following the violent response of the authorities towards peaceful protests, CACSC is now coordinating a boycott of schools and academic institutions and a campaign of non-participation in economic, legal and social activities in the two Anglophone regions of Cameron.
Cameroonian authorities have responded by imposing power outages and internet blackouts in the North West and South West provinces in order to impede debate on social media and online platforms. On 10 January 2017, the authorities closed down private radio station Radio Hot Cocoa, accusing it of unethical behaviour for broadcasting Anglophone Cameroonian concerns. The government has authorised aggressive security tactics in the affected regions including the maintaining a high military presence and carrying out of random house-to-house searches, arbitrary arrests and torture of occupants.
CIVICUS calls on the international community, including the African Union, the United Nations and the Commonwealth to urgently engage President Paul Biya to resolve the crisis and end violations of democratic rights.
Cameroon is rated as repressed by the CIVICUS Monitor.
Click here to read a Spanish language version of this release
Seventy Latin American and international civil society organisations have endorsed a letter urging President Correa of Ecuador to constructively engage with indigenous communities opposing the development of extractive industry projects on their lands. The letter also calls for the removal all legal and policy measures limiting these communities’ fundamental rights to association, assembly and expression.
“The government has responded to the indigenous communities’ legitimate demands for consultation with mounting repression and further restrictions on fundamental freedoms,” said Marlon Vargas, President of the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of the Ecuadorian Amazon (CONFENIAE). “Indigenous community leaders and organisations resisting the advances of extractive industries and demanding the implementation of consultation mechanisms for the expression of their communities’ free, prior and informed consent are being routinely criminalised and judicially harassed,” Vargas added.
Most recently, in the context of ongoing protests and activism orchestrated by indigenous Shuar communities in opposition to the activities of mining companies in Ecuador’s Southern Amazon region, the government has declared a state of emergency suspending basic freedoms in the Morona Santiago province, and threatened to dissolve Acción Ecológica, a well-respected national organisation that has advocated for the rights of nature and the collective rights of peoples for nearly three decades.
The letter highlights the following issues:
• Abuses were committed against the Shuar community of Nankints, who were denied consultation rights, evicted to make way for a mining venture, repressed as they attempted to reclaim their territory, and further criminalised following clashes with security forces guarding the newly established mining camp resulted in casualties.
• Under the state of emergency that was decreed in the Morona Santiago province, military presence was reinforced in the Shuar communities, basic freedoms were suspended and local dwellers were terrorized.
• In retaliation to its work to raise awareness about the environmental impacts of mining projects and lack of consultation of indigenous communities, the environmental organisation Acción Ecológica was threatened with the initiation of dissolution procedures.
• Domestic legislation, including Executive Decrees No. 16 and No. 739, currently allows for the arbitrary dissolution of civil society organisations, and should be repealed and replaced by a comprehensive Associations Law removing all undue restrictions on the freedom of association.
“Over the past few years, the Government of Ecuador has increasingly targeted dissenting civil society, overstepping the boundaries protecting the freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression,” said Inés Pousadela, Policy and Research Officer at CIVICUS. “We all need to stand in solidarity with the people of Ecuador and call on the government to uphold its constitutional and international human rights commitments.”
The signatories to the letter urge Ecuador’s Government to implement consultation mechanisms with indigenous communities, refrain from criminalising indigenous community leaders and organisations challenging extractive industry projects, and replace current restrictive legislation with an alternative NGO law upholding constitutional and international standards on freedom of association.
Civic Space in Ecuador is rated as ‘obstructed’ in the CIVICUS Monitor.
Global civil society alliance CIVICUS urges Gambian President Yahya Jammeh to respect constitutional norms and the will of the Gambian people. As the 19 January deadline for the inauguration of incoming President Adama Barrow approaches, Gambian authorities are silencing independent media houses and arbitrarily arresting public spirited citizens calling on incumbent president Jammeh to hand over power in line with the results of the 1 December 2016 elections.
CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance and Nouvelle Société Civile Congolaise (NSCC), condemn the senseless killing of at least 34 protesters in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in recent days. The killings have come as citizens have called for President Joseph Kabila to step down, following the formal end of his mandate on 19 December.
Click here to read a Spanish language version of this release
CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance and the Mexican CSO Consorcio para el Diálogo Parlamentario y la Equidad Oaxaca (Consorcio Oaxaca) are deeply concerned about the widespread use of arbitrary detention and torture against human rights defenders in Mexico. A recent report, jointly published by 11 Mexican and international human rights organisations, sets out how such practices are extensively used to restrict the work of human rights defenders.
Click here to read a Spanish language version of this release
CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance, and the Colombian Confederation of NGOs (CCONG) are deeply worried about the growing challenges faced by civil society in Colombia. Several activists have been attacked while potentially restrictive legislation is underway and would curtail civil society organisations’ ability to contribute to the implementation of the peace agreements.
Aumentan las restricciones pese al predominio de la democracia
En América Latina y el Caribe la sociedad civil está bajo creciente presión a pesar de la prevalencia de la democracia en la región, afirma un nuevo informe publicado hoy por la alianza global de la sociedad civil CIVICUS.
