human rights

 

  • 25 organisations' urgent appeal for the release of Nabeel Rajab

    25 human rights organizations have signed an urgent appeal letter to Ms Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, and Vice-President of the EU Commission, to ask for a clear, public stance on Nabeel Rajab's case and the human rights abuses in Bahrain.

    Read the full letter here

     

  • 45 Human rights and foreign policy organisations call on Formula 1 star Lewis Hamilton to speak out against the Saudi government’s human rights abuses

    Fourty-Five organisations sent a joint letter to Formula 1 star Lewis Hamilton calling on him to speak out against the Saudi government's human rights abuses and boycott the Formula 1 race scheduled to be held in Saudi Arabia in the latter part of 2021. 


     

  • Activism works: on Mandela Day, let's boost efforts to free human rights defenders around the world

    • #StandAsMyWitness campaign launched two years ago on Nelson Mandela Day
    • Campaign has been part of successful global calls to release incarcerated human rights defenders 
    • 21 human rights defenders currently featured in the campaign have spent 50 years collectively in prison

    In honour of Nelson Mandela Day 18 July, global civil society alliance CIVICUS calls for renewed efforts to help free 21 human rights defenders featured in its #StandAsMyWitness global campaign. Altogether, they have been imprisoned for half a century - and some face many more years behind bars. Activism makes a difference - #StandAsMyWitness has already been part of successful global calls leading to the release of 20 activists across the world.

    Launched two years ago on Mandela Day,  #StandAsMyWitness urges governments to free activists in prison or facing pre-trial detention after protecting and promoting human rights. 

    “Over 30 years since Nelson Mandela was released from prison and still human rights defenders are wrongfully incarcerated in both authoritarian regimes and democratic states. Their crime? Standing up for the rights of women, children and Indigenous people; fighting for climate justice; advocating for free and fair elections; and promoting democratic freedoms,” said David Kode, Advocacy and Campaigns Lead at CIVICUS.

    Human rights defenders in the #StandAsMyWitness campaign include Iranian lawyer Nasrin al-Sotoudeh, sentenced to 38 years on charges that include insulting Iran’s supreme leader; Mexican Kenia Hernandez, facing a decade in prison in retaliation for her work defending Indigenous communities; and Buzurgmehr Yorov, a 50-year old lawyer from Tajikistan, sentenced to 22 years behind bars after defending government opponents.

    Mr Mandela, perhaps the most iconic and respected human rights defender, was released after 27 years following global opposition to his incarceration. Similar efforts by civil society and sustained public pressure are needed to secure the freedom of rights defenders currently facing long sentences.

    “We urge people across the world to demand the release of brave activists in the #StandAsMyWitness campaign: sign a petition, use our hashtag on social media, or lobby your government. It is scandalous that those fighting for justice and equality have spent even one day in prison, never mind many years,” said Kode. 

    Sustained action from different sources can make a difference; since its launch two years ago, #StandAsMyWitness has worked with human rights organisations and civil society to guarantee the release of 20 human rights defenders. 

    They include activist Teresita Naul from the Philippines, released in October after many awareness-raising efforts by civil society; Bahraini human rights defender Nabeel Rajab, freed in June last year after nearly five years of civil society campaigning and diplomatic pressure from democratic governments; and women’s rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul from Saudi Arabia, released after 1000 days in 2021 following a prominent global campaign demanding her release.  

    South Africa’s iconic former president spent 27 years behind bars before his release. Let’s work together to make sure human rights defenders currently languishing in prison are not forgotten - let’s fight for their freedom together. They are urging you to: Stand As My Witness.

    Facebook SAMW Images 1

    Below is a list of the human rights defenders featured in the #StandAsMyWitness campaign. To find out how to get involved, check out CIVICUS’s campaign webpage: Stand As My Witness.

    AFRICA:

    • Eswatini: Bacede Mabuza and Mthandeni Dube - MPs who campaigned for democratic reform

    ASIA:

    • Hong Kong: Chow Hang-Tung - pro-democracy activist, sentenced for organising unauthorised Tiananmen Square Massacre commemoration vigil
    • India: Khurram Parvez - Kashmiri rights activist; listed in Time magazine’s 100 ‘Most Influential People 2022’ 

    CENTRAL ASIA:

    • Belarus: Viasna Human Rights Defenders - members of Viasna human rights centre; jailed for exercising their right to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression
    • Tajikistan: Buzurgmehr Yorov - human rights lawyer representing members of the opposition; recipient of Homo Homini human rights prize

    LATIN AMERICA:

    • Mexico: Kenia Hernandez - Indigenous and women’s rights activist; arrested after protest
    • Nicaragua: Maria Esperanza Sanchez Garcia - targeted for her civic activism
    • Nicaragua: Medardo Mairena and Pedro Mena - opposition activists initially sentenced to more than 200 years in prison after taking part in anti-government protests

    MIDDLE EAST & NORTH AFRICA:

    • Algeria: Kamira Nait Sid - Indigenous and women’s rights activist campaigning for the rights of the Amazigh people in Algeria
    • Bahrain: Abdul-Hadi al-Khawaja - detained after democracy protests in 2011; recipient of the prestigious Martin Ennals Award 2022 for human rights defenders
    • Egypt: Hoda Abdel Moneim - human rights lawyer and former member of Egypt’s National Council for Human Rights
    • Iran: Nasrin Sotoudeh - human rights lawyer specialising in the rights of women, children and human rights defenders
    • United Arab Emirates: Ahmed Mansoor - on the advisory boards for Human Rights Watch and the Gulf Centre for Human Rights; imprisoned for publishing information on social media

     

  • Adoption of Hungary's Universal Periodic Review amidst increasing civic space restrictions

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

    Delivered by Nicola Paccamiccio

    Thank you, Mr President.

    Mr President, CIVICUS welcomes the government of Hungary's engagement with the UPR process.

    Since its last review, Hungary failed to implement any of its 33 recommendations relating to civic space. We regret that Hungary accepted just 13 of the 31 civic space recommendations it received during this cycle.

    Space for civil society is increasingly being restricted in Hungary.

    Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) have faced ongoing attempts to restrict their funding. Although the government repealed the Lex-NGO foreign funding law which was declared unlawful by the European Court of Justice in June 2020, it adopted a new law that threatens the work of NGOs by permitting the State Audit Office to selectively audit NGOs which have a budget that exceeds 20 million forints (55,000 Euros).

    The Hungarian government also gave up 2,3 billion Norwegian kroner (€220 million) which it was set to receive from the European Economic Area (EEA) and Norway Grants for civil society. It set up the Urban Civic Fund (Városi Civil Alap) to replace the Norway Grants which has been financing ‘NGOs’ directly controlled by or linked to politicians of the Fidesz governing party.

    The ongoing erosion of LGBTQI+ rights remains a concern, with the government passing several restrictive pieces of legislation which directly target LGBTQI+ people. The latest anti-LGBTQI propaganda law bans LGBTQI+ media, advertising and educational materials and has resulted in limiting freedom of expression and association for LGBTQI+ focused CSOs.

    Media independence has been repeatedly threatened as a result of ongoing political influence over Hungary’s media regulatory bodies, with the government's control over the National Media and Communications Authority (NHHH) and its Media Council resulting in diminishing space for independent media. We particularly regret that Hungary did not accept recommendations to take specific measures to ensure media freedom.

    Independent media have frequently been denied access to information; however, this practice has  further worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, journalists report being denied access to interview health experts and being barred from hospitals, with the government recently passing a decree stating that only the Operational Tribunal, the government centre in charge of managing the pandemic, would decide on press and media accreditation for journalists to access hospitals. 

    A recent investigation revealed that the government used Pegasus spyware to surveil investigative journalists.

    Mr President, CIVICUS calls on the Government of Hungary to take concrete steps to address these concerns, including by withdrawing restrictive legislation and amendments that restrict the activities of civil society organisations and their funding and refraining from obstructing the work of independent journalists.

    We thank you.


     Civic space in Hungary is rated as obstructed by the CIVICUS Monitor

     

  • Adoption of Papua New Guinea's Universal Periodic Review

    Universal Periodic Review on Human Rights -- Outcome Adoption for Papua New Guinea

    Delivered by Lisa Majumdar

    Thank you, Mr President.

    Transparency International PNG, PIANGO and CIVICUS welcome the government of Papua New Guinea's engagement with the UPR process, although we regret its late response to recommendations.

    Space for civil society remains significantly obstructed in Papua New Guinea. Human rights defenders (HRDs) face legal persecution such as arrest and detention as well as harassment, intimidation, threats and violence, including from companies that they criticise. The risk is greatest for HRDs who challenge vested political, social and economic interests, especially land and environmental HRDs.

    Many journalists have reported intimidation aimed at influencing coverage of government figures and by agents of members of parliament. Just last month, long-standing and experienced news manager Sincha Dimara was suspended by her news outlet, allegedly following a request from the authorities.

    There is no freedom of information legislation in Papua New Guinea and no domestic laws or policies to recognise and protect HRDs, who, along with journalists, continue to face harassment for undertaking their work.

    Defamation laws, such as the Defamation Act 1962 and defamation sections in the Cybercrime Act, have had a chilling effect on freedom of expression and political discourse.

    Our organisations call on the Government of Papua New Guinea to take concrete steps to address these concerns, including by:

    • Reviewing and amending criminal defamation provisions in the Cybercrime Act to ensure that it is in line with ICCPR article 19 and international law and standards;
    • Ensuring that journalists and writers can work freely and without fear of retribution for expressing critical opinions or exposing abuses or corruption by the authorities and companies;
    • Ensuring that HRDs are able to carry out their legitimate activities without fear or undue hindrance;
    • Establishing an independent national human rights institution in accordance with the Paris Principles.

    We thank you.


     Civic space in Papua New Guinea is rated as obstructed by the CIVICUS Monitor 

     

  • Adoption of Tanzania's Universal Periodic Review

    Universal Periodic Review (UPR) on Human Rights -- Outcome Adoption for Tanzania

    Delivered by Sibahle Zuma

    CIVICUS and its partners welcome the Republic of Tanzania’s engagement with the UPR process and for accepting the majority of its recommendations.

    We particularly welcome Tanzania’s commitment to amend the restrictive Media Services Act of 2016, which is a critical opportunity to address long-standing gaps in existing media legislation and has the potential to expand the space available to media actors to exercise their fundamental rights. We also welcome the lifting of the ban on the four newspapers – Mawio, Mwanahalisi, Tanzania Daima, and Mseto. We further welcome the Republic’s commitment to conducting investigations of all threats and attacks against and killings of journalists, civil society actors and human rights defenders and holding those responsible to account.

