human rights

 

  • CIVICUS warns of grave dangers to civil society activists in Kenya

    Johannesburg. 18 May 2010. CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation warns that the operating environment for civil society in Kenya remains fraught with danger. As the spotlight is focused on impunity in Kenya by the international community including the International Criminal Court (ICC) and special representatives of the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), civil society activists are facing grave risks.

    Groups advocating for ending impunity for perpetrators of human rights violations and those that have documented the violations are particularly threatened. On 4 May 2010, a meeting organised by Bunge la Mwannanchi on the post election violence in Kenya was dispersed and four of its activists were detained and later released without charges. In April this year, Kenneth Kirimi, a member of the civil society group, Release Political Prisoners, was arbitrarily detained and severely tortured by security operatives requiring him to need medical treatment. He was questioned with regard to his work on collecting information about extra-judicial killings and sharing of information with the UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions, Philip Alston.

     

  • CIVICUS: #WhyWeMarch

    On Saturday, 21 January 2017, millions will gather in Washington D.C. and in hundreds of other cities around the world to take part in the Women’s March. CIVICUS stands in solidarity with the demonstrators who in the spirit of democracy, seek to honour the champions of human rights, dignity, and justice, and reject the sexist and bigoted rhetoric used during the US election against minorities and excluded groups.

    Globally, the sister marches carry a message of solidarity in celebration of our multiple, diverse and intersecting identities and reject all forms of patriarchy and the discriminatory systems that support them worldwide. We will not rest until women have parity and equity at all levels of leadership in society.

     

  • CIVICUS: States should put human rights at the centre of all responses to COVID-19

    • During the global COVID-19 pandemic states should not impose emergency law as a pretext to restrict civic rights
    • Human rights defenders and political prisoners should be released to curb the spread
    • Governments should be transparent in responding to threats posed by COVID-19
    • CIVICUS urges states to lift emergency measures as soon as the threat of the virus diminishes

    As the global community continues to take measures to halt the spread of COVID-19 and ultimately eradicate it, states should ensure that the protection of human rights are at the centre of all responses.

    In March 2020, the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared that the outbreak of the COVID-19 virus reached the level of a global pandemic. WHO in turn requested that all governments take necessary action to stop the spread of the disease.

    However, as observed with other emergencies, some governments have used crises to curtail civic freedoms and maintain restrictions - even after health threats that justified governments’ actions subsided. States responding to the spread of the COVID-19 virus must ensure that international human rights laws and standards are central to their responses.

    While the focus and attention of the global community over the coming months will be directed towards the virus, states may increase attacks on civil society and impose restrictions. States should take pro-active measures to ensure that civil society organisations and vulnerable groups are adequately protected. In China, activists have been harassed and intimidated for sharing information on the virus while reporting has been censored. In other parts of Asia, repressive laws are being deployed to arrest those supposedly spreading untruths about the virus.

    As an infectious disease, the risk of COVID-19 increases in closed spaces like jails, police cells and detention centres. Overcrowding, poor nutrition and lack of access to proper hygiene increase the risk of infection to prisoners. States have an obligation now to release human rights defenders and political prisoners from jail in an effort to curb the spread.

    Some prisoners in Iranian jails have contracted the virus. While we commend the Iranian authorities for temporarily releasing 85,000 prisoners, human rights defenders - whose only crime was to defend the rights of women and juveniles - should also be released. Other states with a history of detaining human rights defenders and members of the political opposition, such as Egypt, Vietnam and Cameroon, should follow suit.

    Declarations of states of emergency for health and security reasons must be done in conformity with the law: states should not impose emergency law as a pretext to restrict civic rights and target particular groups, minorities and individuals. Emergency laws should not be imposed to silence human rights defenders and they must be lifted as soon as threats posed by the virus diminish. Further, civil society groups should be consulted where possible.

    It is compulsory for all those affected, especially marginalised groups and civil society groups working with them, to have access to meaningful information regarding the nature and extent of the threats posed by the virus. They should also have information on ways to curb risks in a timely manner. Internet restrictions and shutdowns in countries like Myanmar, India and Ethiopia are putting thousands at risk.

    In this regard, CIVICUS calls on states to:

    • Collaborate with the media and civil society to be transparent in responding to threats posed by COVID-19. Address misinformation at all times without relying on censorship and criminal sanctions
    • Refrain from using responses to COVID-19 as a pretext to impose restrictions of civil society, target human rights defenders and curb online freedoms
    • Release all human rights defenders and political prisoners who were imprisoned for their human rights activities, or for expressing views contrary to those of the state
    • Lift emergency laws and relax measures imposed to curb the spread of the virus as soon as the threats diminish
    • Maintain reliable and unfettered access to the internet and end all deliberate interference with the right to access and share information

    ENDS

     

    Contact:

    Nina Teggarty, CIVICUS Communications Officer, Campaigns & Advocacy

    Email:

    Phone: +27 (0)785013500

    CIVICUS media team:

     

  • Civil and political rights are backsliding in West Africa ahead of elections

    There has been a rapid decline in civic freedoms and democratic norms in Francophone West Africa with ruling presidents evading term limits and muzzling their opposition and pro-democracy groups, CIVICUS said ahead of presidential elections in Guinea (18 October) and Côte d’Ivoire (31 October).

    Over the next six months a series of elections will take place across Francophone West Africa. Voting kicks off in Guinea and Cote d'Ivoire later this month, followed by elections in Burkina Faso (November), Niger (December-January) and Benin (April). Togo already had a contested presidential election in February 2020.

    In Togo, Guinea and Côte d’Ivoire, violence and political tensions are being fuelled by presidents refusing to step down. In Benin, recent changes in eligibility requirements mean that members of the opposition may not be able to run for presidency, while Côte d’Ivoire, Niger and Burkina Faso are confronting or emerging from violent armed conflicts which are being used to justify repressive laws and policies. In addition, the restrictions introduced in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and armed groups spilling over from the Sahel to the Gulf of Guinea are making the political situations more volatile.

    In this tense political environment, the new report “Civic space backsliding ahead of elections in Francophone West Africa” examines the tools of repression being used to undermine opposition groups, human rights defenders, activists and journalists. with a focus on Benin, Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea, Niger and Togo.

    It documents recent Internet disruptions, the arrest of hundreds of pro-democracy activists and journalists and the killing of dozens of peaceful protesters in demonstrations organised over the last three years. Governments are using restrictive laws, over-complicated registration processes, judicial harassment and excessive use of force to clampdown on civil society, particularly when dissent is expressed online or during protests.

    “Instead of working with civil society groups to create an enabling environment for free and fair elections, authorities across Francophone West Africa have resorted to muzzling human rights defenders and pro-democracy activists. In the hope of stamping out all opposition, they have created a climate of fear which fuels political violence, erodes the rule of law and undermines regional stability,” said François Patuel, senior researcher on West Africa and author of the report.

    In Guinea, where President Alpha Condé will run for a third term on 18 October 2020, over fifty people were killed since October 2019 in protests organised by the political opposition and pro-democracy group Front National de Défense de la Constitution (National Front for the Defence of the Constitution, FNDC). In March 2020, the constitutional referendum which opened the way to Alpha Condé running for a third term was marred with a social media shutdown and intercommunal clashes in the Guinea Forest region which left over 30 people dead. Dozens of FNDC supporters and journalists have been detained since the creation of the movement in April 2019.

    In Côte d’Ivoire, at least 12 people were killed in protests and clashes between political supporters following President Alassane Ouattara’s decision to run for a third term for the presidential election scheduled on 31 October 2020. Public protests have been banned since August 2020. The authorities have adopted laws criminalising false news and used them to target journalists, bloggers and politicians expressing dissent, including members of parliament such as Alain Lobognon who remains in detention since December 2019. In gross contempt to regional institutions, Côte d’Ivoire has been ignoring orders from the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights to release pro-Soro supporters and allow Guillaume Soro and Laurent Gbagbo to stand for elections.

    “Local human rights groups do not take up sensitive political cases for fear of reprisals. Even lawyers are scared.” --Woman human rights defender, Abidjan, 15 May 2020.

    “On paper, the right to freedom of expression is supposed to be protected. But in practice, journalists are intimidated when they write on sensitive topics such as land rights, police brutality and corruption.” -- Interview with a human rights defender, Lomé, 14 May 2020.