Si bien en la mayor parte de los países las libertades fundamentales que componen el espacio cívico –las de asociación, reunión y expresión- tienen reconocimiento constitucional, las barreras legales, administrativas y de hecho que limitan su ejercicio han aumentado en todo el continente. Estas restricciones han resurgido tras una nueva ola de protestas ciudadanas en torno de problemas profundamente arraigados en la región: la desigualdad, la corrupción y los abusos del poder político.
Restrictions on civic space rising despite prevalence of democracy
Click here to read a Spanish language version of this release
Civil society in Latin America and the Caribbean is coming under increasing pressure despite the prevalence of electoral democracy in the region, says a new report released today by CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance.
While the core civil society freedoms of association, assembly and expression are constitutionally recognised in most countries, legal, administrative and de facto barriers to the exercise of these freedoms have risen throughout the continent. These restrictions are appearing after an upsurge of citizens’ protests over entrenched issues of inequality, corruption and abuses of political power.
Global civil society alliance CIVICUS is deeply concerned at the harassment of Egyptian activist Azza Soliman. Ms Soliman, a well-respected defender of women’s rights, is the founder of Centre for Egyptian Women’s Legal Assistance (CEWLA). She was arrested on 7 December by Egyptian police from her home in Cairo in a worrying escalation of the continuing crackdown on civil society in Egypt. Ms Soliman was later released on 20,000 EGP (1,100 USD) bail.
“Azza Soliman has been an ardent advocate of women’s rights in Egypt for over 20 years and is no stranger to persecution for her work," said Mandeep Tiwana, Head of Policy and Research at CIVICUS. “We believe that the current acts of intimidation against her, including through the imposition of questionable legal charges, are another ploy to silence her and prevent her from carrying our her legitimate work in the defence of human rights.”
Ms Soliman has been presently charged with contravening Article 78 of the Egyptian Penal Code, which criminalises receipt of international funding for perceived “activities against national interest.” She is also being questionably accused of tax evasion. Last month, on 19 November, she was prevented from leaving Cairo Airport to travel abroad. In an attempt to further harass her, Egyptian authorities have also frozen her private assets and those of the legal firm that she directs.
In 2015, Ms Soliman had to endure a lengthy trial and was subjected to judicial persecution for providing testimony as a witness in the murder of poet and writer Shaimaa al-Sabbagh during a public protest by the police. She was ultimately acquitted of the charges of unauthorised protest and breach of security and public order framed against her.
CIVICUS believes that Ms Azza Soliman is being persecuted for her legitimate work as a human rights defender. CIVICUS urges the Egyptian Government to end acts of persecution against Ms Soliman and to take steps to create a safe and enabling environment for civil society in the country.
Egypt is rated as repressed on the CIVICUS Monitor.
Rise in authoritarian values coupled with intensifying natural resource exploitation crippling civil society
Johannesburg / London, 3 December 2016: The scramble for natural resources coupled with the rise of authoritarian values around the world endangers activists and prevents them from playing their rightful role in the management of natural resources, says a new report from CIVICUS and Publish What You Pay.
Against All Odds: The Perils of Fighting for Natural Resource Justice documents the ways in which governments and business in virtually all resource-rich countries restrict civil society, and how this actively undermines efforts to achieve greater transparency and accountability in the extractives sector.
Those who speak out over unsustainable and unscrupulous natural resource governance suffer a range of attacks – from smear campaigns to murders that go uninvestigated.
“In the face of closing civic space, activists end up spending more time protecting themselves and their organisations,” said Elisa Peter, Executive Director of Publish What You Pay. “This prevents them from carrying out their vital work: scrutinizing the environmental and economic impact of extractive industries, ensuring that the voices of affected communities are heard, and blowing the whistle on corruption.”
Based on first-hand exchanges with those on the front lines of natural resources activism, Against All Odds documents two types of repression: use of the law as a tool against activism and use of extra-legal tactics against activism.
Regarding the use of the law, the report records regulations that seek to control civil society in Australia, Canada, Equatorial Guinea, Bolivia, Russia, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda and Azerbaijan. Tightening controls on public space are documented in Colombia, Guatemala, Brazil, Australia, the United Kingdom, Niger, Kazakhstan and Chile, and criminalisation of activists is recorded in Peru, Panama, El Salvador, Cameroon, Sierra Leone, Cambodia and Azerbaijan.
Regarding extra-legal tactics, the report documents intimidation and violence in Colombia, DRC, Indonesia, Honduras, Philippines, Brazil and South Africa, the public vilification of those who speak out in Congo-Brazzaville, Ecuador, Argentina, Canada and the USA, and unwarranted surveillance in India, Nicaragua and Canada.
The replication of repressive policies and practices from state to state suggests that nations are quickly learning from one another the most effective methods to stifle independent civil society.
Whether intrinsically opposed to natural resource exploitation, or rather concerned with a fair distribution of its costs and benefits, activists seem just as likely to be harassed or even killed, the report finds. As layers of discrimination overlap, indigenous women activists appear to be the most at risk. Civil society is developing its own self-protection mechanisms in response to attacks, collected in the report.
“It is a tragedy that those trying to protect natural resources are themselves in need of protection from corporate greed and political collusion,” said Dr Dhananjayan Sriskandarajah, Secretary-General of CIVICUS. “From Australia to Uganda, courageous activists have refused to play the victim. It is imperative that international civil society stands in solidarity with those on the frontlines of the struggle for natural resource justice.”
