human rights council

 

  • Advocacy priorities at the 49th Session of UN Human Rights Council

    The 49th Session of the Human Rights Council will run from 28 February to 1 April 2022. For the first time since 2020, the session will be held in hybrid mode: civil society will be able to engage in certain debates in person as well as via video, while still being limited to video statements during General Debates. CIVICUS encourages States to continue to highlight the importance of civil society participation, which makes the Human Rights Council stronger, more informed and more effective.

     

  • Advocacy priorities at the 50th Session of UN Human Rights Council

    The 50th Session of the Human Rights Council will run from 13 June to 8 July, and will provide an opportunity to advance civic space and the protection of civil society, as well as address serious country situations. This session will address particularly civic space rights: CIVICUS will engage on a resolution and debate on freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, as the Council renews the critical mandate of the Special Rapporteur, and on a resolution on peaceful protests, aiming to advance accountability for violations. It will also look to strengthen international norms on freedom of expression. On country situations, CIVICUS will engage on Eritrea, join calls to ensure continued scrutiny on Sudan, and urge the Council to take steps to protect Rohingya and other ethnic minorities in and outside Myanmarwhile addressing its ongoing serious violations and join events on both topics.

    The Human Rights Council also has the opportunity to address situations of serious concern on countries that are not on the agenda. CIVICUS urges to Council to do so on India, to create a long-needed mechanism on Russiaand to address the women’s rights crisis in Afghanistan.

    The full participation of civil society remains a critical part of the Human Rights Council, and CIVICUS encourages States to ensure consultation with national, regional and international civil society, and to ensure that they are fully able to participate in Council debates and negotiations.


    Resolutions

    Freedom of association and peaceful assembly

    The resolution on freedom of peaceful assembly and association will be presented at this session, renewing the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on freedom of association and peaceful assembly. The Special Rapporteur will present a report on restrictions to access to funding, which has emerged as an existential threat to civil society. Countries such as India, El Salvador and Tunisia have had economic development and human rights activities curtailed owing to restrictions in foreign funding.

    CIVICUS calls on States to support the renewal of the mandate in a strong resolution which reflect contemporary challenges, and to deliver statements during the debate with the Special Rapporteur highlighting countries and situations in which restrictions to access to funding have emerged as an existential threat to civil society.

    Peaceful protests

    Peaceful assembly is a fundamental right, and protests offer a powerful and successful means of advocating for and defending other vital rights. The resolution that will be presented this session on peaceful protests will provide an opportunity to strengthen protection of protests and accountability frameworks for violations during protests, building upon existing norms and standards, including the Human Rights Committee published its General Comment 37 on the right to freedom of peaceful assembly.

    CIVICUS encourages States to support the resolution and its emphasis on crisis, and to encourage stronger language on accountability and the protection of journalists and protest monitors.

    Freedom of expression

    Freedom of expression is essential for any democratic society. The right to seek, receive and impart information is an inherent aspect of this. As internet shutdowns continue to be imposed throughout the world – from Myanmar to India to Chad to Kazakhstan – this right has been curtailed, exacerbated by existing challenges in to accessing digital space.

    CIVICUS calls on States to support a resolution on freedom of expression which strengthens norms and standards around this vital issue and protects the right of people to fully participate.


    Country Priorities

    Eritrea

    The situation of human rights in Eritrea – a Human Rights Council member – and its lack of cooperation with international mechanisms is a source of serious concern. In 2019, the Special Rapporteur on Eritrea identified ‘benchmarks for progress in improving the situation of human rights.’ To date, none have been met and there continues to be widespread impunity for past and ongoing human rights violations.

    CIVICUS joins other organisations in calling for the Council to adopt a resolution that extends the mandate of the Special Rappor­teur, clearly describes and condemns violations Eritrean authorities com­mit at home and abroad, and incorporate the Special Rapporteur’s benchmarks towards tangible improvement.

    Civic space in Eritrea is rated 'closed' by the CIVICUS Monitor.

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    Sudan

    The situation in Sudan risks further escalation, and a successful political settlement requires accountability. Following the military coup of 25 October last year, the UN Human Rights Council took urgent action by holding a special session and adopting a resolution re­ques­ting the High Commis­sioner to designate an Expert on Human Rights in the Sudan. The Council now must follow up on its initial action, and ensure ongoing scrutiny.

    CIVICUS joins others in calling for states to support a resolution which ensures that the High Commissioner regularly reports on the human rights situation and that dedicated public debates are held.

    Civic space in Sudan is rated 'repressed' by the CIVICUS Monitor.

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    India

    India was placed on CIVICUS’s Watchlist in February this year, illustrating its severe and rapid decline in respect for civic space. The Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act (FCRA) has been weaponized against non-profit organisations, including rejecting registrations and preventing them from accessing foreign funding. The broader human rights situation continues to deteriorate; scores of human rights defenders and activists remain in detention under the draconian Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) and other laws.

    CIVICUS calls on states to raise India specifically in the interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the Rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association with particular reference to the FCRA and UAPA.

    Civic space in India is rated 'repressed' by the CIVICUS Monitor.

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    Myanmar

    15 months after the military coup, grave human rights violations by the military junta continued to be documented in Myanmar. There will be a number of opportunities to raise concerns during this Council session, including updates from the High Commissioner and the Special Rapporteur on Myanmar. It is imperative that pressure remains on the military junta, and that further targeted action is taken by the international community to address the junta’s crimes. The coup has made the safe, voluntary, dignified, and sustainable return of Rohingya refugees untenable.

    CIVICUS calls on states to ensure that the resolution on the situation of Rohingya Muslims and other minorities in Myanmar reflects these concerns, and to deliver strong statements to condemn the military coup and call for the restoration of an elected civilian government.

    Civic space in Myanmar is rated 'repressed' by the CIVICUS Monitor.

