human rights council
Statement at Human Rights Council: Threats to civic space
37th Session of the UN Human Rights Council
Restrictions of civic space and threats to human rights defenders is fast spreading in the Global North as well as the South. From Hungary, Russia, Turkey, Bulgaria to Ethiopia, Rwanda, Uganda, Egypt the threats are similar.
Threats to civic space and human rights defenders
According to the CIVCUS Monitor, in 2017 just only two percent of the world’s population live in a country with ‘open’ civic space. In Africa, only 2 countries are considered to have open civic space, while 52 are rated either as ‘closed’, ‘repressed’, or ‘obstructed’.
- Governments are involved in smear campaigns against civil society, seeking to undermine their credibility and legitimacy in the population. The attacks include accusations of being agents of foreign power, interference in political matters, conducting subversive activities and involvement in money laundering.
- Access to resources is being restricted in the guise of controlling terror financing and illicit wealth. Under pressure from governments, financial institutions have set intrusive and obstructive requirements for banking by civil society including deposit of donor contracts, work plans among others. In some countries, foreign donations are either banned or limited to percentages that cripple the work of the civil society, that is largely funded by donations.
- Regulations are being passed that create burdensome registration requirements, criminalises unregistered and informal forms of organising and giving vague and wide powers to government bodies to deregister civil society groups on such grounds as ‘acting against the interest of the people’. In many cases, these restrictions are intentionally aimed at stifling independent NGOs because they defend minority groups, and allow all sections of society to participate in decision-making.
Reprisal against human rights defenders
Around the continent there are increased reports of reprisal attacks, human rights defenders.
- In Uganda, Action Aid International Uganda and three other organisations had their accounts frozen in October 2017 by the government for over three months for leading a campaign against a change in the constitution that would undermine land rights of local communities.
Reliance of civil society and HRDs
The challenges notwithstanding, civil society groups have demonstrated remarkable resilience. As of September 21, 2017, the CIVICUS Monitor had documented 42 reports where this activism led to positive civic space developments.
- In Jan of 2018, Mali became the third Africa country after Côte d’Ivoire (June 2014) and Burkina Faso (June 2017) to enact a law on the protection of HRDs.
- In South Africa, the High Court, Western Cape Division, Cape Town in case filed by HRD and in which the UN SP FoAA filed an amicus, ruled that the notification provisions of South Africa’s Gatherings Act constitute “illegitimate” restrictions on the right to freedom of peaceful assembly
In light of the above and also in celebrating the unanimous adoption of the GA Resolution on HRDs last November we recommend the Council to:
Recommendation to the Human Rights Council
- Encourage special procedure mandate holders to support or file cases for litigation in national and regional courts to challenge laws and regulations that threaten civic space and the work of human rights defenders. They can bring their expertise to the assistance of municipal courts.
- Engage States to grant long term, as opposed to short term mandates, to the UN Human Rights Country offices because they are important in building the capacities of local civil society and the protection of human rights defenders.
- Document cases of reprisals against human rights defenders and encourage the enactment of HRD laws
Statement at the UN Human Rights Council: Attacks on civic space in Burundi
Interactive Dialogue with the UN Commission of Inquiry on on Burundi
We remain extremely concerned by the grave human rights violations taking place in Burundi, which show no sign of abating.
In January, at least 60 people were arrested after publicly advocating that citizens reject the proposed constitutional amendment, which would extend President Pierre Nkurunziza’s term in office beyond 2020, when his current term will end. A May 2018 referendum will determine whether the amendment - which would allow Nkurunziza to serve another two seven-year terms after 2020 - will be adopted.
Last week on 9 March 2018, three human rights defenders from Parole et actions pour le réveil des consciences et de l'évolution des mentalités (PARCEM), one of the few remaining civil society organisations operating in Burundi, were sentenced to 10 years in prison. Judges at the court reportedly announced the verdict without representation from the defendants' lawyers.
On 13 February 2018, human rights defender Germain Rukuki, who has been detained since 13 July 2017, appeared before court. Three new charges of “assassination", "destruction of public and private buildings", and "participation in an insurrectionist movement" were added to his two initial charges of “breaching the internal security of the State” and “rebellion”. Another human rights defender Netsor Nibitanga is still being held by the National Intelligence Sercives and his whereabouts remain unknow.