    With civic freedoms backsliding across West Africa Francophone, civil society organisations need support from regional and international partners to remain safe, to ensure their voice is heard in international and regional fora and to increase the pressure on national authorities for positive human rights change. ECOWAS and the African Union, in particular, must step-up their response to the authorities’ disregard for regional standards and instruments, including their efforts to undermine the African Court of Human and Peoples’ Rights.


    Interviews

    To arrange interviews, please contact: 
    François Patuel, Consultant & Senior Researcher on West Africa for CIVICUS, , +221 77 693 78 46

     

  • Civil society calls on UN Human Rights Council to resolve human rights crisis in Cambodia

    Civil society calls on the UN Human Rights Council to address Cambodia’s human rights crisis

    The undersigned civil society organizations, representing groups working within and outside Cambodia to advance human rights, rule of law, and democracy, are writing to alert your government to an unfolding human rights crisis in Cambodia.

    As detailed below, there has been a marked deterioration in the civil and political rights environment over the last two years, culminating in recent weeks in the closure of several independent media outlets and the arrest of Kem Sokha, the leader of Cambodia’s main political opposition party, the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP). (Another key opposition leader, Sam Rainsy, is in exile because of a spurious legal case against him, and would be arrested if he were to return.) 

    As you may know, national elections in Cambodia have been scheduled for July 29, 2018. During the upcoming 36th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, a new resolution on Cambodia will be under consideration.

    We call on you to support a resolution that directly addresses the human rights crisis in Cambodia, urges the Cambodian government to curb its rights violations, and take steps to create a more enabling environment for free and fair elections.

    A new resolution at the Human Rights Council, when tabled, is expected to renew the mandate of the UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Cambodia for two years. Given the gravity of the situation, we are recommending that the resolution request a report by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights that will, in consultation with the Special Rapporteur, assess the civil and political rights situation in Cambodia in the pre-election period, and identify concrete actions that the Cambodian government and international community need to take to ensure that the conditions in which the election takes place accord with international human rights standards.We have included specific draft language in an appendix below.

    Since the last Council resolution, adopted on October 2, 2015, the environment for civil and political rights in Cambodia has worsened significantly. Developments include:

    • The severe beating of two opposition parliamentarians on October 26, 2015, which human rights groups and later court hearings demonstrated was carried out by forces in Prime Minister Hun Sen’s bodyguard unit. The attack took place after Cambodian diaspora in France held anti-government protests during a visit to Paris by Prime Minister Hun Sen, after which Hun Sen warned of retaliatory violence.  Only three of several identified perpetrators ever stood trial for the attack, all of whom received partially suspended sentences and were later promoted to more senior positions upon release from prison.
    • The resurrection of an arrest warrant for opposition leader Sam Rainsy, connected to an old, politically motivated criminal case against him. The arrest warrant led to Rainsy’s decision in 2015 to remain outside of Cambodia, and was followed by additional convictions on spurious legal charges. If he returns to Cambodia, Sam Rainsy will face immediate arrest and imprisonment for these trumped-up charges. In addition, the government in 2017 passed two amendments to the 1997 Law on Political Parties that  were clearly motivated by partisan interests against the opposition (see sections below), and that have compelled Rainsy to step down as CNRP leader.
    • The government’s arrest on September 3 of CNRP’s other leader, Kem Sokha, on charges of treason. Kem Sokha, who had taken sole leadership of the party after Sam Rainsy’s exile and resignation, had already faced de facto house arrest and an in absentia criminal conviction in 2016 that was accompanied by a prison sentence of five months, for “refusing to appear as a witness” following his non-compliance with a subpoena in a politically motivated criminal investigation. Kem Sokha faced threat of arrest for much of 2016 and for many months was unable to leave his office at CNRP’s headquarters, which on several occasions was surrounded byarmed forces, including military helicopters and convoys of bodyguard unit troops.
    • The earlier politically motivated prosecutions of several other elected opposition leaders, including MP Um Sam An, Senator Hong Sok Hour, Senator Thak Lany, Commune Councilor Seang Chet, as well as other opposition party organizers and activists. These cases appear to be part of an unprecedented surge in the detention of opposition supporters and civil society activists, with at least 35 documented cases since July 2015. At least 19 remain in detention as of this writing, 14 of whom were convicted of insurrection offenses following their peaceful participation in an opposition-led demonstration in 2014 that turned violent following state-instigated crackdowns.
    • Cambodian authorities’ use in August and September of Cambodia’s General Department of Taxation to intimidate—and shut down—civil society groups and independent media outlets, including the independent Cambodia Dailynewspaper, which was forced to cease its operations on September 4, 2017.
    • The authorities’ campaign against independent radio, including August orders to close and revoke the license of Mohanokor Radio and its affiliates, which broadcast Voice of America (VOA) and Radio Free Asia (RFA), and the closing of the independent radio station Voice of Democracy (VOD). Several other radio stations broadcasting programming from VOA or RFA have come under pressure from the government, and stopped broadcasting this month. Almost all domestically-broadcast media in Cambodia is now under government control, with an already entirely government controlled television media and now near elimination of independent radio.  
    • The detention, prosecution, and harassment of four senior staff members of the Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC) in 2016 and 2017: Ny Sokha, Nay Vanda, Yi Soksan and Lim Mony, as well as a former ADHOC staff member who is now the Deputy Secretary-General of the National Election Committee (NEC), Ny Chakrya. This group of human rights defenders, commonly referred to as the “ADHOC Five,” were held in pre-trial detention  for 427 days until released on bail, in the wake of sustained international pressure, on June 29. While their release on bail was a welcome step (especially considering some of detainees’ seriously deteriorating health conditions in prison), authorities are proceeding with their prosecution and the five still face 5 to  10 years in prison, and their freedom of movement and ability to carry out human rights work remains hindered.
    • The continuing imprisonment of Boeung Kak Lake activist and women’s rights defender Tep Vanny, who has spent over one year in prison. Tep Vanny was arrested on August 15, 2016 during a “Black Monday” protest, a non-violent campaign that called for the release of the ADHOC Five. She and a fellow community member, Bov Sophea, were convicted and sentenced to six days’ imprisonment; while Bov Sophea was released upon having served her sentence in pre-trial detention, authorities transferred Tep Vanny back to prison and reactivated a case against her stemming from 2013, when she engaged in a protest calling for the release of another human rights activist, and continue to prosecute several other spurious legal cases against her.
    • The assassination of prominent political commentator Dr. Kem Ley on July 10, 2016, a killing that came five days after a senior Cambodian general publicly called on Cambodian armed forces to “eliminate and dispose of” anyone “fomenting social turmoil” in Cambodia. Kem Ley had been a frequent critic of Hun Sen and in the weeks before his killing had given several media interviews about a groundbreaking report by Global Witness outlining the vast wealth of Hun Sen’s family, fueling concerns that the killing was ordered by higher authorities. A deeply flawed investigation saw merely the identification of one suspect, Oeuth Ang, also known as “Chuob Samlab” (“Meet to Kill”). In March 2017, Oeuth Ang was tried and sentenced to life imprisonment in proceedings that ignored improbabilities and inconsistencies in his confession and shortcomings in the investigation. A month before the Oeuth Ang trial, Hun Sen brought a civil charge of defamation against a political commentator, Kim Sok, who had suggested publicly that the Cambodia People’s Party was behind the killing, and authorities also filed a criminal charge of incitement against him. In August, Kim Sok was sentenced to a year and a half in prison and ordered to pay Hun Sen US$200,000 in the civil case. Opposition Senator Thak Lany has also been convicted in absentia for similar offenses after commenting on this case.
    • Government para-police attacks on protesters and human rights observers during an October 10, 2016 peaceful celebration of World Habitat Day. Two human rights defender victims of this attack, Chan Puthisak and Am Sam Ath, were subject to spurious criminal investigations.
    • The government’s passage in 2017 of two rounds of repressive amendments to Cambodia’s Law on Political Parties, which allow authorities to dissolve political parties and ban party leaders from political activity without holding hearings and without an appeal process. The amendments contain numerous restrictions that are tailored to create stumbling blocks for opposition parties, most notably provisions that compel political parties to distance themselves from members who have been convicted of a criminal charge. This impacts opposition leaders Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha, effectively allowing the government to dissolve the main opposition party at any time they choose. Many observers suspect that the government will allow the opposition to contest the 2018 elections but has crafted these provisions to weaken the opposition or to use them to dissolve the parties outright in the event that they pose a more significant threat to the ruling party’s hold on power.
    • Prime Minister Hun Sen’s July orders to the Ministry of Interior to investigate two members of a group of civil society organizations coordinating efforts of election monitoring on an ad hoc basis under the head of the so-called “Situation Room.” The government alleges that the ad hoc group violated the vague and undefined concept of “political neutrality” enshrined in Cambodia’s widely criticized Law on Associations and Non-Government Organizations (LANGO), which allows for the dissolution or denial of registration of NGOs, as well as for failing to register under LANGO.
    • Questionable legal investigations into trade unions conducted under Cambodia’s Trade Union Law, which has prevented some unions from legally registering and excluded them from collective bargaining and formally advocating for rights and improved working conditions.
    • Increasingly threatening political rhetoric, including repeated threats of violence and other forms of intimidation by government officials directed at dissidents and civil society, including in the lead-up to this year’s flawed commune elections and afterwards. Both Prime Minister Hun Sen and several senior military leaders have repeated claims that any election victory by the political opposition would lead to “civil war,” while making clear threats to use violence against any individuals who “protest” or seek a “color revolution,” a term which authorities disingenuously employ to portray peaceful dissent as an attempted violent overthrow of the state. Before his baseless accusations in September of Kem Sokha’s “treason” and “conspiracy,” Hun Sen made a number of statements that appear to equate peaceful political opposition and exercise of freedoms of speech and assembly as unlawful acts of violent rebellion. In May 2017, Hun Sen, during campaigning for the country’s 2017 commune elections, stated he would be “willing to eliminate 100 to 200 people” to protect “national security,” for the opposition to “prepare their coffins”, or against anyone who, and later repeated this claim and made a transparent reference to Sam Rainsy suggesting that Rainsy knew he would be targeted for violence. On August 2, Minister of Social Affairs Vong Sauth said that protesters who dispute the outcome of the scheduled 2018 elections will be “hit with the bottom end of bamboo poles”—a reference to a technique used during the Khmer Rouge regime—and threatened civil servants in his ministry with termination if they do not support the ruling CPP. 
    • An August 23 Ministry of Foreign Affairs statement ordering the closure of the US non-governmental organization the National Democratic Institute (NDI), and expulsion of its non-Cambodian staff “within seven days.” The statement cites LANGO and the 1997 Tax Law, both of which the government has cited in other threats against civil society groups mentioned above.

