human rights council

 

  • Madagascar : Un journaliste acquitté mais de sévères restrictions d'espace civique persistent

    Déclaration à la 43e session du Conseil des droits de l'homme des Nations unies

    Adoption par Madagascar de l'Examen périodique universel des droits de l'homme

    CIVICUS se félicite de l'acceptation par Madagascar de 22 recommandations axées sur l'espace civique dans le cadre de ce cycle de l'EPU. Cependant, dans notre présentation à l'EPU, nous avons documenté que depuis son dernier examen, Madagascar n'a que partiellement mis en œuvre deux recommandations et n'a pas pris de mesures concrètes pour mettre en œuvre 20 des recommandations relatives à l'espace civique faites en 2014.

    Nous nous félicitons de l'acquittement du journaliste d'investigation Fernand Cello par la Cour d'appel de Fianatantsoa deux ans après son arrestation et son inculpation pour le vol d'un chéquier. Cet acquittement est une étape nécessaire dans le respect des droits des journalistes et des médias.

    Cependant, le code de la loi sur les communications des médias impose de lourdes amendes pour des délits tels que l'outrage, la diffamation et l'insulte à un fonctionnaire.  De plus, les failles du système de justice pénale permettent au pouvoir judiciaire de gouverner sous l'influence de l'exécutif.  La détention préventive, notamment des défenseurs des droits de l'homme et des journalistes, est très répandue et utilisée comme une stratégie pour les contraindre à l'autocensure.

    La liberté de réunion continue d'être restreinte car les autorités utilisent le prétexte de l'ordre public pour interdire les protestations des groupes de la société civile.  Nous sommes préoccupés par les niveaux élevés de persécution judiciaire, d'intimidation et de harcèlement des défenseurs des droits de l'homme, en particulier ceux qui défendent les droits environnementaux et fonciers.

    Madame la Présidente, CIVICUS appelle le gouvernement de Madagascar à prendre des mesures proactives pour répondre à ces préoccupations et mettre en œuvre les recommandations visant à créer et à maintenir, en droit et en pratique, un environnement favorable à la société civile.


    L'espace civique à Madagascar est actuellement classé comme étant Reprimé par le CIVICUS Monitor.

    Voir nos recommandations qui ont été soumises au Conseil des droits de l'homme des Nations unies sur les conditions des droits de l'homme à Madagascar.

    Voir nos priorités de plaidoyer et notre programme d'activités lors de la 43ème session du Conseil des droits de l'homme des Nations unies.

     

  • Madagascar: Journalist acquitted but severe civic space restrictions persist

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

    CIVICUS welcomes Madagascar’s acceptance of 22 recommendations focusing on civic space in this UPR cycle. However, in our UPR submission, we documented that since its last review, Madagascar has only partially implemented two recommendations and has not taken concrete steps to implement 20 of the recommendations relating to civic space made in 2014. 

    We welcome the acquittal of investigative journalist Fernand Cello by the Fianatantsoa Appeals Court two years after he was arrested and charged with the theft of a cheque book. This acquittal is a necessary step in respecting the rights of journalists and media houses.

    However the Code of Media Communications Law imposes heavy fines for offences such as contempt, defamation and insult against a government official.  In addition, flaws in the criminal justice system allow the judiciary to rule under the influence of the executive.  Pre-trial detention including of human rights defenders and journalists is prevalent and used as a strategy to force them to self-censor. 

    Freedom of assembly continues to be restricted as the authorities use the pretext of engendering public order to ban protests by civil society groups.  We are concerned about the high levels of judicial persecution, intimidation and harassment of human rights defenders particularly those advocating for environmental and land rights.

    Madame President, CIVICUS calls on the Government of Madagascar to take proactive measures to address these concerns and implement recommendations to create and maintain, in law and in practice, an enabling environment for civil society.


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

    See our recommendations that were submitted to the UN Human Rights Council about the conditions of human rights in Madagascar.

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

     

  • Mainstreaming civic space in State interventions at the UN Human Rights Council

    In a joint paper released today, a group of 12 NGOs encourage States to more systematically use civic space indicators as objective criteria for action at the UN Human Rights Council. “Mainstreaming civic space in State interventions at the UN Human Rights Council” makes the case for greater protection of human rights defenders (HRDs) and other civil society actors through State interventions at the Council, which is the UN’s principal human rights body. 

    In February 2020, the UN Secretary-General launched a global “Call to Action” in which he made clear that threats against HRDs (especially women HRDs) and journalists are increasing, and that governments restricting civic space “is frequently a pre­lu­de to a more general deterioration in human rights.” This paper, which was developed by DefendDefenders in collaboration with partners (11 other members of the HRCnet network), highlights the value of the “objective criteria” approach, including at an early stage, whenever human rights concerns are mounting in a specific situation. 

    States should use civic space indicators to objectively assess human rights situations. Among the objective criteria they can use, civic space restrictions (such as attacks against HRDs, civil socie­ty actors and independent voices, and an overall shrinking spa­ce for civil society) are often early warning signs of human rights crises. Civic space indicators can also be used to assess progress at the national level. 

