11 November 2013 – A new report finds shocking threats to civil society in Sri Lanka, amidst growing protests about the Commonwealth's decision to host its Summit there despite strong criticism of the country's human rights abuses.

Sri Lanka Report Launch

Based on interviews with a diverse range of civil society leaders and research on the conditions affecting citizen participation, CIVICUS and the Centre for Policy Alternatives, Sri Lanka (CPA), document a litany of threats to civil society in Sri Lanka.

The report - Sri Lanka's Harassed Civil Society - finds:

  • The right to express democratic dissent is seriously imperilled, with many civil society activists facing harassment, intimidation and violence.
  • Abduction and assassination remain a constant threat for prominent journalists, activists and dissidents, with little effort by the authorities to investigate such attacks.
  • Peaceful protests have been disrupted by security forces.
  • Senior officials and state-owned media have issued inappropriate and threatening statements against civil society leaders and organisations.
  • The legal environment for non-governmental organisations is restrictive, with administrative and regulatory obstacles impeding their effective operation.
  • Civil society organisations are being subjected to increasing surveillance and official control, especially in the Northern Province.
  • The ability of civil society organisations to find funding from overseas and work with international partners is severely hampered.

112 civil society organizations based in over 46 countries have endorsed a letter calling on the Zambian President to refrain from implementing the restrictive 2009 NGO Act.

Africa made of Country Flags

“Hundreds of Zambian civil society groups are taking a principled stand at the risk of criminal sanctions by refusing to abide by the official directive to register under this unjust law by the November 11 deadline,” said Lewis Mwape, Executive Secretary of the Zambia Council for Social Development. “Submission to this law will severely mar the independence of NGOs in Zambia,” said Mwape.

A new report released today by the global civil society alliance, CIVICUS, reveals a pattern of sustained attacks on civil society organisations (CSOs) around the world.

CIVICUS has tracked 413 threats to civil society in 87 countries since the beginning of 2012. Worryingly the report shows that several governments are attempting to weaken civil society organisations by enacting laws which prevent them from accessing the funding they need to survive and prevent them from conducting legitimate activities involving expressions of democratic dissent.

Injustice Anywhere is a Threat to Justice Everywhere by mind on fire on Flickr

“We are hugely concerned about the killings of land rights and environmental activists in Latin America and Southeast Asia due to collusion between politicians and big businesses. Equally, defenders of rights of women and the gay community are facing severe threats in the Middle East and Africa respectively,” said Danny Sriskandarajah, CIVICUS Secretary-General.

10 October 2013 - Global civil society alliance, CIVICUS, denounces the South Korean government’s unjustified arrest and detention of eleven environmental and civil society activists for exercising their right to freedom of assembly.

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“The repressive and unwarranted response to the peaceful demonstrations is representative of the government’s persistent intolerance of environmental activism in the country,” said Tor Hodenfield, Policy and Advocacy Officer at CIVICUS. “The government must immediately drop all charges against the peaceful protestors and initiate a dialogue with Miryang villagers to find a mutually-agreeable solution to the dispute.”
 
On 3 October 2013, 11 human rights defenders were arrested and detained by members of the National Police Agency in response to peaceful demonstrations against the construction of large-scale power transmission towers, in Miryang, Republic of Korea. While a number of the activists were released without charge within 48 hours of being detained, criminal charges were filed against four of the detainees.

8 October 2013 - Global civil so ciety alliance, CIVICUS strongly condemns the government of Sudan’s brutal response to on-going protests in the country.

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“The government’s violent repression of demonstrations represents the most severe crackdown on independent dissent since the protest movement began in 2011,” said Tor Hodenfield, Policy and Advocacy Officer at CIVICUS. “The international community, especially the African Union, must not wait passively for the situation to further deteriorate before taking action,” said Hodenfield.

According to the Sudanese authorities, 34 people have died and 700 others have been arrested during the most recent wave of protests which began on 22 September in the greater Khartoum area. However, Sudanese civil society groups and diplomats have put the death toll at at least 200, citing the government’s indiscriminate and excessive use of excessive force, including live ammunition, to disperse protestors.

 

In partnership with Saudi civil society, global civil society alliance, CIVICUS, is urging the Saudi Arabian government to draft an NGO law that will guarantee legal status and protection for civil society organisations (CSOs).

“The association law needs to be passed with great haste,” said Sadek Al-Ramadan from the Saudi-based Adala Centre for Human Rights, “because until there is a code to protect and guide our functions, we are placed in a legal limbo and cannot achieve our goals, fundraise, or organise our affairs legally. Human rights concepts and understanding cannot be rooted in our country without serious work by civil society who should be given legal protection.”

Currently, the Saudi Basic Law of Governance governs the operation of charities. A number of civil society groups including those engaged in the protection and promotion of human rights are unable to obtain legal status under the narrow definition of charity under the law. The Adala Centre for Human Rights had its appeal to register rejected in August by an administrative court. The Ministry of Social Affairs (MOSA) stated that its decision to refuse the license was on the grounds that it is only permitted to license charities. As a result, MOSA stated that the Adala Centre’s remit was not covered by the definition of a charity.