    The Cambodian government’s actions outlined above should be considered together, as a comprehensive campaign of intimidation, violence, and misuse of legal mechanisms in the lead-up to next year’s national election, meant to weaken or neutralize political opposition and hamper civil society efforts to monitor the election and freedom of speech, association, and assembly. More broadly, the government’s actions are an open-ended assault on the United Nations-backed democratic process in Cambodia that began with the 1991 Paris Peace Accords.

    We strongly urge your government to acknowledge the severity of the situation and the risks these conditions pose to the integrity of Cambodia’s 2018 elections. It is crucial that the international community support a UN Human Rights Council resolution that explicitly condemns the Cambodian government’s attacks on democratic and human rights norms and takes steps to address them.

    As noted above, the appendix contains draft language recommending that the resolution request the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to prepare a report on the escalating crackdown, and outline actions the government and international community should take to ensure that the conditions in which the elections take place accord with international human right standards.As outlined in the proposed text in the appendix, we also recommend that the High Commissioner should provide an oral update to the Council at its 37th session in March 2018, and present his report at the 38th session in June 2018.

    We further recommend that your government, during the September session at the Council, speak out clearly and jointly with other governments against the latest abuses, and put the Cambodian government on notice that the Cambodian government’s failure to fully address these concerns will make it impossible to determine that the 2018 elections were free and fair. 

    We also recommend that the Human Rights Council, at those future sessions, hold an Enhanced Interactive Dialogue including stakeholders such as staff from Cambodia’s OHCHR office, the Special Rapporteur on Cambodia, other relevant UN Special Procedures and members of local and international civil society.

    We look forward to discussing this matter with you or your staff in more detail.

    Thank you for your attention.

    Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)
    CIVICUS
    Human Rights Watch
    International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
    International Commission of Jurists (ICJ)
    World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)

     

  • Civil society in Latin America and the Caribbean under threat

    Restrictions on civic space rising despite prevalence of democracy

    Click hereto read a Spanish language version of this release

    Civil society in Latin America and the Caribbean is coming under increasing pressure despite the prevalence of electoral democracy in the region, says a new reportreleased today by CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance.

    While the core civil society freedoms of association, assembly and expression are constitutionally recognised in most countries, legal, administrative and de facto barriers to the exercise of these freedoms have risen throughout the continent. These restrictions are appearing after an upsurge of citizens’ protests over entrenched issues of inequality, corruption and abuses of political power.

     

  • Civil society letter to U.S. State Dept on Human Rights Defenders

    80 civil society organisations from 30+ countries urge Honarable Secretary of State, Antony Blinken to strengthen U.S. government foreign policy to support human rights defenders globally


    Hon. Antony Blinken Secretary of State

    United States of America

    CC:      Senator Robert Menendez, Chairman,Senate Foreign Relations Committee

    Senator James Risch, Ranking Member, Senate Foreign Relations Committee

    Representative Gregory Meeks, Chairman,House Committee on Foreign Affairs

    Representative Michael McCaul, Ranking Member, House Committee on Foreign Affairs

     Dear Secretary Blinken:

    We, the undersigned organisations, work to promote human rights, democracy, media freedom, environmental sustainability, and an end to corruption around the world. The protection of human rights defenders — such as activists, lawyers, and journalists — is critical to each of our missions. We are deeply concerned by the unabated rise in reprisals against human rights defenders, both globally and within the United States, and the chilling effect that these attacks have on fundamental freedoms and civic space.

    We would like to request the opportunity to begin a discussion with the incoming State Department political leadership on the role that the Biden Administration will play in protecting human rights defenders.

    As the Administration prepares to re-engage the U.S. government at the United Nations and other multilateral institutions, we encourage you to elevate the protection of human rights defenders as a U.S. foreign policy priority and commit to play a global leadership role on this issue.

    Read the full letter here

    Signed by

    1. Access Now
    2. Accountability Counsel
    3. African Centre for Democracy and Human Rights Studies Al-Haq
    4. Alliance of Baptists Amazon Watch
    5. American Jewish World Service
    6. Amnesty International USA
    7. ARTICLE 19
    8. Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact (AIPP)
    9. Balay Alternative Legal Advocates for Development in Mindanaw, Inc (BALAOD Mindanaw)
    10. Bank Information Center
    11. Business and Human Rights Resource Centre
    12. Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS)
    13. Center for Civil Liberties
    14. Center for Human Rights and Environment
    15. Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL)
    16. China-Latin America Sustainable-Investments Initiative Church World Service
    17. CIVICUS
    18. Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach Committee to Protect Journalists
    19. COMPPART Foundation for Justice and Peacebuilding Nigeria
    20. Congregation of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd, U.S. Provinces
    21. Crude Accountability
    22. DefendDefenders (East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project)
    23. EarthRights International
    24. Ecumenical Advocacy Network on the Philippines Equitable Cambodia
    25. FIDH, within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders FORUM-ASIA
    26. Freedom House
    27. Freedom Now
    28. Front Line Defenders
    29. Gender Action
    30. Global Witness
    31. Green Advocates International (Liberia)
    32. Greenpeace
    33. Human Rights First
    34. Inclusive Development International Indigenous Peoples Rights
    35. International International Accountability Project International Rivers
    36. International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)
    37. Jamaa Resource Initiatives Kenya
    38. Japan NGO Action Network for Civic Space Just Associates (JASS)
    39. Kaisa Ka (Unity of Women for Freedom) KILUSAN
    40. Latin America Working Group
    41. Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns
    42. National Advocacy Center of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd
    43. Network in Solidarity with the People of Guatemala - NISGUA
    44. Network Movement for Justice and Development
    45. Odhikar – Bangladesh OECD Watch
    46. Oil Workers Rights Protection Organization Public Union Azerbaijan
    47. OMCT (World Organisation Against Torture), within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
    48. Open Briefing
    49. OT Watch
    50. Oxfam America
    51. Peace Brigades International - USA (PBI-USA)
    52. Phenix Center for Economic and Informatics Studies
    53. Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates (PAHRA)
    54. Philippine Human Rights Information Center (PhilRights)
    55. Project HEARD
    56. Project on Organizing, Development, Education, and Research (PODER) - Latin American NGO
    57. Protection International
    58. Rivers without Boundaries Coalition Mongolia Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights
    59. Sisters of Mercy of the Americas Justice Team Somali Journalists Syndicate (SJS)
    60. Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network Swedwatch
    61. Task Force Detainees of the Philippines (TFDP)
    62. Transparency International
    63. United Church of Christ, Justice and Witness Ministries Urgent Action Fund for Women's Human Rights
    64. Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA)
    65. Witness Radio – Uganda

    Civic space in United States of America is rated Obstructed by the CIVICUS Monitor, see country page.