    As shown in a recent Council report, the Council’s “prevention mandate” re­mains under-utilised. By taking into account key civic space developments, States could engage in more mea­ningful action and, where the situation warrants it, in preventative engagement with the countries concerned. 

    The paper suggests areas where action is possible, using civic space indicators in a systematic manner. These areas include individual and joint State statements at the Council, thematic debates, resolutions, the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process, and special sessions and urgent debates. 

    Ultimately, nothing meaningful can happen without States’ political will to address country situations more objectively and decisively. Civic space indicators need to be part and parcel of States’ assessments and interventions at the Council. 

    Read the full paper

    Signatories:
    1. DefendDefenders
    2. African Centre for Democracy and Human Rights Studies (ACDHRS)
    3. Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-Asia)
    4. Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS)
    5. Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales (CELS)
    6. CIVICUS
    7. Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI)
    8. Conectas Direitos Humanos
    9. Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR)
    10. Human Rights Law Centre
    11. International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)
    12. Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network (SAHRDN)

     

  • Malawi's adoption of Universal Periodic Review on Human Rights

    Statement at 46th Session of the UN Human Rights Council

    Universal Periodic Review on Human Rights -- Outcome Adoption for Malawi

     

    We welcome Malawi’s engagement in the UPR process.

    In our report submitted to the review, CIVICUS, the Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR) and the Centre for the Development of People (CEDEP) set out the challenges facing Malawi in realization of fundamental freedoms.

    Authorities have routinely restricted freedoms of assembly, association and expression by violently dispersing peaceful protests, arresting human rights defenders and targeting independent media outlets.  In the aftermath of the May 2019 elections, human rights defenders were subjected to smear campaigns, judicial persecution and detention by the authorities. 
     
    Restrictive provisions in the Penal Code and the Cyber Security Law adopted in 2016 were used to limit freedom of expression and target journalists, bloggers and media houses.

    Malawi has so much more to do to protect journalists and human rights defenders. Indeed, During its last cycle Malawi agreed to fully investigate all cases of harassment and intimidation of journalists and human rights defenders with a view to bringing the perpetrators to justice and to ensure the protection of human rights defenders. These pledges have not been implemented. For example, in the run-up to the fresh election held in June 2020, there was an increase in acts of violence and intimidation of journalists by officials of the then ruling party, the Police and other government institutions. In August 2020, journalists from the independent Mibawa Television Station, Times Media Group and others, were subjected to threats, harassment and smear campaigns for comments made about the Covid-19 pandemic.
      
    For Malawi to enact meaningful and sustainable human rights progress, it must not only put rule of law and fundamental freedoms at the center of government actions and policies. It must also ensure that there is space for human rights defenders, journalists and all members of civil society to criticize, to speak out, to peacefully assemble. Creating an enabling environment is key to the implementation of all the recommendations Malawi received this cycle. States who made such recommendations now have a responsibility to those on the ground to ensure Malawi’s promises are kept.


    Civic space in Malawi is rated as obstructed by the CIVICUS Monitor

     

  • Malaysia: Adoption of Universal Periodic Review Report

     

    UN Human Rights Council – 40th Session
    15 March 2019
    Oral Statement

    Pusat Komas and CIVICUS welcome the government of Malaysia’s engagement with the UPR process.

    While we welcome the commitments of the Malaysian government to ratify all core UN human rights treaties during the UPR review, we regret the decision of the government in November 2018 not to ratify the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. We are concerned by the lack of a clear timetable to ratify the other core treaties.

    We note commitments made during the UPR review to repeal the draconian Sedition Act and other laws that restrict fundamental freedoms. However, since the review we regret that a moratorium on the use of these laws has been lifted and there have been arrests of individuals under the Sedition Act for exercising their right to expression. We are also concerned that the Sedition Act and the Communications and Multimedia Act have been used by the police to interrogate human rights defenders, including human rights lawyer Fadiah Nadwa Fikri and Sevan Doraisamy, the director of rights group SUARAM, simply for expressing their opinions. The government has also failed to denounce racism and bigotry by opposition political leaders.

    We note that recommendations were made to respect freedom of assembly, including to review the Peaceful Assembly Act which contains provisions inconsistent with international law. However, we are concerned that activists continue to face arrests for their involvement in demonstrations. Student activists Asheeq Ali and Siti Nurizzah were arrested for a peaceful sit-in at the Ministry of Education in September 2018.

    Mr President, we call on Malaysia to implement the recommendations it accepted on protecting fundamental freedoms and immediately review or repeal all restrictive laws that undermine civic space, immediately halt their use against government critics, and to create an enabling environment for CSOs and human rights defenders.


    Civic space in Malaysia is rated as Obstructed by the CIVICUS Monitor

    See our joint submission on Malaysia for the UN Universal Periodic Review 

     

  • Malaysia: Migrants and refugees excluded from poverty figures and neglected by policymakers

    Statement at the 44th Session of the UN Human Rights Council

    Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty


    Thank you, Madame President; Special Rapporteur.

    CIVICUS and North South Initiative welcome the strong report of the Special Rapporteur on his country visit to Malaysia, which highlights the plight of millions of people including migrants, refugees and stateless people who are systematically excluded from official poverty figures and neglected by policymakers.

