human rights council


  • India: The UN must condemn crimes against peaceful protesters

    Joint statement at the 43rd Session of the UN Human Rights Council by Amnesty International India, CIVCUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation, FORUM-ASIA and FIDH

    As the UN Human Rights Council meets in Geneva to discuss human rights developments globally, we urge states to speak up against serious human rights violations being committed in India against peaceful protesters and other civilians.

    Both international human rights law and the Constitution of India guarantee the right to freedom of peaceful assembly, the right to freedom of expression, and the right to freedom of association.

    Regrettably, those who have exercised their right to peaceful assembly against the discriminatory Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the National Register of Citizens (NRC) since December 2019 have been arrested and intimidated under various repressive laws. Political leaders have demonised the protesters. At least 50 people have been killed in the protests, including an eight-year-old child, and thousands of people have been arrested and detained. 

    On 12 December 2019, the CAA was passed by the Indian Parliament and assented by the President of India. The CAA provides a path to Indian citizenship for Hindus, Sikhs, Parsis, Christians, Buddhists, and Jains from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan, excluding Muslims, thus legitimising discrimination based on religious grounds. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the European Parliament, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), and various US senators have raised serious concerns about the CAA. 

    The amendments to the Citizenship Act also weaponize the NRC, the National Population Register, and the Foreigners Tribunals to push minorities – particularly Muslims — towards detention and statelessness. As of now, over 1.9 million people are excluded from the NRC, a registration exercise that took place in Assam State over a period of five years. 

    Use of Repressive Laws

    Protesters have faced arbitrary arrests and detention under repressive laws, such as sedition provisions in the Penal Code and the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA). In January 2020, sedition charges were lodged against 3,000 people for protesting against the CAA in Jharkhand State. Cases of sedition have also been filed against a schoolteacher and mother of a student for “insulting” the Prime Minister through a school play; carrying a ‘Free Kashmir’ placard during a protest; and shouting “Pakistan Zindabad” [Long Live Pakistan]. 

    Indian courts have ruled that any form of expression must involve incitement to imminent violence for it to amount to sedition. But the sedition charges have been repeatedly used to arrest journalists, activists and human rights defenders simply for expressing their views. 

    Similarly, the UAPA is India’s primary counter-terrorism law and has been condemned by various human rights groups as being repressive and against the international human rights norms. In the past, the UAPA was abused by successive governments to target human rights defenders working with poor and marginalized communities and those who criticise government inactions or excesses. The abuse of the UAPA has continued under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s administration On 12 December 2019, Akhil Gogoi, an activist and leader of the Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti (KMSS), a peasant rights organisation based in Assam State, was arrested by the Assam police under various sections of the UAPA. 

    Excessive Use of Force by Authorities 

    Police across India have used excessive force to target peaceful protesters. In December 2019 in Varanasi, the constituency of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the police indiscriminately used firearms and less lethal arms to disperse peaceful protesters. This led to the death of an eight-year old child who was crushed to death on 20 December 2019, and resulted in over a dozen injuries.

    The police also attacked student protesters in Jamia Millia Islamia University and Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in Delhi in December 2019 and January 2020, respectively. Students were also attacked in Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) while they were protesting against the CAA in December 2019. Doctors at AMU stated that on 16 December 2019, police blocked ambulances from entering the university to treat the injured students. 

    On 24 February 2020, the Allahabad High Court criticised the role of the Uttar Pradesh Police and said, “The police force should be sensitised and special training modules prepared to inculcate professionalism in the personnel while handling such situations”. The court ordered the Uttar Pradesh government to pay compensation to students who were injured during the protests due to police brutality. 

    However, to date, no reports have been filed against police officers for using excessive force against protesters. 

    Hateful Rhetoric and Vigilante Violence

    While there has been a heavy-handed approach by the police towards the protestors, some political leaders have been inciting hatred and violence against the protesters. 

    Terms like “anti-nationals” and “traitors” have been used to encourage violence against the protesters. The 24/7 sit-in protest site, Shaheen Bagh in Delhi, which has become the epicentre of the anti-CAA protests in the country, has been routinely targeted. The peaceful protests in Delhi has been led primarily by Muslim women and students. 

    In response, some union ministers and chief ministers have engaged in violent rhetoric with statements such as “shoot the traitors”, “press the button with such anger that the current is felt at Shaheen Bagh”, “the protesters would enter citizens’ homes and rape your sisters and daughters and kill them”, “revenge will be taken” in  attempts to divide and fear-monger. In another incident on 23 February 2020, Kapil Mishra,  a leader from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, warned the police of dire consequences if the protesters did not vacate another protest site in Jaffrabad in north-east Delhi, where over 500 women had gathered to protest against the CAA. Shortly after his speech, clashes broke out in the area, which led to the deaths of at least 42 people, including a police constable, and injuring over 250 others. 

    This rhetoric has emboldened non-state actors to assault civilians. However, not a single political leader has been prosecuted for making hate speeches against the protesters. On 26 February, the Delhi High Court ordered the Delhi Police to register a police report against a number of political leaders immediately. 

    Restriction on Freedom of Movement and Right to Freedom of Assembly

    The space for protesting against the CAA and NRC has also been shrinking across India. Orders under Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code were imposed in many parts of Karnataka State and Uttar Pradesh State to restrict gatherings of people at protest sites and to restrict their freedom of movement. 

    In Uttar Pradesh State, the police issued notices to over 3,000 people, cautioning them to neither participate nor incite others to participate in the protests. Such bans on protests have also been imposed in other parts of the country including Delhi, Mumbai, Pune, Bhubaneswar, Nagpur, and Bhopal. In in December 2019, the space for peaceful protests in Varanasi was severely restricted with police officers openly threatening the protesters. 

    In addition to the criminalisation of peaceful assemblies, the freedom of assembly has also been restricted by burdening civilians with recovering the cost of damages to public property. In December 2019, after the violence broke out in Uttar Pradesh, the state government sent notices seeking to recover INR 45 millions’ (USD 628,403) worth of damage to public property. These notices were sent without any form of judicial scrutiny, raising concerns of arbitrariness and bias. Furthermore, to require assembly organisers to shoulder costs for cleaning up after a public assembly is inconsistent with Article 21 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Such costs deter those wishing to enjoy their right to freedom of assembly.

    Internet Shutdowns

    As people took to the streets to protest against the CAA, the Indian authorities imposed internet shutdowns across the country to “maintain law and order.” Besides shutting down internet services in 29 districts of Uttar Pradesh State and the entire Assam State, the authorities also cut internet services in districts in the states of West Bengal, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Telangana, Karnataka, Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh, and Manipur. India has become the country with the highest number of internet shutdowns in the world.

    These shutdowns did not meet requirements for permissible restrictions on the right freedom of expression, as set out under international human rights law. It is unclear under what criteria decisions were made to cut off internet access or what mechanisms were available to challenge such decisions, in violation of the requirement of legality. There is no evidence to show that internet shutdowns prevent the escalation of violence during protests, which makes them in violation of the requirement of necessity. 

    The UN Human Rights Council has unequivocally condemned “measures to intentionally prevent or disrupt access to or dissemination of information online in violation of international human rights law”, and has called on all states to “refrain from and cease such measures”. 

    Use of Mass Surveillance 

    Police in Delhi and Uttar Pradesh State have also used facial recognition technology to monitor, identify, and arrest protesters. Currently, India does not have data protection legislation, resulting in a lack of oversight and regulation of this technology. The absence of a legal framework that specifically regulates facial recognition technology renders the use of such tool susceptible to abuse.  Moreover, the use of facial recognition technology for law enforcement purposes raises concerns of indiscriminate mass surveillance, which is never a permissible interference with the rights to privacy, freedom of expression, freedom of association and peaceful assembly.

    In light of this, we urge the international community, and in particularly UN Human Rights Council member states, to hold the Indian government accountable by calling on the Indian authorities to:

    1. Immediately denounce the state-sponsored and vigilante violence against peaceful protesters.
    2. Drop all charges against peaceful protesters.
    3. Ensure those detained and arrested are treated in line with international human rights law and standards. 
    4. Take necessary measures to establish a fully independent investigation into reports of excessive use of force by law enforcement agencies towards protestors and vigilante violence. The findings should be made public and the perpetrators of such acts should be prosecuted without undue delay.
    5. Ensure that elected political leaders and public officials who have incited violence and promoted hatred between communities are held accountable

    See our wider advocacy priorities and programme of activities at the 43rd Session of the UN Human Rights Council


  • Intersessional panel on the responsibility to protect

    Delivered by Lisa Majumdar

    Thank you, Madame President, and thank you to the panelists for the discussion. 

    The Human Rights Council provides a critical space to enable and assist States’ responsibility to protect. As we have heard, civil society, too, is critical throughout numerous aspects of protection. 

    Civil society plays a unique role in helping local communities to develop peace building initiatives, to monitor threats to human rights and to organise themselves to use non-violent strategies to prevent violence. 

    A vibrant and open civil society, including a free media, with the capability to hold governments to account, is another critical tool in promoting transparency and accountability which is itself a key protection against atrocity crimes. 

    The international community can support civil society in playing this role in two ways. Firstly, by supporting and protecting local civil society. As the UN’s Secretary-General set out in his 2019 report on lessons learned in prevention, the first line of defence against atrocities tends to be local and national human rights organisations.

    Secondly, recognizing the crucial role played by a vibrant civil society and free media in prevention of atrocities, the international community needs to stand ready to take action when civic space is curtailed. The resolution on the Council’s prevention mandate adopted in its 45th session articulated restrictions to civic space as an early warning sign of a deteriorating situation. Civil society cannot contribute to the prevention of atrocities if it is stifled and repressed.

    CIVICUS encourages states to use civic space indicators in a systematic manner at the Human Rights Council in order to both fully operationalize its prevention mandate and to enable civil society to play its own crucial role. This includes raising civic space concerns through individual and joint State statements at the Council, thematic debates, resolutions, and the Universal Periodic Review process. 

    The responsibility to protect falls on States but every stakeholder has a critical role in its implementation. Civil society must be enabled, encouraged and supported to do its part.

    We thank you.


  • Iran: Freedom of assembly is being violently curtailed

    Statement at the 43rd Session of the UN Human Rights Council
    Watch us deliver our statement below:


    Volunteer Activists and CIVICUS note with concern the continued closure of civic space through restrictive laws, arbitrary detention and a crackdown on civil society. 

    The violent response to nation-wide protests in November 2019 resulted in 1,500 killed by police and over 7,000 imprisoned, many of whom have been subjected to torture. We reiterate the Special Rapporteur’s call for prompt, independent and impartial investigations into the violence in order to hold those responsible to account.

    This is a further deterioration of closed civic space in which freedom of assembly is severely and violently curtailed, and scores of human rights activists remain detained – including Nasrin Sotoudeh, Nargess Mohammadi, and Farhad Meysami.