    Notwithstanding these positive developments, we remain concerned about the civic space restrictions that remain. Tanzanian law guarantees a number of rights consistent with international standards; however, citizens' ability to exercise these rights is severely limited in practice. Individuals and organisations frequently refrain from exercising their right to free expression, both online and in print, out of fear of arrest, censorship, and persecution.

    Recommendations to amend restrictive laws to guarantee freedom of expression have only been partially accepted.

    While we welcome the recent release of opposition leader Freeman Mbowe after eight months in custody on charges believed to be politically motivated, we note that authorities continue to systematically use the justice system as a tool to target and harass members and leaders of the opposition. Authorities also ban public gatherings to thwart protests, and arrest peaceful protesters.

    We regret that Tanzania did not accept a recommendation to amend the Non-Governmental Organisations Act (Amendments) Regulation 2018, in line with international human rights standards on freedoms of association and peaceful assembly.

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

    We thank you.


    Civic space in Tanzania is rated as repressed by the CIVICUS Monitor 

     

     

  • Adoption of Thailand's Universal Periodic Review

    Universal Periodic Review (UPR) on Human Rights -- Outcome Adoption for Thailand

    Delivered by Ahmed Adam

    On behalf of Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) and CIVICUS World Alliance for Citizen Participation

    Mr. President,

    We note that Thailand has accepted 218 out of 278 recommendations it received during its 3rd cycle UPR. We regret that Thailand has rejected majority of the recommendations on civil and political rights, including those calling for the repeal of repressive laws that are being used to target defenders, raising questions about Thailand’s commitment to fully comply with its international human rights obligations.

    Thailand has justified its rejection of these recommendations as a necessary measure to balance ‘the exercise of individual’s rights’ with the rights of others, ‘national security, public order and public health’. Thailand’s human rights record, however, suggests that this is yet another excuse to continue legitimising crack downs on fundamental freedoms, restrict the media and intimidate defenders and civil society, on the grounds of national security and public order using laws such as lese majeste, sedition and the Computer Crimes Act.

    Pro-democracy protesters have faced restrictions, arrest and excessive force. Many activists, including children, continue to face intimidation and judicial harassment. From July 2020 to January 2022, at least 1,767 activists[1] were prosecuted for taking part in peaceful assemblies and dissent against public policies. Political activists and defenders have been held for extensive periods in pre-trial detention without access to lawyers and medical services as a form of reprisal to silence the pro-democracy movement.

    While we recognize Thailand’s plans to accede to the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, we regret its failure to support a recommendation to conduct prompt investigations into the disappearance of Wanchalearm Satsaksit and other political activists. Perpetrators must be held accountable.

    Furthermore, the proposed amendment to the Anti-Money Laundering Act (AMLA), and the draft Non-profit law would threaten the ability of civil society to operate. They contradict Thailand’s obligations under international human rights law, as well as its stated commitment during the UPR to guarantee fundamental freedoms.

    Thailand’s National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights remains a disservice to defenders, as a vague and a purely aspirational document with no mechanisms for public disclosure, monitoring, andpublic participation.

    We echo recommendations for Thailand to ratify international rights treaties and ensure that its domestic legislation comply with international human rights standards. Thailand must lift all undue restrictions on civic space, and end all forms of attacks against human rights defenders, civil society and the pro-democracy movement.

    Thank you

    [1] https://tlhr2014.com/archives/41025


    Civic space in Thailand is rated as repressed by the CIVICUS Monitor 

     

  • Advocacy priorities at 42nd Session of UN Human Rights Council (September)

    The forty-second Session of the UN Human Rights Council will take place from 9 to 27 September.

    There are a variety of issues on the agenda this Session, both thematic and country-focused, and a number of human rights concerns that need to be addressed by the Council.

    One of the priorities for CIVICUS and its members is the ongoing human rights and humanitarian crisis in Sudan. Despite a deal reached between the military and protesters in August, peaceful protesters continued to be killed on an almost daily basis. We join calls from local and international civil society for the Council to take immediate action to investigate and monitor human rights violations as a first step towards accountability and justice. The country is rated as closed on the CIVICUS monitor, representing its total lack of civic space and freedoms.

    Saudi Arabi, also rated as closed, remains a serious ongoing concern as the country continues its decades-long clampdown on dissent, human rights activism and independent reporting. Women human rights defenders are still detained, and reportedly subjected to torture, for leading campaigns for women’s rights. In October 2018, Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was extra-judicially murdered. CIVICUS, along with partners, will reiterate calls on the Council to establish a monitoring mechanism investigating human rights violations in the country and call for the immediate and unconditional release of the detained Saudi women human rights defenders and activists. Saudi Arabia is a member of the Human Rights Council. Members that flagrantly abuse human rights in their own territories undermine and delegitimise the work of the Council and should be held to higher standard of scrutiny.

    Cameroon, rated as ‘repressed’ in CIVICUS’s Monitor, continues to undergo a human rights crisis. In October 2016, protests in Cameroon’s two minority English-speaking regions, the North-West and South-West, triggered the country’s “Anglophone crisis.” Since then, the two regions have been embroiled in a cycle of violence and human rights violations and abuses committed by government forces and by separatist armed groups. Against this backdrop, space for civil society continues to be severely diminished, and we call on members of the Council to take constructive steps to address the situation.

    The Commission of Inquiry investigating human rights violations in Burundi will present its findings on the human rights situation in the country. We join calls for the HRC to renew the mandate of the Commission of Inquiry for a further year: with human rights violations ongoing, and 2020 elections approaching, ongoing scrutiny is crucial – particularly in the context of elections. Burundi is rates as ‘closed’ in CIVICUS’s Monitor, reflecting ongoing attacks on civil society members, human rights defenders and journalists.

    The Council’s spotlight will also fall on Cambodia when both the Special Rapporteur on Cambodia and the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights will deliver reports on the situation in the country. Civic space in Cambodia has been increasingly under attack – the country is rated as ‘repressed’ in CIVICUS’s monitor – and this Session will provide a crucial opportunity for the Council to strengthen its response to such attacks on fundamental freedoms, and other human rights violations. CIVICUS and our partners are calling for the Special Rapporteur’s mandate to be renewed, and for enhanced scrutiny of the country’s human rights obligations by the OHCHR.

    The UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights will be reporting on the human rights crisis in Nicaragua, which the CIVICUS Monitor rates as ‘repressed’. Monitor findings show that freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly continue to be seriously curtailed by the government. Local civil society organisations have been stripped of their legal status and of their assets, and human rights defenders and journalists are harassed. Nicaragua continues to block the return of international human rights bodies to the country, including the special mechanism of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and OHCHR. CIVICUS joins local and international partners calling for continued scrutiny of Nicaragua’s human rights situation.

    The Assistant Secretary General on reprisals will present a report the Council, and the resolution on reprisals will be presented for a vote to the Council members. We are calling on states to support a strong resolution which names specific examples of reprisals, including against CIVICUS members. This is a vital resolution because UN action is only possible with strong engagement from civil society on the ground, who not only provide information and analysis, but are on the front line of ensuring that human rights standards are respected by their own governments, and that violations are held to account.

    A resolution on arbitrary detention will also be presented to the Council. This is a critical issue in terms of civic space: civil society members worldwide continue to face arbitrary detention as a result of their work. As well as being a serious human rights violation in its own right, this also contributes to a chilling effect on other civil society actors and human rights defenders.

    CIVICUS and members’ events at the 42nd Session of the UN Human Rights Council:

    Civic space as an early warning system, 16 Sep, 1-2pm, Room IV

    This side event will explore the relationship between civic space crackdowns and broader human rights crises, with a view to discussing what potential early intervention from states and the Council could be taken on the basis of such attacks to elevate the Council’s preventative mandate and, ultimately, aim to stop countries spiraling into human rights crises.

    The continued silencing and imprisonment of Saudi women human rights defenders, 26 Sep, 9.30-10.30am, Room XXIV

    This panel will share the experiences of Saudi WHRDs and reflect on the reality they face in prison. Panelists, including Lina Al-Hathloul, the sister of detained human rights defender Loujain Al-Hathloul, will discuss the extent of the restrictions facing activists in Saudi Arabia and what further efforts can be taken internationally to ensure immediate release of WHRDs, including calling for a resolution from the UN Human Rights Council.

    Current council members:

    Afghanistan; Angola; Argentina; Australia; Austria; Bahamas; Bahrain; Bangladesh; Brazil; Bulgaria; Burkina Faso; Cameroon; Chile; China; Croatia; Cuba; Czechia; Democratic Republic of the Congo; Denmark; Egypt; Eritrea; Fiji; Hungary; Iceland; India; Iraq; Italy; Japan; Mexico; Nepal; Nigeria; Pakistan; Peru; Philippines; Qatar; Rwanda; Saudi Arabia; Senegal; Slovakia; Somalia; South Africa; Spain; Togo; Tunisia; Ukraine; United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland; and Uruguay.

     

  • Advocacy priorities at 43rd Session of UN Human Rights Council

    The four-week human rights council will sit from 24 February to 20 March, and there are a number of critical human rights resolutions up for debate, and for the 47 Council members to address. CIVICUS will be conducting and presenting evidence on a variety of thematic and country-focused issues. Full overview below or jump directly to see our programme of events.

    Country-specific situations

    Nicaragua (Civic space rating:Repressed)

    Our members on the ground have documented serious human rights violations, including attacks on fundamental freedoms and against human rights defenders and journalists. A report issued last year by the OHCHR, mandated by a resolution adopted in 2019, reflected this situation, and recommended enhanced UN monitoring and reporting. Given the lack of political will in the country to cooperate with regional and international mechanisms, and the concerning situation on the ground, CIVICUS calls on states to support a resolution on Nicaragua which calls for such enhanced reporting at the very least.

    Sri Lanka (Civic space rating:Repressed)

    This is a critical time for Sri Lanka, with concerns that the new administration which came to power last year could renege on its Council-mandated human rights and accountability commitments. The resolution adopted at the 30th Session of the Human Rights Council and remains the only process in place which could guarantee justice for victims of human rights violations. Civic space is closing at an alarming rate – since the new administration came to power, civil society members on the ground have been threatened and intimidated, their records destroyed, and human rights defenders and journalists have been attacked. CIVICUS calls for states to encourage cooperation between the government of Sri Lanka and international human rights mechanisms, and for Council members to reaffirm their commitment to resolution 40/1, which put into place time-bound commitments to implement the accountability mechanisms in resolution 30/1.

