7 May 2015
H.E. Sar Kheng
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Interior
Ministry of Interior,
275 Norodom Blvd,
Phnom Penh, Kingdom of Cambodia
We the undersigned international and regional civil society organizations write to express our deep concern about provisions of the proposed Law on Associations, and Non-Governmental Organizations (LANGO). If adopted in its current form, the draft would place undue restrictions on the legitimate exercise of the right to freedom of association and undermine laudable steps taken to actualize democratic reforms in the country. We urge your government to consult with a wide spectrum of civil society stakeholders to ensure that the draft corresponds to Cambodia’s constitutional and international human rights commitments.
Savaş Metin, the General Secretary of Kimse Yok Mu Association (KYM) in Turkey, speaks to CIVICUS about the ongoing judicial harassment of their organization and the Turkish government’s systematic crackdown on Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) in Turkey.
1) How would you describe the overall operating environment for CSOs in Turkey? Can you please elaborate on current main challenges?
The number of civil society organizations has significantly increased in Turkey since the 2000s due to a series of legal reforms in line with EU accession plans and growing awareness of the role of CSOs in the democratization processes and in addressing humanitarian challenges. However, over the past few years there has been a backlash against many of the reforms which aimed to create a more enabling environment for CSOs. Sadly, the operating environment for CSOs has shrunk dramatically.
It must be noted that the current legal framework regulating fundraising activities for CSOs imposes a number of debilitating requirements through Law No. 2860: The Law on Collection of Aid. It is not clear to us why Turkey needs such a heavy handed legal framework for collecting donations when there is already the Turkish Penal Code that can be used to punish individuals who illegally utilize funds.
Abdel-Rahman El Mahdi, Director of the Sudanese Development Initiative (SUDIA), speaks to CIVICUS about escalating restrictions on civil society and the prospect of engaging in a multi-stakeholder national dialogue to address pressing human rights issues in Sudan.
Global civil society alliance, CIVICUS, expresses grave concern over the arbitrary suspension of fundamental civil liberties and the targeted judicial persecution of persons arrested for participating in ongoing demonstrations in Baltimore, USA.
“The decision to prolong pre-trial detention and the imposition of exorbitant bail on protestors in Baltimore is a blatant manipulation of the right to liberty enshrined in national and international law,” said Tor Hodenfield, Policy and Research Officer at CIVICUS. “The destruction of property during the largely peaceful protests does not give the authorities carte blanche to undermine the rights of its citizens.”
Intimidation Undermines Independent Oversight
Venezuela is intimidating and harassing human rights defenders, and making unsubstantiated allegations that they are seeking to undermine Venezuelan democracy, 28 international and Latin American human rights organizations said today. The authorities’ allegations concern the groups’ legitimate functions of documenting abuses and representing victims before international human rights bodies.
Venezuelan authorities should cease this tactic immediately, the groups said. Governments participating in the Summit of the Americas in Panama on April 10-11, 2015, should press the administration of Nicolás Maduro to ensure that human rights defenders can do their job without fear of reprisals, the organizations said.
The government harassment is clearly intended to discredit and intimidate groups that document human rights violations, the groups said.
1 April 2015. Global civil society alliance, CIVICUS has boldly declared that the space for citizens and organisations to speak out, organise and take action is finally expanding and is no longer going to be a world-wide problem. CIVICUS’ analysis is based on several recent positive developments. A number of states have issued synchronised statements to indicate “a new era of engagement” on civic space.
The governments of Uganda and Nigeria in their joint statement released last week termed persecution of the LGBTI community and CSOs promoting their rights as wrong. “This is a clear case of discrimination. Just as we oppose the discrimination of anyone on the basis of ethnicity, sex, place of birth, economic status or religion, we opposed the discrimination of human beings just because they are born gay,” said the joint statement.
On March 4, 2015, the FATF Secretariat shared a section of the draft Best Practice Paper on Combating the Abuse of Non-Profit Organisation (BPP), requesting input from non-profit organizations (NPOs) to be submitted before the consultation on March 25 or by April 10. Input is requested on self-regulation and due diligence practices and on limited sections of the BPP, mainly those that target NPOs.
We welcome FATF’s approach to consult the sector. We wish to ensure that there is wide and meaningful consultation as possible on the whole paper, especially grassroots service organizations, which are more difficult to reach.
CIVICUS secretary general Danny Sriskandarajah, together with the leaders of ActionAid (Adriano Campolina), AWID (Lydia Alpízar Durán), Greenpeace (Kumi Naidoo) and Oxfam (Winnie Byanyima), have made a joint call for unity against the 1% ahead of the World Social Forum in Tunis.