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    Russia

    Since the start of Russia's aggression in Ukraine, the authorities' targeting of Russian civil society has intensified significantly. Russian authorities embarked on a severe crackdown on civic freedoms after authorities brutally responded to nationwide anti-war protests, threatened and shut independent media outlets for reporting about the war in Ukraine, and blocked access to social media and media websites. Russia’s crushing of internal dissent has removed virtually all domestic checks and balances, enabling it to become a destabilizing actor not only in the region, but also globally.

    CIVICUS supports Russian and international civil society groups in calling for the Council to appoint a dedicated Special Rapporteur to address the human rights situation in Russia.

    Civic space in Russia is rated 'repressed' by the CIVICUS Monitor.

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    Afghanistan

    There is a woman’s right crisis in Afghanistan: since August 2021, when the Taliban took control of the country, there has been an enormous deterioration in the recognition and protection of the rights of women and girls in Afghanistan, including with respect to the rights to non-discrimination, education, work, public participation, health, and sexual and reproductive health. The Taliban has also imposed sweeping restrictions on the rights to freedom of expression, association, assembly and movement for women and girls. Afghanistan is now the only country in the world to expressly prohibit girls’ education.

    CIVICUS joins partners in calling for an urgent debate on Afghanistan for the Council consider and take action on the women’s rights crisis in Afghanistan in a manner reflecting the gravity and urgency of the situation.

    Civic space in Afghanistan is rated 'repressed' by the CIVICUS Monitor.

     

  • Afghanistan: Disappointing Human Rights Council Resolution a major blow for human rights

    Statement after the special session on Afghanistan at the UN Human Rights Council

    The Resolution adopted by the UN Human Rights Council during its Special Session on 24 August 2021 in response to the ongoing crisis in Afghanistan fails to effectively address grave human rights violations in the country. 

    “The resolution is the weakest possible response to the crisis as it ignored urgent requests from civil society to establish an international monitoring and accountability mechanism in response to rights abuses and to prevent a looming humanitarian crisis,” said Susan Wildling, Head of Geneva Office for CIVICUS.

    The resolution, which fails to explicitly mention the “Taliban” by name calls on the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to present a report at the Council’s 49th Session in March 2022.  It calls for an interactive dialogue to accompany the report which could potentially limit the number of civil society voices able to report on the atrocities on the ground.

    The Special Session was called by Pakistan on behalf of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation  (OIC) and was co-sponsored by Afghanistan and a number of UN Member States could have created an independent international investigative mechanism to gather evidence of abuses as a step towards ensuring  accountability of perpetrators of human rights violations. While many member and observer States voiced their support for an independent investigative mechanism, the Resolution  fell far short of this bare minimum request.

    “At a time when the people of Afghanistan urgently need a concerted response from the international community, the Human Rights Council failed to show leadership by ignoring calls from civil society for a gender-sensitive investigative mechanism to record violations of international human rights and humanitarian law,”  said Susan Wilding.

    The Taliban have a track record of attacking civilians and engaging in reprisals against those who criticise them. Some have been abducted and killed.  Following the takeover of Afghanistan’s capital, Kabul, human rights defenders have reported that lists of names of representatives of civil society have been revealed by the Taliban and raids have been carried out in their homes.  Women human rights defenders and journalists are particularly at risk.  Others trying to flee Afghanistan have been prevented from boarding airplanes as foreign missions have prioritized evacuating their own nationals and staff.  Several have gone into hiding for fear for their lives.  The Taliban has also cracked down on peaceful protests in several cities.

    The failure of the Human Rights Council to address the human rights concerns of the people of Afghanistan and hold the Taliban accountable for its human rights violations is a missed opportunity.  CIVICUS believes the Human Rights Council must use its September Session to develop an adequate response to the crisis.

    Presently, CIVICUS urges UN agencies and multilateral institutions to retain their presence in Afghanistan with a view to actively safeguarding human rights & gender justice gains. The presence of UN agencies is crucial to a coordinated response to protect those at risk  of persecution. UN Member States should support the UN to play a lead role in responding to the crisis on the ground. 

    Further, CIVICUS urges the urgent inclusion of Civil Society in any national and international initiatives on Afghanistan. 


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

     

     

  • Afghanistan: Keep the pressure on the Taliban to create a safer space for women, HRDs, and journalists

    Statement at the 50th Session of the UN Human Rights Council

    Interactive Debate on the High Commissioner’s update on Afghanistan 

    Delivered by Horia Mosadiq 

    CIVICUS and Safety and Risk Mitigation Organization thank the High Commissioner for her update. 

    We remain deeply concerned with the escalating restrictions to fundamental freedoms, threats against human rights defenders, and curtailment of the rights of women and girls in Afghanistan.

    Since the Taliban assumed power, women, and girls in Afghanistan are increasingly restricted in their rights to freedom of expression, assembly, association, and even movement. It has become the only country in the world to prohibit girls’ education. The Taliban issued a directive on 7 May mandating women and girls to fully cover themselves in public and leave home only in cases of necessity. Women human rights defenders have been subjected to numerous human rights violations, including abductions, enforced disappearances, and assaults with impunity.

    Last month, the Taliban dissolved the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission. This act symbolizes the complete disintegration of accountability mechanisms in the country.

    We welcome the scrutiny of the Special Rapporteur on Afghanistan, especially in the context of his recent visit to the country, which is an important step towards any future accountability. The crisis facing women and girls merits further investigation. We call on the Council to ensure both adequate support to the Special Rapporteur and to stand ready to take further action, on both prevention and accountability initiatives, as the situation deteriorates. 

    We further call on States to provide Afghan human rights defenders with financial, diplomatic and political support, including by issuing humanitarian visas and funding resettlement programmes, and to apply pressure on the Taliban to create a safer space for human rights defenders and journalists in Afghanistan.

    We thank you.