    Iran (Civic space rating:Closed)

    In 2019, Iran erupted into a series of protests against lack of political and democratic freedoms and the deteriorating economic situation. Protesters were met with violent repression through mass arrests and lethal force. Current geopolitical developments have entrenched the regime and exacerbated internal insecurity further. This Human Rights Council Session will discuss the renewal of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Iran. CIVICUS supports the renewal of the Special Rapporteur mandate and encourages states to raise concerns about the use of lethal force in protests.

    India (Civic space rating:Repressed)

    India’s civic space rating was downgraded with the last CIVICUS report. A controversial and discriminatory citizenship law has given rise to mass protests across the country, which have been subject to violent crackdowns, leading many injured and at least 25 dead. Jammu and Kashmir remain under severe repression, including through sustained internet shutdown which is reaching its sixth month. Internet was partially restored in January but restrictions remain, making the shutdown the longest recorded in a democracy. Internet shutdowns are also being used across the country in order to hinder freedom of peaceful assembly. CIVICUS encourages States to raise concerns about India, and to call for an investigation into the violent suppression of peaceful protests, and to repeal discriminatory provisions in the Citizenship Law.

    Thematic mandates

    The Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders

    The mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders will be renewed this Session. This is a crucial mandate which has an impact of all CIVICUS’s areas of focus, and we encourage states to eco-sponsor the resolution at an early stage. The Special Rapporteur will present his annual report on HRDs in conflict and post-conflict situations, and reports on his country visits to Colombia and Mongolia. CIVICUS encourages states to affirm their co-sponsorship of the resolution early in the Session.

    Freedom of Expression

    The mandate for the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression is set to be renewed this Session, at a time when internet blackouts in increasingly used as a tactic to limit freedom of expression, access to information and freedom of peaceful assembly. We encourage states to co-sponsor the renewal of this important mandate at an early stage.

    Freedom of Religion and Belief (FoRB)

    The Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion and Belief will present his annual report, which this year focuses on the intersection of religion and belief and gender and SOGI rights, and reports on country visits to Sri Lanka and the Netherlands. CIVICUS will be engaging on Sri Lanka and on India, which have both undergone concerning developments with regards to freedom of religion.

    Prevention

    The Chair-Rapporteur of two intersessional seminars on the contribution that the Council can make to the prevention of human rights violations will present the report of the seminars.

    CIVICUS will be highlighting the connection between civic space and prevention – that closures in civic space are often precursors to wider human rights crises, and that by intervening at the civic space level, the Council has a role to play in ensuring that such human rights violations are prevented.


    CIVICUS and members’ events at the 43rd Session of the UN Human Rights Council (events will be livestreamed @CIVICUS Facebook page):

    27 February (11:00 CET, Room VII), a side event will discuss the current critical situation in Nicaragua, and the importance of an enhanced monitoring mandate.

    2 March (14:00 CET, Room VII), CIVICUS and partners are organising an event on the constitutional and civic space crisis in India. 

    5 March (13:00 CET, Room VII), CIVICUS is co-sponsoring an event led by ICNL and the Civic Space Initiative consortium partners on countering terrorism financing while preserving civic space ----canceled due to the coronavirus

    12 March (12:30 CET, Room XXI), CIVICUS is co-sponsoring a side event on the use of lethal force in protests in Iran and Iraq, and responses from the international community---canceled due to the coronavirus

    Current council members:

    Afghanistan; Angola; Argentina; Australia; Austria; Bahamas; Bahrain; Bangladesh; Brazil; Bulgaria; Burkina Faso; Cameroon; Chile; China; Croatia; Cuba; Czechia; Democratic Republic of the Congo; Denmark; Egypt; Eritrea; Fiji; Hungary; Iceland; India; Iraq; Italy; Japan; Mexico; Nepal; Nigeria; Pakistan; Peru; Philippines; Qatar; Rwanda; Saudi Arabia; Senegal; Slovakia; Somalia; South Africa; Spain; Togo; Tunisia; Ukraine; United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland; and Uruguay.

     

  • Advocacy priorities at 44th Session of UN Human Rights Council

    The three-week human rights council sits from 30 June to 17 July, and there are a number of critical human rights resolutions up for debate, and for the 47 Council members to address. CIVICUS will be conducting and presenting evidence on a variety of thematic and country-focused issues. Full overview below:

    Country-specific situations

    The Philippines (Civic space rating:Obstructed)

    Our members on the ground have documented serious human rights violations, including attacks on fundamental freedoms and against human rights defenders and journalists. Thousands of people have been killed in extra-judicial executions perpetrated by authorities with the full backing of the Duterte government in the context of their so-called ‘war on drugs'. Recently the country has been added to the CIVICUS Monitor's Watchlist, while the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights released a damming report on the country. We urge member states to deliver a strong resolution during the council to hold the government to account.

    United States of America (Civic space rating:Narrowed)

    Hundreds of thousands of people have taken to the streets across the United States to protest the murder of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis on 25 May. Their demands for justice for George Floyd and other Black people unlawfully killed at the hands of police have been met with force. The US has been added to the CIVICUS Monitor’s Watchlist as a result of attacks against protesters and the media. CIVICUS reaffirms that the right to protest, as enshrined in international law, must be protected.  CIVICUS urges the member states and observers of the Human Rights Council to raise such attacks in the Interactive Dialogues with the Special Rapporteur on freedom of peaceful assembly and association, and in the Interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on racism.

    Eritrea (Civic space rating:Closed)

    As Eritrea has entered the second year of its Council membership term, its domestic human rights situation remains dire. A free and independent press continues to be absent from the country and 16 journalists remain in detention without trial, many since 2001. Impunity for past and ongoing human rights violations is widespread. Violations continue unabated, including arbitrary arrests and incommunicado detention, violations of the rights to a fair trial, access to justice and due process, enforced disappearances. During this session, the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Eritrea is up for renewal. We urge States to support its adoption, in light of the lack of progress and accountability in the country.

    China (Civic space rating:Closed)

    50 UN experts have called on the Human Rights Council to take immediate action on grave human rights abuses in China, including Hong Kong and Xinjiang. This week Hong Kong's new national security law came into force, risks destroying Hong Kong's  free and open civil society, including media outlets. Already someone has been arrested for displaying a pro-independence flag. Urgent action is needed. CIVICUS fully support the proposal from UN experts to establish a UN mechanism to closely monitor, analyse and report annually on the human rights situation in China. At the very least, States should demand in dialogues that China fulfills its human rights obligations.

    Hungary (Civic space rating:Obstructed)

    There has been a rapid decline in civic freedoms in Hungary. The government has criminalised fake news about the pandemic, with penalties of up to five years in prison. To date, the police have initiated criminal proceedings against nearly 100 people. During the pandemic, Prime Minister, Viktor Orbán was able to temporarily rule by decree, which has set a dangerous precedent for Orbán to further consolidate power, restrict rights and bypass constitutional safeguards. The country has been added to the CIVICUS Monitor's Watchlist. CIVICUS recommends that UN member states raise concerns about Hungary and how it has used COVID19 as a smokescreen to close civic space and target its critics.

    Thematic mandates

    Civic freedoms in the age of COVID-19

    The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated human rights challenges worldwide. As countries have grappled to respond, CIVICUS has documented multiple instances of such responses restricting civic space, including: 

    • Unjustified restrictions on access to information and censorship
    • Detentions of activists for disseminating critical information
    • Crackdowns on human rights defenders and media outlets
    • Violations of the right to privacy and overly broad emergency powers

    In a report that will be presented at this Session, the Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression set out a number of recommendations for States in order to guarantee freedom of expression during a pandemic. Chief among these was ‘Ensuring accountability, such that no State is free to use this public health crisis for unlawful purposes beyond the scope of the health threat.’

    Peaceful Protests

    This Session will see a resolution on peaceful protests debated by the Council. The resolution provides an opportunity to push for reforms of protest laws and police tactics, and to strengthen accountability frameworks for violations during protests. We urge States to propose language which reflects the current situation of impunity for violence against peaceful protesters by state and non-state actors.

    Human rights and Migration

    This Session, the Special Rapporteur on human rights and migration will deliver a report on migration and freedom of association, which included key recommendations for States to ensure that freedom of association is protected. We call on States to use the Interactive Dialogue on the Special Rapporteur’s report to make public commitments to protect the right to freedom of association for migrants, and to co-sponsor the resolution due for presentation at the Session which will renew the mandate of the Special Rapporteur.

    Current council members:

    Afghanistan, Angola, Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Bahamas, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chile, Czech Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Denmark, Eritrea, Fiji, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Libya, Marshall Islands, Mauritania, Mexico, Namibia, Nepal, Netherlands, Nigeria, Poland, Pakistan, Peru, Philippines, Qatar, Republic of Korea, Senegal, Slovakia, SomaliaSudan, Spain, Togo, Ukraine, Uruguay, Venezuela

    Civic space ratings from the CIVICUS Monitor

    OPEN NARROWED OBSTRUCTED  REPRESSED CLOSED

     

     

  • Advocacy priorities at 45th Session of UN Human Rights Council

    The 45th Session of the UN Human Rights Council will sit from 14 September - 6 October, 2020 and there are a number of critical human rights resolutions up for debate and for the 47 Council members to address. Stay up to date by following @civicusalliance and #HRC45


    CIVICUS will be engaging on a range of issues in line with our mandate to protect and monitor the rights to peaceful assembly, freedom of speech and freedom of association. In terms of country-specific situations, CIVICUS will be presenting evidence and recommendations on rights abuses in the Philippines, Burundi, Cambodia, Saudi Arabia and China. With relation to thematic issues, CIVICUS will be engaging on deliberations related to the prevention of human rights abuses, reprisals, and arbitrary detention. Full summaries below.

    Civil society Participation in times of COVID19
    Like last session, civil society participation has been significantly impacted by COVID-19. Travel restrictions and distancing guidelines means that in-person participation is conspicuously limited, particularly for organisations from the Global South. Opportunities for remote participation via video messaging are providing a welcome alternative - because of this change, people and groups affected by issues being discussed will, to some extent, be able to address the Council without being limited by their ability to travel to Geneva, as is usually the case. But being able to meet with and hear directly from human rights defenders in the room and in-person, whether through side events or statements, has long been a strength of the Council. The human rights defenders who attend Council sessions strengthen resolutions by providing first-hand information and serve to hold states to account, and their participation reinforces valuable partnerships. Like last session, opportunities to do so in-person will be very much missed.

    see individual member country ratings - ...