The widening gap and imbalance of power between the richest and the rest is warping the rules and policies that affect all of us in society, creating a vicious circle of ever growing and harmful undue influence. Global efforts to end poverty and marginalisation, advance women’s rights, defend the environment, protect human rights, and promote fair and dignified employment are all being undermined as a consequence of the concentration of wealth and power in the hands of a few. Decisions are being shaped in the narrow interests of the richest, at the expense of the people as a whole. The economic, ecological and human rights crises we face are intertwined and reinforcing. The influence of the 1% has increased, is increasing, and ought to be diminished.
Faced with this challenge, we need to go beyond tinkering, and address the structural causes of inequality: we cannot rely on technological fixes – there is no app for this; we cannot rely on the market – unchecked it will worsen inequality and climate change; and we cannot rely on the global elites – left alone they will continue to reinforce the structures and approaches that have led to where we are. As the Rustlers Valley letter to civil society leaders noted, civil society organisations need to be bold in building from below. We need to help strengthen the power of the people to challenge the people with power.
Ravi Nitesh of the Save Sharmila Solidarity Campaign (SSSC) speaks to CIVICUS about the vicious cycle of judicial harassment Manipuri activist Irom Sharmila faces merely due to her peaceful resistance to India’s draconian Armed Forces Special Powers Act of 1958, (AFSPA).
1. Can you tell us what AFSPA is, and how it has affected civic freedoms in India?
AFSPA is a special law passed by the Indian Parliament in 1958. It provides extraordinary powers to the armed forces in 'disturbed areas'. Currently, AFSPA is predominantly exercised in Jammu and Kashmir but is imposed in all 8 states of northeastern India except Sikkim.
AFSPA has not only negatively affected civic freedoms, but has also resulted in large scale, grave human rights violations, and has been detrimental to democracy in North East India. Of critical concern are the overly broad and extraordinary powers granted to security officials through AFSPA including the right to kill on mere suspicion of a disturbance of “public order”. Moreover, AFSPA grants impunity to armed forces as no charges can be brought against any security personal without the approval of the central government.
Over the past years, human rights organisations have documented incidents of murder, rape, looting, custodial killings and enforced disappearances by India’s security forces involved in counter-insurgency operations. Unfortunately, our understanding is that the judicial system as well as the security apparatus of the state is very well aware of the violations committed under AFSPA, but fail to undertake the necessary measures to address ongoing violations. The lack of accountability with the use of excessive force under AFSPA by security forces remains a glaring problem.
AFSPA is spreading a culture of fear and intimidation in North-East India, and its psychological affects on the local community are injurious. The presence of AFSPA is a major obstacle to expressing dissent, as a lot of human rights defenders are afraid of losing their life if they are engaged in any kind of advocacy calling for the repeal of the law.
CIVICUS has submitted recommendations on Ireland's national plan to implement UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. In the submission, CIVICUS argues that civil society should play a central role in implementing and monitoring the plan. CIVICUS also urged Ireland to be proactive in holding companies to account for abuses committed outside its territory. In addition, Ireland must also ensure that effective judicial remedies are available to victims of human rights abuses, while at the same time strengthening regulation of business operations through Irish law.
Download the recommendations here.
Ahead of the 28th Session of the UN Human Rights Council (UN HRC), 11 human rights organisations are calling upon the intergovernmental body to address Azerbaijan's rapidly deteriorating environment for human rights defenders (HRDs), civil society organisations (CSOs) and independent media.
Hussein Magdy of the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms (ECRF) speaks to CIVICUS about how Egyptian civil society is dismayed at the ongoing crackdown on fundamental freedoms which are guaranteed by Egypt’s national and international human rights obligations.
1. Given the intensified crackdown on peaceful dissent in Egypt, what are some current challenges faced by Egyptian civil society organisations (CSOs) and human rights defenders (HRDs) today?
Currently the overall operating environment for civil society in Egypt is dire. The current regime exercises full control over political liberties enjoyed in the public sphere and orchestrates an intensified crackdown on CSOs and HRDs. The authorities have institutionalized arbitrary restrictions on civil society operations by proposing legal provisions that contradict Egypt’s international human rights obligations. In the past months there have also been a considerable number of cases where authorities have threatened to close down CSOs. They have also issued harsh prison sentences and pecuniary fines on HRDs for their peaceful advocacy activities. In its current state, it is fair to say that Egyptian civil society is going through a severe human rights crisis.
Soliyana Gebremichael, founding member of the Zone9 bloggers collective and Coordinator of the Ethiopian Human Right Project, speaks to CIVICUS about the Ethiopian government's ongoing persecution of civil society and independent media in the run-up to general elections scheduled for May 2015.
1) Six members of the Zone9 Bloggers collective were imprisoned last April. Can you tell us why you believe they were arrested and share any recent developments in the case?