In February alone exiled human rights organisation, Ligue Iteka, recorded 22 killings, 1 disappearance, 15 cases of torture and 145 arbitrary arrests. The rise in arrests and crackdown are believed to be related to the referendum. These reports corroborate UN envoy Michel Kafando’s recent conclusion that the political situation in Burundi remains deeply tenuous and that conditions are unfit for elections.
CIVICUS calls on the government of Burundi to immediately cease its attacks on human rights defenders and as a Member State of the Human Rights Council, to fully cooperate with the Commission of Inquiry and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Statement at the UN Human Rights Council: Global trends on civic space
37th Session of the Human Rights Council
Across the globe, CIVICUS has observed a pattern of judicial persecution, smear campaigns, threats, intimidation, physical assaults and killings targeting human rights defenders.
We remain deeply concerned by the relentless and unwarranted restrictions on fundamental freedoms and attacks on civil society leaders, members of unions and members of the political opposition that have expressed criticism of government policies and practices.
These attacks are particularly prevalent before, during and after politically charged periods like elections as recently observed in Gabon, where the movements of members of the political opposition and threats to human rights defenders have continued after the violence that followed the 2016 elections. Sadly, this is a trend we observe in many countries.
We are alarmed by the growing tendency of states to use restrictive legislation and policies to pre-empt peaceful protests by citizens and civil society under the pretext of national security.
Many states deploy armed security forces who use violence and live ammunition to disperse demonstrations. Protesters are killed and some are injured. As observed in Benin, these actions are often followed by arrests and detention of protesters, some of whom have reported being tortured.
We call on states to uphold and protect the rights of citizens to freely assemble and express themselves in line with national and international human rights standards.
Statement at UN Human Rights Council: Citizen rights in Eritrea
37th Session of the UN Human Rights Council
Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on Eritrea
Oral Intervention by CIVICUS and DefendDefenders
The government of Eritrea was requested to strengthen its cooperation with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), to communicate pertinent information regarding detained journalists and opposition members, and to consider establishing an office in Eritrea. Has OHCHR seen any progress on any of these requests?
In November 2017, a rare protest broke out in Eritrea at the Al Dia Islamic School in Asmara after a member of the School’s board was arrested following a speech he made criticizing government interference in the private school’s affairs. In the footage that emerged from the scene, dozens of shots could be heard although it is unclear if there were any casualties. No transparent or credible investigation was conducted, and no information emerged about the crackdown, the number of casualties or number of arrests. Was OHCHR able to conduct an investigation into the circumstances of this protest?
The Commission of Inquiry on human rights in Eritrea (COIE) called on the Government of Eritrea to ensure accountability for past and persistent human rights violations, amounting to crimes against humanity. So far, civil society has not recorded any significant institutional or legal reforms required before the domestic legal system can hold perpetrators of international crimes to account in a fair and transparent manner.
We wish to underline our support for the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Eritrea, and highlight its necessity until a time where the human rights record in Eritrea sees genuine improvements.
Statement at UN Human Rights Council: Citizen rights in South Korea
37th Session of the UN Human Rights Council
Statement on the adoption of South Korea´s Universal Periodic Review
CIVICUS applauds the government of the Republic of Korea for its continued support and engagement in the Universal Periodic Revew (UPR) on human rights process. While recognising the new administration’s commitment to ensuring participation in political and public affairs, we remain concerned that such principles are not fully endorsed in its UPR adoption today.
We deeply regret the government’s decision not to accept a number of recommendations to promote and protect the rights essential to civic space. Specifically, the state’s refusal to accept recommendations to replace criminal defamation and libel laws with civil ones or amend the National Security Law to ensure that it is not used arbitrarily to harass and restrict the rights to freedom of expression, reflect a willful denial of the incongruity of these laws with international standards.
As explored in our UPR submission, the authorities have discriminatorily applied restrictive legislation, including the National Security Law to silence dissenting voices and critics of the government. The law’s overbroad provisions, which proscribe “Praising or propagating an anti-state organization,” or “Circulating false facts that threaten confusion of social order while a member of an anti–state organization” have frequently been used to stamp out online and offline expression perceived to be sympathetic to North Korea. Recently, on 5 January 2017, Lee Jin-young, owner of Labor Books, an online library, was arrested for violating the National Security Law after disseminating publications that purportedly support “anti-government organizations.”
We urge the government to consult with civil society in the implementation of the UPR recommendations to ensure that that the National Security Law is in line with the best practices and international standards in the area of freedom of expression.