    We share his concern that migrant workers in Malaysia are set up for exploitation by unscrupulous recruitment agents and employers, a harsh immigration policy and a lack of enforcement of labour protections. Refugees and asylum seekers exist in extremely precarious conditions unable to work or enroll in government schools. Civil society groups have been calling for a single entity to manage migrant workers to ensure better protection of their rights and reduce the risks of them becoming victims of corruption. 

    CIVICUS research has shown has that migrants and refugees in Malaysia want to participate in the societies they call home. But they continue to face barriers and restrictions in exercising their freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly and association, all but ensuring ongoing perilous and precarious conditions.

    Migrant workers and refugees say that among the challenges they face in speaking out include, a lack of access to information, fear of being fired, detained or deported and harassment or intimidation. The right to assemble in the 2012 Peaceful Assembly Act does not extend to foreigners including migrant workers and refugees – in contravention of international human rights law and standards. Refugee and migrant workers also face various restrictions in exercising their freedom of association.

    Since the COVID-19 pandemic emerged earlier this year there has been a crackdown on migrant workers. The UN has noted increased xenophobia and hate speech against them by individuals affiliated with the government and human rights defenders have been threatened for supporting migrants. 

    We call on the government of Malaysia to immediately take steps to implement the recommendation of the special rapporteur for a comprehensive new approach to migrant and refugee policies that provides them protection, guarantees their civic freedoms and enables a route out of poverty and precarity. We also urge the government to make public the final report and recommendations by the Special Committee on Foreign Worker Management setup by the government.

     

  • Maldives: Civil society groups call for better respect for civic freedoms in report to the UN

    Joint statement on Maldives ahead of human rights review in 2020

    Civil society groups CIVICUS and FORUM-ASIA have submitted information to the UN Human Rights Council on civic freedoms in the country ahead of its review in 2020. While welcoming the human rights improvements undertaken by the new government since it came to power, the submission highlights ongoing restrictions to freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression, and unwarranted restrictions on human rights defenders since its previous examination in 2015.

    The UN Human Rights Council will review the Maldives’ human rights record at its Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in May 2020. This marks five years since its last review, when UN member states made 258 recommendations to the Maldivian government including 16 recommendations that directly relate to barriers to open civic space. They included protecting journalists, human rights defenders and other civil society actors and creating an enabling environment for them. Other recommendations include guaranteeing freedom of expression and the media and upholding freedom of assembly. As of today, the government has only partially implemented these recommendations.

    The report welcomes the significant strides by the government in opening up the space for the exercise of fundamental freedoms, establishing a commission to probe unresolved disappearances and reviewing legislation restricting civic space since its last UPR examination We also welcome the proposed bill to protect whistleblowers. However, there are still implementation gaps with regard to the protection of human rights defenders and the freedom of expression.

    Our organisations are alarmed by ongoing reports of harassment of and threats against human rights defenders and journalists, particularly by extremist groups, and the lack of effective action by law enforcement authorities. We also concerned by efforts to silence civil society groups as illustrated most recently by the decision to “temporarily suspend” the Maldivian Democracy Network (MDN), a leading human rights organization following accusations of blasphemy. This is a regressive move that sets a dangerous precedent for freedom of expression and association, and threatens the positive steps towards restoration of fundamental freedoms and human rights. The government must reverse its decision to suspend MDN, and create a safe and enabling environment for human rights defenders and organisations to carry out their legitimate work without fear of reprisals and harassment.

    On freedom of expression, we welcome the repeal of the Anti-Defamation and Freedom of Expression Act, enacted in 2016, which was systematically used against the media, opposition activists and dissidents. However, we remain concerned about threats and attacks on government critics. In January 2019, Ibrahim Ismail, the chairman of Mandhu College and a former lawmaker, came under attack for criticising the sentencing of a woman to death by stoning for adultery.

    The report also highlights the slow progress in undertaking comprehensive reforms of the laws related to the freedoms of association and peaceful assembly. The Freedom of Peaceful Assembly Act 2013 imposes undue limitations on assemblies and gives the police wide discretion in granting permission and must reviewed. We also urge any revisions to the Associations Act – which was often used by the previous government to stifle critical civil society groups – to be consistent with international human rights law and standards.

    The Universal Periodic Review of the Maldives is an important opportunity for the Maldives to display its commitments toward human rights reforms. We have seen encouraging developments but much more needs to be done. In the lead up to the UPR review we call on the Maldives government to increase its efforts to fulfil the commitments made in the 2015 review and systematically consult with civil society on the implementation of UPR recommendations, including by holding periodical comprehensive consultations with a diverse range of civil society.

    We also urge the international community to support both the people and the government of the Maldives in addressing the shortcomings in the protection of civic freedoms as well as work of human rights defenders in the Maldives. International scrutiny is necessary to sustain the improvement we have seen in the Maldives over the past year, and ensure any positive reforms made are not reversed.

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


    For more information or to arrange an interview, please contact: Josef Benedict, CIVICUS Civic Space Research Officer,  
     

     

  • Media Statement: New UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association

    ARTICLE 19, CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation, the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law (ICNL), and the World Movement for Democracy (the Civic Space Initiative) welcome Dr. Annalisa Ciampi as the new mandate holder of UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of assembly and association, and congratulate her on her appointment.