With nearly 20 journalists behind bars, Ethiopia maintains one of the most repressive environments in the world for freedom of expression. The arrest of six Zone9 Bloggers and three journalists in April 2014 is unquestionably symptomatic of the government’s growing intolerance of dissenting voices in the run-up to general elections scheduled for May 2015. Zone9, which was established nearly three years ago by a group of young, concerned activists in Ethiopia, was targeted in large part because we were mobilizing youth online to demand the rights endowed to us under the constitution.
During our first year, we operated largely unencumbered. However, the year preceding the arrest of the Zone9 bloggers was marked by routine harassment, including online surveillance and active monitoring and intimidation by security officers.
Since International Civil Society Week (2014) was such a big success with more than 40 partner-led workshops and more than 630 inspired participants, CIVICUS is excited to continue the conference's legacy by convening the next International Civil Society Week (2016) in Latin America. To begin planning the conference, CIVICUS is seeking a local host partner which can help organise this global affair.
CIVICUS speaks to Ms. Chak Sopheap, Executive Director of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR), about ongoing restrictions on civil society organizations and human rights defenders in Cambodia since general elections held in 2013.
1. Following contested general elections in July 2013 the government appeared to escalate repression of critical voices. How would you describe the overall environment for independent civil society in Cambodia today?
The overall environment for civil society in Cambodia remains critical, especially for grassroots organizations that work in the provinces. Throughout Cambodia, NGO representatives, human rights defenders and other activists continue to be threatened and harassed by local authorities and private security guards as a result of their work. Judicial harassment, including through the misuse of criminal charges as well as the abuse of provisional detention, also remains a serious concern and a challenge for independent civil society in Cambodia.
Interview with Mireille Delmas-Marty, Emeritus Professor at Collège de France
This interview seeks to comment on the innovating potential of local democratic practices presented in the CIVICUS- FACTS Report on “Stories of Innovative Democracy at Local Level: Enhancing Participation, Activism and Social Change Across the World". Ms Delmas-Marty shares her analysis of the current governance system, including at the global level, and her vision of a global citizenship.
15 January 2015 – This week, 16 human rights organisations have written to 47 States to express grave concern ahead of a 20 January verdict in the trial of Nabeel Rajab, a prominent Bahraini human rights defender.
Additionally, Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain, The Bahrain Center for Human Rights and The Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy sent letters to United Nations officials and Members of Parliament in all 47 States urging them to publicly call on the Government of Bahrain to drop all charges against Rajab.
On 1 October 2014, Rajab reported to the Cyber Crimes Unit of Bahrain’s General Directorate of Criminal Investigations (CID) after being summoned for questioning. Following hours of interrogation in relation to a tweet he published while abroad, Rajab was arrested. The tweet read: “Many #Bahrain men who joined #terrorism & #ISIS came from security institutions and those institutions were the first ideological incubator.”
Almost a billion lives hang in the balance at crucial summits in New York & Paris
Famous names back one of the biggest campaigns ever launched
New figures show poverty could increase for the first time in a generation
According to new research, almost a billion extra people face a life of extreme poverty if leaders duck key decisions on poverty, inequality and climate change due to be taken at two crucial summits in New York and Paris later this year, with billions more continuing to face a life of hardship.
5 December 2014: Global civil society alliance, CIVICUS, is dismayed over the politically motivated sentences handed down this week to Bahraini human rights activists Maryam al-Khawaja and Zainab al-Khawaja. CIVICUS urges the government of Bahrain to end its relentless campaign to silence dissent in the country and release all human rights defenders imprisoned for exercising their legitimate democratic rights.
4 December 2014: In response to the UN Secretary General's highly anticipated post-2015 synthesis report 'The road to dignity by 2030: ending poverty, transforming all lives and protecting the planet', CIVICUS issued the following statement:
On 22 November 2014, Bahrain’s citizens will be called to cast their votes for legislative and municipal elections. The elections will be the first to take place since the people of Bahrain took to the streets and squares of the Kingdom in February and March 2011, demanding more openness in the political process and sustained reform to enlarge the space for freedoms and rights enjoyed by Bahraini citizens. Since then, the government of Bahrain has violently repressed any attempt to denounce the human right situation in the country and thwarted any attempt to establish a meaningful and inclusive political dialogue with the opposition. Peaceful protesters, human rights defenders and democracy advocates continue to face extra-judicial detentions, imprisonment, ill treatment and torture in detention centres.
Turgut Gambar, founding member of NIDA Civic Movement, speaks to CIVICUS about the growing restrictions on civil society in Azerbaijan and the government’s ongoing judicial harassment of activists. NIDA supports democraticisation through non-violent means and is comprised of 400 members, many of whom are young individuals. Recently, nine members of NIDA were arrested on politically motivated charges.
The crackdown on independent dissent and human rights activism appears to have escalated in Azerbaijan in recent months. Can you give us a brief overview of the recent legislative and extra-legal restrictions imposed on activists and civil society in the country?