     

  • African Union Makes Moves to Neutralise Africa’s Main Human Rights Body

    By David Kode, CIVICUS Advocacy and Campaigns lead

    For many African activists based on the continent, getting to a major human rights summit just underway in The Gambia is likely to have been a challenging exercise. The journey by air from many African countries to the capital, Banjul, for the 63rd Session of the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR), could have been prohibitively expensive, involved transiting through multiple cities and taken days.u

    Read On: South South News and  Inter Press Services News Agency

     

  • Alarming trends facing protest movements

     

    40th Session of the Human Rights Council
    Statement delivered during General Debate (Monday 11 March)

    CIVICUS is deeply alarmed that protest movements find themselves on the frontlines of a global attack on democracy and human rights. Across the world, protest movements are being met by campaigns of violence and aggression from states that are increasingly brazen about defying global human rights commitments.

    At a time when many hard-won gains are being directly threatened by state and non-state actors, we urge the states present here today to recall that it was people organising in protest and civil disobedience who rolled back slavery, overturned colonial and racist systems of governance, and fought for women’s rights.

    Today, these struggles persist. Yet governments are increasingly responding to legitimate demands of protesters and their movements with absolute intolerance, including extra-judicial killings and torture. 

    CIVICUS echoes the concerns raised by the High Commissioner regarding the brutal crackdown on protests in Zimbabwe, where scores of unarmed civilians have been killed and children as young as 12 arrested, as well as the systemic campaign of brutality deployed against peaceful protesters in Sudan. 

    We ask all states present here today: what measures will you take to ensure that emerging protest movements from Serbia to Algeria to Malawi are nurtured rather than repressed?

     

  • Alarming trends in restrictions to access to resources facing civil society in Asia

    Statement at the 50th Session of the UN Human Rights Council

    Item 3: Interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association

    Delivered by Ahmed Adam On behalf of Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA), CIVICUS – World Alliance for Citizen Participation and World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)

    Mr. President, We welcome the Special Rapporteur’s important report on civil society’s access to resources.

    Systematic restrictions on civil society’s access to resources often represent one of the first indicators of overall deterioration of the human rights situation and a trend towards authoritarian rule as seen in many Asian countries, in particular, in India and Bangladesh. In India, over 6000 NGOs have been banned from accessing foreign funding under the draconian Foreign Contributions (Regulations) Act, 2010 (FCRA) effectively forcing them to cease their operations.

    The law has been used particularly to silence human rights NGOs critical of the government. The amendments made to FCRA makes sub-granting of funds to grassroot organisations impossible, affecting many beneficiaries. Early this month, Bangladesh authorities arbitrarily cancelled the registration of prominent human rights NGO, Odhikar, after years of crippling restrictions on its operations under the Foreign Donations (Voluntary Activities) Regulation Law 2016 for its legitimate human rights work in the country. This has had a serious chilling effect on the country’s civic and democratic space, forcing many others to resort to self-censorship.

    Many other countries the region are in the process of adopting similar measures that would effectively decimate civil society. We are particularly concerned about the impending adoption of a new law on NGOs in Thailand. In this context, can the Special Rapporteur elaborate on your engagement with countries such as India and Bangladesh, and their responses, where such measures have had serious implications for fundamental freedoms and civic space.

    Finally, we welcome the Special Rapporteur’s timely follow up report on his visit to Sri Lanka amid nationwide peaceful protests in response to the country’s economic crisis precipitated by failure of governance and the rule of law, and rollback of fundamental freedoms.

    Can the Special Rapporteur further elaborate on obligations of authorities to uphold the right to peaceful protests and ensure accountability, especially in situations such as those seen in Sri Lanka on 9 May where supporters of the embattled ruling party attacked peaceful protestors while the security services looked on?

    Thank you.

     

  • Angola: Repressive restrictions include arrest of protesters

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

    CIVICUS welcomes Angola’s acceptance of 14 recommendations focusing on civic space in this UPR cycle. However, in our UPR submission, we documented that since its last review, Angola has not implemented or taken any concrete steps to implement 19 of the 20 recommendations relating to civic space made in 2014. 

    Several pieces of restrictive legislation that in the past have been used against Human Rights Defenders (HRDs) and journalists critical of the government, including provisions on criminal defamation in the Penal Code and restrictions under Law 23/10 on Crimes against the Security of the State, remain in place. 

    Additionally, we are concerned about restrictions on peaceful assembly, notably the arrest of protesters. More than ten people and two journalists were briefly arrested in front of Angola’s National Assembly in Luanda in January 2020 in a protest against the delay in the approval of the municipal legislative package. 

    In April 2018, the District Court of Malanje sentenced three student protesters to prison sentences of five to six months on charges of insult of public authorities and disturbance of the functioning of sovereign bodies, the latter a crime against state security. The three were released in July 2018, after a ruling of the Supreme Court.

    Civic space in parts of Angola, such as Cabinda, is severely restricted: HRDs are subject to threats and intimidation while arbitrary arrests and judicial harassment are systematically used to prevent protests from taking place. Between 28 January 2019 and 1 February 2019, security forces arrested at least 62 people in relation to a planned protest, on 1 February 2019, to call for independence for the enclave of Cabinda.

    CIVICUS calls on the Government of Angola 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 Angola 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 Angola.

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

     

  • Armenia adoption of Universal Periodic Review on Human Rights

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

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


    Thank you, Madame President.

    CIVICUS welcomes the government of Armenia’s engagement in the UPR process. We also acknowledge the steps taken by the government in managing the political transition and addressing some of the human rights concerns that were pervasive under the previous administration. We are, however, concerned about ongoing restrictions on the activities of human rights defenders, the targeting of independent media and smear campaigns by some government officials. There are also instances of violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation.

    In our UPR submission, we highlighted ongoing concerns over the targeting of human rights defenders who engage in advocacy on gender rights, environmental rights and the actions of large corporations. Last year, for example, human rights defender Lilit Martirosyan and her family were subjected to acts of intimidation and death threats after she made a speech about issues affecting members of the LGBTI community at the National Assembly. Such attacks are further precipitated by hateful and derogatory statements by some senior government officials. There have also been instances in which social media users have been arrested.