CIVICUS and PWYP call on governments to repeal restrictive legislation and live up to their commitments to protect and enable civil society under international and national law.
Companies and governments must foster strong civil society engagement in natural resource governance, through the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) and the Open Government Partnership (OGP) among others. This includes refraining from vilifying environmental activists. Companies and investors must obtain free, prior and informed consent from communities affected by their projects.
CIVICUS and PWYP also strongly encourage civil society actors to work in unison towards a better protection of colleagues on the ground. This can be achieved through better documentation of cases of repression and by holding to account those in charge of a country’s natural resources.
Notes to editors:
Against All Odds: The Perils of Fighting for Natural Resource Justice can be accessed online here: http://www.civicus.org/index.php/media-resources/reports-publications/2655-against-all-odds-the-perils-of-fighting-for-natural-resource
The report will be presented 3 December at an event organised by CIVICUS and Publish What You Pay at Transparency International’s International Anti-Corruption Conference in Panama.
PWYP’s Executive Director will also join a panel on civic space at the OGP Summit 2016 in Paris to share the key findings of the report.
CIVICUS is an international alliance dedicated to strengthening citizen action and civil society throughout the world.
Publish What You Pay is a global network of civil society organisations united in their call for an open and accountable extractive sector so that oil, gas and mining revenues improve the lives of women, men and youth in resource-rich countries.
Johannesburg, 2 December 2016 – People’s rights to protest, organise and speak out are currently being significantly violated in 25 of the 68 active Open Government Partnership (OGP) countries, according to the CIVICUS Monitor, an online tool to track and compare civic freedoms on a global scale.
The new tool launched in October by the global civil society alliance CIVICUS rates countries based on how well they uphold civic space, made up of three fundamental rights that enable people to act collectively and make change: freedom of association, freedom of peaceful assembly, and freedom of expression.
The OGP brings together governments and civil society with the shared aim of making governments more transparent, accountable and responsive to their citizens. OGP countries make multiple commitments relating to civil society and public participation, which include consulting with civil society and enabling citizens to input on policy.
Of the 68 active OGP countries, the CIVICUS Monitor finds that civic space in four - Colombia, Honduras, Liberia and Mexico - is repressed, which means that those who criticise power holders risk surveillance, harassment, intimidation, imprisonment, injury and death. Civic space is also rated as repressed in Azerbaijan and Turkey, both recently declared ‘inactive’ by the OGP’s steering committee.
In the past six months, the CIVICUS Monitor has documented a wide variety of attacks on civil society in these four countries, ranging from the assassinations of five social leaders in just one week in Colombia, to the police’s use of tear gas and water cannons to disperse student protests in Honduras, and from the four-hour detention and questioning of a newspaper editor in Liberia to the murder of a community radio journalist in Mexico.
A further 21 OGP countries are rated obstructed, meaning that space for activism is heavily contested through a combination of legal and practical constraints on the full enjoyment of fundamental freedoms.
Other commitments on civic participation and civic space that OGP countries make include releasing and improving the provision of information relating to civic participation; bringing in or including citizens in oversight mechanisms to monitor government performance; and improving legal and institutional mechanisms to strengthen civil society capabilities to promote an enabling environment for participation.
“The existence of significant restrictions on civil society in more than a third of OGP countries is deeply troubling and calls into question their commitment to the principle of empowering citizens upon which the OGP was founded,” said Cathal Gilbert, lead researcher on the CIVICUS Monitor. “OGP countries should be harnessing the potential of public participation in governance, rather than silencing government critics and harassing human rights defenders.”
Of the remaining OGP countries, civic space in 31 is rated as narrowed. A total of 12 countries are rated as open, which means that the state safeguards space for civil society and encourages platforms for dialogue. Positively, no OGP countries fall into the CIVICUS Monitor’s closed category.
“Notably, OGP countries as a group fare better than the rest of the globe on civic space,” said Gilbert. “However, much more needs to be done collectively to ensure that commitments on public participation made by OGP countries in their national development plans are carried through.”
As heads of state and government, members of parliament, academia, business and civil society representatives meet at the OGP Summit in Paris, France from 7-9 December, CIVICUS urges delegates to focus discussions on best practices to improve civic space conditions in OGP countries.
Notes to editor
During the OGP Summit, lead researcher Cathal Gilbert will present these findings from the CIVICUS Monitor during a session from 11:15 - 12:35 on Thursday 8th December in Room 1, Palais d’Iena, Paris. For more information see here: https://en.ogpsummit.org/osem/conference/ogp-summit/program/proposal/459. CIVICUS Secretary-General Danny Sriskandarajah will take part in a high-level panel on civic space at the OGP Summit on Friday 9th December.
The CIVICUS Monitor is available at https://monitor.civicus.org. Ratings are based on a combination of inputs from local civil society activists, regional civil society experts and research partners, existing assessments by national and international civil society organisations, user-generated input and media-monitoring. Local views are prioritised. The CIVICUS Monitor is regularly updated during the week and users are invited to contribute. More information on the methodology is available here.