The human rights situation in Azerbaijan has been problematic since the current regime came to power in the country in 2003. But the latest crackdown, which began in 2013 and has dramatically escalated in recent months, has been unprecedented in its magnitude and scope. Scores of people from different politically and socially active groups, including youth activists, political party leaders and members, NGO leaders, religious activists, journalists and bloggers have been subject to imprisonment and harassment. In addition to the escalating persecution of activists, the authorities have also adopted a number of restrictive laws to regulate the activities of NGOs.
The upcoming Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Egypt on 5 November 2014 comes at a critical time for human rights, freedoms and independent Egyptian civil society, including rights defenders and democracy activists. As a group of organizations which have documented and spoken out against human rights violations in Egypt, we are urging your Government to use the UPR as an opportunity to challenge the authorities’ crackdown.
20 October 2014. CIVICUS is deeply worried about attacks on peaceful demonstrators in Hong Kong. Police have ramped up their efforts to disperse pro-democracy demonstrators calling for universal voting rights and an open ballot to elect Hong Kong’s chief executive in 2017.
Over the weekend, from 17- 19 October, more than 200 protesting citizens were injured in police raids on the camps of demonstrators. At least 30 demonstrators were arrested and face a wide-range of questionable charges ranging from damaging property, disorderly conduct, weapons possession and resisting arrest.
Even with a large majority of Hong Kong citizens calling for open and transparent elections, the Chinese government is unwilling to implement democratic reforms and is blaming a so called ‘third-force’ for instigating the protests. As the protests move into its fourth week, law enforcement agencies have begun using excessive force to try and silence law abiding citizens.
Qamar Naseem of the Pakhtunkhwa Civil Society Network (PCSN) speaks to CIVICUS about growing restrictions imposed on civil society organisations and the Pakistani government’s attempts to curb access to funding from international sources. Qamar is the recipient of the prestigious ‘No Peace without Justice’ Human Rights Award in 2014 and his work mostly focuses on advocating for women’s rights in Pakistan. He is also the co-chair of End Violence against Women and Girl Alliance (EVAW/KP and FATA).
1. Tell us about the controversial draft Foreign Contribution Act, 2014. How will its enactment affect civil society organizations in Pakistan?
In February 2014, The Economic Coordination Committee (ECC) issued the draft Foreign Contributions Act, 2014 (FCA) under the chairmanship of the Federal Minister for Science and Technology, Mr. Zahid Hamid. If enacted, the FCA will require CSOs to obtain prior government permission to utilize foreign funding. The proposed law will also require CSOs to use foreign funding only for the purposes or in locations permitted by the government.
Even though FCA is pending parliamentary review, in the interim the “Policy for Regulation of Organizations Receiving Foreign Contributions” approved by the ECC in November 2013 regulates and severely restricts the ability to seek, receive and utilize foreign funding.
9 October 2014. The undersigned more than 100 organisations call for the immediate and unconditional release of detained human rights defender Nabeel Rajab, arrested on 1 October 2014 in Bahrain.
Nabeel Rajab, the President of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), Director of the Gulf Center for Human Rights (GCHR) and Deputy Secretary General of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), was summoned on 1 October 2014 to attend an investigation at the Criminal Investigation Directorate, specifically the General Directorate of Anti-corruption and Economic and Electronic Security. The investigation session lasted about 45 minutes and focused on two tweets that the authorities claim have offended the Ministry of Interior.
One tweet, from 28 September 2014, said: “many #Bahrain men who joined #terrorism & #ISIS have come from the security institutions and those institutions were the first ideological incubator.”
Pro-democracy protests continue in Hong Kong as protesters remain steadfast in their calls for fair and transparent elections of the Chief Executive and for China to stop meddling in the political affairs and electoral processes. Ahead of planned talks between protesters and government representatives scheduled for Friday 10 October, CIVICUS interviews a human rights activist resident in Hong Kong who provides an insider’s view of the dynamics of the protests and response of the authorities. The activist chooses to remain anonymous because of the delicate state of human rights and out of concern for possible reprisals from the Chinese authorities.
1) What triggered the recent pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong and what at the key demands of the protesters?
The Hong Kong “Occupy Central” campaign is a Hong Kong people’s movement which calls for transparent and fair elections of the Chief Executive through universal suffrage without any censorship of candidates in 2017. On August 31, 2014, however, the Standing Committee of the People’s Congress of China placed restrictions to deprive democrats from being nominated in an open and transparent manner for the Chief Executive position when elections are held in 2017.
