• People power is China’s great untapped resource

    By Frances Eve, Network of Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) and Cathal Gilbert, World Alliance for Citizen Participation, CIVICUS

    From 3-5 September, the leaders of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa met at the ninth BRICS summit. The venue was Xiamen - a gleaming port city which symbolises China’s rise as the new economic and political force in the world. It is also a fitting venue to mark the continued emergence of BRICS as a bloc with some serious geopolitical heft.

    But what does BRICS mean for Chinese people and how can they have any say in these annual meetings, which bring together heads of state from 5 of the most prosperous and populous emerging economies?

    These are uncomfortable questions for a group of leaders who, thus far, have not sought any meaningful inputs from their citizens on the future direction of BRICS. They are particularly awkward questions for host, China, where civil society activists, human rights lawyers, and others who seek to have a say in tackling China’s 21st century problems are systematically repressed by a small elite determined to hold on to power.

    Regular monitoring of the space for civil society by the CIVICUS Monitor and the China Human Rights Briefing shows the freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression are systematically curtailed in China. These research tools show that civic space is ‘repressed’ in China, indicating that citizens are not able to safely and fully exercise their fundamental rights, namely to associate, peacefully assemble and express themselves. Based on these indicators, the state of civil society rights in China is the lowest amongst BRICS countries and in the bottom quarter for all UN member states.

    Since 2014, a series of restrictive new laws on national security, non-profit organisations and anti-terrorism have been passed, coinciding with a sustained escalation of detentions of dissidents. The latest of these is China’s new National Intelligence Law, which gives authorities “sweeping powers to monitor and investigate foreign and domestic individuals and institutions”. The Law on the Management of Overseas NGO Activities, which allows the police to control CSOs' funding sources, staffing and activities, came into force on the 1st of January this year.

    Aside from laws, China has relentlessly pursued its critics through mass arrests of lawyers and activists in 2015, the shutdown of websites promoting peaceful dialogue and deploying riot police to prevent a demonstration on poor air quality in Chengdu. The list goes on.

    The Chinese authorities’ distaste for free speech and human rights activism was perhaps best displayed following the death in July 2017 of China’s only Nobel Peace Prize Laureate  Liu Xiaobo. Rather than allow Xiaobo’s colleagues and friends to mourn, the authorities tightly controlled his burial at sea to prevent a commemoration, arrested activists after his funeral and orchestrated the subsequent disappearance of his widow, Liu Xia, whom they have held in arbitrary detention since 2010.

    None of these issues were discussed at the summit in Xiamen. The agenda was dominated by concerns of international security, especially as North Korea tested a hydrogen bomb on the first day of the summit, global trade and the rebalancing of the global financial systems.

    But if any of this is to be achieved, and particularly if BRICS is to realise its goal of “strong, sustainable, balanced and inclusive economic growth”, its leaders will have to start listening to their people. Fans of China’s spectacular economic growth may say that political reform  is not necessary but history shows us that silencing your citizens is always a strategy with a limited shelf life. Either education and prosperity will rise to levels where citizens demand a proper say, or exclusion and frustration will spill over onto the streets.

    China’s leaders are smart enough to know that even their industrial-scale repression is only partly successful. Indeed, China does allow for tens of thousands of protests to take place across the country every year. By adopting this pressure valve strategy, China allows citizens to let off steam while it simultaneously goes after the organisers or those who share information. This month’s sentencing of a citizen journalist to four years in prison for documenting labour protests is one such example of this tactic.

    Deep down, China’s leaders know that a state can never completely kill the spirit of activism and resistance. Nowadays, the rising influence of the internet, despite being  a tool of repression and rigidly controlled and monitored in China, continues to make the spread of ideas and calls to action easier.

    BRICS may seem a strange place for China to begin the journey towards a more open society. But within the BRICS framework, China can learn from South Africa, where one of the world’s most progressive constitutions is still largely intact, there is a pluralism in the media and protests take place on a daily basis. This dialogue about the merits of democracy could take place through a genuine South-South spirit of partnership, devoid of the often toxic dynamics of North-South dialogue.

    An empowered and engaged civil society doesn’t just mean there will be greater checks on power. It is also a means to create innovation, social cohesion and prosperity within society, share new ideas, challenge the status quo and explore the wealth of generosity and creativity in each individual.

    With almost 1.4 billion people, surely this is China’s greatest untapped resource?

    Frances Eve is a Hong Kong-based researcher with the Network of Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD), a coalition of Chinese and international NGOs dedicated to the promotion of human rights in China.

    Cathal Gilbert is a researcher at The World Alliance for Citizen Participation, CIVICUS

  • Putin's war and the future of the rules-based international order

    By Mandeep Tiwana, Chief Programmes Officer at CIVICUS

    With thousands dead and millions displaced in Ukraine, Europe is now in the throes of its most acute refugee crisis since the Second World War. Russia’s attacks on Ukrainian civilian population and infrastructure have yet again exposed major weaknesses in the rules-based international order. The ability of the UN to act as the guarantor of international peace and security is being called into serious question.

    Read on Diplomatic Courier

  • Reaction to human rights resolution on reprisals

    42nd Session of the UN Human Rights Council
    Response to resolution on reprisals

    CIVICUS welcomes the new resolution on reprisals, passed by the Human Rights Council this afternoon, which detailed trends and patterns in reprisals and identified the increased risk for those most marginalized. 

    The latest report to the Human Rights Council on reprisals – presented to the Council by the Assistant Secretary-General of the UN last week – showed that reprisals against activists continue unabated, without accountability. This undermines the strength of the entire United Nations when its member states persecute and punish those that provide evidence and testimonials of human rights abuses. 

    The UN depends on information from the ground in order to fulfil its mandate of protecting human rights. Every act of reprisal, including those detailed in the latest report as well as the countless others that go unreported, is a direct challenge to this. We were particularly concerned to see 13 Human Rights Council members listed in the report as perpetrators of reprisals, and reiterate calls for a mechanism which imposes real political costs and accountability for states that engage in reprisals.

    Several hostile amendments to the resolution were tabled by Russia, but were defeated by the Human Rights Council. We welcome the strong statements made by a number of states today in support of the resolution, and we call on states, and the UN bodies, to step up their efforts to both prevent and address reprisals.

    Read our statement to the Human Rights Council here.

  • Resilience in times of shrinking civic space: How Resilient Roots organisations are attempting to strengthen their roots through primary constituent accountability

    Soulayma Mardam Bey (CIVICUS) and Isabelle Büchner (Accountable Now)

    The systematic crackdown on peaceful protests and demonstrations across the world has shaped our understanding of repression against civil society organisations (CSOs). Yet, less-spectacular restrictions such as increased bureaucratic requirements imposed by governments are not necessarily less threatening to CSO resilience.

    While those tactics significantly hamper CSOs’ ability to operate and can reduce primary constituents' trust in CSOs' ability to represent them legitimately, we also need to acknowledge that these symptoms can stem from our own inappropriate approaches to accountability. When CSOs are not accountable to their roots, this can serve as a breeding ground for governments’ and other non-state actors’ anti-CSOs strategies and rhetoric.  

    The Resilient Roots initiative is aiming to test whether CSOs who are more accountable and responsive to their primary constituents are more resilient against threats to their civic space. 15 organisations from diverse countries and contexts have partnered with us to design and rollout innovative accountability experiments over a 12 month period. These experiments will explore how public support and trust in CSOs can be improved through practising what we call primary constituent accountability, which aims to establish a meaningful dialogue with those groups that organisations exist to support, and increase their engagement in CSO decision-making.

