human rights

 

  • Conclusions from the 40th Session of the Human Rights Council

     

    Joint NGO Statement - End of 40th Session of the UN Human Rights Council

    We welcome the positive step the Council has taken in the direction to effectively protect environmental human rights defenders (EHRDs) from the grave reality they face every day. By adopting the resolution by consensus, the Council has collectively and explicitly recognized the vital role of EHRDS, including in attaining the SDGs sustainable development goals and ensuring that no-one is left behind, and called for their protection. We also welcome the call on States to provide a safe and empowering context for initiatives organised by young people and children to defend human rights relating to the environment. We, however, regret that the resolution does not squarely address the obligations of international financial institutions and investors.

    We welcome South Africa’s leadership to put on the Council’s agenda emerging human rights issues, in bringing attention to the multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination that women and girls face in the field of sports, especially on the basis of race and gender.

    The Council has ensured its continued attention to grave rights violations across the globe.

    While we welcome the extension of Council attention on Sri Lanka for another two years, a concrete, transparent, and time-bound action plan is urgently needed to implement its commitments under resolution 30/1 in collaboration with OHCHR. Given the lack of progress and political will to implement these commitments, in the absence of immediate progress, the Council should consider additional measures or mechanisms for ensuring victims' rights to truth, justice and reparations. Individual States need not wait to exercise universal jurisdiction.

    We welcome the resolution on Myanmar and its strong focus on ending impunity and ensuring accountability, and we call for the swift operationalisation of the Independent Investigative Mechanism (IIM). We welcome steps taken to review the UN's involvement in Myanmar. We urge the UN Secretary-General to ensure that it is independent and transparent, and present the findings and recommendations at the Council’s 43rd session.

    We welcome the renewal of the mandate of the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan, a vital mechanism for human rights reporting and evidence gathering. It sends the right message to the government and all parties to the conflict: There can be no lasting peace without justice.

    The Council continued this session to initiate action on country situations based on objective criteria through resolutions and joint statements.

    By adopting a resolution on Nicaragua, the Council sent a signal to victims of the current crisis that the international community will not allow impunity for the serious ongoing violations to prevail. We look forward to robust reporting from the OHCHR and we urge the Nicaraguan government to fully engage with the Office to ensure the victims’ rights to truth, justice and reparation.

    The Council sent a strong message of support to human rights defenders in Saudi Arabia through the joint statement by 36 States, led by Iceland, calling for the release of detained women human rights defenders and called on the Saudi government to fully cooperate with the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions in her investigation into the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. We urge the Saudi authorities to respond fully to these calls, and States to follow up with a resolution at the June session to maintain attention to the situation until meaningful progress, including the release of defenders, is made.

    LGBT people in Chechnya are being abducted, locked up in secret detention sites, tortured and sometimes killed purely because of their sexual orientation.  We welcome the joint statement on Chechnya delivered by more than 30 States and join the call on the Russian authorities for the persecution to stop: for the immediate and unconditional release of all detained for their actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity, and for swift, thorough, and impartial investigations.  

    We welcome the Cameroon joint statement which advances both Council membership standards and its prevention mandate, and urge the Council to keep the matter under scrutiny.

    While we have welcomed the Council’s attention to several situations of gross rights violations, we remain concerned about the lack of consistent and principled leadership by States, in particular by Council members.

    We are disappointed that even though the demands of several EU and WEOG States to move the resolution on accountability for crimes committed in the Occupied Palestinian Territories from item 7 to item 2 was met, they still failed to support the resolution. This suggests that no matter the item number, some WEOG members continue in failing to protect the human rights of Palestinians, effectively shielding Israel from accountability.

    We regret that States have yet again failed to initiate Council action on the Philippines amidst continued unlawful killings in the government's so-called war on drugs, and increased targeting of independent media, civil society organisations, and human rights defenders. We reiterate our call on the Council to take action to mandate an independent investigation to establish the facts of human rights violations including extrajudicial executions and attacks against media and civil society, address impunity, and take steps towards justice and reparations for the victims and their families, and hope action will be taken in this regard at the next Council session.

    We are deeply disappointed that the resolution adopted on Libya again lacks any meaningful accountability mechanism or mandate, despite the impunity for the widespread and systematic violations of international humanitarian and human rights law that prevail there.

    We deplore that despite credible reports of the detention of up to 1 million Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims in western China, the Council has yet again given a pass to China, permitting impunity for widespread and severe human rights violations. The efforts China has made to keep States silent, exemplified by intimidation and threats on the one hand and whitewashing the situation on the other, demonstrate the degree to which Council action could have had meaningful results if States had instead called clearly and collectively for an independent, unrestricted fact-finding mission.

    On the resolution on the rights of the child, we regret the Council’s inability to emphasize the empowerment, autonomy and capacity of children with disabilities, and including to ensure that their sexual and reproductive health and rights must be respected, protected and fulfilled.

    We applaud Mexico and other States’ resolve to safeguard the independence of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism and to resist any attempts to dilute, distract or distort its essential focus, ensuring that the Rapporteur can continue to have positive impacts both in preventing and responding to human rights violations committed in the name of countering terrorism and in relation to the human rights of victims of terrorism. We urge States to remain vigilant to resist future attempts to undermine the Special Procedures system- the eyes and ears of the Council.  

    We welcome the Council’s renewal of the mandates of the Special Rapporteur on Iran and the Commission of Inquiry on Syria, so that both can continue to perform their vital work fulfilling their respective mandates and addressing the dire human rights situations in both countries.  We urge the Iranian and Syrian authorities to change their posture of noncooperation with the respective mandate .

    Several of our organisations have urged the UN High Commissioner to publish the database on businesses in Israeli settlements and were alarmed at its further delay.  We urge the High Commissioner to release the database with all due haste.

    We welcome the renewal of the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief mandate, and the maintenance of consensus on the Council resolution 16/18 framework for addressing religious intolerance . Rising intolerance and hate is a global concern, and States must move beyond rhetoric to action in implementing these standards.

    The High Commissioner’s update on Venezuela during this session reflected the dire human rights situation in Venezuela. We urge all States to consider what more the Council can do to address the worsening human rights crisis in the country and to support all victims.

    We note the highly disturbing report by the Special Rapporteur on adequate housing concerning grave reprisals by the Egyptian government against those who cooperated with her during her recent visit to the country and urge this Council to take action to address these attacks.  

    We welcome the passage of the resolution on Georgia and the continued attention devoted to the importance of full and unimpeded access for the Office of the High Commissioner and international and regional human rights mechanisms.

    Signatories:

    1. Amnesty International
    2. ARTICLE 19
    3. Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)
    4. DefendDefenders (East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project)
    5. Center for Reproductive Rights
    6. CIVICUS
    7. Human Rights House Foundation
    8. Human Rights Watch
    9. International Commission of Jurists
    10. International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
    11. International Service for Human Rights

     

  • COSTA RICA: ‘Once legal change achieved, public policy should continue to focus on structural exclusion’

    On 26 May 2020, Costa Rica became the first country in Central America to recognise same-sex marriage. CIVICUS speaks with Herman Duarte, a lawyer practising in Costa Rica and El Salvador and the director ofSimple Legal Consulting as well as the Latin America Liaison Officer of the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Committee and the founder and president of Foundation Igualitxs. Fundación Igualitxs is a leading think tank working on LGBTQI+ rights in Central America, focused on promoting equal civil marriage across the region. It works towards this goal by conducting strategic litigation at the national and inter-American levels, promoting its ideas in academic circles and partnering with high-level international allies.

    Herman Duarte

    What roles have civil society and the government played in the process leading to the legalisation of same-sex marriage in Costa Rica?

    Costa Rica is a constitutional democracy structured as a unitary state with three branches of government – legislative, executive and judicial – that are in principle independent. At least in theory, the principles of the rule of law and equal legal treatment of all citizens are respected. But Costa Rica is also a confessional state: its constitution expressly recognises Catholicism as its official religion. In recent decades, evangelical congregations have expanded in number, reaching nearly 3,800. By 2017, more than 80 per cent of the population identified themselves as Catholic or evangelic; clearly, Costa Rica is culturally a conservative country.

    In the context of a decades-long struggle by the LGBTQI+ rights movement, the kickstart came from the Government of Costa Rica, which in May 2016 asked the Inter-American Court of Human Rights for an advisory opinion regarding the patrimonial rights of same-sex couples. This consultation opened a window for all interested parties to present their arguments, which more than 90 very diverse actors did, including states, international organisations, civil society organisations (CSOs), universities and individuals. Hearings took place on 16 and 17 May 2017 and we took part in them.

    The momentum generated by this event was reflected in the organisation of the First Equal Marriage Congress, held in San José, Costa Rica, in November 2017, which brought together more than 54 speakers from all over the region. In January 2018, the Inter-American Court published its decision, which stated that state parties should regulate the status of non-heterosexual families, opening the doors of civil (non-religious) marriage to same-sex couples. A group of 60 LGBTQI+ organisations in the region celebrated the decision as the most important in the history of LGBTQI+ rights to date.

    At that time great discussion was elicited around whether the opinion of the Inter-American Court was binding for Costa Rica. The Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court of Justice of Costa Rica settled this debate in August 2018, when it argued that the sections of the Family Code that limited civil marriage to heterosexual couples were unconstitutional. The ruling gave the Legislative Assembly 18 months to amend legislation; otherwise, all restrictions would be lifted automatically, and as of 26 May 2020, any couple could marry with no obstacles in Costa Rica. And so it happened, since there was no legislative consensus to create new legislation.

    On the path to the entry into force of the Court's ruling, important civil society campaigns were developed to increase social acceptance to accompany legal change.

    Did you face backlash from anti-rights groups?

    Conservative reaction has been brutal. It is important to understand that the LGBTQI+ community has framed its struggles around the demand for recognition of their human dignity and their equal value as human beings and that religious groups have mobilised as identity groups – groups whose identity is defined in a narrow, not universalistic way, in opposition to an enemy. These groups channelled resentments brought about by legal changes that advanced equality and gave hope to those who had felt displaced by them, leading to the rise of religious political parties.

    In such context, the 2018 presidential elections became some sort of referendum on the rights of LGBTQI+ people, and specifically on equal marriage. An evangelical pastor, Fabricio Alvarado, then the lone congressman from an evangelical party, ran for the presidency, exploiting conservative people’s feelings of outrage and fear at the Supreme Court ruling. The candidate was noted for his incendiary statements; he declared, for example, that homosexuality was “caused by the devil.” This is how he climbed to the top of pre-electoral polls: in just one month, he went from three per cent to 17 per cent of voting preferences, and came first in the first round of the presidential elections, winning 14 of the 54 legislative seats as well. This represented a 1,300 per cent increase in the legislative presence of his political party.

    The runoff presidential election revolved around the rights of the LGBTQI+ population. The runner-up, Carlos Alvarado, was the candidate of the incumbent party and was favourable to LGBTQI+ rights. His position eventually prevailed, but the elections forced us to confront the enormous power achieved by evangelical churches. Carlos Alvarado’s victory can be explained by several factors, one of which was the formidable mobilisation of civil society. Among the civil society campaigns that had an impact was that of the Coalition for Costa Rica, which sought to generate an informed and inclusive debate, disseminating the candidates’ proposals so that citizens could deliberate before voting, and ‘For all families’, a campaign that Igualitxs launched a week before the elections to spread an inclusive message and demand equal treatment for the LGBTQI+ population.

    The deep division created around the elections has had consequences. Politicians who use religion to polarise society continue to abound. They protest because they think that the government is biased towards addressing the problems of the LGBTQI+ population. This tension has increased with the entry into force of equal marriage and the proposal of bills to censor hatred and discriminatory speech.

    Do you think that the legal change has been accompanied by a change in attitudes? What is civil society doing to promote acceptance of LGBTQI+ people?

    Legal change is one thing and cultural change is another. Legal change has offered human rights progress and has been a way to achieve the universal application of the law. It has been the result of a decades-long struggle by the LGBTQI+ community. But there is still homophobia, discrimination and violence against LGBTQI+ people. Once legal change has been achieved, public policy should continue to focus on structural exclusion. Because legal change by itself does not necessarily improve the feeling of belonging to a community. As the political theorist Bikku Parekh explains, while citizenship is a matter of status and rights, membership is achieved when one is accepted and feels welcome. And there is still much to do for this to happen. People’s attitudes do not change automatically just because a law is implemented. The law sets an objective parameter of what is allowed, but much more work needs to be done to modify the parameters of what is considered normal or morally acceptable.

    Therefore, to prepare the ground for legal change, in the 18 months between the publication of the Supreme Court ruling and the entry into force of the decision, more than 35 local CSOs developed the ‘Yes, I accept’ campaign, calling for recognition of the equal dignity of all human beings. This campaign was accompanied by the media, by companies that are part of the advertising union, unions such as the Business Development Association, the United Nations and embassies such as those of Canada and the Netherlands.

