civic space

 

  • Open Government Partnership undermined by threats to civil society

    • Fundamental civic freedoms seriously undermined in over a third of OGP countries – Colombia, Honduras, Liberia and Mexico fare worst
    • Worrying picture revealed by the CIVICUS Monitor, a new online research tool that rates civic space around the world and documents systemic violations of rights

    Johannesburg, 2 December 2016 –People’s rights to protest, organise and speak out are currently being significantly violated in 25 of the 68 active Open Government Partnership (OGP) countries, according to the CIVICUS Monitor, an online tool to track and compare civic freedoms on a global scale.

    The new tool launched in October by the global civil society alliance CIVICUS rates countries based on how well they uphold civic space, made up of three fundamental rights that enable people to act collectively and make change: freedom of association, freedom of peaceful assembly, and freedom of expression.

    The OGP brings together governments and civil society with the shared aim of making governments more transparent, accountable and responsive to their citizens. OGP countries make multiple commitments relating to civil society and public participation, which include consulting with civil society and enabling citizens to input on policy.

    Of the 68 active OGP countries, the CIVICUS Monitor finds that civic space in four - Colombia, Honduras, Liberia and Mexico -  is repressed, which means that those who criticise power holders risk surveillance, harassment, intimidation, imprisonment, injury and death. Civic space is also rated as repressed in Azerbaijan and Turkey, both recently declared ‘inactive’ by the OGP’s steering committee.

    In the past six months, the CIVICUS Monitor has documented a wide variety of attacks on civil society in these four countries, ranging from the assassinations of five social leaders in just one week in Colombia, to the police’s use of tear gas and water cannons to disperse student protests in Honduras, and from the four-hour detention and questioning of a newspaper editor in Liberia to the murder of a community radio journalist in Mexico.

    A further 21 OGP countries are rated obstructed, meaning that space for activism is heavily contested through a combination of legal and practical constraints on the full enjoyment of fundamental freedoms.

    Other commitments on civic participation and civic space that OGP countries make include releasing and improving the provision of information relating to civic participation; bringing in or including citizens in oversight mechanisms to monitor government performance; and improving legal and institutional mechanisms to strengthen civil society capabilities to promote an enabling environment for participation. 

    “The existence of significant restrictions on civil society in more than a third of OGP countries is deeply troubling and calls into question their commitment to the principle of empowering citizens upon which the OGP was founded,” said Cathal Gilbert, lead researcher on the CIVICUS Monitor. “OGP countries should be harnessing the potential of public participation in governance, rather than silencing government critics and harassing human rights defenders.”  

    Of the remaining OGP countries, civic space in 31 is rated as narrowed. A total of 12 countries are rated as open, which means that the state safeguards space for civil society and encourages platforms for dialogue. Positively, no OGP countries fall into the CIVICUS Monitor’s closed category.

    “Notably, OGP countries as a group fare better than the rest of the globe on civic space,” said Gilbert. “However, much more needs to be done collectively to ensure that commitments on public participation made by OGP countries in their national development plans are carried through.”

    As heads of state and government, members of parliament, academia, business and civil society representatives meet at the OGP Summit in Paris, France from 7-9 December, CIVICUS urges delegates to focus discussions on best practices to improve civic space conditions in OGP countries.

    ###

    For more information, please contact CIVICUS’ media team on .

    Notes to editor

    During the OGP Summit, lead researcher Cathal Gilbert will present these findings from the CIVICUS Monitor during a session from 11:15 - 12:35 on Thursday 8th December in Room 1, Palais d’Iena, Paris. For more information see here: https://en.ogpsummit.org/osem/conference/ogp-summit/program/proposal/459. CIVICUS Secretary-General Danny Sriskandarajah will take part in a high-level panel on civic space at the OGP Summit on Friday 9th December.

    The CIVICUS Monitor is available at https://monitor.civicus.org. Ratings are based on a combination of inputs from local civil society activists, regional civil society experts and research partners, existing assessments by national and international civil society organisations, user-generated input and media-monitoring. Local views are prioritised. The CIVICUS Monitor is regularly updated during the week and users are invited to contribute. More information on the methodology is available here.

    ###

    Annex I – CIVICUS Monitor ratings, December 2016 (Active OGP countries highlighted in bold)

    All (134) Countries:

    Closed (16 countries): Bahrain, Burundi, Cuba, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Iran, Laos, Libya, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, UAE and Vietnam

    Repressed (33 countries): Afghanistan, Algeria, Angola, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Belarus, Cambodia, Cameroon, CAR, Chad, China, Colombia, Djibouti, DRC, Egypt, Gambia, Honduras, Iraq, Liberia, Mexico, Myanmar, Pakistan, Palestine, Republic of the Congo, Russia, Rwanda, Swaziland, Thailand, Turkey, Uganda, Venezuela, Yemen, Zimbabwe

    Obstructed (29 countries): Armenia, Bhutan, Brazil, Brunei Darussalam, Burkina Faso, Côte d'Ivoire, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Israel, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Malaysia, Moldova, Mongolia, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Sierra Leone, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Tunisia, Ukraine

    Narrowed (40 countries): Albania, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belize, Benin, Bolivia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Botswana, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, Comoros, Costa Rica, Croatia, El Salvador, France, Georgia, Ghana, Greece, Italy, Japan, Lithuania, Macedonia, Malawi, Montenegro, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, United Kingdom, Uruguay, USA

    Open (16 countries): Andorra, Belgium, Cape Verde, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Latvia, Malta, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden

    CIVICUS is a global alliance of civil society organisations and activists dedicated to strengthening citizen action and civil society around the world.

    www.civicus.org

    www.twitter.com/CIVICUSalliance

    www.facebook.com/CIVICUS

    #CIVICUSMonitor

     

     

  • Open NGO letter about the funding gap affecting UNHR mechanisms & the OHCHR

    To:
    All Permanent Missions to the United Nations in Geneva and New York

    Cc:
    UN Secretary General
    UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
    Chairpersons of the Human Rights Treaty Bodies
    Coordination Committee of UN Special Procedures

    It is with a sense of urgency that we convey our deep concern regarding the critical funding situation affecting the UN’s human rights mechanisms and OHCHR. We understand that the combination of delays in payments of UN member states’ assessed contributions to the regular budget and the 25% cut to travel of UN representatives, including treaty body experts and Special Procedure mandate holders, and other budget cuts (2018-2019) may adversely impact on the capacity of various human rights mechanisms to carry out their mandates effectively.

    In April, the Chairpersons of the 10 human rights treaty bodies were informed that due to the financial situation, the autumn 2019 sessions of six treaty bodies may need to be cancelled.[1] Not only is the cancellation of treaty body sessions deeply worrying as it may involve cancellation of reviews already scheduled and delay decisions on individual communications pending before the Committees but it also sends a troubling message ahead of the 2020 treaty body strengthening discussions. This unprecedented development would come as we celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the 40th anniversary of the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.

    We understand that other independent expert mechanisms such as the Special Procedures, and other mechanisms created by the Human Rights Council such as Fact-Finding Missions and Commissions of Inquiry, may also be hampered in carrying out their mandates to monitor and investigate human rights violations.

    As of 10 May, only 44 UN member states had paid all their assessments due to the UN. We would like to  commend Armenia, Australia, Austria, Bahrain, Bhutan, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, China, Cuba, Cyprus, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Gabon, Georgia, Germany, Guyana, Hungary, Iceland, India, Ireland, Italy, Jamaica, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Malawi, Malaysia, Monaco, Nauru, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Norway, Poland, Rwanda, Samoa, Singapore, Slovakia, Solomon Islands, Sweden, Switzerland and Tuvalu for having done so.[2] 98 member states had paid their regular budget assessments by 20 May 2019.

    The failure to pay assessed contributions is only the latest in a worrying trend of shortfalls and cuts affecting the UN budget allocated to its human rights mechanisms. In the 2018-2019 budget the General Assembly made adjustments to reduce the resources for experts by 15 per cent, reduce the travel of representatives by 25 per cent, and reduce resources for travel of staff by 10 per cent[3], all without taking into account the disproportionate effect these decisions would have on the UN’s human rights mechanism. Only 3.7 per cent of the total UN regular budget is currently allocated to OHCHR[4]. We are extremely concerned by reports that the funding gap may affect the functioning of OHCHR and the human rights mechanisms in 2020 and beyond.

    Against the worrying background of a global pushback against the promotion and protection of human rights, we urge all UN member states to:

    • Pay their assessed contributions without further delay, unless they have already done so, in order to assure the functioning of the UN’s human rights mechanisms.
    • Prioritise securing adequate funding for the UN’s human rights pillar, with the promotion and protection of human rights being also indispensable to development, peace and security.
    • Initiate, in due time ahead of the 2020-2021 budget negotiations, discussions on how to reverse the trend of reduced regular budget for OHCHR and assuring that the UN’s human rights mechanisms are not disproportionately affected by over-all cuts to the UN budget, including by restoring the budget allocation for travel of representatives for these mechanisms.

    [1] https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=24621&LangID=E

    [2] http://undocs.org/en/A/73/443/Add.1, para. 26 and https://www.un.org/en/ga/contributions/honourroll.shtml accessed on 27 May 2019.

    [3] https://www.un.org/press/en/2017/gaab4270.doc.htm

    [4] https://www.ohchr.org/EN/AboutUs/Pages/FundingBudget.aspx

    SIGNATORIES 

     

  • Outcomes & reflections from UN Human Rights Council

    38th Session of the Human Rights Council
    End of Session Joint Civil Society Statement

    Our organisations welcome the adoption of the resolutions on civil society space, peaceful protest, on violence against women and girls and on discrimination against women and girls and the Council’s rejection of attempts to impede progress on protecting civil society space, peaceful protest and the rights to sexual and reproductive health.

    On civil society space, the resolution recognizes the essential contribution that civil society makes to international and regional organisations and provides guidance to States and organisations on improving their engagement with civil society.  On peaceful protest, it sets out in greater detail how international law and standards protect rights related to protests. 

    On violence against women and on discrimination against women, we consider that ensuring sexual and reproductive health and rights are vital in efforts to combat violence and discrimination against women, online and offline, as well as to ensure targeted and specific remedies to victims. We appreciate that the work of women human rights defenders towards this is recognised. 

    We consider the adoption of the resolution on the contribution of the Council to the prevention of human rights violations as an important opportunity to advance substantive consideration on strengthening the Council’s ability to deliver on its prevention mandate.

    Following challenging negotiations, we welcome the adoption by consensus of the resolution on human rights and the Internet, reaffirming that the same rights that people have offline must also be protected online, and calling on States to tackle digital divides between and within countries, emphasising the importance of tools for anonymity and encryption for the enjoyment of human rights online, in particular for journalists, and condemning once more all measures that prevent or disrupt access to information online.

    We welcome continued Council attention to Eritrea's abysmal human rights record. This year's resolution, while streamlined, extends expert monitoring of, and reporting on, the country and outlines a way forward for both engagement and human rights reform. We urge Eritrea to engage in long-overdue meaningful cooperation. 