    Accountability and resilience are both highly context-specific and vary not just from country to country but also along an organisation’s thematic focus, size and approach. This means that we need to explore the relationship between accountability and resilience on a case by case basis and across a variety of very different contexts. Keeping this in mind - and without further adieu - read on to meet the some of Resilient Roots Accountability Pilot Project organisations:

    One of these organisations is the Poverty Reduction Forum Trust (PRFT) from Zimbabwe. In the rural area of Dora, in the district of Mutare, they aim to systematically validate actions and strategies through constituent-led monitoring of programme progress. As a platform for civil society that aims to address the root-causes and diverse manifestations of poverty in Zimbabwe, they may face very different challenges from an organisation that works on more politically polarising topics.

    For example, Russian CSO OVD-Info is an independent human rights media project that monitors detentions and other cases of politically motivated harassment, informs media and human rights organisations on the state of political repression in Russia, and provides legal assistance to activists. For the Resilient Roots initiative, OVD-Info seeks to set up a dashboard to serve as a data visualisation tool, which will help evaluate the efficiency of its projects and motivate their constituents to play a stronger role in the organisation’s decision-making.

    In contrast to the technology and data-driven approach of OVD-Info, FemPLatz is a women’s rights organisation from Serbia that seeks a more direct and personal approach. They plan to gather feedback from their constituents through focus group discussions, interviews and workshops while also improving their communication with their constituents through the publication of a regular newsletter. This will allow their constituents to monitor their work and get in contact with them to provide feedback.

    A newsletter can also contribute to closing the feedback loop. Projet Jeune Leader (PJL) from Madagascar, for example, will engage young adolescents, their parents and school administrations to establish a coordinated and systematic means to collect feedback. They will collect feedback through participatory scorecards, stories from primary constituents around the changes triggered by the project, and an updated youth magazine to get closer to their constituents. PJL works on a comprehensive sexual-reproductive health education and leadership development program integrated into public middle schools.

    A particularly creative approach comes from Solidarity Now. Through multimedia productions, their primary constituents will express their daily perceptions, challenges, and dreams through the making and sharing of interactive material like video clips. Solidarity Now consists of a network of organisations and people whose goal is to assist and support the populations affected by the economic and humanitarian crises in Greece. Through the provision of services to both local Greeks and migrant populations, it seeks to restore the vision of a strong Europe based on solidarity and open values.

    In Asia, Climate Watch Thailand (CWT) is an organisation working to drive changes in attitudes towards climate change, and trigger action on the topic. As part of the initiative, CWT is going to strengthen how they formulate policy asks, by continuously testing their relevance to their constituents and this gaining wider support.

    Unfortunately, not all the organisations we work with in this initiative feel comfortable enough to publicly associate themselves to Resilient Roots, without the fear of inciting further anti-CSO responses in their local context. Such is the case of our Ugandan partner, a reminder of how delicate civic spaces are and how important it is for our sector to better understand how to strengthen CSO resilience in recent times.

    These diverse organisations are using a variety of approaches to work on CSO accountability, and we are incredibly excited to be exploring with them how different accountability practices fare in different regional and thematic contexts. What factors will make them successful and where will they need to adjust? In what circumstances does increased accountability actually lead to increased resilience? We are looking forward to sharing this journey with you: how they progress with their projects, the things they are learning, and what you can draw from their experiences to inform the work of your own organisation.


    Resilient Roots blog

  • RUSSIA: 'Any tactic that protesters use will likely be banned and declared a crime'

    Nelya RakhimovaCIVICUS speaks about anti-war protests and the growing restrictions on civic space in Russia with Nelya Rakhimova, coordinator of the Coalition for Sustainable Development of Russia (CSDR).

    CSDR is a coalition that advocates for and monitors the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in Russia. Established in 2020, it includes Russian civil society organisations (CSOs), research institutions, experts and activists. CSDR participates in international and domestic processes, creates awareness of SDGs among the public and mobilises for action on SDGs.

    How big are the anti-war protests in Russia, and how has the government reacted to them?

    Anti-war protests are currently happening in major cities throughout Russia. Protesters are just demanding peace, but the government’s reaction has been repressive. Of course, bigger changes are needed, but for now the focus of protesters is on ending the war. They typically go out to the streets with placards that read ‘no to war’ and are immediately arrested. Almost all cities are flooded with police monitoring the situation. Innocent people have been tortured simply because they have voiced concerns regarding the ‘military operation’, as the government calls it. 

    Those out there protesting are ordinary citizens, activists and members of CSOs.Although there are no statistics showing the number of people participating in protests and their composition, it seems that many protesters are young people.

    This makes sense, because what makes it somewhat easier for young people to stand against the war and participate in protests is that most of them do not have family responsibilities and are therefore free to act independently. Other people may wish to participate in the protests but because they have families, they feel restricted.

    Various platforms have been used to instil fear. People risk not only being arrested but also losing their jobs. But of course the same could be said about students, as there are already cases of students being expelled from universities because of their participation in the protests. Pressure comes not only from the government but also from universities and employers. These issues have been abundantly covered in a comprehensive report recently published by the Russian independent human rights media project OVD-Info.

    Do you think repression is deterring people from protesting in larger numbers?

    Indeed, although there have been protests all over the place, the number of people protesting is not that big. Many people who are against the so-called ‘military operation’ are scared to take part in protests because they have seen how police treat protesters. In addition, many people choose not to protest because they believe it won’t make a difference.

    A look back at previous protests and in Russia and the government’s reaction to them makes it clear why many people are reluctant to participate in the anti-war movement. People are aware of the gruesome acts perpetrated in prisons and police stations. Civic freedoms are so restricted that people are not able to freely express themselves. Having your own views can get you into trouble. We have seen too many human rights violations over the past weeks and we are afraid the situation will only get worse due to the reduced international visibility of Russia’s internal situation.

    CSOs are already starting to feel the pressure, as most people prefer to disassociate themselves from them and they are also trying to protect people who associate with them. At the beginning people were signing petitions against the war but now CSOs are removing people’s names because they don’t want to put them in danger’s way.

    It is currently very difficult to leave Russia, so people are adopting safety measures to protect themselves while staying. But there are still brave people and organisations that are determined to keep advocating for peace and are not deterred by the ongoing human rights violations.

    What is CSDR and what does it do?

    CSDR is a civil society coalition working together so that the SDGs are achieved in Russia by 2030. We work with civil society experts on each SDG to push forward this agenda.

    The coalition was established in 2020 because at the time the government of Russia was delivering its report on SDG implementation, and we decided we needed to have an alternative report that included the perspective of civil society. We produced a shadow report that was supported by 160 CSOs and 200 individual activists. It was quite successful and was recognised by the German Organisation for International Cooperation and the International Institute for Sustainable Development.

    We then continued to work on advocacy for SDG implementation. Last year we hosted a conference in Moscow to which we invited representatives of the ministries of foreign affairs and economic development and the special representative of the president on the SDGs. We tried to stay in touch to deliver our messages on SGD-related issues. We had plans to continue this work but right now we have no idea how we will be able to do so.

    What are the main challenges you currently face in your work?

    The most challenging thing about organising in Russia is that the law is constantly being changed and restrictions are increasingly being tightened. Right now for instance we are talking to our donors, who are mainly German foundations, because it is not even clear how we are going to be able to receive funds to produce our publications and convene events.

    Several new censorship laws have been put in place over the past couple of weeks, and most people have decided to comply with them. But it is not easy to organise in such an environment. Any tactic that protesters and independent CSOs use today will likely be banned by law over the following days and declared a crime.

    As a coalition we face a similar situation. We’ve tried to release a statement regarding the current events and have had to review it over and over due to the changing laws. We are being very careful with our wording and social media posts because we do not want to put our members in danger.

    Censorship has forced people to go back to traditional methods of expression, organising and protesting. Instead of using social media as a tool to mobilise, more people are now using printed material such as flyers and placards to voice their opinions. Those who continue to be active on social media often resort to the method of using a different name on each platform and deleting all conversations that could lead to them getting arrested. However, no method of mobilising makes people immune to arrest, as the growing numbers of people arrested attest to.