The legal, regulatory, and policy environment in which Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) operate is key to their ability to register, operate, access resources, and effectively engage in advocacy, all of which are key to civil society’s ability to flourish and be successful. Moreover, the laws and regulations that govern CSOs and the ways in which they are implemented, which form part of civil society’s enabling environment, potentially shape a host of other significant factors as well: a CSO’s ability to communicate and associate with others, to engage in peaceful assembly, to seek tax exemptions, to engage in philanthropy, and to access information. All of these factors, as well as the relationship between CSOs and their government, help to define the nature of civil society’s enabling environment within a particular country. Importantly, these factors, when taken together, significantly affect the public’s receptivity, the lifeblood of a well-functioning civil society, to the important work performed by CSOs.
"We write to you as the Post-2015 Human Rights Caucus, a cross-constituency coalition of development, environment, trade union, feminist and human rights organizations worldwide. We welcome your efforts to involve civil society in the important discussions about the future development agenda. This is a generational opportunity to ensure that the international community is progressing towards a sustainable future for people and planet, and we encourage your offices to ensure that people’s voices are heard in these deliberations..." Read more
CIVICUS and a number of national and international civil society groups have urged the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group to ensure that the Government of Sri Lanka upholds Commonwealth values on democracy and human rights.
Their joint submission makes a number of recommendations and highlights recent cases of attacks on human rights defenders, encroachments on civil society space, threats to journalists, and pervasive military control over the civilian administration in areas inhabited by the Tamil minority.
Verdict Scheduled in Charges Before Anti-Terrorism Court
Geneva, September 5, 2014. The Syrian government should immediately and unconditionally release the arbitrarily detained human rights defender Mazen Darwish and his colleagues Hani Al-Zitani and Hussein Ghareer, 79 organizations said today. The Syrian Anti-Terrorism Court is expected to issue its verdict on September 24, 2014 in their trial for “publicizing terrorist acts.”
Darwish is the director of the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM). Syrian Air Force Intelligence arrested the three men and other colleagues during a raid on the group’s office, in Damascus on February 16, 2012. The three men have been on trial before the Anti-Terrorism Court on charges of “publicizing terrorist acts” under article 8 of the country’s 2012 Anti-Terrorism Law. The charges are based on their peaceful activities that include monitoring and publishing information about human rights abuses in Syria.
Prominent Bangladeshi civil society activist and Secretary of Odhikar, Adilur Rahman Khan, speaks to CIVICUS about growing restriction on civil society in Bangladesh and his continued judicial harassment under the Cyber Crimes Tribunal.
1. Today marks one year since you and your colleague Mr ASM Nasiruddin Elan were charged with violating the widely contested Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Act. Can you tell us why you believe these charges were brought against you and where the case stands today?
On June 11th 2013, our organisation Odhikar published a fact finding report documenting the violent crackdown on demonstrators by government forces which began in the capital, Dhaka at 2:00am on May 5th 2013. After this ‘operation’ the government only reported 11 fatal casualties during the two day demonstration.
Odhikar carried out its own fact finding mission after the incident and documented 61 deaths. When the Ministry of Information requested the names and addresses of the families of those killed, Odhikar, fearing state reprisals against the victims’ families, committed only to providing the list to an independent commission set up by the government to investigate the use of violence during the protests. The Ministry, however, did not respond to Odhikar’s request. At 10:20 pm on the night of August 10, 2013, I was picked up by men outside my home claiming to be from the Detective Branch of Police (DB) but they did not produce any identification or a warrant. Later, at the Detective Branches’ office, I was questioned about the fact-finding report, the list of deceased victims and Odhikar’s human rights defenders. I was sent to Kashimpur Jail-1 from DB remand on 13 August 2013, while my colleague Elan was sent to Kashimpur Jail-2 after he surrendered before the court in November 2013.
The representatives of international human rights organisations write to urge the Bahrain government to comply with its international treaty obligations to provide victims of torture with physical and psychological rehabilitation. In particular, they urge the Bahrain government to allow and facilitate an independent assessment of the therapeutic needs of all persons who were mistreated during their detention by the Bahraini authorities, as confirmed by the findings of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI).
Veronika Mora, of the Okotars Foundation( Hungarian Environmental Partnership Foundation) speaks to CIVICUS about the Orban government’s clampdown on Hungarian civil society and their sources of funding.
1. What precipitated the recent challenges for civil society in Hungary?
The government of Prime Minister Viktor Orban has been steadily increasing its influence over media and civil society since 2010. In particular the government has been attempting to control sources of funding and has made a number of changes to the funding arrangements from the Norwegian funds. Earlier, 9 strands of funding within the mechanism were delivered by the Hungarian National Development Agency, but since early 2014 the government unilaterally shifted these funds to a new agency without prior consultation with the donor governments (besides Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein).
Following the most recent election in April 2014, the government moved to challenge the Norwegian donor on the NGO Fund and wrote a letter to the Norwegian Government claiming that the NGO Fund was being used to support opposition political groups; and called for a re-negotiation of the bilateral Memorandum of Understanding.