    We remain concerned about the restrictions targeting some peaceful assemblies and the arbitrary arrests and judicial persecution of those who take part in such protests.

    It is imperative for the Armenian authorities to also carry out independent investigations into past violence and excessive use of force by law enforcement which currently remain limited.

    We welcome that Armenia accepted recommendations relating to enjoyment of fundamental freedoms, and we call on Armenia to take steps to implement such recommendations to create and strengthen an enabling environment for civil society.


    Civic space in Armenia is currently rated as Obstructed by the  CIVICUS Monitor

     

  • Attacks against human rights defenders in Colombia, Guatemala and Honduras

     

    Statement at the 40th Session of the UN Human Rights Council
    Response to country reports from the High Commissioner and Secretary General

    CIVICUS is extremely concerned about attacks against human rights defenders across Colombia, Honduras and Guatemala, of which governments of these counties show little sign of adequately addressing.

    In Colombia, increased violence against human rights defenders took the lives of 110 people in 2018. 20 were members of indigenous or afro-Colombia communities. Delays in implementing the peace agreement has fueled further risk, especially in rural areas which have been most affected by conflict.  We are concerned by the alarming increase in the number of threats and attacks against journalists, and we call on the government of Colombia to accelerate implementation of the peace agreement which would expand civic space.

    In Honduras human rights defenders are routinely attacked, criminalized, harassed and targeted by smear campaigns. We are also deeply concerned by the excessive use of force by law enforcement officials, particularly in contexts of protests. We call on the government of Honduras to adopt a comprehensive, rights-based and gender-responsive policy for the protection of human rights defenders and to reform laws which criminalise them, including the overly-broad law on terrorism.

    In Guatemala, too, the environment for human rights defenders continues to be hostile. Local organisation UDEFEGUA reported that at least 24 human rights defenders were killed in 2018. And since the beginning of 2019, there have been two further murders. Human rights defenders, especially indigenous leaders and land defenders, are subject to judicial harassment and intimidation. CIVICUS is concerned that in the approach to the June 2019 general elections, violence against defenders may increase.

    In all three cases, lack of investigations into crimes against human rights defenders has created a climate of impunity and increased risk. We call on all three governments to conduct investigations into attacks and ensure perpetrators are brought to justice, and to develop effective protection mechanisms and policies so that human rights can be defended without fear of reprisal.


    The CIVICUS Monitor rates the state of civicspace in Colombia as Repressed, Honduras as Repressed, Guatemala as Obstructed

     

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

    Statement at 47th Session of the UN Human Rights Council

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

    CIVICUS welcomes Australia's engagement in the UPR process.

    In our report submitted to the review, CIVICUS examined a number of unwarranted restrictions which undermine the consolidation of a more enabling environment for civil society in Australia. We further articulated several measures the relevant authorities should take to address these barriers to the realization of a more pluralistic civic space.

    In our submission, we raised a number of concerns about the climate for civic space in the country. In particular, we underscored that, climate and environmental movements and defenders are increasingly being vilified and criminalised for peaceful protests. We further raised alarm over unwarranted restrictions on media freedoms due, in large part, to police raids on independent media outlets and recent attempts to silence whistleblowers who reveal government wrongdoing under the Intelligence Services Act. 

    As a result of these issues, in December 2019, the CIVICUS Monitor, which rates and tracks respect for fundamental freedoms in 196 countries, downgraded Australia’s civic space rating from open to narrowed.

    While we welcome Australia's acceptance of recommendations to “Continue to protect civil and political rights for all persons in Australia as well as freedom of expression” we regret its unwillingness to accept a number of specific and targeted recommendations, including:

    • Amending national security laws that inhibit the speech of journalists, whistle-blowers and lawyers;
    • Repealing laws criminalizing public interest reporting; and
    • Ensuring meaningful participation in political and public life for all persons, especially for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

    We urge the government to drop all charges against whistleblowers, halt plans for legal changes to allow for the deregistration of charities for minor offences and consult with civil society in the implementation of the UPR recommendations.


    Civic space in Australia is rated as Narrowed  by the CIVICUS Monitor

     

     

  • Bangladesh: Release all those arbitrarily arrested and investigate police abuse

    To the President of Bangladesh,
    H.E. Md Abdul Hamid

    Bangladesh: Release all those arbitrarily arrested and investigate police abuse

    Dear President Hamid,

    We are writing to express our concerns about serious violations of civic freedoms perpetrated during recent protests in Bangladesh. We urge your government to take immediate steps to address these issues in accordance with your international human rights obligations.

    Our organisations are concerned about reports that police used excessive force, including firing rubber bullets and tear gas on 4th August 2018 to disperse demonstrations in Dhaka which were triggered by the killing of two teenagers by a speeding bus on 29th July 2018. We are also concerned that the government may be covering up the actual death toll and have received information that at least three others students may have also been killed and one critically injured.

    Some of the student protesters were also allegedly attacked by members of the Bangladesh Chhatra League (BCL) and Jubo League, the student and youth wing of the ruling Bangladesh Awami League (BAL) party.

    More than 20 journalists were attacked, some of whom were later detained briefly by the police. At least four journalists from The Daily Star newspaper were reportedly beaten while at least seven photojournalists were injured in attacks in Jhigatala and Science Lab areas of the city on 5 August 2018. While some attackers wore helmets, the journalists identified some of their attackers as BCL members.

    We are also concerned about the arbitrary arrest of scores of individuals around the protest, in particularly Bangladeshi photographer Shahidul Alam who was taken from his home, just hours after he made comments on Al-Jazeera about protests in the city. He was subsequently charged under section 57 of Bangladesh’s Information Communications Technology Act a provision that has been frequently used to bring charges against critics, activists and other dissenting voices in Bangladesh. He has also alleged that he was tortured while in custody. A lawyer in Sirajganj, Sakhawat Hossain Shakil, was also arrested and remanded under Section 57 of the ICT Act on 7th August for allegedly sharing anti-government posts and expressing solidarity with safe road protesters on Facebook.