    How much change do you think could come out of the protests?

    I want to believe that the situation can and will change. And I think if there are massive protests the situation might really change. But it will take time for that to happen.

    Unfortunately, there are large numbers of people who continue to support the Russian government. This is the result of the intensive internal propaganda the government has disseminated for years. People have been brainwashed and are convinced that what Russia is doing is for the good of both Russia and Ukraine. This is one of the reasons why it is difficult to have massive protests.

    Russian society is deeply divided; families are split and even Ukrainian families in Russia are being torn apart. A part of the population understands what is currently happening, but many people don’t. And I don’t think this is something protests could change. Propaganda has deep roots in Russian society, and fear is doing the rest: among those who don’t believe the propaganda, many are too scared to voice their opinions.

    How can the international community best help Russian CSOs and activists?

    The international community can support Russian civil society by sharing accurate information about what is happening in the country. A majority of CSOs and activists from neighbouring countries as well as international CSOs are focused on trying to help Ukrainian people, both refugees and those left in Ukraine. This is completely understandable, but I think they shouldn’t forget the people in Russia who continue to advocate for peace and human rights. The least they can do is shine the spotlight on the situation in their national and international media outlets so people abroad are aware of what is going on and are able to offer their help.

    Additionally, they should put pressure on the Russian government through various international instruments, including the SDGs. Civil society from around the world could collectively release statements that highlight the situation and note the changes they would like to see. Maintaining solidarity in these times is also very important because it helps people working on the ground.

    Last but not least, CSOs and activists need financial assistance. Those wishing to help protesters by providing funding should get in touch with the organisations leading the anti-war movement and offer their help. And of course, if Russian activists decide to leave the country due to political pressure, they also need support from international colleagues, as no one should be left behind.

    Civic space in Russiais rated ‘repressed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor. Russia is currently on theCIVICUS Monitor Watch List, which identifies countries in which a severe and abrupt deterioration in the quality of civic space is taking place.
    Get in touch with CSDR through itswebsite. 

  • RUSSIA: ‘Human rights activism can be expected to increase in reaction to repression’

    CIVICUS speaks with Leonid Drabkin, a coordinator with OVD-Info, an independent human rights civil society organisation (CSO) that documents and helps the victims of political persecution in Russia. Through a hotline and other sources, OVD-Info collects information about detentions at public rallies and other cases of political persecution, publishes the news and coordinates legal assistance to detainees.

  • RUSSIA: ‘The shutdown of media sources threatens to create information vacuum for Russians’

    Natalia MalyshevaCIVICUS speaks about anti-war protests in Russia and the government’s violations of digital rights with Natalia Malysheva, co-founder and press secretary of Roskomsvoboda.

    Roskomsvoboda is a civil society organisation (CSO) that works to defend people’s digital rights. Established in 2012, it promotes the freedom of information and advocates against censorship. It is currently working to ensure people receive accurate information about the war and offering assistance to those who have been detained.

    How significant are the ongoing anti-war protests in Russia?

    The protests are small. In the first days of the so-called ‘special military operation’ in Ukraine, many people came out to take part in spontaneous rallies for peace in all major cities of Russia. Human rights CSOs have reported that more than 15,000 people have been detained so far for speaking out against the war. But now protests typically consist of small groups of people in multiple locations across the country.

    The new law that prohibits and criminalises the dissemination of ‘fake news’ about the Russian military action and the expression of support for ‘anti-Russian sanctions’ has had a strong impact on how people organise, and on whether they go out to protest, because it has installed fear throughout society.

    People have been arrested merely for using the words ‘war’ and ‘peace’ in the context of protests, and even for using asterisks instead of letters on their signs – because the government knows that if you protest with a blank sign or a sign full of asterisks, what you are trying to say is ‘no to war’. People who advocate against the war on social media are also often at risk of being arrested.

    There are fewer and fewer people who are willing to take part in an uncoordinated rally and get arrested for several days, because most of them have families and jobs they wish to protect. Many people who fear for their lives are leaving the country for their safety. Others simply do not see any prospects in a continuing struggle. Moving forward, we shouldn’t expect mass protests to arise in Russia.

    Do you think protests can make any difference?

    Right now it is clear that the Russian government does not intend to have a dialogue with the part of society that does not support its so-called ‘military operation’ in Ukraine. This is unfortunately a relatively small segment of society and its demands are overlooked.

    Although people continue to go out to protests and some get arrested in the process, in my opinion this will not change the course of the events that are currently taking place. The authorities won’t listen to protesters. Protesting will perhaps start making more sense when – or if – most Russians begin to understand what is really happening.

    What is Roskomsvoboda focusing on?

    Roskomsvoboda is a CSO that supports open self-regulatory networks and the protection of digital rights of internet users. It seeks to counter online censorship and expand the opportunities brought by digital technologies.

    For 10 years, Roskomsvoboda has constantly monitored the activities of government agencies. We publish a register of blocked sites and raise awareness of online abuse, leakages of personal data and the persecution of citizens for their social media statements. We conduct extensive public campaigns and events aimed at informing citizens about the violation of their digital rights, initiating public discussion and bringing people together so they can fight for their rights. Our lawyers defend those who are prosecuted for their online statements or activities, represent the interests of users and site owners in court and participate in the development of proposals for changing legislation.

    In the past few days, against the backdrop of an information war and a growing social crisis, we have focused more on helping people get reliable information about what is happening. We have published pieces about new laws that have been adopted to introduce censorship and analysed how they will affect people and their right to speak up. Our lawyers continue to provide targeted legal assistance to those who are being prosecuted for speaking out online, defending people in courts.

    The closure of some news outlets and social media platforms is affecting the kind of information people receive. State media outlets provide information that only reflects events from the government’s perspective and disseminate a lot of propaganda. The shutdown of leading media sources threatens to create an information vacuum for Russians, which won’t contribute to the goal of achieving peace.

    Restrictions on access to information and censorship have already significantly reduced people’s ability to protest. Even publishing an online call for a peace rally can result in criminal punishment.

    We recently issued a statement calling on the world’s leading internet and IT companies and initiatives not to indiscriminately impose mass sanctions and not to punish ordinary people in Russia, many of whom are already in a vulnerable position. We have translated our appeal into several languages and are asking everyone to help disseminate it.

    What are the dangers of disinformation in the context of the current crisis?

    The biggest risk of disinformation is that of disconnecting Russia from the global information space.

    Russian authorities have blocked the world’s largest media outlets and social media. Many western companies have stopped operating in Russia, making it even more closed for international viewers. This prevents people from getting the truth about what is happening; it also destroys the businesses and careers of many people who have worked in partnership with Western countries for many years.

    The current closure of businesses has left many people without vital resources. People are not only affected by oppression from the Russian government but must also deal with the potential loss of their jobs and sources of income. With such actions, western countries only risk Russia shutting down completely from the outside world, paving the way for the rise of a ‘sovereign internet’ – an internet thoroughly controlled by the government.

    How can the international community best support Russian civil society?

    The international community can help by bringing our message to the widest possible audience. On behalf of Russian internet users, Roskomsvoboda urges technology companies located in the jurisdictions of the USA, the European Union and other countries not to massively disable the accounts of Russian users. They should not restrict their access to information and means of communication.

    Digital discrimination based on nationality would reduce the ability of Russians to gain access to reliable information, as well as to conduct honest work, study and research activities. So we ask you to please distribute our statement far and wide.

    We also started a petition asking the world’s virtual private network (VPN) services to help ensure that Russian users have free access to their services during these difficult times. This is necessary to protect users’ basic rights to privacy, the secrecy of communication and their ability to receive and disseminate information freely. Access to information is a basic human right enshrined in various international agreements. In critical situations, it is more important than ever.