    Despite being a signatory to the ICCPR, Iran continues to restrict civic space through ambiguous and overbroad legislation. Article 26 of the Constitution guarantees the right to the freedom of association, but qualified through compliance with “independence, freedom, national unity, Islamic Standards and the foundations of the Islamic Republic.” The Government of Iran continues to repress civic space through legal and extra-legal platforms, including through arbitrary detentions, enforced disappearances and extra-judicial killings.

    In line with recommendations in the Special Rapporteur’s report, we urge the Government of Iran to immediately and unconditionally release all protestors and human rights defenders detained for their work. We urge the government to reform its legal framework to facilitate a more open environment for civil society and put an immediate end to all extra-legal processes that curtail civic space.

    We further call on the Council to renew this critical mandate and we ask the Special Rapporteur whether he could expand further on what more could be done to protect human rights defenders in Iran?

    See our wider advocacy priorities and programme of activities at the 43rd Session of the UN Human Rights Council


  • Iraq: Over 700 people killed and 2800 arrested since protests started in October

    Statement at the 43rd Session of the UN Human Rights Council
    Iraq's adoption of Universal Periodic Review on Human Rights
    Watch us deliver our statement below

    During the 2nd Universal Periodic Review cycle, the Government of Iraq received eight recommendations relating to civic space. Of these recommendations, seven were accepted and one was noted, but our analysis indicates that none of the recommendations have been implemented. During this cycle, Iraq accepted a number of recommendations relating to civic space,  including recommendations to “guarantee freedom of expression and opinion by protecting the action of journalists, media professionals and human rights defenders from all use of violence and threats by security forces” and to “guarantee the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly in law and practice.” 

    Iraq has severely restricted the right to freedom of expression, by detaining, intimidating and failing to bring to account the extra-judicial killings of journalists. Journalist Nizar Dhanoun was assassinated on 11 February 2020. Alaa Al-Shammari, a reporter for Dijla Satellite TV in the city of Najaf, was severely beaten by riot police on 26 November 2019. The station’s office in Baghdad was later closed and its private broadcasting equipment confiscated. Countless other cases of intimidation have been reported.

    Protests that started 1 October 2019 and focused on high levels of corruption, unemployment and poor service delivery, have been met with widescale arrests and a violent crackdown by authorities on protestors. Reports indicate that almost 700 people have been killed during the protests and over 2,800 arrested. Iraq has failed to hold to account those responsible for the deaths of protestors and journalists, nor has it amended the legal frameworks that further restricts civic space. The penal code curtails freedom of assembly, including through its 2003 Provisional Order 19 which includes a requirement to submit the names and addresses of protestors 24 hours in advance. 

    For this reason, Madame President, we urge the Government of Iraq to amend the legal framework currently restricting civic space, immediately and unconditionally release all protestors, and bring to justice those responsible for the extra-judicial killing of protesters and journalists in Iraq.

    Civic space in Iraq is currently rated as Repressed by the CIVICUS Monitor

    See civil society recommendations that were submitted to the UN Human Rights Council about the conditions of human rights in Iraq.

    See our wider advocacy priorities and programme of activities at the 43rd Session of the UN Human Rights Council


  • Is the USA fit to rejoin the UN Human Rights Council?

    A month into Joe Biden’s presidency, the U.S. has rejoined nearly all the multilateral institutions and international commitments that it withdrew from under Trump. These include the World Health Organization and the Paris Climate Accords. Most recently, on February 8th, the U.S. announced it would also rejoin the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC) as an observer. The U.S.’ role in the human rights forum looks different than it did four years ago in light of its recent track record on civil liberties.

    Read on Inter Press News Service


  • Israel at UN Human Rights Council: Adoption of Universal Periodic Review Report

    38th Session of UN Human Rights Council
    Adoption of the UPR report of Israel

    Mr. President, this is a joint statement by the Palestinian NGO Network (PNGO), the Arab NGO Network for Development (ANND) and CIVICUS. Israeli authorities continue to commit systematic and gross human rights violations against Palestinians. They have failed to implement human rights obligations as a state party to ICCPR and ICESCR and continue to disregard recommendations from UN Special Rapporteurs that call for an immediate end to the occupation.

    In our joint UPR report, we documented undue restrictions on the right to freedom of assembly and recommended that Israeli authorities stop using excessive and lethal force during protests. Recently in the Gaza Strip, Israeli occupation forces used snipers, plastic coated steel bullets, explosive bullets and gas grenades fired from drones in a calculated attempt to kill, maim and inflict serious bodily harm on Palestinians. Since March 20th, 2018, Israeli forces have killed 127 Palestinians and injured an estimated 14,000. Earlier this month, Razan al-Najar, a 21-year old nurse wearing a medical vest was killed by Israeli sniper fire while tending to injured protesters.

    Systematic violations also include the detention of Palestinian human rights defenders. Legislation enacted in 2016 granted Israeli authorities the power to indefinitely detain individuals without trial. These provisions are routinely used to detain human rights defenders. In May 2017, there were over 6,000 political prisoners with 490 imprisoned without trial. 

    We also express concern over Israel’s muzzling of social media. New legislation enacted in 2017 grants Israeli authorities power to arbitrarily block web content and arrest individuals for social media posts. 

    Mr.  President, PNGO, ANND and CIVICUS urge Council members to call on the Israeli government to respect its obligations under international law, by ending the occupation and recognising Palestinian self-determination. 


  • Joint call for Human Rights Council Special Session on Myanmar

    Joint statement by human rights organisations calling UN Human Rights Council to convene a Special Session on Myanmar.

    We, the undersigned human rights organisations, are deeply concerned by the human rights situation in Myanmar after the military seized power and immediately cracked down on the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly and urge the United Nations Human Rights Council to take immediate action.


  • Joint Letter to Human Rights Council: Upholding international law in South Sudan

    To Permanent Representatives of member and observer States of the United Nations Human Rights Council

    RE: Renewing the mandate of the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan and addressing the need for accountability for past and on-going crimes under international law and human rights violations in South Sudan


  • Joint Letter to UN: Strengthen and renew the mandate of the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan

    To Permanent Representatives of Member and Observer States of the United Nations Human Rights Council, Geneva

    RE: Renewing and strengthening the mandate of the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan to ensure accountability for gross violations of human rights and related crimes in South Sudan

    We, the undersigned national, regional and international non-governmental organisations, write to call on your delegation to renew and strengthen the mandate of the UN Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan (the Commission), during the 37th session of the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) in March. It is essential that the Commission continues its vital work to collect and preserve evidence of gross human rights violations, abuses and related crimes, with a view to end impunity and ensure accountability. The HRC should also strengthen the resolution to make explicit that the mandate of the Commission includes the identification of individual perpetrators, with a view to enable future prosecutions.

    The civil war in South Sudan broke out on 15 December 2013 in Juba, quickly spreading north. By the end of 2015, conflict had spread throughout the western and southern Equatorias region. Although the parties to the conflict signed a peace agreement in August 2015, major fighting resumed in July 2016 when the Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Army (SPLA) and opposition soldiers clashed in Juba, resulting in the loss of civilian lives, looting of civilian property, and further displacement of civilians.

    According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), over 4 million South Sudanese have been displaced since 2013, including 1.9 million people who have been internally displaced. In 2017 alone, 700,000 South Sudanese fled as refugees to neighbouring countries. OCHA further reports that 7 million South Sudanese need assistance and protection.

    After the Commission’s visit to South Sudan in December 2017, Commissioner Clapham expressed concern at the increased levels of violations and abuses, including sexual violence, committed by the parties against civilians. He noted that the “atrocities and the violations are no longer confined to a few parts of South Sudan but are rather spread across the entire country.”

    The Commissioners renewed their call for perpetrators of the widespread human rights violations to be brought to justice. Commissioner Yasmin Sooka emphasised the immediate need to establish the Hybrid Court and the Commission on Truth, Healing and Reconciliation. Although the South Sudan Council of Ministers reportedly approved the Hybrid Court statute and the government’s Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the African Union, the South Sudanese government is yet to take further steps to operationalise the Court.
    Regional actors have also voiced frustration and concern over the continued violations of human rights and international humanitarian law. In January, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) expressed frustrations with the parties’ failure to comply with the Agreement on Cessation of Hostilities, Protection of Civilians, and Humanitarian Access and their violations of international human rights and humanitarian laws. IGAD’s Council of Ministers resolved “to take all necessary measures including targeted sanctions against individual violators and spoilers of the peace agreement.”

    In addition, during the 30th ordinary session of the African Union (AU) summit, Moussa Faki Mahamat, AU Commission Chairperson reiterated the support of the AU to IGAD to impose sanctions on leaders violating the ceasefire agreements. “In South Sudan, how can we not repeat that we cannot understand the insane violence that the belligerents inflict, with indescribable cruelty, on a population that has suffered too much. The time has come to impose sanctions on those who obstruct peace”. On 2 February 2018, the United States of America imposed a unilateral arms embargo on the country.

    With the violence ongoing, and in the absence of another international mechanism to monitor and document human rights violations and abuses, and pending the establishment and operationalisation of the Hybrid Court, the Commission’s role is vital. Moreover, the Commission might be needed even when the Court is established. Our organisations urge the UN HRC to take strong and meaningful action during its 37th Session to enhance the Commission’s mandate and enable it to support justice, truth, and reparation for the victims of the grave human rights violations committed in South Sudan.

    We call on all Member States to adopt a resolution that:

    • Renews the mandate of the Commission to conduct independent investigations into alleged violations of international human rights and humanitarian law, collect and preserve evidence of gross human rights violations and abuses and related crimes, with a view to ending impunity and ensuring accountability, with a particular focus on sexual and gender-based crimes, and attacks or reprisals against human rights defenders;
    • Strengthens the language on accountability to make explicit that the mandate of the Commission includes the identification of individual perpetrators, with a view to future prosecutions.
    • Urges the Government of South Sudan to allow and facilitate access to all locations and persons of interest to the Commission;
    • Requests that the report of the Commission be transmitted to the AU Commission in order to support and inform future investigations of the Hybrid Court for South Sudan and the UN Security Council for consideration and further action;
    • Encourages the AU to take immediate steps to establish the Hybrid Court for South Sudan as recommended by the AU Commission of Inquiry on South Sudan, and provided for in the 2015 peace agreement;
    • Urges all States to encourage further concrete action to deter and address on-going violations of international human rights and humanitarian law at the UN Security Council.

    We thank you for your attention to these pressing issues.