20 August 2014. Global civil society alliance, CIVICUS, strongly condemns the continued denial of basic democratic freedoms by the military junta in Thailand and calls on the military to immediately remove unwarranted restrictions on civil society and the independent media.
Since the May 22 coup, the military junta led by the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) has overseen the wholesale suspension of fundamental civil liberties in an attempt to stifle criticism and popular protest. The NCPO’s continued invocation of overbroad legislation to criminalize dissent represents a severe breach of international human rights law.
Judicial persecution of human rights defenders
Despite firm constitutional protections against arbitrary detention, the NCPO has invoked restrictive legislation to endow the military with excessive powers to imprison human rights defenders and peaceful dissidents.
Under the 1949 Martial Law Act brought into force two days prior to the coup, the military is permitted to arrest and detain individuals without charge for up to seven days. Moreover, under an order issued by the NCPO on 25 May, military courts are authorized to oversee a number of crimes which previously fell under the jurisdiction of civilian courts. These include offences under the Criminal Code and those related to national security and sedition.
14 August 2014. The use of excessive force and arbitrary arrest of peaceful demonstrators and journalists in Ferguson, Missouri, USA, represents a severe breach of the right to freedom of assembly says global civil society alliance, CIVICUS.
“The authorities have a responsibility to protect and facilitate the right to peaceful assembly,” said Tor Hodenfield, Policy and Advocacy Officer at CIVICUS. “However, police in Ferguson have actively sought to undermine the ongoing protests in an apparent attempt to quash independent dissent.”
Over 50 people have been arrested and numerous others injured since peaceful demonstrations began on 11 August in Ferguson, Missouri, a suburb of the state capital, St. Louis. The protests stem from the fatal shooting of an unarmed African- American teenager, Michael Brown, by police officers on Saturday, 10 August. Protestors are calling for greater accountability for the shooting, including the immediate disclosure of the identity of the officer responsible.
Professor Mohammed Ismail of the Pakistan NGOs Forum (PNF Pakistan), speaks to CIVICUS about the overall operating environment of civil society in Pakistan and the recent bills which severely curb civic space.
1. How would you describe the overall operating environment of civil society in Pakistan? Have you observed a noticeable shift in policy regarding the protection of HRDs and promotion of civil society space since PM Nawaz Sharif assumed office in June 2013.
Public perception about CSOs and their role changed with natural disasters of the past decade. Earthquakes, floods and the inevitable displacement of thousands of people necessitated a humanitarian response from CSOs, but also resulted in corrupt relations between CSOs and government agencies. With time, the government also tightened its control over CSOs, and organizations that advocate the protection of fundamental human rights were adversely affected.
Pakistani CSOs extensively cooperated with lawyers to restore judicial independence. Unfortunately, CSOs failed to take collective action to address pressing issues in Pakistan. Today, many NGOs and networks risk become irrelevant.
Nawaz Sharif’s neoliberal policies aim to increase industrial growth and attract foreign investment. While doing so Sharif fails to create space for a vibrant civil society in Pakistan. Nawaz Sharif enacted numerous laws which restrict civic space since he came to power in 2013.
Right wing policies of Sharif’s government and his favorable stand against Islamic fundamentalists are encouraging him to take actions that oppress civil society in Pakistan. Imran Khan is also providing space for religious extremists and the Taliban in the Province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, where his party is in power.
Islamic fundamentalists are threating civic space as they continuously attack human rights defenders (HRDs). Many HRDs relocated to Islamabad from Peshawar as they feared their lives were under threat. International award-winning women rights activists Malala Yousafzai was not acknowledged by the Pakistani government; however NGOs from various political backgrounds gathered and paid their tributes to her. Malala was subject to a smear campaign in the social and electronic media where she was accused of being a “Jewish spy” and a “Western agent” attempting to destroy Pakistan and Islam. There is no doubt that the civic space for CSOs and HRDs are shrinking.
Mark Heywood is the Executive Director of SECTION27 and a national executive member of the Treatment Action Campaign, an activist movement formed in 1998 that fights for the rights of people living with HIV (PWAs). The organisation also works toward improving the country’s health system. Both organisations are based in South Africa.
Q: You head an organisation called SECTION27. Can you tell us about its work and mandate?
A: SECTION27 - named after section 27 of the South African Constitution - is a public interest law centre that seeks to influence, develop and use the law to protect and advance human rights. The organisation focuses on five work areas: the right to health; implementation of the National Strategic Plan on HIV, Sexually Transmitted Infections and TB; the right to basic education; the right to food and accountability and good governance. We firmly believe that the Constitution is the framework to achieving a just and equitable society with accountability and transparency.