     

     

  • Civil Society Organisations Call for the Draft Law on Public Order to be Immediately Discarded

    CambodiaRightsGroups

    Phnom Penh, 13 August 2020We, the undersigned national and international organisations and communities, call on the Royal Government of Cambodia (“RGC”) to immediately discard the repressive draft Law on Public Order and uphold its obligations under international human rights law. The draft law contains an extensive array of provisions that effectively criminalise the legitimate everyday activities of many within the Kingdom of Cambodia (“Cambodia”), in violation of their rights to freedom of expression, association, assembly and other protected human rights. If enacted, the draft law will become yet another piece of repressive legislation in a legal framework that severely undermines human rights.

     

  • Civil society presents key takeaways from the 49th Session of the UN Human Rights Council

    Civil society organisations presented key takeaways of the 49th session of the UN Human Rights Council in a joint statement[1]delivered on 01 April 2022. The statement also draws attention on the missed opportunities to address key issues and situations.

     

  • Closed and repressed: No space for democracy to take root in Eritrea

    CIVICUS interviews a human rights defender from Eritrea, who speaks about the nature of the government and its complete disregard for fundamental human rights. The human rights defender asked to remain anonymous for security reasons.

    1. What is the overall state of human rights and fundamental freedoms in Eritrea?

    Unlike in the neighbouring countries, the regime in Eritrea is unique and arguably has no match in the world. It is the most repressive regime in the world, ruling the country with no Constitution and national assembly. There is no political pluralism and no elections have been organised since independence. The ruling party exists only in name with most of its leaders in the executive and legislative arms of government are either languishing in unknown detention centres or have abandoned the party. Since 1994 the party has never held any congress or elected new leadership. Hence power has been concentrated in the hands of a single man, President Issias Afwerki, who rules the country alone and as he wishes.

    The absolute power he enjoys combined with his sadistic, cruel and arrogant character has driven him to the extreme. His regime violates every aspect of human rights and inflicts unbearable suffering on the Eritrean people. The regime has no regard for human rights and international law. Almost the entire population of Eritrea has been subjected to indefinite national service, forced labour and slavery. Families have disintegrated and societies destroyed by migration as citizens seek to escape the repression. Those who escape the country are exposed to human trafficking, hostage taking for ransom, torture and other inhumane treatment.
    The regime has made Eritrea a closed and an isolated country with no independent and foreign media outlets; civil society activities are banned in Eritrea thus there are no local CSOs or international NGOs of any kind in the country. In addition, the report of the UN Commission of inquiry on the situation of human rights in Eritrea in June 2016 revealed that crimes against humanity have been committed in Eritrea by the Eritrean regime.

    2. What is the state of the media?

    Between 1997 to 2001 private press in the form of print media operated in Eritrea but this was under a restrictive legal domestic framework. There were eight private newspapers until September 2001. In 2001 senior government officials known as “G-15” demanded democratic reforms and the enforcement of the 1997 ratified Constitution. In September 2001, the government clamped down on 11 members of the “G-15” accusing them of treason and said they were a threat to national security. The government proceeded to close private newspapers and imprisoned 18 journalists for providing platforms to the “G-15” to express their views. Since then both the political prisoners and journalists have been held incommunicado in secret prison facilities without charges. Many of the journalists and writers are believed to have died in detention. In effect, since September 2001 no private media has existed in Eritrea. Only state-owned and state-operated media exists in the country. These include TV, radio, and print outlets.
    Freedom of expression, exchange of information and communication in public places such as tea shops, buses, taxis, restaurants, bus terminals, offices, schools and colleges, public, social and religious events are closely monitored by spys working for the regime. Even people who are out of the country are afraid to express themselves publicly for fear of reprisals against their relatives at home in Eritrea. Journalists who work for public media outlets and manage escape still fear that their families back home will be targeted as the Eritrean government punishes family members because of association.

    3. How does the compulsory national military service exacerbate human rights violations in Eritrea?

    According to the National Service Proclamation of 1995, Eritreans are required to serve 18 months of national service which includes six months of military training and 12 months of service in the army and civil service. The proclamation notes that military service is compulsory for males and females who are between 18 to 40 years old. However, contrary to the national proclamation, in reality the national service is indefinite. Those who were recruited in the first round, for example in 1994 have not been released up to now. The whole productive section of the society has been locked up in the national service without any pay, proper feeding or clothing. Even children are recruited into national service. All students have to go to the military training camp of Sawa to do their final year of education in the secondary level and complete military training. Conditions there are very miserable. The national service recruits are treated worse than slaves. They are deprived of opportunities to start families and from undertaking economic activities. They are deprived of moving freely, expressing themselves and from practicing the religion of their choice. In addition, those who desert and evade national service are detained, tortured or fined. Also women are used as sex objects by the military officers and work as house maids or slaves to provide forced services to the officers.

    4. Tell us about the failure of the government to implement the 1997 Constitution

    The government does not have any desire to implement the 1997 Constitution. In May 1998, one year after the ratification of the Constitution, the Eritrean government ignited a border war with Ethiopia. It developed into a full-fledged conflict that came to end in 2000 after the loss of about 100 000 lives on both sides and huge damages to properties and a huge humanitarian crisis and displacement. The Algeris agreement ended the war and a border commission was formed to delineate and demarcate the border but the border has not yet been demarcated. A “no war and peace state” prevails now. Although there are no links between the border and the Constitution, the Eritrean government claims that it is not implementing the Constitution because the border has to be demarcated first.

    5. What are three things that need to change for democracy to take root in Eritrea?

    For democracy to take root in Eritrea: there needs to be

    • Change of the existing government;
    • Crimes committed so far have to be addressed and perpetrators brought to justice;
    • The international community needs to support Eritreans both in the diaspora and those in Eritrea in leading a transition to democratic rule.

     

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    Human rights defender Cyriaque Nibitegeka speaks to CIVICUS about Burundi’s withdrawal from the International Criminal Court and the implications for human rights and victims of human rights abuses. Nibitegeka is one of the leaders of civil society in Burundi. He is also a lawyer and member of the Burundi Bar. He was a professor at the Law Faculty of the University of Burundi before being dismissed for his human rights activities.

     

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  • COLOMBIA: ‘Citizens are outraged and tired of the policies that have plunged them into poverty’

    CIVICUS speaks with Alexandra González Zapata, coordinator for democracy and social protest at the Solidarity Committee with Political Prisoners Foundation, and a member of the Campaign to Defend Freedom. The Solidarity Committee Foundation is a Colombian civil society organisation that works to defend the rights to life, freedom, physical and moral integrity, decent, fair and impartial treatment and other rights of people deprived of liberty, prosecuted for political crimes and criminalised for participating in social protest. The Solidarity Committee Foundation is a member of the Campaign to Defend Freedom, which focuses on denouncing arbitrary detentions, judicial persecution and the criminalisation of social protest in Colombia. A network made up of social, student, cultural, community and human rights organisations, Defend Freedom works in a coordinated manner to challenge the illegal use of force as a mechanism of persecution against those who, individually or collectively, demand and promote human rights through social mobilisation in Colombia.

    alexandra gonzalez zapata

    What triggered the 2019 protests in Colombia, and why did they escalate?

    Outrage has been building up little by little in Colombia. Even as it was inaugurated in August 2018, President Iván Duque's government did not enjoy wide margins of legitimacy and support. The electoral results showed that a broad segment of the citizenry rejected traditional power and all that it represented: policies in favour of war, privatisation and indebtedness. This discontent increased as the government announced a series of policy measures, including among those who had voted for Duque.

