human rights council


  • Reaction to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights update

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


    Thank you, High Commissioner for your update, which takes place in a difficult and unprecedented context.

    We agree with your assessment that human rights violations result primarily from processes that exclude people's voices, and gaps in protection measures. These are issues which the Council is well-placed to address.

    To this end, we hope that the Council will this session continue to address the situation in the Philippines with a strong resolution which reflects the dire human rights situation in the country and pursues accountability. Given that the situation in Burundi continues to be characterised by violations and impunity we urge the Council to renew the vital mandate of the Commission of Inquiry. We further call on the Council to heed calls from civil society and its own Special Procedures to address the escalating violations in China – in Hong Kong, Tibet and in Xinjiang – as well as to address attacks on rights defenders, journalists, and government critics across the country.

    High Commissioner, restrictions to civic space are often precursors to a worsening human rights situation. When the Council fails to address these, it misses the opportunity to work constructively to prevent further human rights violations and fails those who will be affected. A resolution on the Council’s prevention mandate should address this gap. Echoing your call, we call for immediate and sustained preventive action on Tanzania before the situation deteriorates further.

    Finally, High Commissioner, we welcome efforts to ensure civil society participation despite COVID-19 restrictions. Being able to meet with and hear directly from human rights defenders in the room, and in-person, has long been a strength of this Council. We call on the members and observers of the Council to strengthen collaboration with partners from civil society to further our mutual goals of protecting human rights.

    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




  • Reaction to the UN High Commissioner report on terrorism and human rights

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

    Thank you, Madame President,

    On behalf of the Civic Space Initiative, we wish to draw attention to the enduring restrictions for civil society and civic freedoms, stemming from security measures to counter-terrorism and violent extremism. Such unwarranted limitations to civic space hamper efforts to counter terrorism, as civil society is essential in addressing the conditions conducive to terrorism.

    The High Commissioner’s 2020 report on Terrorism and Human Rights emphasizes the negative and harmful effects of excessive security and counter-terrorism measures on rights and freedoms in general. 

    However, the report does not address the detrimental and disproportionate impact of these measures on civil society and civic space. This is particularly relevant, pursuant to the 2019 Report on how the Measures to Address Terrorism and Violent Extremism impact Closing Civic Space, where the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Counter-Terrorism examined restrictive and repressive aspects of the security and counter-terrorism framework:

    • Repressive measures against lawful, non-violent civil society activities and targeting “undesirable” individuals.
    • Regulation restricting freedom of expression and opinion, association, and assembly.
    • Limiting civil society access to financial services.
    • Vaguely labelling civil society as “terrorists,” or “threats to national security”.

    These measures create a chilling effect on civic space. Given civil society’s essential role in countering terrorism, measures undermining its ability to operate undercut our collective counter-terrorism response. 

    We remind states of their obligation to ensure counter-terrorism measures comply with international human rights law, international refugee law and international humanitarian law, pursuant to HRC resolutions 37/27 and 42/18.  Criminalization and repression of civil society must be urgently addressed as a misuse of law and an abuse of power. Any effective counter-terrorism policy must engage with and strengthen, not weaken, civil society.


  • Renew mandate of Independent Expert on sexual orientation and gender identity

    Over 1300 civil society organisations from across the globe call for the renewal of the mandate of the Independent Expert on violence and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

    Around the world, millions of people face human rights violations and abuses because of their real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity (SOGI). These abuses include: killings and extrajudicial executions; torture, rape and sexual violence; enforced disappearance; forced displacement; criminalization; arbitrary detentions; blackmail and extortion; police violence and harassment; bullying; stigmatization; hate speech; denial of one’s self defined gender identity; forced medical treatment, and/or forced sterilization; repression of the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly, religion or belief; attacks and restrictions on human rights defenders; denial of services and hampered access to justice; discrimination in all spheres of life including in employment, healthcare, housing, education and cultural traditions; and other multiple and intersecting forms of violence and discrimination. These grave and widespread violations take place in conflict and non-conflict situations, are perpetrated by State and non-State actors (including the victims’ families and communities) and impact all spheres of life.