A new index published today by the global civil society network, CIVICUS, shows that many governments around the world are failing to keep their promise to create an environment that allows citizens to mobilise and participate in civil society.

CIVICUS 2013 Enabling Environment Index Report Cover

"Despite countless promises from governments that they will protect civil society, the majority of citizens around the world live in environments in which they do not have the capacity to participate freely and fully in the activities, organisations and movements that seek to better their lives and improve their societies," said Dr Danny Sriskandarajah, CIVICUS Secretary-General.

Evidence from around the world suggests that the conditions for civil society are far from perfect. The CIVICUS 'Enabling Environment Index' (EEI) is the first rigorous attempt to measure and compare the conditions that affect the potential of citizens to participate in civil society and ranks the governance, socio-cultural and socio-economic environments for civil society in 109 countries.

Public and media freedoms are increasingly under threat in Uganda, says CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance.

“During the last few years we have seen attacks on the media, gay rights activists, anti-corruption campaigners and now Ugandans are faced with the possibility of a draconian new law that will restrict their freedom of assembly,” said Charlotte Allan, CIVICUS Policy and Advocacy Officer.
 
A lone female journalist with The Independent Magazine Uganda stands right in front of a sea of Policemen Source Echwalu Photography
 
The latest in this crackdown on fundamental freedoms is the pending Public Order Management Bill (POMB) and the secrecy surrounding it.
 

22 August 2013 – CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance, has welcomed the UN Secretary General’s recently released report on the post-2015 development agenda.

A life of dignity for all: accelerating progress towards the Millennium Development Goals and advancing the United Nations development agenda beyond 2015, is strongly underpinned by a human rights based approach which CIVICUS believes is a positive step,  raising hopes for the adoption of a holistic and relevant development framework to succeed the current Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

MDGs

“A major shortcoming of the present MDGs is their failure to prioritise good governance supported by democratic freedoms. The report emphasises the need to uphold human rights and rightly states that freedom from fear and want are inseparable,” said Danny Sriskandarajah, Secretary General of CIVICUS.

22 August 2013: Bangladesh's persistent onslaught on democratic freedoms will seriously undermine development gains warns CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance.

"CIVICUS is deeply concerned by growing intimidation tactics by the Bangladeshi government to silence critical civil society voices in the country," said Tor Hodenfield of CIVICUS.

Bangladesh Muktijuddho Mural

Credible civil society sources estimate that at least 150 protestors have been killed and hundreds have been seriously injured by security forces in nationwide political protests that have rocked the country since the beginning of 2013. Police and paramilitary forces have been accused of acting with impunity and using excessive and indiscriminate force against protestors.

Johannesburg, 19 August 2013 - Global civil society alliance, CIVICUS, and the Zambia Council for Social Development (ZCSD) are alarmed at attacks on the independence of the NGO sector and the media in Zambia.

censorship

The Zambian government is starting to implement a controversial 2009 NGO law by requiring all NGOs to re-register. The NGO law creates a difficult environment for civil society as highlighted by CIVICUS in its letter to former President Rupiah Banda. This includes the requirement for NGOs to be subjected to oversight by a government dominated Board; government powers to dictate NGOs thematic and geographical areas of work; streamlining of NGOs’ work according to the objectives dictated in the National Development Plan; and increased red tape through mandatory re-registration every five years .

Johannesburg, Jakarta, 18 August 2013: The decision by Indonesian President Yudhoyono to approve a highly restrictive NGO has been condemned by civil society in Indonesia and abroad.

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The Law on Mass Organisations (Ormas Law) represents a severe setback for freedom of association in the country says CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation, the Indonesian Forum for Environment (WALHI) and the International NGO Forum on Indonesian Development (INFID).

Johannesburg, 14 August 2013: Global civil society alliance, CIVICUS, is deeply concerned about the proposed legislative changes to the Non-Profit Organizations Law in Israel and the effect this will have on civil society space and the right to express dissent in the country.

raisethefist2012 israel Amutot Law

Israel's Parliament, the Knesset, is currently considering a restrictive amendment to the Amutot (Non-Profit Organizations) Law. The bill introduced in the Knesset on 9 July seeks to prohibit civil society organisations (CSOs) from receiving more than NIS 20,000 (approximately $6000) if they have called for the trial in international courts of IDF [Israeli Defence Force] soldiers or for boycotts, divestments or sanctions (BDS) against Israel.

Global Civil Society Alliance, CIVICUS, is shocked and saddened by the deaths of at least 51 pro-Morsi supporters in the early hours of 8 July. Hundreds more are reported to have been injured when military and police opened fire on Monday morning outside the Republican Guard headquarters in Cairo.

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"We urge the interim government of Egypt and the armed forces to start an investigation into this atrocity immediately. This is desperately needed to restore faith in both the transitional government and the armed forces' ability to protect the freedoms of association and assembly of all Egyptians, and not just the 'victors' of this second uprising," says Danny Sriskandarajah, CIVICUS Secretary-General.