Statement at UN Human Rights Council: Zambia not implementing recommendations on civic space
37th Session of the UN Human Rights Council
Joint Statement on the adoption of Zambia's Universal Periodic Review
The Zambia Council for Social Development (ZCSD) and CIVICUS welcome the government of Zambia's engagement with the Universal Periodic Review on human rights process. We also welcome the government's presentation of the Access to Information Bill to Parliament, recognising that it has yet to be enacted.
However, in our joint Universal Periodic Review submission, we documented that since its last review, Zambia has not implemented 3 of the 4 recommendations relating to civic space. The existing legal frameworks that impedes and restricts civic space, including the Public Order Act and the Non-Governmental Organisations Act remain in place and have not been amended or repealed since Zambia’s last UPR examination.
The NGO Act unduly restricts the participation of civil society through punitive sanctions for non-compliance and excessive discretion of the State to dictate the activities of CSOs. Similarly, we are concerned with the continued use of the Public Order Act to unwarrantedly limit the exercise of the right to freedom of peaceful assembly.
Civic space came under serious threat during the State of Emergency declared by the government in July 2017. Six activists are currently before the courts after being arrested in September 2017 following a peaceful protest held outside of parliament demanding accountability for government expenditure.
Several journalists have also been arraigned before the courts to answer charges related to publication of official secrets, defamation and being in possession of seditious materials. After the 2016 general elections three private Broadcasting stations had their licences suspended due to perceived support for the opposition.
CIVICUS and ZCSD call on the Government of Zambia 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.
Statement on alarming trends of reprisals and killings -- 38 UN member states implicated
Human Rights Council 39th session
Joint statement: ISHR & CIVICUS
Interactive Dialogue with Assistant Secretary-General on the Secretary-General's report on cooperation with the United Nations, it's representatives and Mechanisms in the field of human rights
Human rights defenders must be able to access and communicate with the UN freely and safely so it can do its crucial work of monitor countries’ compliance with human rights obligations and protect victims from abuse.
Cases of reprisal are direct barriers to this, and to effective and meaningful civil society participation with the UN. Yet the SG’s reprisals report points to ‘alarming trends’ of reprisals, including killing, torture, arbitrary arrests and detention, travel bans, surveillance, criminalisation, freezing of assets, and stigmatization.
This years’ report including an increased number of cases – 45. Including follow up, 38 countries are implicated. This is to say that, In this year alone, 20% of States who by joining the UN—“reaffirmed their faith in fundamental human rights, and dignity and worth of the human person”—attacked or intimidated persons or organisations knocking on the UN’ doors seeking change and a better world.
The report again documents cases by Council members and candidates, including Bahrain, Burundi, Cameroon, China, Cuba, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Egypt, Hungary, India, Iraq, Japan, Kyrgyzstan, Mexico, Pakistan, Philippines, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Venezuela. We urge GA members to consider this before voting in Council elections.
Missing from this year’s report are Chinese defenders WANG Qiaoling and LI Wenzu, the wives of two detained lawyers who have been intimidated and harassed; CAO Shunli, who was detained in September 2013 prior to boarding a flight for Geneva, where she was going to participate in China-related U.N. training sessions, and who died in detention after authorities denied her adequate medical care; and Dolkun Isa, a Uyghur activist, who was denied entry into the meeting of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues in New York in April 2018.
We welcome the Report’s recommendation that the UN do more to ensure the experiences of LGBTI persons facing reprisals for their advocacy are documented, disaggregated, and properly analyzed, seeking to minimize additional risk.
In practice, the Council’s discussion of cases in the Report and follow-up to those cases has not been systematic. What we see now is defenders dissuaded from engaging because the cost is too high. What we need is for States to turn away from repression and attacks, because the cost to them is too high.
We welcome the statement made today by Germany on Egyptian defender Ebrahim Metwally and we urge more States to stand up for the critical voices of human rights defenders and seize the opportunity to take up cases in the report during future interactive dialogues.
The SG concludes in his report that the UN is seeing evidence of self-censorship with regard to engagement, including people too afraid to speak to the UN, both in the field and at headquarters in New York and Geneva. What more can be done by the UN and others to effectively and proactively address this situation to minimize risk to those engaging and ensure that the UN can effectively fulfill its mandate?
Statement on Burundi at the UN Human Rights Council
35th session UN Human Rights Council
Oral Statement – Interactive Dialogue with the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi
15 June 2017
CIVICUS remains deeply concerned by the gross human rights violations committed with impunity by the government since the Commission’s previous Council briefing on 13 March 2017.