    In 2016, this Human Rights Council took definitive action to systematically address these abuses, advance positive reforms and share best practices – through regular reporting, constructive dialogue and engagement – and created an Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

    This Council considered the mandate an essential tool to respond to the vast body of evidence of such violence and discrimination in all world regions and followed recommendations from the UN human rights system – including the Treaty Bodies, the Human Rights Council, its Special Procedures and the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), and the findings of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and many others.

    The two mandate holders have examined these issues in greater depth through reports, country visits, communications, and statements issued in the past three years. They have identified root causes and addressed violence and discrimination faced by specific groups, including lesbian, bisexual, trans and gender diverse persons.

    The mandate has also welcomed progress and identified best practices from all regions of the world, including in decriminalisation, legal gender recognition, anti-discrimination laws and hate crime laws that include SOGI. All the while, continuing to engage in constructive dialogue and assist States to implement and further comply with international human rights law, as well as collaborating with UN mechanisms, agencies, funds and programs and other bodies in international and regional systems.

    For persons of diverse sexual orientations and gender identities globally, this mechanism and its work have been a beacon of hope that violence and discrimination will not be ignored; and since 2016, progress has been made in many areas in all regions, including in countries that have decriminalized consensual same-sex sexual acts, legally recognized a person’s gender identity and promulgated SOGI-inclusive anti-discrimination and hate crimes laws.

    Despite these positive advances, to this day, 69 countries still criminalize consensual same-sex sexual acts, seven with the death penalty. Alarmingly 3000 killings of trans and gender diverse people were reported in 72 countries in the past decade. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trans and gender diverse people everywhere face daily discrimination and violence.

    A decision by Council Members to renew this mandate would send a clear message that violence and discrimination against people of diverse sexual orientations and gender identities cannot be tolerated. It would reaffirm that specific, sustained and systematic attention is needed to address these human rights violations and ensure that LGBT people can live a life of dignity.

    We 1,316 civil society organisations from 174 States, around the world urge this Council to ensure we continue building a world where everyone can live free from violence and discrimination. To allow this important and unfinished work to continue we urge you to renew the mandate of the Independent Expert on violence and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.


  • Renewal of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on promotion of human rights while countering terrorism

    Renewal of the mandate of Special Rapporteur on promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism

    Our organizations are deeply concerned about reported moves to allow Egypt a role in the Human Rights Council resolution to renew the mandate of the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism (SR on CT). We fear that such a move would undermine the integrity and credibility of this vital mandate.

    Egypt has an appalling record when it comes to abusing counter-terrorism measures to suppress civil society and dissenting voices. The Special Rapporteur has announced that the theme of her report to the 40th session is the misuse of counterterrorism measures against civil society and human rights defenders, and the session will thus be an important opportunity to shine a spotlight on Egypt’s record in this regard.

    In mid-January 2019, on the launch of its annual World Report, Human Rights Watch stated that:

    “Using counterterrorism as a guise to crush all forms of dissent could be Egypt’s hallmark of 2018… There’s simply not much room left to peacefully challenge the government without being detained and unfairly prosecuted as a ‘terrorist.”

    The Egyptian authorities' approach to counter-terrorism relies on systematic and widespread use of prolonged arbitrary detentions, enforced disappearances, and torture and ill-treatment including by rape, in addition to scores of possible cases of extrajudicial executions of detainees, and hundreds of unlawful killings of peaceful protesters. Many of these violations may amount to crimes against humanity. In North Sinai, the army has razed thousands of homes and farmlands leading to the forced evictions of tens of thousands of residents, many of whom were offered no compensation or temporary housing. The army may have also been involved in unlawful ground and airstrikes including by using cluster munitions. Further, the government has recently granted impunity to officers through special laws that make it even harder to question security officers involved in abuses.