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Johannesburg, 26 June 2013 - Global civil society alliance CIVICUS is deeply concerned at the intimidation and harassment of civil society members in Mali in the run up to the July 2013 elections. Following the March 2012 coup d’état there has been a renewed crackdown on fundamental freedoms, particularly the freedoms of assembly and expression in Mali.

“It is critical that the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the international community urgently engage with the Malian authorities to ensure protection of fundamental freedoms and civil society voices in the country,” says David Kode, CIVICUS Policy and Advocacy Officer.

“Civil society members are facing threats from both government forces as well as armed groups as human rights violations abound in the country. Journalists are being harassed by security forces through random visits to media houses and routine summoning for questioning. Many have been warned against writing stories about the military and the political situation in the country,” says Kode.

A one day multi-stakeholder dialogue entitled "Stakeholders Forum on Building Citizen Engagement" will be held on 5 June 2013 in Ughelli, Delta State, Nigeria. The dialogue includes a capacity building workshop and engagement forum for individuals from communities, companies, multinationals, civil society organisations (CSOs) and other stakeholders and will provide an opportunity for reflecting on the role economic and social groups, oil companies, corporate institutions and other stakeholders serve in rural development in the region.

Last September, NDWPD joined participants from around the world in Montreal, Canada for the CIVICUS World Assembly to define a New Social Contract for Citizen Participation.

CIVICUS' 2012 World Assembly theme track on "Building partnerships for social innovation" challenged NDWPD and other civil society actors to initiate a new and creative relationship or dialogue between non-connected organisations, actors and sectors to bring social change at a local level. NDWPD took this challenge and received the 2013 CIVICUS Nelson Mandela-Graça Machel Innovation Award for the aforementioned multi-stakeholder discussions for key actors in the Niger Delta.

As protests rage across Turkey, global civil society alliance, CIVICUS urges Turkey's government to pay heed to the protestors' demands for greater democratic and personal freedoms. The response of the Turkish government to the protests has been heavy handed as witnessed in the crackdown underway since 31 May. A blackout was also imposed on sections of the media to prevent reporting of the protests.

The demonstrations which originally began in Istanbul against the government's proposals to undertake urban development plans on the site of a public park have now spread to other major cities in the country including the capital Ankara where hundreds have been detained. The protestors are expressing widespread dissatisfaction against the policies of Prime Minister Recep Erdogan's government which they see as undermining Turkey's democratic and secular fabric.

Saudi Arabia's dismal human and civil rights record continues as civil society members are subjected to heightened persecution in a show of blatant subversion of fundamental rights in the country. The Saudi government is resorting to a systematic crackdown on critical voices through the denial of registration to human rights groups, imposition of travel bans on activists and intimidation of human rights defenders through politically motivated legal proceedings.

human rights nabeel rajab bahrain cartoonGlobal civil society alliance, CIVICUS expresses deep concern about recent attempts to isolate and silence imprisoned Bahraini activist Nabeel Rajab. He has been secluded since 13 May after he communicated to his wife over the phone that he had witnessed the savage torture of 8 young political activists by officers at Jaw prison in Manama.

After unsuccessful attempts to communicate with Nabeel for a week, his wife paid him a visit at Jaw Prison on 20 May where he informed her that the authorities were intent on gagging him after he and two prisoners witnessed foreign police officers brutally torture young political activists. Nabeel Rajab is one of Bahrain's most prolific pro-democracy activists. He is presently serving a two-year jail term for using twitter to allegedly "insult" the Bahraini regime.

Johannesburg. 3 May 2013: CIVICUS and Russia based Citizens’ Watch strongly condemn the continuing raids on Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) by the Russian government. Inspections on the premises of NGOs with the stated aim of checking compliance with new laws on foreign funding are designed to create a climate of fear among independent civil society groups.

Despite President Putin’s assertion on 5 April in Hannover, Germany that he simply wants to ascertain how the 654 NGOs receiving money from abroad spend the money they receive, the CSO searches have been performed in an aggressive fashion, raising concerns that Russia is turning into a police state.

The concerns stem from the following:

  • On 19 March 2013, the Spokesperson for the Office of the Prosecutor stated that during the coming month 5,000 inspections of CSOs would be conducted to check compliance with new laws on terrorism, foreign funding and other offences. Since this time, inspections have been carried out against a large number of national and international CSOs including the offices of Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the Helsinki Group and the Russian human rights CSO, Memorial.

May 3, 2013
Today, Freedom Now, Amnesty International, CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation, the Committee to Free Eskinder Nega, the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, English PEN, the International Press Institute, the International Women’s Media Foundation, Media Legal Defence Initiative, the National Press Club, PEN American Center, PEN Canada, and the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers, condemned the decision by the Ethiopian Supreme Court upholding the 18-year sentence imposed against independent journalist and blogger Eskinder Nega. “By upholding the sentence, the Ethiopian government has missed yet another opportunity to respect its freely undertaken obligations under international law,” the groups said. “This failure is particularly striking in light of today’s World Press Freedom Day celebrations.”

“By misusing anti-terror legislation to stifle the peaceful work of journalists like Mr. Nega and his colleagues Reeyot Alemu and Woubshet Taye, the government has, unfortunately, demonstrated that it is willing to disregard the legitimate rights of the Ethiopian people and undermine the credibility of international efforts to address real security threats in the region, all in an attempt to silence critical voices in the country. It is time for the international community to make it clear to the government in Addis Ababa that such violations will no longer be tolerated.”