    The government's proposals were aimed at eliminating the state pension fund Colpensiones, raising the retirement age and lowering the salary for young people to 75 per cent of the minimum wage, among other measures. A widespread atmosphere of indignation emerged as a result, yielding a unified call for mobilisation on 21 November 2019.

    What few expected by then was that the mobilisation would continue over the days that followed 21 November. On that day some acts of vandalism were committed, which the national government tried to use as an excuse to criminalise social protest and adopt measures to restrict freedoms, including a curfew. In response to this, citizens went out to demonstrate freely. We really do not know which was the first neighbourhood or the first block to start banging pots and pans on 22 November, but what we do know is that this dynamic expanded throughout the capital city, Bogotá, as well as other cities around Colombia, shifting the narrative that had prevailed on the media, which was all about vandalism, towards a public discourse that highlighted citizen outrage and social demands.

    How have these mobilisations managed to be sustained over time? How are they different from others in Colombia in the past?

    From 2013 onwards, social mobilisation in Colombia has been on the rise. In 2013 there was an agricultural strike that lasted for more than 20 days and managed to keep several major national roads closed. Then came the agricultural strikes of 2015 and 2016, and the so-called ‘mingas for life’, marches and protests of tens of thousands of Indigenous peoples, and the student strikes of 2018 and 2019.

    In other words, we’ve seen numerous massive and sustained mobilisations over the past few years. What is different about the ongoing national protests in comparison to past mobilisations is that they have been characterised by a majority participation of urban citizens and mainly middle-class people. This caused them to be viewed not as the actions of a particular group of people – Indigenous peoples, peasants, or students – but instead as the work of outraged citizens who are tired of the policies that have increasingly plunged them into poverty, even though the country keeps flaunting positive economic growth indicators. Hence its massive and sustained character.

    What do the protesters demand, and what response do they expect from the government?

    The National Strike Committee has submitted a list of petitions around 13 major issues: guarantees for the exercise of the right to social protest; social rights; economic rights; anti-corruption; peace; human rights; the rights of Mother Earth; political rights and guarantees; agricultural and fishery issues; compliance with agreements between government and social organisations; withdrawal of legislation; the repeal of specific laws; and reform of the law-making process.

    On the first item, guarantees for the right to social protest, protesters urge the government to dismantle the Mobile Anti-Riot Squadron (ESMAD) and refrain from establishing any other similar force. They demand that those responsible for the death of Dylan Cruz, an 18-year-old who was shot dead in the head while running unarmed to escape ESMAD in the early days of the protest in Bogotá, be brought to justice and held accountable.

    On the second item, social rights, protesters demand an end to labour subcontracting, the establishment of an interest rate for mortgage loans that is fair and correlated to people’s real incomes and the repeal of the tax that is currently used to finance the electricity company Electricaribe.

    So far the government has shown no willingness to enter into any real dialogue and negotiation; instead, it insists on beginning ‘exploratory dialogues.’ Protesters expect the government to convene a negotiating table as soon as possible to address the substantial issues that have been raised.

    How did the government react to the protests? What human rights violations were committed by the security forces?

    On 15 November 2019, six days before the first protest was scheduled to take place, the national government made the decision to involve the army in control and security operations in Bogotá. Nine Brigade XIII contingents were deployed and more than 350 soldiers took part in monitoring, patrolling and security controls in Bogotá. This militarisation still persists in the city. The presence of a ‘riot squad’ of the national army, according to information released by the authorities, is particularly concerning. It should be noted that, except in exceptional circumstances, military forces should not intervene in operations to control, contain or even guarantee the celebration of social mobilisations.

    In addition, as confirmed by the authorities, starting at 6am on 19 November, 37 raids were carried out in the residences and workplaces of media professionals throughout Colombia. To date, 21 of those raids have been declared illegal after undergoing judicial scrutiny, because they did not comply with legally established requirements, including being based on reasonable suspicion. According to information provided by the authorities, the raids involved people who were thought to be prone to committing acts of vandalism during the protest. However, it was mainly people linked to artistic groups, alternative media and social movements. Among the items seized were posters, brushes and paintings.

    Also on 19 November, the Ministry of the Interior issued Decree 2087/2019, establishing new measures for the maintenance of public order. Article 3 made “a very special call to district and municipal mayors, so that in their duty to preserve public order in their respective territories, they comply [with the provisions of the Law] in matters of public order.” This call prompted the authorities of at least eight cities – Bogotá, Buenaventura, Cali, Candelaria, Chía, Facatativá, Jamundí and Popayán – to declare curfews. These affected the exercise of the rights to free movement and social protest for all citizens, even though acts affecting public order had been extremely localised.

    Throughout the protests, the authorities made an improper and disproportionate use of force. Although Resolution 1190/2018 states that “the use of force must be considered the last resort of intervention by the National Police,” in most cases ESMAD has intervened without any apparent reason to do so. On 22 November it intervened in Plaza de Bolívar, where more than 5,000 people had assembled, although the demonstration was completely peaceful. On 23 November, Dylan Cruz was killed as a result of an unjustified intervention by ESMAD during a peaceful mobilisation. Although the weapon uses was among those authorised, the ammunition fired by ESMAD caused the death of this young man because of improper use, since according to international standards this type of weapon can only be fired at a distance greater than 60 metres, and only against lower extremities; otherwise, it is deemed to entail lethal risk. Strikingly, on a video recorded live by the Defend Freedom Campaign, an ESMAD agent can be heard encouraging another one to shoot, saying: “Shoot anyone, just anyone, come on daddy.”

    During the protests more than 300 people were injured, including 12 who had eye injuries. Some young people were injured by firearms shot by the police, including Duvan Villegas, who might remain paralysed as a result of a bullet hitting him in the back. Another young man lost his right eye in Bogotá after being hit by a rubber bullet fired by the ESMAD, and two other people could face the loss of their legs due to the impact of teargas canisters thrown by the police from close range.

    Overall, there were 1,514 arrests during the protests, 1,109 of them in Bogotá. Out of 914 people who were arrested, 103 (6.8 per cent) were prosecuted for allegedly being caught in the act of committing violence against a public official; however, arrest procedures were declared illegal in a high number of cases, both because there were not enough grounds for conducting them and because they were accompanied by physical violence against detainees.

    The rest of the people who were detained (93.2 per cent) were transferred for protection or by police procedure. According to the law, detention in these cases is justified when the life or integrity of the person or a third party is at risk or danger. However, in practice an abusive use of this power was made, since these were mostly administrative detentions, used as a mechanism of intimidation and punishment against citizens who were exercising their right to protest. Therefore, these were mostly arbitrary detentions.

    In some of these cases, cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment was documented during detention, particularly in Immediate Attention Commands or police stations. Cases came to our attention of people who were forced to undress, others who received electric shocks through electrical control devices and some who had broken bones in their hands as a result of baton charges or being kicked.

    Additionally, in Bogotá, more than 620 people who were transferred to the Protection Transfer Centre were punished with police appearance orders, in many cases for the crime of disruption, for having obstructed transport. This mechanism, which results in fines amounting to around 200,000 Colombian pesos (approx. US$60), was used indiscriminately and has affected the exercise of social protest.

    How has civil society organised in the face of these abuses?

    In 2012, the Defend Freedom Campaign was established. Through its Verification and Intervention Commissions, recognised in Resolution 1190 of 2018, the campaign does on-site monitoring of social mobilisation, documents cases of arbitrary and excessive use of force by police authorities, arbitrary detention and transfer for protection and various forms of repression and abusive use of police power against protesters and human rights defenders, and it systematises the information collected. The campaign also promotes the creation of a National Network of Civil Society Commissions for Verification and Intervention in situations of social mobilisation.

    Likewise, through a joint demand, the National Process of Guarantees, the Agrarian, Peasant, Ethnic and Popular Summit and the Defend Freedom Campaign have obtained verifiable commitments from the national government and the government of Bogotá to establish public policies aimed at enforcing respect for the freedoms of individuals, communities and social organisations that promote and defend rights. The most important of these were Decree 563/2015 (Protocol of Action for Social Mobilisations in Bogotá: For the Right to Mobilisation and Peaceful Protest) issued by the Office of Bogotá’s Mayor and Resolution 1190/2018 (Protocol for the coordination of actions to respect and guarantee peaceful protest) issued by the Ministry of the Interior.