    We furthermore consider it wholly inappropriate for a State recently accused of severe reprisals following the visit of another Special Rapporteur in September/October 2018 to be rewarded with joining the core group on this vital mandate. The severity of these reprisals led in December 2018 to a joint statement from the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders and the Special Rapporteur on Right to Housing warning that Egypt is “not ready to host further visits”.

    Despite its rhetoric, the Egyptian government’s approach is not primarily to give greater consideration to the human rights of victims of terrorism, which is a topic that had already been addressed in more detail in the previous Mexican thematic resolution and previous reports of the mandate. Rather, it aims to divert attention from the adverse human rights effects of its and other States’ counter-terrorism measures against individuals and the activities of civil society, including by effectively presenting the State itself as a victim.

    Any Egyptian involvement in the mandate renewal would be qualitatively different and far more damaging than the role it was accorded in the March 2018 thematic resolution. The March 2018 agreement was said at the time to be entirely without prejudice to the mandate resolution, and this was indeed offered to civil society and others at that time as a reassurance in the face of similar concerns.

    Any dilution of the focus of the mandate, in the short or long term would also significantly narrow the already highly restricted space for independent oversight of counter-terrorism measures from a human rights perspective within the overall UN system. The mandate holds a uniquely important role in the UN Counter-Terrorism architecture, participating as the only UN entity with the exclusive mandate to ensure the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism.

    Further, allowing Egypt to jointly lead the mandate renewal would only serve to encourage a continuation of its pattern of violations and abuses against civil society and others within Egypt, while shielding it from outside scrutiny.

    We therefore urge you to communicate to the Permanent Missions of Mexico and Egypt your opposition to any such developments in relation to the leadership or content of the resolution to renew the Special Rapporteur’s mandate.


    Amnesty International
    Article 19
    Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
    CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
    Human Rights Watch
    International Commission of Jurists (ICJ)
    International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)
    Privacy International


  • Reprisals are calculated steps by states to prevent activists from exposing human rights violations

    42nd Session of the UN Human Rights Council
    Statement during interactive dialogue with the Assistant Secretary General on Reprisals

    We thank the Assistant Secretary General for presenting this essential report which shows that acts of reprisals are not aberrative, but rather are calculated steps taken to prevent human rights defenders from exposing human rights violations. The UN depends on information from the ground in order to fulfil its mandate of protecting human rights. Every act of reprisal, those detailed in this report and the countless others that go unreported, is a direct challenge to this.

    But reprisals continue unabated, without accountability, and with a direct impact on the efficacy of the UN as a whole. We are particularly concerned to see council members listed in this report.

    Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt and the Philippines, particularly, show patterns of reprisals. We remain deeply concerned by the arbitrary detention and treatment of Ms. Samar Badawi and Ms. Loujain Al-Hathloul following their engagement with CEDAW. In the Philippines, we are seriously concerned by the attacks and threats against CIVICUS member Karapatan. Last week, FIND, a Philippines group advocating for the right of families of disappeared, was smeared by a representative of the government online following a side event highlighting the situation – and this was by no means the first time that human rights defenders have been attacked within this building for engaging with the Council. We echo the report’s recommendation that states commit to addressing reprisals in practice through the universal periodic review mechanism. However, we note that a number of cases outlined in the report actually came as a direct result of engagement with the UPR process: the cases of Nguyen Thi Kim Thanh in Viet Nam; of staff members of the international non-governmental organization Chinese Human Rights Defenders; of the New Generation of Human Rights Defenders Coalition in Kazakhstan; and of Malaysian human rights defender Mr. Numan Afifi. 

    The report shows reprisals at every stage of engagement, including attempts by state representatives on the Economic and Social Council to block accreditation of NGOs working on human rights. This pre-emptive weakening of civil society engagement with the UN represents yet another deliberate curtailment of civic space. 