    1. African Centre for Democracy and Human Rights Studies (The Gambia)
    2. Association for Human Rights in Ethiopia
    3. Burundian Coalition of Human Rights Defenders (CBDDH)
    4. CIVICUS
    5. Community Empowerment for Progress Organisation (South Sudan)
    6. DefendDefenders (East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project)
    7. End Impunity Organisation (South Sudan)
    8. Eritrean Law Society
    9. Eve Organisation for Women Development (South Sudan)
    10. Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect
    11. Global Society Initiative for Peace and Democracy (South Sudan)
    12. Human Rights Centre Somaliland
    13. Human Rights Watch
    14. International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
    15. International Refugee Rights Initiative
    16. International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)
    17. International Youth for Africa (South Sudan)
    18. Pan African Human Rights Defenders Network
    19. South Sudan Christian Community Agency
    20. South Sudan Human Rights Society for Advocacy
    21. South Sudan Law Society
    22. Tanzania Human Rights Defenders Coalition
    23. West African Human Rights Defenders Network (Togo)
    24. Women Monthly Forum (South Sudan)


  • Joint letter to United Nations on human rights crisis in Ethiopia


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

    Geneva, 25 May 2017

    RE: Addressing the pervasive human rights crisis in Ethiopia
    Your Excellency,

    The undersigned civil society organisations write to draw your attention to persistent and grave violations of human rights in Ethiopia and the pressing need to support the establishment of an independent, impartial and international investigation into atrocities committed by security forces to suppress peaceful protests and independent dissent.

    As the UN Human Rights Council (UN HRC) prepares to convene for its 35th session from 6 – 23 June 2017, we urge your delegation to prioritise and address through joint statements the ongoing human rights crisis in Ethiopia.

    In the wake of unprecedented, mass protests that erupted in November 2015 in Oromia, Amhara, and the Southern Nations Nationalities and Peoples (SNNPR) regional states, Ethiopian authorities routinely responded to legitimate and largely peaceful expressions of dissent with excessive and unnecessary force. As a result, over 800 protesters have been killed, thousands of political activists, human rights defenders, journalists and protesters have been arrested, and in October 2016, the Ethiopian Government declared a six-month nationwide State of Emergency that was extended for an additional four months on 30 March 2017 after some restrictions were lifted.

    The State of Emergency directives give sweeping powers to a Command Post, which has been appointed by the House of People’s Representatives to enforce the decree, including the suspension of fundamental and non-derogable rights protected by the Ethiopian Constitution, the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, and other international human rights treaties to which Ethiopia is party. More information on the human rights violations occurring under the current State of Emergency is included in the Annex at the end of this letter.

    Lack of independent investigations

    Few effective avenues to pursue accountability for abuses exist in Ethiopia, given the lack of independence of the judiciary – the ruling EPRDF coalition and allied parties control all 547 seats in Parliament.

    Ethiopia’s National Human Rights Commission, which has a mandate to investigate rights violations,in its June 2016 oral report to Parliament that the lethal force used by security forces in Oromia was proportionate to the risk they faced from the protesters. The written Amharic version of the report was only recently made public, and there are long-standing concerns about the impartiality and research methodology of the Commission. On 18 April 2017, the Commission submitted its second oral report to Parliament on the protests, which found that 669 people were killed, including 63 members of the security forces, and concluded that security forces had taken “proportionate measures in most areas.Both reports are in stark contrast with the findings of other national and international organisations, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. The Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions has rated the Commission as B, meaning the latter has

    Refusal to cooperate with regional and international mechanisms

    In response to the recent crackdown, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, has access for independent observers to the country to assess the human rights situation recently renewed his call for access to the country during a visit to the capital, Addis Ababa. Ethiopia’s government, however, has the call, citing its own investigation conducted by its Commission. UN Special Procedures have also made similar calls.

    In November 2016, the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights adopted a resolution calling for an international, independent, and impartial investigation into allegations of the use of excessive and unnecessary lethal force by security forces to disperse and suppress peaceful protests. Recent European parliament and US Congressional resolutions have also called for independent investigations. The Ethiopian embassy in Belgium dismissed the European Parliament’s resolution citing its own Commission’s investigations into the protests.

    As a member of the UN HRC, Ethiopia has an obligation to “uphold the highest standards” of human rights, and “fully cooperate” with the Council and its mechanisms (GA Resolution 60/251, OP 9), yet there are outstanding requests for access from Special Procedures, including from the special rapporteurs on torture, freedom of opinion and expression, and peaceful assembly, among others.


    During the upcoming 35th session of the UN HRC, we urge your delegation to make joint and individual statements reinforcing and building upon the expressions of concern by the High Commissioner, UN Special Procedures, and others.

    Specifically, the undersigned organisations request your delegation to publicly urge Ethiopia to:

    1. urgently allow access to an international, thorough, independent, impartial and transparent investigation into all of the deaths resulting from alleged excessive use of force by the security forces, and other violations of human rights in the context of the protests;
    2. respond favourably to country visit requests by UN Special Procedures;
    3. immediately and unconditionally release journalists, human rights defenders, political opposition leaders and members as well as protesters arbitrarily detained during and in the aftermath of the protests;
    4. ensure that those responsible for human rights violations are prosecuted in proceedings which comply with international law and standards on fair trials; and
    5. fully comply with its international legal obligations and commitments including under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, and its own Constitution.

    With assurances of our highest consideration,

    • Association for Human Rights in Ethiopia
    • CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
    • Civil Rights Defenders
    • DefendDefenders (East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project)
    • Ethiopia Human Rights Project
    • Freedom House
    • Front Line Defenders
    • Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect
    • Human Rights Watch
    • International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
    • International Service for Human Rights
    • Reporters Without Borders
    • World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)

    Annex: Background

    A repressive legal framework

    The legal framework in Ethiopia restricts the enjoyment of civil and political rights, and therefore the activity of the political opposition, civil society, and independent media in the country.
    The Charities and Societies Proclamation (2009) caps foreign funding at 10% for non-governmental organisations working on human rights, good governance, justice, rule of law and conflict resolution. The law has decimated civil society and human rights activism in the country. Currently, a handful of independent human rights organisations continue to operate, but with great difficulty.
    The Anti-Terrorism Proclamation (2009) has been used repeatedly to silence critical voices. Political opposition party leaders and members, people involved in public protests, religious freedom advocates and journalists have been arrested and charged under this law. Both laws are a matter of great concern and have been repeatedly raised in international forums, including at Ethiopia’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in 2014.
    Overarching restrictions under the State of Emergency

    The State of Emergency directives restrict the organisation of political campaigns, demonstrations, and any communication that may cause “public disturbance.” It also bans communications with foreign governments and NGOs that may undermine ‘national sovereignty, constitutional order and security’, and the right to disseminate information through traditional and social media. Additionally, the Command Post was given sweeping powers to arbitrarily arrest and detain individuals without due process.
    A few weeks before the State of Emergency was extended by an additional four months, the government announced it was lifting some of these restrictions, including the Command Post’s power to arbitrarily arrest people or conduct property searches without warrants, curfews, and certain restrictions regarding sharing of information online and offline.
    Despite some improvements in internet access since mobile data services were restored throughout parts of the country on 2 December 2016, social media platforms such as Whatsapp, Facebook and Twitter remain inaccessible except through VPNs.

    Mass arrests

    Since the declaration of the State of Emergency, the Command Post announced that tens of thousands have been arbitrarily arrested and transported to different detention centers throughout the country. Most of the detainees were held for a period of around three months in Awash, Alage, Bir Sheleko, and Tolay police and military camps. In November 2016, authorities announced the release of 11,607 people who were detained under the State of Emergency following “rehabilitation training programs.” One month later, authorities announced they were releasing an additional 9,800 detainees.  Former detainees have reported being subjected to torture, harsh prison conditions, and other forms of ill treatment. In late March 2017, the Command Post announced through state media that 4,996 of the 26,130 people detained for allegedly taking part in protests would be brought to court.

    Continued targeting of the political opposition, the media and civil society

    According to the Association for Human Rights in Ethiopia, three of Ethiopia’s main opposition parties, the Unity for Democracy and Justice Party (UDJ), Blue Party, and All Ethiopian Unity Party (AEUP) have claimed that a large number of their members were targeted by Command Post and arbitrarily arrested.

    On 30 October 2016, Dr. Merera Gudina, a professor and prominent opposition leader of the Oromo Federalist Congress was arrested after his return from Brussels where he provided testimony on the current political crisis to some members of the European Parliament and described human rights violations being committed in Ethiopia. On 3 March 2017, prosecutors formally charged Dr. Merera with a bid to "dismantle or disrupt social, economic and political activity for political, religious and ideological aim [...] under the guise of political party leadership". Dr. Merera was also accused of meeting with an organisation designated as a terrorist group contravening restrictions contained in the State of Emergency directives.

    Members of the Wolqait Identity Committee, including Colonel Demeqe Zewude, have also faced allegedly politically motivated criminal charges under the 2009 Anti-Terrorism Proclamation. Their attempted arrest sparked protests in the Amhara capital of Gondar in August 2016.

    On 18 November 2016, journalists Elias Gebru and Ananiya Sori were arrested by security forces, according to the Association for Human Rights in Ethiopia. Both were reportedly arrested in relation to their criticism of government policies and actions. Ananiya was released on 13 March 2017. At the time of writing, Elias is still being held in prison without due process of law.

    On 6 April 2017, Ethiopia’s Supreme Court ruled that two bloggers from the Zone 9 collective previously acquitted of terrorism charge should be tried instead on charges of inciting violence through their writing. If convicted of the charge, Atnaf Berhane and Natnael Feleke would face a maximum prison sentence of 10 years. The court also upheld the lower court’s acquittal of two other Zone 9 bloggers, Soleyana S Gebremichael and Abel Wabella.

    See additional assessment:

    Civic Space in Ethiopia is rated as ‘Closed’ by the CIVICUS Monitor.


  • Joint Letter: Continued human rights monitoring needed in Burundi

    To Permanent Representatives of Member and Observer States of the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council, Geneva, Switzerland 

    Burundi: Vital role of the Commission of Inquiry in prompting meaningful human rights progress


    Ahead of the 45thsession of the UN Human Rights Council (hereafter “HRC” or “the Council”), we, the undersigned national, regional and international civil society organisations, write to urge your delegation to support the renewal of the mandate of the Commission of Inquiry (CoI) on Burundi. In the context of recent political developments, such a renewal, building off the investments to date in and from the CoI, would provide the best opportunity to prompt meaningful human rights progress in Burundi. 

    As of today, the CoI remains the only independent mechanism mandated to document human rights violations and abuses (including on their extent and whether they may constitute crimes under international law), monitor, and publicly report on the situation in Burundi, with sufficient resources and experience to do so. Changing political realities do not amount to systemic human rights change, and the Council has a responsibility to continue supporting victims and survivors of violations and working to improve the situation in Burundi. 

    In the past, an Independent Expert or other experts mandated to report on the human rights situation in Burundi have not been able to publish information with the same level of detail as the CoI, which has extensive contacts in the country and a team of dedicated, experienced investigators. This is even more crucial now because of the Burundian Government’s intransigence, the absence of a UN human rights team in the country, and lack of access to the Burundian territory. 