Annex I – CIVICUS Monitor ratings, December 2016 (Active OGP countries highlighted in bold)
All (134) Countries:
Closed (16 countries): Bahrain, Burundi, Cuba, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Iran, Laos, Libya, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, UAE and Vietnam
Repressed (33 countries): Afghanistan, Algeria, Angola, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Belarus, Cambodia, Cameroon, CAR, Chad, China, Colombia, Djibouti, DRC, Egypt, Gambia, Honduras, Iraq, Liberia, Mexico, Myanmar, Pakistan, Palestine, Republic of the Congo, Russia, Rwanda, Swaziland, Thailand, Turkey, Uganda, Venezuela, Yemen, Zimbabwe
Obstructed (29 countries): Armenia, Bhutan, Brazil, Brunei Darussalam, Burkina Faso, Côte d'Ivoire, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Israel, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Malaysia, Moldova, Mongolia, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Sierra Leone, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Tunisia, Ukraine
Narrowed (40 countries): Albania, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belize, Benin, Bolivia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Botswana, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, Comoros, Costa Rica, Croatia, El Salvador, France, Georgia, Ghana, Greece, Italy, Japan, Lithuania, Macedonia, Malawi, Montenegro, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, United Kingdom, Uruguay, USA
Open (16 countries): Andorra, Belgium, Cape Verde, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Latvia, Malta, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden
CIVICUS is a global alliance of civil society organisations and activists dedicated to strengthening citizen action and civil society around the world.
To read this in Portugese, click here.
CIVICUS is extremely concerned about the rise in attacks on civil society organisations (CSOs), academics and journalists in Mozambique. Several activists and members of the media have recently faced various forms of intimidation, including death threats, harassment, assassination attempts and arbitrary detention for criticising the governance system, corruption and vhuman rights violations.
Bangladesh’s new Foreign Donations law is in breach of international norms and agreements, says global civil society alliance, CIVICUS. CIVICUS remains deeply alarmed that the Foreign Donations (Voluntary Activities) Regulation Act which was enacted last month will have serious negative consequences for Bangladeshi civil society and prevent them from undertaking their essential and legitimate work.
“Worryingly, the law endows the government officials with broad powers to sanction civil society groups which are critical of the state or its policies and imposes arbitrary restrictions on access to vital funding to engage in sustainable development activities,” said Tor Hodenfield, Policy & Advocacy Officer from CIVICUS. “We urge the government to undertake a review of the law’s restrictive provisions in light of constitutional and international commitments and in the interests of the people of Bangladesh whom the country’s vibrant civil society serves.”
Bangladesh is party to several international agreements, including the Busan Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation which obliges states to create an enabling environment for civil society organisations to maximise their contribution to development, as well as the Sustainable Development Goals framework which promises effective and meaningful civil society partnerships and protection of fundamental freedoms.
Under the new law, foreign-funded NGOs which make ‘inimical’ and ‘derogatory’ remarks against the constitution and constitutional bodies, including the President, Prime Minister, Parliament, and the Supreme Court, can be subjected to criminal and administrative sanctions. Specifically, the law stipulates that the authorities may unilaterally deregister, withhold the registration or ban the activities of an NGO if it makes such comments. These provisions breach fundamental freedoms of expression and association and preclude civil society groups from publically scrutinising state policies and practices.
In addition, the law places unwarranted and targeted controls on NGOs which receive funding from foreign sources. Under the law, all foreign-funded NGOs must register with the NGO Affairs Bureau (a state institution seated within Prime Minister’s office), submit regular activity reports and secure the Bureau’s prior approval before initiating any project which will use foreign donations. The law further imposes arbitrary and onerous limitations on how NGOs can use their own resources. Without justification, the law precludes NGOs from spending more than 20% of their budget on administrative costs.
We urge the Government of Bangladesh to initiate (i) a dialogue with Bangladeshi civil society who will be severely impacted by the law’s restrictive provisions, and (ii) undertake a review process of the law to evaluate its compatibility with Bangladesh’s constitutional and international commitments.
Bangladesh is listed as repressed on the CIVICUS Monitor.
Global civil society alliance, CIVICUS urges the South African government to reject attempts at the UN to block the appointment of the first-ever independent expert on sexual orientation and gender identity. A vote is due today at the UN General Assembly in New York to overturn the appointment of the expert which was mandated by the Geneva based UN Human Rights Council in June this year following a resolution.
The current situation has arisen out of a move by the 54 members of the Africa Group to suspend the September 2016 appointment of Thai international lawyer, Professor Vitit Muntarbhorn as the first UN Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The Independent Expert, who began his work on 1 November, is responsible for monitoring and reporting on implementation of international human rights standards to overcome violence and discrimination against LGBTI persons.
“The creation of the mandate of the Independent Expert reflects the sustained and concerted efforts of a broad coalition of civil society stakeholders, UN bodies and states against violence and discrimination against the LGBTI community,” said Mandeep Tiwana Head of Policy and Research for CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance. “We hope South Africa will stand firm on its constitutional commitment against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.”
In a global climate of continued prejudice and hostility against the LGBTI community, a vote to suspend the work of the Independent Expert would undermine the development of crucial international mechanisms to ensure that LGBTI individuals and groups subject to discrimination, harassment and attacks at home access have access to necessary protections and scrutiny. According to global civil society group the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA), over 70 countries maintain laws that criminalise same sex relations.
CIVICUS urges South Africa to take a principled position in line with its constitutional values by (i) voting against the resolution to defer the appointment of an Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, and (ii) by engaging the states opposed to the expert’s mandate on the need to uphold not undermine the international human rights framework.