    Civic space in Russiais rated ‘repressed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor. Russia is currently on theCIVICUS Monitor Watch List, which identifies countries in which a severe and abrupt deterioration in the quality of civic space is taking place.
    Get in touch with Roskomsvoboda through itswebsite or itsFacebook andInstagram pages, and follow@RuBlackListNET on Twitter.

  • RUSSIA: ‘These protests are key to the preservation of Russian civil society’

    Maria KuznetsovaCIVICUS speaks about the ongoing anti-war protests in Russia and the repressive government response with OVD-Info’s spokesperson Maria Kuznetsova.

    OVD-Info is an independent civil society organisation (CSO) that aims to promote and protect human rights – and specifically the freedom of peaceful assembly – in Russia. It monitors protests and their repression and assists detained protesters through legal aid, online consultations, and bringing them food and water while in detention.

    How big are the ongoing anti-war protests in Russia?

    The protests were massive in the first two weeks of the war – we recorded protest-related arrests in at least 159 cities. Of course, the biggest protests were those taking place in major developed cities, basically Moscow and St. Petersburg.

    People came out against the war for moral reasons, because they could not look at the horror of what was happening in Ukraine and not react: mass bombings, killings of civilians, violence.

    Protesters are mostly people under 40 years old – because they are the ones who, thanks to the internet, get an accurate picture of what is happening, in contrast to the narrative that is pushed by censored state TV. Their demands to end the war are simultaneously, of course, demands to overthrow Putin. Because one is impossible without the other.

    My opinion is that due to the deteriorating economic situation, another – quite different – wave of protests may be expected soon. This may start among the poorer sections of the population who have lost income and jobs, and among doctors and patients, who are already experiencing the consequences of shortages of life-saving medicines due to sanctions.

    Do you think repression has dissuaded people from protesting in bigger numbers?

    At the height of the protests, on 5 March, more than 5,500 people were detained in one day. Since the beginning of the war, nearly 15,000 people have been detained at anti-war protests. The police are very harshly suppressing the protests – for example, on Sunday 20 March in Moscow, virtually all protesters were detained, and many of them were arrested for five to 30 days.

    In addition, 39 criminal cases have already been opened due to statements and protests against the war; some of the defendants are already in jail. All of this scares away potential protesters. They understand that they can get a prison sentence even for participating in a peaceful rally, and it is obvious that fewer people are coming out now. However, protest continues under different forms: people sign open letters, write on social media, quit their jobs. We have even seen several high-profile dismissals of journalists and editors from federal media channels.

    Those who still venture out to protest are being assisted by several human rights organisations, including OVD-Info. We send our lawyers to police stations where protesters are held. When there are not enough lawyers or we do not have a lawyer in a given city, we provide online consultations. We accompany the defendants to court. In addition, there is an extensive network of volunteers who also come to police stations to bring detainees water and food so that they do not go hungry all night after they are detained.

    Do you think the protests will lead to meaningful change?

    I don’t think there is a chance that these protests will influence the politics of the current regime, and as a human rights project, rather than a political one, OVD-Info is not in a position to assess the prospects for regime change. What we know for sure is that the only possible path to peace in Europe is having a free Russia that protects human rights. We do not know when our country will turn that way.

    Still, these protests are key to the preservation and future development of Russian civil society. By taking part in them, those who oppose the war will gain invaluable self-organisation skills and acquire the moral right to play a prominent role when the time comes to build a new Russia.

    How have media restrictions imposed by the government affected the protests, and civil society work more generally?

    In my opinion, what we are witnessing in Russia is the establishment of military censorship. Even calling the events in Ukraine a war is prohibited – this is punishable by an administrative fine, and in case of repeated violations it becomes a criminal case, which can result in up to five years in prison. A new crime has been included in the Criminal Code: that of public disseminating knowingly false information about the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation. You can get up to 15 years in prison if you’re accused of doing that.

    The websites of almost all independent organisations have been blocked in Russia since the beginning of the war. Due to anti-war remarks, its founders were forced to shut down Echo of Moscow, a radio station. The online media also closed due to pressures. Independent TV channel Dozhd left Russia and temporarily interrupted its broadcasts, which were viewed by millions. Almost all independent media outlets were forced to leave Russia. In addition, the government blocked Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, because they realised they were unable to effectively impose censorship on social media.

    At the moment, military censorship makes it tough to continue any anti-war and independent civilian activity, because any statement or protest can result in a prison term. But people continue to protest regardless, and many celebrities are speaking out publicly. We have seen employees of propaganda channels getting fired, which suggests that people are so enraged by what is happening that they are willing to fight back despite the risks.

    How have the sanctions affected your work?

    I don’t have a clear answer just yet. It seems to me that so far sanctions have not affected our work so much, but the situation can always quickly deteriorate. In fact, OVD-Info has closed down all Russian donations, while international donations continue to be safe. 

    For the time being, it is the shutdown of many social media platforms that has made our work much more complex: it is increasingly difficult for us to convey information to people, educate them on legal issues and provide them with legal assistance. It will be especially difficult for us if Telegram is blocked in Russia, because it is now our primary platform for communicating with detainees.

    How can the international community help independent CSOs and human rights activists in Russia?

    I think the international community should be more careful with sanctions, which should be targeted. I think that the idea of collective responsibility is wrong – in Russia, it is a concept reminiscent of Stalin’s mass deportations of whole peoples, such as the Crimean Tatars, to pay for some individuals’ cooperation with the Third Reich.

    From a pragmatic rather than an ethical point of view, it must be noted that many sanctions that have been imposed are having negative side effects – they are harming the most progressive part of society that opposes the war, preventing it from receiving information and obstructing the work of the last independent media. For example, Mailchimp – a USA-based platform and email marketing service that is used to create and distribute email marketing campaigns – has blocked all its clients from Russia.

    It is also essential to understand that the Russians and Belarusians that are now leaving their countries and arriving in Turkey, Georgia, Armenia and other parts of Europe are mostly opposition activists and independent journalists who face jail time in their homeland. But because they are Russians and Belarusians, they are facing massive discrimination. However, these activists and journalists are not responsible for their government’s actions – they are in fact the only hope that their countries will change, so it is essential to help them instead of discriminating against them as if they were the aggressors’. It is necessary to understand that not all Russians and Belarusians support the war in Ukraine.

    Civic space in Russiais rated ‘repressed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor. Russia is currently on theCIVICUS Monitor Watch List, which identifies countries in which a severe and abrupt deterioration in the quality of civic space is taking place.
    Get in touch with OVD-Info through itswebsite or itsFacebook andInstagram pages, and follow@ovdinfo on Twitter.


  • RUSSIA: ‘We hope that social media companies will avoid becoming a censorship tool’

    Denis ShedovCIVICUS speaks about increasing civic space restrictions in Russia with Denis Shedov, a lawyer and analyst at OVD-Info, an independent human rights civil society organisation (CSO) that recently experienced the blockage of its website by the Russian authorities. Denis’ work focuses on the violation of the freedoms of peaceful assembly and expression and other forms of politically motivated persecution in Russia. As well as researching these topics, as a lawyer he defends detained protesters, appeals against bans on peaceful assemblies and challenges unlawful police action in Russia, while also bringing these situations to the attention of the European Court of Human Rights.

  • Russia: Human Rights Council must respond to crackdown on civil society

    Joint statement ahead of the 46th Session of the Human Rights Council, condemning Russia (a new member of the body) for recent attacks against protestors (over 12,000 detained since late January).

  • Russia: Stop violence against peaceful protesters

    Russia Navalny Protests GettyImages 12307445752

    Read the statement in Russian

    The arrest of more than five thousand protesters in Russia calling for the release of anti-corruption activist Alexei Navalny is a gross violation of the constitutional rights of all Russians to assemble peacefully, as Russia continues to openly deny its international human rights obligations, global civil society alliance CIVICUS said today.