    What immediate measures should the Colombian government adopt in response to the protests?

    First, the government should convene the monitoring mechanism (‘Mesa de Seguimiento’) to respect and guarantee peaceful protest, as a space for negotiation and dialogue that should define mechanisms to guarantee the right to protest, as envisaged in Resolution 1190. Likewise, the government should immediately suspend the use of 12-calibre shotguns by ESMAD members, due to their high impact on people’s physical integrity and life. Second, it should refrain from pursuing stigmatisation and criminalisation campaigns against those who engage in social protest. Third, the government should initiate a negotiation process with the National Strike Committee to address its demands. And in response to the substantive demands made by the National Strike Committee, the government should start by withdrawing its proposals for labour and pension reform that are due for congressional debate, and initiate a broad and participatory process towards the formulation of new laws concerning those issues.

    Do you think the response of the international community has been adequate? How could international groups and organisations support Colombian civil society and contribute to safeguarding civic space in the country?

    I believe that the international community and the United Nations system were able to issue a timely warning regarding the risks of repression of social protest. The call made by human rights organisations in the USA to urge their government to start a moratorium on the sale of US riot weapons to Colombia was also timely.

    However, it would also be important for Colombian civil society to receive longer-term support to undertake medium-term strategies that allow for a deeper and more detailed follow-up of the human rights situation, and particularly to help make progress in judicial investigations for the human rights violations allegedly committed during the protests.

    Civic space in Colombia is rated as ‘repressed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.
    Get in touch with the Solidarity Committee Foundation through itswebsite andFacebook page, or follow@CSPP_ on Twitter.
    Get in touch with the Defend Freedom Campaign through itswebsite andFacebook page, or

     

     

  • COLOMBIA: ‘The protection of the environment is inseparable from the success of the peace process’

    Following a year marked by massive mobilisation on the climate emergency, CIVICUS is interviewing civil society activists, leaders and experts about the main environmental challenges they face in their contexts and the actions they are taking. CIVICUS speaks with a young Colombian student, active in the climate movement, who for security reasons asked to remain anonymous. In addition to mobilising in the context of the #FridaysForFuture movement, the interviewee is part of Post-Conflict Children (Hijos del Posconflicto), a recently created group that seeks to render the experiences of people on the ground visible and defend the peace process in Colombia. On the crossroads of various struggles, the interviewee emphasises the defence of the peace process as a key to preserving Colombia’s environment and biodiversity.

    colombia protests

    From your perspective, what is the most urgent environmental problem in Colombia?

    The most urgent environmental problem is deforestation. Deforestation rates in Colombia are very high, and the situation has not improved following the signing of the peace agreements. That is because, in times of armed conflict, the Colombian guerrillas, mainly the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), controlled much of the jungle territory of Colombia. Of course, no one dared get into that territory: multinationals and oil companies did not have a presence there; nor did the industry of cattle-raising. After the peace agreements were signed and the guerrillas withdrew, the problem that has plagued Colombia since the 1950s – land distribution – increased.

    Colombia has extremely regressive land distribution, with land property concentrated in very few hands. With the withdrawal of the guerrillas and the arrival of multinational corporations, land grabbing has increased. Lands are privately appropriated, deforested and used for raising livestock, while the local population continues to be displaced.

    At the same time, there are still active armed groups operating outside the law, particularly far-right paramilitary groups, alongside the smaller guerrilla force of the National Liberation Army (ELN) and some FARC dissidents who refused to engage with the peace process. These armed groups are fighting over the territory with the aim of taking control of coca crops and expanding them, causing greater deforestation.

    Therefore, both the continuation of the conflict in some territories and its termination in others are having a direct influence on deforestation. The peace process contains a series of mechanisms to counteract deforestation, but its effects will depend on whether it is effectively implemented. In that sense, the protection of the environment is inseparable from the success of the peace process.

    What mechanisms in the peace agreements would help stop deforestation?

    The peace agreements include two specific mechanisms to stop deforestation. The first one is comprehensive rural reform, aimed at distributing land in the Colombian countryside and enforcing respect for the uses assigned to the land – for example, by ensuring that if land is for agricultural use, it is not used for raising livestock. The second mechanism is the Programme of Substitution of Crops for Illicit Use, aimed at tackling the drug problem. It is important to understand that many poor peasant families have had to grow coca in order to survive; through this programme, the state is offering them economic incentives to transition towards other sustainable crops.

    How does youth activism contribute to the effective implementation of the peace agreements?

    The struggle for peace is taking place on all fronts. We do three things: we mobilise on the streets in defence of the peace process; we do educational work so that people understand why the peace process is so important; and we do advocacy in various spaces.

    The context in which we do this work is quite difficult. As soon as he took office, President Iván Duque objected to the peace process and tried to modify all aspects that he did not agree with or that he claimed were not fair. If he succeeds, this would ultimately mean a deactivation of the process that resulted from the agreements and the need to start over from scratch. This was no surprise: his entire campaign revolved around the peace process and was based on the dissemination of lies about it. He won the elections by manipulating people’s fears; he told people that the agreements would enshrine impunity. He tried to scare us by telling us that if the left won, we would become a second Venezuela. He also lied regarding his plans for extractive industries: he stated that oil exploration and exploitation through fracking would not be authorised, but in late December 2019 he drafted a decree that would allow fracking.

    As an activist for peace and the environment in Colombia, have you had any participation in the global movement for climate justice?

    Yes, along with a small group, I joined the Fridays for Future initiative. But our participation was limited to a series of actions and strikes aimed at launching the climate movement in our country.

    It has been quite difficult for us to elicit mobilisation around the global climate crisis. First of all, there is much ignorance. In Colombia, most people have no idea what it is being done to them; the current president took advantage of this to spread lies, run a disinformation campaign and win the elections. In a country where public education is of very low quality and only rich people are able to further their studies, it is very easy to lie to people and make them believe you. So, the first problem is ignorance. Add to that fear: in Colombia people are afraid to speak, organise and protest. Colombians live in a state of incredible anxiety due to the systematic murders of social and environmental leaders. Colombia is one of the most dangerous countries in the world for human rights defenders in general and for environmental leaders in particular.

    All of this has limited climate mobilisation. Some isolated actions have been held, but there has not been a big national, high-impact demonstration. That is why we were surprised to find out that a massive school mobilisation took place in the south of the country, in the department of Huila, where we least expected it to happen due to the complex security dynamics in those territories. We managed to get in touch with the young people who mobilised in Huila and together we took part in a national meeting held in the department of Caquetá, also known as the golden door to the Colombian Amazon. At that meeting we managed to coordinate our work with the communities that live in Amazonian territory and so far we are in the process of raising the cause of the Amazon and initiating a resistance to defend our forest.

    We are currently starting to bring all the environmental groups together into a single climate front. We hope this will inspire those who are afraid to join as well.

    Have you had any participation in international climate forums?

    We have been to a Latin American meeting of Fridays for Future that was held in Chile with the support of 350.org. It was a meeting of climate advocates to build a Latin American network and take the movement to the regional level. It helped us a lot to meet other young people from other parts of the region who were also mobilising, to discover that we could get together and feel that we had international support to do our job. It gave us some hope.

    Right after that meeting, we began to try to form a national environmental network, travelling to as many territories as possible and enlisting young people from other Colombian regions. There is still a lot to be done, but we are growing exponentially because when a new group joins in, they reach out to three or four other groups. Throughout 2019 we focused on this process, touring territories, communicating our message to people and creating links. We believe that the next time we may be able to mobilise at the national level. We will do so on 24 April 2020, on the occasion of the next global strike.

    What kind of support would you need to be able to hold in 2020 the mobilisation that was not possible in 2019?

    Right now our window of opportunity is the national strike, the series of protests that have taken place in several Colombian cities since November 2019. In a country where people are afraid to speak, on 21 November last year millions of people took to the streets. It was one of the largest mobilisations Colombia has witnessed over the past 40 years. This is a unique opportunity. Within the framework of these protests, the environmental movement has also put forward its proposals and demands. We may not be able to mobilise people specifically around climate, but we can take advantage of these mass mobilisations and put our issues out there. If there are people willing to mobilise, we can approach them, tell them what is happening to the environment and communicate our demands so that they understand that our issues also concern them and they start mobilising for them as well. By doing this, we succeeded in getting the national strike committee to include the declaration of a climate emergency in Colombia among its demands. This has been a very big breakthrough.