SECTION27 was established in 2010 after it became apparent that its predecessor, the AIDS Law Project needed to broaden its scope and deal not only with human rights in relation to HIV but also with rights to health, education and its social determinants as well.
31 July 2014 – Global civil society alliance, CIVICUS is shocked over moves in Sri Lanka to stifle civil society and muzzle democratic freedoms, particularly the rights to freely express, associate and assemble.
“With the political opposition effectively marginalised in Sri Lanka, civil society is thus the only alternative source of objective analysis of government policies and practices. But activists and independent civil society organisations are being targeted on an unprecedented scale,” said David Kode, Policy and Research Officer at CIVICUS.
On 1 July 2014, the National Secretariat for NGOs which operates under the Ministry of Defence and Urban Development issued a circular calling on NGOs to desist from “conducting press conferences, workshops, trainings for journalists and dissemination of press releases.” Indicative of Sri Lankan authorities’ intolerance of dissent, these activities are now being regarded as “unauthorised” and “beyond the mandate” of NGOs.
Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn
Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia
Office of the Prime Minister
P.O. Box 1031
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
24 July 2014
Re: Detained Journalists and Bloggers
Dear Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn,
We write to you to express our grave concern regarding the terrorism charges laid against seven bloggers associated with the “Zone 9” website and three independent journalists in Ethiopia. Ethiopia is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights—which both expressly protect the right to freedom of expression. We therefore urge your government to fulfill its obligations under international law and release all individuals who have been arbitrarily detained in violation of their fundamental rights.
As you may be aware, six of the bloggers (Zelalem Kibret, Atnaf Berahane, Natnael Feleke, Mahlet Fantahun, Befeqadu Hailu, and Abel Wabela) and the three journalists (Tesfalem Waldyes, Asmamaw Hailegeorgis, and Edom Kassaye) were arrested in late April, shortly after it was announced that the Zone 9 website would resume its activities after suspending operations because of increasing harassment and surveillance. All nine detainees were subsequently held for nearly three months before any specific allegations were presented or formal charges filed against them. Most concerning, however, are reports that some of the detainees have complained of serious mistreatment by investigators and that defense lawyers and their clients have been excluded from some of the proceedings.
16 July 2014, London – A group of 29 NGOs have sent a letter to the newly appointed Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Phillip Hammond, urging a shift in UK policy towards the situation in Bahrain.
The letter calls for a ‘fresh’ approach to be adopted by the new Foreign Secretary in light of the FCO’s failure to heed a Foreign Affairs Committee recommendation that the U.K. should “designate Bahrain as a country of concern” in its 2014 human rights report if the situation had not improved by the start of this year. Despite this recommendation, the FCO subsequently failed to acknowledge Bahrain as a country of concern, and instead, listed it as a “case study” praising specific areas of reform.
The letter highlights the inconsistencies in UK policy towards Bahrain in recent years, specifically referencing recent statements made by the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Juan Mendez, who claimed that the human rights situation in Bahrain is a situation of “grave concern” and that recommendations made by the 2011 report of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry are in a “state of non-implementation”.
Laurent Munyandilikirwa, former president of Rwandan CSO, LIPRODHOR, speaks to CIVICUS about the state of civil society in Rwanda and the government’s continued targeted harassment of LIPRODHOR.
1. At the 26th Session of the UN Human Rights Council, CIVICUS co-hosted an event which examined the growing restrictions on civil society in East Africa. Can you tell us a bit about the main challenges faced by civil society in Rwanda?
Although Rwanda has ratified the ICCPR and the ICESCR and the Rwandan Constitution enshrines the principles essential to creating an enabling environment for civil society including the rights to expression, assembly and association, independent civil society groups continues to be subjected to unjust restrictions. While the principles of human rights and fundamental freedoms are guaranteed in the constitution, the government is simultaneously attempting to silence the very people working on the implementation of these rights.
The government restricts the work of CSOs through a number of legal obstacles including overly bureaucratic registration processes, unwarranted limitations on financial funding, and laws permitting excessive and broad interception of information and communication. Such laws hugely impact the daily activities and operations of civil society organisations, in particular those working on civil and political rights. As a result of these and other extra-legal measures, civil society organizations in Rwanda have been forced into a downward spiral: the increasing control exerted over them by the government increases their overhead expenses while it decreases their access to funding, which in turn diminishes their ability to execute projects that attract new financial support. If this continues in the long term, the survival of independent human rights organisations in Rwanda is looking increasingly doubtful.
We, the undersigned civil society organizations from Brazil, India and South Africa, call upon our governments to ensure that the Fortaleza Declaration addresses the following issues: 1) the Syrian crisis and the urgent need to secure greater humanitarian aid; 2) the Implementation of the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT); and 3) the role of civil society in BRICS agenda setting. We support and encourage our countries’ collective commitment to promote and protect human rights worldwide, including at the upcoming Sixth BRICS Summit to be held in Brazil from 14 to 16 July 2014.