    We ask the Assistant Secretary General: what possibility does he foresee for real political costs and accountability for states that engage in reprisals, particularly those who are repeat perpetrators? 

    And how can the UN and its related bodies take action to protect human rights defenders on the ground?


  • Reprisals perpetrated with impunity risk weakening our human rights mechanisms

    Statement at 48th Session of the UN Human Rights Council

    Item 5: Interactive Dialogue on the Secretary-General’s report on reprisals

    Delivered byLisa Majumdar

    Thank you, Madame President, and thank you Secretary-General for this important report. Civil society engagement is fundamentally necessary to ensure adequate reporting to these mechanisms and to promote human rights, in and outside the UN, and acts of reprisal threaten to weaken this engagement.

    Acts of reprisals by members of this Council are particularly egregious. There are multiple allegations against China of intimidation and reprisals against human rights defenders and civil society organisations that cooperated, or were perceived as cooperating, with the UN, in particular through their arbitrary detention. This must be addressed by this Council.

    A particularly disturbing trend highlighted in the report is that of legislation affecting the ability of civil society to engage with the UN, such as Nicaragua’s Law 140 on the Regulation of Foreign Agents, which means that organisations now risk their registration for receiving technical assistance or funding for service provision, research, reporting or advocacy. It is essential that a resolution by the Human Rights Council to address reprisals addresses this concerning pattern.

    An act of reprisal perpetrated by Cambodia against prominent Cambodian human rights defender and monk, Venerable Luon Sovath, during a debate held in the Human Rights Council’s 45th Session serves to illustrate the lack of political will of Cambodia to engage meaningfully with the Council. We urge States to ensure that this is reflected in any action taken by the Council on Cambodia.

    We further urge Member States to go beyond refraining from such acts of intimidation and reprisals, to addressing them. The time is overdue to impose a real political cost for the deliberate weakening of our collective human rights mechanisms.

    We thank you.


  • Resolución sobre Nicaragua adoptada en el Consejo de Derechos Humanos

    Resolución sobre Nicaragua adoptada en el Consejo de Derechos Humanos


  • Resolution on cooperation with the United Nations, its representatives and mechanisms adopted

    UN Human Rights Council adopts resolution on cooperation with the United Nations, its representatives and mechanisms in the field of human rights 


  • Response to the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights global update

    42nd Session of the UN Human Rights Council
    -General Debate on the oral update by the High Commissioner

    CIVICUS thanks the High Commissioner for your oral update, and especially the attention given to the risks faced by those exercising their rights to participation and freedom of peaceful assembly. As a movement dedicated to advancing the rights essential to civic space, CIVICUS is inspired to see people joining forces to publicly call for essential political reforms. However, across the world, from Cambodia to Kashmir to Sudan, we are witnessing states engage in tactics which discourage, undermine and punish such participation.

    In Hong Kong, protests against what is seen as creeping control of China, saw hundreds of thousands take to the streets. They were met with indiscriminate violent attacks by the police and arbitrary arrest. Pro-democracy activists Joshua Wong and Agnes Chow have since been charged.

    Papuan students and activists have been arbitrarily detained and charged for protesting. Protests in the Papuan region have been subjected to an internet shutdown and deployment of police and military personnel. Journalists face intimidation and harassment for reporting on the blackout while human rights lawyer Veronica Koman is being charged for speaking out against these violations.

    In Zimbabwe, the government has banned public rallies in opposition to its handling of the country’s economic crisis. Worryingly, lawyers and doctors have been threatened for assisting protesters.

    As your update highlighted, human rights gains are ones that empower vulnerable and discriminated communities. We are therefore deeply alarmed at the rise in xenophobic attacks and ongoing gender-based violence in South Africa and call on authorities to hold those responsible to account.

    For those brave enough to speak out against oppression, there is much at stake. We remind states that every positive human rights change emanates from people coming together to demand their rights and to hold accountable those who seek to diminish them. Societies, and states, in which people can participate without fear or favour are those which progress.