    The campaign featured testimonies from LGBTQI+ individuals, couples and families, as well as their relatives, neighbours and friends, with the aim of promoting acceptance and changing perceptions of what it means to be an LBGTQI+ person in Costa Rican society. It was activated nationwide, with videos that were broadcast for months not only on social media but also on national television. It is the best campaign that has ever been developed on the subject, and we owe it to Mrs Nisa Sanz, president of the CSO Familias Homoparentales, and Gia Miranda, the campaign’s official spokesperson.

    The videos appeal to emotion and generate empathy. They led thousands of people who were not politically involved to give up their sacred right to privacy and stand up to exist as a reality rather than an abstraction. It put a human face on the abstract idea of ‘gays’, as presented by newspapers. By telling people that they would not be rejected, it created the conditions for them to lose their fear, since most LGBTQI+ people suffer some type of rejection in their daily lives, regardless of their social status. As a result, an active citizenry took part in the campaign, making it known that with or without a pandemic it would not take a step back from ground that had been won. This was decisive in making legislators who were trying to sabotage equal civil marriage understand that it would not be possible for them to stop it.

    This was one of the most important civil rights campaigns in history, and will remain in memory as a light that shone amid the darkness of the pandemic. Just one day before access to civil marriage took effect for all adults in Costa Rica, the Catholic Bishop of Alajuela delivered a message that said: “We are glad that there are different types of human relationships, different ways of being a family, and I think that where there is a demonstration of affection and family love, in a way God manifests himself, and we have to favour this.” Although not necessarily reflecting the position of the entire institution, the words of this religious representative were the result of the excellent work done by activists to achieve the cultural change that was necessary to gain acceptance of LGBTQI+ people.

    It is remarkable how Costa Rica went from criminalising homosexuality in the 1970s and closing gay bars deemed to be ‘perverse’ and persecuting gays with raids under the pretence of public health in the 1980s, to requesting an advisory opinion from the Inter-American Court in 2016 and, after a presidential election focused on the issue, appointing a presidential commissioner for LGBTQI+ affairs in 2018 and recognising equal marriage two years later.

    We have just left behind another unjust law. And many people have understood that the fact that the union and life plans of two same-sex adults receive legal protection does not affect them in any way – if anything, it validates the institution of marriage in which they are also part – and that there is nothing wrong with being gay, and in any case no one ‘becomes gay’ as a result of this normalisation.

     

    What is the regional significance of the progress achieved in Costa Rica?

    Central America is one of the most hostile regions in Latin America for LGBTQI+ people. Murders of homosexual and trans people are frequent in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. Costa Rica, as the first Central American country to approve equal marriage, should be a model for the entire region. The advisory opinion of the Inter-American Court is valid for the 20 countries of the Americas that recognise its jurisdiction. Panama could soon follow the path of Costa Rica: an unconstitutionality demand based on the ruling of the Inter-American Court has been filed, and the Iguales Panamá Foundation is coordinating the participation of international and domestic civil society in the process that is taking in Panama’s Supreme Court.

    The Igualitxs Foundation has also long been working along the same lines in El Salvador, my country of origin. Salvadoran civil society has made immense progress. Based on the regressive leanings of the Legislative Assembly regarding equal civil marriage, for a decade and a half our efforts have focused on filing demands for the restrictive articles of the Family Code to be declared unconstitutional. I filed one of those lawsuits, titled Equality Lawsuit, on 11 November 2016. Shortly afterwards, several CSOs, such as Asociación Entre Amigos, Comcavis and Hombres Trans El Salvador, as well as numerous independent activists, filed a similar lawsuit.

    As in Costa Rica, conservative sectors reacted strongly. In the Legislative Assembly they rushed to start the ratification process of an exclusionary constitutional reform that had been stagnant for years, and that would give constitutional status to the restrictive definition of marriage that we were questioning in the Family Code, which would effectively ban same-sex marriage. In the face of this, we requested a precautionary measure against the constitutional reform process and got the Supreme Court to stop it. It was as a result of this demand that the Igualitos movement was created, which would later become the Igualitxs Foundation.

    The two unconstitutionality demands filed in 2016 were eventually admitted in August 2019, and in January 2020 a justice of the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court announced that the court would shortly rule on this issue, and admitted that this is one of the court’s major outstanding overdue decisions. So we may be close to achieving our goal.

    What support does civil society advocating for LGBTQI+ rights need from international civil society?

    In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, the situation is becoming increasingly difficult. States have their resources committed to fighting the pandemic, CSOs face budgetary constraints and the crisis is affecting everyone. In addition, many people are turning to faith to cope with the crisis and some religious groups are taking advantage and launching campaigns against LGBTQI+ people. However, it is still possible to take substantial measures and actions such as, in El Salvador, the approval of a bill that dozens of organisations are pushing for that would provide recognition to human rights defenders.

    With regard specifically to our organisation, which has no funding and is entirely based on volunteering, we are taking it one day at a time, to regain the control that we have lost due to the pandemic. I think it is time to ask ourselves not only what we want and can get from life, but also what we can give back. This way we enter a zone of power, in which we retain agency despite limitations. Thus we leave our comfort zone to enter a growth zone. Starting from the acceptance of our reality, we need to do deep introspection to reinvent ourselves. This is the time to go back to believing that all of us have the potential to do great things and leave a mark if we act not to obtain flattery and gain popularity, but out of the satisfaction that comes from doing what is right and just, achieving positive impact in the world.

    Civic space in Costa Rica is rated as ‘open’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.
    Let in touch with Fundación Igualitxs through itswebsite andFacebook page.

     

     

  • Council must heed warning signs and address rights violations in Russia, India and elsewhere

    Statement at the 49th Session of the UN Human Rights Council

    Item 4 General Debate

    Delivered byLisa Majumdar

     

  • Country recommendations on civic space for the UN´s Universal Periodic Review

    CIVICUS and its partners have submitted joint and stand-alone UN Universal Periodic Review (UPR) submissions on 9 countries in advance of the 30th UPR session (May 2018). The submissions examine the state of civil society in each country, including the promotion and protection of the rights to freedom of association, assembly and expression and the environment for human rights defenders. We further provide an assessment of the States’ domestic implementation of civic space recommendations received during the 2nd UPR cycle over 4 years ago and provide a number of targeted follow-up recommendations. Countries examined include: Bangladesh, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Colombia, Cuba, Djibouti, Russia, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan:

    Bangladesh (Individual/Joint): In this UPR, CIVICUS draws attention to a range of legislative restrictions which have been strengthened and imposed to curtail the operation of independent civic groups in Bangladesh. Of particular concern, are new restrictions on groups seeking funds from abroad, as well the repeated use of the penal code to arrest HRDs and place blanket bans on meetings and assemblies. We further examine the spate of extrajudicial killings against secular bloggers and LGBTI activists which is illustrative of Bangladesh’s downward spiral with respect to civic freedoms and systemic failure to protect civil society.

    Burkina Faso (EN/FR): CIVICUS, the Burkinabé Coalition of Human Rights Defenders and the West African Human Right Defenders Network examine unwarranted limitations on freedom of expression and assembly. Despite several positive developments since the popular uprising of 2014, such as the decriminalisation of defamation and the adoption of a law on the protection of human right defenders, restrictions on the freedom of expression including suspensions of media outlets by the national media regulator and attacks and threats against journalists continue.

    Cameroon: CIVICUS, Réseau des Défenseurs Droits Humains en Afrique Centrale (REDHAC) and the Centre for Human Rights and Democracy in Africa (CHRDA) highlight Cameroon’s fulfilment of the right to association, assembly and expression and unwarranted persecution of human rights defenders since its previous UPR examination.  We assess the ongoing judicial persecution and detention of human rights defenders on trumped up charges, the use of anti-terrorism legislation to target journalists and excessive use of force against peaceful protesters.  

    Colombia(EN/SP): CIVICUS highlights the hostile environment for human rights defenders, social leaders and unions workers who are routinely subject to physical attacks, targeted assassinations, harassment and intimidation by state and non-state actors. CIVICUS examines the increased number of attacks against journalists as well as the government’s lack of effective implementation of protection mechanisms to safeguard the work of journalists and human rights defenders.

    Cuba (EN/SP): CIVICUS and the Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN) highlight the constitutional, legal and de facto obstacles to the exercise of the basic freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression. The submission discusses the situation of CSOs, HRDs, journalists and bloggers, who face harassment, criminalisation, arbitrary arrests, searches of their homes and offices and reprisals for interacting with UN and OAS human rights institutions. The submission further examines the multiple ways in which dissent is stifled both in the streets and in the media, offline and online. 

    Djibouti (EN/FR): CIVICUS, Defend Defenders and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) submission describes how the government of Djibouti has patently ignored the 14 recommendations made during the second UPR cycle related to the protection of the rights to freedom of association, peaceful assembly and expression. Instead, in the intervening period, authorities in Djibouti have continued their campaign against dissent, regularly detaining human rights defenders, journalists and trade union activists because of their criticism of the government or human rights activists.  

    Russia: CIVICUS and Citizens’ Watch address concerns regarding the adoption and application of several draconian laws that have resulted in the expulsion and closure of numerous CSOs and restrictions on the activities of countless others. The submission also lays out the increasing criminalisation and persecution of dissenting views by means of growing restrictions, in both law and practice, on the exercise of the fundamental freedoms of expression and peaceful assembly. 

    Turkmenistan: CIVICUS highlights restrictions to freedom of association in Turkmenistan including recent amendments to the 2014 Law on Public Associations which further limit CSOs’ ability to register, operate independently and receive funding from international sources. Additionally, we assess the use of the arbitrary detention, torture and ill-treatment of human rights defenders as well as unwarranted limitations to online and offline freedom of expression.

    Uzbekistan: CIVICUS, The Association for Human Rights in Central Asia and the International Partnership for Human Rights assess the conditions of freedom of association, assembly and expression in Uzbekistan. We highlight the lack of progress made in implementing recommendations received during the 2nd UPR cycle. It particular, we note that although there have been some notable improvements to the environment for civic space, the situation for human rights activists and journalists remains deeply constrained.

     

  • COVID-19: ‘Refugees paid a heavier price during a crisis that many believed impacted on us all equally’

    CIVICUS speaks about the situation of climate refugees and increasing challenges under the COVID-19 pandemic with Amali Tower, founder and executive director of Climate Refugees. Founded in 2015, Climate Refugees defends the rights of people displaced and forced to migrate, including across borders, as a result of climate change. It documents their cases to shed light on protection gaps and legal voids and advocates for human rights-based solutions and the creation of legal norms and policies that protect people affected by climate-driven migration and displacement.

    Amali Tower

    Your organisation is called ‘Climate Refugees’, although the term is currently not supported by international law. Why is that? Do you think this is something that should be officially recognised?

    You’re right, the concept does not exist in international law, but drivers of migration are increasingly intertwined, as has been the case in the context of refugee flows and internal displacement resulting from conflict and persecution. It’s no different in the context of climate migration, except that for so many millions, this isn’t purely an environmental issue – it’s a justice issue. For many populations dependent on the land, climate changes have impacts on survival and livelihood, with impacts beyond the individual, to the family, community, local livelihoods, business and so on. If climate is a factor that contributes to migration, it is likely after years of causing deep losses and suffering, intertwined with economic losses and impacts as well as political ramifications. For instance, we can see this playing out among subsistence farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa, Central America and many other regions. In this context, someone displaced by the impacts of climate change is also displaced by economic and political factors because the political situation and economic systems in many of these countries are deeply embedded in the environment.

    Further, it’s important to remember that climate change impacts and climate migration and displacement aren’t future risks. They are a reality for many right now, and that reality is playing out in some of the most fragile places in the world for the most impoverished and vulnerable populations who had very little to role in contributing to climate change in the first place.

    This is why we approach this as an issue of equality and justice. Coming from a refugee protection background where I interviewed and provided services to countless refugees fleeing conflict and persecution, based on the legal definition, I’m wholly aware of the controversy and backlash this may cause. I agonised about this decision, but ultimately, I couldn’t reconcile the definition with years of testimonies from people fleeing multiple drivers, who referred to years of environmental devastation at home more than to the war we all knew was ongoing.

    So ultimately, I settled on the term ‘climate refugees’ to provoke conversation. To emphasise the political responsibility of climate change. To raise awareness of its ability to impact on, one might even say persecute, some people more than others. To contribute, provoke and challenge policy. To highlight the needs by giving voice to those affected and to help seek their legal protection. Ultimately, to present this as an issue of equality.

    There’s a lot of discussion, and some might even say confusion, in the migration field about terminology. There is no consensus on appropriate terms so there are many terms being used, like climate-induced migration, environmental migrants and others.

    I think we have to be cautious to not simplify the message. Nor be too clinical in our terminology about the underlying issues and very real suffering millions are bearing. We need to help policy-makers and the public understand there are mixed drivers in complex situations. Refugees have often moved as a result of conflict and drought – just look at Somalia. Others may move to seek safety and better livelihood opportunities, as we are seeing in Central America.