    The work conducted by the CoI, which is due to present its written report to the Council at its upcoming 45th session (14 September-6 October 2020), continues to provide critical oversight of the human rights situation in Burundi. The country’s crisis was triggered by former President Pierre Nkurunziza’s announcement, in April 2015, that he would run for a third term in office. Throughout the years, the CoI and its predecessor, the UN Independent Investigation on Burundi (UNIIB), have documented gross, widespread and systematic human rights violations and abuses, some of which may amount to crimes against humanity. 

    The Government, state security forces, including the police, the National Intelligence Service (Service national de renseignement, or SNR), and members of the youth league of the ruling Conseil national pour la défense de la démocratie-Forces de défense de la démocratie(CNDD-FDD) party, the Imbonerakure, are responsible for many of the violations and abuses. Over the course of its reporting, the CoI has documented violations of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights in a deteriorating economic and humanitarian context. Violations and abuses include arbitrary arrests and detentions of prisoners of conscience and those perceived to be against the Government, beatings, destruction of property, including of premises of the Congrès National pour la Liberté (CNL) party, theft of property belonging to members of opposition parties and human rights defenders (HRDs) in exile, and arbitrary suspension and forced closure of civil society organisations and media outlets. They also include torture and ill-treatment, the use of excessive and lethal force against peaceful demonstrators, enforced disappearances, violations of the rights of women and girls, rape and other forms of sexual and gender-based violence, forced labour, the extortion of contributions for state-led projects, hate speech and incitement to ethnic hatred (which go on with the acquiescence of political, prosecutorial, and judicial authorities), and extrajudicial killings. 

    Such violations and abuses have continued to take place in a context of near-complete impunity; to date, no high-level officials have been held accountable. Several hundred prisoners who have served their term or whose release has been ordered continue to be arbitrarily detained. This situation is ongoing despite opinions rendered by the UN Working Group on arbitrary detention (WGAD), which examined some of these prisoners’ cases. Victims and survivors of sexual violence have been denied access to a specialised framework for medical and psychological treatment and full rehabilitation. Additionally, in recent months, there has been an increase in ethnic hate speech, including by individuals close to the Government, with a view to de-humanising parts of the population (i.e., the Tutsi). 

    Members and supporters of opposition political parties, in particular the CNL, as well as independent voices, including civil society members, HRDs, members of non-governmental organisations (NGOs), and journalists, have been targeted. Since April 2015, the civic and democratic space has continued to shrink. At the time of writing, despite calls on the new President, Évariste Ndayishimiye, to demonstrate his openness to reconciliation by releasing all detained HRDs, Germain Rukuki, Nestor Nibitanga, and Iwacu reporters Egide Harerimana, Christine Kamikazi, Terence Mpozenzi and Agnès Ndirubusa, remain in detention. 

    The Burundian Government ceased its cooperation with the Council’s mechanisms, including in 2016 by declaring members of the UNIIB personæ non gratæand in February 2019 by forcing the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) to leave the country. Despite being a member of the Council (2016-2018), Burundi refused to implement Council resolutions, including HRC resolution 36/2, which was adopted at Burundi’s request and with the sponsorship of the African Group. Burundian officials have also repeatedly insulted and threatened members of the CoI and carried out reprisals against exiled HRDs, including lawyers and activists who sought to engage with the UN human rights system. The Government has extended sub-standard cooperation to regional mechanisms. African Union (AU) observers, who have not been fully deployed, continue to face a number of limitations to their work. Unlike the CoI, their findings are not made public. Burundi has disregarded resolutions adopted by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR), including Resolution 412 (LXIII) 2018, which urged the Government to “[c]onduct prompt independent, impartial and effective investigations” into human rights violations and “[c]ooperate with all international community stakeholders, including the African Union, the United Nations and the East African Community, in the search for a peaceful and human rights responsive solution to the crisis.” 

    Relying on independent, thorough and professional documentation methodologies, without access to country’s territory, the CoI has continued to expose violations. In 2019, in accordance with principles of early warning and prevention and using the Framework of Analysis for Atrocity Crimes developed by the UN’s Office on Genocide Prevention and the Responsibility to Protect, the CoI identified risk factors and indicators of violations. While some of the factors the Commission identified are related to specific circumstances, such as elections, a number of other factors are structural. This means that, beyond the appointment of new officials, systemic changes and meaningful reforms are necessary to bring about sustainable improvements in the situation and deliver effective guarantees for the rights of Burundian citizens.   

    Burundi is in a period of potential transition, following the 20 May 2020 presidential, legislative and local elections resulting in the election of a new President, Évariste Ndayishimiye and after the passing of former President Nkurunziza. At this moment and in this context, there are signs of promise as well as of significant concern. 

    Despite promising remarks by President Ndayishimiye during his inauguration, as well as the authorities’ new, more transparent approach to tackling the COVID-19 pandemic, observers also raised concerns, notably over the fact that several newly appointed members of the Ndayishimiye administration are subject to international individual sanctions for their alleged responsibility in human rights violations. Nonetheless, the political transition represents an opportunity to open a new chapter for the Burundian people and for Burundi’s relationship with the UN human rights system. 

    Although the May 2020 elections and their immediate aftermath were not characterised by mass violence, concerns and warning signs remain. Widespread intimidation and patterns of violations against opposition members and supporters, as well as the arrest of hundreds of CNL supporters, have contributed to an ongoing climate of fear. As the CoI reported in its 14 July update to the Council, “[h]uman rights violations continue to date and it would be premature to make any pronouncements on the possible evolution of the situation under the new government.” 

    In its 14 July address, the CoI identified some “priority areas for action against which the new authorities can objectively attest their desire for change and normalisation on the long term […].” These areas for action include: 

    • The fight against poverty and economic instability (risk factor no. 1).
    • The fight against the de facto impunity enjoyed by the main perpetrators of violations (risk factor no. 2) and the reform of the judicial system (risk factor no. 3). In our view, this would include: 
      • The removal of officials who have been credibly implicated in serious human rights violations and possible atrocity crimes while thorough and impartial investigations are conducted. Where there is sufficient admissible evidence, those suspected of criminal responsibility should be prosecuted in fair trials, irrespective of their rank, status, or political affiliation. Victims and survivors and their families should be able to access justice, truth and reparation; 
      • Comprehensive reforms of police and security forces, including bringing human rights violations committed by the National Defence Force, law enforcement bodies, the SNR and the Imbonerakure to an end, and ensuring that the ruling party’s youth league is disarmed and not used for any official state security or other duties. Military, security and law enforcement forces should undergo a thorough vetting process, with regional or international assistance, to remove individuals who have taken part in human rights violations. 
    • The re-opening of the democratic space (risk factor no. 4). In our view, this would include: 
      • Establishment and maintenance of a safe and enabling environment for HRDs, members of civil society, journalists, and opposition members and supporters. A safe and enabling civic space includes releasing all prisoners of conscience, including detained HRDs and journalists; an end to political interference in the judicial system; full protection of freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association, and the reinstatement of and full respect for the rights of arbitrarily banned civil society organisations and media outlets;
      • Measurable progress should also be recorded to allow for the safe, voluntary and dignified return of more than 300,000 refugees, including political refugees who were forced to flee the country to avoid harassment. 
    • The cooperation with the Commission of Inquiry. More generally, we urge:  
      • Full cooperation with international and African human rights bodies and mechanisms, including cooperation with the CoI (which means granting it access the country), resumed cooperation with OHCHR, and finalisation of a memorandum of understanding with the AU’s human rights observer mission. Regional and international NGOs should also be able to access the country and operate without interference. Burundi should promptly re-accede to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) and cooperate fully with the Court.

    We would welcome meaningful and concrete improvements in the human rights situation in Burundi, and we believe that the best chance to achieve such meaningful change is through the renewal of the mandate of the Commission of Inquiry, as well as the Burundian authorities reinitiating dialogue with the CoI, OHCHR, and other UN and AU human rights bodies and mechanisms. Through such engagement, the Burundian authorities could help chart a clear and unwavering path from the current context of grave violations and widespread impunity by making measurable progress on key indicators such as those referenced above.  

    At its 45th session, the Council should avoid sending the Government of Burundi signals that would disincentivise domestic human rights reforms, such as terminating the CoI’s mandate in the absence of measurable progress. It should avoid a scenario where re-establishing the CoI’s mandate would be necessary after a premature discontinuation, because of a renewed escalation of human rights violations and abuses. The Council should rather ensure continued investigations, monitoring, public reporting, and public debates on Burundi’s human rights situation. 

    We thank you for your attention to these pressing issues and stand ready to provide your delegation with further information as required. 


    1. Action des Chrétiens pour l’Abolition de la Torture – Burundi (ACAT-Burundi)
    2. African Centre for Democracy and Human Rights Studies (ACDHRS) 
    3. African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies (ACJPS) 
    4. AfricanDefenders (Pan-African Human Rights Defenders Network)
    5. Amnesty International 
    6. ARTICLE 19
    7. Association Burundaise pour la Protection des Droits Humains et des Personnes Détenues (APRODH)
    8. Association des Journalistes Burundais en Exil (AJBE) 
    9. The Burundi Human Rights Initiative (BHRI) 
    10. Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) 
    11. Centre for Civil and Political Rights (CCPR-Centre)
    12. CIVICUS 
    13. Civil Society Coalition for Monitoring the Elections (COSOME)
    14. Coalition Burundaise pour la Cour Pénale Internationale (CB-CPI)
    15. Collectif des Avocats pour la Défense des Victimes de Crimes de Droit International Commis au Burundi (CAVIB)
    16. DefendDefenders (East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project)
    17. Eritrean Movement for Democracy and Human Rights (EMDHR) 
    18. European Network for Central Africa (EurAc) 
    19. Front Line Defenders
    20. Geneva for Human Rights / Genève pour les Droits de l’Homme
    21. Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect (GCR2P)
    22. Human Rights Watch 
    23. International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) 
    24. International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
    25. International Federation of ACAT (FIACAT)
    26. International Movement Against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism (IMADR) 
    27. International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)
    28. Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada 
    29. Light For All 
    30. Ligue Iteka
    31. Mouvement des Femmes et des Filles pour la Paix et la Sécurité (MFFPS)
    32. National Coalition of Human Rights Defenders – Burundi (CBDDH)  
    33. Central African Network of Human Rights Defenders (REDHAC) 
    34. Observatoire de la Lutte contre la Corruption et les Malversations Économiques (OLUCOME) 
    35. Odhikar 
    36. Organisation pour la Transparence et la Gouvernance (OTRAG) 
    37. Réseau des Citoyens Probes (RCP)
    38. SOS-Torture/Burundi
    39. Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network (SAHRDN) 
    40. TRIAL International
    41. Union Burundaise des Journalistes (UBJ)
    42. West African Human Rights Defenders Network (ROADDH/WAHRDN) 
    43. World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) 


  • Joint Letter: Human rights violations in Bahrain

    We, the undersigned Bahraini, regional and international human rights organizations, remain alarmed at the ongoing human rights crisis in the Kingdom of Bahrain. We are also concerned about the diminished response from states at the Human Rights Council since the situation began to dramatically deteriorate over one year ago. We welcome your country’s commitment to address situations of concern based on the objective criteria laid out in the joint statement delivered by Ireland at the 32nd session of the HRC. This commitment was reiterated in a subsequent joint statement on the improvement of membership standards, signed by 48 states at the 35th session this year. However, we have yet to see this commitment translate into a principled response to the deteriorating situation in Bahrain. As this letter outlines in detail, Bahrain demonstrably meets the criteria that should compel states and the Council to act to address this situation. We therefore call on your delegation to uphold your pledge and renew both individual and collective initiatives at the Council to address the Bahraini Government’s intensifying human rights violations.