    We welcome the renewal of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Belarus under item 4 with an increased vote - as it is still the only independent international mechanism to effectively monitor human rights violations in Belarus - while remaining concerned over a narrative to shift the mandate to item 10 in the absence of any systemic change in Belarus. 

    We welcome the consensus resolution on the Democratic Republic of Congo, putting in place continued monitoring and follow up on the expert’s recommendations on the Kasais. However, given violations and abuses throughout several regions in the country, occurring against the backdrop of an ongoing political crisis, delayed elections, and the brutal quashing of dissent, we urge the Council to promptly move towards putting in place a country-wide mechanism that can respond to events on the ground as they emerge.

    We welcome the strong resolution on Syria, which condemns violations and abuses by all parties, and appropriately addresses concerns raised by the COI about the use of chemical weapons, sexual and gender-based violence, and the need to address situations of detainees and disappearances. The Council cannot stay silent in the face of continued atrocities as the conflict continues unabated into its seventh year.

    We welcome the joint statements delivered this session on Cambodia, the Philippines,and Venezuela. We urge Council members and observes to work towards increased collective action to urgently address the dire human rights situations in these countries.  

    On the Philippines, we emphasise that the Council should establish an independent international investigation into extrajudicial killings in the ‘war on drugs’ and mandate the OHCHR to report on the human rights situation and on moves toward authoritarianism.  

    The joint statement on Cambodia represents a glimmer of hope after the Council's failure to take meaningful action against clear sabotage of democratic space ahead of elections. Close scrutiny of the human rights situation before, during and after the elections is paramount and the Council must take immediate action on current and future human rights violations in this regard.

    We welcome the joint statement delivered by Luxembourg  calling on the HRC President to provide short oral updates on cases of alleged intimidation or reprisal, including actions taken, at the start of the Item 5 general debate of each Council session and also provide States concerned with the opportunity to respond.

    Finally, the new Council member to replace the United States should demonstrate a principled commitment to human rights, to multilateralism and to addressing country situations of concern by applying objective criteria. 

    Joint Statement by Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA), the Association for Progressive Communications, the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR), CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation, DefendDefenders (the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project), Human Rights House Foundation (HRHF), International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA), the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) 

     

  • Over 30 rights organisations call on international powers to pressure Cambodia over human rights abuses

    Joint Letter

    We call on Australia, Canada, Finland, France, Germany, India, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand, Sweden, the Netherlands the United Kingdom, and the United States of America, to join the EU in its call to the Cambodian government to take concrete action to address the human rights situation in the country. Repressive laws that restrict human rights and civic freedoms in Cambodia have worsened during COVID-19.


    Your excellency,

    We, the undersigned 32 civil society organizations, urge the Governments of Australia, Canada, Finland, France, Germany, India, Japan, New Zealand, Sweden, the Netherlands, the Republic of Korea, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America to echo the European Union (EU) in its call for the respect of human rights in Cambodia. On August 12, 2020, the EU will partially suspend Cambodia’s “Everything But Arms” (EBA) tariff preferences in response to the Cambodian government’s “serious and systematic violations” of four human and labor rights conventions: the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966), the International Labor Organization (ILO) Convention concerning Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize No. 87 (1948), the ILO Convention concerning the Application of the Principles of the Right to Organize and to Bargain Collectively, No. 98 (1949), and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1966).

    The Cambodian government continues to crack down on civil society, independent media, and the political opposition and human rights defenders to silence critical voices in the country. In the past three years it has adopted a series of repressive laws that unduly restrict human rights. In November 2019, the Cambodian authorities had arbitrarily detained nearly 90 people solely on the basis of the peaceful expression of their opinions or political views as well as their political affiliations. While 74 opposition members, detained on spurious charges, were released from detention in December 2019, the charges against them remain, and they risk re-arrest. Opposition leader Kem Sokha’s criminal trial for unsubstantiated treason charges has been marred by irregularities since it began in January. Sokha remains banned from politics and faces up to 30 years in prison if convicted. The Prime Minister announced that the trial could drag on into 2021.

    In April, the Cambodian government used the Covid-19 crisis to adopt an unnecessary and draconian state of emergency law that provides the authorities with broad and unfettered powers to restrict freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association – rights that have already been severely restricted during his 35 years in power. Currently, another 30 political prisoners are behind bars due to the Cambodian government’s continued onslaught on free speech in the guise of combating Covid-19.

    Cambodia committed to protecting and promoting fundamental human rights, providing equal protection of the law, and holding genuine periodic elections when it ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The Cambodian government ratified all of the fundamental ILO Conventions that protect the rights of workers and trade unions. Respect for human rights and the rule of law are essential for a stable and flourishing business environment over the long term.

    Cambodia agreed that access to the EU’s Everything But Arms preferential trade scheme is conditional on adherence to the principles in 15 core human rights and labor rights conventions. The European Commission’s decision on February 12, 2020 to partially suspend Cambodia’s EBA preferences followed a yearlong process of ‘enhanced engagement’ between the EU and Cambodia during which the Cambodian government was given every opportunity to cooperate and make significant progress in improving its protection of human rights and labor rights. The European Commission concluded that Cambodia had failed to take necessary measures to retain full EBA benefits.

    We agree. For example, on January 22, 2020, 23 companies and nongovernmental organizations, including major international garment brands sourcing from Cambodia, raised concerns about the labor rights situation and urged the government to amend or repeal two deeply problematic laws, the Trade Union Law and the Law on Associations and NGOs (LANGO), and drop all outstanding criminal charges against union leaders. The government’s tokenistic amendments to the repressive Trade Union Law fell considerably short of what was required to address that issue. More broadly, the government has demonstrated an unwillingness to take concrete and meaningful steps to improve the rights situation; to the contrary, Cambodia adopted further repressive laws and arrested more peaceful critics during the intensive monitoring and evaluation process.

    We therefore call on Australia, Canada, Finland, France, Germany, India, Japan, New Zealand, Sweden, the Netherlands, the Republic of Korea, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America, acting collectively and bilaterally, to echo the EU in its call to the Cambodian government to take concrete action without delay, including but not limited to the following, to address the human rights situation in the country:

    1. Immediately and unconditionally release all political prisoners, including activists, human rights defenders, journalists, and members of the political opposition.
    2. Cease harassment, arbitrary arrests, and physical attacks against union leaders, land activists, human rights defenders, opposition members, and journalists.
    3. Immediately drop the baseless treason charges against opposition leader Kem Sokha.
    4. Conduct independent, impartial, prompt and thorough investigations into attacks, including killings, against critics of the government and hold those responsible to account. For example, the Cambodian government should establish an independent Commission of Inquiry to conduct an effective investigation into the extrajudicial killing of political commentator and human rights defender Dr. Kem Ley in July 2016.
    5. Repeal the Law on the Management of the Nation in State of Emergency.
    6. Reverse the three rounds of amendments to the Law on Political Parties that permit the arbitrary dissolution of political parties and ban party leaders from political activity without due process.
    7. Significantly amend the Trade Union Law in consultation with workers, labor advocates and other stakeholders to bring it into full compliance with ILO Conventions No. 87 (Freedom of Association) and No. 98 (Right to Organize and Collectively Bargain), both ratified by Cambodia.
    8. Repeal or significantly amend the Law on Associations and Non-Governmental Organizations (LANGO), which violates Cambodia’s obligations under international human rights law.
    9. Cease the government’s arbitrary interference and surveillance of the online and offline media and end the use of repressive laws to censor and control independent media.
    10. Restore the work of the Arbitration Council by enabling it to hear all labour disputes, including termination of union leaders, and guaranteeing unrestricted access to all workers, irrespective of union status.
    11. Ensure prompt, fair and transparent resolution of all land conflicts by providing fair compensation to victims of land grabbing and introduce an effective and fair system of land titling, while ending the harassment of land rights activists and affected communities.
    12. Cooperate with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and UN Special Procedures in order to allow them to fulfil their mandates without interference.

    The Cambodian government should take meaningful measures that reverse the deterioration of Cambodia’s human rights situation in order to restore trade preferences or lift suspensions of bilateral aid.

    We urge your government to call on the Cambodian government to comply with its obligations under international human rights law and to support the EU in its efforts to bring respect for human rights, rule of law, and democracy to the Cambodian people.

    Yours sincerely,

    Arab Network for Food Sovereignty - Regional
    Article 19
    ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR)
    Asian Democracy Network (ADN)
    Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)
    Asian Network for Free Elections (ANFREL)
    Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact (AIPP)
    Business and Human Rights Resource Centre (BHRRC)
    Civil Rights Defenders
    CIVICUS
    Clean Clothes Campaign East Asia
    EarthRights International
    Fair Labor Association (FLA)
    FIAN Germany
    Forest Peoples’ Programme
    Front Line Defenders
    Global Witness
    Human Rights Now (HRN)
    Human Rights Watch (HRW)
    International Commission of Jurists (ICJ)
    International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
    International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX)
    International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)
    Pakistan Kissan Mazdoor Tehreek
    People’s Coalition on Food Sovereignty (PCFS) - Europe
    People’s Coalition on Food Sovereignty (PCFS) - Global
    Pesticide Action Network Asia Pacific - Regional
    Roots for Equity, Pakistan
    Struggle to Economize Future Environment (SEFE), Cameroon
    The B Team
    World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)
    Zambia Social Forum


    Civic space in Cambodia is rated as Repressed by the CIVICUS Monitor.

     

  • Pacific Island leaders are tightening the screws on press freedom, dissent

    By Josef Benedict, CIVICUS  civic space research officer. 

    It’s not only climate change and rising sea levels that threaten the lives and well-being of Pacific Islanders. Rising levels of official intolerance of dissent and free speech across the region poses a threat to the well-being of their democracies.
    Read on: Asian Correspondent

     

  • Pakistan: Joint letter on civic space violations against Pashtuns

    Dr Shireen M Mazari
    Federal Minister for Human Rights
    Ministry of Human Rights
    9th Floor, New Pak Secretariat (Kohsar Block)
    Sector F-5, Islamabad, Pakistan

    Concerns regarding civic space violations against thePashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM)

    CIVICUS: the World Alliance for Citizen Participation is a global alliance of civil society organisations (CSOs) and activists dedicated to strengthening citizen action and civil society around the world. Founded in 1993, CIVICUS has members in more than 170 countries.

    The Pakistan NGO Forum (PNF) is an umbrella body composed of five networks of civil society organisations (CSOs) in Pakistan. Collectively, the networks have about 5,000 community-based organisations and CSOs as members. PNF’s primary mission is to create a conducive working environment for CSOs in Pakistan

    We are writing to you with regards to our concerns on civic space violations against the ethnic Pashtun people and in particular the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM). The PTM mobilised nationwide against human rights violations against Pashtun people, sparked by the killing of a young Pashtun man, Naqeebullah Mehsud, by the police in January 2018.

    As well as seeking justice for Naqeebullah’s killing, the movement mobilised around wider calls. Protesters have demanded the formation of a truth and reconciliation commission to examine human rights violations committed by the state and non-state actors in Pashtun areas, including enforced disappearances allegedly perpetrated by the Pakistan army, and extrajudicial killings. Protesters also continue to call for equal rights for Pashtun people, as guaranteed by the constitution, and the restoration of peace in Pashtun areas and the region in general.[1]

    The CIVICUS Monitor, which tracks civic freedoms on a global scale, has documented a series of violations by the authorities and other actors, as set out below.