The systematic oppression of Burundian’s fundamental rights persists throughout the country, characterised by arbitrary arrests, abductions, detentions and extra-judicial killings. The government continues to targets members of the political opposition, representatives of civil society and other individuals on specious grounds of supporting those who organised a failed coup in May 2015 and of association with armed groups.
Hundreds of people remain unaccounted for, including human rights activist Marie Claudette Kwizera who disappeared on 10 December 2015. Her whereabouts remain unknown.
Mr. President, these atrocities are carried out in an environment where freedom of expression, association and assembly are gravely stifled.
The country’s main human rights organisations have been suspended for an extended period of time and four prominent human rights lawyers have been disbarred. Independent media outlets remain closed, while most journalists are in exile and only public assemblies organised by supporters of the ruling party are allowed.
The vast majority of these atrocities are committed by the security forces, the intelligence service and the armed wing of the ruling CNDD-FDD party, who receive paramilitary training and target citizens with hate speech and threats.
To prevent the monitoring and documentation of human rights violations and encourage impunity by the perpetrators of human rights violations, Burundi has ceased cooperating with OHCHR, withdrew from the International Criminal Court and refused to collaborate with Commission of Inquiry.
Efforts to find lasting peace through the inter-Burundi dialogue are hampered by the absence of some of the main opposition parties and exclusion of civil society voices by the government.
We call on the government of Burundi to support the work of the Commission of Inquiry and take the necessary steps end violence and human rights violations in the country.
Statement on Ethiopia’s noncompliance with UN human rights evaluation
35th session UN Human Rights Council
General Debate – Ethiopia’s noncompliance with UN Special Rapporteurs
16 June 2017
CIVICUS welcomes the Communication report of Special Procedures, which sheds light on the breadth of work undertaken by this unique mechanism of the Human Rights Council.
We refer in this context to the ‘Communications’ report by the Special Rapporteur on the freedom of peaceful assembly and association. We note that there has been an average 50% response rate from governments on alerts and other communications. However, Ethiopia has shown a total no-response to the numerous stand alone or joint alerts they received during the period of reporting. We reiterate our grave concerns voiced also by other independent experts of the United Nations in relation to the violent crackdown on peaceful protests, which reportedly led to the death of over 800 people since November 2015 in Ethiopia. We remain extremely alarmed by numerous reports that those arrested had faced torture and ill-treatment in military detention centers.
We also reiterate our worry regarding the Proclamation on Anti-Terrorism and Charities and Societies Law adopted in August 2009. The extremely broad and ambiguous provisions of the laws continue to be used to silence independent voices and civil society groups.
Finally, we urge the government of Ethiopia to head the calls to end the state of emergency declared on 9 October 2016. The state of emergency decree provides for a wide range of repressive measures, undermining the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly, including banning communications with governments and CSOs that may undermine ‘national sovereignty, constitutional order and security’.
We call on the Government as a member of the Council to fully cooperate with the mandates of Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council.
Statement on freedom of assembly and association, and the right to education
35th session of the Human Rights Council
Dialogue with Special Rapporteur on freedom of assembly and of association and the Special Rapporteur on the right to education
CIVICUS welcomes the reports of the Special Rapporteur on freedom of assembly and of association and the Special Rapporteur on the right to education. We again commend the former Special Rapporteur, Maina Kiai, for his steadfast support for civil society across the world. We also welcome the new Special Rapporteur, Annalisa Ciampi, and remain committed to supporting the mandate to undertake its essential work.
The Special Rapporteur’s report on mapping the achievements of civil society articulates an unassailable case for why civil society should be seen as an ally, rather than an adversary. As expressed by the mandate holder, civil society has played a crucial in shepherding and realizing scores progressive values and rights. The report provides a wealth of examples of these achievements, including through pursuing accountability, supporting participation and empowerment, driving innovation and fostering sustainable development. We urge all states to explicitly acknowledge the integral role that civil society plays in ensuring that states can actualize their domestic and international human rights commitments.
We further reiterate the recommendations raised by the Special Rapporteur in his report on the United States. National and public security concerns must not be misused to suppress freedom of assembly. The continued use of excessive force by police departments across the United States against peaceful protesters requires a concerted and proactive federal response. We also regret that immigrant workers face the specter of official harassment and deportation for attempting to exercise their right to freedom of association, including joining labor unions.
In the United Kingdom, we remain equally concerned by recent reports that Prime Minister Theresa May is willing to forfeit human rights in the pursuit of countering terrorism. Such a wholesale forfeit of human rights undermines the United Kingdom’s international obligations as well as efforts to address the roots causes of terrorism.