    We need to make clear that the line between ‘forced’ and ‘voluntary’ migration is often misunderstood, if not false.

    In sum, we use the term ‘climate refugees’ to draw attention to the political responsibility of rich countries, certain industries and others to ensure fairness, compensation, protection and equality on many levels, because the solutions must also be multi-faceted.

    What kind of work does Climate Refugees do? 

    Climate Refugees is a research and advocacy organisation that generates field reports and engages in policy-making to view climate change through a human lens and help include and amplify the voices of communities whose livelihoods and security have been impacted on and who have been displaced or forced to migrate. The climate change conversation can otherwise remain largely abstract and clinical, rather than focused on its impacts on real human beings and entire communities.

    Alongside producing field reports from climate displacement hotspots, we provide education and raise awareness of the impacts of climate change on human mobility right now and in ways not necessarily always explored, through two publications: SPOTLIGHT: Climate Displacement in the News, which, as the name implies, is a roundup of global news and expert analysis of climate change impacts on migration, human rights, law and policy, conflict, security and so on, and PERSPECTIVES: Climate Displacement in the Field, which includes features on a variety of topics related to climate-induced migration and displacement, featuring expert commentary and stories from people on the move.

    Our aim with these publications is to be informative and provide stories from people on the move and expert analysis through a climate justice lens that highlights the disproportionate impacts of climate change on marginalised and disenfranchised populations who are the least responsible for climate change. I think a large part of why I formed this organisation is to have the conversation I think many of us want to have – that this is primarily an issue of justice and equality and our solutions need to keep that focus front and centre.

    Have climate refugees been hit particularly hard by the COVID-19 pandemic and associated restrictions? What is being done about it? 

    The COVID-19 pandemic provides a good example of rights violations increasing during a crisis – and an emphatic disproof of the assertion that ‘we are all in this together’. Refugees and migrants certainly paid a heavier price during a global pandemic that many believed impacted on all human beings equally. Social distancing is hard to achieve for displaced persons who live in crowded settlements, whether formal or informal, urban or rural, refugee camps or crowded migrant housing. Refugees and migrants were denied the freedom of movement, the right to health and the right to information to a higher degree than other populations and experienced more impediments to access their rights.

    It’s not about pointing out any one country, because the point is that vulnerable populations that we should have been further protecting in a pandemic actually became more vulnerable just about everywhere. In Lebanon, refugees were held to tighter curfew restrictions that even impeded access to health treatment. Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar refugee settlement in Bangladesh were forced into an encampment and denied their rights to communication and right to health. Many countries where migrants are grouped in crowded housing, like Malaysia, detained migrants. The USA denied asylum-seekers the right to seek asylum and violated the principle of non-refoulement, returning them at the border with no hearings, deported COVID-positive asylum-seekers, and in the process, also exported the virus to Haiti and Central American countries. The USA also continues to detain thousands more people, mostly from Central America, who are fleeing climate change impacts in addition to violence and persecution, denying their freedom of movement, and arguably in some cases, denying rights to seek asylum, due process and the right to health.

    As cyclone Amphan was about to hit the Bay of Bengal in May 2020, at the height of the pandemic, we saw populations in affected areas being relocated ahead of the disaster, which saved lives, but also meant that social distancing could not be enforced during displacement, and vulnerability to the virus became a major concern.

    I am afraid the situation will be no different as the climate crisis worsens. It will disproportionately affect the most vulnerable populations in the world, and once again, a situation where it should be pertinent to think that ‘we are all in this together’ will make us realise that some of us l have the means to escape the worst of the impacts of climate change while some will limited social protections and many others, already in extreme poverty and on the margins of society, will fall in deeper and will have no escape from multiple levels of impacts.

    Is the issue of climate displacement receiving enough attention? Has any progress been made in shaping an international legal framework to protect people who are displaced by climate change?

    We’re certainly seeing more media attention paid to climate change impacts, including migration. But as the issue becomes part of everyday conversation, there’s also a chance that important nuances are lost. I would say some advances have been made in the area of climate displacement – that is, displacements as a result of disasters like floods and storms. We have data that tells us how many people are displaced each year by disasters – an average of around 25 million – and the nature and type of these displacements are less murky in terms of causal factors.

    But climate migration is far trickier, since drivers of migration, whether internal or across borders, are increasingly intertwined. And when there are multiple drivers it’s hard to disentangle what role a single driver plays, or how much of the resulting phenomenon – in this case migration – can be attributed to one cause, namely climate change. Science and technology in the area of climate attribution are improving, increasingly enabling experts to determine just how much climate change is a factor in every situation. But generally speaking, in many parts of the world the environment is also an economic and political issue, so at this point it’s fair to say that climate change is certainly contributing to migration.

    That said, much of the discussion of a legal framework is stalled in conversations that revolve around migration being largely internal, as well as doomsday displacement projections. The international system is hesitant to push conversations that will securitise migration even further and states are reticent to take on commitments that increase migrant or refugee protections even further.

    So for now, advancements are limited to non-binding commitments by states in the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, which includes some measures dealing with environmental migration across borders. The Platform on Disaster Displacement is a state-led initiative doing good work on the protection of people displaced across borders by disasters and climate change.

    Earlier this year, the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Committee also looked at the case of an individual from Kiribati who claimed to be a ‘climate refugee’. He took his case to the human rights body on the basis that the denial of his asylum claim by the government of New Zealand violated his right to life under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The UN found that countries may not deport individuals who face climate change-induced conditions that violate the right to life.

    What else should be done so that the problem is not only recognised but also mitigated? 

    Some fear that talking about a looming migration crisis due to climate change runs the risk of fuelling current hostility and xenophobia towards migrants and refugees. I definitely see the point and acknowledge that risk, but I also think it’s equally true that to those who are xenophobic towards migrants and refugees, what drives their migration is not the issue. So we have to be careful to find that delicate balance when we talk about these things, because we truly don’t know how it will play out, but what we do know is that the trajectories and outlooks are generally not so great, there’s a lack of political will, and the conversation isn’t too focused on a human rights framework that protects affected communities, including migrants. So on this latter point, it’s not about being an alarmist about the numbers – it’s about sounding the alarm about our need to do better to fill some vital gaps in rights and protections.

    There’s a lot of focus on what we shouldn’t call people, how we shouldn’t frame the issue, but not enough focus on how we should protect vulnerable populations.

    Countries that are already struggling with extreme poverty are now struggling with extreme weather, and there is an inherent unfairness at play here in not recognising that climate change was not created by all equally, and nor will the impacts of it be felt by all equally.

    A lot more could be done in the way of adaptation. Adaptation is very costly, and the countries bearing the burden of climate change impacts now don’t have the capacity to also bear those financial costs. Many regional experts tell us that much of the international finance and response directed at them is focused on climate mitigation, rather than climate adaptation.

    We need to build community resilience to withstand the effects of climate change, and in some contexts, this might also mean building up stronger public and governance institutions and strengthening capacities to withstand the complex stresses that climate change impacts are placing on societies.

    Adaptation can entail innovation, infrastructural development and social changes, all of which can be very costly, and adaptation planning needs to respect human rights and enable choices, including the choice to migrate, which may not necessarily present as a totally voluntary choice. The point is that safe pathways for migration, when conditions don’t allow people to stay, are part of how we safeguard the human rights of climate change-impacted populations.

    Are there enough connections being made between advocacy efforts on behalf of migrants and refugees and climate activism?

    From my vantage point, it feels like there are few connections between these two movements and I feel like there is great potential for stronger advocacy together. For example, just broadening the climate migration conversation to discussions of a movement, rather than being largely a research and policy conversation, would be a welcome step to engage the public in something that I fear many feel is too large to understand, let alone address. 

    At the same time, there are many who are concerned and interested and desire to be a part of the solution. So we keep in mind that, yes, we are trying to inform policy, but we also want to make information more easily accessible to engage and bridge that movement with the public to approach this as an issue of climate justice because that’s how we see it.

    Get in touch with Climate Refugees through theirwebsite, Instagram andFacebook page, and follow@Climate_Refugee and@TowerAmali on Twitter.

     

  • Critical need to support right to protest, says new report

    Protest movements around the world are finding themselves on the frontlines of a global attack on democracy and human rights, according to a new report by CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance. In the face of acute restrictions on democratic dissent at the national level, there is worryingly little support for protest movements from international stakeholders, including other protest movements, foreign states, UN  bodies and international civil society organisations.   This study concludes that such support is important to uphold the international human rights framework, of which the right to peacefully express democratic dissent is a key component. 

    The report, Keeping up the Pressure: Enhancing the Sustainability of Protest Movements, explores factors that contribute to or undermine the sustainability of contemporary protest movements. The research examines these issues in three countries, Bahrain, Chile and Uganda, drawing from a series of surveys of and interviews with leaders of contemporary protest movements.

    “With formal spaces for participation closing across the globe, citizens are more likely to take to the streets to have their voices heard and press for change,” said Tor Hodenfield, Policy and Research Analyst at CIVICUS, and author of the report. “This study shows that the international community and national stakeholders must foster a safer and more enabling environment for people to engage in public protests.”

    Recent years have seen the world swept by new waves of citizen protest. In countries around the world, large numbers of people have marched, demonstrated, occupied and blockaded to call attention to governance failures, demand democracy, stand against autocracy, claim human rights and urge that their fundamental needs are met. While the triggers of protests vary, the new protest movements that have sprung to life in many parts of the globe in have much in common, including the imaginative and creative tactics they employ, their ability to connect local and immediate issues to larger and longer-term concerns, and their determination to sustain action over time.

    “Governments must recognise that protest movements play an essential role in shaping democratic life and addressing public concerns,” said Sebastián Vielmas, Chilean right to education activist, “We must forge broad alliances at home and abroad with international civil society and human rights bodies to ensure the sustainability of protest movements and enable the fundamental right to peaceful assembly.”

    This study concludes that such support is essential for enhancing the sustainability of national protest movements, across all three contexts. 

    Additional key findings include:

    •     The states covered by the research are failing to facilitate the right to peaceful assembly.
    •    The major ways in which states undermine the sustainability of protest movements are excessive use of force, arbitrary arrest of protesters and imposition of legal restrictions on the freedom of peaceful assembly.
    •    Civil society organisations at the national level need to play a larger role in mobilising support for protest movements through networking.
    •    The sustainability of protest movements would be enhanced if legal and extra-legal restrictions on the right to the freedom of assembly are removed or eased. 
    •    Protest movement leaders believe that they and their movements have capacity enhancement needs that are currently not being met.

    For more information, contact:

    CIVICUS Media 
     

    Tor Hodenfield 
    Policy & Advocacy Officer 

    Deborah Walter
    Communication Manager

    Editor’s Notes

    CIVICUS can organise interviews with research partners in Bahrain, Chile, and Uganda. 

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  • CSOs and Social Movements from the South unite to form Campaign for Peoples Goals for Sustainable Development

    Civil Society Organizations and social movements from the Global South have banded together and pledged to Campaign for Peoples Goals for Sustainable Development (CPGSD). According to the common statement released by the campaign initiators, governments must abandon the current dominant development model that grants rights and liberties to capital over the rights and freedoms of people and the protection of the environment. They vow to fight for a new development framework that is founded on the principles of human rights, equality, self-determination, and social, gender and ecological justice.

    To join the campaign email pquintos[at]iboninternational.org on or before 8 Nov 2012.

     

  • CSW66: ‘Advocacy for policy change takes time and a long-term commitment’

    Helen McEachernCIVICUS speaks about women’s rights and the United Nations (UN) Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) with Helen McEachern, CEO of the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women.

    Established in 2008, the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women works with women entrepreneurs in low- and middle-income countries. It has already supported more than 200,000 women to start, grow and sustain successful micro, small and medium-sized businesses in over 100 countries.

    What does the Cherie Blair Foundation do, and what challenges have you faced?

    The Cherie Blair Foundation for Women works with women entrepreneurs in low and middle-income countries. We are committed to eliminating the global gender gap in entrepreneurship and creating a future where women entrepreneurs thrive.

    As a UK-based charity working in international development and women’s economic empowerment, we are very concerned about the decision the UK government made in November 2020 to cut the UK overseas aid budget from 0.7 to 0.5 per cent of GDP. The impact of this decision on women and girls has been devastating. We welcome the commitment late last year to restore the women and girls’ development budget to what it was before the aid cut. The government should swiftly act on this commitment and restore the overseas aid budget, which will save lives and protect the rights of women and girls. We are also very much looking forward to the new gender development strategy due out from the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office later in 2022.

    What issues did you try to bring into the CSW agenda?

    It is estimated that it will take 268 years until women have equality in economic participation and much remains to be done to address economic gender injustices in women’s entrepreneurship, and more holistically when it comes to women’s economic empowerment. In real terms, this statistic means millions of women and girls are exposed to exploitation and are not able to increase the education and health outcomes of their children or enjoy their rights and the choices that come with financial independence.