    At least 22 protesters were remanded in police custody for two days and five are facing charges under Section 57 of the Information and Communication Technology Act. Some were allegedly tortured or ill-treated in custody. They are now detained in prison as the courts have rejected the applications for bail.

    In the last few months, our organisations have also documented attacks by the BCL against students protesting the civil service quota system, which reserves 30 percent of government jobs for children of freedom fighters from Bangladesh’s Liberation War in 1971. Academics and journalists supporting them have also been targeted. Some student activists were subsequently detained and charged. At least six are languishing in jail and according to their lawyers were allegedly tortured in police custody. 

    The arrest and charging of peaceful protesters and allegations of torture and ill-treatment, clearly contravene Bangladesh obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment. Our organisations also believe that the violent actions of the police at these protests are inconsistent with international human rights standards on the use of force such as the United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement, and that the failure to take appropriate measures to prevent and punish harm caused by private actors, such as the BCL, also contravenes Bangladesh’s international human rights obligations.

    Many of the issues above were also raised at the Human Rights Council during Bangladesh’s recent Universal Periodic Review in May 2018, and received support from your government. Protecting civic freedoms is also part of Bangladesh’s commitments under Agenda 2030 and these violations highlight that the country is failing abysmally to meet targets set under Sustainable Development Goal 16 on promoting peaceful and inclusive societies, and particularly target 16:10 to “protect fundamental freedoms, in accordance with national legislation and international agreements”.

    Therefore, we urge your government to take the following steps as a matter of priority:

    • Immediately and unconditionally release all protesters who have been arbitrarily detained for exercising their human rights, in particular photographer Shahidul Alam, and drop all charges against them;
    • Carry out prompt, impartial, independent and efficient investigations into all complaints and reports of excessive use of force by the police, as well as attacks by non-state actors, against protesters and journalists, bring those responsible to justice and provide reparations to the victims;
    • Review and amend all laws that restrict freedom of expression, such as section 57 of the 2006 Information and Communication Technology Act;
    • Send a clear message to members of the Bangladesh Chhatra League (BCL) and other non-state actors that violence by them will not be tolerated;
    • Create a safe and enabling environment for activists, civil society and citizens to exercise their rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly without intimidation, harassment, arrest or prosecution.

    We express our sincere hope that you will consider and implement these recommendations. 

    Sincerely, 

    David E. Kode
, Advocacy and Campaigns Lead
, CIVICUS
    Ichal Supriadi
, Secretary General, 
Asia Democracy Network (ADN)
    Basil Fernando, Director, Policy and Programme, 
Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC)
    Henri Tiphagne
, Executive Director, 
People’s Watch
    Mathew Jacob
, National Coordinator, 
Human Rights Defenders Alert – India (HRDA)
    John Samuel, 
Executive Director, 
Forum Asia (Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development)

     

  • Belarus: Letter to Permanent Representatives of Member & Observer States of the Human Rights Council

    To Permanent Representatives of Member and Observer States of the UN Human Rights Council:

    Excellency,

    The Human Rights Council will consider the possible renewal of the mandate of the OHCHR examination of the human rights situation in Belarus at its 49th session.

    We, the undersigned national, international and Belarusian organisations, urge your delegation to support the renewal of this mandate, which is critical for maintaining scrutiny on Belarus’s human rights crisis.

    The human rights situation in Belarus which necessitated Council action in 2021 is deteriorating. There are continuing cases of arbitrary detention and arrest, torture and cruel,  inhuman, or degrading treatment, and unfair and closed trials on trumped-up charges against persons perceived by the authorities as being critical of the government.

    As of 1 February 2022, well over 1000 prisoners are recognized as “political prisoners” by the Belarusian human rights organisation Viasna. However, the number of those detained for political reasons is much higher and might reach as many as 5,000. Torture and ill-treatment of those detained continue, with the objective of eliciting forced “confessions”, and punishing and silencing those carrying out human rights and civic activities. 

    In 2021, civil society came under prolonged systematic attack by the Belarusian authorities. The government liquidated at least 275 civil society organisations, including all independent human rights organisations. Authorities have initiated criminal cases against 13 human rights defenders, 12 of whom have been detained.

    Legislative amendments to the Criminal Code adopted in December 2021 re-introduced criminal liability for "acting on behalf of unregistered or liquidated organisations.” The liquidation of all independent human rights organisations by the authorities has therefore led to a de facto criminalisation of human rights work. Independent media also face systematic persecution, with journalists frequently being labelled as “extremist”, targeted under defamation charges, and blocked from publishing. At least 31 journalists and media workers remain behind bars on criminal charges and at least 22 lawyers have been disbarred by Belarusian authorities on political grounds or because of their representation of defendants in politically sensitive cases . In addition, Belarus is considering introducing criminal proceedings in absentia, with implications for those who have fled the country.

    Those who are subject to human rights violations in Belarus do not currently have any effective legal remedies or recourse to justice, and look to the United Nations Human Rights Council to ensure an accountability process for serious human rights violations.

    At the 46th session, the Human Rights Council mandated the OHCHR to conduct an examination. This was a welcome development given the widespread and systematic, human rights violations that occurred in Belarus in the context of 2020’s presidential election, and the environment of impunity and lack of accountability within which they occurred.

    Unfortunately, the OHCHR examination received only around 50 per cent of the budget for its work in 2021 against what was originally approved by the Council at HRC46. It became fully operational only in the final months of 2021. Despite these challenges, the OHCHR examination is still expected to provide a report to the Human Rights Council at the 49th session.

    Given the current dire human rights situation in Belarus, and the ongoing importance and unique nature of the OHCHR examination, we call on this Council to renew the mandate at HRC49, and ensure its work is sufficiently resourced and funded.