    We ask the High Commissioner: what role do you envisage for members of the council not only to protect and encourage those who wish to participate in decisions about their own futures, but to halt crackdowns on participation and freedom of peaceful assembly before such crackdowns spiral into wider human rights violations


  • Response to UN High Commissioner for Human Rights update

    38th Session of the Human Rights Council  
    Update of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights 

    CIVICUS welcomes the High Commissioner’s final update and thanks him for his continued support for human rights defenders and for speaking the truth to power in this August room for the last four years. You have been the voice of the silenced and helped to ensure that the grievances of victims of human rights violations are echoed in this chamber.  For that we thank you.

    CIVICUS shares the High Commissioner’s concerns about civic space restrictions in Bangladesh, in particular threats and attacks against journalists from government-affiliated groups, security forces and religious extremists and the failure to bring perpetrators to justice.

    The government has used the Information and Communications Technology Act to punish critics and a proposed Digital Security Bill could be used to criminalize online expression and promote self-censorship. The right to freedom of peaceful assembly continues to be restricted including of activists protesting the recent extrajudicial killings.

    We are equally worried about the recent violent attacks on civil society and HRDs in Nicaragua.On 30 April, 323 national, regional and international organisations and networks, in a joint statement condemned the violent repression of the demonstrations held in Nicaragua against the social security reforms and demanded respect for the right to peaceful protest.

    Since then the repression and use of excessive and indiscriminate force have continued and resulted in a at least 170 deaths. The government should immediately put an end to all violent acts, engage in a genuine dialogue with civil society and accept requests to conduct an impartial investigation into the killings.

    We urge all states underscored in the High Commissioner’s report to take immediate measures to address persistent and widespread violations of the rights essential to civic space, including by allowing access to relevant UN Special Procedure mandate holders.


  • Russia: Human Rights Council must respond to crackdown on civil society

    Joint statement ahead of the 46th Session of the Human Rights Council, condemning Russia (a new member of the body) for recent attacks against protestors (over 12,000 detained since late January).


  • Rwanda'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 Rwanda

    CIVICUS and its partners welcome the government of Rwanda’s engagement with the UPR process and particularly for accepting 160 out 284 UPR recommendations. We also welcome the revision of the Penal Code and decriminalization of all press-related offences, including defamation; enshrining the freedoms of opinion, expression, the press, association and peaceful assembly in the Constitution; as well as expanding media space, resulting in an increase in the number of radio and television stations and of registered print and online media organizations in Rwanda.

    Notwithstanding some positive legislative developments, we are concerned about ongoing civic space restrictions, and the vast and growing disconnect between law and practice in freedom of expression and media freedoms, which remain severely and unwarrantedly restricted. We also note with concern that institutional and legal impediments for protection of human rights remain; authorities continue to target and attack HRDs despite commitments made during the second UPR cycle to strengthen policies aimed to protect them. Investigation and accountability for perpetrators of human rights abuses, are still challenges for the new administration.

    We are concerned by restrictions, both by public authorities and legal frameworks, on freedom of peaceful assembly despite this right being enshrined in the constitution. The continued use of Law No. 68/2018 - Determining Offences and Penalties in General, hinders citizens from exercising their freedom to associate and assembly.

    Madame President, CIVICUS and its partners call on the Government of Rwanda to immediately and urgently take proactive measures to implement all UPR recommendations, particularly pertaining to efforts to addressing civic space and human rights.

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


  • Saudi Arabia: Over 50 human rights groups call for immediate release of women’s rights defenders


    The following letter was sent to over 30 Ministers of Foreign Affairs of States calling on UN Member States to adopt a resolution at the 40th session of the UN Human Rights Council calling explicitly for the immediate and unconditional release of the detained Saudi women human rights defenders and establishing a monitoring mechanism over the human rights violations in the country.