     

  • Mexico: Adoption of Universal Periodic Review Report

     

    UN Human Rights Council – 40th Session
    15 March 2019
    Oral Statement

    CIVICUS welcomes the government of Mexico's engagement with the UPR process.

    However, in our joint UPR submission with the Front for the Freedom of Expression and Social Protest (FLEPS), we documented that since its last review Mexico has not implemented 25 of the 26 recommendations that it received relating to civic space, most of which concerned the effectiveness of the Protection Mechanism for human rights defenders. While some progress has been made in the implementation of this mechanism, there is a worryingly insufficient emphasis on prevention and a neglect of investigations, resulting in persistent human rights violations against human rights defenders and impunity for the crimes committed against them. Most recently, indigenous activist Samir Flores was killed to silence his fight against the construction of a gas pipeline and gas power plant, the Proyecto Integral Morelos (PIM). 

    As detailed in our submission, Mexico also continues to be the world’s deadliest country for journalists, who are routinely threatened and physically attacked. Those who express criticism of the powerful in radio, television, print or digital media all run the same risks as human rights defenders and are often forced to censor themselves.

    Additionally, no progress has been observed towards media pluralism, and a deliberate and systematic use of official advertising to domesticate the independent press has been observed. Excessive criminal provisions on defamation, slander and insult continued to be used against journalists and the media.

    As detailed in our submission, the right to assemble is also being restricted under the 2017 Interior Security Law and through the use of geolocation, data retention technologies and the suspension of phone services.

    We call on the Government of Mexico to take proactive measures to address these concerns. 


    Civic space in Mexico is rated as Obstructed by the CIVICUS Monitor

    See our joint submission on Mexico for the UN Universal Periodic Review 

     

  • Mozambique's Adoption of Universal Periodic Review on Human Rights

    Statement at 48th Session of the UN Human Rights Council

    Universal Periodic Review outcome adoption of Mozambique

    Delivered by Lisa Majumdar

    Thank you, Madame President.

    We welcome Mozambique’s engagement with the UPR process, and its acceptance of 24 recommendations relating to civic space.

    However, during its last UPR cycle, while Mozambique received 13 civic space recommendations, nine of these were not implemented. CIVICUS and JOINT – Liga das ONG em Moçambique are deeply concerned by the unwarranted restrictions on the freedom of expression and the deteriorating environment in which journalists and civil society activists operate. Physical attacks, intimidation and harassment are becoming increasingly common.

    In August 2020, the headquarters of media outlet Canal de Moçambique was broken into and set on fire with petrol bombs. The media outlet had previously investigated and reported on corruption and the armed conflict in Cabo Delgado.

    Physical attacks, intimidation and harassment of journalists and civil society activists have become increasingly common. Community radio journalist Ibraimo Abu Mbaruco’s whereabouts are still unknown since his disappearance in April 2020 in Palma, Cabo Delgado. In his last text message, he reportedly said he was “surrounded by the military”. In October 2019, Anastácio Matavel, civil society activist and founder and director of FONGA-Gaza NGO Forum, was shot and killed in Xai-Xai, Gaza Province, after attending a training session on election monitoring.

    We regret that Mozambique did not accept recommendations related to access to conflict zones by civil society and the media and the registration of LGBTIQ associations. Authorities have denied CSOs and journalists access to work in and report from areas affected by the armed insurgency in Cabo Delgado and neighbouring provinces where there is a heightened presence of internally displaced people.

    The Associação Moçambicana para a Defesa das Minorias Sexuais, LAMBDA, an organisation working on sexual minority rights, has been denied a certificate of registration by the Minister of Justice since 2008, despite a ruling by the Constitutional Court in October 2017 stipulating that the clause invoked to deny its registration is unconstitutional.

    We call on Mozambique to further engage constructively with the UPR process by implementing the recommendations it has accepted, and we call on member states to hold Mozambique accountable for upholding its commitments.

    We thank you.


    Civic space in Mozambique is rated as obstructed by the CIVICUS Monitor

     

  • Myanmar: A return to military dictatorship must be prevented

    Special session of the Human Rights Council on the human rights implications of the crisis in Myanmar

    CIVICUS thanks the UK and EU for your leadership in calling for this Special Session. The situation in Myanmar for our partners and members is grave, critical and moving fast; the risk of increasingly severe violations to fundamental freedoms and a rapidly deteriorating human rights situation cannot be overstated. We welcome that the Council, led by the UK and the EU, is willing and able to respond to this emergency with speed. 

    The people of Myanmar have spoken, and continue to speak out, at grave personal risk. The High Commissioner for Human Rights has already raised deep fears of a violent crackdown on dissenting voices. We see the beginning of this crackdown already. Activists have been detained; peaceful protesters suppressed with excessive force. Journalists have been threatened. Internet was briefly shut down, plunging the country into a communication blackout and there are plans to introduce new restrictive cyber laws. 

    The warning signs are ominous: Myanmar risks returning to the days of mass incarceration of human rights defenders and pro-democracy activists, violent crackdowns on mass protests, and isolation both inside and outside.  