    Please accept, Excellency, the assurances of our highest consideration,

    Signed

    • Amnesty International
    • ARTICLE 19
    • The Barys Zvozskau Belarusian Human Rights House
    • CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
    • Civil Rights Defenders
    • FIDH - International Federation for Human Rights
    • Human Rights House Foundation
    • Human Rights Watch
    • IFEX
    • Index on Censorship
    • International Bar Association's Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI)
    • International Commission of Jurists 
    • World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)

    Civic space in Belarus is rated as "closed" by the CIVICUS Monitor . Belarus is also on the CIVICUS Monitor Watchlist 

     

  • Belarus: More than 7000 peaceful protesters arrested and hundreds injured

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

    Urgent debate on Belarus


    Madame President,

    We have watched with horror as riot police and law enforcement agencies have used brutal means to curtail peaceful protests in Belarus following disputed elections in August. More than 7,000 protesters have been arrested and more than 200 injured as the authorities use flash grenades, rubber bullets and in a few instances live ammunition against the peaceful protesters. Some detainees have reported torture. At least two people have died – one in police custody.

    We are deeply concerned that the authorities are also targeting journalists and media outlets to prevent the media from reporting on the protests and the violent response by the authorities. More than fifty journalists have been arrested in the different regions of the country; some have had their accreditation revoked. The authorities continue to censor media outlets. Protesters and human rights defenders have been subjected to smear campaigns.

    We are extremely concerned that despite the atrocities committed by the security forces, none have been investigated or held accountable for their actions while journalists and peaceful protesters have been wrongfully accused of attempting to destabilize Belarus. We stand in solidarity with human rights defenders, journalists and all those who seek to hold perpetrators of violence to account in the face of violence and suppression.

    In light of this, Madame President, we welcome this urgent debate, and we call on the Council to use its prevention mandate by acting strongly now, before the situation deteriorates still further. We urge the Council to support a strong Resolution that strongly condemns the human rights violations and calls for international scrutiny with a view to furthering accountability.

    The people of Belarus have a right to speak out without risking death and torture.


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

     

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

    Coalition Burkinabé des Défenseurs des Droits Humains, the West Africa Human Rights Defenders Network and CIVICUS welcome the government of Burkina Faso's engagement with the UPR process. We also welcome passing of a new law on the protection of human rights defenders in June 2017, making Burkina Faso only the second African country to do so.

    However, in our joint UPR Submission, we documented that since its last review, Burkina Faso only partially implemented the one civic space recommendation received during its 2nd Cycle review. Despite several positive developments since the popular uprising of 2014, such as the decriminalisation of defamation and the adoption of a law on the protection of human right defenders, restrictions on the freedom of expression including suspensions of media outlets by the national media regulator and attacks and threats against journalists continue.

    A new law on freedom of association, passed in 2015, allows authorities to delay the granting of legal personality in order to conduct a “morality” test on the applicant if deemed necessary. Civil society in Burkina Faso are further concerned about article 56 of the law which establishes a mediation commission, the members of which are not guaranteed to be independent of government.

    Despite the new HRD law, in recent years journalists and civil society activists, in particular those critical of the government, have continued to experience threats, intimidation and physical attacks. Freedom of expression has been undermined in recent years, including through the forced closure of some media outlets. 

    Serious violations of the right to freedom of peaceful assembly, including the killing of at least 14 unarmed protestors, took place during a coup d’etat in September 2015.

    Mr President, we call on the Government of Burkina Faso 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.

     

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

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

    Mr. President, DefendDefenders and CIVICUS take note of the government’s engagement with the UPR process and welcome its decision to ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel Inhumane or Degrading Treatment or punishment.  However, we regret the fact that the provisions of the Optional Protocol have not been implemented.  In fact torture and the inhumane treatment of citizens have become commonplace in Burundi since its last review.  

    Burundi has not fully implemented any of the recommendations it accepted relating to civic space. Instead the authorities have selectively used restrictive legislation like the Law on Assemblies and Public Demonstrations (2013) to pre-empt and prevent peaceful demonstrations by citizens.  

    Since April 2015, the Burundian authorities have used violence against peaceful protesters and are responsible for the numerous killings, abductions, acts of torture, disappearances and arbitrary arrests of real or perceived opponents of the regime.  These acts have largely been carried out by security forces, intelligence services and the youth wing of the ruling party – the Imbonerakure.  Some of these crimes amount to crimes against humanity and they have been carried out with utmost impunity.  

    Legal restrictions adopted by the national assembly that increase government control of the activities and funding of national and international NGOs and the ban imposed on some civil society organisations have stifled freedom of association. The violence against representatives of civil society has forced many human rights organisations to close down and most of them now operate from abroad. 

    Mr. President, DefendDefenders and CIVICUS call on the Government of Burundi 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.


     

     

  • Burundi: Continued UN investigation of human rights violations needed

    Frances

    To Permanent Representatives of Member and Observer States of the United Nations Human Rights Council, Geneva, Switzerland
    Burundi: Call to renew the mandate of the Commission of Inquiry

    Excellencies,

    Ahead of the 39th session of the UN Human Rights Council (“HRC” or “the Council”), we, the undersigned national, regional and international civil society organisations, write to urge your delegation to support a resolution renewing the mandate of the UN Commission of Inquiry (CoI) on Burundi. [1] Such a resolution should also ensure continuity for the work of the CoI through continued adequate resourcing of its secretariat, including its crucial investigative and evidence-gathering work.

    The renewal of the CoI’s mandate is critically important to improve the human rights situation in Bu-rundi, and it offers the Council a number of practical and effective advantages. Among other things, it would allow the Council to:

    • Avoid a monitoring gap, which is all the more important given the Burundian Government’s ongoing refusal to cooperate with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and to sign a new Memorandum of Understanding regarding its presence in the coun-try; [2
    • Ensure the continued documentation of human rights violations and abuses ahead of the upcoming elections of 2020, through testimonies of victims, witnesses, human rights defenders, and other actors operating in and outside of the country;
    • Ensure ongoing public reporting and debates — while the African Union’s observers continue to monitor the human rights situation in Burundi despite a number of limitations imposed by the authorities, their findings are not publicly reported. Interactive dialogues at the Council provide the only regular space for public reporting and debates on human rights developments in the country; and
    • Enable the CoI to continue to highlight under-addressed aspects of the crisis — for instance, the Commission has stressed the importance of dedicating more attention to violations of economic, social and cultural rights.