    The disruption of protests and arrest of protesters

    Scores of protesters have been detained or charged since the beginning of the protests, some under terrorism charges. In most cases, many of those detained were released without charge after weeks in prison. 

    • In March 2018, criminal cases were filed against Manzoor Pashteen and four other PTM leaders. The men were investigated for ‘provoking with intent to cause riot’ and ‘promoting enmity between different groups’ under sections 153 and 153a of Pakistan’s criminal code. According to human rights groups, the accusations were fabricated in “an attempt to smear the PTM and punish its leaders for exercising their rights to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly.”[2]
    • In March 2018, Manzoor Pashteen reported that PTM supporters had received threats that they would be implicated in terrorism offences.[3] In December 2018, he was banned from entering Balochistan province on the grounds of “incitement of unrest in the province through his hate speech and incendiary statement against the state and its institutions.” The ban remains in place.[4]
    • In April 2018, at least 30 activists were arrested in the run-up to the Lahore rally. Police gave no reasons for the arrests; according to reports, “some bystanders kept asking the police as to why were they being picked up and where were they being taken to, but they gave no answer nor produced any arrest warrants as they whisked them away in their police van.”[5]
    • In May 2018, police lodged cases against more than 150 PTM supporters for holding rallies across Karachi. The 150 were accused of crimes ranging from sedition and rioting to terror offences. PTM leader and member of parliament (MP) Mohsin Dawar told news outlet Dawni that the cases were a “tactic” to sabotage PTM’s main Karachi rally, planned to be held on 13 May 2018.[6]
    • In June 2018, 37 PTM activists were arrested at a rally at the National Press Club in Islamabad. According to reports, they were made to sit in a prison van for three hours while the temperature was at almost 40 degrees Celsius before they were taken to Adiala jail. The 37 activists, who included several students, were subsequently charged with sedition.[7] Their cases were referred to an anti-terrorism court, and all were denied bail until 24 September 2018, when the Islamabad district commissioner withdrew anti-terrorism charges.[8]
    • In October 2018, authorities filed a police report (FIR) against activists who had organised a peaceful protest in Bannu, in southern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the previous day.[9]
    • In January 2019, scores of protesters and PTM leaders were arrested during a rally on the outskirts of Karachi. Between 250 and 300 people were accused of various crimes under Pakistan’s Penal Code and Anti-Terrorism Act.[10] Among those arrested was Alamzeb Mehsud, a prominent PTM activist who had been profiling missing persons and other war victims. Footage of his arrest showed his vehicle being intercepted by the police on a busy road, and armed police officers forcing him to disembark before he was taken into custody. He was subsequently charged with inciting a riot, defamation, ‘promoting enmity between different groups’, and ‘statements conducing to public mischief’ read with Section 7 of Pakistan’s Anti-Terrorism Act. The court ordered him to be kept in custody for four days. Ali Wazir, a PTM leader and MP, was also charged, along with 15 other people.[11]

    According to reports, police routinely put pressure on local people to stay away from PTM protests in various cities in Pakistan. Local printing presses refused to print campaign posters while authorities pressured businesses to refuse to provide chairs and tents for protests. Ahead of an April 2018 rally in Swat, lawyer and PTM leader Iqbal Khan reported that officials in the Swat region made announcements from mosques to warn people against participating in the gathering.[12]

    Unlawful killing

    Our organisations are also concerned about the allegations of unlawful killing of a PTM leader Arman Loni, died in police custody on 2 February 2019.[13] He had been arrested earlier that day in the southwestern district of Loralai in Baluchistan after participating in a sit-in outside Loralai Press Club in protest against a recent terror attack. Several police officers reportedly physically assaulted him in public with rifle butts, and he suffered blows to the head and neck. A few hours later, he died in hospital.[14] To date, we are not aware of any credible investigation into the killing or any attempt to bring the perpetrators to justice. Arman’s death was only registered by the police after two months.[15] Our organisations are also seriously concerned about reports that witnesses to his killing have been tortured or otherwise ill-treated by security forces.[16]

    Three days after the murder, more than 80 PTM protesters were detained by police after they gathered outside the National Press Club in Islamabad to protest about Aman’s death.[17] At least 17 PTM members were subsequently charged under the West Pakistan Maintenance of Public Order Act of 1960 and moved to Adiala prison.

    Judicial harassment and threats against activists

    Activists have also faced harassment and threats for supporting the PTM. In August 2018, woman human rights defender Gulalai Ismail was accused, along with 19 other people, of making anti-state comments and using inflammatory language at a PTM rally in Swabi, Khyber Paktunkhwa province.[18] The 19 PTM activists faced charges of ‘unlawful assembly’, ‘punishment for rioting’ and ‘punishment for wrongful restraint’. In October 2018, Gulalai was briefly detained at Islamabad airport as she re-entered the country from the UK. Officials kept her passport but could not tell her which government department had put her name on the Exit Control List (ECL), which imposes a ban on travelling outside the country, or why.[19] In May 2019, the Peshawar High Court quashed[20] the charges against the PTM activists but Gulalai and other activists remain on the ECL.

    Hayat Preghal, a social media activist and supporter of the PTM, was released on bail on 3 October 2018 after more than two months in jail for social media posts that were deemed critical of the Pakistani authorities.[21] He had initially been detained in July 2018 while visiting his family and charged under sections 9 and 10 of Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act, 2016 for ‘anti-state activity through social media’, and sections 500 and 109 of the Pakistan Penal Code.

    Restrictions on media coverage

    We are also concerned that the authorities have attempted to suppress the PTM by silencing media coverage of the movement. In December 2018, internet service providers blocked the website of Voice of America's (VOA) Urdu language service. Its audience was primarily Pashto-speaking communities. Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry claimed the sites were blocked for “false and prejudiced reporting.” An intelligence source reported that the decision to block the website was triggered by VOA's coverage of PTM.[22] An article by Manzoor Pashteen in the New York Times on 12 February 2019, entitled ‘"The Military Says Pashtuns Are Traitors. We Just Want Our Rights" was censored by its local publisher in Pakistan.[23]

    Journalists covering protests have been targeted in a similar manner to participants. Sailaab Mehsud of Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty's Mashaal radio and Zafar Wazir of a local TV channel were accused in December 2018 by police of “raising slogans against state institutions and inciting the public to violence, along with nearly 30 other people.” Authorities raised the allegations following the journalists’ presence at a rally in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. Sailaab said he and Zafar were covering the rally as journalists.[24] In February 2019, the authorities halted the broadcasting of an interview with Manzoor Pashteen on a local Pashtu channel AVT Khyber.[25]

    International obligations

    These violations are inconsistent with Pakistan’s international obligations, including those under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) which it ratified in 2008. These include obligations to respect and protect civil society’s fundamental rights to the freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression. These fundamental freedoms are also guaranteed in Pakistan’s Constitution. Further, during Pakistan’s Universal Periodic Review at the United Nations Human Rights Council in 2017, the government supported recommendations to safeguard freedom of expression, protect the right to life and freedom of expression of journalists and human rights defenders (HRDs), and to investigate all reports of attacks against them and bring perpetrators to justice. It also committed to combat all forms of discrimination, particularly against ethnic minorities.[26]

    We therefore make the following recommendations to the government of Pakistan:

    • Put an end the harassment, stigmatisation, intimidation, unlawful surveillance, travel restrictions and arrest of peaceful PTM activists and ensure that they can freely express their opinions and dissent without fear of reprisals;
    • Conduct a swift, thorough, independent and impartial investigation into the death in custody of activist Arman Loni, and ensure that those responsible for his death are brought to justice;
    • Conduct impartial, thorough and effective investigations into all cases of attacks, harassment and intimidation against HRDs and journalists and bring the perpetrators of such offences to justice;
    • Drop all charges against protesters, community activists and HRDs for exercising their right to the freedom of peaceful assembly and instruct the police that it is their duty to facilitate peaceful assemblies, rather than hinder them;
    • Take immediate steps to ensure press freedom and halt all media restrictions against coverage of the PTM;
    • Ensure that HRDs are able to carry out their legitimate activities without fear or undue hindrance, obstruction or legal and administrative harassment such as travel restrictions under the Exit Control List (ECL);
    • Take steps to make enforced disappearances and torture a criminal offence and ensure that all allegations of such acts are thoroughly investigated and those responsible brought to justice.

    We express our sincere hope that you will take these steps as a matter of priority and we hope to hear from you regarding our inquiries as soon as possible. We would be pleased to discuss these matters with you or other appropriate officials at any time.

    Sincerely,      

    David E. Kode
    CIVICUS Advocacy & Campaigns Lead

    Professor Mohamed Ismail
    Pakistan NGO Forum

    Cc:
    Diplomatic missions in Pakistan

     

    [1] ‘In Pakistan, long-suffering Pahtuns find their voice’, The New York Times, 6 February 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/06/world/asia/pakistan-pashtun-long-march.html.


    [2] ‘Peaceful Pashtun activists face criminal cases’, Amnesty International, 19 March 2018, https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/asa33/8079/2018/en.

    [3] ‘New Pashtun dissent meets old coercion tactics in Pakistan’, Gandhara, 26 March 2018, https://gandhara.rferl.org/a/Pakistan-pashtun-tahafuz-movement-coercion-tactics/29125095.html.

    [4] ‘Balochistan extends ban on Pashteen’s entry,’ Dawn, 3 April 2019, https://www.dawn.com/news/1473567.

    [5] ‘Civil Society condemns arrests of young activists’, The Daily Times, 27 April 2018, https://dailytimes.com.pk/232878/civil-society-condemns-arrests-of-young-activists.

    [6] ‘Over 150 PTM activists booked for sedition, terrorism’, Dawn, 11 May 2018, https://www.dawn.com/news/1406903.

    [7] ‘Islamabad police round up PTM supporters for holding anti-Taliban protest’, Pakistan Today, 9 June 2018, https://www.pakistantoday.com.pk/2018/06/09/islamabad-police-round-up-ptm-supporters-for-holding-anti-taliban-protest.

    [8] ‘ATC case against 37 PTM activists withdrawn’, The Express Tribune, 24 September 2018, https://tribune.com.pk/story/1810320/1-atc-case-37-ptm-activists-withdrawn.

    [9] ‘…meanwhile, FIR registered against PTM Bannu rally organisers’, Pakistan Today, 2 November 2018, https://www.pakistantoday.com.pk/2018/11/02/meanwhile-fir-registered-against-ptm-bannu-rally-organisers/

    [10] ‘Scores held under anti-terrorism laws in Pashtun rights rally in Pakistan’, News 18, 22 January 2019, https://www.news18.com/news/world/scores-held-under-anti-terrorism-laws-in-pashtun-rights-rally-in-pakistan-2009657.html.