    Steps taken towards democracy, however tentative and fragile and imperfect, must be protected and a return to military dictatorship prevented.  

    The most valuable role for the Human Rights Council at this critical point would be to put into place measures of enhanced monitoring and reporting which protects those on the ground subject to human rights violations, contributes to further action if necessary, and forwards accountability for such violations. It is essential that a strong resolution is adopted by the Council to achieve this. 

    The opportunity for the Council to take strong action to this end is right in front of it. 


    Civic space in the Myanmar is rated as Repressed by the CIVICUS Monitor

     

     

  • Myanmar: Continued crackdown on civil society undermines efforts to address COVID-19

    Statement at the 44th Session of the UN Human Rights Council

    Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on Myanmar


    CIVICUS welcomes the Special Rapporteur’s update, and looks forward to our future engagement.

    This is a critical time in Myanmar, where a crackdown on expression, peaceful assembly and access to information is a barrier to accountability and undermines the country’s efforts to address the COVID-19 pandemic. Individuals have criminalised for speaking out, reporting or protesting again human rights violations.

    Members of the Peacock Generation, a slam poetry troupe, who were convicted under the Telecommunications Act and Section 505(a) of the Penal Code remain in prison for their satirical criticism of the government. The Peaceful Assembly and Procession Law has been used against those protesting the internet blackout in Rakhine and Chin states. These laws, and countless others, make up the repressive legal framework used against independent journalists and human rights defenders who speak out on crimes perpetrated by the government.

    The report of the IIMM presented during the 42nd Session of this council said that Myanmar’s future depends on the clear demonstration that its international crimes will not be tolerated. It also depends on those in Myanmar who speak out on violations and advocate for positive change being listened to, rather than persecuted. We call on the Myanmar government to do so, and on the international community to stand by these activists.

    We ask the Special Rapporteur: what are your priorities for your time in this mandate, and how do you see the role of an open civic space in achieving accountability? Finally, how can civil society support you in your work?


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

    Current council members:

    Afghanistan, Angola, Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Bahamas, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chile, Czech Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Denmark, Eritrea, Fiji, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Libya, Marshall Islands, Mauritania, Mexico, Namibia, Nepal, Netherlands, Nigeria, Poland, Pakistan, Peru, Philippines, Qatar, Republic of Korea, Senegal, Slovakia, SomaliaSudan, Spain, Togo, Ukraine, Uruguay, Venezuela

    Civic space ratings from the CIVICUS Monitor

    OPEN NARROWED OBSTRUCTED  REPRESSED CLOSED

     

     

  • Myanmar: Government continues to use an array of laws to silence its critics

    Statement at the 43rd Session of the UN Human Rights Council during Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on Myanmar
    Watch our statement below

     

    We thank the Special Rapporteur for her final report on Myanmar (see all reports), and the outstanding work the mandate has carried out despite the lack of access granted to the country.

    As highlighted in the report, Myanmar has undergone appalling developments in its human rights framework since the Special Rapporteur began her term – from the elections in 2015 which saw a groundswell of hope for positive change, to the horrors of genocide and crimes against humanity against the Rohingya in Rakhine state.

    But curtailment of fundamental freedoms and total crackdown on any criticism of authorities has remained grimly consistent. Using an array of restrictive laws, the government has sought to systematically silence dissent. Members of the Peacock Generation poetry troupe face charges in township after township for their satirical criticism of the military, and remain in jail. The internet shutdown in Rakhine state remains in place. Rohingya campaigners outside the country face threats while protesters continue to be arbitrarily arrested and convicted. 

    Filmmaker Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi and Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo have been released, but the chilling effect caused by their imprisonment, for undermining the military and reporting on military atrocities respectively, remains.

    The ICJ ruling in January 2020 brought the possibility of accountability for grave human rights abuses one small step closer. Now the Security Council and the wider international community must uphold their obligations to ensure those responsible are brought to trial.  And accountability will never be achieved if those who speak out, now, continue to be arrested and imprisoned. 

    Those on the ground, the human rights defenders and activists who are trying to achieve change, need international support. It is imperative that this crucial mandate is renewed and we ask the Special Rapporteur, as she reaches the end of her mandate, what more this Council can and should be doing to support those in Myanmar brave enough to speak out?


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

     

  • Myanmar: Independent investigation needs access and international community must ensure accountability

    Statement at the 45th Session of the UN Human Rights Council

    Interactive Dialogue with the Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar 


    Thank you, Madame President,

    We thank the Independent Investigative Mechanism for its second report.

    We particularly welcome efforts articulated towards outreach and engagement with local and regional civil society. 

    We are alarmed by the continuing lack of access granted to Myanmar to the Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar (IIMM), which has been exacerbated owing to the COVID-19 pandemic. For the mechanism to fulfil its mandate, it is crucial that it has access to information including to relevant evidence of serious international crimes and witnesses. Ongoing failure to ensure unfettered access to journalists, humanitarian actors and human rights monitors to Rakhine state also puts this in jeopardy. We call on the government to grant access to the Mechanism and other actors as a matter of urgency. We further call on Facebook to uphold its commitment to cooperate by providing all relevant evidence it holds, noting that to date it has only partially complied with such requests.