    At the Council's 36th session (September 2017), the CoI informed the HRC that there were “reasonable grounds to believe that serious human rights violations and abuses have been committed in Burundi since 2015,” and that some of the violations may constitute “crimes against humanity.” At the 37th and 38th sessions of the Council (March and June-July 2018), the CoI described a political, security, econ-omic, social and human rights situation that has not improved since September 2016. In March 2018, the Commission’s Chairperson, Mr. Doudou Diène, stressed that the situation in the country continued to deserve the Council’s “utmost attention.” In October 2017, the International Criminal Court (ICC) authorised an investigation into crimes committed in Burundi since April 2015. A preliminary exam-ination of the situation had been opened in April 2016.

    The constitutional referendum that was held on 17 May 2018 was marred with violence and repression, with arbitrary arrests, beatings and intimidation of citizens campaigning for a “no” vote. [3] The BBC and VOA, two of the country’s main international radio stations, have been suspended for 6 months at the start of the official campaign, illustrating the climate of fear in which journalists and medias were pre-vented from a proper coverage of the event. [4]  In the Commission’s words, as of June 2018 “human rights violations, among which extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearances, acts of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment […], facilitated by a continuing environment of threats and intimidation,” continue unabated. The CoI added: “The fact that several missing people have not been found and that unidentified bodies continue to be discovered in various parts of the country gives reason to fear the continuation of practices consisting of getting rid of the bodies of people arrested sometimes by individuals in police uniform or identified as agents of the National Intelligence Service (SNR) or the Imbonerakure.” [5

    Since it became a member of the Council, on 1st January 2016, Burundi has delivered multiple state-ments that have made clear its refusal to cooperate with human rights monitoring and investigation bodies and mechanisms. The Government has repeatedly launched attacks, which have sometimes des-cended to a personal level, against the High Commissioner, UN officials, and independent experts. With no basis or evidence, it has publicly questioned the independence, competence, professionalism, inte-grity and legitimacy of High Commissioner Zeid and his Office, and has threatened, stigmatised, and exercised reprisals against human rights defenders and civil society organisations. [6] Burundians who have sought protection outside of Burundi have been subjected to harassment and persecution, including by members of the National Intelligence Service (SNR) and Imbonerakure.

    Members of the CoI continue to be denied access to Burundi. Furthermore, at the time of writing, the Burundian authorities have withdrawn visas from the team of experts mandated by HRC resolution 36/2, despite the fact that the latter was adopted at Burundi’s own initiative, with its support and the support of members of Burundi’s own regional group. Burundi’s action in this regard clearly violates its Council membership obligations.

    Recalling the letter a group of civil society organisations wrote in September 2017,7 we urge the Council, consistent with its mandate to address situations of violations of human rights, including gross and systematic violations, to pave the way for accountability by renewing the mandate of the CoI to enable it to continue monitoring human rights developments in the country, documen-ting violations and abuses, and publicly reporting on the situation.

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

    Sincerely,

    Action des Chrétiens pour l’Abolition de la Torture – Burundi (ACAT-Burundi) African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies (ACJPS)
    Amnesty International
    Association Burundaise pour la Protection des Droits Humains et des Personnes Détenues (APRODH)
    Association for Human Rights in Ethiopia (AHRE)
    Centre for Civil and Political Rights (CCPR)
    CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
    Coalition Burundaise pour la Cour Pénale Internationale (CB-CPI)
    Collectif des Avocats pour la Défense des Victimes de Crimes de Droit International Commis au Burundi (CAVIB)
    Community Empowerment for Progress Organisation South Sudan (CEPO)
    DefendDefenders (the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project)
    East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Network (EHAHRD-N)
    Eritrean Law Society (ELS)
    Eritrean Movement for Democracy and Human Rights (EMDHR)
    Forum pour la Conscience et le Développement (FOCODE)
    Forum pour le Renforcement de la Société Civile au Burundi (FORSC)
    Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect (GCR2P)
    Human Rights Concern – Eritrea
    Human Rights Watch
    International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
    International Federation of Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture (FIACAT)
    International Movement Against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism (IMADR)
    International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)
    Ligue Iteka
    Mouvement Citoyen pour l’Avenir du Burundi (MCA)
    Mouvement des Femmes et des Filles pour la Paix et la Sécurité (MFFPS)
    National Coalition of Human Rights Defenders – Burundi (CBDDH)
    Observatoire de la Lutte contre la Corruption et les Malversations Économiques (OLUCOME)
    Organisation pour la Transparence et la Gouvernance (OTRAG)
    Pan-African Human Rights Defenders Network
    Reporters Without Borders (RSF)
    Réseau des Citoyens Probes (RCP)
    SOS-Torture/Burundi
    TRIAL International
    Union Burundaise des Journalistes (UBJ)
    World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)


    1. See its webpage: www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/HRC/CoIBurundi/Pages/CoIBurundi.aspx
    2. See the UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights’ statement at the Council’s 37th session (OHCHR, “Introduction to country reports/briefings/updates of the Secretary-General and the High Commissioner under item 2,” 21-22 March 2018, www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=22875&LangID=E, accessed 20 July 2018).
    3. FIDH and Ligue Iteka, “A forced march to a Constitutional Referendum,” May 2018, www.fidh.org/IMG/pdf/report_burundi_may2018_referendum_on_constitution.pdf (accessed 27 July 2018). 
    4. Reporters Without Borders, “Harassment of Burundi’s media intensifies for referendum,” 16 May 2018, www.rsf.org/en/news/harassment-burundis-media-intensifies-referendum# (accessed 7 August 2018). 
    5. OHCHR, “Oral briefing by the members of the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi to the Human Rights Council,” 27 June 2018, www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=23274&LangID=E (accessed 20 July 2018). 
    6. See DefendDefenders, “Headlong Rush: Burundi’s behaviour as a member of the UN Human Rights Council,” 25 July 2018, www.defenddefenders.org/publication/headlong-rush-burundis-behaviour-as-a-member-of-the-un-human-rights-council/ (accessed 25 July 2018). 
    7. “Renewing the Mandate of the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi and Ensuring Accountability for Serious Crimes,” 19 September 2017, www.defenddefenders.org/press_release/hrc36-renewing-the-mandate-of-the-commission-of-inquiry-on-burundi-and-ensuring-accountability-for-serious-crimes/ (accessed 30 July 2018).
     