    [11] ‘Pashtun rights activist Alamzeb Mehsud arrested in Pakistan’, Al Jazeera, 22 January 2019, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/01/prominent-pashtun-rights-activist-arrested-pakistan-190122121631198.html and ‘PTM leaders booked under anti-terror law, one held’, Dawn, 22 January 2019, https://www.dawn.com/news/1459029

    [12] ‘Pashtun campaigners complain of hurdles,’ Gandhara, 26 April 2018, https://gandhara.rferl.org/a/pashtun-campaigners-complain-of-hurdles-ahead-of-protest-in-pakistan/29194419.html.

    [13] ‘Rights group condemns arbitrary detention of protesters in Pakistan and the police killing of activist’, CIVICUS, 8 February 2019, https://www.civicus.org/index.php/media-resources/media-releases/3720-global-rights-group-condemns-arbitrary-detention-of-pashtun-protesters-in-pakistan-and-the-police-killing-of-a-leading-activist.

    [14] ‘Killing of Mr. Ibrahim Arman Loni & arbitrary detention of Ms. Gulalai Ismail and several PTM members’, Worldwide Movement for Human Rights, 14 February 2019, https://www.fidh.org/en/issues/human-rights-defenders/pakistan-killing-of-mr-ibrahim-arman-loni-arbitrary-detention-of-ms.

    [15] ‘Case registered against Loralai police officer for Arman Loni’s death’, Dawn, 2 April 2019, https://www.dawn.com/news/1473444.

    [16] See Mohsin Dawar, 17 May 2019, https://twitter.com/mjdawar/status/1129489961378635776

    [17] ‘Abdullah Nangyal, Gulalai Ismail among dozens of PTM workers held in capital’, Pakistan Today, 5 February 2019, https://www.pakistantoday.com.pk/2019/02/05/abdullah-nangyal-gulalai-ismail-among-dozens-of-ptm-workers-held-in-capital.

    [18] ‘Prominent human rights activist briefly held by Pakistan authorities’, Voice of America, 14 October 2018, https://www.voanews.com/a/prominent-human-rights-activist-briefly-held-by-pakistan-authorities/4612861.html.

    [19] ‘Release Pashtun human rights defenders immediately and unconditionally’, Amnesty International, 12 October 2018, https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2018/10/pakistan-release-pashtun-human-rights-defender-immediately-and-unconditionally.

    [20] ‘PHC orders quashing of FIR against PTM leaders’, Dawn, 10 May 2019, https://www.dawn.com/news/1481340.

    [21] ‘Immediately and unconditionally release Muhammad Hayat Khan Preghal’, Amnesty International, 24 September 2018, https://www.amnesty.org/download/Documents/ASA3391512018ENGLISH.pdf.

    [22] ‘Pakistan Tightens Coverage of Pashtun Rights Movement’, Voice of America, 11 December 2018, https://www.voanews.com/a/pakistan-tightens-coverage-of-pashtun-nationalist-movement/4696344.html.

    [23] ‘Pakistan censors New York Times article by activist critical of military’, Straits Times, 12 February 2019, https://www.straitstimes.com/asia/south-asia/pakistan-censors-new-york-times-article-by-activist-critical-of-military.

    [24] ‘Two journalists from D.I. Khan booked for covering protest rally’, Pakistan Press Foundation, 12 December 2018, https://www.pakistanpressfoundation.org/two-journalists-from-d-i-khan-booked-for-covering-protest-rally.

    [25] See Tabinda M. Khan, 20 February 2019, https://twitter.com/tabinda_m/status/1098251413312876544

    [26] Recommendations 152.170 (Cyprus), 152.176 (Greece), 152.175 (Norway) and 152.83 (Cote d'Ivoire) in ‘Report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review: Pakistan’, United Nations Human Rights Council, 29 December 2017, https://www.ohchr.org/en/hrbodies/upr/pages/pkindex.aspx.

     

  • PALESTINE: ‘The counter-terrorism law is used to restrict political work in Palestine & shrink civic space in Israel’

    CIVICUS speaks withEinat Fogel-Levin, International Advocacy Coordinator for the Human Rights Defenders Fund (HRDF), about growing restrictions on Palestinian civil society. HRDF is an Israeli civil society organisation (CSO) working to protect Palestinian and Israeli human rights defenders (HRDs) by providing legal aid and defence to those facing various forms of legal persecution and fending off attacks on their bodies, persons and work.

     

  • PALESTINE: ‘They label us antisemites or terrorists to silence us and paralyse our human rights work’

    NadimNashifCIVICUS speaks about civil society’s online activism against repression and oppression in Palestine with Nadim Nashif, executive director and co-founder of 7amleh: The Arab Center for the Advancement of Social Media.

    7amleh is a civil society organisation that advocates for Palestinian digital rights. With the aim of creating a safe, fair and free digital space for Palestinians, it researches digital rights, provides training to Palestinian activists and organisations and leads local and international advocacy campaigns.

    What is the focus of 7amleh’s work?

    We focus on digital rights and digital activism. Palestinian people have been living under occupation for the past seven decades. This kind of occupation obviously involves lots of violence, repression and oppression.

    As technology progressed and the internet became part of our lives, the same power relations were replicated in the online world. Palestinians live under siege from the Israeli government. This siege is not only physical; it has also migrated to the virtual world.

    There are frequent attempts to prevent Palestinians from exercising their freedom of expression online. This is done by pressuring companies to exclude Palestinians. For instance, many social media platforms are biased in their policy toward Palestinian content and many digital payment platforms don’t allow Palestinians to use them under various excuses due to Israel’s pressure. PayPal, for instance, is available to Israelis but not Palestinians. Palestinians’ freedom of expression is also limited because they can be arrested for what they post on social media. There’s an evident practice of discrimination against Palestinians.

    Our organisation is recording all these cases of restriction and documenting them to fight for the rights and freedoms of Palestinians.

    How have Palestinians worked around these restrictions to make themselves heard?

    The Palestinian identity is under attack. For instance, the Israeli army doesn’t let the Palestinian flag be raised. But Palestinians have tried to find creative ways to express their identity. For example, to represent their flag while not raising an actual flag, they have chosen to display the flag’s colours. These are the colours that can be found in watermelons, so they will instead draw a watermelon.

    Social media platforms use the available technology, their algorithms and search engines, to cooperate with the Israeli authorities by monitoring speech and deleting content when certain keywords come up. For example, Palestinian political movements are considered by Israel and the USA to be terrorist organisations, so their names are banned from social media. But digital activists are finding ways to write them that trick artificial intelligence, such as by adding full stops between letters. This is how they can still express themselves and find ways not to be banned entirely online. Those are some tactics Palestinians are using to refuse to play by the rules of those who want to limit them and tell them how to think, write and express their national identity.

    Digital activism is key. When you experience human rights violations on a daily basis, the camera becomes a tool of resistance. For many Palestinians, it is the only defence from soldiers and violent settlers attacking them constantly. In many cases, home evictions were prevented because they were livestreamed. That’s why the Israeli government initiated legislation to criminalise photography and video-making.

    Online global solidarity is also key, as shown by the 2021 case of the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood in East Jerusalem, in which online solidarity movements applied pressure to prevent house evictions. As a result, the Israeli government’s plan didn’t succeed.

    How have the authorities reacted to this activism?

    They have constantly tried to silence the Palestinian narrative and raise the Israeli one, by criminalising Palestinian activists and sending them to jail. There are cases in which you don’t even understand why someone is in jail.

    I remember the case of a young teenager from Jerusalem who posted on Facebook some phrases about Palestinians needing to go to Al-Aqsa Mosque to defend it from Israeli settlers. He spent one and a half years in jail because of this, which was not a call to violence at all. He just said, ‘Hey, this is our holy place, we need to protect it’. You can be sent to jail for saying something about protecting a place! This example is just one of many.

    The Israeli government is pushing many laws and regulations to be able to do this. One of them is the so-called ‘Facebook law’ it is trying to pass. Officially, it’s meant to help deal with harmful content. But it aims to grant Israeli courts the power to demand the removal of user-generated content on social media platforms that can be perceived as inflammatory or as harming the security of the state, people or the public. It is so vague that anything the Israeli authorities don’t like will be sent to the courts, without those affected being able to defend themselves. Using ‘secret evidence’, Israel can order companies to take down content they consider to be illegal. This would obviously be used exclusively against Palestinians.

    Many tactics of online repression are already being used, including lots of online brigading – coordinated actions by groups constantly reporting social media content to the Cyber Unit. Palestinians are under surveillance 24/7, especially on social media. Accounts are continually under surveillance and reported to social media companies. These companies are taking down almost 90 per cent of what the Israeli government asks them to.

    How can international civil society and the international community best support Palestinian civil society?

    I think they must take a firm stand when human rights violations happen. There’s an ongoing attempt to silence Palestinian civil society by labelling us as antisemites or terrorists. These accusations have profound effects: they aim to paralyse Palestinian civil society and prevent it recording human rights violations and atrocities – war crimes – committed against Palestinians.

    Internationally recognised Palestinian human rights organisations have been on the ground for more than four decades and have recorded everything. They clearly have nothing to do with terrorism or antisemitism – all they care about is human rights and democratic values. But many governments around the world fail to reject the accusations against them. Why?

    Any outstanding personality or activist standing up for Palestinians faces a smear campaign. We are trying to develop tools that help us deal with this, but it’s not simple. Palestine is not the only place where this is happening. We’ve seen shrinking civic space and civil society activists and organisations stigmatised as terrorists or terrorist supporters in many other countries in the global south, with many countries of the global north cooperating and supporting the regimes that oppress them.

    No human being would accept having their freedoms taken away without fighting back, as Palestinians do; it’s a natural human reaction. We hope allies and friends from global rights movements, political movements and civil society organisations will stand up for us and raise their voices on our behalf.

    Civic space in Palestine is rated ‘repressed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.
    Get in touch with 7amleh through itswebsite orFacebook page, and follow@7amleh and@NadimNashif on Twitter.

     

     

  • Palestine: New Research brief documents escalation of attacks on civic freedoms

    ARABIC

    Civic freedoms in Palestine continue to deteriorate with an escalation of attacks on civil society organisations, journalists and Human Rights Defenders (HRDs) by the Israeli Occupying Forces (IOF).

    Ahead of the United Nations Human Rights Council debate on Item 7, “Human rights situation in Palestine and other occupied Arab territories, a new research brief by CIVICUS provides an overview of recent civic space restrictions in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT) perpetrated by both IOF and OPT authorities.

    PalestineCountryBrief.September2022.en Page 01Violations documented as a result of Israel’s institutionalised regime of apartheid include the harassment and killing of journalists, protesters and HRDs, censoring Palestinian voices online and offline, and the forcible closure of civil society organisations (CSOs).

    Israel’s targeting of CSOs escalated in 2021 after six leading Palestinian human rights organisations were designated as “terrorist organisations” under the Counter-Terrorism Law. On 18 August 2022, the IOF forcefully entered, raided, and sealed the entries to the offices of seven CSOs[1], confiscating and damaging property in some of the offices. Following the raid, the director of Al-Haq, one of the organisations targeted, was intimidated and threatened that he would pay a ‘personal price’ if Al-Haq continued its work.