    The Government of Bahrain has continued to suppress all forms of opposition, criticism, or dissent in 2017. The Government began the year by ending a de factomoratorium on the death penalty when it executed three victims of torture after trials marred by serious due process violations. In January, the Government restored domestic law enforcement powers to Bahrain’s National Security Agency (NSA), an institution implicated in systematic and widespread torture in 2011. In April, the King approved a constitutional amendment allowing civilians to be tried in military courts, further eroding the limited reforms made in line with the recommendations of the 2011 Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) report. Bahrain’s leading Shia cleric, Sheikh Isa Qassim, was convicted of money laundering in May on politically motivated charges, and the Government used lethal force to clear a months-long peaceful sit-in around his home, killing five individuals in the process, injuring hundreds more, and arresting 286 individuals. In May, courts disbanded the Kingdom’s last major opposition political society, Wa’ad, and in June the Government indefinitely suspended operations at the country’s only independent newspaper, Al-Wasat. Meanwhile, the Government continued its relentless suppression of civil society, committing reprisals against activists and their families and convicting Bahrain’s leading human rights defender, Nabeel Rajab, for commenting on continuing human rights abuses during television interviews and on social media, violating his right to freedom of expression.

    We recall here the guiding considerations outlined in the June 2016 joint statement, and reaffirmed in the June 2017 joint statement, and their application to the situation in Bahrain:

    Whether  there  has  been  a  call  for  action  by  the  UN  Secretary  General,  the  High Commissioner for Human Rights or a relevant UN organ, body or agency:

    • On  13 September 2016, High Commissioner Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein stated: “In Bahrain,I am  concerned  by  harassment  and  arrests  of  human  rights  defenders  and  political activists, and legislation which enables revocation of citizenship without due process. I urge greater attention to this situation.[emphasis added] The past decade has demonstrated repeatedly and with punishing clarity exactly how disastrous the outcomes can be when a Government attempts to smash the voices of its people, instead of serving them.
    • Likewise, during his  Annual Report and Oral Update to the 34th  Session of the Human Rights Council, the High Commissioner said of Bahrain, “I am deeply concerned over the increasing levels of human rights violations in the Kingdom. I call on the Government of Bahrain to undertake concrete confidence building measures, including allowing my Office and Special Procedures mandate holders to swiftly conduct visits.
    • And, on  2 June 2017, the High Commissioner said, “Human rights defenders working in Bahrain reportedly continue to face restrictions, intimidation, interrogations, detentions and travel bans… I urge Bahrain to choose a different path – one of engagement and dialogue, as well as accountability for violence, regardless of the perpetrator. My Office stands ready to offer technical assistance and advice on the promotion and protection of human rights in Bahrain.

    Whether  a  group  of  Special  Procedures  have  recommended  that  the  Council  consider action:

    • On  16 June 2017, the Special Procedures on extrajudicial executions, peaceful assembly and association, human rights defenders, freedom of religion or belief, and the working group on arbitrary detention,  issued a statement saying: “We call on the Government of Bahrain  to  immediately  cease  its  campaign  of  persecution  against  human  rights defenders, journalists and anyone else with divergent opinions, and take all measures to guarantee  a  safe  and  enabling  environment  for  all  Bahrainis,  independent  of  their political opinions, beliefs or confession.”
    • On   18  July  2017,  the  Special  Procedures  further  stated:  “We  reiterate  our  serious concerns regarding the wider context of a general crackdown and mounting pressure exerted  on  civil  society  and  dissidents  in  Bahrain,  the  ongoing  prosecution  and punishment of human rights defenders, and especially intimidation and reprisals against people who have cooperated with UN human rights mechanisms.
    • Since 2016, Bahrain has been the subject of at least ten communications from Special Procedures concerning credible allegations of human rights violations including extrajudicial killing, torture and ill-treatment, arbitrary detention, and systematic persecution of religious groups. In many cases, these violations were in response to the exercise of the rights to freedom of expression, and freedom of peaceful assembly and association.

    Whether the state concerned has a national human rights institution with A-status[and whether that institution has drawn the attention of the international community to an emerging situation and called for action]:

    • According to the most recent  review in May 2016, Bahrain’s National Institution for Human Rights has not been granted A-status. The Sub-Committee on Accreditations expressed reservations regarding the institution’s independence and its effective application of its mandate.
    • The UN Committee Against Torture’s May 2017  concluding observations on Bahrain’s latest periodic report stated concerns regarding the NIHR  and six other bodies. The Committee said the following: “that they are not independent, that their mandates are unclear and overlap, and that they are not effective given that complaints ultimately pass through the Ministry of the Interior. It is also concerned that their activities have had little or no effect, and that the authorities provided negligible information regarding the outcome of their activities.

    Whether the State concerned has been willing to recognize that it faces particular human rights challenges and has laid down a set of credible actions, including a timetable and benchmarks to measure progress, to respond to the situation:

    • In 2011, the Bahraini Government accepted 26 recommendations issued by the BICI, a panel of jurists and international human rights experts. The Government claimed it had fully implemented all 26 recommendations in May 2016, citing the chairman of the BICI, Cherif Bassiouni, as  evidence of its progress. However, on 10 May 2016, Bassiouni stated he was  wrongfully quoted and asserted that the Government had only implemented ten of the 26 recommendations and had failed to address “priority” reforms such as those pertaining to accountability and prisoners of conscience. All independent assessments – including those conducted by Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain, the Project on Middle East Democracy, and the United States Government – have similarly found that Bahrain’s authorities have failed to make substantive progress on the majority of reforms.
    • In 2017, the Bahraini government actively contravened BICI recommendations that had previously seen partial or full levels of implementation, including recommendations to restrict the NSA’s arrest authority and to prevent military courts from trying civilians. During Bahrain’s Second Cycle Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in 2012, member and observer states presented 176 recommendations to the Bahraini Government to recognize and address ongoing, widespread human rights violations in the Kingdom. Bahraini authorities partially or fully accepted 158 of those recommendations, promising to bring the national situation in line with international human rights obligations. However, by Bahrain’s Third Cycle UPR in May 2017, the Government had failed to fulfill these recommendations and had regressed in many key sectors identified for reform, as noted by OHCHR, States, and NGO stakeholders.
    • Rather  than  acknowledge  the  scope  of  the  Kingdom’s  human  rights  challenges,  as highlighted  by  the  recommendations  issued  during  both  UPR  cycles,  the  Assistant Foreign Minister, Abdulla bin Faisal bin Jabur Al Doseri,  described the result as “praise” for “Bahrain’s human rights achievements.” In a meeting with Bahrain’s National Institution for Human Rights in July 2017, the King dismissed the country’s human rights challenges outright, stating that the Kingdom “takes pride in its outstanding human rights record” and that “human rights represent a core part of Bahrain’s culture.”

    Whether the State concerned is engaging in a meaningful, constructive way with the Human Rights Council on the situation:

    • The Bahraini Government has consistently declined to substantively engage the Council and, as indicated in the following statements, has actively targeted Bahraini civil society actors  for  their  participation  in  Human  Rights  Council  sessions  or  for  otherwise interacting with the UN. As noted, although it nominally participates in the UPR process, the Government has consistently failed to implement accepted recommendations and has submitted  misleading national reports on its progress. Moreover, in June 2016, Bahrain’s Foreign Minister, Khalid Al Khalifa,  explicitly maligned the High Commissioner for urging the Kingdom to undertake human rights reform: “We will not allow the undermining of our security and stability and will not waste our time listening to the words of the High Commissioner who is powerless."
    • The Bahraini Government has used wide-ranging travel bans against civil society and political figures to obstruct their access to UN bodies and mechanisms. These travel bans have been in effect since throughout the 32nd, 33rd, 34th  and 35th  Sessions of the Human Rights Council, and during Bahrain’s 3rd Cycle Universal Periodic Review.
    • Government ordered travel bans and reports of targeted reprisals against civil society for their engagement at the Human Rights Council have prompted statements of concern from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. As noted in a statement by the OHCHR spokesperson on  14 July 2017:The continuing restrictions on civil society and political activists and the targeting of human rights defenders and organisations in Bahrain are deeply worrying. We urge the Government to take the necessary steps to ensure compliance with Bahrain’s obligations under international human rights law, in particular to guarantee the freedoms of expression, opinion and association and the right not to be arbitrarily deprived of liberty.”
    • On  18 July 2017, following reports that Bahraini human rights defender Ebtisam al- Saegh was arrested and tortured by members of the National Security Administration as a reprisal for her human rights work at the Human Rights Council, a group of United Nations experts “expressed deep concern at the alleged arbitrary detention of Bahraini human rights defender Ebtisam Alsaegh amid reports she has been tortured and sexually abused and is now on hunger strike.”

    6.   Whether the State concerned is effectively cooperating with Human Rights Council Special Procedures, including by enabling country visits:

    • Bahrain has failed to follow through on repeated calls from the Council to welcome Special Procedures to visit the country and, as noted above, has dismissed the OHCHR as “powerless.”  In  2015,  Bahrain’s  Chief  of  Public  Security,  Major  General  Tariq  al- Hassan, suggested that the Government has denied the Special Procedures access to Bahrain because they are biased against the Kingdom: Hassan specifically  accused then Special  Rapporteur  on torture  Juan  Mendez  of  “prejudice”  and  spreading “uninvestigated” claims of Bahraini Government abuse.
    • Bahrain  has  not allowed  any of  the  Special  Procedures to  visit  since  2006, despite repeated requests by various mandate holders. In recent years, Bahrain has ignored or rejected country visit requests from the following: the Special Rapporteur on torture, the Working Group on arbitrary detention, the Working Group on enforced disappearances, the Special Rapporteur on freedom of peaceful assembly and association, the Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, the Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders, and the Working Group on discrimination against women.