Note to editors
In June 2016, the UN Human Rights Council, the world’s premier human rights body adopted Resolution 32/2 establishing the mandate of the Independent Expert. The resolution, presented by the governments of Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Mexico and Uruguay, was approved by the 47 member UN Human Rights Council. The resolution expands and elaborates on two prior resolutions including in 2011, led by South Africa, and in 2014 led by Brazil, Chile, Colombia and Uruguay to counter and violence and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
Many in civil society will mourn the loss of the PPA. DFID core funding helped build capable and confident organisations that were able to plan long-term and holistic interventions. Any new system will introduce new uncertainties and administrative burdens that will hamper the effectiveness of civil society.
We do welcome DFID’s commitment to supporting a diverse range of civil society actors, especially smaller and Southern organisations, and to doing more to support civic space. The focus on feedback loops and new forms of accountability has the potential to yield some exciting and transformative change.
- Dr Dhananjayan Sriskandarajah, Secretary General, CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance
CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance, is deeply worried about rising repression in Cuba. Despite the restoration of diplomatic relations with the United States and the expectations generated by the possibility of an imminent lifting of sanctions, Cuban journalists and civil society activists and their organisations are facing a serious clampdown for exercising their rights to freedom of association, expression and peaceful assembly.
“As activists attempt to reclaim public space following recent political developments, short-term detentions have been on the rise as a way to discourage acts of democratic dissent,” said Inés Pousadela, policy and research officer with CIVICUS. “In addition to high-profile activists and protest-oriented organisations who have been traditionally targeted, groups engaged in research, monitoring and providing information to citizens have also faced increased government repression.”
In October, several journalists were victims of raids on their homes and subjected to verbal threats, physical violence and the confiscation of equipment in clear acts of intimidation intended to stop them from doing their work. The Cuban Institute for Freedom of Expression and the Press (ICLEP) denounced a wave of repression directed against nine independent journalists for cooperating with the organisation. A group of journalists of the new independent media project Periodismo de Barriowere detained for reporting on the effects of Hurricane Matthew without a permit.
In September, the offices of the Center of Legal Information (Cubalex), which provides free legal advice to Cuban citizens and reports on human rights issues, were raided. Police sought to justify breaking into Cubalex’s offices, intimidating its staff and confiscating paperwork and equipment on the grounds that its lawyers were carrying out “illicit economic activity” even though Cubalex does not charge for its services. The organisation’s application for legal status has been rejected by the Cuban Justice Ministry and its Director, Laritza Diversent has repeatedly faced harassment for engaging with regional and international human rights bodies.
CIVICUS calls on the Cuban government to enable the exercise of civic freedoms to speak up, organise and petition the authorities. Accordingly, we urge Cuban authorities to (i) cease the harassment of activists and journalists carrying out their regular legitimate activities, (ii) begin a process of dialogue to create a more enabling environment for civil society and the independent media, and (iii) initiate reforms to give legal recognition to a wider plurality of civil society endeavours.
Cuba is listed in the ‘closed’ category of the CIVICUS Monitor
CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance and the Nigeria Network of NGOs (NNNGO) are deeply concerned about impending legislation to restrict freedom of association in Nigeria.
Nigeria’s National Assembly is currently considering a bill to provide for “the establishment of the Non-Governmental Organisations Regulatory Commission for the Supervision, Coordination and Monitoring of Non-Governmental Organisations, Civil Society Organisations etc. in Nigeria and for related matters.” First introduced in July 2016, the bill has since passed through the second reading in the House of Representatives. The bill has now been referred to the Committee on CSOs and Development Partners for further legislative input.
“The bill is in conflict with Nigeria’s Constitutional and international law obligations,” says Oyebisi Oluseyi, Executive Director of NNNGO. “We must instead strengthen civic space in Nigeria, as our sector’s role in finding solutions to the enormous challenges facing our nation cannot be overemphasized”.
The CIVICUS Monitor is a new global platform tracking violations of freedoms of assembly, association and expression in real-time
Johannesburg, 18 October 2016 - In light of widespread global restrictions on civil society, CIVICUS is launching a new tool to measure the freedoms that people around the world have to protest, organise and speak out. The tool will go online at 00.01 Central Africa Time (CAT) on 24 October 2016 (UN World Development Information Day).
The CIVICUS Monitor will rate country respect for civic space in five broad categories from Closed to Open, based on how well they uphold the three fundamental rights that allow citizens to come together and demand change: freedom of association, freedom of peaceful assembly, and freedom of expression. In addition to the 104 country ratings available on launch day, the latest updates on civic space will be available for most countries in the world.
CIVICUS will also be releasing numbers on which types of violations were most common and the driving forces behind them, based on analysis of more than 200 national-level updates on civic freedoms gathered over the past four months (June – October 2016).
By signing up to the Sustainable Development Goals last year, world leaders agreed that people must be able to take part in making the decisions that affect their lives, and to ensure access to information (Goal 16). The CIVICUS Monitor will show how the key civic freedoms that should allow for this are coming under sustained assault.
Ratings are based on a combination of inputs from local civil society advocates, regionally-based research partners and civil society experts, existing assessments, user-generated input and media-monitoring. Local views are prioritised and all users are invited to contribute information on the situation in their countries. The number of countries rated by the CIVICUS Monitor will increase over time and news updates will be added each weekday.