Today, 26 June 2014, the Cambodian Center for Human Rights (“CCHR”) and CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance, condemn the Royal Government of Cambodia’s (the “RGC”) decision to reject key recommendations on the human rights situation in the Kingdom of Cambodia put forward by United Nations member States during Cambodia’s 2nd Universal Periodic Review (the “UPR”).
While CCHR and CIVICUS commend the RGC for its acceptance of the majority of the recommendations, they are seriously disappointed by its refusal to accept recommendations mainly relating to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, which are fundamental in improving the current human rights situation.
The UPR is a process by which all UN member States undergo a review of their human rights record. The UPR occurs every four years, and Cambodia completed its second review at the beginning of this year. A total of 206 recommendations were made to the Cambodian delegation. 164 enjoy the support of the RGC. However, the RGC today chose to take note of 38 recommendations, meaning it has not committed to implementing them, and to reject four.
In light of the ongoing threats faced by civil society activists, journalists and ordinary citizens in Egypt from state and non-state actors, CIVICUS interviews Amal Elmohandes, Director of the Women Human Rights Defenders Program at Nasra for Feminist Studies, to get a better understanding on the current situation.
1) What is the current state of human rights and particularly Women Human Rights Defenders (WHRDs) in Egypt?
The current human rights situation in Egypt is pretty dismal. However, violations targeting WHRDs and women in the public space have been systematic and uniform throughout the different governments in the past three and a half years. These atrocities have been prevalent during the rule of the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF), during President Mohammad Morsi’s tenure, and during the reign of the interim government that preceded the election of the new Egyptian president in May 2014. Sexual violence has been carried out by both state and non-state actors, including threats of rape, sexual assault and physical beating. In December 2013 a case of oral rape was well documented and other cases of sexual assaults and gang rapes took place in Tahrir Square and its vicinity. 3 cases of sexual assault were reported in June 2012, 19 in November 2012 and 24 in January 2013. Between 28 June and 7 July 2013 186 cases of sexual violence against women were reported and 3 cases documented on 25 January 2014. One of these was broadcast live on television. In addition, tens of mob-sexual assaults and gang rapes took place during the June 3-8 celebrations marking the election of Egypt’s new president.
Introducing two new practical guides for good advocacy
Thursday 12 June 2014
Webinar [in English]: 10am (EDT- New York) / 3pm (BST- London)
Webinar [in French]: 10am (CEST- Central Europe) / 10am (CAT- Central Africa)
Thursday 19 June 2014
Webinar [in Spanish]: 4pm UTC+2
SD2015 has produced an Advocacy Toolkit and Media Guide for civil society and other stakeholder organisations, coalitions and individuals that want to influence the post-2015 development agenda, including the sustainable development goals (SDGs).
Representatives from CIVICUS and Stakeholder Forum will introduce these two new publications and walk you through how to use this information and the guiding activities to develop an effective advocacy strategy that will help you and your organisation shape the post-2015 agenda.
There will be time at the end of the webinar for Q&A and sharing of post-2015 advocacy experiences, with reflections on approaches that have worked well and practical advice on lessons learnt from SD2015 partners and networks.
26 May 2014. Global civil society alliance, CIVICUS and the Ligue des Droits de la Personne dans la Region des Grand Lacs (LDGL) urge Burundian authorities to immediately and unconditionally release human rights defender Pierre Claver Mbonimpa. He was arrested on 15 May 2014 on baseless charges of endangering state security following an interview on Burundian radio station, Radio Publique Africaine (RPA) on 6 May.
During the interview Pierre Mbonimpa noted that youth from Burundi were being armed and sent to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) for military training and expressed concerns over the distribution of weapons to young people in Burundi. He was initially summoned by the police on 7 May and interrogated about the statements he made over radio. He was summoned again on 12 May and on 14 May. Pierre Mbonimpa was later charged with inciting public disobedience and endangering state security under Article 579 of the country’s constitution. He is currently being held at Mpimba Prison in Bujumbura.
The University of Waterloo is pleased to announce that it has signed a five-year partnership agreement with CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance. The agreement establishes an annual internship with CIVICUS for students enrolled in the Masters of Arts in Global Governance (MAGG) program, based at the Balsillie School of International Affairs (BSIA).
“We are thrilled to be partnering with such a world-class international non-governmental organization,” said Dr. John Ravenhill, Director of the Balsillie School of International Affairs. “We are very excited that our students are going to be able to assist CIVICUS in carrying out the vital work that it does to create space for citizen participation in global governance.”
Students in the MAGG program are required to do a four-month internship. Under the terms of this agreement, the program will select one student each year to intern at CIVICUS’s headquarters in Johannesburg, South Africa.