    Country-specific situations

    The Philippines (Civic space rating:Obstructed)

    • Extrajudicial killings of human rights defenders continue
    • Abuse of COVID19 emergency measures to target government critics
    • Serious concerns remain over domestic accountability mechanisms, and impunity still reigns for attacks on activists and journalists.

    CIVICUS welcomed the resolution adopted by the Human Rights Council in June 2019 (41st Session) which mandated welcome monitoring of the human rights situation in the Philippines. The subsequent report by the Office of The Human Commissioner on Human Rights, presented in July 2020 (44th Session) shows clearly that human rights violations remain rampant, and that accountability for such violations remains distant. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated existing human rights conditions still further; in June, the Philippines was added to CIVICUS’s Watchlist, reflecting its sharp decline in civic freedoms.

    Recommendations
    CIVICUS joins civil society partners in the Philippines and internationally in calling for a Council-mandated independent investigative mechanism to address the ongoing systemic human rights violations perpetrated with impunity. This is clearly warranted by the situation set out in the OHCHR report, the lack of political will to engage and the demonstrable lack of adequate domestic investigative mechanisms.


    Burundi (Civic space rating:Closed)

    • Elections in May were marred by violence and rights violations
    • The Youth league, the Imbonerakure, continue to carry out brutal attacks on critics of the government
    • Activists and journalists remain imprisoned, while hundreds of thousands remain in exile.

    An atmosphere of fear and violence prevails in Burundi, where state and powerful non-state actors are routinely allowed to imprison, seriously injure and kill people with impunity for attempting to exercise their rights to associate, peacefully assemble and express themselves. Any criticism of the ruling authorities is severely punished and there is virtually no media freedom. The internet is heavily censored, many websites are blocked and online criticism of power holders is subject to severe penalties.

    Recommendations
    CIVICUS calls for the renewal of the mandate of the Commission of Inquiry (CoI) on Burundi. In the context of recent political developments, such a renewal, building off the investments to date in and from the CoI, would provide the best opportunity to prompt meaningful human rights progress in the country.


    Cambodia (Civic space rating:Repressed)

    • COVID-19 government measures have provided an opportunity to crack down on civil society groups.
    • At least 22 people have been arrested for sharing allegedly ‘false news’ related to the pandemic.
    • Opposition Leader, Kem Sokha, on trial since January on unsubstantiated charges of treason. Sokha has been barred from politics and could face up to 30 years in prison if convicted

    The Cambodian government continues to crack down on civil society groups, independent media, and the political opposition and human rights defenders to silence critical voices in the country. In the past three years it has adopted a series of repressive laws that unduly restrict human rights. In November 2019, the Cambodian authorities had arbitrarily detained nearly 90 people solely on the basis of the peaceful expression of their opinions or political views as well as their political affiliations. The latest activists to be convicted of ‘incitement’, three employees of NGO Mother Nature, were sent to pre-trial detention on 6 September.

    Recommendations
    CIVICUS encourages States to deliver statements jointly or in a national capacity under the Item 10 interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on Cambodia and the Item 2 general debate focusing on attacks against human rights defenders, journalists and other members of independent civil society, recommending a stronger approach to address the worsening situation. CIVICUS further encourages States to explore supporting a resolution which mandates yearly reporting from the High Commissioner, with updates in between Sessions.


    Saudi Arabia (Civic space rating: Closed)

    • It has been over two years since Saudi Arabia intensified its crackdown on women human rights defenders
    • Reports of detined activists and critics of the government being subjected to torture in prison
    • Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman continues to make direct orders for the arrest of activists

    It has been over two years since women human rights defenders have been in prison, simply for demanding that women be treated equally to men. Punishment in the country is severe, with torture being formed used for many offences, and the country remains one of the world’s top executioners. When it comes to freedom of assembly, protesting is considered a criminal act and those who defy the ban can face arrest, prosecution and imprisonment.

    Recommendations
    States that flagrantly abuse human rights in their own territories undermine and delegitimise the work of the Council must be held up to scrutiny. Along with civil society partners, CIVICUS recommends that States ensure sustained attention by the Council at its 45th session by jointly reiterating calls on the Saudi government to implement the above-mentioned benchmarks, and by supporting the establishment of a monitoring and reporting mechanism over the situation.


    China (Civic space rating:Closed)

    • Mass detention, torture and mistreatment of millions of Uighurs and Turkic Muslims in Xianjang
    • Chinese Communist Party continues to censor reporting about COVID-19
    • Excessive use of force and arbitrary arrests around Hong Kong protests

    On 26 June 2020, an unprecedented 50 United Nations experts called for “decisive measures to protect fundamental freedoms in China.” They highlighted China’s mass human rights violations in Hong Kong, Tibet, and Xinjiang, suppression of information in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, and attacks on rights defenders, journalists, lawyers and critics of the government across the country. They also raised concerns about the decision to draft a national security law for Hong Kong  – without any meaningful consultation with the people of Hong Kong – which imposes severe restrictions on civil and political rights in the autonomous region. It was passed on 30 June 2020.

    Recommendations
    CIVICUS endorses the call by UN experts for a Special Session of the Human Rights Council to evaluate the range of violations by China’s government, and to establish an impartial and independent UN mechanism to closely monitor, analyze, and report annually on that topic. We urge the UN Secretary-General to appoint a Special Envoy, consistent with his Call to Action on Human Rights, and we call on the High Commissioner for Human Rights to fulfil her independent mandate to monitor and publicly report on China’s sweeping rights violations. We support the call that UN member states and UN agencies use all interactions with Chinese authorities to insist that the government comply with its international human rights obligations.


    Thematic situations

    Prevention of human rights abuses
    The ability to take Council action with regards to prevention of deteriorating human rights situations relies on an accurate flow of information from the ground, whether from human rights defenders or independent media. Civil society – including human rights defenders, journalists, and human rights monitors – are often the first affected by a worsening human rights situation. An increasingly inability to express dissent, gather in protest, or operate as independent civil society is often a clear signpost that further human right violations are to come, to be met by willfully restricted avenues of domestic resistance. As an immediate example, in the case in Tanzania, time is fast running out for the HRC to operationalize its protection mandate in order to prevent further deterioration.

    In the report presented in March 2020 (the Council’s 43rd Session), the Rapporteurs highlighted this importance of civic space. As such, a resolution on the Council’s prevention mandate should highlight civic space restrictions as indicators for a worsening human rights situation. This would enable the Human Rights Council to take action to prevent severe human rights violations, including by working with the state in question constructively to roll back restrictions to civic space, before the situation becomes beyond repair. Specifically, that civil society indices, such as the CIVICUS Monitor, could be used to develop a more specific set of indicators and benchmarks relating to civic space which would then trigger intervention.

    Further intervention could be operationalized through a Working Group on Prevention or the country level mechanism in New York.

    Recommendations
    CIVICUS encourages states to recommend that the use of such civic space indices is articulated in the resolution on the Council’s role in prevention. CIVICUS also recommends that states use civic space indicators in a systematic manner at the Human Rights Council in order to further operationalize its prevention mandate. This includes raising civic space concerns through individual and joint State statements at the Council, thematic debates, resolutions, the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process, and special sessions and urgent debates.


    Reprisals
    UN initiatives are only possible with strong engagement from civil society on the ground, who not only provide information and analysis, but are on the front line of ensuring that human rights standards are respected by their own governments, and that violations are held to account. Reprisals have a significant impact on citizen participation at every level of the international human rights infrastructure and are another example of civic space being squeezed.

    There is no political cost to states engaging in reprisals, and we recommend that the new resolution incorporates an accountability mechanism. There are a number of emerging trends in types of reprisals leveled against individuals and civil society – false narratives driven on social media and the engagement of non-state actors being just two such escalating tends.

    Recommendations
    Often, the only deterrent to states engaging in this practice is to publicly name them. CIVICUS recommends that States use the Interactive Dialogue with the Assistant Secretary General to raise specific cases of reprisals – cases of reprisals in Egypt, Bahrain, Viet Nam and China are particularly prevalent. CIVICUS also recommends that reprisals taking place within the UN itself are highlighted.


    Arbitrary detention
    Popular action is on the rise across the globe as people take to the streets to demand justice, equity and democratic rights. But this has been mirrored by an unprecedented use of excessive force and arbitrary detention to silence the legitimate exercise of the right to freedom of assembly. In 2019, the CIVICUS Monitor found that one of the most commonly-logged violations of civic rights was against the right to peaceful assembly. This trend looks set to continue, with States both weaponizing repressive laws in order to create justification for detention and arresting peaceful protesters on vague and ill-defined grounds.

    In July, the Human Rights Committee published its General Comment 37 on Article 21 of the ICCPR – the freedom of peaceful assembly. In its guidance relating to arbitrary detention around freedom of assembly, the GC highlights that ‘the procedural guarantees of the Covenant apply to issues such as detention in connection with peaceful assemblies’. It also states that ‘preventative detention of targeted individuals, to keep them from participating in assemblies, may constitute arbitrary deprivation of liberty, which is incompatible with the right of peaceful assembly’, and that practices of indiscriminate mass arrest prior to, during or following an assembly, are arbitrary and thus unlawful’.

    The CIVICUS Monitor as well as other monitoring trackers show that states are falling well short of this guidance. In India, thousands have been held in preventative detention in the context of CAA protests. In Iraq, approximately 3,000 demonstrators were detained during mass protests between October 2019 and April 2020. In Zimbabwe, a number of activists were arrested or abducted to prevent the protests from taking place. Belarus’ practice of mass detentions in the context of protest has prompted condemnation from the UN. Reports from the United States of unidentified police officers detaining protestors may also give rise to arbitrary detention. In Hong Kong, new security law allows for retroactive detention of protestors, well after the protests had ended.

    Recommendations
    CIVICUS recommends that States raise arbitrary detention in the context of protests in statements, jointly or in your national capacity, during the interactive dialogue with the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, and call on the Working Group to look specifically at this issue. CIVICUS further encourages States to name country situations in which individuals have been arbitrarily detained in the context of protests – for example the United States, Belarus, Zimbabwe.