    The review theme of this year’s CSW was ‘Women’s Economic Empowerment in the Changing World of Work’. Our current advocacy efforts are focused on tackling gender stereotypes that affect women’s entrepreneurship. Gender stereotypes undermine women’s economic rights in multiple ways: they affect their aspirations, sources of support, opportunities, perceptions and access to resources such as finance and markets, and impact on the wider entrepreneurial ecosystem.

    We wanted to use the 66th session of the CSW to recognise how gender stereotypes undermine women’s rights and embed strong calls for action in the session’s Agreed Conclusions.

    Based on detailed survey responses from 221 women entrepreneurs across 42 low and middle-income countries, our recent report, ‘Gender Stereotypes and their Impact on Women Entrepreneurs’, reveals that gender stereotypes are part of the social background for women entrepreneurs, with 96 per cent of respondents saying they had directly experienced them. Overall, 70 per cent of respondents said that gender stereotypes have negatively affected their work as entrepreneurs. Nearly a quarter – 23 per cent – also experienced gender stereotypes or discriminatory remarks while trying to access finance for their business, and more than 60 per cent said they believe that gender stereotypes impact on their business growth and affect how seriously they are taken as business owners.

    We also raised concerns about the challenges women face around entrepreneurship in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. For women entrepreneurs, the pandemic has meant further reduced incomes, temporary and permanent business closures, dismissal of employees, missed business opportunities and reduced access to often already limited finance and capital. 

    Women-owned firms face additional barriers to accessing government support, and are more likely to close, with many citing difficulties with managing additional unpaid care work. Women-owned enterprises are overrepresented in sectors most vulnerable to the detrimental impacts of COVID-19 – such as retail, hospitality, tourism, services and the textile industry. That’s why we wanted to advocate to ensure that a strong focus on women’s economic empowerment and gender-transformational post-pandemic recovery was embedded in the CSW session’s final conclusions.

    We also highlighted the unpaid care work that disproportionately affects women. Before the pandemic, women already spent about three times as many hours on unpaid domestic work and care work as men. The pandemic has increased the unpaid workloads – both for women and men – but it is women who are still doing the lion’s share. This impacts on the everyday lives of women in multiple ways, including by undermining women’s economic rights and opportunities, for instance, to access and pursue education, formal employment, entrepreneurship and leadership positions.

    These themes are critical when we consider the enormous gender economic gap.

    To what degree were your expectations regarding CSW met?

    This was the first time the Foundation undertook advocacy at CSW, so it was definitely a learning experience for us – but a very positive one.

    Our objective was to ensure that women’s entrepreneurship and gender stereotypes that affect women’s entrepreneurship and economic participation were raised, and that in addition to addressing gender justice, CSW’s final elaborations included commitments on these issues.

    We decided to do this by organising a side event and by sharing our advocacy calls with permanent missions by email and through social media. I am very grateful for the collaboration and support from the excellent colleagues at the Permanent Mission of Rwanda to the UN, who hosted a side event with us. The side event was co-sponsored by the permanent missions of the Philippines and Sweden. We found many missions and colleagues receptive to this topic and willing to get involved.

    As our advocacy focused largely on tackling gender stereotypes as a critical barrier for women’s rights and economic empowerment, we were delighted to see multiple references to gender stereotypes in the final agreed conclusions of CSW’s 66th session. Also, it was great to see commitments to adopt measures to reduce, redistribute and value unpaid care work.

    Did you have the opportunity to participate fully, or did you experience any access issues?

    We did not travel to New York but decided to undertake advocacy virtually given the pandemic. I think that being present in New York would have enhanced our advocacy. Yet I know the virtual format has also enabled more people to join, as advocating in person in New York is beyond reach for most civil society organisations (CSOs).

    It is important to support partners from low and middle-income countries to attend and join these platforms – and provide sustained financial support to multi-year advocacy work in general. Changes in policies and practices rarely happen in a 12-month cycle or if you attend a global platform like CSW only once – advocacy takes time and a long-term commitment. It is only possible with funding to support a longer-term agenda.

    As participation was fully virtual this year, we lacked direct engagement with UN member states as well as opportunity to connect, share and network with advocacy targets and other CSOs. Time zones can pose a challenge too, but many side events provided an option to receive the recording afterwards, which was a really great way to learn about different key themes if people weren’t able to make an event.

    There is no way that online engagement can match in-person engagement, but if everyone is online then access is equal, and it does open more cost-effective avenues for many more grassroots organisations to join.

    Do you think that international bodies, and specifically the UN, adequately integrate women in their decision-making processes?

    I think the rhetoric of commitment to women’s political leadership and integrating women in decision making is there. Yet the right of women to participate politically and lead refers to participation in all levels and there are definitely gender gaps. I learnt at the CSW that only four women have been elected as president of the UN General Assembly in its 76-year history. Also, the UN has never had a woman Secretary-General. So there is more work to do to ensure women’s equal share and representation in decision-making processes at all levels. We also must make sure that the voice and agency of the most vulnerable women and girls is shaping the decisions of these international platforms. We have seen a rollback in advances in women’s rights in many areas, and thus feminist leadership and women’s political participation in UN processes are so critical. We know women’s political leadership can have an impact across many other areas where women lack opportunities and equal access.

    One way to do better is to tackle gender stereotypes more effectively as they undermine women’s rights, opportunities and confidence. It is important to increase the understanding of how gender stereotypes shape women’s lives, including their access to decision making and leadership, and take concrete measures to prevent and eliminate gender stereotypes and their negative impacts, both in private and public spheres. Further efforts are also needed to promote women’s leadership and agency to address the underrepresentation of women and girls in policy-making platforms and processes.

    Get in touch with the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women through itswebsite or itsFacebook andInstagram pages, and follow@HelenMcEachern and@CherieBlairFndn on Twitter.  

     

  • CSW66: ‘Global-level policy-making is disconnected from women’s realities’

    CIVICUS speaks about women’s human rights and the United Nations (UN) Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) with Wanun Permpibul of Climate Watch Thailand (CWT) and Misun Woo of the Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development (APWLD).

    APWLD is an independent civil society organisation (CSO) committed to building feminist movements to advance women’s human rights and development justice in Asia and the Pacific as well as globally. CWT, a member organisation of APWLD, is a CSO that works with local communities and women to call for urgent climate action and climate justice.

    Thailand CSW66 interview

    What do you see as the main women’s rights issues in Thailand and the Asia Pacific region, and how does APWLD work to address them?

    Women in Thailand still do not have access to political spaces. Women work on farms and take care of their families, but when policies are made regarding farm work and domestic work they are not engaged in policy discussions, either in the planning process or the implementation stages.

    We tend to look at the symptoms of issues, in this case of the violations of women’s human rights, but we need to look at both the structural causes and the consequence of these violations and injustices. The exclusion of women in policy formulation and decision-making processes perpetuates gender injustices and rights violations. We need to shift power relations so that every person can exercise their inherent power with dignity. Most women do not have the opportunity to exercise their democratic rights and access political leadership because they are systematically undermined.

    APWLD’s work consists of identifying the systems of oppression – patriarchy, fundamentalisms, militarism, colonialism and capitalism – and fighting to dismantle them while finding alternative solutions to advance women’s human rights and development justice. Through our work we have been able to build capacity and solidarity among feminist movements.

    We focus on several thematic areas, including climate justice. Part of our work is about identifying and promoting the adoption of mitigation and adaptation strategies to advance women’s human rights as well as address the loss and damage and historical responsibilities. We see women experience the impacts of climate change disproportionately and they must be a source of solutions to help deal with the climate crisis. However, the reality is that they are not sufficiently engaged and the policies implemented in most instances do not cater to their needs and concerns.

    What issues have you tried to bring into the CSW agenda this year?

    This year’s focus for CSW’s 66th session (CSW66) was on the impact of climate change, environmental degradation and disasters on women’s human rights. We have highlighted the ways women have been experiencing the impacts of climate change and the solutions they have devised. What we really wanted to see highlighted at CSW66 was the acknowledgment of the root causes and consequences of climate change on women and their effects leading to widening inequalities and increasing violations of women’s human rights.

    A very critical point we wanted to see addressed was loss and damage associated with impacts of climate change and delays in mitigation efforts. It would have been good if CSW66 had supported a financial mechanism to address loss and damage due to the climate crisis as well as an accountability mechanism to hold accountable those responsible for causing the climate crisis, particularly large fossil fuel industries. We need to address the root causes of climate change for our societies to achieve sustainability.

    Another issue we wanted to highlight at CSW66 was the ongoing attacks against women human rights and environmental defenders in Asia and the Pacific in the context of the climate crisis. They are at the frontline of climate crisis, working day in and day out to raise awareness about and resist the catastrophic impacts of extractive industries and fossil fuel burning, and they must be protected.

    What were your expectations, and to what degree were they met?

    We had high expectations, even though so many restrictions were imposed due to the pandemic. We viewed CSW as a space or momentum to elaborate on the causes and the consequences of climate change, environmental degradation and disasters on women’s human rights. We expected it to meet the dual missions of advancing global commitments to address climate change and advancing women’s human rights, gender equality and women’s empowerment.

    Unfortunately, CSW66 failed us on both counts. It did not look into the deeper causes of the climate crisis and the extent of its impacts on women’s human rights and gender equality. Mostly what it did was just add wording on climate change, environmental degradation and disasters at the end of the existing text of CSW66 conclusions. It failed to address the structural causes of the crisis, so the conclusions and recommendations are not designed to address and rectify those structural issues.

    We need to pay attention to, for instance, how CSW66 Agreed Conclusions effectively let governments off the hook from their human rights obligation to regulate the private sector. Instead, they seek to strengthen the roles and responsibilities of the private sector and just encourage them to conduct human rights and environmental due diligence, where appropriate.

    Another practical example is the net-zero goal included in the text. Most states are welcoming this goal that seeks to balance the amount of greenhouse gas produced and the amount removed from the atmosphere. In doing so, they are placing the responsibility of determining the future in the hands of those that are causing climate change.

    If CSW66 were serious about addressing climate impacts and really thought this is a climate emergency, it would not go for a net-zero goal, which is buying time for those exploiting fossil fuels and polluting the planet to continue their business as usual, and would instead focus on the just and equitable transition to decentralised and renewable energy systems.

    Did you have the opportunity to participate fully, or did you experience access issues?

    We made a political decision to attend CSW66 in person, even though we were concerned about COVID-19 restrictions and there were lots of uncertainties regarding CSO participation in CSW66. The decision came from the fact that we, women from the global south, have lost significant opportunities and access to influence multilateral processes during the COVID-19 crisis.

    Our experience is that CSW66 was not well organised, especially from the perspective of CSOs from the global south. It was all very uncertain and CSOs were not provided with enough information, while UN Women continuously advised us against traveling to New York. We were given access to the UN building only two or three days before CSW66 started. Only through an informal announcement we got to know that special event tickets would be distributed to two representatives per organisation with ECOSOC accreditation to access the conference room to observe. If the announcement had been made officially by the UN in time, it could have reached a larger audience of CSOs that had the right to be there.

    We were also disappointed to see that CSOs continued to be excluded from the negotiation room. Civil society in the global south faces many structural restrictions on participation, including time constraints and language barriers. We really wanted to see CSW66 facilitate women’s meaningful and democratic participation, particularly because this year saw the negotiation of a Methods of Work resolution. However, this was yet another failure. To us, it was a further indication of how disconnected from women’s realities global-level policy making is.

    If we compare CSW66 to other UN spaces, such as climate conferences, the lack of engagement between CSOs and national governments in CSW66 becomes readily apparent. It was challenging to have a dialogue with government representatives and negotiators because of the travel restrictions and the inability of some countries to participate in person.

    Do you think that international bodies, and specifically the UN, adequately integrate women in their decision-making processes?

    If we look at UN climate conferences, for instance, we will find that the proportion of women delegates is always low. Even though it has been increasing, it is still significantly small. We have seen attempts in successive climate conferences of the parties (COPs) to try and have a gender and climate focal point for every country, but the UN has not supported the initiative to introduce a protocol for national governments to implement it. The CSW66 Agreed Conclusions reiterate the need to have a gender and climate focal point in national governments. Thailand still does not have one.

    Arrangements may be better for women in the global north, but from our global south perspective they are pretty bad. The CSW66 Agreed Conclusions note the importance of women’s and girls’ meaningful participation in decision making. However, the reality of women’s participation at CSW is far from encouraging.

    It’s easier to say that UN Women or the CSW methods of work resolution encourage member states to include CSO representatives on their delegation. Many countries in Asia and the Pacific have seen a rise in autocratic and misogynistic leadership, and having CSO representatives on such government delegation is not something that will happen at all or in a meaningful way. It is not enough to hear the voices of women; women must be given actual power to make policy decisions grounded in women’s realities. This is the only way structural changes will happen.