We urge all States to pledge their support to the Special Rapporteur including by providing all necessary informational and financial resources to discharge the mandate and to work closely with civil society.
Statement on human rights abuses in South Sudan
UN Human Rights Council - 26th Special Session
Special Session on South Sudan
CIVICUS welcomes this Special Session following the findings and recommendations recently put forward by the Expert Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan. We agree with the assessment that South Sudan is on the verge of an unprecedented spate of violence which has strong ethnic connotations.
Statement on human rights recommendations for Poland
36th Session of the UN Human Rights Council
CIVICUS welcomes Poland’s commitment to engage with the UPR process and its acceptance of recommendations related to the freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly and association, in its recent response to the Report of the Working Group.
As outlined in our joint submission to this review, CIVICUS and the Committee for the Defense of Democracy (KOD) remain seriously concerned by the government’s control over state institutions and the media through weakened rule of law and undermined respect for fundamental freedoms.
With particular reference to media freedom, we welcome the Government of Poland’s commitment to ensure that national legislation is made consistent with European Union Law. We remain concerned however at the Government’s assertion that laws enacted in 2015 “do not restrict media freedom and pluralism”. CIVICUS and KOD believe there is still an urgent need to revisit changes made to the Broadcasting Act in January 2016, to prevent the kind of political interference which saw the dismissal of dozens of journalists from the public broadcaster.
We also welcome Poland’s acceptance of the recommendation to guarantee the freedom of assembly, but urge the Government to reconsider its rejection of the recommendation to “Repeal the restrictive amendments on the Law on Assemblies”. These amendments are inconsistent with Poland’s international obligations, because they give undue priority to public authorities, and seriously undermine the protest rights of all Polish citizens, including those that oppose the government.
Finally, we welcome the Government of Poland’s acceptance of recommendations related to the freedom of association. We however urge the Government to ensure that these guarantees are applied equally to all, including groups promoting the rights of LGBTI people. We also urge the Government to ensure that Poland’s new counter-terrorism legislation is not used as a pretext for the erosion of the rights of minority groups, particularly those promoting the rights of Muslims.
Statement on human rights violations in Eritrea
35th session UN Human Rights Council
14 June 2017
Statement during the interactive dialogue on the report of the Special Rapporteur on situation of human rights in Eritrea
CIVICUS welcomes the report of the Special Rapporteur on Eritrea and applauds her unwavering efforts to ampifly the voices of civil society and victims of human rights violations in Eritrea and in the diaspora.
Mr. President, the Special Rapporteur’s report to the Council is unequivocal that Eritreans continue to be subjected to grave and systematic violations of fundamental freedoms, some of which amount to crimes against humanity. Worryingly the Special Rapporteur has concluded that the human rights situation in Eritrea “has not significantly improved.”
We remain deeply concerned that the Government has failed to take adequate measures to address the human rights situation in Eritrea as documented by the Commission of Inquiry.
During the reporting period, the Special Rapporteur received information that the government’s military and national service programmes remain arbitrary, protracted and involuntary, which is tantamount to enslavement.
The Government has further failed to release countless arbitrarily detained prisoners for exercising their fundamental rights and refuses to provide sufficient information about the status of several prominent activists and individuals who have been forcibly disappeared.
As a result of these and other deprivations of human rights, thousands of Eritreans, including scores of unaccompanied children, are forced to traverse perilous situations to secure refuge abroad every year.
We support the Special Rapporteur’s decision to devote greater time and resources to address impunity, including by engaging a diversity of actors including victims, survivors, family members, human rights defenders and lawyers to help facilitate access to justice and accountability for human rights violations.
We urge the Government of Eritrea to take proactive measures to implement the specific and time-bound benchmarks developed by the Special Rapporteur to assess substantive change in the country.
We respectfully request members and observer states of the Council to co-sponsor a resolution renewing the mandate of the UN Special Rapporteur on Eritrea and provide the mandate holder with all necessary support.
Statement to the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights: Countries on the civic space watchlist
37th Session of the Human Rights Council
Oral statement at Interactive Dialogue with UN High Commissioner on Human Rights
CIVICUS commends the High Commissioner for his report, and for his commitment to standing alongside victims of the world's most egregious human rights violations by continuously bringing attention of their plight to this Council.
