33nd session of the Human Rights Council

CIVICUS welcomes this opportunity to address the High Commissioner and the Council on the evolving discussion to develop a more robust guiding framework to protect and promote the right to participate in political and public affairs. We applaud the High Commissioner and Council for facilitating an inclusive process, including the recent expert working group meeting, to enable wide engagement among a diverse range of stakeholders.

We fully endorse the High Commissioner´s caution against populist demagogues in Europe and the United States, who fuel hatred and bigotry against minority groups, refugees and entire religious communities. We applaud his continued attention to the precipitous backsliding on basic public freedoms undermining important human rights gains and democratic consolidation in many regions of the world.

We equally deplore the lack of access given to his Office and Special Procedures to many countries in an attempt to block or evade human rights scrutiny.

Specifically, CIVCUS reiterates the High Commissioner’s deep concern about the grave and escalating violations of human rights in Ethiopia in the context of peaceful protests. We urge the Council to rapidly dispatch an international, independent and transparent investigation into the use of excessive and lethal force against protesters, which has resulted in hundreds of extra-judicial killings and thousands of arrests.

CIVICUS thanks the Special Rapporteur on access to safe drinking water and sanitation for his very innovative report, for looking through the gender lens on the myriad challenges women face in tackling the material and structural determinants of gender inequalities in access to water, sanitation and hygiene which could serve as an entry point to address gender inequality more broadly. We particularly thank him for making the link to participation, not only as a right in itself, but also imperative for fulfilling other rights. We concur that.the lack of water, sanitation and hygiene facilities that meet women’s and girls’ needs can be largely attributed to the absence of women’s participation in decision-making and planning.


A group of civil society organizations (CSOs) have written to the UN Human Rights Council (UN HRC) to draw the delegation's attention to grave violations of human rights in Ethiopia, including the recent crackdown on largely peaceful protests in the Oromia and Amhara regions. 

They call on the delegation of the 33rd HRC session to prioritise and address through joint and individual statements the escalating human rights crisis in Ethiopia. 
Read the letter here


12 international, regional, and Cambodian non-governmental organizations (NGOs), urge the Permanent Representatives of Member and Observer States of the United Nations Human Rights Council to adopt a resolution addressing Cambodia's gravely deteriorating human rights situation.

States must implement crucial UN Human Rights Council resolution on civil society space, and cooperate fully with the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of assembly and of association.

The CSI is committed to engaging with governments and other stakeholders to ensure that the international human rights standards adopted at the HRC are implemented nationally, to enhance the enabling environment for civil society, and to defend that space where it is at risk. 

Read the full statement here

Thank you, Mr. President,

CIVICUS and the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project welcome the report of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on the situation of human rights in Burundi.

We note with extreme concern the dire deterioration of the situation, including restrictions on fundamental freedoms and arbitrary arrests and detentions, cruel and inhumane treatment, torture and extrajudicial executions, perpetrated by the armed forces and the Imborenakure.  This -as the report mentions- has created a climate of fear and intimidation, fuelled by high levels of impunity.

Re: Call for your support and solidarity in rejecting amendments to HRC32 draft resolution protecting civil society space (A/HRC/32/L.29)  

Open Letter to Member States of the UN Human Rights Council  29 June 2016  

Your Excellency,  

We, the undersigned 244 civil society organizations, spanning across all regions of the world, call on your delegation to stand in solidarity with civil society by supporting the draft resolution on the protection of civil society space, to be considered for adoption at the 32nd session of the Human Rights Council (on 30 June or 1 July).[1] We urge you to cosponsor the draft resolution, reject all amendments, and vote in favour of the resolution if a vote is called.

CIVICUS remains deeply alarmed by both the increase and severity of restrictive laws, policies and practices being used to undermine and enfeeble civil society across the globe. In a report launched this week, CIVICUS has documented serious threats to civil society space in 109 countries in 2015, representing a roughly 15 percent increase over the past year.

This statement is delivered by CIVICUS together with our national partner organization, the Sierra Leone Campaign for Good Governance. We commend Sierra Leone for its global leadership on promoting and protecting civil society and in particular its sponsorship of Human Rights Council Resolution 27/31 on the protection of civil society space.