  • Russia’s presidential election: a decline in citizen rights

    By Natalia Taubina and Bobbie Jo Traut

    The re-election of Vladimir Putin has been preceded by a significant crackdown on freedom of assembly and rule of law. The CIVICUS Monitor, which tracks and rates civil society conditions across all UN member states in close to real-time, has found that civic space in Russia has closed dramatically as civil society groups have been publicly vilified and marginalised.

    Read on: Open Democracy 


  • Russian Federation: UN General Assembly should suspend Russia’s membership of the UN Human Rights Council

    We, the undersigned civil society organisations, call on Member States of the United Nations to take and support action at the UN General Assembly to suspend the Russian Federation as a member of the UN Human Rights Council.

  • Stop the war in Ukraine: Global solidarity statement

    We, civil society groups from the five continents of the world working together for a just, peaceful, sustainable and prosperous world, jointly call for a negotiated solution to end the war in Ukraine as promptly and swiftly as possible. This must include an immediate cessation of hostilities against civilians and the removal of Russian military forces and weaponry from Ukraine, coupled with an agreed statement and provision of security assurances by and for all parties.

    In a world that is already wracked by multiple crises, such as the COVID-19 pandemic and escalating climate change, this conflict is tearing through already fragile communities and millions of individuals face war, displacement, loss of homes and livelihoods. 

    A month has already passed but the longer this conflict lasts the more devastating it is likely to be for the people living in Ukraine, Russia, and all over the world. It must be stopped now.

    1) Stop the war

    The attack on Ukraine by the Russian army and the invasion of a sovereign country marks an unacceptable breach of international law. We call for an immediate end to the war in Ukraine, a ceasefire and a withdrawal of Russian forces, and the phased removal of all sanctions according to an agreed timeline.  The devastation of many cities and the killing of innocent civilians and civilian infrastructure cannot be justified. 

    We call on third parties to prevent a further military escalation of the conflict and help in facilitating peace negotiations. 

    Furthermore, it is unacceptable and insufficient that so far only a handful of men have been involved in the peace negotiations. 

    We call for the peace negotiations to include civil society and representatives of those who are directly affected, particularly women, especially from Ukraine and Russia.

    2) Respect international human rights

    We stand in solidarity with the people of Ukraine. The rights of civilians must be respected, after one month of conflict, the humanitarian impacts are leading to massive displacement of people, loss of lives and livelihoods. We are very concerned that this grave violation of international law will have an extremely adverse impact on security and democracy in Europe and the World.  

    We also call for respect for human rights in Russia, many Russian people have stood up to condemn violence and their voices must be heard. Peaceful protest must be recognised as a legitimate form of expression.

    We call for human rights and the rule of law to be respected.

    3) Stop militarism and aggression around the world

    Tragically, this is not the first time that such conflicts and wars have occurred, far from it, it is crucial to reduce militarization and authoritarianism all around the world.

    The current situation in Ukraine comes in a human context where armed conflict, violence in all its forms, authoritarianism, corruption and indiscriminate repression affects the lives of millions of people around the globe and violates the human rights of people young and old in countries including: Myanmar, Yemen, Palestine, Syria, Afghanistan, South Sudan, Central African Republic, Ethiopia, Colombia, Brazil, Nicaragua, Guatemala, El Salvador and others. 

    All conflicts must be treated with the same level of concern, all lives affected by conflict are of equal value. 

    We call for the same level of support to end conflicts and ensure financial support for displaced peoples and refugees from other conflicts.

    4) Shift military funds to a just and sustainable future

    The war in Ukraine has already had a devastating impact on the world economy, especially on the Global South. There are likely to be major disruptions and significant increases in the cost of energy and production, increased food costs and at the same time budgets are being re-directed towards military spending.

    The militarism of Russia is fueled by fossil fuels and it is therefore critical to stop investment in fossil fuels and shift immediately to clean forms of energy. It is crucially important that we reduce oil and gas consumption and rapidly upscale investments in renewables in order to combat the climate crisis beginning now.

    We call for a specific commitment at the UN to reduce spending on military conflicts and to re-invest this spending on social protection and clean energy. 

    5) Establish a global peace fund

    We call on member states to remember the founding vision of the United Nations and its Security Council, to deliver on the main reason it was created: to avoid any kind of war and the suffering of human kind. 

    The 2030 Agenda sets out a path towards a peaceful, just, sustainable and prosperous world; and much more ambitious steps and actions must be undertaken to ensure that the targets and goals are met.

    We call on member states to establish a global peace fund to strengthen the role of international mediators and peace-keepers, the UN must act!

    191 current signatories (sign the statement)

    • Action for Sustainable Development
    • GCAP
    • SDG Watch Europe
    • SHERPA Institute
    • Vivat International
    • Academics Stand Against Poverty
    • Gaia U International, Global Ecovillage Network US
    • VIVAT International
    • International Movement of Catholic Students (IMCS) Pax Romana, Asia Pacific.
    • Asia and Pacific Alliance of YMCAs


    • Farmers’ Voice (Krisoker Sor), Bangladesh
    • Bangladesh Institute of Human Rights(BIHR), Bangladesh
    • JusticeMakers Bangladesh, Bangladesh
    • Circular Economy Alliance India, India
    • Kethoseno Peseyie, India
    • Independent Individual freelancer named Hitesh BHATT & MS JALPA PATEL-INDIA., India
    • Sikshasandhan, India
    • Sustainable Development Council, India
    • Association For Promotion Sustainable Development, India
    • Peace in Education, India
    • GIRL UP CHIKKA, India
    • International NGO Forum on Indonesian Development, Indonesia
    • Sustainable agriculture and environment, Iran
    • Japan Youth Platform for Sustainability(JYPS), Japan
    • UNISC International, Japan
    • Silambam Asia, Malaysia
    • World Yoga Association, Malaysia
    • World Silambam Association (WSA), Malaysia
    • Climate Change Working Group, Myanmar
    • Sheni legal Service and Research Center, Nepal
    • SATHI SAMUHA (Friends Group), Nepal
    • Youth Advocacy Nepal (YAN), Nepal
    • Restructuring Nepal, Nepal
    • Human Rights Focus Pakistan (HRFP), Pakistan
    • Haakro Welfare Association, Pakistan
    • SSpS, Philippines
    • Lanka Fundamental Rights Organization, Sri Lanka
    • Missionary Sisters Servants of the Holy Spirit, Viet Nam
    • AwazCDS, Pakistan
    • Korean Advocates for Global Health, Korea
    • National Campaign For Sustainable Development (NACASUD-Nepal), Nepal
    • Tarayana Foundation, Bhutan
    • General Secretary Pakistan Kissan Rabita Committee, Pakistan
    • Think Centre Singapore, Singapore