Mr President, CIVICUS shares the High Commissioner's grave concern over growing restrictions on civic space in Cambodia, Cameroon, Poland, Tanzania and Honduras. We note that these five countries have been placed on the CIVICUS Monitor's Watch List, which draws attention to countries where there are serious and ongoing threats to civic space.
In Cameroon, reports of renewed violence against protesters have emerged as the authorities have shut down internet access in Anglophone regions of the country. The government has also taken sharp measures to control and limit freedom of expression by suspending journalists’ activities and radio and television stations’ operations.
In the run-up to Cambodia’s 2018 general elections, the government has attempted to silence the opposition and suppress civic space, shutting down independent media and arresting activists. Repression of dissenting voices makes it highly unlikely that elections will take place in a transparent and democratic manner.
Poland’s current trajectory has caused grave concern as the government seeks to restrict civil and political freedoms and control the judiciary and civil society organisations. Worringly, a new body closely related to the office of the president has been created to control the flow of funding to civil society organisations, which could result in only pro-government groups being funded.
Peaceful protests following Honduras´ recent elections, which were criticised by the opposition and international observers, were met by security forces using excessive force. Several protesters were killed and many others injured and arbitrarily detained.
Tanzania has remained on the Monitor Watch List and CIVICUS echoes the High Commissioner’s concern over the authorities’ unrelenting attacks on the media, civil society and the LGBTI community in particular.
Mr President, restrictions on civic space are often a bellwether for further violations of human rights and allow states to act with impunity. CIVICUS asks the High Commissioner how his office intends to support local civil society fighting for human rights on the ground to respond to this global crackdown.
Statement: Afghanistan's adoption of Universal Periodic Review on Human Rights
41st Session of the UN Human Rights Council
Afghanistan Human Rights Organisation (AHRO) and CIVICUS welcome the government of Afghanistan's engagement with the UPR process. However, we regret the lack of progress by the Government in implementing the civic space recommendations during the last UPR review, including to ensure effective investigations and accountability of abuse against journalists. Abuses against human rights defenders and journalists continues with impunity. Alarmingly, state institutions have also been implicated in some abuses against media.
During 2018, Afghanistan was the deadliest country for media, with 15 journalists and other media workers killed. In the first five months of 2019, at least five Afghan journalists and media workers were killed and a number of others have been critically wounded in deliberate attacks. We are deeply worried by the recent public threat of attacks issued by the Taliban against media. We call on the Government to stand by the rights of journalists and to protect them as parties negotiate an end to the war.
We note that the Government has taken steps this year to end impunity for the murder of journalists by bringing to trial two cases – that of BBC journalist Ahmad Shah and Kabul News journalist Abdul Manan Arghand, who were both killed in 2018 by unidentified armed men. However, both trials lacked transparency and death sentences were handed to the perpetrators, which are serious human rights concerns.
Women, victims’ groups and other CSOs have all been sidelined throughout the peace process, representing a significant threat to civic space. We call on the Government to ensure women and independent CSOs have a seat at the negotiation table and meaningfully participate in decision-making. It is the responsibility of the Afghan Government to ensure that women’s rights, victims’ rights and fundamental freedoms of Afghans are protected and respected during all stages of the peace process and in any peace deal.
Mr President, AHRO and CIVICUS call on the Government of Afghanistan to take proactive measures to address these concerns and implement these recommendations to create and maintain, in law and in practice, an enabling environment for civil society, including women’s groups and journalists.
Statement: Cambodia's adoption of Universal Periodic Review on Human Rights
41st Session of the UN Human Rights Council
CIVICUS, the Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR), the Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC) and IFEX welcome the Royal Government of Cambodia's engagement with the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process.
In our joint UPR Submission, we documented that since its last review, Cambodia has failed to fully implement any of the recommendations it accepted relating to civic space and fundamental freedoms. We welcome the government’s acceptance of a number of recommendations received in this cycle to strengthen respect for freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly and to protect human rights defenders. The Royal Government of Cambodia must now take concrete steps to promptly and meaningfully implement these recommendations in order to restore civic space, which has been drastically undermined in recent years.
The legal framework currently in place contravenes Cambodia’s obligations under international human rights law. Laws and provisions are routinely misapplied to restrict freedom of association, undermine civil society, and criminalize individual’s exercise of their right to freedom of expression. We are disappointed that the government of Cambodia explicitly decided not to accept certain recommendations to amend or repeal repressive laws, including the Law on Political Parties, the Law on Associations and Non-Governmental Organizations and the Trade Union Law.