    Civic space in Thailandis rated ‘repressed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor
    Get in touch with APWLD through itswebsite or itsFacebook andInstagram pages, and follow@apwld on Twitter. Get in touch with Climate Watch Thailand through itswebsite or itsFacebook page, and follow@ClimateWatchTH on Twitter. 

     

  • CSW66: ‘Grassroots environmental defenders are highly underrepresented in decision-making’

    interview MALAWI CSW66CIVICUS speaks about women’s rights and the United Nations (UN) Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) with Joy Hayley Munthali and Dorothy Kazombo Mwale of the Green Girls Platform.

    Founded in 2018, the Green Girl Platform is a female-led civil society organisation (CSO) that advocates for climate justice for women and girls in Malawi by building capacity, providing leadership skills and promoting sexual and reproductive health rights.

    What are the main women’s rights issues in Malawi, and how does Green Girl Platform work to address them?

    In Malawi, women and girls are highly affected by the effects of climate change and environmental degradation due to their role in society. Girls are expected to help fetch firewood and get clean water for their households. Due to the effects of climate change, including erratic rains and depletion of natural resources, women and girls often have to walk long distances to find clean water and firewood. Because of these challenges, most girls are forced into early marriages and some drop out of school.

    The vulnerability of women and girls to environmental degradation, as well as to sexual violence and exploitation and gender-related violence, is on the rise. This is happening due to a lack of understanding of the implications of climate change for their lives, lack of information, lack of leadership skills, low participation in governance structures, limited women-led climate-related platforms and a lack of understanding and application of their rights.

    Women and girls are left out of decision-making processes although they are the ones who are most affected. The Green Girls Platform was founded to address the violence against women and girls that emanates from climate change and increase the number of women and girls engaged with climate change issues.

    The Green Girls Platform is working to ensure that gender and women’s rights are placed on the local, national and global environmental and climate change agendas by advocating for gender-responsive governance and policies. We conduct capacity-building workshops and training on climate change to equip girls with skills and knowledge on climate justice and all it encompasses. Through our initiatives, we have been able to reach around 5,000 young women and girls in Malawi, increasing their active participation in addressing climate change.

    What issues did you try to bring into the CSW agenda this year?

    As an organisation we noticed that there is underrepresentation of young women and girls in decision-making processes. Their participation and active engagement in climate change governance structures is minimal. Structural changes are needed so that more women are included in decision-making bodies.

    Climate change is affecting young women’s access to education, and we need to come up with adaptation strategies that work for girls and young women in their specific contexts. Strategies have to be sustainable and demand-driven to build the adaptive capacity of women and girls and enhance their access to education.

    We are aware of the violence that girls and young women environmental defenders face either within their homes or in their communities. We would like to see the adoption of measures to protect the rights of adolescent girls and young women from climate-related violence. Civil society donors could help us navigate these challenges.

    What were your expectations, and to what degree were they met?

    Our expectations were that our concerns would be listened to and we would collectively come up with solutions to some of the overarching challenges. Although our needs were met to a good degree, we were not highly impressed by the output. But we are positive that things will improve.

    In terms of access, we faced some challenges. Only one of our staff was able to attend the CSW sessions in person, and she did so for only three days due to insufficient funding. We also attended some online events, mainly side events, but we had issues accessing main events due to time differences and late notices, and because some of them were not open to civil society.

    Do you think that international bodies, and specifically the UN, adequately integrate women in their decision-making processes?

    UN Women has taken steps in the right direction in terms of integrating women into decision-making spaces. However, we still have challenges getting all voices represented at the table. Women and girl environmental defenders working at the grassroots level are highly underrepresented in decision-making spaces, even though they are the ones working at the local level and facing the adverse impacts of climate change. Access to climate financing for girls and young women working on climate issues is still minimal and inaccessible, leading to more issues falling through the cracks and not reaching decision makers.

    Civic space in Malawi is rated ‘obstructed’ by the CIVICUS Monitor.
    Get in touch with the Green Girl Platform through itsFacebook page and follow@GirlsPlatform on Twitter.

     

  • CSW66: ‘Women need more access to real political decision-making power’

    CIVICUS speaks about women’s rights and the United Nations (UN) Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) with Terry Ince, founder, and convenor of the CEDAW Committee of Trinidad and Tobago (CCoTT), a civil society organisation (CSO) focused on advocacy, education, and public awareness on and for the Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).

    The CCoTT seeks to ensure the mandates of the CEDAW are upheld and the recommendations of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women are implemented. To do so, it partners with a wide range of stakeholders in the government, private sector, and civil society.

    Terry Ince

    What do you see as the main women’s rights issues in Trinidad and Tobago?

    On the surface, you see women in high-profile positions in every area of society in Trinidad and Tobago. However, when you scratch beneath the surface, you realise these women are not the real decision makers.

    In 2010 we elected our first woman prime minister. Women make up 38 per cent of the current cabinet. We currently have a woman president for the first time in the history of the country. There are women in the positions of speaker of the House, president of the Senate and Ombudsperson. There are women assisting the Superintendent of Commission of Police. Women lead ministries including trade and industry, planning and development, housing and urban development, public administration, education, gender and child affairs, social development and family services and sports and cultural affairs, and Legal Affairs in the Office of the Attorney General and Legal Affairs. And this is just in the public sector. In politics, you find women on the ballot; political parties actively recruit women to run for political office.

    However, women are still not getting enough support. They certainly do not get the required support to run for political office. They may be selected as candidates, but the road to success is often steep and filled with deterrents. Women candidates are often asked to run in districts their parties find particularly difficult to win, so they are almost guaranteed to lose. Women are running but not necessarily winning. To win, they would need financial and coordination support.

    On top of this, many of these women are often mothers, wives, care givers, so they have additional duties that nobody is helping them with either. They are playing all these roles simultaneously and expected to be successful at all of them. 

    Women need more access to political decision-making power. It is not just about being in the room, but at the table, contributing, being listened to, and having their ideas examined, pushed forward and implemented.

    It is not enough to have a woman on the ballot. It is also not enough to elect a woman without providing an enabling environment which values her unique perspective on issues. 

    There continue to be barriers, but I think women can leverage their positions to make headway. I also think that women can and should support other women more within their capacity.

    How does the CCoTT work to address these issues?

    The CEDAW Committee of Trinidad and Tobago advocates for sustained implementation of CEDAW, a convention that Trinidad and Tobago signed in 1985 and ratified in 1990. More generally, we advocate for women’s development and empowerment. CCoTT’s work is grounded in human rights and CEDAW. We focus on advocacy, public awareness, sensitisation, and education on the Convention, with the overarching mission of achieving the implementation of its mandates and all the recommendations made to the state by CEDAW’s monitoring body.

    CEDAW addresses all aspects of women and development, including political engagement, so we work on the understanding that our government’s obligation is to ensure that the appropriate policies and laws are in place for women to have an equal opportunity to access political office. Our citizens, and particularly women, need to know and understand this. And governments must honour its responsibility for having signed this Convention and held accountable. Achieving substantive equality is the goal and CCoTT collaborates with stakeholders to achieve that goal.

    So, among other things, we campaign to improve female participation and representation at all levels of governance. We focus on preparing women to claim those spaces and offer training for female candidates. We collaborate – locally, regionally, and globally – with other organisations to bring good global practices to women in Trinidad and Tobago. For example, we have collaborated with the Women’s Human Rights Institute to bring CEDAW training to Trinidad and Tobago.

    What issues did you try to bring into the CSW agenda this year? 

    Not only did we bring the issues I just mentioned, but also climate-related issues – the climate crisis, disasters, and risk mitigation. This was the first time that CSW focused on the nexus between women’s empowerment and climate change, climate justice and disaster management. As a Caribbean country, we are acutely aware of the impacts of climate change and disaster, as we have recently witnessed a volcanic eruption in St Vincent and the Grenadines and floods in Dominica and other countries, which wiped-out whole communities.

    In Trinidad and Tobago, we have seen unprecedented levels of flooding. How are women prepared for this? How are women empowered to navigate these kinds of crises when they occur? How are we ensuring that girls’ and women’s needs are addressed appropriately? For example, when disaster hits, how do you ensure their safety in shelters? Do your emergency kits include menstrual products? Who is thinking about these things? These are the kinds of questions we are bringing to the table. Therefore, it is so important that women have a voice when decisions around these issues are made.

    We also need to assess how emergencies are managed after the initial cause has been assessed – because the fact that a volcanic eruption has ended, for example, does not mean everything goes back to normal. What happened to the communities most impacted by the eruption? How are they coping? We must rethink the mechanisms we use to ensure people get back on their feet.

    What were your expectations, and to what degree were they met?

    Fortunately, we were able to have meaningful discussions of all these issues at this year’s CSW. CCoTT hosted a parallel event examining women’s empowerment in times of crises – climate crisis and Covid-19.

    Our expectations included gaining access to a wide variety of discussions, hosted by other Caribbean and Latin American countries as well as cross-sectional discussions with countries from other parts of the world – because climate change and climate justice impacts all of us, and we all need to understand this. If something is happening in Latvia, for example, it does not mean it may not happen in Trinidad. We can learn from how the issue is/was addressed in Latvia. Whatever the climate action is, we can use it as a mitigating factor to prevent or better manage adverse effects. 

    Were you able to participate fully, or did you experience any access issues?

    The virtual nature of this year’s CSW made it possible for more people and CSOs to attend. It was different from past editions because there were none of the usual barriers involved in getting visas, traveling to the USA, and gaining access to the UN’s headquarters – which you cannot do if you are not an organisation accredited to the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC).

    Those barriers were eliminated this year. From this perspective, virtuality made it much more accessible. CSW66 opened many doors and raised several questions that now must be answered. The UN should assess its own barriers to women’s access, such as the need to have ECOSOC accreditation to get inside UN headquarters during CSW.

    Because CSW66 was virtual, participants had the opportunity to hear about different solutions, network with global peers, learn from their stories and share globally what is occurring in Trinidad and Tobago and how we have successfully addressed issues at a local level. In this regard, CSW66 met my expectations.

    However, having access to high-level discussions was not easy. Even though they were virtual. Often this required registration which closed at certain number of attendees. Time zones were also a challenge. Events hosted by countries that are 12 hours ahead required some creativity. These were specific challenges of a virtual event, which would normally not be an issue during in-person gathering.

    Overall, it was remarkably successful. If it continues to be virtual, we will learn how to navigate the challenges based on this years’ experience.

    Do you think that international bodies, and specifically the UN, adequately integrate women into their decision-making processes?

    In 2020 the UN acknowledged it was behind in terms of women’s integration in leadership and aggressively implemented changes. However, in 2021, when it had the opportunity, a woman was not elected as its Secretary-General, despite qualified candidates. 

    With recognition comes responsibility. Global eyes are on the UN, so it needs to set an example throughout its bodies, divisions, and units. However, as I already said, just selecting women is not the answer. We also hear ‘get youth more involved,’ but young people should be prepared, mentored, encouraged, and supported. Similarly, we need to help women along the way and ensure that when they occupy a space where they can contribute, their contributions are valued. The gap is shrinking.

    This is a work in progress, and the UN is trying. One way to ensure this happens properly is to involve civil society more – and not just lawyers or PhD holders. Learning does not only occur in the classroom. Application takes place on the ground in communities often led by community organisers or members of organisations. We need the academics collaborating with the community and others to strengthen capacities. Making room for grassroots, women and youth led initiatives. In this regard, there is more work to be done.

    Civic space in Trinidad and Tobago is rated ‘narrowed’ by the CIVICUS Monitor. 
    Get in touch with the CEDAW Committee of Trinidad and Tobago through itswebsite or itsFacebook page, and follow@CCoT_T on Twitter. 

     

  • Cuba: Int’l action needed to hold Cuban government accountable for human rights violations

    The international community must demand accountability from the Cuban government for its actions and to immediately stop unlawful short-term arbitrary detentions, house arrests, forced exile, and smear campaigns against dissenting voices

    In response to the aggressive acts committed by police officers in recent weeks against Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) activists on hunger strike; the beatings and arrests of members of the San Isidro Movement; the forced exile imposed on Cuban citizens, making them stateless; permanent house arrests; and smear campaigns against journalists, artists, and dissidents, the undersigned 7 organizations issue the following statement:

     

  • Dear African Commission on Human Rights: Don’t provide cover for repressive Egyptian government

    Joint letter to Chair of the African Commission on Human and People's Rights: Don’t provide political cover for brutal repression of Egyptian government(below letter sent to Chair Soyota Maiga, while ACHPHR meets in Banjul, Gambia)

    Dear Chair Soyota Maiga,

    We are writing to urge you to reject the bid to hold the upcoming African Commission on Human Rights and People's Rights (ACPHR) 64th ordinary session in Egypt. This decision, if taken could tantamount to ignoring the current violations taking place in the country. Egypt, under the rule of President Sisi, is in the throes of the most widespread and brutal crackdown on human rights committed by any Egyptian government in its modern history. Reflecting this reality, the United Nations (UN) human rights system, including the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and Special Procedures, has become increasingly vocal and robust in its criticism of the human rights situation in the country. This includes  recent  statements that strongly denounce the recent issuance of mass death sentences for individuals who have participated in protests within the country –and a rare call by experts representing six thematic mandates of the UN Human Rights Council to “urgently respond” to the government’s “appalling” behaviour. The EU’s European External Action Service has made similar criticism.