     

  • Burundi: Disappearances and detentions continue ahead of May elections

    Statement at the 43rd Session of the UN Human Rights Council during Interactive Dialogue with the UN Commission of Inquiry on Burundi
    Watch us deliver our statement below:

    CIVICUS and independent Burundian civil society organisations welcome the important work of the Commission of Inquiry, and thank the Commission for its update, despite the government of Burundi’s continued refusal to grant access to the country.

    Just months before general elections set for May, the human rights and security situation remains perilous. Forced disappearances and arbitrary detentions of opponents and other dissenting voices continue unabated. In January 2020, Jacques Nibigira, Gilbert Ndayishimiye, Eslon Nshinyabigoye and Juma were arrested by the Burundian Intelligence Service. Their whereabouts remain unknown.  In October 2019, journalists Christine Kamikazi, Agnès Ndirubusa, Égide Harerimana and Térence were arbitrarily arrested while investigating rebel activities. Human rights defender Germain Rukuki is still in jail serving a 32-year prison sentence on Trumped-up charges of “rebellion.”

    On 16 January 2020, journalist Blaise Pascal Kararumiye was arrested and detained incommunicado for five days by the Governor of Karuzi province and released without any charges. Freedom of speech, access to information, and association remain restricted in Burundi. There have been violent attacks by the ruling party youth wing on members of other political parties. We are concerned that such attacks will continue as the elections approach.

    We call on the government of Burundi to fully cooperate and allow access to UN Human Rights Council mechanisms, including the Commission of Inquiry, and for all UN mechanisms on peace, security and human rights to fully support the Commission’s work and recommendations. We further call on the Council to take serious heed of the Commission’s analysis of risk factors and take steps to prevent atrocities and ensure that the government of Burundi is held accountable for its human rights violations.

    We ask the Commission whether it plans for the deployment of an observation mission before, during and after the upcoming elections so that election-related human rights violations can be reported on in a timely manner to help prevent the escalation of electoral violence. 


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

     

  • Burundi: Human rights continue to worsen ahead of 2020 elections

    42nd Session of the UN Human Rights Council
    Interactive Dialogue with the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi

    CIVICUS and independent Burundian civil society organisations welcome the important work of the UN Commission of Inquiry on Burundi, and specifically this report which provides critical oversight of the human rights situation in the country.

    As the report makes clear, the human rights situation in Burundi remains dire and continues to worsen. Sustained monitoring and reporting is vital. The civic space in Burundi is closed, with independent and critical voices, including civil society organisations and human rights defenders, particularly targeted. We remain deeply concerned that the sentencing of human rights defender Germain Rukuki was upheld by the Court of appeals in July 2019.

    Burundi is scheduled to hold elections in 2020. The fragile pre-electoral context and rising political tensions are likely to give rise to further human rights violations. We are particularly alarmed by the political intolerance of the ruling party’s youth wing “Imbonerakure” of political opposition members. Offices of political opposition parties have been burned or destroyed and members of those parties arbitrarily detained.

    In light of the banning of international media and unwarranted restrictions imposed on independent private media in Burundi, it is imperative that human rights violations are documented by the international community. We urge the Council to renew the Commission’s mandate to ensure continued monitoring and documentation of the human rights situation in Burundi, especially ahead of the 2020 election, as limited civic and democratic space in the country hinders independent and critical sources of information. The renewal of the Commission’s mandate would make clear that obstructionism, indifference, and threats made by the Burundi government against the UN are not rewarded.

    We call on the government of Burundi to fully cooperate and allow access to UN Human Rights Council mechanisms, and we ask the Commission of Inquiry what further support they need from the Human Rights Council to continue and strengthen their work?

     

  • Burundi: Human rights violations continue

     

    UN Human Rights Council – 40th regular session
    Interactive dialogue with the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi

    CIVICUS is extremely concerned that grave human rights violations in Burundi continue without any signs of abating.

    The Commission of Inquiry reported in September 2018 that serious violations, including crimes against humanity, remained routine. During the May 2018 referendum, local authorities, the youth wing of the ruling party, the police and intelligence services summarily executed, abducted, detained and intimidated those who voted against the constitutional changes or those perceived to have done so.  In total more than 20 people were killed in incidences related to the referendum. 

    The 32-year jail sentence handed to human rights defender Germain Rukuki under trumped up charges of “participating in an insurrectionist movement and breaching state security” despite repeated calls for his release from the international community is a vivid reflection of the state of human rights in Burundi. Other human rights defenders have been jailed under similar circumstances.  Three representatives of the CSO – PARCEM are serving ten-year sentences after being charged with “threatening national security,” and human rights defender Nestor Nibitanga is also in detention in an unrelated case.

    Mr. President, media restrictions continue as most private radio stations remain closed since 2015.  The National Communication Agency suspended the broadcasting licenses of the BBC and VOA after accusing them of violating Burundi’s media laws.  The activities of more than130 INGOs providing vital health and social services in Burundi were affected after they were banned in Burundi for three months in September 2018.

    We call for the immediate release of all human rights defenders and urge Burundi to fully cooperate with the COI and re-open the OHCHR office.