    To date, there has been no accountability for the killing of Palestinian-US Al-Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, who was killed over four months ago, in May 2022, while reporting on an Israeli raid in the occupied West Bank city of Jenin, despite wearing a helmet and flak jacket marked “PRESS”.

    Violations of Palestinians' digital rights are commonplace, with major social media platforms such as Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, and Tik Tok complicit in silencing Palestinian voices. For example, during the Sheikh Jarrah protests, where families faced forced eviction and imminent threat by Israeli settler organisations, social media was one of the most important vehicles to share evidence of human rights violations. However, users were systematically silenced on an egregious scale, including by deletion of content, blocking or closing of accounts, hiding hashtags, and reducing content reach. Offline, Palestinians who continue to express their discontent by staging protests are often met with violence from the IOF and settlers.

    In addition, violations of civic space and Palestinian human rights are committed by Palestinian authorities. Both Hamas in Gaza and the Palestinian Authority (PA) in the West Bank are responsible for harassing, detaining and attacking activists, journalists and protesters.

    “The deterioration of civic freedoms in Palestine due to increasing attacks by Israeli Occupying Forces can no longer be ignored. It's time for democratic governments to break their silence and condemn Israel's apartheid regime of systematic racial domination and oppression over the Palestinian people as a whole and to impose economic and diplomatic sanctions on Israel,” said Aarti Narsee, Civic Space Research Officer. 


    More information

    Download the Palestine research brief in EnglishArabic


    [1] The seven CSOs are: Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association, Al-Haq, Bisan Center for Research and Development, Defense for Children International-Palestine (DCI-P), Health Work Committees (HWC), the Union of Agricultural Work Committees (UAWC), and the Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees (UPWC).

    Palestine is currently rated ‘Repressed’ by the CIVICUS Monitor. There are a total of 50 countries in the world with this rating (see all). This rating is typically given to countries where civic space is heavily contested by power holders, who impose a combination of legal and practical constraints on the full enjoyment of fundamental rights (see the full description of ratings).

     

     

  • Peers and Partners: Empowering Children to take Civic Action

    STC PaperWhile threats against civic space are well documented around the world, little is said on how civic space trends are being experienced by children, and how children’s rights and abilities to be active agents for change in their countries and communities are being affected. The report aims to fill that gap by bringing children’s voices to the debate, as well as those of concerned adult civil society activists. The report presents findings from a study conducted in 2016 combining online consultations and face-to-face group discussions with a total of 1,606 children, aged between eight and 17, from 60 countries, and from an online survey carried out with 488 respondents from adult-led civil society from 98 countries.

    Among other findings, the research reveals that:

    • The challenges faced by civil society in general are accentuated for children who seek to engage in civic action and influence public decision-making.
    • Children have the right and the desire to be involved in decision-making, but their potential and ability to contribute to society is being obstructed in many countries.
    • State and intergovernmental institutions must prioritise the creation of spaces and opportunities for children to participate in processes that make decisions on issues that affect them.
    • Adult-led civil society should work to broker new connections between children and policy-makers, and help facilitate meaningful and ethical opportunities for children to participate.

    The brief calls for policy-makers to support children’s civic rights, recognise the benefits of enabling children to exercise their civic rights and their right to participate, and act to unlock these benefits. Improved participation will ultimately lead to better informed and more effective policy.

    Download the Report 

     

  • Peers and Partners: Empowering Children To Take Civic Action and Engage in Open Government

    By Tor Hodenfield, CIVICUS, and Ulrika Cilliers, Save the Children

    In 2015, 264 million primary and secondary age children and youth were out of school. In 2016, 5.6 million children died before their fifth birthday, mostly from preventable causes and treatable diseases. In 2015, it was estimated that close to 1,7 billion children had experienced inter-personal violence in a previous year.

    Read on: Open Government Partnership

     

  • People Power Under Attack

    CIVICUS Monitor Ratings Update October 2017

    Updated ratings from the CIVICUS Monitor, released 4 October 2017, provide further evidence that the space for civil society - civic space - continues to close around the world. The findings show that this phenomenon extends to a wide range of countries - from established democracies like Belgium and the Netherlands, to economic powerhouse China and conflict ridden Yemen. The report outlines how civic space ratings worsened in eight countries, improved in two and remained unchanged in 185 countries. These changes are based on a review of quantitative and qualitative data on the freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression undertaken between July and September 2017.

    Some highlights:

    • 108 countries are now in the CIVICUS Monitor’s ‘obstructed’, ‘repressed’ and ‘closed’ categories, an increase of two from April 2017, which indicate serious restrictions of civic space.
    • Just 22 countries now occupy the ‘open’ category, down from 26 in April. This means that just 2%  of the world’s population live in a country with ‘open’ civic space. This analysis also shows that more than three billion people live in countries with serious to extreme restrictions on fundamental civic freedoms.
    • Only 13 of 28 European Union (EU) member states now have ‘open’ civic space, an uncomfortable statistic for the leaders of a union founded on the values of democracy and human rights.
    • Journalists are especially vulnerable to violations of their civic freedoms, between June 2016 and September 2017, the CIVICUS Monitor published a total of 184 reports involving attacks of one kind or another on journalists.

    Download the Report 

     

  • People power under attack: just 3% of people live in countries where fundamental civic freedoms are fully respected

    • Almost six billion people live in 106 countries where there are serious violations of freedoms of expression, assembly, and association
    • This first ever global dataset on civic space shows that countries with fewer fundamental civic rights restrictions have less inequality

    Johannesburg, 4 April 2017 –Just three percent of people live in countries where the rights to protest, organise and speak out are respected, protected and fulfilled. This is according to the CIVICUS Monitor, which today releases the first-ever global dataset on civic space, a concept central to any open and democratic society which means that states have a duty to protect people's’  fundamental rights to associate, assemble peacefully and express views and opinions. CIVICUS also finds that serious violations of these rights are taking place in 106 countries - well over half of all UN Member States.

    The CIVICUS Monitor rates how open civic space is in countries based on how well they uphold the three fundamental civic freedoms that enable people to act collectively and make change: freedom of association, freedom of peaceful assembly, and freedom of expression.

    Of the 195 rated, it finds that civic space in 20 countries - Bahrain, Burundi, Cuba, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Iran, Laos, Libya, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, Turkmenistan, United Arab Emirates, Uzbekistan and Vietnam -  is closed, a rating characterised by an atmosphere of fear and violence, and severe punishment for those who dare to disagree with authorities.

    A further 35 countries are rated repressed. Fifty-one countries are rated obstructed and 63 narrowed. Just 26 countries are rated as open, meaning the state safeguards space for people in the country to share their views, participate in public life and influence political and social change.

    Click here for responsive visualisations of all of our findings: https://monitor.civicus.org/findings

    In order to highlight countries of immediate concern to us, today CIVICUS is also launching our new Watch List. This advocacy tool enables us to highlight up to five countries on the CIVICUS Monitor where there is a serious and rapid decline in the ability of people to actively engage in a country’s social and political processes, and have their voices heard. Countries on the first iteration of this Watch List include: Cameroon, Macedonia, Myanmar, the USA, and Turkey.

    “Our research shows that restrictions on fundamental civic freedoms are truly a worrying global phenomenon affecting almost 6 billion people,” said CIVICUS Secretary General and CEO Danny Sriskandarajah. “They cut across established democracies and repressive states, undermining participatory democracy, sustainable development and efforts to reduce inequality.”

    The CIVICUS Monitor provides updates on attacks against civil society organisations and activists every weekday.  Analysis of almost 500 updates published on the CIVICUS Monitor over the past four months has found:

    • Detention of activists, use of excessive force against protesters, and attacks on journalists were the three most common violations of civic freedoms.
    • Activists were most likely to be detained over criticism of authorities, human rights monitoring or demands for social or economic needs to be met.
    • Excessive force was most likely to be used against protesters who criticise government decisions or corruption, call for action on human rights abuses or call for basic social or economic needs to be met.
    • Journalists were most likely to be attacked for political reporting, covering protests or conflicts, or because of their ethnicity, religious or political affiliation.
    • In the majority of cases, the state is the perpetrator of violations, although non-state actors also frequently attack journalists, with many of these crimes going unpunished.

    “Swift action should be taken by authorities and the international community to address the rapid decline in respect for civic space in the five countries on our Watch List,” said CIVICUS Monitor lead researcher Cathal Gilbert. “Escalating attacks on protest rights in the United States, the repression of activists in Anglophone areas of Cameroon and Turkey’s all-out assault on dissent must end without delay.”

    CIVICUS Monitor ratings and daily updates are based on a combination of inputs from local activists, regional civil society experts and research partners, existing assessments by national and international civil society organisations, user-generated input and media-monitoring. The CIVICUS Monitor now provides ratings for all UN Member States and regular updates from a network of twenty research partners around the world.

    ****

    Annex I – CIVICUS Monitor ratings, 4th April 2017

    Closed (20 countries): Bahrain, Burundi, Cuba, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Iran, Laos, Libya, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, Turkmenistan, United Arab Emirates, Uzbekistan and Vietnam.

    Repressed (35 countries): Afghanistan, Algeria, Angola, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Belarus, Cambodia, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, China, Colombia, Djibouti, Egypt, Gambia, Iraq, Liberia, Mauritania, Mexico, Myanmar, Oman, Pakistan, Palestine, Qatar, Republic of the Congo, Russia, Rwanda, Swaziland, Tajikistan, Thailand, Turkey, Uganda, Venezuela, Yemen and Zimbabwe.

    Obstructed (51 countries): Armenia, Bhutan, Brazil, Brunei Darussalam, Burkina Faso, Côte d'Ivoire
    Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Fiji, Gabón, Guatemala, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Haiti, Honduras, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Israel, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Lebanon, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malaysia, Maldives, Mali, Moldova, Mongolia, Morocco, Mozambique, Nauru, Nepal, Nicaragua, Niger, Nigeria, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Sierra Leone, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Tanzania,
    Timor-Leste, Togo, Tunisia, Ukraine and Zambia.

    Narrowed (63 countries): Albania, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Bahamas, Belize, Benin, Bolivia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Botswana, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, Comoros, Costa Rica, Croatia, Dominica, El Salvador, France, Georgia, Ghana, Greece, Grenada, Guyana, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Kiribati, Kosovo, Lithuania, Macedonia, Malawi, Marshall Islands, Mauritius, Micronesia, Montenegro, Namibia, Palau, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Poland, Romania, Saint Lucia, Samoa, Senegal, Serbia, Seychelles, Slovakia, Slovenia, Solomon Islands, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, St Kitts and Nevis, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname, Tonga, Trinidad and Tobago, United Kingdom, United States of America, Uruguay and Vanuatu.

    Open (26 countries): Andorra, Barbados, Belgium, Cape Verde, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Malta, Monaco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, San Marino, Sao Tome and Principe, Sweden, Switzerland and Tuvalu.

    Regional breakdown

     

    Africa

    Americas

    Asia

    Europe

    Oceania

    Closed

    9

    1

    10

    0

    0

    Repressed

    15

    3

    14

    3

    0

    Obstructed

    18

    9

    19

    3

    2

    Narrowed

    10

    21

    3

    19

    10

    Open

    2

    1

    0

    21

    2

    ****

    Notes to editors:

    The CIVICUS Monitor is available at https://monitor.civicus.org. If you have a question about the CIVICUS Monitor - see our FAQ page here.