  • Saudi Arabia: States should adopt a resolution at UNHRC to address human rights violations


    Your Excellency,

    We remain highly concerned about the human rights situation in Saudi Arabia, in particular the recent mass executions of 37 men on 23 April, the continued arbitrary detention of human rights defenders including women human rights defenders and the ongoing impunity for serious human rights violations, including torture.


  • Senegal: Adoption of Universal Periodic Review Report


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

    The Senegalese Coalition of Human Rights Defenders (COSEDDH) and CIVICUS welcome the engagement taken by the government of Senegal in the UPR process, and welcome the acceptance of several recommendations on civic space during its review by the UPR Working Group in November 2018. 

    We now encourage the government of Senegal to take concrete measures to implement these recommendations. 

    Freedom of expression in Senegal is still limited by restrictive provisions in the 2017 Press Code and the Criminal Code. Despite several public declarations by President Macky Sall on the decriminalisation of press offenses, the 2017 Press Code continues to criminalise such offenses and even raised maximum prison sentences and fines. The Criminal Code provides prison sentences for defamation and insulting the president, which could be used against people for simply expressing dissenting opinions. 

    Article 27 of the Law on the Code on Electronic Communications, adopted by the National Assembly in November 2018, endangers the neutrality of the internet under the guise of ‘reasonable measures of traffic management’, which could have further grave implications for freedom of expression.

    There have been several cases of arbitrary bans by administrative authorities, often invoking reasons of ‘preservation of public order’ to ban demonstrations by CSOs and opposition parties. And there have been cases where security forces have used excessive force against protests. In May 2018, security forces used live ammunition during clashes with students during a protest at the University Gaston Berger in Saint-Louis, killing one student, and injuring several others. 

    Recently, authorities have engaged in acts of intimidation against the social movement Y’en a Marre, investigating its funding and interrogating three of its international donors. In November 2018, authorities withdrew for five months the operating license of the NGO Lead Francophone.

    Mr President, the Senegalese Coalition of Human Rights Defenders (COSEDDH) and CIVICUS encourage the government of Senegal to take proactive measures to resolve these concerns. We encourage the government to implement the recommendations to create and maintain an enabling environment for civil society in Senegal.

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

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


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

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

    The Human Rights House Belgrade (Lawyer’s Committee for Human Rights, Belgrade Center for Human Rights, Civic Initiatives, Helsinki Committee for Human Rights and Policy Center), the Human Rights House Foundation and CIVICUS welcome the Government of Serbia's engagement with the UPR process. We also welcome the agreement signed between the Prosecutor’s office, the State Secretary of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and journalists’ and media associations in December 2016 on cooperation and measures to improve the security of journalists. 

    However, in our joint UPR Submission, we also documented that since its last review, the Republic of Serbia has only fully implemented one recommendation of a total of 18 recommendations relating to civic space. 

    We are particularly alarmed by the intimidation, attacks and harassment of human rights defenders and journalists who report on sensitive issues, such as transitional justice, corruption or government accountability. According to a national media watchdog group, there were at least 231 assaults (physical attacks, attacks on property, threats, pressure and verbal attacks) on journalists since 2013, with at least 42 recorded physical attacks. 

    We are furthermore concerned about the vilification of and smear campaigns against human right defenders, CSOs, and independent media outlets, which has undermined their work. 

    Mr President, the Human Rights House, the Human Rights House Foundation and CIVICUS call on the Government of Serbia 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.


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

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

    Delivered byCornelius Hanung

    Thank you, Madame President.

    Singapore has fully accepted just four of the 21 recommendations on civic freedoms during this UPR cycle. It has done so on the basis that ‘the right to freedom of speech, expression and assembly is guaranteed under the Singapore Constitution’ and that ‘a balance must be struck between an individual’s freedom of speech and the need to preserve a harmonious society.’

    During its last UPR cycle, Singapore accepted eight recommendations on civic space. None were fully implemented; contrary to its claims of upholding the rights guaranteed in its Constitution, Singapore has persistently failed to address unwarranted restrictions to the freedoms of peaceful assembly and expression.