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International development efforts are being undermined by the rising tide of legal restrictions, funding cuts and violence faced by civil society around the world, according to a new report from CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance.

The new report - The State of Civil Society 2013 - catalogues the experiences of activists and non-governmental organisations across the world. It concludes that the optimism within civil society of 2012 has evaporated.

The report argues that new post-2015 international development goals should include an aim of improving the 'enabling environment' for civil society, so that other goals of poverty reduction, conflict prevention and inequality are not undermined.

The report, which draws on around 50 expert contributions from around the world, also shows that while civil society is increasingly using social media to mobilise citizen action and scrutinise governments, restrictions on websites and social media are increasingly being used as tools to keep citizens in the dark. The report shows that around a third of all internet users globally have experienced some kind of national-level restriction on their freedom to communicate, with over 45 states, most notably China, having imposed restrictions of some kind.

Global civil society alliance, CIVICUS, the Voice of Women and the Maldives NGO Federation to urge the Government of Maldives to put in place measures to ensure free and fair elections later this year. CIVICUS also joins Maldivian civil society in opposing the unprecedented pronouncement by Maldives Minister of State for Home Affairs (Registrar of NGOs), Abdulla Mohamed, to dissolve nearly 70 percent of the country's NGOs. The decision represents yet another setback for independent dissent and democratic freedoms in the run-up to presidential elections in the country scheduled for September 2013.

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Global civil society alliance, CIVICUS and the Azerbaijan-based Center for National and International Studies (CNIS) are concerned about the increasingly hostile climate for civic activists in Azerbaijan as the October 2013 presidential elections approach. Since Azerbaijan is due to undergo its Universal Periodic Review (UPR) at the UN Human Rights Council on 30 April 2013, the two organisations urge democratic governments to focus attention on the continuing government crackdown on the freedoms of expression, association and assembly.  

The following are some recent restrictions on civil society space and democratic freedoms in Azerbaijan.

  • On 8 March 2013, three members of the non-violent pro-democracy movement NIDA were arrested by the police on charges of possession of illegal narcotics and explosives and inciting violence and civil disobedience. The arrests were carried out in advance of an upcoming protest on 10 March 2013 where the law enforcement agencies used excessive violence against protestors. The three activists, Bakhtiyar Guliyev, Shahin Novruzlu, and Mahamad Azizov have been ordered to serve three months pre-trial detention. In their joint UPR submission CIVICUS and CNIS have highlighted that a routine tactic used by law enforcement agencies against government critics is to charge them with drug related and security offences.  On 29 September 2012, Zaur Gurbanli, a NIDA member active in the ‘Sing for Democracy Campaign,’ launched in the run up Azerbaijan’s hosting of the Eurovision 2012 contest was also detained and charged with “possession of illegal documents.”

Johannesburg, 27 March 2013. Global civil society alliance, CIVICUS welcomes the landmark adoption of UN Human Rights Council Resolution A/HRC/22/L.13, “Protecting Human Rights Defenders”, as a vital step in creating a safe and enabling environment in which human rights defenders and civil society organizations (CSOs) can operate free from unwarranted restrictions.

The resolution, spearheaded by the government of Norway, was adopted at the 22nd Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva on 21 March 2013 with broad cross-regional support from 70 UN Member States. CIVICUS highlights the following provisions of the resolution codifying a number of essential protections for human rights defenders:

  • The Council has called on UN Member States to guarantee that national regulations and legislation affecting human rights defenders are clearly defined, non-retroactive and consistent with international human rights law. To this end, the Council urges UN member states to immediately amend national anti-terrorism legislation to protect against the criminalisation or stigmatisation of human rights defenders including the use of arbitrary detention and detention without due process guarantees.

Johannesburg. 25 March 2013. Global civil society alliance, CIVICUS, urges the leaders of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (BRICS) to focus attention on the humanitarian crisis in Syria, corporate accountability and creating an enabling environment for civil society when they meet in Durban for the Fifth BRICS Summit from 26-27 March 2013.

The BRICS mechanism claims to “achieve peace, security, development and cooperation” and contribute significantly to “the development of humanity and establish a more equitable and fair world.” With the agenda of the BRICS meetings widening considerably to encompass various global issues and political developments,

The Ethiopian government's recent decision to prosecute several independent journalists and forcibly dissolve three civil society groups represents yet another blow to democratic freedoms under Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, says global civil society alliance, CIVICUS.

CIVICUS calls attention to the following instances of unwarranted restrictions on freedoms of expression and association in Ethiopia:

Civil Society groups strongly urged decision makers to tackle the global democratic deficit, rising inequality and abuses by transnational corporations at the recently concluded global thematic consultation on governance and the post 2015 development agenda in Johannesburg.

The consultation, organised by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the United Nations Development Programme from 28 February–1 March, brought together 170 participants representing civil society, academia, international organisations, grassroots movements, indigenous groups and the private sector.