    For more information or to set up interviews with CIVICUS staff and research partners, please contact Deborah Walter, Communication Manager, CIVICUS on or . Tel: +27 - 11 - 8335959

    CIVICUS is a global alliance of over 3,600 civil society organisations and activists dedicated to strengthening citizen action and civil society around the world.

    www.civicus.org

    www.twitter.com/CIVICUSalliance

    www.facebook.com/CIVICUS

    #CIVICUSMonitor 

     

  • Pese al acoso, el movimiento estudiantil hondureño se niega a retroceder

    English

    CIVICUS conversa con Héctor Ulloa, estudiante de doble licenciatura en Derecho y Economía, vicepresidente de la Asociación de Estudiantes de Derecho de la Universidad Nacional de Honduras y fundador del Movimiento Progresista Universitario (PRO).

     

  • PHILIPPINES: ‘The charges against me are part of the government’s efforts at silencing its critics’

    CIVICUS speaks with the chairperson of human rights group Karapatan, Elisa ‘Tita’ Lubi, who currently faces fabricatedcharges of attempted murder. She was accused alongside Karapatan Southern Mindanao Region’s Secretary General Jayvee Apia for allegedly committing these crimes during an armed encounter between members of the armed opposition group New People’s Army and the military in May 2018. The case was only filed in June 2020, two years after the alleged encounter.

    Karapatan is a national alliance of civil society organisations (CSOs) and activists working to promote and protect human rights in the Philippines. Established in 1995, Karapatan has 16 regional chapters and includes more than 40 member organisations. Karapatan staff and members have been vilified by the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte for their activism and have repeatedly faced trumped up charges.

     

     

    What is your background and experience as an activist?

    After martial law was declared by President Ferdinand Marcos in 1972, I decided not only to support the student activists but to spend part of my time, which used to be totally consumed by the corporate world, helping and learning about real life from farmers and fisherfolk. After my third arrest and detention, I became active in the women’s movement since it was Gabriela, a national alliance of women’s organisations, which successfully campaigned in the Philippines and internationally for my release. I also used what skills I had developed, as a young human resources management and development manager in a US corporation and a multinational conglomerate, to design and pioneer a Basic NGO Management Course to help non-government and people’s organisations better run their projects, programmes and operations.

    Eventually I became active in Selda, an organisation of former political detainees, and helped in the formation of Karapatan. I became the Founding Vice Chairperson of the Gabriela Women’s Party, which won in the party list elections in its first try. It was then one of the only two women’s political parties in the world.

    So as an activist, I worked in the people’s movement, the women’s movement, the struggle for human rights and in the electoral arena. Eventually, I started focusing more on the defence and advancement of human and people’s rights, with specific attention to the plight of political prisoners and campaigning for their release, having been one myself. I was arrested and detained twice under Marcos’s martial law and once under the Corazon Aquino presidency (1986-1992).

    I am now the National Chairperson of Karapatan, an alliance of organisations and individuals advocating and fighting for human and people’s rights. Its major responsibilities include monitoring and reporting of the overall human rights situation in the Philippines, so since 2007 we have regularly published a Year-End Report on the human rights situation in the country.

    We have documented and reported cases of violations of human and people’s rights in our  quarterly human rights Monitor. We also coordinate the Quick Reaction Team machinery composed of paralegals from affected regions and sectors, human rights lawyers, medical professionals when needed and volunteer human rights advocates; such teams immediately verify the report of a rights violation, search for the victims in military camps, detention centres and police stations, get in touch with the victim’s family and visit and investigate the scene of a violation.

    We also expose cases, especially the grossest ones, of human rights violations nationally and internationally through newspapers, radio, television and social media. We aim to engender widespread protest and strengthen political pressure on the Filipino government to prevent further human rights violations. We oppose and campaign against repressive laws, bills, directives, government policies and programmes that imperil political, civil, economic, social and cultural rights. We are part of the Free Political Prisoners campaign and we gather political and material support for them.

    Finally, we help in the provision of legal and medical services to political detainees, support their struggle for prison reform and help them meet their daily basic needs, which are not sufficiently provided by prison administrations, and initiate or join fact-finding and solidarity missions to document and assist victims and their families.

    What harassment have you have faced over the years?

    It is a long story of harassment, arrest, detention and ‘red tagging’ – a practice where people are slurred as communists and terrorists. Since 2016, when President Duterte took power, the government has committed widespread and systematic human rights violations, including the killing of human rights defenders. The government’s anti-insurgency campaign has failed to distinguish between armed combatants and civilians and there have been harassment and attacks against activists who are singled out and accused of supporting the communist insurgency. In my first arrest during Marcos’s martial law years, two of my companions, student activists from the state university, were shot dead.

    Under the post-Marcos administration of President Aquino, some changes occurred but they were superficial and not at all the fundamental changes we were working for. I was once more arrested for violating the Anti-Subversion Law and was incarcerated first in a police station and then transferred to a city jail. But before that, I was sexually molested while undergoing tactical interrogation. I was released after more than six months when the case was dismissed for lack of evidence. By the way, the 100-plus city jail women detainees elected me Mayora, some sort of president of the detained.

    Then came President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who invoked a national emergency. In 2006, a rebellion case was slapped on six progressive party-list representatives sitting in the Philippines Congress and about 40 other critics of the government. The legislators became known as the Batasan Six; I was one of the other 40. The case was later dismissed by the Supreme Court, with the following admonition: “(We) cannot emphasise too strongly that prosecutors should not allow and should avoid giving the impression that their noble office is being used or prostituted, wittingly or unwittingly, for political ends.”

    What have you and Karapatan been accused of more recently, under the Duterte administration?

    In 2018, a petition was filed by the Justice Department for the proscription as terrorist organisations of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and the New People’s Army (NPA), which have led a longstanding national liberation movement in the Philippines. Appended to the petition was a list of more than 650 names that included those of social activists, human rights defenders, peace advocates and other government critics. My lawyer and I filed a motion to have my name stricken off the petition. Pushed by the strong protest against the clear military move to silence dissent and the freedom of expression, the government submitted an amended petition that dropped the list of names, retaining only two.

    As a reaction to the unrelenting work of Karapatan to defend rights and expose the dismal human rights record of the Duterte government, not only in the country but also in the international community, including in the United Nations (UN), Karapatan has been subjected to constant and vicious harassment, intimidation, red-tagging, demonisation and vilification. 

    To protect itself, Karapatan filed a petition for legal protection under the privilege of the writ of amparo and habeas data, along with two other organisations, Gabriela and Rural Missionaries of the Philippines. In retaliation, Duterte’s National Security Adviser charged officers of the three organisations with perjury. The leaders of these organisations, including me as Karapatan’s chairperson, are all on provisional liberty after posting bail. Hearings on the case are proceeding during the pandemic.

    The latest in the series of attempts at political repression against us is the filing of an attempted murder charge against my colleague Jay Apiag, me and three others. Two years after the supposed incident, a soldier of the Philippines Army allegedly identified us as part of an NPA unit that staged an ambush. On 29 March 2021, my lawyers and I filed an urgent omnibus motion for reinvestigation and to defer implementation of the warrant of arrest. It is still pending in court.

    I have also shared evidence with the courts confirming my presence in Metro Manila preceding, during and following the alleged incident. In addition, it is also implausible that I was engaged in armed combat as I am 76 and suffer from hypertension and arthritis.

    Why do you think the authorities are coming after you and Karapatan?

    Those moves are part of the Duterte government and its military and police arms’ efforts at silencing its critics, whom they brand as ‘enemies of the state’. They are part of Duterte’s attempt at building a tyrannical rule patterned after his idol, the dictator Marcos. 

    Its counter-insurgency operational plan, Oplan Kapanatagan, aims to stem the continuing growth of the liberation movement in the country led by the CPP, the NPA and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP). The Duterte government, with retired generals appointed to various cabinet positions, cannot understand that unless the basic problems of Filipino society are solved, even step by step, the people’s movement will persist.  

    What Duterte and his militarist henchmen have done instead is to merge as targets of attacks the armed and underground movements and the open and legal democratic people’s movement. So now, Karapatan and social activists and rights advocates like myself are in the bullseye of Duterte’s guns, so to speak.

    What is the overall situation for human rights defenders?

    The Philippines is one of the countries where social activists, human rights defenders and peace advocates live most dangerously. Recently, the Supreme Court was forced to issue a statement against attacks on lawyers, as 61 lawyers have been killed under Duterte’s presidency. The Duterte government’s intolerance of criticism was manifested by its red-tagging of film stars and beauty queens, university bodies and even organisers of community food schemes who were simply expressing their views. Six NDFP peace consultants have been summarily executed under Duterte. Four were shot dead, one was stabbed several times and one was garrotted.

    Very recently, the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) ordered the profiling of the organisers of the Maginhawa Community Pantry, a civil society initiative that solicits donations and distributes foodstuffs under the motto ‘From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs’. Community pantries are mushrooming all over due to the government’s inability to alleviate impoverishment under the pandemic. Many are protesting against the red-tagging of the community pantry organisers, made worse by the NTF-ELCAC spokesperson, a retired military general, who likened the woman initiator of the public initiative to Satan.

    What needs to change for the rule of law and human rights to be respected and for democracy to flourish?

    First, and in general terms, the Duterte government should stop using the law to break the law. Specifically, it should repeal the Anti-Terrorism Law, which allows the warrantless arrest, prolonged detention and freezing of bank accounts of individuals based on mere suspicion of being terrorists. It should abolish the NTF-ELCAC, which leads inter-agency actions with impunity, including but not limited to extrajudicial killings, massacres, enforced disappearances, simultaneous raids and arrests, filing of trumped-up charges and red-tagging. It has billions in public funds, which could very well be allocated to COVID-19 testing, vaccination and food assistance to families affected by the pandemic.

    The police should stop killing suspected drug users and pushers during its anti-drug operations, mostly conducted in urban poor communities. The judiciary should also categorically instruct its prosecutors and judges to desist from filing charges in court and issuing search and arrest warrants with insufficient evidence or with hardly a preliminary investigation. The military and police should be prevented from exerting pressure on or threatening officers of the courts.

    The Duterte government should go back to peace negotiations. Headway has been achieved in the draft Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Rights, specifically on agrarian reform and rural development and national industrialisation and economic development. There is a possibility of an Interim Peace Agreement and a coordinated ceasefire. The NDFP is willing to continue peace talks to address the root causes of the armed conflict. It is the Duterte government that is refusing to sit down and talk once more.

    Next year, 2022, is a national election year. There should be major electoral reforms to prevent fraud through electronic cheating and the rampant use of ‘guns, goons and gold’ to maintain the corrupt politicians entrenched in power. There should be a stop to political dynasties, including that of President Duterte, whose daughter is mayor of Davao City and is perceived to have started campaigning for the presidency in 2022 despite continued denial. One Duterte son is a congressman, while another is a vice mayor. Electoral reforms and people’s action should ensure that the candidates with the people’s interests at heart get a fighting chance and those whom the people vote for actually win.