    • Missionsprokur St. Gabriel International, Austria
    • Greenskills, Austria
    • Mikel Díez Sarasola, España
    • Circular Initiatives Roadmap (CIR), Estonia
    • Pekka Kuusi Ecofoundation, Finland
    • World Family Organization, France
    • ONG (Nouveau Point de vue ), France outre-mer
    • Association for Farmers Rights Defense, AFRD, Georgia
    • Global Ecovillage Network, Germany
    • Forum on Environment and Development, Germany
    • IAHV, Germany
    • Patrick Paul Walsh, Ireland
    • International Presentation Association, Ireland
    • DMDA, Ireland
    • Jan Martin Bang, Norway
    • Norwegian Forum for Development and Environment, Norway
    • Moray Carshare, Scotland
    • Salisbury centre Edinburgh, Scotland UK
    • Drustvo Soncni gric, Slovenija
    • Alfonso Flaquer, Spain
    • Centro de Transformacion del Conflicto Humano, Spain
    • Findhorn Foundation Fellows, Sweden
    • Justice for Prosperity Foundation, The Netherlands
    • British Autism Advocates, U.K.
    • Integral City Meshworks Inc., UK
    • BPWUK, Uk
    • Findhorn Fellows, UK
    • Emerson College, Forest Row, East Sussex, UK., UK
    • Barnaby Green, United Kingdom
    • Dr. Colin Thomas Barnes, United Kingdom
    • Development Alternatives, United Kingdom
    • NAWO and the Judith Trust, United Kingdom
    • Victor S Ient, United Kingdom
    • Findhorn Foundation & Park Ecovillage Trust, United Kingdom
    • InnerLinks, United Kingdom
    • Alan Watson Featherstone, United Kingdom
    • Open Circle Consulting Ltd, United Kingdom
    • Poems for Parliament, United Kingdom
    • Northern Ireland Women’s European Platform, United Kingdom
    • Ecologia Youth Trust, United Kingdom
    • Soroptimist International, United Kingdom
    • Commonwealth Medical Trust, United Kingdom
    • Widows for Peace through Democracy (WPD), United Kingdom
    • SecurityWomen, United Kingdom

    Middle East and Northern Africa

    • Gatef, Egypt
    • Junior enterprise, Tunisia


    • Plowright Studios, Australia
    • Aaron Owen, Australia
    • PIANGO, Fiji
    • Deepti Karan Weiss, Fiji
    • The New Zealand Federation of Business and Professional Women, New Zealand
    • GENOA, Oceania and Asia

    Sub-Saharan Africa

    • YUNIBF (Youth United for a Brighter Future), Cameroon
    • Action pour le Développement (A4D), Cameroun
    • Centre Oecuménique pour la Promotion du Monde Rural, Congo-Kinshasa
    • Save the Climat, Democratic Republic of Congo
    • Locate software, Ethiopia
    • Michael Girimay Gebremedhine, Ethiopia
    • New English private school, Ethiopia
    • Taminnova, Ethiopian
    • Apostolic Ministerial International Network, Ghana
    • Youth Harvest Foundation Ghana, Ghana
    • Abundant Grace Female Foundation, Ghana
    • Elizka Relief Foundation, Ghana
    • Parlement des Jeunes Leaders de la Société Civile Guinéenne, Guinée
    • BASO, Kenya
    • The Social Justice Centers Working Group, Kenya
    • New Generation Outreach, Kenya
    • Thomas Kaydor,  Jr., LIBERIA
    • Innovations for change, Malawi
    • Action for Environmental Sustainability, Malawi
    • Peoples Federation for National Peace and Development (PEFENAP), Malawi
    • Association du Développement et de la Promotion de Droits de l’Homme, Mauritanie
    • Dieumax Ventures, Nigeria
    • Leadership Watch, Nigeria
    • Initiative For Peace And Stability ( IPAS), Nigeria
    • Environment and Development Advocates (EDA), Nigeria
    • Nouveaux Droits de l’homme Congo Brazzaville, République du Congo
    • GCAP-SENGAL, Senegal
    • Volunteers Involving Organisations Network, Sierra Leone
    • Mahawa Foundation, Sierra Leone
    • Waste For Change NPC, South Africa
    • Kadesh International, South Africa
    • African Monitor Trust, South Africa
    • Community Health Organization(CH), Tanzania
    • Espace Vie et Action-Togo (EVA-T), Togo
    • Sugur Development Agency (SDA), Uganda
    • Vision Centre Africa, Uganda
    • Human Nature Projets Uganda, Uganda
    • Step Up Youth Initiative, Uganda
    • Development Education Community Project, Zambia

    The Americas

    • AidWatch Canada, Canada
    • Vision GRAM-International, Canada and  D R Congo
    • Gloria Rodríguez, Colombia
    • Movimiento Nacional Cimarrón, Colombia
    • Alianza ONG, Dominican Republic
    • Christian Acosta, Ecuador
    • CECADE, El Salvador
    • Union des Amis Socio Culturels d’Action en Developpement (UNASCAD), Haiti
    • Jamaica Climate Change Youth Council, Jamaica
    • Uso Inteligente ASV AC, México
    • MY World México, México
    • Humberto Soto, México
    • Coordinadora por los Derechos de la Infancia y la Adolescencia de Paraguay, Paraguay
    • Consorcio Agroecológico Peruano, Perú
    • Raise Your Voice Saint Lucia Inc, Saint Lucia
    • UNANIMA International, United States
    • Congregation of the Mission, United States
    • World Union for Progressive Judaism, United States
    • Transdiaspora Network, United States
    • Sustainably Wise, United States
    • Hawai’i Institute for Human Rights, United States
    • The GOOD Group, United States
    • Let There Be Light International, United States
    • ALICIA STAMMER, United States
    • Andrea Ruiz, United States
    • TRIPPINZ CARE INC, United States
    • Pleading for the Widows International Foundation, United States
    • Missionary Oblates of Immaculate, United States
    • Oblate Ecological Initiative, United States
    • United Nations Association of the National Capital Area, United States
    • New Future Foundation, United States
    • World Roma Federation, US
    • Kosmos Journal; Unity Earth, USA
    • NGO Committee on Sustainable Development-NY, USA
    • Volunteer Groups Alliance, USA
    • Findhorn Foundation, USA
    • TAP Network, USA
    • Global Choices, USA/ UK
    • REDHNNA, Venezuela
    • OMEP World Organization for Early Childhood Education, Argentina
    • Fundación para la Democracia Internacional, Argentina
    • Fundacion para Estudio e investigacion de la Mujer, Argentina
    • Reaccion Climatica, Bolivia
    • Viviane Weingärtner, Brazil
  • Stop the war: Act for justice, climate & peace

    By Lysa John, Secretary-General of CIVICUS & Oli Henman, Global Coordinator for Action 4 Sustainable Development

     Russia’s war in Ukraine has left many communities facing catastrophe. In a world already wracked by multiple crises such as searing inequality and escalating climate change, this conflict is tearing through communities.

    Millions of people are directly affected. They face fragile circumstances, with immeasurable sadness caused by the death of loved ones, loss of livelihoods, displacement, destruction of homes, interruption of education, and more.

    The conflict has also placed huge new burdens on the multilateral system, putting a further break on progress towards the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals that has already been set back by the negative impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

    Read on Indian Nation

  • The Council must address deteriorating human rights situations before they become crises

    Statement at the 51st Session of the UN Human Rights Council

    Item 4 General Debate

    Delivered by Lisa Majumdar

    Thank you, Mr President.

    The Council’s prevention mandate is a responsibility to address situations which face becoming human rights crises. One of the warning signs of this is of a serious and rapid decline in the respect for civic space. The CIVICUS Watchlist, published last week, identified a number of countries to take note of in this regard.

    Sri Lanka continues to see arbitrary arrests and the use of excessive force by the security forces as part of a crackdown on anti-government protests, as well as attacks on journalists, following its worst economic crisis in decades. We urge the Council to adopt a strong resolution addressing the situation, as well as progressing long-overdue accountability and reconciliation initiatives.

    Serious civic space violations have been ongoing in Guatemala as the government moves to undermine the rule of law and reverse anti-corruption efforts of recent years. As Zimbabwe gears up for general elections next year, civic space is under severe attack as the incumbent President, seeks to defend his presidency. In Serbia, the government has attempted to ban LGBTQI+ events and there remain ongoing threats to environmental rights defenders and journalists. In Guinea, the government is becoming increasingly intolerant of dissenting voices, particularly those criticising management of the ongoing political transition.

    We call on the Council to use its prevention mandate to address these situations before they deteriorate still further.