    The Egyptian government’s continuous disregard to constitutional law and international human rights obligations lead to a series of appalling human rights violations (see annex attached to this letter). The judiciary has largely failed to hold to account those responsible for grave violations of international and national law and, in many cases, the courts have served as an instrument of repression for the authorities. Egyptian NGOs have documented 1,520 cases of enforced disappearance in Egypt between July 2013 and August 2018. More than 60,000 political prisoners are currently detained in Egypt, in dreadful conditions. The Egyptian NGO Committee for Justice documented at least 129 cases of death in custody in 2017 alone. Moreover, The UN Committee Against Torture’s 2017 annual report concluded “torture is a systematic practice in Egypt” fed by security forces’ impunity and high-level State acquiescence, and may amount to crimes against humanity.
     
    Amid a national milieu distinguished by endemic torture and enforced disappearance and impunity, Egypt is currently in the middle of the most sweeping and repressive crackdown on fundamental freedoms, including dissent and other political expression in its modern history. This systematic repression threatens to wipe out any form of independent journalism and civil society in the coming period and had sweeping effects on the enjoyment of all individuals to their right to freedoms of expression, association and reunion. Indeed, the Egyptian government’s rejection of fundamental democratic processes and human rights principles is represented by its recent presidential elections held in March this year, which were assessed by fourteen regional and international organizations as neither free nor fair. Leading Egyptian human rights organizations previously warned the elections had become a dangerous "charade” likely to “exacerbate violence, terrorism and instability" in the country. Now the authorities are widely expected to soon make concrete moves to amend Egypt’s Constitution to abolish presidential term limits and allow President Sisi to run for a third term in 2022.

    In face of this, a free and effective participation of Egyptian and non-Egyptian civil society organizations during the ACHPR sessions is also put into question. Our organizations have serious doubts all conditions would be met to allow NGOs to access the ACHPR, according to its mandate and practices. The security and safety of human rights defenders participating in this session may also not be guaranteed. The ACHPR has a key role to play and should reinforce its engagement with Egyptian national authorities, in order to contribute to upholding respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in the country.

    The ACPHR should not turn a blind eye to these atrocities. We fully support the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet’s recent denunciation of the injustice of the Egyptian court. We urge the ACHPR to follow the High Commissioner lead in denouncing these violations in Egypt instead of rewarding it with hosting the 64th ordinary session. The African Commission should not raise its flag over the gravestone of human rights in Egypt.

    Thank you for your consideration of our request.

    We remain at your service should you require further information.

    See Annex for more detailed information on the state of human rights and civic space in Egypt.

    With Assurances of our Highest Consideration:

    1    Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS);    
    2    Committee for Justice (CfJ)
    3    Action for Community Transformation (ACT-NOW)
    4    Adalah Center for Rights & Freedoms (ACRF)- Egypt
    5    African Centre for Democracy and Human Rights Studies (ACDHRS)
    6    Afrique arc-en-ciel
    7    Afrique Arc-en-Ciel Togo
    8    Algerian League for Human Rights (LADDH)
    9    Arab Foundation for Civil and Political Rights-Nedal- Egypt
    10    Associação Justiça, Paz e Democracia (AJPD) Angola
    11    Association for Human Rights in Ethiopia (AHRE)
    12    Associazione Ricreativa Culturale Italiana – (ARCI)
    13    Belady Island for Humanity
    14    Border center for support and consulting- Egypt
    15    Center for Civil Liberties-Ukraine
    16    CIVICUS
    17    CNCD-11.11.11
    18    Coalition of African Lesbians
    19    Independent Commission for Human Rights in Western Sahara
    20    Conectas Direitos Humanos
    21    Consortium for Refugees and Migrants in South Africa (CoRMSA)
    22    Defend Defenders (the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project)
    23    Dignity
    24    Egyptian Front for Human Rights
    25    EuroMed Rights
    26    Great Lakes Initiative for Human Rights and Development (GLIHD)
    27    Human Rights and Development in Africa (IHRDA)
    28    Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum- Uganda
    29    Human Rights Concern - Eritrea (HRCE)
    30    Human Rights Defenders Network- Sierra Leone
    31    HuMENA for Human Rights and Sustainable Development
    32    Initiative For Equal Right- Nigeria
    33    Initiative for Equality and Non- Discrimination- Kenya
    34    Initiative for Strategic Litigation in Africa (ISLA)
    35    International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute
    36    International Commission of Jurist (ICJ)
    37    International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
    38    International Institute for Child Protection
    39    International Lawyers (Geneva)
    40    International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)
    41    Iranti-South Africa
    42    Kenya Human Rights Commission 
    43    Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation
    44    Moroccan Association for Human Rights (AMDH)
    45    Moroccan Organization for Human Rights (OMDH)
    46    Nadeem Center- Egypt
    47    National Coalition for Human Rights Defenders-Uganda
    48    National Coalition of Human Rights Defenders - Kenya (NCHRD-K)
    49    National Human Rights Defenders Network Sierra Leone
    50    National Human Rights Defenders Somalia/ Somaliland
    51    Network for Solidarity, Empowerment and Transformation for All – NewSETA
    52    Odhikar-Bangladesh
    53    Organization for Women and Children (ORWOCH)
    54    Queer Youth Uganda
    55    Réseau des Défenseurs des Droits Humains en Afrique Centrale (REDHAC)
    56    Réseau Doustourna (Tunis)
    57    Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network
    58    Synergia Initiatives for Human Rights
    59    The Freedom Initiative
    60    The Regional Center for Rights And liberties
    61    Tunisian League for Human Rights (LTDH)
    62    Uganda National NGO Forum
    63    West African Human Rights Defenders ‘Network (ROADDH/WAHRDN)
    64    World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)
    65    Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights

     

  • Democratic Republic of Congo: stop the killing of protesters

    CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance and Nouvelle Société Civile Congolaise (NSCC), condemn the senseless killing of at least 34 protesters in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in recent days. The killings have come as citizens have called for President Joseph Kabila to step down, following the formal end of his mandate on 19 December.

     

  • Despite progress, freedom of expression still under threat on the African continent

    To commemorate International Human Rights Day, CIVICUS speaks to the Chair of the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights (ACHPR) - Advocate Faith Pansy Tlakula about the state of human rights in Africa. Advocate Tlakula is also the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa.

    1. What in your view is the current state of human rights in Africa as we celebrate Human Rights Day?
    The African continent has made progress in the promotion and protection of human rights. For example, many countries hold regular elections and cases of peaceful transfer of power from the incumbent to the newly elected leader after an election are increasing. The Gambia is the most recent example. Progress has also been made in areas such as the adoption of laws to criminalize torture, adoption of Access to Information laws, the abolition of the death penalty, with an increase in the number of countries observing a moratorium on the death penalty to give a few examples. Despite these positive developments, challenges remain. These include terrorism and violent extremism in a few countries, continued conflict and acts of armed groups in others which have had a detrimental effect on civilians. There are also cases of arbitrary arrests and detention of journalists, human rights defenders and members of the opposition, violent protests and the use of excessive force by law enforcement agencies during peaceful protests and violence and discrimination against persons on the basis of their real or imputed sexual orientation.

    2. Do women face the same human rights challenges as men and why?
    Yes they do due to the patriarchal nature and continuing gender stereotypes in African societies. Although a number of countries have adopted legislative and other measures to advance the rights of women, the effective implementation of these measures remains a challenge, particularly in areas such as the economic empowerment of women, access to land, female genital mutilation, to mention a few.

    3. What are some of the successes resulting from the ACHPR’s interventions in Africa?
    We have witnessed the adoption of laws to criminalize child marriage, the recognition of the rights of indigenous populations in Africa, observation of a moratorium on the death penalty and the commutation of the death sentence to life imprisonment in a number of countries. We have also experienced the opening of spaces for dialogue on sexual orientation, irrespective of the difficulty of the dialogue, the initiation, drafting and submission to the African Union for consideration of draft human rights instruments such as the draft Protocol on the Rights of Older Persons in Africa, the draft Protocol on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the draft Protocol on Specific Aspects of the Right to Nationality in Africa.

    4. What is the state of freedom of expression and access to information in Africa?
    Although the situation of freedom of expression and access to information in Africa is steadily improving in that there is an increase in the number of countries with Access to Information laws and a decrease in the number of murders of journalists, challenges remain. Very few countries have decriminalized laws that limit freedom of expression such as criminal defamation, insult laws, publication of false news and continue to use these laws to prosecute and harass journalists. The jamming of internet signals and the blocking of social media in the run up to and during elections and demonstrations in the name of protection of national security is a worrying and increasing trend on the continent.

    5. Do you think civil society has engaged the ACHPR and the Office of the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information adequately?
    I believe so. The ACHPR in general and the Office of the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa in particular would not have achieved what it has without the support of and engagement with civil society organizations. For example, CSO's have provided technical and other support to the Commission and its Special Mechanism in drafting standard setting documents such as the Model law on Access to Information in Africa, Principles and Guidelines on Human and Peoples Rights while Countering Terrorism in Africa, General Comment No. 2 on Article 14 .1 (a), (b) and (f) and Article 14.2 (a) i (c) of the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa to mention a few.

    6. What message to you have for Africans on this human rights day?
    One of the paragraphs in the Preamble of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights recognizes freedom, equality, justice and dignity as essential objectives for the achievement of the legitimate aspirations of the African peoples. We should always draw inspiration from these powerful words in our quest to improve the situation of human rights on our beloved continent.

     

  • Detention and disappearance of activists is widespread

    42nd Session of the UN Human Rights Council
    -Statement on report of Working Group on Arbitrary Detention

    CIVICUS thanks the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention for their report. We are concerned that it shows Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Qatar, Saudi Arabia - Human Rights Council member states from the Middle East – as well as Iraq, Iran, Kuwait, and the UAE, all using arbitrary detention and enforced disappearance to silence civil society and shut down dissent with impunity. 

    Bahrain arbitrarily detained Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja and Nabeel Rajab on 9 April 2011 and 13 June 2016 respectively. They are among dozens of human rights defenders whom the authorities have arbitrarily detained, including Dr Abduljalil Al-Singace and Naji Fateel, both subject to mistreatment by officials. The authorities denied them medical treatment and interfered with their family visits. We are particularly alarmed by the Working Group’s reports of reprisals against those who have been subject of an urgent appeal or opinion in Bahrain. This falls far short of the standards that every state, but particularly members of the Human Rights Council, should uphold.

    We condemn Egypt's arbitrary arrest of lawyer Ibrahim Metwally in 2017 en route to attend an HRC session, to present cases of enforced disappearance, and his ill-treatment. His and the cases of 12 others arbitrarily arrested in June 2019 reflect Egypt's closure of civic space.

    In Iraq, we condemn the detention of journalists, protesters and civil society activists. During protests in Basra, at least seven Iraqi journalists were assaulted or detained including Reuters photographer Essam al-Sudani.

    Saudi Arabia’s crackdown on women’s and other human rights defenders forms its systematic use of arbitrary detention in which thousands have been detained.

    Those detained in 2018 included Aziza al-Yousef; Loujain al-Hathloul, Eman al-Nafjan and other women’s rights advocates who also campaigned to end the driving ban, as well as writers, academics and family members of WHRDs. “Charges” were only brought against them in March 2019. They remain in prison, alongside members of the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association (ACPRA); Mohammed al-Qahtani, and Abdullah al-Hamid; blogger Raif Badawi and human rights lawyer Waleed Abu al-Khair.

    Iran systematically arbitrarily detains trade unionists, HRDs, minority rights activists and lawyers like Nasrin Sotoudeh and Narges Mohammadi.

    Kuwait’s arbitrary arrest in July, of stateless rights activists including Abdulhakim al-Fadhli exemplifies the intersectionality of rights and how guaranteeing civil space bolsters other rights. 

    The UAE’s March 2017 arbitrary arrest and enforced disappearance of HRD Ahmed Mansoor continues to tarnish the UAE, showing that its “year of tolerance” does not include human rights.

    Mr. President, the report of the Working Group shows that the use of arbitrary detention – often without charge, recourse to access independent legal representation, and in poor conditions of detention – remains an active method to quell dissent across the Middle East. 

    CIVICUS joins civil society in calling for full cooperation with the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, and we call on states who have instrumentalized arbitrary detention to immediately release those detained and provide justice and remedy to victims and their families. 

    We ask the Working Group: what more can be done to ensure implementation of its appeals and opinions in states where arbitrary detention remains so widespread?