    What can the international community and CSOs do to support you and other activists facing judicial harassment?

    One way is to join and support the Stop the Killings in the Philippines international campaign. Another is to join and support the international campaign to investigate the human rights situation in the Philippines.

    Still another is to support advocacy with the UN Human Rights Council and UN Special Procedures being undertaken by Philippine human rights defenders and peace advocates to address the real situation of human and people’s rights and the implementation of international humanitarian law in the Philippines.

    And finally, the international community and CSOs can push for and support the resumption of peace talks between the government and the NDFP, and urge the government to stop the attacks on NDFP peace consultants and honour whatever peace agreement has been reached between the government and the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Mindanao.

    Civic space inthe Philippinesis rated ‘repressed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.
    Follow Karapatan through itswebsite or follow@karapatan on Twitter.

     

  • PHILIPPINES: ‘This victory belongs to everyone who supported and fought with us’

    MariaSolTauleCIVICUS speaks about the recent acquittal of 10 human rights defenders in the Philippines with Maria Sol Taule, a human rights lawyer and member of the Karapatan Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights.

    Founded in 1995, Karapatan is a national alliance of civil society organisations (CSOs) and activists working for the promotion and protection of human rights in the Philippines. It documents and denounces extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, arbitrary imprisonment and militarisation, helps organise mass actions to expose human rights violations and challenge the prevailing culture of impunity, and monitors peace negotiations between the government and the insurgent National Democratic Front of the Philippines. Karapatan has recently provided legal counsel to criminalised human rights defenders and campaigned for their acquittal, including through online campaigns such as #TogetherWeDefend and #DefendTheDefenders.

    What were the accusations brought against the 10 human rights defenders who were recently acquitted?

    The 10 human rights defenders were charged with perjury, but on 9 January 2023, after three years of court trial, the Quezon City Metropolitan Trial Court Branch 139 acquitted them on grounds that the prosecution had failed to prove that the officers of Gabriela, Karapatan and Rural Missionaries of the Philippines (RMP) – had ‘wilfully or deliberately asserted a falsehood’.

    The origins of the case date back to May 2019, when Sr. Elenita Belardo, RGS of the RMP; Elisa Tita Lubi, Cristina Palabay, Roneo Clamor, Wilfredo Ruazol, Edita Birgos, Gabriela Krista Dalena and Jose Mari Callueng, all from Karapatan; and Joan May Salvador and Gertrudes Libang of Gabriela jointly filed a petition for Writ of Amparo and Habeas Data before the Supreme Court of the Philippines in response to relentless red-tagging – the labelling of activists, human rights defenders and CSOs critical of government policies and actions as linked to communist insurgent groups, leading to accusations of being destabilisers and enemies of the state – and other attacks against CSOs and their members.

    The respondents in the petition included former President Rodrigo Duterte, other high-ranking officials from the police and military, including former National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr., and officers of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC).

    The case was remanded to the Court of Appeals, which dismissed it in June 2019. According to the Court of Appeals, the petition did not conform with the requirements of the rules on the Writs of Amparo and Habeas Data. The Court also said that the allegations in the petition and documents submitted did not fulfil the evidentiary standard to establish that the petitioners’ right to life, liberty, security and privacy were violated or threatened with violation by the respondents.

    Shortly after the petition was dismissed, one of them, former National Security Adviser General Hermogenes Esperon Jr., filed a retaliatory suit of perjury against the petitioners. He filed it before the Quezon City Office of the City Prosecutor.

    Esperon alleged that the original petition had indicated that the RMP was a corporation registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), when in fact its registration had been revoked. Esperon implicated Gabriela and Karapatan because the petition had been jointly filed by the three organisations.

    In their defence, Gabriela and Karapatan said that they could only attest to facts and circumstances pertaining to themselves, as evidenced by the separate verifications attached to the petition, while RMP said that the mention of its status as being registered corporation had been made in good faith: RMP first heard that its registration had been revoked when Esperon filed the case, as it had not received any notification from the SEC and had consistently filed its annual reports with it.

    The case was initially dismissed at the prosecution level, but Esperon filed a motion for reconsideration, which was granted. It was later filed in court and became a full-blown trial.

    How did civil society advocate for the 10 human rights defenders’ acquittal?

    From the time we received a subpoena informing us of the perjury charges against officers of the three organisations, we knew that this was a malicious and retaliatory suit resulting from our filing of a petition for Writ of Amparo and Habeas Data before the Supreme Court.

    Human rights defenders were being attacked once again. So we knew that apart from a good legal defence, we needed to build a solid support coalition among civil society in the Philippines and abroad. We launched a campaign around the hashtags #TogetherWeDefend and #DefendTheDefenders and lobbied with our allies and networks in the Philippines. We also lobbied with the diplomatic community in the Philippines through trial observations and gathered the support and solidarity of international CSOs to back our call for their acquittal. So this victory belongs to everyone who supported and fought with us.

    What is the context currently like for Filipino civil society?

    The situation has steadily worsened following the results of the presidential election held in May 2022, which was won by an alliance of two authoritarian dynasties: the son of former dictator Ferdinand Marcos was elected president, and Sara Duterte, daughter of Rodrigo Duterte, was elected vice-president.

    The 2020 Anti-Terrorism Law passed under Duterte is being intensely used against activists. Dozens of petitions were filed before the Supreme Court challenging the law’s constitutionality, but the Court ruled most of its provisions to be constitutional. Activists are illegally arrested, abducted, tortured and even killed, and nobody is prosecuted for these gruesome crimes. The NTF-ELCAC continues to vilify and red-tag human rights defenders. Many are also facing trumped-up criminal charges. More than 800 political prisoners are currently languishing in various jails in the Philippines.


    Civic space in the Philippines is rated ‘repressed’by theCIVICUS Monitor.

    Get in touch with Karapatan through itswebsite or itsFacebook page, and follow@karapatan and@soltaule on Twitter.

     

  • PHILIPPINES: ‘We fear the democracy those before us fought so hard for will be erased’

    CIVICUS speaks about the recent presidential election in the Philippines with Marinel Ubaldo, a young climate activist, co-founder of the Youth Leaders for Environmental Action Federation and Advocacy Officer for Ecological Justice and Youth Engagement of Living Laudato Si’ Philippines (LLS).

    Founded by Catholic lay people, LLS began in 2018 as an interfaith movement calling on Filipino financial institutions to divest from coal-related operations and other environmentally harmful activities. It aims to empower people to adopt lifestyles and attitudes that match the urgent need to care for the planet. It promotes sustainable development and seeks to tackle the climate crisis through collective action.

    Marinel Ubaldo

    From your perspective, what was at stake in the 9 May presidential election?

    The 2022 election fell within the crucial window for climate justice. As stated in the latest report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, we need to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius or we will suffer terrible consequences, such as a rise in sea levels that will submerge much of the currently populated land, including the Philippines. Upcoming leaders will serve for the next six years –and possibly beyond. They have the immense responsibility of putting a climate change mitigation system in place for our country and urging more countries to do the same.

    As shown by Super Typhoon Rai that hit the Philippines in December 2021, climate change affects all of us. Whole communities lost their loved ones and their homes. Young people will reap the fruits, or pay the consequences, for whatever our incoming leaders do in response to this crisis. This is why climate anxiety is so prevalent among young people.

    How did young people mobilise around this election?

    Young people campaigned house to house. We also went to grassroots communities to educate voters on how to vote wisely. Alongside other organisations that form the Green Thumb Coalition, our organisation produced a Green Scorecard and we used our social media platforms to promote the ‘green’ candidate.

    One of the biggest youth initiatives around the elections was ‘LOVE, 52’, a campaign aimed at empowering young people and helping them engage with candidates and make their voices heard in demand of a green, just, and loveable future through better governance. We wanted to shift the focus from candidates’ personality and patronage politics to a debate on fundamental issues, and to help young people move traditional powerholders towards a people-centred style of policymaking.

    We called this initiative ‘LOVE, 52’ in reference to the fact that young people – people under 40 – comprise 52 per cent of the Philippines’ voting population. We sought to appeal to younger voters’ emotions, and our central theme was love because a frequent response to the question ‘why vote?’ is to protect what we love: our families, our country, and our environment. The main element of this campaign was a ‘love letter’ drafted by several youth organisations and addressed to the country. It contained young people’s calls to incoming leaders, including those of prioritising environmental and social issues, coming up with a coherent plan to address the climate crisis, and supporting a vibrant democracy that will enable climate and environmental justice. We gathered all the love letters people wrote, put them in one envelope, and delivered them physically to the presidential candidates’ headquarters.

    What are the implications of the election results for civil society and civic freedoms?

    The results of these elections will have a lot of implications for the Filipino people. They will have a direct impact on civil society and our freedoms of association, expression and peaceful assembly.

    The winning candidate, senator Ferdinand ‘Bongbong’ Marcos Jr., the son and namesake of a former dictator, has said that he will include his family in his administration. Just today, I saw the new president’s spokesperson on the news saying Marcos will make his own appointments, bringing in the people he trusts. I think he will really try to control the government with people who follow him unconditionally. He will put such people in all the positions available, so everyone will tell him what he wants to hear and no one will disagree with him. I think this is the scariest part of it all.

    I fear in a few months or years we will be living under a dictatorship. Marcos may even be able to stay in power for as long as he wants. After trying to reach power for so long, he has finally won, and he won’t let go of power easily.

    It’s very scary because the human rights violations that happened during his father’s dictatorship are not even settled yet. More human rights violations are likely to happen. It’s a fact that the Filipino people won’t be allowed to raise their voices; if they do so, they may risk being killed. This is what happened under martial law during Ferdinand Marcos’s dictatorship.

    This will definitely affect civil society. It will be very difficult for humanitarian workers to respond to any crisis since Marcos will likely aspire to micro-manage everything. We fear the democracy those before us fought so hard for will be erased.

    Regarding the specifics of policymaking, we don’t really know what the plan is. Marcos campaigned on vague promises of national unity and implied that all problems would be solved if people unite behind his leadership. Needless to say, he never mentioned any policy to tackle climate change and the environmental crisis.

    Against all signals, I keep hoping the new administration will be receptive to people’s demands. I really hope our new president listens to the cries of the people. Our leaders must reach out to communities and listen to our issues. I doubt Bongbong Marcos is capable of doing that, but one can only hope.

    What support does Filipino civil society need from international civil society and the international community?

    We need to ensure the international community sends out a consistent message and stands by our side when oppression starts. We also need them to be ready to rescue Filipinos if their safety is at risk. We activists fear for our lives. We have doubts about how receptive and accepting the new administration will be toward civil society. 

    Today is a gloomy day in the Philippines. We did our best to campaign for truth, facts, and hope for the Philippines. Vice President Leni Robredo campaigned for public sector transparency and vowed to lead a government that cares for the people and bolsters the medical system. If she had won the elections, she would have been the third woman to lead the Philippines after Cory Aquino and Macapagal Arroyo.