    In situations where crises are already all too apparent, the Council must respond accordingly. Human rights violations in Russia and those documented by the High Commissioner in China demand the strongest response, and we call on the Council to urgently establish monitoring and reporting mechanisms for these respective human rights situations.

    We thank you.

  • The UN must act to protect civilians & human rights defenders & hold Russia accountable

    Statement at the 49th Session of the UN Human Rights Council

    Urgent Debate on Ukraine

    Delivered by Susan Wilding

    CIVICUS stands in solidarity with the people of Ukraine and calls for a swift, unified and targeted international response on Russia.

  • UKRAINE: ‘If we share information, leaders won’t be able to turn blind eye to human rights violations’

    Yaropolk BrynykhCIVICUS speaks with Yaropolk Brynykh of Truth Hounds about Ukrainian civil society’s response to the Russian invasion.

    Truth Hounds is a civil society organisation (CSO) aimed at fighting against the impunity of perpetrators of international crimes and grave human rights violations through investigation, documentation, monitoring, advocacy and problem-solving assistance for vulnerable groups. Jointly with Brussels-based International Partnership for Human Rights, The Truth Hounds team has carried out over 50 fact-finding missions to document war crimes in eastern Ukraine and Crimea.

    What are the main ways in which your organisation is responding to the Russian invasion?

    I’m a board member of the Ukrainian human rights organisation Truth Hounds, which has focused on documenting war crimes and crimes against humanity in war contexts since 2014. We wouldn’t be able to tackle this mission without a highly qualified team of human rights professionals with experience in conflict areas – not only in the east of Ukraine and occupied Crimea but also in neighbouring countries, including in Nagorno Karabakh, a territory disputed by Armenia and Azerbaijan. Having prepared three extensive submissions to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, we have developed thorough knowledge of international standards and best practices of evidence collection and systematisation of war crimes.

    Thus, when Russia began its invasion of Ukraine on 24 February, I immediately joined a field team of investigators working day and night to document Russian war crimes in our country. Since then, our team members have collected evidence of indiscriminate shelling, targeted attacks against civilians, ecological crimes and other violations of customs of war. On the basis of that, our team has already prepared and published 13 reports revealing grave human rights violations and war crimes committed by the Russian military.

    Most of our current efforts in response to the Russian invasion focus on monitoring human rights violations and war crimes committed by the Russian army, international advocacy, support for professional groups and humanitarian and legal aid to people in need.

    Our team also supports the Ukrainian prosecutor’s office in chasing perpetrators of war crimes through documentation and monitoring of human rights violations. We also share reports and evidence as much as possible to provide international judicial bodies, including the ICC, with evidence that can one day be used to bring perpetrators to justice.

    In the context of the war, we also understand the importance of information, so our team works to produce accurate and reliable information as quickly as possible and shares it with international media groups. We believe that if we share information about Ukraine, global leaders won’t be able to turn a blind eye to the human rights violations that Russia is perpetrating here. Our nation needs support from the whole world; hence, our current mission is to deliver facts from the field to the international community.

    How is the conflict affecting Ukrainian civil society’s work?

    Ukrainian civil society is in the same boat as the whole nation, and as everyone else, we are trying to keep working despite the difficult circumstances. Some civil society representatives, including well-known human rights defenders, have joined the army to fight and protect the country. Others have had to leave Ukraine, but they are doing their best to operate in exile within their limited possibilities.

    While many CSOs moved to western Ukraine to try and resume their activities despite limited technical and financial opportunities, others decided to stay in the eastern and southern parts of the country, to cover humanitarian needs and help with the logistics of relocation of the civilian population. But their capacities are down to a minimum because they are not able to receive much support from international CSOs.

    Only a tiny segment of civil society took on board information about a possible Russian invasion and was prepared enough. They have managed to continue working for the past weeks. But even this small group cannot be as effective as it used to be because of the need to hide in shelters during chaotic air and rocket attacks.

    Overall, civil society is under tremendous mental pressure, which will have long-lasting effects. This will become yet another challenge for the country once the war is over. Civil society will suffer from post-traumatic syndrome.

    What should the international community do to help?

    Ukrainian civil society needs advocacy and communications support. Our partners must help us deliver our messages to our allies and governments worldwide. Needless to say, Ukraine cannot win this fight alone. But we share the same democratic values and we need your support.

    All of us in contemporary Ukrainian civil society grew up believing in democratic values and we heard time and again that these were the most important principles for the western world. Now we are fighting for these values, we ask the international community to amplify our voices. If it doesn’t, it will be clear that western countries choose their business interests over democratic values. We don’t want to be let down.

    Ukraine also needs the humanitarian assistance of international organisations. We understand how hard it is for organisations such as the World Health Organization and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe to organise proper fieldwork. But there is one thing even harder: explaining to people from war-affected regions why these organisations disappear when they need them the most.

    Since 2014, when Russia occupied Crimea and invaded Ukraine for the first time this century, Ukrainians have seen thousands of international organisations’ representatives spending their time here, mostly in expensive hotels and restaurants. We were told that were here to try and save Ukrainian lives. But now that Ukrainian lives are in fact under immediate threat, international organisations are not here anymore. For us, they are now invisible and silent.

    Civic space in Ukraine is rated ‘obstructed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.
    Get in touch with Truth Hounds through itswebsite orFacebook page.

  • UKRAINE: ‘International organisations are clearly not up to their historic responsibilities’

    Oleksandra MatviichukCIVICUS speaks with Oleksandra Matviichuk, head of the board of the Center for Civil Liberties (CCL), about human rights violations in Ukraine amid the Russian invasion and civil society’s response.

    Established in 2007, CCL is a Ukrainian civil society organisation (CSO) that promotes human rights and democratic values in Ukraine and Europe.

    How has Ukrainian civil society organised in the wake of the Russian invasion?

    Ukrainian civil society came together and issued the Kyiv Declaration, an appeal made by 100 civil society leaders that includes six points: to establish safe zones that protect civilians from air and ground attacks; to provide immediate defensive military aid, including lethal and non-lethal weapons; to implement crippling economic and financial sanctions to undermine Russia’s war machine; to provide immediate aid to local humanitarian organisations; to freeze the assets and revoke the visas of Putin’s cronies; and to provide the technology and support required to record war crimes.

    There are a lot of CSOs in Ukraine, and therefore lots of initiatives happening. CCL has an initiative called Euromaidan SOS, which we launched a while back, in 2013, to provide legal help to activists detained during the Revolution of Dignity. This initiative involves hundreds of volunteers and focuses on legal and logistics support, humanitarian assistance and the documentation of war crimes to help bring perpetrators to justice.

    We work alongside international organisations, foreign governments and the Ukrainian diaspora. We have a campaign dedicated to the establishment of humanitarian corridors and we work with partners in several countries to provide aid in occupied cities. Russians have deliberately isolated occupied cities, attacking people who try to evacuate and obstructing humanitarian assistance. We are working to help those people.

    We also engage with partner human rights organisations in European countries, such as France and Germany, so that they put pressure on their national governments. Some countries have continued doing business as usual with Russia, even though they have repudiated the war. We need their governments to make the kind of political decisions that will save Ukrainian lives.

    As well as producing information to disseminate abroad so that the world knows what is happening in Ukraine, we use Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to spread information among people within Ukraine. One of the ways Russian invaders try to isolate the local population is by cutting off communications. We work to bypass these obstacles and provide life-saving information regarding evacuation procedures, medical care and official decisions, among other things.

    We have all adapted our work to the needs of the moment. I for instance am a human rights lawyer, so my field is the law, but I have somewhat shifted my priorities. I do not have military experience or expertise, but I have had to learn a number of things to be able to help. My work now not only involves research on war crimes for the quest for international justice, but also advocating and finding ways to pressure for the war to be stopped. So while I still conduct work in the field of law and gather evidence for future use, I also do other things, such as connecting with international organisations to try to get them to maintain their presence in Ukraine.