    Civic space in Colombia is rated as ‘repressed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.
    Get in touch with Fridays for Future through itswebsite, and with the Colombian campaign byemail or through itsFacebook page, and follow @FutureColombia on Twitter.

     

  • COLOMBIA: ‘Those who demonstrate put their integrity and their lives at risk’

    CIVICUS speaks about recent protests in Colombia with a group of members of the Committee for Solidarity with Political Prisoners Foundation (FCSPP) and the Defend Freedom: Everyone’s Business Campaign, who responded collectively to our questions. FCSPP is an organisation that promotes respect and enforcement of the human rights of all people in Colombia, with a focus on the rights to life, liberty, physical and moral integrity, dignified treatment, fair and impartial trial and other rights of persons deprived of their liberty, prosecuted for political crimes and tried for participating in protests. The Defend Freedom Campaign is a network of social, student, cultural, community and human rights organisations working to denounce arbitrary detentions, judicial persecution and the criminalisation of social protest in Colombia.

    What are the main causes of recent protests in Colombia?

    From our perspective, the reasons behind the protests in Colombia are diverse. In addition to tax injustice, reflected in the proposal submitted by the national government to collect more taxes, the government's poor handling of the health crisis and the economic, ecological and socio-environmental crises exacerbated by the pandemic is also a cause. In the context of the pandemic, a key demand was related to the inefficient management of the Colombian health system and the need for a reform focused on protecting those working in the health sector and providing comprehensive and preventive care to the general population. The inefficient management of the public pension system and the lack of public policies to promote equitable access by Colombia’s young people to free, quality education and quality employment also came to the fore.

    In addition to the socio-ecological injustices caused by a mining and energy policy promoting predatory extractive megaprojects, the lack of commitment by the national government to sign the Escazú Agreement on environmental rights has been accompanied by an unabated wave of murders and other attacks against social, community, environmental, territorial, community and human rights leaders. This violence is perpetuated by the impunity guaranteed by the judicial system to those within the security forces and more generally the state apparatus responsible for human rights violations.

    The protests have also highlighted the absence of guarantees for the exercise of the right to social protest, which instead of being protected is being stigmatised and attacked by the state.

    How do these protests connect to those that took place in previous years?

    The current protests are in direct continuity with the protests of 2020, given that the pandemic resulted in an extended hiatus during which social protest was prevented from taking place physically. During this period, however, the structural issues that motivate social protests were not forgotten, let alone did they disappear, but on the contrary they often deepened and worsened.

    How have the authorities responded to the protests?

    The National Police have responded with a violent, disproportionate and often unlawful reaction against protesters. According to data collected by the Defend Freedom Campaign, between 28 April and 21 July 2021 this violence resulted in 87 deaths of civilians in the context of protests, 28 of them attributable to the security forces, seven to unidentified civilians and 46 to unidentified perpetrators. During this time, 1,905 people were injured as a result of the disproportionate actions of the National Police, the Mobile Anti-Riot Squads (ESMAD) and unidentified civilians. In addition, 326 human rights defenders were attacked in the context of their work accompanying social protests, 106 were victims of gender-based violence and 3,365 people were detained, many of them arbitrarily, resulting in 1,603 complaints of abuse of power and police violence. These figures are evidence of the unwillingness of the authorities to engage in dialogue and of the way in which the right to social protest is being violated in Colombia. Those who demonstrate put their integrity and their lives at risk.

    Rights violations not only occur during protest itself, but are also compounded when it comes to the institutions that are supposed to pay attention, gather data and follow up on violations. We have documented cases of injured people who have not been attended to in hospitals and medical centres. Likewise, the records of missing persons kept by the Ombudsman’s Office and the Prosecutor's Office diverge widely; as of 5 June, the Ombudsman’s Office recorded 89 people missing in the context of the protests, while the Prosecutor’s Office recorded 129. This shows a lack of clarity and coordination between the state institutions that should play a key role in documenting, attending to and providing efficient and timely follow-up to human rights violations.

    What were the effects of repression on protesters?

    After the media publicised some cases, especially of killings and sexual violence allegedly committed by the security forces, citizens continued to demonstrate in acts of solidarity and collective memory. Further, with the aim of coordinating actions, informing citizens, debating and establishing clear common demands, three National Popular Assemblies were held, two in person – one in Bogotá, from 6 to 8 June, and another in Cali, from 17 to 20 July – and a third virtually, on 15 August. All of them were widely attended by popular organisations and social movements. Discussions were also held in localities, municipalities and cities to build an understanding of interests, needs and proposals. This demonstrated the willingness of citizens who had been protesting to engage in permanent dialogue with government bodies to put forward their demands.

    How was it possible to sustain mobilisation for several months, and are protests expected to continue?

    In some territories, protesters found a series of conditions that allowed them to meet peacefully and originate new organisational processes through the exercise of their right to the freedom of association. These processes were based on previously established relationships of solidarity, not only among organisations but also within less formal civil society, which mobilised in peaceful marches and by donating non-perishable goods, basic medical supplies, items for protection and other forms of support to the young people who mobilised on what is now known as ‘the frontlines’.

    The mobilisation was sustained thanks to new and creative forms of organisation that helped distribute roles in the midst of intense days of police repression, with some people in charge of holding up defensive barriers with improvised or relatively elaborate shields, others in charge of returning teargas canisters and mitigating deterrence tools used by the police, others in charge of providing medical, psychosocial, emotional and legal first aid to those who needed it, and others playing care roles, providing food and hydration to protesters. The result was the emergence of spaces such as ‘Puerto Resistencia’ (Resistance Port) in Cali and ‘Espacio Humanitario al Calor de la Olla’ (Humanitarian Space at the Heat of the Pot) in Bogotá, which were replicated at other resistance hotspots around the country. These spaces bring together inter-organisational and inter-generational networks which, through dialogue and assembly meetings, build consensus and prioritise actions adaptable to each territory’s context.

    It is to be expected that the protests will continue, given that they have not only arisen from historic centres of protests, such as workers’ confederations and teachers’ unions, but there are also now multiple protest hubs in cities and highways around the country where people mobilise a diverse range of organised, organising and unorganised citizens with different motivations and people take to the streets due to a variety of situations. Commemorative dates are coming that will surely generate mobilisation, perhaps not on a daily basis as happened between April and July, but with actions that will keep alive the demands made visible both by the National Roundtables of the National Strike Committee and by other spaces promoted by civil society at the local and municipal levels.

    How have attacks by armed civilian groups affected demonstrations?

    The Campaign has documented multiple situations in which armed civilians attacked protesters, mainly in the departments of Cundinamarca, Risaralda, Norte de Santander, Tolima and Valle del Cauca, and the city of Bogotá. Several of the aggressions recorded were committed by civilians accompanied by members of the security forces, who did not take any action to stop them but rather supported them. Many of these civilians call themselves ‘defenders of private property’.

    A clear example of this, taken from the records of the Campaign’s Information System of Aggressions against Social Protest (SIAP), occurred in Cali on the afternoon of 9 May, when agents of the National Police, together with several civilians mobilised in pick-up trucks, attacked the Indigenous Guard, a civil resistance group mobilised in defence of the territory and the life plan of the Indigenous communities. The attack left 10 people injured, one of them in serious condition with a double bullet wound to the stomach. Another case recorded by SIAP occurred in Cali on 6 May; on this occasion, armed persons in civilian clothes got out of a truck and shot at protesters. As a result of citizens’ demands that the army stop them, the interior of the truck was searched and a police jacket was found, and when its number plates were checked, the vehicle was identified as police property.

    In other cases, armed civilians act without police being present. It is important to mention the presence of paramilitary groups: in places where mobilisation increased, graffiti and pamphlets from paramilitary groups such as the Black Eagles and the United Self-Defence Forces of Colombia were found, aimed at intimidating the population to dissuade people from participating in protests.

    How has the government responded to the recommendations issued by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR)?

    In public statements referring to the IACHR recommendations, President Iván Duque once again stigmatised the exercise of the right to social protest and highlighted the effects of protest roadblocks on the rights to free movement and work. The government invoked the constitution to reject the proposal to separate the National Police from the Ministry of Defence and was defensive about the possibility of creating a mechanism to monitor human rights.