    Myanmar’s future depends on a clear demonstration from the international community that any international crimes will not be tolerated. It also depends on those in Myanmar who speak out on violations and advocate for positive change being listened to, rather than persecuted. We call on the Myanmar government to do so.

    Pursuing criminal accountability is a long process and requires long-term sustainability. We call on the Council to ensure that the Mechanism can enjoy such sustainability by ensuring it adequate resources. We further call on the international community to recognize that the vital work of the Mechanism is only one stage of this process, and to take steps to ensure progress towards accountability is made: including by referring Myanmar to the International Criminal Court or an independent tribunal, and exercising universal jurisdiction to hold the perpetrators accountable. 

    Failing to do so would be a grave abdication of responsibility to the victims of grave human rights violations, their families and communities, who have deserved accountability and justice for so long.

    We ask the Mechanism what steps it is taking to systematize engagement with civil society, and what steps it is taking to ensure sustainability in the event of budget restrictions?

    Thank you.


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

    Current council members:

    Afghanistan, Angola, Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Bahamas, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chile, Czech Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Denmark, Eritrea, Fiji, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Libya, Marshall Islands, Mauritania, Mexico, Namibia, Nepal, Netherlands, Nigeria, Poland, Pakistan, Peru, Philippines, Qatar, Republic of Korea, Senegal, Slovakia, SomaliaSudan, Spain, Togo, Ukraine, Uruguay, Venezuela

    Civic space ratings from the CIVICUS Monitor

    OPEN NARROWED OBSTRUCTED  REPRESSED CLOSED

     

     

  • Myanmar: International action needed to restore democracy and protect rights

    Statement at the 46th Session of the UN Human Rights Council

     

  • Myanmar: States must ensure that rhetoric at the UN translates to action on the ground

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

     Interactive Dialogue with Special Rapporteur on Myanmar

    Delivered by Lisa Majumdar

    We thank the Special Rapporteur for his progress report.

    More than a thousand civilians have been killed in Myanmar since February’s coup. The junta has continued its terror campaign against human rights defenders. Many have been forced into hiding. Many others, unable to flee, have been arbitrarily arrested, including environmental and labour rights defenders and student activists. Some have been tortured or ill-treated.

    Arbitrary amendments of the penal code by the junta, outlawing so-called ‘false news,’ has effectively made independent journalism a crime. The threat of arrest has driven many news organisations to close their offices and forced journalists underground or into exile. Two journalists were arrested just last month at an apartment where they had been hiding in Yangon. Authorities have banned satellite media and imposed rolling restrictions on the internet.

    The situation in Myanmar cannot be forgotten and its fragile democratic gains lost to history. Dictatorship must not be allowed to remain in place through inadequacy of the international response.

    The Special Rapporteur has already made urgent calls on States:

    • To outlaw the export of arms to the Myanmar military, as called for by the General Assembly;
    • To impose systemic sanctions, targeting military-controlled enterprises;
    • To cordinate investigations of ongoing crimes under universal jurisdiction;
    • To increase humanitarian aid through the National Unity Government, local humanitarian networks and community-based organisations;
    • And to reject any claims of legitimacy that the junta may try to assert.

    We call on States to take these steps to ensure that rhetoric at the UN translates to action to provide the support so desperately needed by those on the ground.

    Thank you.

    Civic space in Myanmar is rated as repressed by the CIVICUS Monitor

     

  • Myanmar: Urgent need to ensure accountability and justice for crimes against humanity

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

    Interactive Dialogue on report of the Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar

    Delivered by Lisa Majumdar

    Thank you, Madame President.

    We thank the Mechanism for their report. In a year which has seen a coup perpetrated by a military junta which has been implicated in crimes against humanity, the work carried out by this mandate to facilitate justice and accountability for past serious crimes and contribute to the deterrence of further atrocities has never been more critical.

    Indeed, the report concludes that the Myanmar junta has committed serious international crimes since seizing power on 1 February 2021, continuing a cycle of impunity, violence and deaths. Among the serious crimes noted has been the use of lethal force, including the use of live ammunition, against protesters in multiple locations.

    The Mechanism itself highlights that its work to collect, consolidate, preserve and analyse evidence is a contribution towards what must be a wider effort towards criminal accountability and justice. We call on Member States to take measures to ensure that such an accountability process takes place, including by referring Myanmar to the International Criminal Court or an independent tribunal. Failing to do so would be a grave abdication of responsibility to the victims of grave human rights violations, their families and communities, who have deserved accountability and justice for so long.

    The work of the mechanism would not be possible without participation from witnesses and victims of violations and civil society activists. The courage of those who do cannot be overstated. We therefore further call on Member States to facilitate the protection of witnesses and prevent any reprisals for cooperation with the Mechanism.

    We ask the Mechanism what steps it is taking to systematize engagement with civil society, and what steps it is taking to ensure sustainability in the event of budget restrictions?