The International Center for Not-for-Profit Law (ICNL), ARTICLE 19, CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation, and the World Movement for Democracy are pleased to announce the Civic Space Initiative (CSI), a three-year project that aims to protect and expand civic space by fostering an enabling legal environment for civil society organizations. The CSI focuses on civil society legal initiatives at the global, regional, and national levels.

At the global level, the CSI seeks to strengthen the mandate of the UN Special Rapporteur (UNSR) on the Rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association by facilitating consultations with civil society, and by providing research and organizational support to the UNSR. The CSI will also enhance synergies between related UN mandate holders by helping to develop "soft norm" standards relating to the freedoms of association, assembly, and expression. In addition, the CSI will also work to promote civil society engagement with the UN Universal Periodic Review (UPR) mechanism and the UN Human Rights Council. Furthermore, in order to increase aid effectiveness, the CSI will develop and implement a set of indicators that measure the enabling environment for CSOs in various countries.

Johannesburg. 7 March 2013. Global civil society network, CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation is alarmed at the rise in incidents of judicial harassment of Turkish civil society activists and media professionals for dissenting against government policies.

  • Judicial harassment of writers and advocates has reached crisis point in Turkey. Mass raids have been carried out against government critics under the guise of catching individuals with suspected links to banned organisations. Fourteen lawyers belonging to the Progressive Lawyers’ Association or Cagdas Hukukcular Dernegi (CHD), a non-profit organization providing legal support to victims of rights violations, particularly police violence, were among 85 persons arrested from the 18-21 January 2013 alone. A few days later on 24 January, four Ankara lawyers, Ms Filiz Kalaycı, Mr Hasan Anlar, Mr Halil İbrahim Vargün and Mr Murat Vargün, who had been under investigation since 2009 for their human rights activities, received jail sentences ranging from 6 years and 3 months, to seven and a half years. They were charged with membership of “an armed, illegal organization,” namely the Koma Ciwaken Kurdistan – KCK (Union of Communities in Kurdistan), under the notorious “catch all” Article 314 of the Penal Code.

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CIVICUS, the global civil society network, and the Ligue des Droits de la personne dans la région des Grandes Lacs (LDGL) warn about rising levels of harassment of civil society activists and journalists in Burundi. They urge the Government of Burundi to respect its constitutional and international law obligations on human rights.

The two bodies are concerned about several recent developments in Burundi:

  • On 8 January 2013, journalist Hassan Ruvakuki was sentenced to three years imprisonment by an appeals court in Gitega. Hassan, a reporter for local Burundian radio station Bonesha FM and French broadcaster Radio France International was initially arrested and detained in November 2011. He was charged with "terrorism" in June 2012 and handed a life sentence by a court in Cankuzo in relation to an interview he conducted in November 2011 unearthing the existence of a new rebel movement along the Burundian border with Tanzania. Following a lengthy appeals process, the appeals court altered his sentence to three years in prison, replacing the "terrorism" charges with that of "working with a criminal group." This constitutes the latest onslaught on free expression and journalistic freedoms in Burundi.

Johannesburg, 31 January 2013: Global civil society network, CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation deplores Israel's failure to participate in the UN Universal Periodic Review (UPR), and urges the Government of Israel to take immediate steps to restore its relations with the UN Human Rights Council.

Israel's refusal to participate in its UPR examination scheduled for 29 January 2013 marks the first instance of a UN member state declining to engage with the UN Human Rights Council on its human rights record since the UPR procedure was established in 2008. The UPR process provides a key opportunity for civil society to raise human rights concerns in a country with the national government as well as with the international community.

The current action of the Israeli government follows its March 2012 decision to sever ties with the UN Human Rights Council after a resolution (A/HRC/19.L.35) was adopted to establish an international fact finding mission to investigate the implications of Israeli settlements on the rights of the Palestinian people in the Occupied Territories. All UN member states are obligated to participate in the Universal Periodic Review, which scrutinizes each country's human rights record every four years.

Johannesburg, 25 January 2013: Global civil society network, CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation, the Zimbabwe based National Association of Non-Governmental Organisations (NANGO) and the Zimbabwe Solidarity Forum (ZSF) strongly condemn persecution of civil society members in Zimbabwe, urging democratic governments to take diplomatic action.

Zimbabwe Human Rights Association (Zim Rights) is the latest target of the government's ongoing campaign against human rights defenders. The Director of Zim Rights, Okay Machisa, Education and Programmes Officer, Leo Chamahwinya, and Dorcas Shereni, Chair of the Highfield Chapter of Zim Rights are currently being held in detention on nebulous charges of conspiring to conduct illegal voter registration, fraud and communicating false information considered prejudicial to the Zimbabwean state. Their arrest and judicial harassment puts in severe jeopardy the work of Zim Rights, in particular, the monitoring of election procedures, voter registration and education in advance of crucial national elections to be held later this year.

International NGOs call for end to Russia crack-down on civil society logos

BERLIN, 19 December 2012 – On the eve of the European Union-Russia summit this week, eight international organisations representing a cross-section of global civil society call on European Union leaders to urge Russian President Vladimir Putin to end the crackdown on Russian civil society.