We further recognise the challenges Sierra Leone faces in rebuilding its democracy and infrastructure since the end of the brutal civil war and most recently the ebola outbreak. We note however that restrictions on fundamental freedoms continue to impede efforts to advance democratic consolidation.

CIVICUS applauds Somalia’s cooperation and engagement with the UPR process. We also take this opportunity to remember the passing of Ambassador Bari Bari and the important contributions he made to the advancement of human rights both within the Council and at home.

While acknowledging the very real and substantial challenges the Government of Somalia faces in consolidating democratic space and creating accountable State institutions inflicted by 20 years of civil war, we also urge the Government and the international community to take concerted measures to realize the important progressive civic space recommendations accepted by Somalia’s during its UPR.

Thank you, Mr. President, 

CIVICUS welcomes Special Procedures’ comprehensive report on Communications with States that brings to light human rights situations on which the Council has remained largely silent. 

We refer to Communications to Ethiopia in December 2015 on the violent repression of peaceful protests organized by students throughout the Oromia region of Ethiopia. In response to the protests, the Ethiopian authorities have arbitrarily arrested thousands of people and several hundred people have been summarily killed by the security services while participating in the protests. 

Human Rights Council: 32nd Session

The East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project and CIVICUS welcome this enhanced interactive dialogue with national, regional and international stakeholders on the grave situation in South Sudan.

Mr President, the establishment of a Commission on human rights in South Sudan at the 31st Session of the Council and the appointment of Commissioners last week represent a welcome step towards accountability for the victims of grave human rights violations in Africa’s newest nation. The Commission represents an important opportunity for regional and international cooperation in response to one of the most brutal conflicts happening in the world today.

Human Rights Council: 32nd Session

CIVICUS and Citizens for Democratic Rights in Eritrea welcome the report of the Commission of Inquiry (CoI) on Eritrea. 

We remain deeply concerned by the findings presented in the CoI’s report, including those amounting to crimes against humanity, which indicate that there has been no material improvement in human rights situation on the ground. We note with particular alarm that extensive violations of freedom of expression, assembly and association continue unabated. The absolute and violent repression of all forms of dissent and civil society freedoms in Eritrea is emblematic of the extreme consequences of denying people the right to participate in the development of the state.

CIVICUS on behalf of the Civic Space Initiative  welcomes the High Commissioner’s presentation of its landmark report on protecting and promoting civil society space.

We are seriously concerned by the growing implementation gap between states’ international human rights obligations and commitments, including those set out in HRC Resolution 27/31, and national realities facing civil society. CIVICUS has documented serious human rights violations against civil society in 109 countries in 2015. ICNL has documented 153 restrictive legislative initiatives since 2012. This underscores the urgency of an international response to prevent the closing of civic space.

WILPF has the honour of delivering this statement on behalf of 27 CSOs. We applaud the ambitious and complementary thematic priorities proposed by the Special Rapporteur in her first annual report to the Council and we congratulate her in her appointment. 

We welcome the Special Rapporteur’s attention to: 1) closing the implementation gap on violence against women under the aegis of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and; 2) the use of data as a tool for prevention through the establishment of “femicide watch”.

Joint NGO Oral Statement by Save the Children, CIVICUS and 17 NGOs

A strong, diverse and independent civil society is also a space for children. Children, who constitute more than 30% of the world’s population, have the right to be heard and participate in different spheres of society. Children want to participate in public processes. We need them to speak out to better respond to their situation. Despite this, children’s voices are often marginalized.

To Permanent Representatives of
Members and Observer States of the
UN Human Rights Council

Your Excellency,

We, the undersigned civil society organisations (CSOs), write to express our grave concern about the Eritrean Government’s continued and egregious violations of human rights. We urge your delegation to co-sponsor a resolution renewing the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Eritrea and supporting the establishment of robust accountability mechanisms to facilitate access to justice to the victims of human rights violations and crimes against humanity in Eritrea during the 32nd session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UN HRC).

As the 32nd Session of United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) opened in Geneva on 13 June, Nabeel Rajab, Bahrain's most high profile human rights defender, was arrested after dozens of police officers raided his home at around 5am and confiscated his electronic devices. The day before, Bahraini human rights defenders and victims of violations were prevented from flying to Geneva.