    Whether the State concerned is engaging with OHCHR, including in the field of technical assistance and effective engagement with the UN Human Rights Treaty Bodies:

    • Bahrain has failed to successfully conclude multiple rounds of negotiations with the OHCHR to carry out a technical mission to Bahrain, or to establish an OHCHR office in the country.
    • Most recently, in June 2017, renewed efforts to carry out an OHCHR technical mission to Bahrain again stalled and remain indefinitely “postponed,” similar to the indefinite postponement  and   effective  cancellation  of  the  2013  country  visit  by  the  Special Rapporteur on torture.

    Whether a relevant regional mechanism or institution has identified a situation as requiring the attention of the international community; or whether the State concerned is cooperating with relevant regional organizations:

    • No competent, independent regional mechanism or institution exists in the region from which Bahrain can seek relevant assistance to positively affect the human rights situation in the country.

    Whether  the  State  is  facilitating  or  obstructing  access  and  work  on  the  part  of humanitarian actors, human rights defenders, and the media:

    • Bahraini  authorities  have  consistently  and  increasingly  obstructed  the  work  of  civil society actors in the kingdom, including human rights defenders and the media.
    • As noted above in point 5, the Government of Bahrain has imposed wide-spread travel bans on civil society and political activists to obstruct their access to the Human Rights Council and its mechanisms.
    • On  10 July 2017, Nabeel Rajab, president and co-founder of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights and FIDH Deputy Secretary General, was sentenced to two years in prison solely for exercising his right to freedom of expression by conducting interviews with television media outlets. He faces up to fifteen more years in prison if convicted on additional charges related to tweets.
    • Human rights defender Ebtisam al-Saegh has been repeatedly arrested and subjected to torture and sexual assault in relation to her work, as  noted by Special Procedure mandates on 18 July 2017. She currently faces politically motivated “terrorism” charges related to her human rights work.
    • During the 34th  Session of the Human Rights Council in March 2017, three family members of Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei of the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy were arrested in Bahrain as a reprisal against his human rights activities. Authorities subjected them to torture and ill-treatment to coerce false confessions on charges of “fake bomb making.” They remain in detention and face trial on these fabricated charges.
    • On 4 June 2017, Bahrain  indefinitely suspended the only independent newspaper in the country, Al-Wasat, ultimately forcing their office to close and all staff to be laid off.

    It is clear that the Government of Bahrain has failed to uphold its international obligations to safeguard human rights and has repeatedly acted to violate and curtail the fundamental rights of people in the country. Bahrain’s current human rights situation manifestly fulfills the criteria set out in the June 2016 joint statement committing state signatories to engage – strong action is imperative to prevent further instability.

    We therefore call on your Government to individually and collectively with others respond to the human rights crisis in Bahrain. Such efforts should include, but are not limited to, national statements and joint statements under Items 4 or 2 of the Council’s agenda, and ultimately a resolution by the Human Rights Council.


    Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain
    ARTICLE 19
    Bahrain Center for Human Rights
    Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy
    Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
    CIVICUS World Alliance for Citizen Participation
    European Center for Democracy and Human Rights
    Human Rights Watch
    International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
    International Service for Human Rights
    Reporters Without Borders (RSF)


  • Joint Letter: Improving cooperation with the United Nations

    UN Human Rights Council: 36th Session 
    Letter to Member States of the UN Human Rights Council
    Re: Support resolution on cooperation with the United Nations, its representatives and mechanisms in the field of human rights

    The undersigned 48 civil society organisations, coming from all regions, urge your delegation to support the adoption of the resolution on cooperation with the United Nations, its representatives and mechanisms in the field of human rights as tabled. We urge you to resist efforts to undermine and weaken this resolution. The balanced resolution entitled ‘Cooperation with the United Nations, its representatives and mechanisms in the field of human rights (A/HRC/36/L.26), developed through open and transparent informal negotiations, is being considered by the 36st session of the Human Rights Council. The core group comprising Ghana, Hungary, Ireland, Fiji and Uruguay will present the resolution for adoption on 28 or 29 September.

    The Secretary-General's most recent report on cooperation presented at this session of the Human Rights Council reveals a worsening incidence of intimidation and reprisals, including a ‘broader’ range of actions, by increasingly ‘blunt’ means. It reports that people engaging with the United Nations experience threats, intimidation, harassment, derogatory media campaigns, travel bans, arbitrary arrests and detention, enforced disappearances, torture and ill-treatment, disbarment, and dismissal from posts.

    Beyond the grave impact on the life of persons concerned and their relatives, intimidation and reprisals also constitute anattack on human rights, the rule of law, and the international and regional mechanisms themselves.

    The report identifies a number of positive developments, including a strong resolution adopted by the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights and the establishment of a mandate by that body to combat reprisals. It is imperative that the Human Rights Council adopts a similarly strong and substantive resolution at this session.

    Despite the importance of the resolution – so tragically illustrated by the number of cases included in the Secretary General's report – a small group of States, led by the Russian Federation, China, Egypt and Cuba are seeking to seriously undermine the text. A number of amendments being promoted by these States, in addition to questioning consensus language and terminology from past resolutions, challenge key elements in the resolution, including:

    • The right of all people to safe and unhindered access to and communication with international human rights bodies, which is firmly established in international law;
    • The commitment made by Member States, in particular Council Members, to cooperate with the Council and its mechanisms, and the acknowledgment that a failure to take steps to prevent, investigate and ensure accountability for such acts may be inconsistent with that commitment;
    • The call on States to take measures to prevent the occurrence of intimidation and reprisals;
    • The responsibility of the Human Rights Council President and his Bureau to address and follow up on allegations of acts of intimidation and reprisal;
    • The recognition of developments on the issue of reprisals in United Nations mechanisms, including the special procedures and the treaty bodies;
    • The welcoming of the designation of the Assistant Secretary General on human rights, and acknowledgment of his work regarding reprisals associated with the mandate assigned to him by the Secretary General; and
    • The devotion of ‘sufficient time to discuss the report of the Secretary General’ at the Human Rights Council.

    These amendments would seriously undermine the ability of the United Nations system to address the needs on the ground. For the United Nations to effectively promote and protect human rights and achieve sustainable development, the right of all people to communicate with and provide information to the United Nations needs to be protected. The proposals to weaken the resolution should be seen in the context of ongoing, systematic efforts in a number of States to restrict civil society space, the right to communicate with the United Nations and its effectiveness and legitimacy. Indeed, several of the proposing States are the subject of allegations of intimidation or reprisals in both the Secretary- General’s report and the joint communications report of Special Procedures.

    We urge you not to associate with such positions. Instead, we respectfully urge your delegation to co-sponsor resolution L.26 as tabled, vote against the amendments presented, and vote in favour of the resolution as drafted.

    Civil society and human rights defenders around the world look to the Human Rights Council and its Member States for support and protection, and we hope your delegation will stand with us.
    Yours sincerely,

    1. African Centre for Democracy and Human Rights Studies 
    2. Akahata A.C.
    3. Alkarama Foundation
    4. Article 19
    5. Asian Legal Resource Centre
    6. Association for Advancement of Legal Rights
    7. Association for Progressive Communications 
    8. Bir Duino-Kyrgyzstan
    9. Both ENDS
    10. Business and Human Rights Resource Centre
    11. Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
    12. Canada Tibet Committee
    13. Centro de Derechos Humanos de las Mujeres
    14. Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales
    15. Christian Development Alternative
    16. CIVICUS
    17. Collectif des Organisations de Défense des Droits de l'Homme et de la Démocratie
    18. Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative
    19. Conectas Direitos Humanos
    20. DefendDefenders (the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project)
    21. Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights
    22. Euro-Mediterranean Foundation of Support to Human Rights Defenders
    23. EuroMed Rights Paris
    24. FORUM-ASIA (Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development)
    25. Global Human Rights Clinic
    26. Help & Shelter
    27. Human Rights Watch
    28. International Commission of Jurists
    29. Insan Haklari Dernegi/Human Rights Association
    30. Instituto Venezolano de Estudios Sociales y Politicos
    31. International Centre for Ethnic Studies
    32. International Service for Human Rights
    33. Labour, Health and Human Rights Development Centre
    34. Ligue pour la Défense de la Justice et de la Liberté / Burkina Faso Coalition of Human Rights
    35. Organisation Mondiale Contre la Torture
    36. Partnership for Justice
    38. Proyecto de Derechos Económicos, Sociales y Culturales (ProDESC)
    39. Réseau International des Droits Humains RIDH
    40. Réseau Ouest Africain des défenseurs des Droits Humains
    41. Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights
    42. Southern African Human Rights Defenders Network
    43. Union Internationale des Avocats
    44. Unión Nacional de Instituciones para el Trabajo de Acción Social
    45. Urgent Action Fund for Women's Human Rights
    46. Women's Global Network for Reproductive Rights
    47. Yemen Organization for Defending Rights & Democratic Freedoms
    48. Zo Indigenous Forum



  • Joint letter: Renew the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on human rights in Iran

    TO: Member states of the United Nations Human Rights Council
    15 March, 2019

    Your Excellency,

    We, the undersigned Iranian and international human rights organisations, urge your government to support resolution A/HRC/40/L.15 renewing the mandate of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran, to be tabled during the 40th session of the Human Rights Council. 

    The renewal of this mandate is warranted by the persistence of serious, chronic and systematic violations of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights in the country, which have only become more dire over the past year. The capacity and expertise of the mandate are necessary to address the on-going repression in Iran, including through conducting urgent documentation and urgent actions and through sustained and continuous engagement with the Iranian authorities in order to advance the promotion and protection of human rights in the country.

    Discontent with corruption and mismanagement of resources and demands for civil and political as well as economic, social and cultural rights have led to protests across the country over the last year. These protests and strikes have often been met by arbitrary arrests and detentions, as well as violations of the rights to freedom of association, expression and peaceful assembly. In 2018, at least 5 individuals, including protestors, have died in state custody and authorities have failed to conduct any transparent investigation into the circumstances of their death. State repression has been especially severe against already marginalized communities and ethnic minorities, for whom these issues are particularly acute. The security forces have violently dispersed peaceful demonstrations, beating unarmed protesters and using live ammunition, tear gas and water cannons against them.

    The authorities have intensified their efforts to choke off the space for civil society work. Dissenting voices, including journalists, online media workers and human rights defenders, including human rights lawyers, labour rights activists and women’s rights defenders, have been subjected to arbitrary arrests and detention, simply for speaking out. In 2018, at least 63 environmental activists were arrested. They include eight conservationists who could face the death penalty or long prison terms following a grossly unfair trial for their wildlife conservation work. Space for online expression continues to be closed off as part of efforts to inhibit the free flow of information in the country, as exemplified by the blocking of the popular instant messaging application Telegram.

    Meanwhile, the Iranian authorities have consistently failed to adopt and enact legislation and policies that would address the core human rights violations that people in the country have been facing for decades, despite the many recommendations it has received from UN human rights bodies and through the UPR to that effect, and despite continued popular demands expressed through strikes and protests.