    Current council members:

    Afghanistan, Angola, Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Bahamas, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chile, Czech Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Denmark, Eritrea, Fiji, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Libya, Marshall Islands, Mauritania, Mexico, Namibia, Nepal, Netherlands, Nigeria, Poland, Pakistan, Peru, Philippines, Qatar, Republic of Korea, Senegal, Slovakia, SomaliaSudan, Spain, Togo, Ukraine, Uruguay, Venezuela

    Civic space ratings from the CIVICUS Monitor

    OPEN NARROWED OBSTRUCTED  REPRESSED CLOSED

     

     

  • Advocacy priorities at 46th Session of UN Human Rights Council

    The 46th Session of the UN Human Rights Council will sit from 22 February - 23 March, 2021 and there are a number of critical human rights resolutions up for debate and for the 47 Council members to address. Stay up to date by following @civicusalliance and #HRC46


    The 46th Session of the Human Rights Council presents challenges and opportunities for civil society engagement. We encourage States to continue to raise the importance of civil society participation, which makes the Human Rights Council stronger, more informed and more effective. 

    We look forward to engaging on a range of issues in line with our civic space mandate, set out below. In terms of country-specific situations on the agenda of the Council, CIVICUS will be engaging on resolutions on Nicaragua, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, and South Sudan. Other countries of serious concern as we approach the 46th Session include Zimbabwe, Tanzania and Russia.

    With relation to thematic issues, CIVICUS will be engaging on the High Commissioner’s report on COVID and human rights, the Special Rapporteur’s report on human rights defenders, and the Special Rapporteur’s report on human rights and counter-terrorism

    Civil society Participation in times of COVID19
    Like last session, civil society participation has been significantly impacted by COVID-19. Travel restrictions and distancing guidelines means that in-person participation is conspicuously limited, particularly for organisations from the Global South. Opportunities for remote participation via video messaging are providing a welcome alternative - because of this change, people and groups affected by issues being discussed will, to some extent, be able to address the Council without being limited by their ability to travel to Geneva, as is usually the case. But being able to meet with and hear directly from human rights defenders in the room and in-person, whether through side events or statements, has long been a strength of the Council. The human rights defenders who attend Council sessions strengthen resolutions by providing first-hand information and serve to hold states to account, and their participation reinforces valuable partnerships. Like last session, opportunities to do so in-person will be very much missed.

    see individual member country ratings - ...

    Country-specific situations

    Nicaragua (Civic space rating: Repressed)

    Nicaragua is rated as repressed by the CIVICUS Monitor. Ahead of elections in the country scheduled for this year, increasing restrictions on civic space and expressions of dissent remain a major concern, and likely to escalate. 

    A raft of repressive laws has been enacted that could seriously undermine freedom of association and free speech. In October 2020, Nicaragua’s lawmakers approved the “Foreign Agents Law” which expands government powers to control and muzzle civil society. The legislation requires civil society organisations that receive funding from abroad to register as “foreign agents” and bars them from intervening in “matters of internal politics.” In December 2020, Nicaragua's National Assembly approved a law that could prevent opposition candidates from participating in the upcoming presidential elections. This law prohibits "traitors to the fatherland" ("Traidores a la Patria") from running for public office, defining such people in general terms. In January 2021, lawmakers passed a constitutional amendment permitting life sentences for “hate crimes”. Human rights defenders and journalists continue to be targets of death threats, intimidation, online defamation campaigns, harassment, surveillance, and assault. According to data collected by the press organisation Periodistas y Comunicadores Independientes de Nicaragua (Independent Journalists and Communicators of Nicaragua - PCIN), police, paramilitary groups and government supporters continue to be the most frequent perpetrators. 

    Attacks against civil society organisations, journalists and human rights defenders are early warning signs of an impending human rights crisis. The Human Rights Council must operationalise its prevention mandate by responding robustly to the upcoming High Commissioner’s report, including by enhancing monitoring and reporting on human rights violations, particularly in the context of the elections. Specifically, a resolution should:

    • Renew the enhanced OHCHR mandate to monitor and report on the human rights situation in Nicaragua, and ensuring it is adequately resourced.
    • Mandate the High Commissioner to report regularly to the HRC on the situation in Nicaragua the context of interactive dialogues, including by intersessional briefings ahead of the elections in November.
    • Establish clear benchmarks for cooperation for Nicaragua to meet in order to prevent further Council action, including the repeal of repressive laws.
    • Express explicit support for human rights defenders and the role of civil society, including journalists.

    Myanmar (Civic space rating:Repressed)

    Myanmar is rated as repressed by the CIVICUS Monitor. The Special Session on Myanmar this week is testament to the gravity of the situation in-country. A military coup d’état has left fundamental freedoms at grave risk; in a statement on 2 February, High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet highlighted that the presence of militarised forces on the streets are giving rise to ‘deep fears of a violent crackdown on dissenting voices’. 

    As the military regime attempted to clamp down on information, pro-democracy activists launched a protest campaign dubbed the "Civil Disobedience Movement" in the capital Naypyidaw. They demanded the release of Aung San Suu Kyi and other detained leaders and called on the military to respect the results of the country’s November 2020 election. Journalists in Myanmar have reported credible threats of an imminent, broader-sweeping crackdown on media workers, and several have told Human Rights Watch that they fear for their safety. Some local journalists had reportedly gone into hiding. According to the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), journalists are reporting increased surveillance of news reporting and journalists admitting to self-censorship since the coup.

    The elections last November 2020 were not only affected by the COVID-19 pandemic but censorship and discrimination. The discriminatory 1982 Citizenship Law and the Election Law have been used to disenfranchise Rohingya and other opposition candidates to prevent them from running for office. 

    The CIVICUS Monitor has documented a sustained attack on civic freedoms in the country over the last few years. A repressive legal framework has been used to criminalise individuals for speaking out, reporting or protesting again human rights violations, including independent journalists and human rights defenders. The situation requires strong response from the Human Rights Council.

    We urge states to:

    • Support the renewal and strengthening of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Myanmar, ensuring that the Special Rapporteur has sufficient resources, including human resources, to continue robust and ongoing monitoring of the situation including, given the gravity of the situation, resources for holding intersessional briefings to the Council.
    • Ensure inclusion in preambular and operative paragraphs in both resolutions of language around ending internet shutdowns, cessation of excessive use of force against peaceful protester, and protecting human rights defenders, and the need for accountability for violations perpetrated by state forces.
    • Highlight the crucial role of civil society, including human rights defenders.

    Sri Lanka (Civic space rating: Obstructed)

    Sri Lanka is rated as obstructed by the CIVICUS Monitor. Civic freedom violations have persisted in Sri Lanka as President Rajapaksa’s party expands its powers. In October 2020, Parliament adopted amendments to the Sri Lankan Constitution, which serve to expand the powers of the President, while encroaching on the powers of Parliament and the courts. In recent months, there have been targeted arrests, intimidation and threats against the lives and physical security of lawyers, activists, human rights defenders and journalists. Groups seeking transitional justice for crimes during the country’s 26-year civil war held protests seeking answers especially on the disappeared but face harassment from the authorities.

    The UN has received continued allegations of surveillance of civil society organisations, human rights defenders, and families of victims of violations, including repeated visits by police and intelligence services, questioning organisations about their staff and activities related to the UN. Numerous civilian institutions, including the NGO Secretariat, have come under the control of the Ministry of Defence.

    The current administration’s reneging on its international commitments has put accountability and reconciliation processes under grave risk. This is being compounded by an escalation of attacks against civil society, particularly against groups and people working to further human rights. With NGOs who document, monitor and report on historic and current rights violations being raided and attacked, it is clear that much-publicized national accountability processes are in name only. It is crucial that the international community maintains a strong position on Sri Lanka, through a non-consensual resolution if necessary. States should support a strong resolution which emphasises accountability and implements the recommendations in the High Commissioner’s report, with particular calls for the furthering of accountability processes and protection of civil society. Failure to do so would impact significantly the Council’s credibility. 

    Specifically, the resolution should:

    • Request OHCHR to enhance its monitoring of the human rights situation in Sri Lanka, including progress towards accountability and reconciliation, and report regularly to the Human Rights Council;
    • Establish an independent international mechanism or process to investigate allegations of serious human rights abuses, war crimes and crimes against humanity, secure evidence, and identify perpetrators for future prosecution.
    • Explicitly recognize civil society including human rights defenders for the role they play in documenting and monitoring.

    Zimbabwe (Civic space rating:Repressed)

    Zimbabwe is rated as repressed by the CIVICUS Monitor. As the country’s economy continues to decline, workers and civil servants have sustained protest actions to call for better wages to cushion them from the resulting economic shocks. Protests have been met with forcefully dispersed, with police citing the ongoing curfew restrictions in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and arresting at least 20 protesters. The country’s situation has become a multi-layered crisis characterised by economic collapse, deepening poverty, corruption and human rights abuses. 

    Soldiers and police officers routinely forcefully dispersed the peaceful protest citing the ongoing curfew restrictions in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and arresting at least 20 protesters. It is commonplace for those arrested to be charged with inciting public violence. In 2020, the High Commissioner for Human Rights raised alarm at the situation when investigative journalist Hopewell Chin’ono was arrested on 20 July and charged with inciting public violence, after he tweeted his support for nationwide protests against government corruption and worsening economic conditions. He has since been released and re-arrested. Jacob Ngarivhume, an opposition leader who has been calling for the protests on 31 July, was also detained and similarly charged. These are warning signs of an escalating crisis. In the interests of furthering the Council’s prevention mandate, we call on states to raise Zimbabwe through statements, jointly or in their national capacity, offering support to civil society on the ground. 

    Such statements could include specifically:

    • Concerns about the worsening crackdown in Zimbabwe, particularly in the context of the debate on the High Commissioner’s report on COVID and human rights. 
    • Urging Zimbabwe to engage with civil society and other stakeholders to find sustainable solutions to grievances while ensuring that people’s rights and freedoms are protected in accordance with Zimbabwe’s human rights obligations.

    South Sudan (Civic space rating:Closed)

    South Sudan is rated as closed by the CIVICUS Monitor. In South Sudan, violence and harassment of human rights defenders and journalists continues as the UN extends the arms embargo and its sanctions regime. Despite hopes of peace following the formation of the transitional government of national unity formed by former warring factions on February 2020, fighting continues in several areas of the country, and dozens of people continue to die due to inter-communal fighting. The United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) reported that at least 5,000 civilians had been displaced by heavy fighting in Jonglei State. On 4 August 2020, at least 23 people were reported killed and 20 others wounded in an attack on a religious compound, where unidentified gunmen killed the deacon of the church and at least 14 women and children seeking refuge in the compound. 