32nd Session of the Human Rights Council

While religious fundamentalism continues to dominate international headlines and many of the proceedings of the Council, we urge all states to acknowledge how various iterations of fundamentalism undermine the realization of human rights, including the right to assembly and association. While less visceral than religious fundamentalism, market, political, cultural and nationalism forms of fundamentalism, must assume greater prominence within discussions at the Council.

CIVICUS welcomes the High Commissioner’s comprehensive update this morning. We share his myriad concerns and laud his continued support for the creation of an enabling environment for civil society at both the Council and nationally.

Mr. President, six out of seven people live in countries where civil society groups and HRDs face substantial challenges in exercising their fundamental rights to freedom of assembly, association and expression. Under the guise of safeguarding state sovereignty, combating terrorism and the preservation of morals, governments in both the Global North and South are adopting regressive legislation and engaging in illicit surveillance, deadly forms of harassment and threats to silence voices of dissent.

CIVICUS welcomes this extraordinary panel on the 10th anniversary of the Council and salutes all its Presidents.

Since its establishment, the Council has emerged as a principled leader in supporting and expanding space for civil society both within its corridors and at the national level. In the last year alone it has adopted several landmark resolutions and reports articulating specific protections for human rights defenders, freedom of assembly and civil society space, while vigilantly protecting NGOs’ right to contribute to each of these initiatives. 

Ethiopia statement banner

Dear President, High Representative, Dear Commissioners,

The Prime Minister of  Ethiopia will be visiting Brussels for the 2016 European Development Days. We urge you to express serious concerns about the Ethiopian Government’s violent repression of the Oromo protests, and its escalating crackdown on human rights defenders, independent media, peaceful protesters, and members of the political opposition under the 2009 Ethiopian Anti-Terrorism Proclamation (ATP). Since December 2015, Ethiopian security forces have routinely used excessive, unnecessary and lethal force to disperse and suppress peaceful protests in the Oromia region. The protesters, who have been advocating against the dispossession of land without adequate compensation under the government’s Integrated Development Master Plan, have been subjected to widespread rights violations. According to international and national human rights groups, at least 200 demonstrators, including children and university students, have been killed during the protests. It is also widely reported that hundreds of people have suffered bullet wounds and beatings by the police and military.

letter to swiss gov

Attention MFA Didier Burkhalter


We, the undersigned, write to you concerning Switzerland’s hosting of the King of Bahrain and his state delegation on Thursday 12 May. Bahrain continues to severely restrict the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly; torture remains systematic; use of the death penalty has increase; and the state is arbitrarily rendering activists and juveniles stateless.

Strenghtening-HRC-at-10-joint-civil-society-paper-1This joint civil society paper has been prepared by 20 leading international, national and regional non governmental organisations, on the occasion of the United Nations Human Rights Council’s 10th Anniversary.

As the HRC enters its 10th anniversary year, this civil society paper details a number of short- and medium-term steps that would enhance its ability to better fulfil its role. Any healthy and functional body should be open to exploring opportunities for self-improvement on a continuing basis.

The 10th anniversary should be not only an occasion for celebrating the achievements of the HRC, but primarily to critically reflect on its shortcomings, and to enhance its impact and effectiveness. It is imperative that civil society is able to participate and contribute fully and substantively to both formal and informal discussions in this regard.

During the 31st Session of the UN Human Rights Council, 29 February – 24 March 2016, CIVICUS and its partners raised a number of pressing country specific and thematic civic space concerns. CIVICUS’ joint and oral statements and advocacy letters provided an important opportunity to urge Members and Observer States of the Council to address persistent and acute restrictions on human rights defenders and civil society. CIVICUS further held a series of joint panel discussions to examine the environment for civil society in several countries and assess emerging global civic space trends.

In advance of the 26th Session of the UN Universal Periodic Review (UPR), CIVICUS has issued six joint and stand-alone UPR submissions on the space for civil society in South Sudan, Syria, Togo, Uganda, Venezuela and Zimbabwe. The submissions, developed in coordination with our members and partners, analyse the legal and policy environment of the rights to freedom of assembly, association and expression and restrictions on the activities of human rights defenders since November 2011. The submissions further provide a number of substantive and targeted recommendations to develop and maintain a safe and enabling environment for civil society in line with their international human rights obligations.