    Civic space in Myanmar is rated as repressed by the CIVUCUS Monitor

     

  • New Head of UN Human Rights needs to visit Bangladesh

    Joint letter to UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michele Bachelet, on the deterorating human rights situation in Bangladesh

    Your Excellency:

    Congratulations on your new role as United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. As you take up your new mandate, the undersigned organizations urge you to make Bangladesh a focus of your efforts in the coming months and to undertake an official visit to Bangladesh as soon as possible. It is our understanding that your predecessor, Prince Zeid bin Ra’ad Zeid al-Hussein, was in advanced talks with the Government of Bangladesh regarding a visit to the country. We strongly urge you to resume that discussion and schedule a visit without delay.

    In your opening remarks to the 39th Session of the UN Human Rights Council on September 10, 2018, you rightly commended Bangladesh for its role hosting Rohingya refugees and for making significant development advancements. But you were also right to make it clear that Bangladesh’s human rights record in recent years has been deeply concerning. In addition to the crackdown on peaceful student protests and the violent anti-drug campaign that you referenced in your remarks—both of which warrant close attention—the Government of Bangladesh has also engaged in attacks against independent media and journalists, human rights defenders, and opposition figures. These abuses are further enabled by the recent passage of the Digital Security Act, [1] which criminalizes the legitimate exercise of the right to freedom of opinion and expression and the right to freedom of association. Enforced disappearances continue to occur at an alarming rate (34 people were reportedly disappeared in September alone), [2] and reports of torture in custody continue to surface despite passage of the Torture and Custodial Death (Prevention) Act 2013. [3]

    In addition, the government is cracking down on political dissidents and opposition activists. The opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) reports that, over the past two months, police have registered 3,736 cases, resulting in charges against 313,130 party leaders and activists. The BNP insists that all of these cases and charges are politically motivated; the Awami League Government disputes this characterization. The spree of criminal cases against opposition figures is being conducted in such a fashion that the police have filed several cases against opposition leaders who have died or have been living abroad for years. [4] In trials widely condemned as politically motivated, top opposition leaders have been sentenced to death or lengthy prison sentences prior to the upcoming general election, which is expected to take place in December 2018. [5]

    The UN Human Rights Committee noted concerns in its 2017 Concluding Observations regarding:

    • The “reported high rate of extrajudicial killings by police officers, soldiers and Rapid Action Battalion force members and at reports of enforced disappearances, as well as the excessive use of force by State actors”;
    • The absence of “ongoing investigations into cases of torture in the State party…[despite] information that torture and ill-treatment by law enforcement or military personnel is widespread in the State party during interrogations to extract confessions”; and
    • The “limitations on the rights of journalists, bloggers, human rights defenders and civil society organizations in the State party to exercise their right to freedom of opinion, expression and association”.

    These concerns were exhaustively raised by members of the UN Human Rights Council earlier this year during Bangladesh’s 3rd cycle Universal Periodic Review. Bangladesh failed to accept a number of key recommendations, including to ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance; to issue a standing invitation to all UN Special Procedures; to amend or repeal laws that do not comply with international standards by restricting legitimate expression or association; and to fight against impunity by committing to investigate alleged human rights abuses by security forces.

    Although serious concerns have been raised by non-governmental organizations, as well as by UN bodies and UN Member States, there have been only four visits by UN Special Procedures mandate-holders in the last ten years. These were the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion and Belief (2016); the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women (2013); and a joint visit by the UN Independent Expert on Human Rights and Extreme Poverty and the UN Independent Expert on the Right to Safe Drinking Water and Sanitation (2010). These are welcomed visits, and important mandates and issues for Bangladesh. But at this critical juncture, the Government of Bangladesh must grant broader access to UN Special Procedures.

    In addition to undertaking an official visit to Bangladesh yourself, we urge you to press the Government of Bangladesh to accept visit requests from the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders; the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression; the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Assembly and Association; the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture; the UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Executions; the UN Working Group on Enforced Disappearances; and the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention. These are the mandates that can most directly address many of the core issues raised by UN Member States during the UPR, the UN Human Rights Committee, and by you in your opening remarks to the UN Human Rights Council.

    Your office has a critical role to play. Bangladesh remains a close partner of the UN and particularly the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. Bangladesh is also one of the largest contributors of military personnel to UN Peacekeeping missions. But it must also be a closer partner of the UN human rights mechanisms. In previous election cycles there has been a marked increase in violence and repression. Attention from your office and other UN human rights bodies can help reverse this trend. We are committed to working with you and your office, as well as with the Government of Bangladesh, to ensure that a visit can take place soon.

    Sincerely,

    1. 350.org
    2. Asian Human Rights Commission
    3. Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)
    4. Asian Network for Free Elections (ANFREL)V
    5. Association For Human Rights in Ethiopia (AHRE)
    6. Сenter for Civil Liberties, Ukraine
    7. CIVICUS
    8. Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI), India
    9. Freedom Now
    10. Human Rights Concern, Eritrea
    11. Human Rights Defenders Network, Sierra Leone
    12. International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
    13. Karapatan, The Philippines
    14. Lokataru Foundation, Indonesia
    15. Odhikar, Bangladesh
    16. Phenix Center for Economic Studies, Jordan
    17. Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights
    18. Sudanese Development Initiative (SUDIA), Sudan
    19. The Article 20 Network
    20. Transparency International
    21. World Organisation against Torture (OMCT)
    22. MARUAH, Singapore
    23. Transparent Election Foundation of Afghanistan (TEFA)
    24. Citizen Congress Watch (CCW), Taiwan
    25. Uganda National NGO Forum

    1 See, Dhaka Tribune, “Bangladesh signs Digital Security Bill into Law,” October 8, 2018, available at, https://www.dhakatribune.com/bangladesh/2018/10/08/president-signs-digital-security-bill-into-law;seealsoForum Asia, Digital Security Act English translation (2016), available at, https://www.forum- asia.org/uploads/wp/2016/08/Digital-Security-Act-English-09.03.2016.pdf.