    Despite the recommendations, human rights violations continued unabated. As of 7 July 2021, the day the IACHR recommendations were made public, the Campaign registered 152 detentions, most of them arbitrary, 92 people injured by the actions of ESMAD, the National Police and armed civilians, four cases of gender-based violence, 29 attacks on human rights defenders, 72 complaints of police abuse and violence, and 29 raids. This occurred despite the fact that mobilisations had decreased in intensity and frequency; a large part of these violations happened on a single day, 20 July. But a change in repressive strategy was observed, as the number of raids increased dramatically.

    How can international civil society support Colombian civil society?

    International civil society can support us through campaigns such as SOS Colombia, but on a more permanent basis, and not limited to peak moments of repression. They could also help us by assisting the countries that act as guarantors of Colombia’s 2016 Peace Accord in doing an exhaustive review of the execution of peacebuilding resources, and by supporting those organisations that have denounced police and state abuses through investigative, communicative and political advocacy strategies in international human rights forums and advocacy spaces, thus giving more visibility to the social, humanitarian and ecological crisis facing Colombia.

    Civic space in Colombia is rated ‘repressed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.

    Get in touch with the Committee for Solidarity with Political Prisoners through itswebsite orFacebook page, and follow@CSPP_ on Twitter. Contact the Defend Freedom Campaign through itswebsite orFacebook page, and follow@DefenderLiberta on Twitter.

     

  • COLOMBIA: ‘Young people experience a feeling of wanting to change everything’

    CIVICUS speaks about the protests that began in Colombia in April 2021, triggered by proposed tax increases, with a young social and human rights activist who chose to remain anonymous for security reasons. The interviewee belongs to a network of youth organisations and young activists that promotes solidarity, organisation and the struggle of excluded groups and that works in the capital, Bogotá, and in the city of Medellín.

    What were the causes of the protests, and what are protesters’ demands?

    The tax reform was just the straw that broke the camel’s back, as it added to a host of problems. In the assemblies in which we participated, hundreds of demands, and demands of all kinds, were collected, from filling holes in neighbourhood streets to overthrowing the government led by President Iván Duque and seeking justice for the so-called ‘false positives’, that is, cases of civilians killed by the military and presented as casualties of the armed conflict. What young people are experiencing is a feeling of wanting to change everything, of not wanting to continue living as before.

    But despite the diversity of demands, there are some that unite young people from the lower classes the most. I think that, in economic matters, young people from the lower classes are demanding employment and opportunities to get ahead, and in political matters these young people, particularly those who were on the protest frontlines, are demanding dignity, to not be humiliated anymore. Nothing unites these young people more than their deep hatred of the police, as the main representative of the outrages and humiliations they experience on a daily basis. They feel like outcasts with no economic future, with no hope of getting a job beyond the daily grind to survive, rejected by society and persecuted like criminals by the police just because they are young and poor.

    Students – also young people but more intellectual, some from the middle class – were also a significant force in the protests, but tended to emphasise demands against political repression and human rights violations, the issue of the ‘false positives’, the assassinations of social leaders and the criminalisation of protest.

    How do these protests differ from those of previous years, and are there any lines of continuity with them?

    Basically, motives are the same as those of the 2019 and 2020 protests. In the 2019 protests, the crisis of unemployment and hunger weighed more heavily, while in the 2020 protests, the issue of repression, not wanting to continue to be humiliated and killed, became more important. Those that broke out in April 2021 combined the motives of the two previous waves, because not only had neither of the two problems been tackled at the root, but not even palliatives had been offered; on the contrary, the economic crisis worsened and political repression continued.

    Perhaps one difference is that the latest protests have received greater international attention, which reflects the strength with which the Colombian people took to the streets. The protest had broad legitimacy among social groups that do not usually mobilise. The economic and political crisis and suffocation was such that groups such as medium-size and even large business owners supported the protests. The massive character of the protests also forced everyone, from artists to congresspeople, to take sides.

    There were Colombians abroad who protested in their respective countries, speaking up about what their relatives back home were telling them. Some may think that this increased international attention was due to the repression, but I tend to believe that what magnified the message was the size of the middle-class groups that mobilised. Repression has been very present in previous cycles as well as in the face of protests by groups of peasants. I think what was decisive in this case was the diversity of social strata that supported the protest.

    How has the government reacted to the protests?

    Generally speaking, it reacted first by violently repressing them, then by delegitimising them by using the media to attack some groups, and in particular young people, and finally by trying to divide them in order to demobilise some social groups and isolate young people from the lower classes. For the latter, the government engaged in several negotiations with a self-proclaimed National Strike Committee, and also carried out negotiations at the local level to try to contain or calm down some social groups.

    Particularly at the local level, even in localities with so-called centrist and independent governments, the government set up dialogue roundtables that do not solve anything, where demands are listened to but nothing specific is offered in response to those demands. Many local governments washed their hands of the repression, blaming it on the central government alone, but they did everything in their power to demobilise the protests, sending representatives to calm down protesters and promising people that if they stopped protesting they would listen to their demands, something they had not done during the whole previous year.

    Violence by some groups seems to have become a problem. How did activists and civil society organisations deal with this?

    Violence has often been a spontaneous reaction to repression. Confronting the young person who is throwing a rock with judgement and scolding serves no purpose except to radicalise them further and earn their distrust. In order to change this violence, we must begin by understanding it and distinguishing it from the violence that comes from the state, rather than putting them on the same level. This is not to say that violence is desirable; indeed, it diverts the initiative of many young people. But getting between them and the Immediate Response Command (Comando de Atención Inmediata) – the police unit that operates in urban perimeters – to try and stop them ends up having more of a reverse psychological effect than a deterrence or educational one.

    In my experience, civil society organisations that do not reach out to these young people and offer them alternative spaces for politicisation and awareness-raising end up isolating them and losing the ability to influence them. Our organisation has dealt with this through the strategy of avoiding negative judgement and, instead, approaching them with understanding and trying to create alternative spaces for political participation and the organisation of young people.

    What roles has your organisation played in the protests?

    Our organisation played an active role: we organised the participation in the protests of young people and families in the neighbourhoods where we carry out community work and promoted a solidarity campaign with protesters to collect economic support and other resources, such as first aid, support through community kitchens and human rights advocacy, to help various protest points in the cities of Bogotá and Medellín.

    In Bogotá, we provided support to find information on missing persons and participated in solidarity campaigns with people who had been injured. In Medellín we established community kitchens and repaired roofs and other damage caused by protests in neighbourhoods close to the major protest hotspots in the city. Finally, throughout the protests we developed awareness-raising activities and promoted the involvement of young protesters in more lasting processes of social and community building.

    What impacts do you think this cycle of protests and repression will have on the upcoming elections?

    In my opinion, the protests increased the political capital of the former mayor of Bogotá and former presidential candidate for the left, Gustavo Petro. The government did not give any real response to protesters’ demands and people are still looking for alternatives, and – although our organisation has no interest in campaigning for him or intention to do so – I think Petro is the only available option. In the next elections I would expect a higher rate of youth participation, and I would not be surprised at all if Petro wins.

    Civic space in Colombia is rated ‘repressed’ by the CIVICUS Monitor.

     

  • Concern for the 43 health workers known as the 'Morong 43'


    An open letter from Ingrid Srinath (Secretary General, CIVICUS) to the H.E. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo President of the Philipines regarding the unconstitutional detention of 43 health workers by the Armed Forces of the Philipines.

     

    H.E. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo

    President of the Republic
    Malacañang Palace,
    JP Laurel St., San Miguel
    Manila Philippines

    Your Excellency,

    I write as the Secretary General of CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation, an international movement of civil society with members and partners in over a hundred countries. We are deeply concerned with regard to the detention of the 43 health workers, known commonly as the "Morong 43," by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP). As discussed in the correspondence herewith attached, we strongly believe that justice requires the return of the 43 health workers to their families without further delay.

    We urge you, Madame President, to lead the Philippines in living up to its constitutional and international commitments, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, by ordering the immediate release of the 43 health workers.

    Sincerely,

    Ingrid Srinath
    Secretary General for Civicus: World Alliance for Citizen Participation

    Download letter here (PDF)