    Long-standing bills pertaining to the protection of children against abuse and violence against women remain stalled, and some of the reforms included in the original drafts have already been watered down by the Guardian Council and the judiciary. In December 2018, a parliamentary committee rejected an amendment to the article on the age of marriage in the Civil Code, which would have banned marriage for girls under 13. Moreover, no legislative efforts were made to abolish the death penalty for individuals under the age of 18 at the time of the offence, which Iran practises “far more often than any other states”, as the Special Rapporteur stressed in his report.

    Meanwhile, as abundantly documented by the Special Rapporteur on human rights in Iran, by the UN Secretary General, and by civil society organizations, legislation, policies and state practices continue to be at odds with international human rights standards on women’s rights, the rights of the child, ethnic minority rights, the rights of recognized and unrecognized religious minorities, the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons, the rights to freedom of association, expression and peaceful assembly, freedom of thought, conscience and religion, protection from torture and other ill-treatment, the right to life, due process and fair trial guarantees, as well as the equal enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights. 

    Human rights organisations documented the executions of over 230 individuals in 2018, a decrease from last year, most likely as a result of amendments to the country’s drug law that went into force in November 2017. Authorities executed at least six who were under the age of 18 at the time of the offence. Iranians belonging to ethnic minorities, especially Kurds and Baluchis, have been disproportionately represented in execution statistics. Trials that violated due process and fair trial guarantees led to capital sentences, and death sentences were pronounced against individuals for a large range of offences that do not constitute the most serious crimes under international law. 

    Rampant impunity remains prevalent in the judicial system. The most flagrant example is the systematic impunity that exists with respect to the on-going enforced disappearances and the secret extrajudicial executions of 1988; many of the perpetrators involved continue to hold positions of power, including in key judicial, prosecutorial and government bodies responsible for ensuring that victims receive justice. Indeed, the newly appointed head of the judiciary, Ebrahim Raisi, is one of the aforementioned perpetrators, who was the deputy prosecutor general of Tehran in 1988 and a member of the Tehran “death commission”.

    The work carried out by the Special Rapporteur has been critical to amplifying the voices of victims of human rights abuses within the UN system. This work also supports a stifled domestic civil society, identifies systemic challenges, stimulates discussions about human rights within Iran, calls for key human rights reforms, and takes action on a large number of individual cases through individual communications, thereby saving or otherwise impacting the lives of many in Iran.

    For all these reasons, we call on your government to support the renewal of the mandate of the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in Iran, and show that the community of states requires tangible change in the human rights record of the country, in line with Iran’s treaty obligations and UPR commitments. 

    Abdorrahman Boroumand Center
    The Advocates for Human Rights
    All Human Rights for All in Iran
    Amnesty International
    Arseh Sevom
    Article 18
    ARTICLE 19
    Association for the Human Rights of the Azerbaijani people in Iran (AHRAZ)
    Association for Human Rights in Kurdistan of Iran-Geneva (KMMK-G)
    Balochistan Human Rights Group
    Center for Human Rights in Iran
    Center for Supporters of Human Rights
    Child Rights International Network (CRIN)
    CIVICUS – World Alliance for Citizen Participation
    Conectas Direitos Humanos
    Ensemble Contre la Peine de Mort (ECPM)
    Freedom from Torture
    Freedom House
    Freedom Now
    Human Rights Activists in Iran (HRAI) 
    Human Rights Watch
    Impact Iran
    International Commission of Jurists (ICJ)
    International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
    International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA)
    International Movement Against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism (IMADR)
    International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)
    Iran Human Rights
    Iran Human Rights Documentation Center
    Justice for Iran
    Kurdistan Human Rights Network
    Minority Rights Group International
    OutRight Action International
    Siamak Pourzand Foundation
    Small Media
    United for Iran
    West African Human Rights Defenders' Network
    World Coalition Against the Death Penalty
    World Organization Against Torture (OMCT)
    6Rang – Iranian Lesbian & Transgender Network


  • Joint Letter: UN mandate on enforced or involuntary disappearances

    Human Rights Organizations Urge UN Human Rights Council Member States to Reject Amendments to the Draft Resolution Renewing the Mandate of The UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances

    In the context of the renewal of the mandate of the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances (WGEID), during the 36th regular session of the Human Rights Council, through draft resolution A/HRC/36/L.10, the undersigned human rights organizations emphasize the essential role of the Working Group and call for the renewal of its mandate so that it can continue its important mission of prevention and protection against enforced disappearances.

    For us, the WGEID is a vital mechanism for the protection of people on the ground, providing victims with an efficient mechanism to speedily deal with cases of enforced disappearances, in addition to the cooperation with the homologous Committee and the wide visibility which the Working Group gives to cases of enforced disappearances, reinforcing the international commitment to prevent such atrocities.

    At the present session, two amendments to the draft resolution renewing the mandate of the Working Group were submitted (A/HRC/36/L.631 and A/HRC/36/L.642). These amendments compromise the autonomy and independence by which the Working Group discharges its duties. In addition, they interfere with the fine balance between national sovereignty and the competence of international mechanisms, already achieved during the adoption of resolution 5/1 (the “Institutional Building Package”) and Resolution 5/2 (the Code of Conduct). Transposing selectively fragments from that prior global commitment represents a serious distortion on the role and institutional functions of the WGEID. In addition, the amendments set a dangerous precedent, posing a systemic risk for all other special procedures.

    Accordingly, the signatory organizations urge the members of the Human Rights Council to approve the renewal of the mandate of the WGEID, at the same time as rejecting the proposed amendments.

    1. Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo
    2. Acceso a la Justicia
    3. Acción Solidaria
    4. Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights 5. Adivasi Koordination, Germany
    6. African Centre for Democracy and Human Rights Studies
    7. Alkarama Foundation
    8. Amnesty International
    9. Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development
    10. Asian Legal Resource Centre
    11. Burundi Association for Integration and Sustainable Development (AIDB)
    12. Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS)
    13. Center for Reproductive Rights
    14. Centro de Derechos Humanos de la Universidad Metropolitana.
    15. Centro de Derechos Humanos Miguel Agustin Pro Juarez
    16. Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales (CELS)
    17. CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
    18. CIVILIS Derechos Humanos
    19. Comision Colombiana de Juristas
    20. Comision paraa los Drechos Humanos y la CiudadaniaCODEHCIU
    21. Conectas Human Rights
    22. Consejeria CAMEX Oxlajuj Ix
    23. Convite AC
    24. Corporación Humanas – Chile
    25. DefendDefenders (the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project) 26. Federation for Women and Family Planning
    27. FIAN Belgium
    28. FIAN International
    29. FIDH (International Federation for Human Rights)
    30. Forum Menschenrechte (Germany)
    31. Franciscans International
    32. Geneva for Human Rights
    33. Human Rights House Foundation (HRHF)
    34. Human Rights House Foundation (HRHF)
    35. Human Rights Watch (HRW)
    36. INFORM Human Rights Documentation Centre, Colombo, Sri Lanka
    37. Institute on Race, Equality and Human Rights
    38. Instituto de Desenvolvimento e Direitos Humanos - IDDH
    39. int. association against torture (AICT)
    40. International Commission of Jurists
    41. International Movement Against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism (IMADR)
    42. International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) 43. Lawyers' Rights Watch Canada
    44. Minority Rights Group International (MRG) 45. MNDH Brasil
    46. Monitor Social AC
    47. Organizacion StopVIH
    48. Penal Reform International
    49. Plataforma Internacional Contra la Impunidad
    50. Proiuris (Venezuela)
    51. Réseau International des Droits Humains RIDH
    52. Sexual Rights Initiative
    53. Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network
    54. Tamazight Women Movement
    55. The ICCA Consortium
    56. Una Ventana a la Libertad
    57. Unidad de Protección a Defensoras y Defensores de Derechos Humanos - Guatemala (UDEFEGUA)
    58. West African Human Rights Defenders' Network/Réseau Ouest Africain des Défenseurs des Droits
    59. World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)
    60. Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum
    61. Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights


  • Joint statement calling on Saudi Arabia to improve its human rights record


    42nd Session of the UN Human Rights Council

    The Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) and the Free Saudi WHRDs Coalition* praise the significant joint statement which was delivered  by Australia on behalf of a cross-regional group States expressing their concern over the persecution and intimidation of activists, including women human rights defenders, as well as in relation to reports of torture, extrajudicial killing, enforced disappearances, unfair trials, arbitrary detention and impunity. It calls on the Saudi government to end impunity, including for the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, accept visits by UN experts, end the death penalty and ratify international human rights treaties.  

    During the same debate, the sister of woman human rights defender Loujain Al-Hathloul, Lina Al-Hathloul called on the UN Human Rights Council to help her hold those who tortured her sister accountable, and secure her immediate and unconditional release.  

    Since March 2019, the Council has increased its scrutiny of Saudi Arabia, when Iceland delivered the first ever joint statement on the country. In June 2019, the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial and summary executions Dr. Agnes Callamard presented to the Council her investigation which found the State of Saudi Arabia responsible for the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Turkey in October 2018. The UN expert urged States to act immediately to ensure accountability for Khashoggi’s murder and guarantee non-repetition. 

    “In less than a year this is the second joint statement delivered during the HRC, regarding Saudi Arabia human rights violations. Beyond its content, the statement sends a strong message to the authorities that torturing and intimidating Women Human Rights Defednders is unacceptable and can’t be whitewashed with the progressive enhancements in the country; and that impunity is no longer an option. Saudi Arabia should be reminded that the gravity of the state’s systematic actions has irreversible consequences on the victims and their families, and that accountability, justice and reparations are among its international obligations” Said Weaam Youssef, GCHR Women Human Rights Defenders Programme Manager.

    GCHR as part of the Coalition of Free Saudi Women Human Rights Defenders has been advocating for the immediate and unconditional release of Saudi women’s rights activists who have been detained since mid-May 2018. Some of them have been tortured and sexually harassed; but no one was held accountable.

    “Saudi Arabia, as a member of the Council, should listen to its peers and immediately and unconditionally release all the women’s rights activists, drop all charges against them and guarantee that they can continue their activism without any fear or threat of reprisals”, demanded the Coalition.

    The statement has set out a list of measures that Saudi Arabia should take to demonstrate its political will to engage in good faith with the Council and improve its human rights record. They include:

    • Ending the persecution and intimidation of activists, journalists, dissents and their family members;
    • An end to impunity for torture and extrajudicial killings, including establish the truth and accountability for the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi;
    • End its use of the death penalty;
    • Accept visits by relevant UN Special Procedures;
    • Ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

    Read the joint statement here and watch Lina Al-Hathloul's statement here

    The States who signed on the joint statement are: Belgium, Canada, Croatia, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Monaco, Montenegro, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Peru, Slovakia, Slovenia, Sweden, The United Kingdom.

