Civil and Political Rights

 

  • Cambodia Human Rights Crisis: The UN Human Rights Council Should Act Now

    To Members and Observer States of the United Nations Human Rights Council

    The undersigned civil society organizations are writing to draw your attention to the ongoing human rights crisis in Cambodia and to call for your support at the upcoming 48th session of the UN Human Rights Council (the “Council”) to ensure that the resolution on Cambodia effectively reflects the significant deterioration of the human rights situation in the country and enhances the monitoring and reporting by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).

    The human rights situation in Cambodia has continuously worsened since 2017, as the government-controlled courts dissolved the main opposition party, the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), and barred its co-founders, Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha and more than a hundred CNRP politicians from politics, while replacing over 5,000 locally elected officials with members of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP).

    The situation has further deteriorated since the last Human Rights Council resolution on Cambodia was adopted in September 2019. Judicial harassment against opposition members has sharply increased, including through the conduct of mass trials against them in more recent months. Human rights defenders, activists, independent media and media workers, and trade unionists have continued to be relentlessly persecuted through judicial harassment and legal action. Environmental human rights defenders and youth activists have specifically been targeted: recently, six members1 of Mother Nature - a grassroots environmental group - were detained under serious charges including “plotting” to overthrow the government and face up to 10 years in prison. A highly politicized judicial system renders the prospect of fair trials for those deemed a threat to the interests of the government virtually non-existent.

    The government has used the Covid-19 pandemic as an excuse to significantly expand its powers through an over-broad and vague state of emergency law2 ; a similarly broad Covid-19 law that allows for up to 20-year prison sentences for violations of Covid-19 measures; and the selective prosecution of political opponents who criticized the government’s Covid-19 efforts. The government also failed to protect human rights in its Covid-19 response. The government’s lockdowns were imposed without ensuring access to adequate food, medical, and other humanitarian assistance, and authorities took insufficient steps to prevent major Covid-19 outbreaks among the prison population in a penal system plagued by chronic overcrowding.

    Laws are routinely misused in Cambodia to restrict human rights, undermine and weaken civil society, and criminalize individuals for exercising their rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association. The authorities continue to adopt repressive legislation, with complete lack of oversight. In the past year, the government has taken drastic measures to further increase online surveillance, clamp down on freedom of expression online and erode privacy rights. In February 2021, the authorities adopted the “Sub-decree on the Establishment of a National Internet Gateway” which aims at forcing all web traffic and internet connections through government controlled and monitored gateways by February 2022. The pending “Draft Law on Cybercrime” and the “Draft Law on Public Order” would provide further tools to criminalize freedom of expression or behaviors in the digital, print, and public spaces, in addition to legislation already denounced by the Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Cambodia and other UN Special Procedures3.

    Noting the announcement of Commune Council elections to be on June 5, 2022, we are deeply concerned that there has been no meaningful progress to restore human rights.

    The Council has a critical role to play in addressing the ongoing human rights crisis in Cambodia. It is imperative that the Council takes robust action with regard to the government’s escalating repression by sending a strong signal at its 48th session - the last opportunity within the context of the biennial Human Rights Council resolution to address the human rights crisis in Cambodia before the Commune Council elections in 2022 and the National Assembly elections in 2023. For this reason, our organizations urge the Human Rights Council to:

    • Renew the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Cambodia, so as to allow the mandate to continue to work on long-term issues.

    • Request the OHCHR to monitor and report on the situation of human rights in Cambodia, and in particular in the context of the electoral process, and to present to the Human Rights Council an oral update with recommendations at the 49th session, to be followed by an interactive dialogue, and to present a written report at the 51st session in an enhanced interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on Cambodia.

    • Highlight escalating repression and restrictions on human rights, including persecution of human rights defenders, media workers and trade unionists, and misuse of legislation to restrict human rights.

    We further urge your government, during the 48th session of the Human Rights Council, to speak out clearly against ongoing violations in Cambodia.

    We remain at your disposal for any further information.

    Sincerely,

    1. Amnesty International
    2. ARTICLE 19
    3. Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)
    4. CIVICUS – World Alliance for Citizen Participation
    5. Human Rights Watch
    6. International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
    7. World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)


    1In May 2021, the authorities convicted and sentenced three Mother Nature activists to 18 and 20 months in prison. Two others were convicted in absentia.
    In June 2021, the authorities arrested four Mother Nature activists, released one, and maintained the other three in pre-trial detention.
    2The Law on the Management of the Nation in State of Emergency (April 2020)
    3See, for example, Law on Associations and Non-Governmental Organizations (LANGO), Law on Trade Unions, Law on Political Parties

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

     

  • Countries on CIVICUS Monitor watchlist presented to UN Human Rights Council

    Statement at the 48th Session of the UN Human Rights Council

    Delivered by Lisa Majumdar

    Thank you, Madame President.