     

  • DOMINICAN REPUBLIC: ‘We are part of a global anti-racist movement’

    CIVICUS speaks with Elena Lorac, coordinator of Reconoci.do, an independent and plural civic network made up mainly of young Dominicans of Haitian descent. Reconoci.do defends human rights and promotes the real, full and effective integration of Dominican people of Haitian descent into Dominican society. With a presence throughout the Dominican Republic, Reconoci.do upholds the vision of a multicultural country where diverse people coexist with dignity, without stigma or discrimination, and their fundamental rights are respected by society and protected by the state.

    Elena Lorac

    When and why was Reconoci.do founded, and what are the organisation's goals?

    Reconoci.do is a movement of Dominicans of Haitian descent, mostly young, fighting for our right to nationality and for access to all the rights that derive from this belonging: civil, political and social rights, and rights as basic as the right to work, to housing, to education and health, which are systematically denied to us.

    Our movement was formed in late November 2011, in reaction to a resolution by the Central Electoral Board that suspended “temporarily” the validity of our birth certificates and identity papers, that is, in a context in which, instead of seeing progress in the recognition of our rights, setbacks were taking place and historical exclusion was being institutionalised 

    Until 2010, the Constitution of the Dominican Republic recognised as nationals all persons born in the country’s territory, with the exception of diplomats and persons considered to be ‘in transit’, an expression that in principle referred only to those who had been in the country for a few days. For eight decades, under these definitions, the state provided a Dominican birth certificate, identity card and passport to the children of Haitians born in the country. However, in the 1990s nationalist groups began to promote a restrictive interpretation that was eventually translated into a new Migration Law. Under this law, passed in 2004, temporary foreign workers and undocumented migrant workers were classed as foreigners ‘in transit’, meaning that their children would no longer have access to Dominican nationality because of having been born in the country. The Central Electoral Board, the body that manages the civil registry, began to apply this law retroactively, and in 2007 it institutionalised this practice through two administrative decisions that prevented the issuance or renewal of identity documents to children born in the Dominican Republic of Haitian immigrants who were in an irregular migratory situation. In 2010, the new constitution denied the automatic right to nationality to children born in the country to immigrant parents in an irregular situation. Finally, in September 2013, ruling 168-13 of the Constitutional Court established that people born in the country whose parents had been undocumented had never had the right to Dominican nationality. The ruling was applied retroactively to all people born between 1929 and 2007, effectively stripping four generations of their Dominican nationality, mostly people of Haitian descent, who for eight decades had been registered as Dominican.

    These legal changes institutionalised a historical exclusion that was perpetuated by policies of hatred, racism and xenophobia promoted by nationalist groups. From the dominant perspective, everything that comes from Haiti is foreign, alien and impossible to assimilate. Thus, people like me, born in the Dominican Republic to Haitian parents, are treated as foreigners. Because we were born in the Dominican Republic, the Haitian state does not consider us Haitians either. And in any case, we are talking about people who may have never been to Haiti, who have grown up here and speak Spanish; many younger people in fact don’t speak any Creole at all. Lack of recognition is excruciatingly painful.

    To resolve the situation created by the Constitutional Court, and in response to domestic and international advocacy efforts, in 2014 Law 169-14, the Special Naturalisation Law, was passed. This law established a special regime for people considered “descendants of foreigners in irregular migratory status,” based on the distinction between two groups. For members of ‘Group A’, which included those who in the past had been registered in the Dominican civil registry, the law recognised their Dominican nationality and ordered the Central Electoral Board to hand over or return their identity documents. On the other hand, those in ‘Group B’, who, although having been born in the country, having always lived there and maintaining no link with their parents’ country of origin, had never been registered, were given a period of 90 days to register as foreigners, with the possibility of obtaining Dominican nationality through naturalisation within a period of two years. This distinction is completely arbitrary, and it is common to find families with siblings belonging to either group, as well as families that, having registered their children, lost their papers as a result of some natural disaster and could not initiate the naturalisation process due to economic hardship, being located far away from administrative offices and unable to pay the fees that the process involved. Only a few thousand people in Group B have managed to achieve nationality in this way. There are currently some 133,000 young people who are stateless.

    I have obtained my identity card as a result of Law 169-14; it was given to me when I was 27 years old. My years of personal development and education and the early years of my productive life were cut short because I did not have an ID and therefore could not attend university. Several of my fellow activists are in the same situation. Some have been able to advance through college and even graduate, while others were not so lucky.

    Have you brought the issue of Dominicans of Haitian descent to the attention of regional or international human rights forums?

    For decades the international community and domestic civil society have been advocating at both the national and international levels, to denounce abuse, discrimination and structural racism in the Dominican Republic.

    Jointly with other civil society organisations (CSOs), we work assiduously within the inter-American system, for example participating in hearings of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). In 2014, the IACHR granted precautionary measures to members of our movement who had been threatened or attacked. Also in 2014, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights issued a ruling that forced the state to give us our nationality back. But the Constitutional Court did not recognse this ruling. The Dominican state does not abide by the decisions of the Court.

    The state does not recognise that there is a problem to be solved. Today our struggle is much more complex than it was at the beginning because now there is a feeling that the situation has been resolved, but it has not. The vast majority of young people in this situation come from bateyes, which are ghettos or communities that were established during the time of sugarcane production around the end of the 19th century, when the Dominican Republic and Haiti reached an agreement to bring Haitian braceros to work in the country. These people, sometimes by deception and even by force, were taken directly to the bateyes, small villages located in the vicinity of sugarcane plantations. Young people who come from these places, which are located far from the cities, are in a very vulnerable situation. The vast majority have nothing; we are talking about families who have not had legal documents for generations, and without papers they cannot study or work. Those of us who manage to finish high school and intend to go to university usually encounter what I experienced: it was when I decided that I would go to university that I found out that, although I did have my birth certificate, I did not qualify because I was the daughter of Haitian parents. This was a huge blow for me, and it is just the same for tens of thousands of young people. You are suddenly told that you do not exist, and this entails enormous psychological trauma. The state blames our parents or grandparents, when in fact it was the state that brought them to work in sugar production – but given that the industry no longer exists, they want us to disappear as well.

    These injustices block our prospects. They leave us without a future. That is why our movement arose from places like this.

    What were the implications of this situation in the context of the health crisis caused by COVID-19?

    The lack of recognition of something as basic as nationality creates enormous difficulties in accessing other basic rights such as health and social aid. The pandemic has magnified the difficulties faced by these vulnerable populations, confined in bateyes where there is no production or work. Many of these young people are chiriperos, that is, day workers, employed sporadically to do whatever is available, and the pandemic left them with nothing. They do not have access to any of the social aid programmes developed to alleviate the effects of the pandemic because they do not have IDs and do not appear in government records.

    To what extent is the situation faced by people of Haitian descent in the Dominican Republic the result of racism?

    This situation is the result of structural racism from beginning to end. The problem of access to nationality in the Dominican Republic has exclusively affected people whose parents or grandparents came from Haiti; this is not a general problem for foreigners. It is a reflection of structural racism because it is the Dominican people of Haitian descent, or those who are perceived as such due to the colour of their skin, who experience this violation of their human rights. This was recognised by the IACHR after a visit to the country, when it confirmed that it had not received any complaint from a descendant of non-Haitian foreigners who had experienced difficulties in being recognised as nationals, getting registered in the civil registry or receiving identity papers.

    In the Dominican Republic it is believed that all blacks are Haitians. If I am black and have curly hair I am constantly questioned even if I have identity papers, and if I am unable to produce an ID, I can be deported because I am assumed to be Haitian. There have been cases of black Dominicans who have been deported because of their skin colour. Dominican women of Haitian descent who do not have papers and go to a hospital to give birth are treated as foreigners, fuelling the myth that Haitian women are occupying all beds in our hospitals, when most of these women are not Haitians but Dominican black women of Haitian descent.

    Dominicans are a black population that does not see itself as such. There is obviously a problem of systemic, state-sanctioned, and unrecognised racism.

    Thus, with the passing of time, as a movement we realised that the problem of nationality that mobilised us in the first place was not just a problem of papers, IDs and registry records, but also and more deeply a problem of identity and racial discrimination that goes back to the historical context of our ancestors.

    We are therefore a movement that not only fights for the recognition of nationality and the rights of Dominicans of Haitian descent, but also shares the struggles of all anti-racist movements and mobilises against all forms of discrimination. This is why we stand in solidarity and support all kinds of expressions seeking to guarantee the rights of women, of sexual minorities and of all minorities who are stigmatised and discriminated against.

     

    How did the US Black Lives Matter protests following the murder of George Floyd resonate in the Dominican Republic?

    In reaction to events in the USA, we joined other CSOs to organise a commemoration. It was not strictly a protest demonstration, as restrictions on public gatherings had been imposed in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, and we respected the mandated quarantine. And it was not only a demonstration of solidarity either, as George Floyd’s death had resonated in our context, where we have experienced similar situations of police abuse.

    Along with other CSOs we organised an activity in memory of George Floyd. The idea was to make a ritual gesture, a collective wreath. Our convening slogan was ‘A Flower for Floyd’, and it was a call for each person to bring, whenever possible, a flower and place it as part of the offering. Our account of Floyd’s death also made reference to police and institutional violence many black people, both migrants and Dominicans, experience in the Dominican Republic, so as to highlight that this is a situation we are also going through.

     

    Have you received threats or experience aggression from anti-rights movements?

    There are several ultra-nationalist groups that are mobilising in reaction to our demonstrations and events, basically to intimidate us and boycott our activities. Ever since the Constitutional Court ruling was issued, the climate has become more favourable for hate speech and numerous acts of hostility against us have taken place. Many members of our movement and other organisations that fight for the rights of Dominicans of Haitian descent have been subjected to attacks, both verbal and physical, which have been reflected in numerous human rights reports. As a result, in some cases we have had to request IACHR protective measures for some colleagues. Even Dominican people who are not of Haitian descent but express solidarity with us are treated as traitors to the homeland. These expressions have become more common because they have not been firmly condemned by the authorities.

    Every time we demonstrate on the issue of nationality and racism, there are always counter-demonstrations, and since the police never protect us, these groups generally prevail and we are forced to suspend or terminate our activities. This was the case with the event we planned to honour George Floyd.

    Since the moment we announced the Flower for Floyd event, several ultra-nationalist groups threatened us through our Facebook page. They accused us of wanting to generate violence and of boycotting the country by bringing up issues that are not of its concern. We received such levels of threats that many people thought that we would not be able to carry out the activity. Days before the event, the leader of one of these anti-rights groups, Antigua Orden Dominicana, threatened us through a video in which he warned that if we carried it out there would be bloodshed, since the event would take place in Independence Park, dedicated to the Fathers of the Nation, which they would not allow.

    On the day of commemoration, 9 June, these groups were present. It was not the first time that this happened. In 2017, during an activity that we carry out every year to mark the anniversary of ruling 168-13, they also showed up and a similar situation ensued.

    On 9 June, these groups came to attack the activists that were taking part in the event, and when the police finally intervened it was to detain our fellow activists Ana María Belique and Maribel Núñez, along with another person who was participating in the event. Every time we hold a protest related to the issue of nationality and racism, the state comes in and represses us.

    What kind of support would you need from international civil society and the global anti-racist movement?

    We consider ourselves part of a global movement. Many times we have been told that the Black Lives Matter movement was caused by something that happened in the USA and that it was not our concern; however, as vulnerable and stigmatised people we understand that this is an issue that directly affects us and that we must address.

    What we need is more support to disseminate information about the current situation in our country. The state has been consistently telling the world that there are no stateless people here, that there is no racism or xenophobia, that everything we say is a lie and that we are on the payroll of international CSOs who want to harm the country. What we seek is visibility and help to denounce the terrible realities experienced by Dominicans of Haitian descent. We do not have enough resources to publicise our cause, and international solidarity is what allows us to carry out our struggles and make them known worldwide.

    International support is one of the things that has helped us get ahead. We have had support from groups of the Dominican diaspora in New York. One of them, We Are All Dominican, has supported us since 2013. In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, they helped us ensure food and other basic needs for more than 250 families for three months. All support is welcome, whether it be expressions of solidarity, contributions to dissemination or protection for human rights defenders.

    Civic space in the Dominican Republic is rated as ‘narrowed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.
    Get in touch with Reconoci.do through theirwebsite orFacebook page, and follow@reconoci_do and@juagemis on Twitter.

     

  • Drug war unsettles civil society in Philippines

    Since assuming power in May 2016 Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte has embarked on a controversial campaign against drugs in which over 3 000 people have been killed over three months in extra judicial killings for allegedly being drug peddlers or users. CIVICUS speaks to Roselle Rasay of Caucus of Development NGO Networks (CODE-NGO), the largest umbrella body of civil society organisations in the Philippines. She speaks on the situation of human rights in the Philippines and those speaking out against the drug war

    1. What have been the main impacts of the president’s anti-drug campaign on human rights?
    The anti-drug campaign is a blatant attack on human rights as the President himself is “encouraging” through his statements “vigilante” actions and for citizens to take up arms to kill drug pushers or users. The president has taken the side of the police being investigated for abuse in the anti-drug campaign; he also badmouths and undermines the Commission on Human Rights and other nations and institutions calling for investigations of blatant human rights violations in the ant-drug campaign. He also personally attacks and encourages, if not orchestrates, an all-out attack by his Justice Secretary and allies in Congress against Senator Leila de Lima who led the Senate investigations on this drug war, all to apparently silence or undermine the opposition. The majority of those being killed are from the poorest communities who may not even be drug users. There are very few big names being caught up in this save for a mayor who was killed after he voluntarily submitted himself for investigation because the authorities were looking for him. He was killed right at the jail. The impression was that he has knowledge of who else has knowledge on drugs matters.