Launching online at https://monitor.civicus.org/
00.01 Central Africa Time (CAT), 24 October 2016
Notes to editors:
A one-minute video explainer on civic space and the CIVICUS Monitor is available here.
CIVICUS is a global alliance of civil society organisations and activists dedicated to strengthening citizen action and civil society around the world.
The crackdown over the past week against several newspapers in India’s northern state of Jammu and Kashmir is a worrying development that has blocked free communication in the region. Since earlier this month, authorities also limited and blocked mobile phone access, social media and telephonic landline services, as well as access to cable television networks. CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance condemns this media and communication clampdown and denounces the excessive lethal force used on protestors by law enforcement agencies.
Since July 16, authorities have been on the offensive against several newspapers - among them the Kashmir Observer, the Kashmir Reader, the Rising Kashmir, the Daily Kashmir Images and the Greater Kashmir. Security forces raided the premises of publications, confiscated printed copies, detained staff and stopped circulation of the print media.
Global civil society alliance CIVICUS and the Federation of Non-Governmental Organisations for the Development of Honduras (FOPRIDEH) strongly condemn the recent assassination of environmental activist Lesbia Yaneth Urquía and urge the Honduran government to conduct a full investigation into her death, as well as ensure a safe environment for human rights defenders to do their work.
On 6 July, the body of Lesbia Yaneth Urquía, a member of the Council of Indigenous People of Honduras (COPINH), was found in a rubbish dump some 100 miles west of Tegucigalpa, Honduras’ capital. Preliminary reports linked her murder to a robbery attempt. The murder of Lesbia Yaneth Urquía comes just four months after the assassinations of fellow COPINH activists Berta Caceres and Nelson García, who were shot dead in early and mid-March 2016 respectively. Urquía and her colleagues have been fervent defenders of the community rights and part of a long fight to stop a hydroelectric megaproject undertaken without the consent of the local population, who are concerned that it could lead to cutting off water and other resources for several indigenous communities.
The UK government is receiving widespread condemnation for a new clause in grant agreements that will place restrictions on civil society organisations lobbying the government.
Last week, 140 UK charities signed a joint letter to David Cameron expressing their deep concern over the proposed clause and the move has been strongly condemned by the global alliance of civil society organisations, CIVICUS.
“This move restricts the freedom of expression of UK civil society, and fundamentally reduces the opportunity for the voices of the people who receive the vital support of charities to be heard. Coming from a country with a long tradition of free speech, this is a serious step in the wrong direction for democracy, transparency and human rights. Moreover, it only serves to further stoke up a worrying global trend where governments around the world are trying to silence civil society,” said Dr Dhananjayan Sriskandarajah, Secretary-General of CIVICUS.
The international community must urgently call on Israeli authorities to withdraw a repressive proposed law that seeks to silence human rights groups says CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance.
In what could set an extremely bad precedent, the regressive draft `Obligation to Disclose Support by a Foreign Political Entity Act’ passed its first reading in the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, on 8 February when it garnered 50 votes in favour of and 43 against it.
“Every democratic country that subscribes to international human rights law should be extremely concerned by this bill,” said Teldah Mawarire, Policy and Research Officer at CIVICUS. “There are strong reasons to believe that this proposed law is specifically designed to stop the work of human rights groups, especially those that expose abuses in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.”
As the world’s rich and powerful gather in Davos for the World Economic Forum an alliance of top international charities, human rights campaigners, women’s rights groups, green groups, civil society organisations and trade unions has come together to fight the growing crisis of inequality.
In a joint statement, the alliance, including ActionAid, Amnesty International, Oxfam, Greenpeace and the International Trade Union Confederation warns that growing inequality threatens progress on development, environment, women’s rights and human rights.
The alliance statement says ‘“Struggles for a better world are all threatened by the inequality crisis that is spiraling out of control. Across the world, we are seeing the gap between the richest and the rest reach extremes not seen in a century.’
From Ebola to the bombing of Gaza, civil society was the first responder to humanitarian emergencies during the last year, but faces dire threats and a funding crisis around the world, says a new report.
“During the last year civil society was everywhere, doing great work often at the frontline of the world’s challenges, but at the same time having to stave off threats to its very existence,” said Dr Dhananjayan Sriskandarajah, the CIVICUS Secretary-General on launching the organisation’s 2015 State of Civil Society Report.
As the new dates set for parliamentary and presidential elections approach in Burundi (26 June and 15 July 2015), civic freedoms should be restored says CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance.
“The police are continuing to use live ammunition against protesters unhappy with the decision by President Pierre Nkurunziza to stand for a third term,” said David Kode, Policy and Research Officer at CIVICUS. “An atmosphere of fear wherein democratic freedoms of expression, association and peaceful assembly are imperilled does not set the stage for a free and fair election.”
3 June 2015 - Global civil society alliance, CIVICUS, condemns South Korea’s on-going persecution of civil society groups and protestors calling for transparent and independent investigations into the sinking of the Sewol Ferry on 16 April 2014 in which 304 people, mostly school students lost their lives. CIVICUS urges South Korean authorities to immediately and unconditionally release all activists currently detained for participating in the demonstrations.