Civil society organisations urge States to reject amendments to Human Rights Council resolution on “the promotion and protection of human rights in the context of peaceful protests” (HRC/31/L.21)

On Syria: CIVICUS sincerely hopes that the mediated peace talks will finally get off the ground and lead to results. However, we are concerned that between the 1st and 11th of March, the Syria Ceasefire Monitor reported over sixty violations, including mortar attacks, airstrikes, barrel bomb attacks, sniper attacks and other attacks on the civilian population that continue to result in the deaths of children and adult civilians. CIVICUS calls on all parties to abide by its provisions and refrain from attacks on the civilian population. We also urge the COI to investigate these ceasefire violations within the scope of its mandate. CIVICUS also repeats our call to the Syrian authorities to immediately release all unlawfully detained civilians, civil society activists, journalists, human rights defenders and prisoners of conscience, to ensure the ‘tracking of missing victims of enforced disappearance and the independent ‘monitoring of places of detention’ as recommended by the COI in its current report.

CIVICUS greatly welcomes the Council’s growing recognition of the crucial role civil society plays in facilitating the full realization of all human rights. In particular, we welcome the Council’s increased attention to the need to protect and promote the right to freedom of assembly to effectively engage with a range of stakeholder on pressing rights issues.

High Commissioner, CIVICUS welcomes your annual report, very rich update this morning and your strong independent voice! We share your concern that a growing number of states are selectively adhering to their international human rights and humanitarian law obligations. We note, in particular, the introduction of a spate of national legislation undermining the rights to freedoms of expression, association, peaceful assembly and participation in public affairs.

Interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders 
Delivered by Pierre Claver Mbonimpa on behalf of the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders, Protection International, and CIVICUS

On behalf of the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project, CIVICUS and Protection International I would like to thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak before this Council once again.

Thank you Mr. President, 

I warmly welcome this important opportunity to address the Council on shrinking space for civil society. My organization has worked for nearly two decades to strengthen citizen action and civil society throughout the world. However, despite the growing recognition of the importance of a vibrant, independent civil society sector, civil society activists and organisations are becoming the target of a concerted global campaign to restrict civic space. Those of us who monitor conditions for civil society show that, in 2015 alone, fundamental freedoms of expression, association and peaceful assembly were significantly violated in over 100 countries.

31st session of the Human Rights Council
Delivered by Renate Bloem

CIVICUS welcomes this timely high-level debate when we move from adoption to implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.


A group of civil society organizations (CSOs) have written to the UN Human Rights Council (UN HRC) to express their concern over the Ethiopian Government’s grave restrictions on fundamental human rights, exemplified by the recent crackdown on largely peaceful protests in the Oromia region.

They call on the delegation of the 31st HRC session to make joint or individual statements reinforcing and building upon the concerns of these and other international bodies.

Read the letter here


CIVICUS and the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project (EHAHRDP) welcome the holding of this Special Session and the Council’s effort to address the escalation of violence and gross violations of human rights in Burundi. 

When: November 23, 2015, 4 - 6pm, followed by a light reception

Where: Right Livelihood Award Geneva Office,Maison de la Paix, Chemin Eugène-Rigot 2E, 1202 Geneva

Organisers: The Right Livelihood Award, The World Future Council, CIVICUS, IBFAN

Register: RSVP before 20 November to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

“The dramatic increase in demand for natural resources has brought with it a plethora of concerns relating to the sustainability of economic growth and its impact on the climate, the environment, and, more generally, on human rights.” – Maina Kiai, UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association, April 2015 report to the UN Human Rights Council

The event will consist of a panel discussion with Laureates of the “Alternative Nobel Prize" on the topic of a human rights based approach to indispensable natural resources.

Pakistan’s new policy to regulate the registration and operations of international non-governmental organisations (INGOs) has been strongly condemned by civil society.