Russia has passed a series of laws that restrict the rights to freedom of expression, association, and assembly significantly hindering the operation of national non-governmental organisations (NGOs) as well as international NGOs supporting them. The laws have created a difficult environment for civil society in Russia where activists now face significant risks in carrying out their work.

Amnesty International, CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation, Freedom House, Front Line Defenders, Greenpeace, Human Rights Watch, the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (a joint programme of the World Organisation Against Torture [OMCT] and the International Federation for Human Rights [FIDH]) and Transparency International urge the summit participants to seek a commitment from the Russian government to ensure the involvement of civil society in public policy debates, stop harassment of human rights organisations, and increase protection for civil society activists and journalists.

DHAKA, 1 December 2012: There needs be more transparency and lesser control by the Government of Bangladesh as it seeks to bring in a new law to regulate foreign donations in the country said Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA), CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation and the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI).

The three international organisations met a wide spectrum of civil society, government representatives and the international community in Bangladesh’s capital, Dhaka as part of a civil society solidarity mission from 26 – 30 November, 2012. The mission was undertaken in the context of the proposed Foreign Donations (Voluntary Activities) Regulation Act and concerns about increasing restrictions on civil society freedoms in Bangladesh.

“While we welcome the fact that the Government of Bangladesh has consulted with civil society leaders on the proposed law, and made assurances that the concerns highlighted by them will be addressed,   we remain extremely worried if the bill when presented to Parliament will reflect this,” said Sayeed Ahmad of FORUM-ASIA. “It is critical that the government makes public, the most recent version of the proposed legislation at the earliest, particularly on the NGO Affairs Bureau’s website to allow civil society to fully engage with the process.”

Johannesburg, 29 November 2012: Global civil society network, CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation and Réseau des Organisations de la Société Civile pour le Développement (RESOCIDE), Burkina Faso, denounce the crackdown on freedom of expression in Burkina Faso.

Two senior journalists have been handed disproportionate sentences for “defamation” and their newspaper has been ordered to suspend its circulation for six months by the Ouagadougou High Court.

On 29 October 2012, Roland Ouédraogo, editor-in-chief of L'Ouragan newspaper and contributing editor Lohé Issa Konaté were sentenced to 12 months imprisonment for defamation and ordered to pay a fine of 1.5 million CFA francs (US $2,900) as well as compensation of 4 million CFA francs (US $7,800) to the complainant. The two journalists are currently imprisoned in Maison d'arrêt et de Correction de Ouagadougou (MACO) prison in the capital, Ouagadougou.

Johannesburg. 29 November 2012. A fact finding mission by CIVICUS and the Human Rights Institute of South Africa (HURISA) has unearthed evidence of concerning judicial delays in the case against South African activist Angy Peters, who has been in custody for almost 6 weeks.

Angy Peters, who works as a Community Services Officer with the Social Justice Coalition (SJC), an organisation that campaigns against mob justice in the Khayelitsha township of Cape Town, South Africa, has been charged with the kidnapping and murder of Siphiwo Mbewu (known as Rowan du Preez). He was murdered on October 13 2012 by ‘necklacing’, when a tyre filled with petrol was placed around him and set alight.  Prior to his death, Angy had been assisting in the rehabilitation of Rowan du Preez and had tried to steer him away from a life of crime.

Johannesburg, 27 November 2012: Global civil society network, CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation  and the Human Rights and Legal Aid Network (HRLAN), Sudan, condemn the Government of Sudan’s unabated crackdown on peaceful dissent and call for immediate removal of unwarranted restrictions on the independent media and nonviolent demonstrators.
 
The continued employment of excessive force by Sudanese security forces, including the routine arbitrary arrests of peaceful demonstrators, is cause for serious concern.  
 
According to national reports, over 300 persons were arbitrarily detained during anti-austerity protests held from June-July 2012 under the National Security Act, which permits prolonged detention without judicial recourse for up to four and a half months.
 
Furthermore, nearly 40 human rights defenders were detained in connection with the month-long demonstrations, including prominent civil society activists Nahid Jabralla, Director of the women’s rights group SEEMA on 3 June, and the President of the Sudanese Association for Rights and Freedoms on June 20.

26 November 2012, Johannesburg: Global civil society network CIVICUS calls on the Government of Iran to immediately and unconditionally release Human Rights Lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh.

Since 17 October 2012, Nasrin - who has defended human rights activists, prisoners of conscience and juveniles facing the death penalty - has been on a hunger strike in protest of the punitive measures imposed on her and members of her family by Iranian prison officials. According to latest reports, Nasrin’s health is rapidly deteriorating.

Over the last three months, authorities at the Evin Prison in Tehran have severely restricted face-to-face visits between Nasrin and members of her family. Government officials have also been persistently harassing Nasrin’s husband, Reza Khandan, and their 12-year-old daughter to pressure them to not publicise her case, including imposing a travel ban on them in July 2012.

Johannesburg, 20 November 2012: Global civil society network CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation expresses deep concern at the continuing reprisals against Bahraini human rights defenders and urges the government to respect its international law obligations.