21 May 2015 - From Mexico to Mongolia, thousands of citizens around the world gathered last Saturday to exercise their fundamental rights to speak out, organise and take action on a wide-range of social issues.
More than 100 events in 50 countries saw a combined total of over 20,000 citizens engaged as part of the `Global Day of Citizen Action’. The purpose of the international campaign was to raise awareness about ‘civic space’, which represents the freedoms of expression, association and assembly.
Global civil society alliance, CIVICUS, urges Burundi’s government to respect civic freedoms and end violence against protesters. Since 26 April, riot police and security forces in Burundi have violently repressed peaceful protests in the capital, Bujumbura, against a third term bid for President by Pierre Nkurunziza.
An upcoming global event will seek to engage citizens around the world on a set of human rights we don’t often hear much about: “civic space”. The ‘Global Day of Citizen Action’, to be held on Saturday 16 May 2015, will ask citizens whether they feel free to speak out, organise and take action, a group of rights that collectively may be called “civic space”.
15 April 2015 - The rise in bureaucratic harassment and demonisation of civil society organisations and activists in India is raising increasing concern. Defamatory public statements by senior government officials and the vilification of activists in the media have contributed towards a prohibitive operating environment for India’s civil society, says global civil society alliance, CIVICUS.
13 April 2015 - We in the Bahrain and international human rights NGO community condemn the
arrest and detention of Nabeel Rajab, a prominent human rights defender in the Kingdom of
Bahrain. On 4 April, the Bahrain Public Prosecution Office renewed Mr. Rajab’s pretrial detention
for a further 15 days. We call on the Bahraini authorities to immediately and unconditionally
release Mr. Rajab and to drop all charges against him.
9 APRIL 2015. The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is experiencing brutal suppression of dissent and fundamental freedoms linked to presidential elections next year. With intensifying pressure on President Joseph Kabila to not seek another term after 14 years in power, DRC authorities are targeting civil society activists and journalists.
At least 30 individuals, including members of the media and civil society, were arrested on 15 March following a press conference in the capital, Kinshasa. The press conference was preceded by a workshop on youth engagement and political processes organised by Filimbi, an organisation working to strengthen civic action. At least 5 human rights activists remain in secret detention.
The latest arrests send a message that authorities do not tolerate dissent, and will not allow an open debate on issues related to elections and civic engagement. Freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly are now firmly at stake in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
30 March - Global civil society alliance, CIVICUS, and the Asian Legal Resource Centre (ALRC) express grave concern over the unabated incursions on fundamental human rights and democratic freedoms in Bangladesh amid the on-going political violence in the country.
ARTICLE 19, CIVICUS and Publish What You Pay have submitted a joint letter to the steering committee of the Open Government Partnership (OGP) calling on them to ensure that civil society organisations can participate in and influence Azerbaijan’s OGP action plan.
Civicus in partnership with 25+ organisations have produced a joint press statement (see below) on the detention and hunger strike of the Bahraini human rights activist, Abdulhadi Al Khawaja.
JOINT PRESS STATEMENT
18 March - After several unsuccessful appeals to prison administration officials for adequate medical assistance, leading Bahraini human rights defender Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja has publically announced that he has gone on hunger strike in protest of his continued arbitrary detention and mistreatment while in prison. Al-Khawaja, who began the water-only hunger strike on 2 March 2015, is suffering from serious health issues and is at severe risk of further health complications.
“He sounded weak and exhausted on the phone to an extent that we could tell how sick he was, but this won’t stop him from battling for his freedom and the freedom of all human rights defenders in Bahrain,” said his daughter Maryam Al-Khawaja, Co-Director of at the Gulf Center for Human Rights (GCHR).
Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, the Co-founder of the Gulf Center for Human Rights (GCHR) and the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), was sentenced to life in prison in June 2011 for peaceful human rights activities. The undersigned organizations and individuals express their grave concern about the continued mistreatment of Al-Khawaja while in detention and call on the Government of Bahrain to immediately and unconditionally address Al-Khawaja’s legitimate demands.
International civil society is raising the alarm over attacks on independent civil society groups and critical voices in advance of Sudan’s general elections scheduled for April 2015.
27 January 2015 - International civil society is calling on Sri Lanka’s newly elected President Maithripala Sirisena to put civic freedoms and civil society participation at the heart of his 100 day plan.
Global civil society alliance, CIVICUS, and the International Movement Against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism (IMADR) are urging the new president to start afresh in his country’s treatment and dealings with civil society and minority groups.
20 January 2015 - Civil society in Pakistan, which already faces severe restrictions, is facing further threats to its freedom, following the horrific terrorist attack on a school in Peshawar last December.
CIVICUS, a global alliance of civil society organisations, Pakhtunkhwa Civil Society Network (PCSN) and the Tribal NGOs Consortium (TNC) are dismayed at attempts to silence independent civil society groups who have been at the forefront of condemning religious extremism in Pakistan over the last decade. Despite civil society’s important role in promoting peace and tolerance, the government is planning to introduce a controversial foreign funding law, which will vest officials with excessive powers to control and suspend the activities of NGOs that rely on funds from international sources. It is expected that a draft bill (the Foreign Contributions Regulation Act 2015) will be submitted for government approval later this month.