    2. How is civil society responding to these actions to try uphold rights?
    While civil society is largely divided in their opinion or position on the matter, there are still some quarters that have mustered courage to go public and have denounced the excesses of the present administration. This is being done in various ways such as mobilisation and other actions against extra judicial killings. Several human rights groups and peace groups, have condemned the campaign, including my organisation CODE-NGO, by way of issuing statements in traditional and social media condemning the extra judicial killings that are related to the drug war being waged by the government. In social media though, these statements usually receive nasty responses from supporters of President Duterte, many of whom appear to be funded trolls. Lawyers taking up cases are also being attacked in this way.

    The CODE-NGO general assembly recently passed a resolution calling on government arms ─ the legislative, the executive and the judiciary ─ to uphold human rights in this anti-drug campaign. Discussions are also ongoing among CSOs about providing orientation to their partner communities on how to protect themselves and assert their rights against house searches or arrests without warrants by the police.

    3. Has civil society’s work to uphold rights provoked a backlash from the authorities?
    Recently, the President said he will also kill human rights advocates if the campaign against drugs is stopped because of them and the illegal drug problem gets worse. The Commission on Human Rights is also being attacked by the President. There is apparent inaction by police authorities on reported cases of extra judicial killings with all of them being lumped into “deaths under investigation”.

    4. How do human rights defenders feel? Are they becoming scared of speaking out?
    There are no physical attacks on human rights defenders speaking against the killings in the government’s anti-drug campaign that we know of to date. However, at a community level the threats are creating fear because the police are going from house to house asking people to write their names and if they use drugs. Some people wouldn’t know what these forms mean. They just submit their data depending on the situation in the community. It creates trouble within some communities because neighbours would point to each other – some people in the community can also write down names of people they do not like. Some of those using drugs will point to others. Among CSOs, some are very much against it and are emboldened in their work and are very vocal about their sentiments about the campaign. Others do not openly express their disagreement of the campaign because they are careful not to jeopardise other advocacies they are working out with government, such as the peace talks, agrarian reform and others.

    5. What do you think is the impact that CODE NGO has in improving the situation of civic space?
    Over the years CODE-NGO has provided venues for civil society to clarify and understand the various social and political issues affecting a particular sector of our society and/or the country in general. This has not only provided an opportunity to enhance knowledge but more so to consolidate civil society forces and efforts to address issues concerning the environment by which they are able to do their work.

    In the past, we have been successful in improving policies related to the regulation of CSOs and in improving the public image and public support for CSOs. However, it is too early to tell if CODE-NGO and other CSOs can successfully defend and promote civic space given the President’s pronouncements and actions. We certainly hope we can.

    Currently, CODE-NGO is trying to engage specific persons or offices in government who could have the influence to improve civic space situation or are more open to listening to CSOs such as the Office of the Vice President, Department of Interior and Local Government and the Office of the Cabinet Secretary.
    As a national association of CSOs in Philippines, a large part of our work is in strengthening capacities of CSOs in the Philippines in being effective in their work, creating accountability in public institutions and showing that we’re also accountable. That adds to our legitimacy and making sure government will listen to us if we are legitimate. We have also been part of several policy advocacy processes in the past supporting the creation of local resources for local CSOs. We are advocating for policies for a more enabling regulatory environment for civil society. Given the current context, it is still too early – only six months into the new presidency, to tell how these will all turn out. But we must think about future steps and be vigilant to make sure that civic space is not constricted.

    6. What do you think are the main challenges you are facing as a CSO network in improving civic space conditions?
    A challenge has always been relating with government because of politics – the difficulty in the Philippines is that we have very good laws but implementation is poor depending on who is the leader. The level of participation by CSOs in governance changes and varies with who is in power. So we must always be aware of political realities.

    There is also little funding for advocacy work. It is widely acknowledged that CSO networks perform important convening, capacity-building and advocacy roles, but sadly, there is not much support for this kind of infrastructural work. Sustainability of CSOs and their work have been challenged, especially those doing human rights campaigns and advocacy. Some other CSOs would have better access because they give very direct products and service. But it is difficult for advocacy groups and networks who focus on coalition building and capacity building of local CSOs; there is not much support for that kind of work.


    7. What other challenges do civil society organisations and human rights defenders face in the country?
    We have seen gains in the past years of opening up civic space. In the previous administration, there was a generally friendly environment for civil society. Currently, the environment is still quite open because we still have open media. There is no apparent suppression – the gains of fighting for democracy has not been affected. Although there is a feeling of creeping reintroduction of authoritarianism. While it is very open and safe, we’re worried that the space is constricting and can soon get tight.

    Currently, it is still easy to register a CSO and run one. Cost-wise the fees are very low for setting up an organisation. Registering authorities require very basic documents. However, more recently, there have been stricter guidelines about CSOs accessing government funds, although very few CSOs actually access that money. The government made it stricter by requiring additional accreditation. These factors restrict the work of CSOs a bit. But this is not because of President Duterte. It was a policy from 2013 as a reaction of government to fake NGOs accessing the legislators’ Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) or ‘pork barrel’ funds and implementing ghost projects. But we thought making CSO accreditation tougher after the PDAF scam was a knee-jerk reaction on the part of government; the scam came about so that some legislators and government officials could dip their hands into government’s coffers through these fake NGOs.

    8. What could the international community and international civil society do to support civil society in the Philippines?
    Statements of solidarity with local CSOs; independent investigations; support for human rights activists and sharing of successful campaigning models would be important.

    On the attacks on human rights activists, solidarity messages from the rest of civil society from all over the world would be of help. Exchanges on campaigning, tips on how we can improve online campaigning would be useful because while CSOs have been quite active and able to advocate for policies, we’re worried about the changing environment and would like to learn how others have been successful in their campaigns.

    Roselle Rasay is the Deputy Executive Director at Caucus of Development NGO Networks (CODE-NGO). CODE-NGO is the largest coalition of civil society organizations (CSOs) working for social development in the Philippines, with its six national networks and six sub-national networks representing more than 1 600 development NGOs, people’s organisations and cooperatives nationwide. Contact CODE-NGO on their Facebook page  or visit their website and follow them on Twitter @CODE_NGO

     

  • Egypt: CSOs urge German Ministers to raise human rights with President Al-Sisi ahead of COP27

    Arabic

    Civil society groups have written a letter to Foreign Affairs Minister Baerbock and State Minister and Special Envoy Morgan urging them to press President al-Sisi to open civic space ahead of COP27


     Dear Foreign Affairs Minister Baerbock and State Minister and Special Envoy Morgan,

    Ahead of the 18-19 July 2022 Petersberg Climate Dialogue, which you will co-chair with Egyptian President Abdelfattah al-Sisi, we 21 national, regional and international civil society organisations are writing to urge you to press President al-Sisi, publicly and privately, to take prompt and effective measures to reopen civic space in Egypt ahead of the COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh and release all the individuals arbitrarily detained for exercising their rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly. If taken, these important steps must not be reversed after the COP27, since they are necessary to guarantee the survival of independent civil society in Egypt and promote its resurgence.

    We stress our alarm at the Egyptian authorities’ unlawful restrictions on the rights to freedom of the press, freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly, the severe constraints they have imposed on civil society, as well as their repression of peaceful political opposition and misuse of counterterrorism legislation to silence peaceful critics. Thousands continue to be arbitrarily detained in Egypt for peacefully practicing their rights to freedom of expression, assembly, and association. This includes staff of Egyptian independent civil society organisations, human rights defenders and activists in the field of economic, social, and cultural rights, and minority rights, as well aslawyers, journalists, academics, women social media influencers and artists. We consider that immediately and unconditionally releasing them, according to Egypt’s obligations under international law, would signal that the Egyptian government is committed to ensuring that participants at COP27 may speak and assemble freely at the COP27 conference, without fear of reprisals.

    The UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association’s 2021 report details the essential role played by civil society in addressing the climate crisis, and calls on States “to recognize publicly at the highest levels the work of civil society and the importance of the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association as essential to the advancement of climate action and just transition”towards environmentally sustainable economies and societies. Indeed, for a productive COP27, the crucial roles of civil society as well as independent media are more necessary now than ever, as many states are failing to meet their climate pledges and others are unable to finance measures to make their development sustainable. The visibility and positive pressure created by civic mobilisation is needed if COP27 is to be a success. The rights to freedom of assembly, association, and expression at COP27 must be upheld for all, including Egyptian civil society activists and journalists who are currently facing harsh repression for exercising these human rights.

    Therefore, it is urgent that at and around the Petersberg Climate Dialogue, you urge the Egyptian authorities to take action now, before COP27:

    • To go beyond the conditional release of a limited number of persons from arbitrary detention, to effect a real policy change by immediately and unconditionally releasing all persons arbitrarily detained for exercising their rights to the freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly and association. In line with the criteria outlined by local NGOs,the mechanism established to release prisoners should comply with four standards: fairness, transparency, inclusiveness, and promptness. Prominent activist and blogger Alaa Abdel Fattah, on hunger strike for over 100 days and at risk of death, must be prioritized.
    • To ensure civic space is reopened, notably by setting out transparent and inclusive processes to provide civil society with meaningful opportunities to inform decision-making around climate and other vital areas of public policy.
    • To expedite the necessary changes in legislation and practice – including in the NGO law, the Counter-terrorism Law, the Cybercrime Law, the Protection of Public Facilities Law, the Assembly Law, and the Terrorist Entities Law – to guarantee and protect space for civil society, including independent human rights defenders, to speak, meet, and work without fear of intimidation, harassment, arbitrary arrest or detention, torture, enforced disappearance, or any other form of reprisal or retaliation; including lifting the existing travel bans and asset freezes imposed on activists and human rights defenders.
    • To end the harsh restrictions imposed by law and in practice on media and digital freedom, to cease blocking the websites of independent media outlets and civil society organizations and release all media workers who have been detained or jailed for carrying out their work.

    We understand that many African states support the selection of Egypt as host of COP27, on the assumption that Egypt could be a strong voice for the continent’s climate justice needs and demands, notably climate finance. Yet there are serious and unresolved concerns around the full and meaningful participation of activists, mainly from the global South, in terms of accessing visas to enter the country. If the Egyptian authorities do not change course, they risk jeopardizing COP27’s success, and there will be well-grounded concerns for the safety and security of civil society activists from African states, from Europe, and elsewhere, who may seek to participate in peaceful events in Sharm el-Sheikh.

    Minister Baerbock, your nomination eight months ago as federal Foreign Affairs Minister gave much new hope and expectation that you would be determined and able to set a clear foreign policy approach toward countries with abusive human rights records, and upholding your government commitments to human rights, the rule of law, justice, and accountability within a climate-friendly and feminist foreign policy. The federal coalition government agreement text also bolstered that hope. Today, we call on you both to bring these hopes to fruition and demonstrate your leadership for climate justice with Egypt, through an inclusive approach to environmental policy rooted in the principle that there can be no climate justice without respect for human rights.

    Sincerely,

    Amnesty International

    Association for the Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE)

    Associazione ricreativa culturale italiana (ARCI)

    Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS)

    Centre National de Coopération au Développement (CNCD-11.11.11)

    CIVICUS

    Civil Rights Defenders

    Committee for Justice (CFJ)

    Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)

    Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN)

    Egyptian Front for Human Rights (EFHR)

    Egyptian Human Rights Forum (EHRF)

    EgyptWide for Human Rights

    EuroMed Rights

    Freedom House

    Front Line Defenders

    Human Rights Watch

    HuMENA for Human Rights and Civic Engagement

    International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)

    Reporters Without Borders (RSF)


     Civic space in Egypt is rated as "Closed" by the CIVICUS Monitor

     

  • Egypt: End arbitrary detention, Free them all

    Arabic

    Twelve Egyptian activists have been on hunger strike since early February 2022 in protest of their prolonged pre-trial detention at Tora Prison Complex. Among them, Abdelrahman Tarek (Moka), Ahmed Maher (Rigo), Galal El Beheriy, and Walid Shawkystarted hunger strikes to protest their unlawful imprisonment. On 8 March, Walid Shawky ended his hunger strike. Their health is at risk as their physical condition further deteriorates. The undersigned organisations call on the Egyptian authorities to immediately and unconditionally release the aforementioned individuals, as well as all of the many other individuals currently held in detention for peacefully exercising their right to free expression.