    The government has eroded freedom of peaceful assembly by its continuous deployment of the 2009 Public Order Act, which has been regularly used to harass and investigate activists and critics for organising peaceful gatherings, and even towards solo protests.

    The government has also continued to use restrictive laws to criminalise dissent. The 2017 Administration of Justice (Protection) Act, a vaguely-worded contempt of court law, has been used to prosecute human rights defenders for criticism of the courts, under the guise of protecting the judicial system. The authorities have also failed to reform laws restricting media freedom and introduced the 2019 Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act to harass the political opposition, activists, journalists and civil society. A Foreign Interference Countermeasures bill recently introduced by the government will potentially narrow civic space even further.

    Far from preserving a ‘harmonious society,’ these restrictions serve only to silence legitimate political dissent. We call on Singapore to engage constructively with the UPR process and international human rights mechanisms by implementing the recommendations it has accepted, to ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and to establish a national human rights body, and we call on member states to hold Singapore to account to its commitments.

    We thank you.

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



  • Sri Lanka: Civil society subjected to intensified military surveillance and other restrictions

    Joint Statement at the 44th session of the Human Rights Council

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

    Thank you, Madam President.

    As the Special Rapporteur’s report demonstrates, the space for Sri Lankan civil society is rapidly shrinking. For several months now, civil society organisations have been subject to intensified military surveillance and questioning by different government authorities.

    Worryingly, the COVID-19 pandemic has been exploited by the Sri Lankan government to impose restrictions on the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly, resulting in the arrest and detention of social media commentators like Ramzy Razeek. Senior lawyer and minority and civic rights activist, Hejaaz Hizbullah, who was arrested and detained on suspicion of offences under the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act, has now been detained for close to three months without being produced before a judge, after having been misled to believe that the authorities were visiting his house to discuss his potential exposure to COVID-19.

    Since January 2020, the Government of Sri Lanka has established multiple Presidential Task Forces. Decisions have been taken with no oversight by Parliament. The Presidential Task Force to build a “Secure Country, Disciplined, Virtuous and Lawful Society” is fully comprised of security sector personnel and given an ambiguous mandate. Sri Lankan civil society has raised a serious concern that the task force can extend military control over civilian life. Its power can be abused to curtail dissenting voices which are deemed to be “harmful to the free and peaceful existence of society”. The increased deployment of military personnel along with the police, and the disproportionate use of force against peaceful protesters, as observed recently, are also alarming.

    Considering growing concerns over shrinking space for dissent domestically, the Council remains effectively the only forum where Sri Lankan civil society has the possibility to engage openly in dialogue with the Government and other States on human rights concerns in Sri Lanka, and even this space is increasingly under threat due to deepening risks of reprisals against Sri Lankan civil society actors who speak at the Council. Those human right defenders are increasingly vilified as “traitors” in both mainstream and social media.

    Given Sri Lanka’s announced withdrawal from its commitments to the implementation of resolution 30/1, and the clear and consistent recommendations by the OHCHR that the Council should monitor progress towards accountability, the Council needs to take a more robust approach on Sri Lanka. Against this backdrop, we encourage the Special Rapporteur to continue to follow up on the situation and urge the Human Rights Council to enhance its monitoring of Sri Lanka’s compliance with international human rights law, including to ensure that human rights are protected throughout the forthcoming general elections.

    Amnesty International
    Forum Asia
    Franciscans International
    Human Rights Watch
    International Movement Against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism
    Minority rights group international

    Civic space in Sri Lanka is currently rated as Obstructed 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




  • Sri Lanka: Concerns about missing persons and possible changes to the Constitution

    Joint statement at the 43rd Session of the UN Human Rights Council
    CIVICUS, IMADR, International Service on Human Rights, Franciscans International, Human Rights Watch, Forum Asia, Minority rights group international

    We are deeply concerned by indicators of a significant backsliding on human rights in Sri Lanka, underscored by the government using their address to the Council this week to go back on the important commitments made by Sri Lanka through HRC resolution 30/1.