10 December 2014. Global civil society alliance, CIVICUS, is deeply concerned by the systematic attacks against land and indigenous people’s rights activists in Mindanao, the second largest and southernmost major island in the Philippines.
The highly populated island (over 21 million people) is rich in mineral deposits of copper, gold, silver and nickel, and is host to more than 30 multinational mining companies from 13 countries, including the United States, Australia, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom. Local civil society groups are alarmed at the complicity of corporate conglomerates in the forceful evictions and displacement of indigenous communities, and land rights and indigenous people’s rights activists operate under extreme threat.
11 November, 2014 - Global civil society alliance, CIVICUS is deeply concerned with the proposed “Security Package” before the Turkish Parliament, which if approved will warrant abusive policing practices, such as the ability to disperse public assemblies with physical force and to use firearms against protesters. In addition, the security package will grant courts broad powers to persecute and detain political dissidents.
Hundreds of activists and prominent members of civil society from more than 100 countries will gather in Johannesburg for International Civil Society Week (ICSW) from 19-25 November.
Representatives from civil society will use the weeklong series of events to discuss and debate some of the most urgent problems facing people around the world.
“The week offers a unique opportunity for civil society organisations and activists from all over to gather in one place to connect, share experiences and best practice, and to inspire each other,” said Dr Danny Sriskandarajah, Secretary-General of CIVICUS.
The week, to be held at Wits University, will feature events that touch on a wide range of issues: advocacy, campaigns, data for development, global governance, human rights, labour movements, media, protests, and youth — to mention just a few.
CIVICUS: WORLD ALLIANCE FOR CITIZEN PARTICIPATION
EAST AND HORN OF AFRICA HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDERS PROJECT
ETHIOPIA HUMAN RIGHTS PROJECT
31 October 2014. Ethiopia’s already limited space for civil society and human rights defenders is undergoing further contraction, warns CIVICUS, The East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project, and the Ethiopia Human Rights Project (EHRP). Throughout 2014, Ethiopian authorities have orchestrated an unprecedented legislative assault on journalists, and independent voices within civil society, undermining fundamental human rights and restricting the operating environment for civil society and human rights defenders.
24 October 2014. Global civil society alliance, CIVICUS, and the Center for National and International Studies (CNIS) are gravely concerned at the unprecedented crackdown on civil society and democratic freedoms in Azerbaijan. This is particularly worrying given Azerbaijan’s recent appointment as chair of the Council of Europe, which serves as the region’s preeminent human rights body.
“Azerbaijan’s government is using a number of repressive tactics to silence dissent and destroy independent civil society in Azerbaijan in violation of Europe’s professed values,” said Leila Alieva, President of CNIS. “Since May 2014, the government has opened criminal investigations and frozen the assets of over 20 national and international groups including the Center for National and International Studies, Transparency International and Oxfam. As a result of the investigations, the vast majority of the organisations have ceased their operations or left the country, while the leaders of many of the national groups have been forced into exile.”
15 October 2014. The global civil society alliance, CIVICUS, urges Egypt’s authorities to end the judicial persecution of seven women human rights activists who are on trial for peacefully protesting a controversial assembly law that effectively bans public gatherings without police permission.
The current state of civil society in Egypt is dire. The military-backed government has introduced a number of measures to restrict freedom of speech and the right to assemble. It is also considering a law to restrict the ability of NGOs to receive funds from international sources with a view to stopping their human rights monitoring activities. Moreover, it has become common practice for judges to imprison non-violent youth campaigners that support basic democratic reforms. “The seven women that are on trial are not dangerous vandals as alleged by security forces, instead they are victims of a heavy-handed judicial system which arbitrarily punishes its most engaged and socially conscious citizens,” said Semanur Karaman, Policy and Research Officer at CIVICUS. “It is a travesty of justice to see these human rights defenders being subjected to these oppressive sanctions that are in violation of universal principles of international law,” said Karaman.
10 October 2014: Set against a background of endemic corruption, unsustainably low wages and impoverishing confiscations of land, Cambodia is considering a series of laws that will severely restrict human rights and the activities of civil society organisations working on these issues, according to a team of international experts visiting the country.
6 October 2014 - Civil society organisations are calling on South Sudanese authorities to stop the adoption of a restrictive NGO bill amidst fears that it could severely hinder civil society activities and undermine efforts to address the continuing humanitarian crisis in the country.
Global civil society alliance, CIVICUS and the South Sudan based Community Empowerment for Progress Organization (CEPO) have urged the National Legislative Assembly of South Sudan to stop the bill that is currently under parliamentary consideration.
Of critical concern are vague provisions of the proposed 2013 NGO Bill which gives the government excessive discretionary powers to control the operations of civil society groups. According to the bill, all NGOs in the country must register with the government and align their work with the government’s national development plan. Moreover, organisations are forced to adhere to ill-defined requirements to “respect (for) the sovereignty of the Republic of South Sudan, its institution and laws.”
Update: 19 September 2014: We are happy to let you know that detained Bahraini activist, Maryam Al-Khawaja is no longer in custody. She was released on 18 September by Bahraini authorities although the politically motivated charges against her still stand.
We are overwhelmed by the groundswell of support we received from around the world on Maryam’s plight. Over 150 civil society organisations in over 60 countries joined us in endorsing a letter to Bahrain’s government urging the release of Maryam and an end to persecution of human rights defenders in the country.