    A number of countries have experienced serious and rapid decline in respect for civic freedoms in the last months. We call upon the Council to do everything in their power to immediately end the ongoing civic space crackdowns which are a foreshadowing of worse violations to come.

    In Afghanistan, against a backdrop of deepening human rights, humanitarian and economic crisis, activists face systematic intimidation and are at grave risk. The Taliban are carrying out house-to-house searches for activists and journalists, and have responded with excessive force, gunfire and beatings to disperse peaceful protests, leading to deaths and injuries of peaceful protesters. The Council previously failed to take swift action to establish a monitoring and accountability mechanism. We urge it to remedy this missed opportunity now.

    In Belarus, attacks on human rights defenders and independent journalists have intensified, against the backdrop of recent draconian changes to the Mass Media Law and to the Law on Mass Events which were adopted in May 2021. We call on the Council to ensure that arbitrarily detained human rights defenders are released, and perpetrators of violations are held to account.

    Since the end of May, Nicaragua’s authorities have carried out a further crackdown on civil society and the opposition. Dozens of political leaders and human rights defenders were arrested and prosecuted as the government acted to silence critics and opponents ahead of presidential elections in November, a context which renders free and fair elections impossible. It is essential that the Council escalates its international scrutiny of Nicaragua to further accountability and justice for crimes under international law.

    We thank you.

    Civic space in Afghanistan, Belarus and Nicaragua is rated as repressed by the CIVICUS Monitor 

     

  • Sex Education Deemed Illegal in Uzbekistan

    Johannesburg. 16 March 2010.Uzbek HIV activist, Maxim Popov, has been sentenced to seven years in prison apparently as punishment for his work to raise public awareness on prevention of sexually transmitted diseases and the promotion of healthy lifestyles. Although the sentence was given in September 2009, this news became public only in late February 2010.

    According to local sources, Maxim Popov was charged with embezzlement of funds, involving minors in anti-social behavior, molesting individuals, involving individuals with drugs, and tax evasion. Two of his colleagues were also charged with embezzlement, tax evasion and violations of foreign currency regulations and were given one-year suspended sentences. Mr Popov is the leader of NGO Izis, which focuses on work with drug addicts, sex workers and on HIV prevention. He is also the author of the book "HIV and AIDS Today", which was published with the support of UNICEF and Population Services International. This book, explaining STD prevention, was deemed "illegal" by the criminal court of Tashkent, based on the findings of a commission of experts that it is disrespectful of the national culture and the Uzbek people.

     

  • Zambia: New government must lift restrictions on civil liberties

    Global civil society alliance CIVICUS congratulates President Hakainde Hichilema on his election as the new President of Zambia and commends the millions of people of Zambia for participating in the electoral process that has seen the transition of power from former President Edgar Lungu to a new government. The people of Zambia braved the Covid-19 pandemic, concerns of violence, and internet restrictions ahead of the elections to exercise their civic duty.

    “Zambians have demonstrated to the world a resolve to chart their own democratic path in a constitutional way; to return to a space where human rights and fundamental freedoms are respected, promoted, and protected. We urge the government of President Hichilema to promote and protect human rights principles and good governance for a better Zambia.” Said Dr Paul Mulindwa, Advocacy and Campaigns Officer, CIVICUS.

    Over the last five years in Zambia civil liberties deteriorated as Zambian authorities arrested journalists, suspended independent media platforms and subjected human rights activists to judicial persecution. Several activists have been targeted particularly for calling for accountability in the management of state finances and for protesting against corruption.

    President Hichilema’s government has a responsibility to initiate broad consultations with civil society, reverse civic space restrictions imposed by his predecessor and respect fundamental freedoms in line with Zambia’s constitution and international human rights obligation.

    We urge the new government to:

    • Carry out an independent investigation into the violence ahead of the elections and bring the perpetrators to justice. Lift the ban on all independent media outlets, particularly Prime TV, and lift all restrictions on online freedoms and create an enabling environment for independent media, journalists, and activists to freely express their views without fear of intimidation and harassment.
    • Adhere to and respect the provision of the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance, including not restricting access to internet as a standard practice in future elections.
    • Honour its obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, and all other human rights obligations and commitments.
    • Fulfil the promises made during the electoral processes including building a better Zambia, based on democratic principles.

    The CIVICUS Monitor, an online platform that tracks threats to civil society in countries across the globe, rates civic space – the space for civil society – in Zambia as Obstructed.