    Despite hopes of peace following the formation of the transitional government of national unity formed by former warring factions on February 2020, fighting continues in several areas of the country, and dozens of people continue to die due to inter-communal fighting. As the Council recognised in June 2020, the mandate of the CHRSS should continue until such a point as demonstrable progress has been made against human rights benchmarks, and based on an assessment of risk factors of further violations. Necessary progress has not yet been made to consider a change of approach in this regard. As the only mechanism currently collecting and preserving evidence of violations of international humanitarian and human rights law with a view to accountability and addressing human rights and transitional justice issues in South Sudan from a holistic perspective, the CHRSS remains vital.

    A resolution extending the mandate of the CHRSS must:

    • Extend the mandate of the CHRSS in full under the same agenda item.
    • Call on the CHRSS to articulate clear human rights reform benchmarks or indicators against which any progress can be measured.
    • Call on the CHRSS to enhance its engagement with civil society and human rights defenders on deliverance of its mandate, giving due attention to the increasing restrictions, threats, and attacks civil society and media actors face. 

    Tanzania (Civic space rating: Repressed)

    Tanzania is rated as repressed by the CIVICUS Monitor. In Tanzania, the increasing repression of democracy and civic space has deeply deteriorated environment for human rights. Several opposition parties have reported widespread irregularities in the process for enrolling candidates for the Presidential election on 28th October 2020. 17 opposition party members and critics of the government were arrested, with the increased oppression of opposition, suspension of human rights groups and the limiting of international media coverage of the elections being directly linked to the current government. In addition, the Tanzanian government continues to silence media coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic, most recently through the enactment of new online content regulations in early August 2020. Repression of what journalists can report on the pandemic is feared to stifle access to public health information.

    In the interests of furthering the Council’s prevention mandate, we call on states to raise Tanzania through statements, jointly or in their national capacity, offering support to civil society on the ground. 

    Such statements could include specifically:

    • Concerns about the worsening crackdown in Tanzania, particularly in the context of the debate on the High Commissioner’s report on COVID and human rights.

    Russia (Civic space rating: Repressed)

    Russia is rated as repressed by the CIVICUS Monitor. The recent crackdown by the Russian authorities on independent civil society and dissenting voices in the country. Russian authorities are systematically using the tools of the state to arbitrarily deprive citizens of liberty and curtail the exercise of the freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly, and association. The alarming trends the international community has observed in Russia for more than a decade have been drastically increasing since the end of 2020 and require urgent international action.

    At the beginning of 2021, Russia took a seat on the UN Human Rights Council. As a member of the international body charged with the promotion and protection of human rights around the globe, Russia’s active efforts to attack human rights domestically is particularly cynical. Members of the Council must use the 46th Session - Russia’s first session under its current membership - to strongly denounce these actions to use the tools of the state to attack independent civil society, severely limit civic space and silence dissenting voices.

    CIVICUS is among 85 local and international organisations which endorsed a letter sent to members of the Human Rights Council calling for immediate action to protect and promote human rights and strongly condemn the actions of the Russian authorities. Attacks by Council member states on independent civil society, civic space, and dissenting voices must not go unaddressed.

    Other countries of concern

    Poland and Togo, have been placed on the CIVICUS Monitor's Watchlist, along with Myanmar and Nicaragua, to reflect their sharp decline in civic freedoms. 

    In Poland, concerns about the deterioration of the rule of law and fundamental rights in Poland are long-standing and serious. Recently, a set of mass demonstrations against the near-total ban on abortion took place in Poland - a country whose abortion laws were already considered some of the most restrictive in Europe. There have been multiple reports of police brutality against protesters. The excessive use of force by police, disproportionate charges used against protesters, and speeches from public officials have encouraged further violence toward them. LGBTI rights remain under attack while public officials and opinion makers promote an atmosphere of hate and intolerance vis-à-vis LGBTI people in the country.

    In Togo, civic space has been backsliding since the crackdown on anti-government opposition protests in 2017-2018 to demand a return to the provisions in the 1992 constitution that included a two-term limit on presidents. The detention of journalist Carlos Ketohou on 29th December 2020, the suspension of newspaper l’Indépendant Express in January 2021 and the detention of trade unionists are recent examples of civic space violations, highlighting the deterioration in the respect of civic freedoms in the country. Other violations since 2017 include the killing of protesters, the arrest and prosecution of human rights defenders, journalists and pro-democracy activists, banning of civil society and opposition protests, the suspension of media outlets, regular disruption of and shutting down of access to the internet and social media, the adoption of restrictive legislation such as the 2018 Cybersecurity Law and the 2019 modification of the law on conditions and exercise of peaceful meetings and protests.

    Thematic situations

    Human rights defenders

    A chilling report will be presented to the Human Rights Council on human rights defenders who have been killed by state and non-state actors. The report highlights the warning signs which precede such killings, as well as accountability and justice – or lack thereof – which follows them. 

    The work and protection of human rights defenders is integral to the mission of the Human Rights Council. Environmental human rights defenders are working to ensure we continue to live in an inhabitable planet; those whistleblowing government violations are critical for maintaining a society built on rule of law and respect for rights. 

    We call on states to respond robustly to the report of the Special Rapporteur, including by naming specific human rights defenders who are detained or at risk, which we and our partners offers material protection to human rights defenders.

    COVID and human rights 

    The last months have demonstrated that more than ever civil society is needed in crisis response: in building and maintaining trust in the health system; identifying solutions that respond to the most urgent needs; and ensuring targeted and candid feedback on COVID-19 measures to improve responses. The report of the High Commissioner on the impact of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic on the enjoyment of human rights around the world reflects this: ‘A vibrant civil society is essential to “building back better”, and the free flow of information and broad-based participation by civil society actors can help to ensure that the recovery responds to real needs and leaves no one behind.’

    Since the declaration of the pandemic, however, CIVICUS has documented a number of trends in governmental response which restrict civic space, including:

    • Unjustified restrictions on access to information and censorship;
    • Detentions of activists for disseminating critical information;
    • Crackdowns on human rights defenders and media outlets;
    • Violations of the right to privacy and overly broad emergency powers.

    We call on states to raise these concerns and recommendations in their response to the High Commissioner’s report on COVID and human rights, in the interests of a collaborative, participatory and effective approach to “building back better”. 

    Counter-terrorism and human rights

    According to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Counter Terrorism and Human Rights, two-thirds of all communications sent to the mandate as part of monitoring human rights abuses are related to States’ use of counter terrorism, or broadly defined security measures to restrict civil society. A recent report states that, this extraordinarily high figure “underscores the abuse of counter-terror measures against civil society and human rights defenders since 2005.

    Human rights defenders from the Philippines, Pakistan and India, to name a few, have been targeted under misused counter-terror laws. We urge states to raise concerns about attacks and reprisals against human rights defenders in the name of countering terror and in driving a narrative of human rights defenders and civil society more broadly as antagonists rather than partners in counter-terrorism.


    Current council members:

    Argentina, Armenia, Austria, Bahamas, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Bolivia, BrazilBulgaria, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, China, Côte d'Ivoire, CubaCzech Republic, Denmark, Eritrea, Fiji, FranceIndia, Gabon, GermanyIndonesia, Italy, JapanLibya, MalawiMarshall Islands, Mauritania, Mexico, Namibia, Nepal, Netherlands,  PakistanPhilippinesPolandRepublic of Korea, RussiaSenegal, SomaliaSudan, Togo, UkraineUnited KingdomUruguay, UzbekistanVenezuela

    Civic space ratings from the CIVICUS Monitor

    OPEN NARROWED OBSTRUCTED  REPRESSED CLOSED

     

     

     

  • Advocacy priorities at 47th Session of UN Human Rights Council

    The 47th Session is set to run from 21 June to 15 July, and will cover a number of critical thematic and country issues. Like all Sessions held over the course of the pandemic, it will present challenges and opportunities for civil society engagement. CIVICUS encourages States to continue to raise the importance of civil society participation, which makes the Human Rights Council stronger, more informed and more effective.

     

  • Advocacy priorities at the 48th Session of UN Human Rights Council

    The 48th Session of the UN Human Rights Council will sit from 13 September - 08 October, 2021 and there are a number of critical human rights resolutions up for debate and for the 47 Council members to address. Stay up to date by following @civicusalliance and #HRC48 


    During the 48th Session of the Human Rights Council, CIVICUS encourage States to continue to raise the importance of civil society participation, which makes the Human Rights Council stronger, more informed and more effective.

    We look forward to engaging on a range of issues in line with our civic space mandate, set out in more detail below. In terms of country-specific situations on the agenda of the Council, CIVICUS will be engaging on resolutions on Cambodia and Burundi and debates on the Philippines, Myanmar, Venezuela and Tigray, as well as calling for formal Council action on Cameroonand for the for the urgent establishment of an investigative mechanism on Afghanistan.

    On thematic issues, CIVICUS will be engaging on the resolution on equal participation in public and political affairs and the resolution on cooperation with the United Nations, its representatives and mechanisms in the field of human rights.

    CIVICUS will also engage in the panel discussion on the promotion and protection of human rights in the context of peaceful protests; the debate with the Working Group on arbitrary detentions; and the debate with the Working Group on enforced disappearances.

    Country-specific situations

    Cambodia

    Since the last resolution on Cambodia was negotiated and adopted at the Human Rights Council’s 42nd Session in September 2019, the human rights situation in the country has drastically worsened. Research undertaken by the CIVICUS Monitor shows that laws are routinely misused in Cambodia to restrict civic freedoms, undermine and weaken civil society, and criminalize individual’s exercise of their right to freedom of expression. Human rights defenders, civil society activists and journalists are often subject to judicial harassment and legal action.

    These concerns have escalated over the past two years. COVID-19 and the government’s repressive response has only exacerbated restrictions on fundamental freedoms. Engagement by Cambodia with the Council to date has been minimal at best, with no tangible human rights progress to be seen, and weaponized by Cambodia at worst.