    *The Free Saudi WHRDs Coalition is: Women’s March Global, the Gulf Centre for Human Rights, CIVICUS, Equality Now, MENA Women Human Rights Defenders Coalition and Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain and ISHR


  • Joint statement on attacks against civil society

    We first took the initiative of a Council resolution on civil society space in 2013.  We did so in light of what we saw as two equally true but very different realities: 

    • first, the transformative role which civil society can and does play, alone or in partnership with other stakeholders; and 
    • second, that civil society space is all to regularly, and unfortunately increasingly, restricted and threatened. 

    These two points are closely related – in many cases, it is exactly that positive potential for change, inherent in ordinary people working together in new and innovative ways, which provokes threats and repression.  But such negative responses are not only contrary to human rights law, they are, as recently termed in the final recent report of Special Rapporteur Kiai, “self-destructive” and “short-sighted” (A/HRC/35/28) -  a vibrant and pluralistic civil society can be of tremendous value in responding to societal challenges and assisting our citizens and societies to thrive. 

    Bearing in mind this dual reality of opportunity and challenge, as well as the interlinking and mutually reinforcing nature of the core human rights concerned, we sought to explain and give better visibility to the concept of civil society space as a human rights concern. 

    And so this topic concerns civil society at its broadest – not only civil society actors in the field of human rights, but also those working at all levels and with greater or lesser levels of organisation on challenges including health and humanitarian crises, realising development, protecting the environment, countering corruption and building corporate accountability, empowering persons belonging to minorities or espousing minority or dissenting views, combating racism, supporting crime prevention and even conflict prevention and resolution as experience in our States, including in particular the Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet shows.

    As we did in the resolutions adopted to date – 24/21, 27/31 and 32/31 – we condemn and reject all threats, attacks, reprisals and acts of intimidation against civil society actors. We again recall that States must ensure that domestic legal and administrative provisions and their application in practice should facilitate and protect an independent, diverse and pluralistic civil society.   And we urge all States to adopt the best practice recommendations set out in resolution 32/31 by, inter alia, taking steps to

    • ensure a supportive legal framework and access to justice;
    • contribute to a public and political environment conducive to civil society; 
    • provide for access to information;
    • provide for the participation of civil society actors in public debate; and
    • provide for a long-term supportive environment for civil society.

    As we see daily in this room, the substantive participation of civil society makes this Council’s debates and work, including the UPR, richer and more meaningful.  More needs to be done to recognise civil society as having an equal stake in discussion in other multilateral fora too.  We deeply regret, for example, that civil society voices have been blocked in the NGO Committee twice this year.  We look forward to the OHCHR report scheduled for presentation at HRC38 (June 2018) on procedures, challenges and best practices in respect of civil society involvement with regional and international organisations. We hope that those best practices can feed into a process of reflection, in all fora, on how processes and procedures for participation of civil society may be further improved.

    The next resolution on the subject of civil society space will be presented at HRC38 (June 2018).  [Bearing in mind pressure on the Council’s agenda, we encourage other States to consider similarly biennialising their initiatives, where possible.]

    In addition to continuing to build on best practice examples, in future we intend to explore in greater detail other aspects, including those identified in the resolutions to date, such as:

    • civil society and the private sector;
    • civil society’s role in advancing the implementation of the 2030 Agenda;
    • civil society and children;
    • funding to civil society;  

    We are convinced that work on this topic is more important than ever.  We look forward to working with all delegations, both state and civil society, in taking this initiative forward in an open and constructive way. 


  • Joint statement on critical topics from 37th Session of the UN Human Rights Council

    Our organisations welcome the adoption of the resolution on the promotion and protection of human rights and the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, particularly in reaffirming that all approaches to development must comply with the State’s international human rights obligations.

    We agree that “cooperation and dialogue” are important for the promotion and protection of human rights, and that States should fully cooperate with the Council and its mechanisms, and ensure that all stakeholders are able to cooperate and engage with them without fear of reprisals. 

    However, we must now be vigilant to ensure that the resolution on Mutually Beneficial Cooperation, lacking in balance, does not undermine other important parts of the Council’s mandate: to address human rights violations and respond promptly to human rights emergencies in specific countries. 

    The Council has failed to take meaningful action to address the alarming situation on the ground in Cambodia. We welcome and echo the joint statement on Cambodia by over 40 states calling for further action if the situation does not improve in the lead up to the elections and for a briefing by the High Commissioner before the next Council session. We are concerned by Cambodia’s attempt to shut down criticism under item 10 debate on the worsening human rights situation in the country, as they are doing domestically.

    We are disappointed by the weak outcome on Libya. Given the gravity of the human rights situation on the ground and the lack of accountability for crimes under international law, the Council cannot justify the lack of a dedicated monitoring and reporting mechanism. 

    We welcome the co-sponsorship of the Myanmar resolution by groups of States from all regions, making a joint commitment to address the continuing human rights violations and crimes against humanity in the country and support for the Special Rapporteur and Fact-Finding Mission to fulfil its mandate to establish truth and ensure accountability for perpetrators. 

    We also welcome the renewal of the mandate of the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan allowing it to continue its vital investigations and identification of perpetrators. These developments acknowledge the importance of accountability for serious human rights violations and crimes under international law, which cannot be understated.

    We welcome the adoption of the resolution on drugs and human rights as the OHCHR report will provide human rights indicators related to the drug issue that would help in future policies.

    We welcome the resolution on Eastern Ghouta adopted after an urgent debate, demonstrating how this Council can respond in an agile manner to crises.

    Having long supported the resolution on “protection of human rights while countering terrorism", we appreciate the efforts that led to the end of the separate and deeply flawed initiative on "effects of terrorism on the enjoyment of human rights". Future versions of the resolution must address the relevant issues exclusively and comprehensively from the perspective of the effective protection of human rights. 

    We welcome the Dutch-led joint statement on strengthening the Council, emphasising the importance of substantive civil society participation in any initiative or process and that the Council must be accessible, effective and protective for human rights defenders and rights holders on the ground.

    Finally, we call on the Bureau co-facilitators on improving the efficiency and strengthening the Council to closely engage with all Members and Observers of the Council, human rights defenders and civil society organisations not based in Geneva. 

    Delivered by: The International Service for Human Rights (ISHR), The East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project (DefendDefenders), The Global Initiative for Economic, Social & Cultural Rights, CIVICUS, International Commission of Jurists, International Federation for Human Rights Leagues, Conectas Direitos Humanos, Human Rights House Foundation, Amnesty International, International Lesbian and Gay Association, Human Rights Watch, Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)


  • Joint statement on human rights crisis in South Sudan

    Human Rights Council: 36th Session
    Oral Intervention at Interactive Dialogue with the UN Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan

    The East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project and CIVICUS, on behalf of 20 African civil society organisations, thank the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan for their worrying update.

    Mr. President, we welcome this opportunity to raise concerns about the devastating situation in South Sudan with national and regional interlocutors. While we welcome some of the steps made towards establishing the Hybrid Court on South Sudan, we urge all regional and international actors to work together to ensure that justice is secured for the victims of grave violations of human rights and humanitarian law in South Sudan.

    Today, civilians, journalists and humanitarian workers continue to be deliberately and targeted through horrific and violent attacks by both state and non-state actors. International civil society groups have documented ethnically charged sexual violence of unimaginable brutality on a massive scale, which shows no signs of abating.

    Today, many South Sudanese civil society organisations and media workers are forced to work from exile, making the documentation and reporting of violations in the country particularly challenging. Given the situation, the Commission’s mandate to collect evidence, document violations and advise on accountability mechanisms is of the utmost importance and should be given full support by members of this Council.

    Under the new High Level Revitalisation Forum, it is critical for the Government of South Sudan to take significant steps to show its commitment to the implementation of the Peace Agreement, including Chapter V, and to cooperate in a meaningful way with the African Union for the speedy establishment of the Court.

    We urge Member States of the Council to support the Commission’s work and to urge the Government of South Sudan to respect its responsibility to protect its citizens and to put an end to the senseless violence the country has been experiencing for the past four years.

    1. African Center for Democracy and Human Rights Studies, The Gambia
    2. Assistance Mission for Africa, South Sudan
    3. Association for human rights in Ethiopia
    4. Central Africa Human Rights Defenders Network (REDHAC), Cameroon
    5. Center for Peace and Justice, South Sudan
    6. CIVICUS, South Africa
    7. Community Empowerment for Progress Organisation, South Sudan
    8. Concertation Nationale de la Société Civile du Togo, Togo
    9. DefendDefenders (the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project), Uganda
    10. Eritrean Movement for Democracy and Human Rights (EMDHR), Eritrea
    11. EVE Organisation, South Sudan
    12. Human Rights Concern - Eritrea (HRCE) 
    13. International Youth for Africa, South Sudan
    14. La Nouvelle Société Civile Congolaise, DRC
    15. Mauritius Council of Social Services, Mauritius
    16. ONG Ezaka ho Fampandrosoana any Ambanivohitra (ONG EFA), Madagascar
    17. Réseau Ouest Africain des Défenseurs des Droits Humains/ West Africa Human Rights Defenders Network,
    18. South Sudan Human Rights Defenders Network, South Sudan
    19. Women Monthly Forum
    20. Zambia Council for Social Development, Zambia
    21. Pan Africa Human Rights Defenders Network



  • Joint statement on human rights in the Philippines

    36th Session of the UN Human Rights Council

    ISHR and CIVICUS welcome the Philippine Government’s engagement in the UPR process. However, despite claims of the State party during the May 2017 review, Filipino human rights defenders continue to have serious concerns about the environment for human rights defenders (HRDs) in the country.
    Mr. President, the systematic and targeted killings of HRDs, under the cover of ‘counterinsurgency programs’, have long been a problem. On average, our partners documented 40 killings per year from 2001 to 2016.  In the past year, however, this number has risen to 50 HRDs, many who were leaders of peasant and indigenous communities. This is largely due to President Duterte’s ‘war on drugs’, which has also resulted in thousands more casualties of regular Filipino citizens.
    Since the May review, human rights activists have seen no reprieve in the harassment and threats by State security forces. This includes the Secretary General of people’s organisation Karapatan, Cristina Palabay.

    Duterte’s pronouncements endanger the lives of HRDs who speak out against his repressive policies, including the drug war and martial law declarations, as well as for respect of rights, such as to a safe and healthy environment. The filing of trumped-up charges to criminalize HRDs has been normalized by the government, hampering us from doing our work and violating our freedom of association.

    Most recently, the ominous signs of a nationwide martial law under Pres. Duterte hover like a sword of Damocles over HRDs and the Filipino people. Our history shows that such a decision will worsen the current state of human rights in the country. 

    We therefore urge the Council to ensure that the Philippine government respect its pledges and commitments, as stated in the UPR outcome report. We call for a halt to all forms of attacks on human rights defenders, the enactment of a law for their protection, and the acceptance of a full, independent visit to the Philippines by UN Special Rapporteurs, including on the situation of HRDs.