Human rights defenders, civil society activists and journalists are routinely subject to judicial harassment and legal action. While we welcome the release of human rights defenders and journalists from detention in 2018, we are concerned that many were released on bail with cases still pending against them.
Media outlets perceived as critical towards the government have been subjected to a severe crackdown in 2017 and 2018, through threats and sanctions including shutdowns, which significantly curtail citizens’ access to information. We encourage the Royal Government of Cambodia to promptly implement the recommendations it accepted related the independence of the media, and we urge the government to re-create an enabling environment for a free and pluralistic media, including by ceasing judicial harassment against journalists, and abuse of tax regulations to harass media outlets and associations (even though Cambodia decided to note the recommendation received in this regard).
Mr President, we recognize the importance of this review as a first step to address the deterioration of respect for human rights in Cambodia. We now call on the Royal Government of Cambodia to take proactive and immediate measures to restore civic space, foster a free and enabling environment for civil society, and ensure that all Cambodians can freely exercise their fundamental freedoms.
Statement: Chile's adoption of Universal Periodic Review on Human Rights
41st Session of the UN Human Rights Council
Pro Acceso and CIVICUS welcome the government of Chile's engagement with the UPR process. We also welcome the government's progress in relation to the legislative framework governing freedom of association and progressive initiatives to strengthen the participation of civil society.
However, in our joint UPR Submission, we documented significant challenges with respect to the right to peaceful assembly both in law and in practice. In addition, the government has failed to create a safe environment for HRDs, particularly for indigenous people, who continue to face attacks and criminalisation.
We remain concerned by the lack of commitment of the government to amend legislation regulating peaceful protest, which contradicts the Chilean Constitution and international standards. The Supreme Decree 1,086, which came into force in 1983, regulates this right and establishes procedures that in practice functions as a system of prior authorisation.
In practice, civil society has documented cases of excessive use of force by the police, including the use of teargas bombs, rubber bullets and hydrant trucks. Between June 2016 and March 2019, the CIVICUS Monitor received several reports of police repression of protests, especially protests by students and members of the Mapuche community.
In addition, we are concerned by the misuse of the Anti-Terrorism Law (Law 18,314 on counter terrorism policy) against members of the Mapuche indigenous community advocating for land and environmental rights. The legislation has been used in a "total of 19 emblematic cases, involving 108 individuals, mostly related to situations of Mapuche protests.”
Mr President, Pro Acceso and CIVICUS call on the Government of Chile 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, including signing and ratifying the Regional Agreement on Access to Information, Public Participation and Justice in Environmental Matters in Latin America and the Caribbean known as the Escazu Agreement, whose negotiation process Chile lead since 2012, and which establishes specific obligations for the protection of environmental defenders.
Statement: Civil society rights violations on a global scale
35th session UN Human Rights Council
20 June 2017
In Egypt CIVICUS expresses its serious concern over the issuance of Law 70 of 2017 which further restricts space for human rights monitoring, advocacy and reporting. It introduces hefty fines and prison terms for civil society groups who publish a study or report without prior approval by the government, thus shutting out completely the independent voice and action of human rights organizations.
We urge the Egyptian authorities to repeal this Law, end the ongoing criminal investigation into the work of human rights defenders and create a safe and enabling environment for civil society free from reprisals.
CIVICUS condemns in the strongest terms the recent killings of five peaceful protesters on 23 May in Bahrainand asks for an independent, impartial investigation. We further deplore the escalation in government reprisals against Bahraini civil society, including those living in exile for their cooperation with the United Nations and this Human Rights Council. We urge the Bahraini government to release all political prisoners and human rights defenders from their degrading, torturous detention, including prominent defender Nabeel Rajab.
In Cameroon, the government has imposed gross restriction on the rights to free speech and assembly. Beginning on 17 January 2017, the Government blocked all access to the internet in the sections of the North and Southwest regions in a blatant attempt to suppress widespread protests against government policies marginalizing the English-speaking population. While the recent precipitous decline in respect for ongoing human rights violations has garnered some international attention, CIVICUS asks the Council for more robust scrutiny to prevent further human rights violations and restore fundamental freedoms of expression and assembly.
Finally, CIVICUS continues to urge the government of Ethiopia to allow access to an international, independent, impartial and transparent investigation into the deaths resulting from excessive use of force by the security forces and other violations of human rights in the context of last year’s protests.