On-going persecution of human rights defenders for engaging with Bahrain’s Universal Periodic Review was highlighted by UN Secretary General, Ban ki Moon in his August 2012 report, Cooperation with the United Nations, its representatives and mechanisms in the field of human rights.

Widespread protests demanding democratic reforms in Bahrain have been on-going since February 2011. In recent months, Bahrain’s government has stepped up its campaign against civil society members highlighting continuing severe human rights abuses in the country. A shocking nation-wide ban on protests was announced on 30 October even as scores of pro-democracy protestors languish in prison.  Many of them have reported being tortured and subjected to cruel treatment at the hands of the authorities.

Johannesburg, 14 November 2012: The government of Sri Lanka’s refusal to fully support key human rights recommendations during the 14th Session of the UN Universal Periodic Review (UPR) represents yet another setback for reform in the country, said CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation.

During its examination under the second cycle of the UPR on 1 November 2012, the Sri Lankan government failed to equivocally commit to making essential rights-based reforms. By rejecting and delaying implementation of several crucial recommendations, the Sri Lankan government has shown a lack of seriousness in addressing pressing human rights concerns in the country, including ending reprisals by state officials against human rights defenders and strengthening the independence of the National Human Rights Commission.

Of critical concern is the government’s unwillingness to cease continued government harassment and threats against independent civil society activists. Following their participation at the 19th Session of the UN Human Rights Council in March 2012, the Sri Lankan government subjected several prominent activists to a slanderous campaign. They were portrayed by state-run news agencies as traitorous supporters of the separatist organisation, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam (LTTE) for raising concerns about rights violations.

Johannesburg, 8 November 2012: Global civil society network CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation urges the government of Pakistan to take urgent action to address human rights concerns raised by UN Member States on 30 October 2012 during the 14th Session of Universal Period Review (UPR).

Pakistan is consistently regarded as one of the most dangerous places in the world for journalists. According to international watchdog groups, at least eight journalists have been murdered since the beginning of 2012, including three in the southwestern province of Balochistan. Most recently, on 29 September in Khuzdar, Balochistan, Abdul Haq Baluch, a reporter for ARY News TV and the Daily Awan and Tawar newspapers, was killed while on his way to Khuzdar Press Club in Balochistan by two unidentified perpetrators.  

Under the new government elected in March 2008, women’s rights activists continue to face severe reprisals for carrying out their legitimate work. On 9 October 2012, Ms. Malala Yousafzai, 15, was shot in the head while on her way to school by members of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).  Malala, who is a vocal advocate for girls’ education in the Swat Valley and recipient of the Pakistan National Peace Prize, was attacked by TTP members for promoting “Western culture in Pashtun areas.”  

19 October 2012. Amnesty International, CIVICUS and Human Rights Watch are deeply concerned at the 19 October 2012 decision by Ethiopia’s Supreme Court to uphold the freezing of the assets of the Human Rights Council, Ethiopia’s leading, and oldest, human rights organization and the Ethiopian Women Lawyers Association, a prominent women’s rights organization. 

The decision is yet another blow to the work of these two organizations and to the promotion and protection of human rights throughout the country.

The decision of the Supreme Court represents the acquiescence of the courts in the ongoing targeting of independent human rights organizations in Ethiopia, which has resulted in the near total demolition of human rights civil society in the country. The decision upholds the confiscation of substantial funding from the Human Rights Council (HRCO) – an organization with a strong track record of independent monitoring, documenting and advocacy on human rights issues; and from the Ethiopian Women Lawyers Association (EWLA), an organization that was conducting significant levels of work on women’s rights issues, including in providing legal and other forms of assistance to thousands of women every year.

HRCO and EWLA’s bank accounts were frozen in December 2009 after the passing of the Charities and Societies Proclamation (the ‘CSO law’), in January of that year. The law, ostensibly aimed at regulating civil society, places excessive restrictions on the work, operations and funding of human rights organizations, including by prohibiting human rights organizations from receiving more than 10 percent of their funding from foreign sources.

Johannesburg, 24 August 2012: Global civil society network CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation urges the Cambodian government to stop what appears to be an increasingly vicious campaign against civil society. Environmental and land rights activists exposing human rights abuses are particularly at risk as Cambodia's government seeks to promote rapid economic growth through policies that favour the private sector over citizens' rights.

"We can state without a doubt that 2012 has been the worst year for human rights in Cambodia in over a decade," says Naly Pilorge, Director of the Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defence of Human Rights. "From increasingly violent crackdowns on peaceful protests, to arbitrary arrests and unwarranted criminal charges against protestors and human rights workers, and to the killing of a prominent environmental activist, civil society in Cambodia is under siege."

71 year-old veteran activist Mam Sonando has been in detention since 15 July on charges of committing public order crimes including "participating in an insurrectionary movement." His detention follows a protest by villagers against the forcible acquisition of their land in Kratie province, during which security forces killed a 14 year-old girl. Prior to his arrest, Mam Sonando's radio station, Beehive Radio, had highlighted a complaint by an overseas opposition political movement to the International Criminal Court that argued that large-scale forced evictions by the Cambodian government that displaced thousands of people amounted to crimes against humanity. It is widely believed that Mam Sonando's arrest was in response to this independent reporting by Beehive. Various reports indicate that his health is deteriorating rapidly and he has now fallen ill for a second time since being detained.