    Leni’s loss is the loss of the Philippines, not just hers. There are still too many people in the Philippines who believe Marcos’s lies. I don’t blame the masses for believing his lies; they are victims of decades of disinformation. Our system sadly enables disinformation. This is something that needs to be urgently tackled, but the next administration will likely benefit from it so it will hardly do what’s needed.

    We now fear every day for our lives and for the future of our country.

    Civic space inthe Philippinesis rated ‘repressed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.
    Get in touch with Living Laudato Si’ Philippines through itswebsite or itsFacebook page, and follow@LaudatoSiPH on Twitter and@laudatosiph on Instagram

     

  • PHILIPPINES: ‘We will make sure that human rights are on the electoral agenda’

    CIVICUS speaks about civil society responses to the growing restrictions on civic space in the Philippines with Nymia Pimentel Simbulan, Chairperson of the Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates (PAHRA) and Executive Director of the Philippine Human Rights Information Center (PhilRights).

    PhilRights is a civil society organisation (CSO) that works on human rights education, training, research and information, and that monitors and documents human rights violations. Established in 1991 by PAHRA, PhilRights serves as the alliance’s research and information centre. It played an important part in advocacy that led to the abolition of the death penalty in the Philippines in 2006 and continue to play a leading role in the submission of alternative reports on economic, social and cultural rights to United Nations human rights mechanisms. It has published several human rights training materials that are extensively used by CSOs and social movements.

    Nymia Pimentel Simbulan

    Photo Credit: Schwanke/Brot fuer die Welt

    What is the state of civic space in the Philippines, and what risks do civil society activists and organisations face?

    Civic space in the Philippines is currently restricted, particularly for human rights organisations and defenders. It has slowly become narrower over time, and it is increasingly challenging for human rights organisations and defenders to exercise rights such as those to the freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression. 

    This has been going on for years. In 2018 the Philippine Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) issued a memorandum with new requirements CSOs must comply with. This made CSOs suspicious and apprehensive because they were being asked to provide the SEC with sensitive information like sources of funding, areas of operation and details of board members as a requirement in the renewal of their registration. The new regulations were used by the government to monitor their operations and activities, including for human rights CSOs.

    A big problem we have right now is ‘red tagging’: the practice of state agents labelling activists, human rights defenders and CSOs that are vocal and critical of government policies, programmes, pronouncements and actions as being linked to communist insurgent groups and accusing them of being destabilisers and enemies of the state. This is a common strategy used by the Philippine government through the security sector as a way of intimidating and silencing individuals, groups and members of the opposition who openly criticise the state. 

    The National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict has been notorious in red-tagging since the second quarter of 2021. This body was created following the passage of the 2020 Anti-Terrorism Act, in the midst of the pandemic. Its mandate was to put an end to the local insurgency problem but in the implementation of its mandate it has targeted legitimate opposition, human rights defenders, media practitioners and progressive church leaders through red-tagging and vilification campaigns, the filing of trumped-up charges and dissemination of lies and fake news through the social media.

    Also rampant is harassment of human rights lawyers, defenders and media personalities who are vocally critical of the government and its policies. One case worth mentioning is that of Maria Ressa, a Filipino-American journalist who became known for exposing corruption and human rights violation through Rappler, a Manila-based digital media company for investigative journalism. She was awarded the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize but continued to be harassed and criminally charged on multiple fabricated accusations, including fraud, tax evasion and receiving money from the CIA.

    What was the process leading to the approval of the Human Rights Defenders Protection Act, and what role did civil society play in it?

    The Human Rights Defenders Protection Act was passed by the House of Representatives on 17 January 2022, but it is not yet law. For it to become law, the Senate must still pass a counterpart of the bill, which it has not yet done.

    Still, the passage of the bill by the House, without a single legislator voting against or abstaining, is quite unprecedented. This is a piece of legislation that human rights activists have long been advocating for.

    Civil society has lobbied for the passage of the bill into a law for years, not only under the current Congress but also under the previous one. Civil society representatives repeatedly met with the House’s human rights champions. Encouragingly, there are also human rights champions in the Senate who have consistently supported the civil society campaign for the passage of the bill.

    Much work remains to be done with human rights champions in the Senate. Given time constraints, I don’t know if the bill will be passed. If it is, civil society will use it in our human rights advocacy work. If it is not, unfortunately we will be back to square one in the next Congress.

    Do you think the human rights situation will feature in the campaign for the May presidential election?

    I think it will, because PAHRA has come up with a human rights electoral agenda that its member organisations have approved, so while we continue to do our human rights education work and launch campaigns, we will make sure that the human rights electoral agenda reaches communities and the general public.

    When connecting with political parties, we have noticed that they are open to the human rights agenda promoted by PAHRA, so we provide them with a copy so that they can bring up these issues in their campaigns.

    How does PhilRights support civil society organisations and activists in the Philippines?

    We conduct research on various human rights issues. For instance, in the past we did research on children’s involvement in armed conflict and the phenomenon of child soldiers. Right now, we are actively involved in monitoring and documenting human rights violations in the context of the so-called ‘war on drugs’. We have set up a very good documentation mechanism that we use when we go to communities, particularly urban poor communities. We conduct interviews and gather first-hand information from the families and relatives of the victims of extrajudicial killings connected to the ‘war on drugs’.

    With the data that we gather we produce reports, human rights briefs, infographics and posters that we disseminate locally and internationally among the human rights community, the public and international allies and networks.

    In addition, we do human rights education and training. We have produced training modules on human rights education and the rights-based approach to development, and we conduct human rights education in the same communities where we have documented human rights violations. 

    How can international civil society best support Filipino civil society’s human rights work?

    International civil society can support Filipino civil society by disseminating information about what is happening in the country. This will also encourage collaboration because local CSOs are best placed to provide the information materials that international CSOs need.

    International CSOs can also help by organising webinars and inviting Filipino human rights defenders to share their narratives and experiences. We are very open and willing to collaborate with organisations such as CIVICUS and Amnesty International, among others. Institutions willing to support human rights defenders in the Philippines can also do so through funding or linking Filipino CSOs with potential funders.

    Civic space inthe Philippinesis rated ‘repressed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.
    Get in touch with PhilRights through itswebsite or itsFacebook page, and follow@PhilRights on Twitter. 

     

  • Philippines: civic space record continues to deteriorate

    CIVICUS's Oral Statement to UN Human Rights Committee on the Philippines

    Examination of Philippines International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) Report under the Covenant
     
    Chairperson, Honourable Committee members, CIVICUS welcomes this opportunity to share with you some of the organisation’s main concerns about the Philippines’ civic space record.

     

  • Philippines: Stop the Attacks against Human Rights Defenders and Protect Civic Space

     

    Joint Statement:
    We, the undersigned organisations, strongly denounce the recent death threats addressed to Karapatan Secretary General, Cristina Palabay in the Philippines. These threats and the wider attacks against human rights defenders, journalists and civil society representatives signify the further constricting of civic space and the silencing of dissent in the country. We collectively urge the Government of the Philippines to respond to the threats against human rights defenders by taking genuine and effective measures for their protection.

    On 22 April 2019, Palabay received threatening messages from someone using an unknown phone number saying that she and other human rights defenders will be killed this year. These threats highlight the risks faced by human rights defenders, which have significantly increased since President Duterte took office in June 2016. Duterte has consistently spoken out against human rights and human rights defenders. He has previously threatened to behead human rights advocates [1],  and blamed them for the increase in the number of drug users in the country [2].  While the Office of the President has been quick to assert that these statements were merely made in jest, such statements have translated into real-life repercussions for human rights defenders, who face violence and threats from both state and non-state actors. 

    In 2018, the Department of Justice filed a petition placing UN Special Rapporteur Vicki Tauli-Corpuz and other human rights defenders on a list of individuals who supposedly had terrorist connections. Being publicly accused of such connections greatly endangers their security [3].  A month later, Duterte told people to ‘kill those useless bishops’, [4]  referring, among others, to Bishop Pablo Salud, who is known for speaking out against the Government’s ‘war on drugs’. This too resulted in anonymous death threats. 

    On the same day that Palabay received the latest threats against her life, human rights worker Bernardino Patigas was killed [5].  Another human rights defender, Archad Ayao was killed just days later [6].  Of the human rights defenders cases monitored by FORUM-ASIA in Asia in 2017-2018, the biggest percentage of killings - 48 per cent totalling 29 cases – took place in the Philippines [7]. 

    Attacks and reprisals against human rights defenders continue as the Government wages a systematic campaign to attack the independence of democratic institutions and to constrict civic space in the country.  Individuals within the legislative and judiciary branches have faced reprisals for dissenting against Duterte’s policies, while journalists have been targeted for their critical reporting. This campaign has included efforts ranging from: a general failure to investigate attacks against human rights defenders; to the use of repressive laws to judicially harass critics; to outright violence.

    We condemn these attacks, and express deep concern for the government policies and practices that restrict and repress civil society and human rights defenders in the Philippines. We call on the Government of the Philippines to ensure thorough and impartial investigations of the attacks against human rights defenders, and to ensure a safe and enabling environment for them to conduct their work. We also urge the House of Representatives to enact and implement the Human Rights Defenders Protection Bill that will provide legal recognition to and safeguards for human rights defenders, in accordance with the UN Declaration on the Rights of Human Rights Defenders.

    We call on stakeholders in the international community to continue to closely monitor the situation in the Philippines, and to use their interactions with the Government, including in the area of trade and business, to emphasise the importance of reversing restrictive policies and building an enabling environment for the respect and protection of human rights. Specifically, we urge the UN Human Rights Council to advance accountability for human rights violations in the country by adopting a resolution establishing an independent international investigation into extrajudicial killings in the government's 'war on drugs', and to call for a halt to the  attacks on human rights defenders, independent media, and democratic institutions.

    Signed,
    Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)
    CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
    Front Line Defenders
    FIDH (International Federation for Human Rights), within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
    International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)
    World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders


    1 Duterte threatens to behead human rights advocates.
    https://www.gmanetwork.com/news/news/nation/611343/duterte‐threatens‐to‐behead‐human‐rights‐ advocates/story/
    2 Duterte threats alarm rights groups https://www.rappler.com/nation/154110‐duterte‐threats‐alarm‐rights‐ groups
    3 Palace: ‘Terrorist’ tag on UN special rapporteur based on intel. https://globalnation.inquirer.net/164881/victoria‐ tauli‐corpus‐un‐special‐rapporteur‐terrorist‐cpp‐npa
    4 Philippines' Duterte: 'Kill those useless bishops' https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2018/12/philippines‐duterte‐ kill‐useless‐catholic‐bishops‐181205132220894.html
    5 Negros Occidental city councilor shot dead. https://www.rappler.com/nation/228768‐negros‐occidental‐city‐ councilor‐shot‐dead‐april‐22‐2019
    6 BARMM human rights worker shot dead in Cotabato City. https://www.rappler.com/nation/229468‐barmm‐ human‐rights‐worker‐archad‐ayao‐shot‐dead‐cotabato‐city‐may‐2019
    7 Since 2010, FORUM‐ASIA has been using an integrated database documenting system, to document violations and abuses against HRDs in Asia. The data can be accessed at https://asianhrds.forum‐asia.org/.