Issued on 1 October 2015, the new rules place substantial burdens on INGOs while subjecting them to debilitating bureaucratic controls including through excessive interference in their activities and limits on placement and retention of staff.

During the 30th Session of the UN Human Rights Council, CIVICUS and its partners raised a number of pressing human rights concerns requiring the Council’s attention. The joint and individual oral statements, panel discussions and advocacy letters underscored a broad range of thematic and country specific violations gravely undermining fundamental civil society rights. CIVICUS further provided recommendations to create a safe and enabling operating environment for human rights defenders and ensure effective accountability for persistent human rights violations.

At the 30th Session of the UN Human Rights Council, CIVICUS presented a number of statements about the operating environment for human rights defenders and civil society groups in Cambodia, Sri Lanka, Somalia and Sudan. In particular, CIVICUS provided insights and recommendations on the security and operating environment for civil society in each of these countries. To read the statements, please see below:

Amidst the war in Yemen, a group of civil society organisations are advocating for the UN Human Rights Council to establish an independent, international mechanism to document violations committed by all parties of the armed conflict in Yemen.

As the government of Bahrain continues to curtail the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly, a group of NGOs has written to the delegations of 18 member states at the UN Human Rights Council urging them to formally condone the human rights violations in Bahrain. In particular the NGOs are urgin g member states to endorse the position of Switzerland who has written a letter to Bahrain calling for reform.

At the 30th Session of the UN Human Rightc Council, CIVICUS urged UN Member States to devise a coordinated response to reprisals against human rights defenders and civil society organisations which range from threats, harassment, smear campaigns, fines, travel bans, the forced closure of organizations, politically motivated prosecutions, arbitrary imprisonment, torture and assassinations.

At the 30th Session of the UN Human Rights Council, CIVICUS expressed its concern with the government of Belarus, which failed to adopt the recommendations made at its last Universal Periodic Review in 2011. Since then, the human rights conditions have deteriorated and the government deploys repressive practices such as arbitrary detentions, enforced disappearances, abductions and continued harassment of human rights defenders.

At the 30th session of the UN Human Rights Council, CIVICUS drew attention to a set of countries that regularly attack and undermine the rights of civil society. The key case studies were as follows:

In advance of the 25th Session of the UN Universal Periodic Review (UPR), CIVICUS and its partners have made five submissions on the rights to freedom of assembly, association, expression and the environment for human rights defenders in Hungary, Sudan, Swaziland, Tanzania, and Thailand. The submissions further provide a number of recommendations to the State under Review (SuR) to create and maintain a safe and enabling environment for civil society.

In a new report released today, “Enhancing the effectiveness of the UN Universal Periodic Review: A civil society perspective,” CIVICUS examines the experiences of civil society groups from across the world in engaging with the Universal Periodic Review (UPR). The report, based on interviews with civil society leaders operating in diverse regions of the globe, provides a number of substantive recommendations to strengthen the UPR process to support the creation of a safe and enabling environment for civil society to promote and protect human rights.

Cambodia letter signatories

Geneva, 20 August 2015,

Re: Addressing the deteriorating human rights situation in Cambodia and ensuring that the United Nations retains its protection role and monitoring capacity in the country 

Your Excellency, 

We urge your delegation to address the deteriorating human rights situation in Cambodia by supporting a resolution, at the 30th regular session of the UN Human Rights Council (14 September-2 October 2015), that highlights patterns of serious violations and calls on the Cambodian Government to put an end to such violations and to abide by its domestic and international legal obligations. The resolution should also extend the mandate of the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia.

CIVICS along with 11 other civil society organisations have sent a letter to the permanent representatives of Member and Observer states of the UN Human Rights Council to adopt a resolution to address the human rights situation in Bahrain. There is particular concern over the Government of Bahrain´s continued repression of dissenting voices, including through the arbitrary detentions of high-profile opposition activists and human rights defenders. 

During the 29th Session of the UN Human Rights Council (15 June - 3 July 2015), CIVICUS made a number of joint and individual interventions to highlight restrictions on civil society space. The interventions, including 9 parallel side events and 10 oral statements, underscored pressing thematic and country specific concerns on the rights to freedom of assembly, association and expression and persecution of human rights defenders, which require the Council’s attention.



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