Statement: Countless cases of arbitrary arrests in Burundi
41st Session of the UN Human Rights Council
Interactive Dialogue with the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi
CIVICUS and independent Burundian civil society organisations thank the UN Commission of Inquiry on Burundi for its update and ongoing work on highlighting human rights abuses. However, we are seriously concerned that the grave subversion of human rights outlined in its 2018 report have continued and that the government of Burundi continues to refuse to allow the Commission’s staff to conduct their work.
Many civil society activists and independent journalists remain in exile, while those in Burundi continue to face intimidation, detention, or trials on trumped up charges. Human rights defender Germain Rukuki is serving a 32-year jail sentence on spurious charges of “participating in an insurrectionist movement and breaching state security”. Human rights defender Germain Rukuki is serving a 32-year jail sentence on spurious charges of “participating in an insurrectionist movement and breaching state security”. Human rights defender Nestor Nibitanga is also in detention in an unrelated case. Ahead of the general election next year, early warning signs of a worsening situation have already emerged, notably the persecution of all dissident voices and further restrictions on independent media, including reports that the government has already banned international media from covering the next year's elections. This is a worrying precursor of further human rights violations to come.
In the past six months, there have been countless cases of arbitrary arrest and detention. Freedoms of expression, association and peaceful assembly are routinely curtailed. As the Commission’s previous report observed, the perpetrators of these human rights violations continue to operate in “a climate of impunity perpetuated by the lack of an independent judiciary.” These issues are significantly under reported and deliberately ignored by the government of Burundi, and by shining a light on their occurrence the Commission plays a vital role in addressing the human rights situation in Burundi.
We call on the government of Burundi to cooperate fully with the mandate including granting full access to the country, to re-open the OHCHR office, and to promote respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms including by releasing all detained human rights defenders, and we ask the Commission of Inquiry is there are any indications that these welcome steps may take place ahead of the elections next year.
1. Action des chrétiens pour l’abolition de la torture (ACAT Burundi)
2. Association des Journalistes Burundais en exil
3. Association pour la protection des droits humains et des personnes détenues (APRODH)
5. Coalition Burundaise pour la CPI (CB-CPI)
6. Coalition de la Société Civile pour le Monitoring Electoral (COSOME)
7. Collectif des avocats pour la défense des victimes de crimes de droit international commis au Burundi (CAVIB)
8. Forum pour la Conscience et le Développement (FOCODE)
9. Forum pour le renforcement de la société civile (FORSC)
10. Ligue ITEKA
11. Mouvement des Femmes et des Filles pour la Paix et la Sécurité (MFFPS).
12. Réseau des citoyens probes (RCP)
13. SOS-Torture / Burundi
14. Union burundaise des journalistes (UBJ)
Statement: Countries of concern at the UN Human Rights Council
41st Session of the UN Human Rights Council
Interactive Dialogue on Countries of Concern
CIVICUS is deeply concerned by the grave situation in Sudan, and we call once again on the Council to take immediate steps to address this crisis, at the very least by establishing a fact-finding mission to monitor, verify and report on the situation to prevent further bloodshed and ensure that the perpetrators of these atrocities are held to account.
In Saudi Arabia, human rights defenders face continued unwarranted detention. A wave of further arrests in April targeted those supporting the women’s rights movement and detained activists. Saudi Arabia is not above Human Rights Council scrutiny and we reiterate calls on the Council to establish a monitoring mechanism over human rights violations in the country and call explicitly for the immediate and unconditional release of the detained Saudi women human rights defenders.
In Guatemala, human rights defenders are being criminalized and harassed. Cases filed against Claudia Samoyoa Pineda and Jose Martinez Cabrera is illustrative of the authorities’ growing intolerance of independent dissent, including of those working on land and environmental defense. This is just one example of targeted reprisals levelled against civil society organisations and human rights defenders that have mobilised against a series of attacks on Guatemala's democratic institutional framework.
Civic space in Afghanistan remains under serious threat. Violence against human rights defenders and journalists continues with impunity and state actors also have been implicated in violations against journalists. Women, civil society and victim's groups have been excluded from the peace processes, which threatens to undermine all hard-won gains.
Lastly, we are deeply concerned at the situation in the Philippines. Despite progress on a bill to protect human rights defenders, the situation on the ground remains dire. Dozens of activists have been killed since 2016 under the Duterte administration and the work of CSOs, media and human rights defenders have been severely undermined by smear campaigns by the government.
We call on the Council’s continued attention to, and call for urgent action on, these issues of serious concern.