    2 See,Odhikar “Human Rights Monitoring Report of September 2018”; see also, New Age, “Enforced Disappearances Double: Odhikar Report,” October 3, 2018, available athttp://www.newagebd.net/article/52199/enforced-disappearance-doubles-odhikar-report.

    3 According to data gathered by Odhikar, at least 125 persons were tortured to death by law enforcement agencies from January 2009 to May 2018.

    4 See e.g., Prothom Alo, "Police sue another dead man for sabotage," October 9, 2018, available at, https://en.prothomalo.com/bangladesh/news/184686/Police-sue-another-dead-man-for-sabotage.

    5 See e.g., NewAge Bangladesh, “Babar, Pintu, 17 others to die, Tarique, Harris, 17 others jailed for life,” October 10, 2018, available at, http://www.newagebd.net/article/52831/aug-21-grenade-attack-19-get- death-penalty-tariqe-among-17-life-term.

     

  • New UN resolution stresses that States must ensure protection of human rights defenders in conflict situations

    CIVICUS welcomes a new resolution on human rights defenders in conflict and post-conflict situations which was adopted by the UN Human Rights Council on 1 April at the end of the Council’s 49th session.

    The resolution highlights the myriad roles of human rights defenders in conflict and post-conflict settings: from monitoring, documenting and raising awareness; to promoting accountability; fighting impunity; countering disinformation and misinformation; assisting victims of human rights violations and abuses in gaining access to justice; and raising the human rights impacts of conflict.

    Human rights defenders working in these situations require specific holistic and security protections. We welcome that the resolution highlights the value of relocation initiatives to protect human rights defenders from violence and attacks. It also recalls the rights of everyone to freedom of movement, to seek and enjoy asylum, and to be protected against refoulement. We call on States to ensure such emergency support procedures are in place to facilitate relocation initiatives and to ensure protection of relocated defenders.

    The resolution further urges States to create a safe and enabling environment for human rights defenders, particularly in light of their role in conflict prevention and resolution and post-conflict reconstruction. The resolution raises concerns about legislative measures – including national security, counter-terrorism and cybercrime legislation, and laws regulating civil society organizations – that have been misused to target human rights defenders or endangered their safety. Such laws have contributed to the erosion of civic and democratic space in recent years all over the world, and we call on States to lift all undue restrictions on the rights to freedom of association, peaceful assembly and expression.

    We call on all States to support and implement the resolution, and we call on the Council to closely monitor compliance with the resolution and to hold States accountable for their treatment of human rights defenders.

     

  • New UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of assembly and association

    The Civic Space Initiative welcomes Mr. Nyaletsossi Clément Voule as the new UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of assembly and association, and congratulates him on his appointment.  The Civic Space Initiative (CSI) is a collaborative project of ARTICLE 19, CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation, the European Center for Not-for-Profit Law (ECNL), the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law (ICNL), and the World Movement for Democracy.

    Since its creation in September 2010, the mandate of the UN Special Rapporteur has been critical in providing practical guidance to States on how they should implement their human rights obligations as they relate to association and assembly, and has consistently stood up for those whose rights were violated. The CSI expresses its appreciation to the two previous mandate holders, Mr. Maina Kiai and  Dr. Annalisa Ciampi.

    Mr. Voule takes on this mandate at a time where the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association are under increasing pressure globally and the gap between states’ international commitments and national realities is growing ever wider.  The Civic Space Initiative regards the mandate of UN Special Rapporteur as critical in bridging that gap.  Mr. Voule will build on 20 years of experience in addressing this challenge, including coordinating the recent African Commission on Human and People's Rights Study Group on the laws governing freedom of association and assembly in the region, which produced guidelines to assist states in the implementation of these rights.

    Having supported similar initiatives on a global, regional and country level since 2012, the Civic Space Initiative aims to influence policy actors to protect civic space; empower civil society actors to advance civic space freedoms; and increase the awareness and engagement of the public in supporting civic space. The CSI stands ready to support Mr. Voule in his capacity as Special Rapporteur, and urges all States to respect the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association and be responsive to the mandate. 

    For more information, please contact:
    Andrew Smith, ARTICLE 19 (andrewATarticle19.org) 
    Susan Wilding, CIVICUS (susan.wildingATcivicus.org)
    Vanja Skoric, ECNL (vanjaATecnl.org) 
    Nicholas Miller, ICNL (nmillerATicnl.org) 
    Troy Johnson, World Movement for Democracy (troyJATned.org)