    Should the resolution continue its current cycle, the next opportunity for renegotiation on a Cambodia resolution would be September 2023: that is, after both commune elections set for July 2022 and national elections set for July 2023. The last round of elections in the country took place under, essentially, a one-party state. They were neither free nor fair. The next round of elections are likely to be even less so. The government has shuttered almost all independent media outlets and totally controls national TV and radio stations. Repressive laws – including the amendments to the Law on Political Parties, the Law on Non-Governmental Organizations, and the Law on Trade Unions – have resulted in severe restrictions on the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association. It is imperative that the Council takes action with regards to these developments ahead of the next round of elections, and puts into place a robust monitoring mechanism to assess and address further election-related violations.

    The gravity of the situation, along with the current dire trajectory of human rights in Cambodia, merits action under Item 2 or indeed Item 4. We call on States to ensure that, at the minimum, an Item 10 resolution which adequately addresses the situation would include additional monitoring from the High Commissioner, particularly in the context of the lead-up to elections. A resolution should similarly highlight the deteriorating situation, raising particularly persisting restrictions on civic space and the repression of dissent; arbitrary arrests and detentions; acts of intimidation or reprisal; violations of the right to peaceful and public demonstrations; and repressive laws or decrees that unduly restrict the rights to the freedoms of expression and association.

    Cambodia is rated as repressed on the CIVICUS Monitor.


     Philippines

    The UN joint programme on human rights, developed to implement Human Rights Council resolution 45/33 and focusing on specific areas for capacity-building and technical cooperation, was signed into existence earlier this year. However, the Joint Programme does not further any steps towards accountability for the thousands of murders under the auspices of the ‘war on drugs’ over the past five years, nor does it address their root causes. National efforts towards accountability have remain in name only; worryingly, they also serve to establish a false perception of sufficient action while atrocities continue as routine.

    The situation urgently requires direct accountability action by the Council. That the ICC Prosecutor, after a four-year process, has called for a full investigation into the Philippines confirms the severe gravity of the situation. The ICC only has jurisdiction on Philippine cases dating before the country’s official withdrawal for the Rome Statute in March 2019. It is therefore incumbent on the Council to investigate the violations that have continued past this date.

    During the Council’s 48th Session, we urge States to raise the Philippines in the Item 10 General Debate, drawing attention to the ongoing lack of tangible action towards accountability. We further call on States to consider a more robust response to the High Commissioner’s report with a Council-mandated independent investigative mechanism to address the ongoing systemic human rights violations perpetrated with impunity. This is clearly warranted by the situation set out in the 2020 OHCHR report as well as the demonstrable lack of adequate domestic investigative mechanisms.

    The Philippines is rated as repressed on the CIVICUS Monitor.


     Afghanistan

    CIVICUS is deeply concerned about the safety of human rights defenders, journalists and staff of civil society organisations in Afghanistan following the collapse of President Ashraf Ghani’s government and the takeover by the Taliban. The resolution adopted by the UN Human Rights Council during its Special Session in August 2021 in response to the ongoing crisis in Afghanistan failed to effectively address grave human rights violations in the country. The Council now has a further opportunity to respond affectively to the crisis by establishing an independent investigative mechanism.

    The Taliban have a track record of attacking civilians and engaging in reprisals against those who criticise them. Some have been abducted and killed. Following the takeover of Afghanistan’s capital, Kabul, human rights defenders have reported that lists of names of representatives of civil society have been revealed by the Taliban and raids have been carried out in their homes. Women human rights defenders and journalists are particularly at risk. Demonstrations, often led by women, have been violently dispersed. The courage of those calling for justice on the ground, at grave personal risk, cannot be overstated and it is vital that their efforts be supported by the international community.

    The failure of the Human Rights Council to address the human rights concerns of the people of Afghanistan and hold the Taliban accountable for its human rights violations was a missed opportunity. It must now take action to establish an urgent investigative mechanism to investigate all crimes under international law and human rights violations and abuses with a view to furthering accountability and justice – as called for by civil society, the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, a number of Special Procedure mechanisms, and the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

    Afghanistan is rated as repressed on the CIVICUS Monitor.


     Burundi

    Despite some improvements over the past year, the human rights situation in Burundi has not changed in a substantial or sustainable way. All the structural issues the CoI and other human rights actors have identified since 2015 remain in place. In recent months, there has been an increase in arbitrary arrests of political opponents or those perceived as such, as well as cases of torture, enforced disappearances and targeted killings, apparently reversing initial progress after the 2020 elections. Serious violations, some of which may amount to crimes against humanity, continue. Impunity remains widespread, particularly relating to the grave crimes committed in 2015 and 2016. Even if some human rights defenders have been released, national and international human rights organisations are still unable to operate in the country.

    In the absence of structural improvements, and in view of the recent increase in human rights violations against persons perceived as government opponents, there is no basis, nor measurable progress, that would warrant a failure to renew the mandate of the CoI.

    We call on States to ensure continued scrutiny on Burundi through a resolution which continues documentation, monitoring, reporting, and debates on Burundi’s human rights situation, with a focus on justice and accountability.

    Burundi is rated as closed on the CIVICUS Monitor.


     Cameroon

    In the English-speaking North-West and South-West regions, abuses by armed separatists and Government forces continue to claim lives and affect people’s safety, human rights, and livelihoods. The grievances that gave rise to the “Anglophone crisis” remain unaddressed. In the Far North, the armed group Boko Haram continues to commit abuses against the civilian population. Security forces have also committed serious human rights violations when responding to security threats. In the rest of the country, Cameroonian authorities have intensified their crackdown on political opposition members and supporters, demonstrators, media professionals, and independent civil society actors, including through harassment, threats, arbitrary arrests, and detentions.

    We call on States to consider raising these concerns. A joint oral statement could include benchmarks for pro­gress, which, if fulfilled, will cons­ti­tute a path for Came­roon to improve its situation. If these bench­marks remain unfulfilled, then the sta­te­ment will pave the way for more formal Council action, inclu­ding, but not limited to, a reso­lution esta­bli­shing an in­vestigative and accoun­tability mechanism.

    Cameroon is rated as repressed on the CIVICUS Monitor.


     Myanmar

    Since the military coup of 1 February, over 800 people have been unlawfully killed, most during protests and with impunity. More than four thousand activists, protesters, journalists and politicians have been arbitrarily detained and some activists are facing trumped-up charges, including of treason. There have also been credible first-hand reports of torture or other ill-treatment of political prisoners by the military. Despite the intimidation and violence by the security forces, the anti-coup protests continue, but the military has amended laws to impose restrictions on civic space and imposed internet blackouts.

    A strong resolution adopted in the Council’s 46th Session in response to the military coup in Myanmar mandated reports of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the UN Special Rapporteur on Myanmar. We strongly encourage States to engage in the interactive debates following the updates of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rightsand the progress report of the UN Special Rapporteur on Myanmar.

    Myanmar’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) is due to be adopted at this Session after being posponded from the Council’s 47th Session. CIVCIUS and other national and international organisations strongly urges the Council to postpone again the adoption of the outcomes of Myanmar’s UPR Council amid the military coup. We further call on the Member and Observer States of the Human Rights Council to reject the representative of the Myanmar military junta to the UN Offices in Geneva and recognize the National Unity Government formed on the basis of the outcomes of the November 2020 elections as the legitimate government of the people of Myanmar.

    Myanmar is rated as repressed on the CIVICUS Monitor.


     Ethiopia

    The resolution adopted during the Council’s 47th Session, which ensures Council scrutiny on the Tigray region of Ethiopia, was a vital step towards preventing further human rights violations and abuses in Tigray and furthering accountability.

    Since Prime Minister Ahmed Abiy came to power in April 2018, his initially much-lauded domestic reforms have been severely undermined by ethnic and religious conflicts that have left thousands dead. Conflict broke out in the Tigray region in November 2020 between the Ethiopian army and the leading party in the Tigray region, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). Since then, an overwhelming number of reports have emerged of abuses and violations of international humanitarian and human rights law, including a surge in sexual violence and assault, massacres of civilians, and reports of ethnic cleansing. There have been widespread arrests of and attacks against journalists covering the conflict.

    We encourage States to engage in the enhanced ID on the High Commissioner’s update on the situation of human rights in the Tigray region of Ethiopia, and particularly on questions relating to ensuring accountability for crimes perpetrated.

    Ethiopia is rated as repressed in the CIVICUS Monitor.


     Nicaragua

    Since 2018, President Ortega’s administration has precipitated a socio-political and human rights crisis in Nicaragua. Human rights defenders, journalists and members of the political opposition have been subjected to acts of intimidation, arrests and detentions by security agents. In March 2021, the United Nations Human Rights Council adopted a resolution in response to human rights violations which renews and strengthens scrutiny on Nicaragua. In March 2021, Nicaragua was placed on the CIVICUS Monitor Watch List, due to concerns about the country’s rapidly declining civic space.

    The situation continues to deteriorate; just months before the November elections, the authorities have increased their attacks against members of the political opposition, human rights defenders and journalists. Nicaraguan human rights defender Medardo Mairena Sequeira was detained a month ago as part of a wave of arrests targeting activists and people who expressed their desire to stand for the Presidency ahead of Presidential elections scheduled for November 2021. In addition to Medardo, those detained include labour leaders Freddy Navas Lopes, Pablo Morales and Pedro Joaquin Mena. Many of those arrested are accused of complicity in the kidnapping and killing of police officers in 2018 during large scale protests that swept through Nicaragua that year. The authorities have stated that they are investigating those arrested for inciting foreign interference and violating national sovereignty.

    The government has not adopted any electoral reforms – a key ask of the resolution adopted in March 2021. On the contrary, for several months, leaders and members of Unamos have been subjected to arbitrary arrests and detentions. The authorities have also imposed travel bans on other members of the political opposition and civil society, and froze their bank accounts.

    At a critical time for Nicaragua, we call on States to take the opportunity to call for the immediate and unconditional release of political opposition, human rights defenders and journalists who have been arbitrarily detained, as well as for Nicaragua to implement crucial electoral reforms as a matter of urgency.

    Nicaragua is rated as repressed on the CIVICUS Monitor.


     Venezuela

    The Fact-Finding Mission (FFM) will present is second report to the Council during the 48th Session. With local elections due for November 2021, the ongoing scrutiny of the FFM is vital. Parliamentary elections held in December 2020 were neither free nor fair, and the environment for enjoyment of fundamental democratic freedoms has deteriorated still further since then.

    A raft of repressive laws and ordinances introduced this year risks restricting the work of CSOs in the country, and highlights a growing trend identified by the FFM in March: that of the targeting of individuals and non-governmental organizations engaged in humanitarian and human rights work. Such laws would have a devastating impact on organisations working to provide much needed humanitarian assistance in the country.