Johannesburg, 22 August 2012: The sentencing of Nabeel Rajab, President of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, to three years in jail marks a new low for civil society in Bahrain, says global civil society network CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation.   

On 16 August 2012, Manama’s Lower Criminal Court convicted Nabeel for nothing other than exercising what should be normal democratic freedoms enjoyed by all. He was found guilty of “participation in an illegal gathering, calling for a march without prior notification” and “inciting others to join in illegal gatherings using social networking sites.” At the time of his sentencing Rajab was already serving a three month sentence for “insulting an official authority over twitter.”

17 August 2012, Johannesburg: Global civil society network CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation is deeply saddened at the killing of over 30 protesting miners by police on 16 August in Marikana, North West Province, South Africa.

"While details of the incident are still coming to light, we urge South Africa's government to immediately institute an independent inquiry into the circumstances of the deaths," says Katsuji Imata, Acting Secretary General of CIVICUS. "Law enforcement agencies engaged in crowd control are bound by strict legal requirements and are expected to abide by the UN Basic Principles on the Use Force and Firearms. An inquiry must reveal to the public the extent to which legal requirements were followed by police officers and whether there was disproportionate lethal force."

In the lead up to the incident on 16 August, which occurred outside the Lonmin's Marikana platinum mine, workers belonging to rival unions had been involved in a week-long violent standoff triggered by a demand for better wages in which ten people, including two police officers, were killed. Police were asked to restore peace after thousands of striking mineworkers gathered together in support of their demands.

16 August 2012. The Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative and global civil society network CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation call for the Commonwealth to bring Swaziland under the scrutiny of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group for persistent and serious violations of Commonwealth values.

While Swaziland's national constitution (2005) guarantees the rights of freedom of expression, association and assembly, these fundamental freedoms are weakened by contrary claw-back provisions that limit their exercise.

The King's Proclamation of 1973, which prohibits political organising, remains in force. Political parties are banned. Political activity and expression that does not align itself with the regime is not tolerated. Political gatherings are regularly dispersed and publications critical of the regime are censored.

The lack of tolerance of dissent is evidenced by the de-registration of the Trade Union Congress of Swaziland in April 2012, soon after it stated its intention to boycott the 2013 elections. That same month, peaceful pro-democracy protests were repressed, with journalists detained and human rights defenders harassed.

Pro-democracy activists and human rights defenders are targeted using imprecise counter-terror legislation, including the Suppression of Terrorism Act (2008) and the draconian provisions of the Sedition and Subversive Activities Act (1938), which are regularly employed to inhibit the exercise of democratic and civic freedoms.

There is a strong perception of police impunity, as credible allegations of extra-judicial killings, torture and ill-treatment have not been adequately addressed.

8 August 2012- Global civil society network CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation condemns the recent surge in restrictions on civil society in Russia and urges the international community to speak out against the Russian government's disregard for international norms on the treatment of civil society.

In the past two months, Russia's government has hurried a number of regressive laws through parliament. The laws, which will come into force 120 days after they have been signed by President Vladimir Putin, will severely constrain the work of civil society and impede the exercise of the key civil society rights – of free expression, association and assembly. CIVICUS believes that the new laws are a reaction to the widespread protests at the assumption of the presidency by President Putin for a third term and allegations of misuse of state machinery.

7 August 2012- The Global Call to Action Against Poverty (GCAP), CIVICUS, the Feminist Task Force, Oxfam International, Beyond 2015, International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), Article 19, ATD Fourth World, the World Movement for Democracy and Stakeholder Forum, welcome the appointment by the UN Secretary-General of a diverse High-Level Panel to advise on a post-2015 development agenda.

However, as networks comprising a wide range of civil society organisations at the local, national and global level, we are concerned the High Level Panel does not include the voices of people living in poverty, and their representative associations who deserve a seat at the table. We feel the current composition of the panel is largely state-centric and should include greater civil society voices, particularly those of women, workers and other socially excluded populations.

Johannesburg, 30 July 2012: Global civil society network CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation and the Philippine-based national human rights organisation, Karapatan Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights, urge the Philippines government to end persecution and extrajudicial killings of human rights defenders, and to carry out fair and independent investigations into all cases of extrajudicial killings and disappearances.

President Benigno Aquino III has promised to “resolve cases of extrajudicial executions and other violations of human rights.” Nevertheless, genuine reform to ensure the protection of civil society members continues to be lacking. The government continues to implement Executive Order 546, which allows the use of paramilitary forces and private militias to spearhead its controversial counter-insurgency programme, Oplan Bayanihan.

According to Karapatan, 99 instances of extrajudicial killing and 11 cases of enforced disappearance have been documented since President Aquino assumed office in June 2010. The majority of the victims have been farmers, indigenous peoples and activists advocating for land rights and environmental protection. Additionally, it is reported that at least 385 political prisoners continue to languish in prisons as a result of exercising the key civil society freedoms - freedom of expression, association and assembly.

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