    Sri Lankan authorities’ indication to revoke the 19th amendment to the Constitution would remove check and balances on the executive and seriously jeopardise the independence of the judiciary and relevant commissions. The Government is reportedly considering reviewing the Office on Missing Persons (OMP) Act. Similarly, the President’s recent callous comments about the fate of thousands of missing persons without any conclusion of investigations in line with international law have added to the distress of families of the disappeared. A Gazette on 22nd January granted powers to a Commission of Inquiry (CoI) to scrutinise investigations into emblematic cases. The COI has attempted to halt criminal proceedings against navy officers accused of the disappearance and killing of eleven youth. We echo the High Commissioner’s concern on the promotion of several military officers who are named in the OISL report for violations of international law.

    Since November 2019, the Ministry of Defence has been assigned as the oversight body for NGOs, significantly increasing the risk of their surveillance. More than a dozen human rights and media organisations have received intimidating visits from law enforcement and intelligence agencies, while death threats against journalists have resumed. The climate of fear has returned to Sri Lanka, in particular among those who continue to call for truth, justice and accountability. Relentless campaigns against minorities also require immediate attention.

    We urge this Council to hold Sri Lanka accountable to its obligations under international law. Given this week’s announcement that the new Government will not continue to engage with the clear framework agreed through resolution 30/1; the failure of past domestic reconciliation and accountability mechanisms; and the ongoing compromise of the rule of law as pointed out by the High Commissioner yesterday, we call on the Council to establish an international accountability mechanism on Sri Lanka.

    Civic space in Sri Lanka is rated as Obstructed by the CIVICUS Monitor (see country profile page)


  • Sri Lanka: Resolution adopted at UN Human Rights Council

    Resolution on Sri Lanka adopted at the 46th Session of the UN Human Rights Council

    The UN Human Rights Council maintains scrutiny but impunity concerns remain

    CIVICUS welcomes renewed scrutiny on Sri Lanka by the Human Rights Council, and calls for the Council to take further measures towards an accountability mechanism should the situation continue to deteriorate.

    In a strong report delivered to the Human Rights Council at this Session, the High Commissioner for Human Rights said that this moment represented a ‘key juncture for the Council’s engagement with Sri Lanka.’ The report concluded that domestic initiatives for accountability and reconciliation have repeatedly failed to produce results.

    Sri Lankan civil society who document, monitor and report on past and current rights violations continue to face surveillance, harassment and attacks. They need the strongest possible support from the international community. We therefore welcome that the resolution strengthens the capacity of the Office of the High Commissioner to ‘collect, consolidate, analyse and preserve information and evidence and to develop possible strategies for future accountability processes.’ However, although the resolution adopted at this session maintains much-needed scrutiny on Sri Lanka, it represents a missed opportunity to mandate an international accountability mechanism in the absence of functional domestic processes.

    One year ago, the Sri Lanka administration announced its withdrawal from a UN resolution to promote reconciliation, accountability and human rights, which it had previously co-sponsored. As civic space has been simultaneously squeezed tighter under the Rajapaksa government, human rights lawyers, activists and journalists have been targeted with arrests, intimidation or threats for speaking up. Independent NGOs are increasingly being silenced and even peaceful protests seeking accountability by victims of the civil war have been targeted. We welcome that the resolution raises serious concerns at these trends, describing them as a ‘clear early warning sign of a deteriorating situation of human rights’.

    We call on the Council to take heed of these strong warning signs provided by the High Commissioner, as well as by human rights defenders, by journalists, and Special Rapporteurs, and to take future further measures towards furthering truth and accountability processes if proved necessary.

    Civic space in Sri Lanka is rated as Obstructed by the CIVICUS Monitor