    What are you asking the international community to do?

    We work to force the international community to act in ways that are consistent with their words. Western politicians have expressed their support for Ukraine and its people, but their actions say otherwise. They have established economic sanctions against Russia, but there are still too many loopholes. A clear example is that of the SWIFT network, which has banned only a few Russian banks. Sberbank, one of the biggest banks, has not been excluded. We want all Russian and Belarusian banks expelled from the system, which would hopefully obstruct funding for the war and put enough pressure so that they will push for stopping it. Another urgent measure would be to put an embargo on Russian oil and gas, which are enabling the Russian government to fund its invasion of Ukraine.

    We don’t want the international community to get comfortable with what is happening in Ukraine. They must stand in solidarity with us and help us fight this. Our number one priority is to be able to defend ourselves, but we are fighting not only for ourselves but also for the values of a free world. Russia started this war because it is afraid of NATO. Putin is afraid of freedom. We hope our example will also impact on other post-soviet states and we will get to decide what our region will be like.

    We want the international community to provide tangible solutions. Now that the bulk of refugees have been got to safety, it is time to reach for a more ambitious goal. We need strategic measures that will stop war crimes and force the invasion itself to stop. In occupied territories, we have already seen people being beaten up, arrested and tortured. Detentions, kidnappings and torture are being used against the brave Ukrainians who go out with the Ukrainian flag and face Russian soldiers. It is only a matter of time before human rights defenders, journalists, religious leaders and civil society activists and organisations start to be deliberately targeted. We need to find ways to protect people. 

    What is your assessment of the international response to the Russian invasion so far?

    We feel and appreciate the huge wave of solidarity across the globe, but it is not enough to address our situation. What we need is a serious response to the Kyiv Declaration.

    Unfortunately, our advocacy asks have not been met. International organisations and our allies are focusing on providing humanitarian assistance to refugees outside Ukraine. This is very important because there are more than three million Ukrainian refugees now. But it is also the easiest thing to do in this horrible situation, when tens of millions remain in Ukraine, where war is still happening. The people who have stayed also need protection and humanitarian assistance, and they need it even more urgently.

    This is why we urged the establishment of a no-fly zone and the supply of long-range distance weapons, defence systems and fighter planes. We have been asking for weeks but have not received anything yet. What we got instead from the international community has been drones, that’s all. But drones will not protect civilians from Russian attacks.

    Our own allies sometimes offer us aid that is not useful. Instead of listening to our requests, people who have no idea what it is to be under this kind of attack insist on providing the help they think we need. For instance, I have received calls from international CSOs who wanted to send us vests and helmets, which hopefully would arrive in Kyiv within a few weeks. That sounded funny because right now we don’t know what will happen within the next few hours. I had to explain to them that if Russians came to occupy Kyiv and found us wearing their nice helmets, they would kill us all. Their helmets won’t protect us from the dangers we face.

    I think the architecture of the international governance system is not working properly because it has a fundamental design defect. Russia is a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council. The mandate for this body is to maintain international peace and security, but we have seen the total opposite of that take place in Ukraine. And there is also a lack of understanding of their responsibilities by those who are in positions where they could help. When the war started, international organisations evacuated their staff from Kyiv and other places under attack. International organisations are clearly not up to their historic responsibilities. 

    I remain in Kyiv and have spent yet another horrible night in which residential buildings have been targeted by Russian missiles. I really don’t understand what the international community is waiting for. We need their urgent help. The people who died last night in Kyiv couldn’t wait.

    Civic space in Ukraine is rated ‘obstructed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.
    Get in touch with the Center for Civil Liberties through itswebsite orFacebook page, and follow@ccl_ua on Twitter.

  • UKRAINE: ‘The presence of international organisations is key to ensure safe humanitarian corridors’

    Sasha RomantsovaCIVICUS speaks with Sasha Romantsova, executive director of the Center for Civil Liberties (CCL), about Ukrainian civil society’s response to the Russian invasion.

    Established in 2007, CCL is a Ukrainian civil society organisation (CSO) that promotes human rights and democratic values in Ukraine and Europe.

    What are the main ways in which your organisation is responding to the Russian invasion?

    In the face of the unprecedented situation in Ukraine, on the first day of the Russian invasion CCL renewed its Euromaidan SOS initiative. This was launched in 2013 to provide legal help to activists detained during the peaceful protests held in the context of the Maidan Revolution, or Revolution of Dignity, which erupted in response to the then-president’s sudden decision not to sign a political and free trade agreement with the European Union.

    This initiative, which brings together hundreds of volunteers, is now working on various aspects of Russia’s human rights violations in Ukraine. More specifically, our volunteers are documenting war crimes and gathering information about prisoners and missing persons.

    Other volunteers help spread the word about what is going on in Ukraine through our social media accounts on Facebook and Twitter. They share useful information 24 hours a day. They publish content in various languages on YouTube. There is a whole group of volunteers who provide translations and specialists who tirelessly work on video editing.

    At the international level, we maintain communication channels through our diaspora, international human rights networks, partners and friends. We discuss with diplomats the urgent need for the protection of human rights in Ukraine. One significant issue we have discussed is the need for the presence of the missions of international organisations to ensure safe humanitarian corridors to evacuate civilians from war zones.

    Additionally, to respond to requests from people in need, we have created a special chatbot for the Telegram app.

    We are also constantly conducting advocacy actions and campaigns, such as #CloseTheSky, supporting President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s international demand for a no-fly zone over Ukraine. We are now starting a new campaign regarding the need for safe humanitarian corridors – safe evacuation routes for those fleeing the war.

    Alongside us, many other human rights organisations are involved in various areas of documenting Russia’s war crimes. Additionally, there are numerous public initiatives on all fronts, among them efforts to provide humanitarian cargo and logistics, evacuate civilians and organise art events and media campaigns, including some aimed to a Russian audience. These are very important because otherwise the truth about what is happening in Ukraine would never get reach the Russian population. We maintain a database of initiatives across the country. 

    How is the conflict affecting Ukrainian civil society’s work?

    Most CSOs have been forced to suspend their activities on the ground, and some have had to leave Ukraine for the time being. Many CSO staff members and activists who have stayed have at the very least sent their families away. There are some cities – such as Kharkov in the northeast and Mariupol in the southeast – where it is impossible for any CSO to continue to work. In other cities, such as Berdyansk, Kherson and Melitopol, activists are being kidnapped for their work.

    CCL continues to operate from Ukraine and our team members have not left the country. We are truly blessed to have a group of fantastic people who have run the Euromaidan initiative since Russia started this war.

    What should the international community do to help?

    Our demands to global leaders are to close the skies over Ukraine, provide weapons for our effective protection and fully enforce all the sanctions imposed on Russia, including the disconnection of all Russian banks from the SWIFT network and the cessation of oil and gas purchases from Russia.

    Given that most international organisations, including the United Nations (UN), have evacuated their international staff from Ukraine due to serious threats to their lives, we urge them to send in international missions qualified to work in military conditions.

    These missions’ duty should be to monitor the actions of both parties. The UN should establish an international tribunal to establish the facts of the Russian Federation’s military aggression, while the International Criminal Court should consider and promptly rule on war crimes and crimes against humanity in Ukraine. The International Committee of the Red Cross should be in charge of organising the exchange and removal of the dead from both sides.

    We stress the urgent need for international presence and international monitoring of violations during the evacuation of the civilian population from destroyed cities, villages and settlements. We therefore urge international civil society to support the advancement of our demands to the governments of democratic countries and the leadership of international organisations.

    Civic space in Ukraine is rated ‘obstructed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.
    Get in touch with the Center for Civil Liberties through itswebsite orFacebook page, and follow@ccl_ua on Twitter.

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