    Restrictions on freedom of expression continue; recent attacks against media outlets include the raid and seizure of newspaper El Nacional, and acts of arson of the offices of media outlet CNP in Sucre. 153 media outlets were affected by digital censorship in Venezuela in 2020. As people continue to take to the streets in the context of a dire socioeconomic situation, security forces continue to use excessive force against protesters. Local organisations reported that during the first four months of 2021, 23 demonstrations were repressed, and one person killed.

    Venezuela has shown some indications of engagement with regional actors; however, it continues to refuse to engage with the FFM and its ongoing processes. We urge States to engage with the dialogue of the FFM and to ensure its adequate funding, and, in line with an emphasis on accountability, to consider investigating and prosecuting those identified by the FFM to be suspected of committing crimes under international law. We further call on States to support the Office of the Prosecutor of the ICC in using FFM findings to determine whether to open a formal investigation into Venezuela.

    Venezuela is rated as repressed on the CIVICUS Monitor.


     Thematic situations

    Resolution on equal participation in political and public affairs

    Equal participation in political and public affairs relies on access to information and the protection and promotion of the freedom of expression, freedom of association and freedom of peaceful assembly. In the last two years, these preconditions have been put under severe strain by the COVID-19 pandemic and its responses. In particular, participation has been impeded by rollbacks in democratic freedoms engendered by governmental response to the pandemic; the growing phenomenon of internet shutdowns; the impact of a growing digital divide; and elections postponed on grounds of both genuine public health concerns but also overreach of emergency powers.

    During 2020 and into 2021, the CIVICUS Monitor documented a range of restrictions on rights introduced by governments under the pretext of protecting people’s health and lives which had a significant impact on democratic rights. This includes the use of restrictive legislation to silence critical voices, including through the proposal, enactment and amendment of laws on the basis of curbing disinformation.

    According to a report published by Clement Voule, the Special Rapporteur on freedom of association and peaceful assembly, in June 2021, Internet shutdowns continue to be “a growing global phenomenon.” These measures have the ultimate aim of stifling dissent, stopping the free flow of information, and concealing grave human rights violations. More broadly, online forms of participation expedited owing to the pandemic have shown starkly the impact of unequal access to the internet - the digital divide - on equal participation. At times of crisis, it is even more critical that people have a voice, and a platform where they can hold their governments to account.

    This is particularly the case as a number of governments postponed elections as a result of the health crisis, with corresponding impact on the right to participation. From 21 February 2020 until 21 August 2021, at least 79 countries and territories across the globe decided to postpone national and subnational elections. The postponement of elections can be a legal and legitimate response to emergencies, to avoid diverting resources from more urgent life-saving work. In this context, however, there was a real risk that the pandemic was used for political purposes. This was particularly prevalent in States with a narrowed, repressed or closed civic space, and often in line with the establishment of restrictive emergency laws which similarly curtailed freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly and association.

    We encourage States to support a resolution which highlights and seeks to address these barriers to equal participation which have been engendered or exacerbated by COVID-19, in order to strengthen such participation.

    Peaceful Protests

    In a report presented to the Human Rights Council at its 47th Session, Special Rapporteur Clement Voule described Internet shutdowns as “a growing global phenomenon.” Authorities in Myanmar, Iran, India, Chad, Belarus and Cuba, among others, have particularly turned to shutdowns in response to, or to pre-empt protest. The number of governments imposing internet shutdowns during mass demonstrations continues to grow, and shutdowns have increased in length, scale and sophistication.

    HRC res. 44/20, adopted by the Council in 2020, mandated a panel discussion on the promotion and protection of human rights in the context of peaceful protests, with a particular focus on achievements and contemporary challenges, to be held during the Council’s 48th Session. It also mandated a report by the Special Rapporteur on the protection of human rights in the context of peaceful protests during crisis situations.

    Crises take interrelated forms which have socio-political impacts. In response to such crises, governments across the world have increasingly imposed internet shutdowns, which have a serious impact on the rights to assembly and other civic-space related rights. Shutdowns have been used as pre-emptive tools against peaceful assemblies, and have been especially deployed to target marginalized and at-risk populations. Such shutdowns, often implemented hand in hand with other repressive tactics against protesters, facilitate abuses and gross human rights violations committed in the context of peaceful protests.

    We call on States to engage with the panel discussion on peaceful protests and raise the increasing issue of internet shutdowns.

    Resolution on cooperation with the United Nations, its representatives and mechanisms in the field of human rights

    UN action is only possible with strong engagement from civil society on the ground, who not only provide information and analysis, but are on the front line of ensuring that human rights standards are respected by their own governments, and that violations are held to account. Reprisals have a significant impact on citizen participation at every level of the international human rights infrastructure and are another example of civic space being squeezed.

    At the moment, there is no political cost to States engaging in reprisals. There are a number of emerging trends in types of reprisals leveled against individuals and civil society – false narratives driven on social media and the engagement of non-state actors being just two such escalating tends.

    Until such a political cost is established, the only deterrent to States engaging in this practice remains to publicly name them. We recommend that States use the Interactive Dialogue with the Assistant Secretary General to raise specific cases of reprisals – cases of reprisals in Egypt, Bahrain, Viet Nam and China are particularly prevalent.

    CIVICUS also recommends that reprisals taking place within the UN itself are highlighted – such as that perpetrated by the delegate of Cambodia against prominent Cambodian human rights defender and monk, Venerable Luon Sovath, during a debate held in the Human Rights Council’s 45th Session.

    Current council members:

    Argentina, Armenia, Austria, Bahamas, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Bolivia, BrazilBulgaria, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, China, Côte d'Ivoire, CubaCzech Republic, Denmark, Eritrea, Fiji, FranceGabon, GermanyIndiaIndonesia, Italy, JapanLibya, MalawiMarshall Islands, Mauritania, Mexico, Namibia, Nepal, NetherlandsPakistanPhilippinesPolandRepublic of Korea, RussiaSenegal, SomaliaSudan, Togo, UkraineUnited KingdomUruguay, UzbekistanVenezuela

    Civic space ratings from the CIVICUS Monitor

    OPEN NARROWED OBSTRUCTED  REPRESSED CLOSED

     

     

     

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

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

     

  • AFGHANISTAN: ‘Education is our basic right, it’s an Islamic right, it’s a human right’

    Matiullah WesaCIVICUS speaks about girls’ right to education in Afghanistan with Matiullah Wesa, founder and president of PenPath.

    PenPath is an Afghan civil society organisation (CSO) dedicated to reopening closed schools, establishing new schools with communities and local authorities’ support, supporting ‘secret schools’, collecting books and setting up libraries, distributing humanitarian aid and educational materials and conducting awareness-raising campaigns in Afghanistan. 

    What is PenPath, and what kind of work does it do?

    My brother Ataullah and I founded PenPath in 2009. We work on a wide variety of topics, including human rights, girls’ education and public libraries. We seek to realise fundamental human rights. We support children’s human rights and women’s human rights.

    In the area of education, we work towards the goal of reopening closed schools. In 2009, we reopened a school in a war zone area that had been closed for almost 15 years. After we started reaching out to volunteers, we were able to campaign house to house in village after village. Over time, we were able to reopen 100 schools in the 16 provinces of Afghanistan. 

    For instance, once we went to an area which had 2,100 families and not a single school. We started encouraging people by giving them information about the importance of education. They saw how important it was to have a school in their area. PenPath eventually established 46 schools in this previously school-less area, and we also opened 40 public libraries in remote areas.

    We want to change people’s minds and show them that children’s rights, women’s rights and the right to education are all fundamental rights. We organised a book donation campaign and with the help of Afghan people we have so far collected 340,000 books. We have also distributed 1.5 million stationery material kits (pens, notebooks, schoolbags, pencils) among Afghan people. We provided education facilities for 110,000 children; and 66,000 of them were girls.

    We think of PenPath as a bridge: we are a bridge between people and education.

    What inspired you and your brother to found PenPath?

    Our father was a tribal leader, and after 25 years of work and campaigning house to house to promote education, he established a public school for 900 students. This first school was built out of tents my father got, and we all studied under the trees. In 2003, I was a child attending school in Kandahar Province, Maruf District. I was in the fourth grade and I still remember the day when armed militants came and burned it down. It was very early in the morning, and they destroyed everything, including the Afghan national flag, pictures of the president, and of course the tents, chairs, books, and all school materials we owned. They yelled out awful things to teachers and students. My father was not present when this happened, so I told him once I saw him at home that evening. Even though he was devastated, this did not stop him. The next day, he encouraged all of us to fight for our rights and rebuild the school.

    Six days after my school was burned down, militants came into my house to warn my father that as he was a supporter of girls’ education we were not welcome any longer. They gave us one week to go. We left our home and our district or else we would have been killed.

    We left for Kabul, where we saw that both girls and boys had access to education. I reflected on this and decided to start some kind of campaign. I explained my idea to my father and he agreed to give me financial support for my project, which was also dear to him because he had a history with girls’ education initiatives. This is how my brother and I founded PenPath in 2009.

     What obstacles have you faced?

    When we campaign with PenPath, we travel around the country and visit all districts and villages on our way. We talk to the local people in each area and we promote the unity of Afghan society for the cause of education. It is always difficult to start this conversation. When you first approach locals, their reaction can be very aggressive; they give us death threats and say they will kill us if we keep doing what we do. We also receive threatening phone calls from unknown numbers.

    However, I don’t personally see these threats as obstacles. We manage to have thousands of contacts with locals and tribal leaders from all religious backgrounds who support our work. Fundamentalist militants can’t control our work and they can’t make us stop.

    How did the context change as the Taliban returned to power?

    The Taliban took over Afghanistan on 15 August 2021. Two days after this, PenPath started campaigning. We travelled to 20 provinces and met with thousands of women, men, tribal leaders and people from all religious backgrounds. We encouraged them to join us and contribute to the cause of girls’ education. We told them education is our basic right, it’s an Islamic right, it’s a human right.

    When the Taliban closed girls’ schools, PenPath was the first CSO to start protests against this. We started protesting in March 2022 and held press conferences against the Taliban’s decision. 

    Right now, girls’ schools are closed from grade six to grade 12 – that is, approximately from ages 12 to 18 –, which means that secondary education is out of reach for girls. People are starting to feel hopeless because it has been seven months now and girls still can’t go back to school.

    We are campaigning to reverse this every day, protesting and holding press conferences. The Taliban told the media they would open these schools soon, so now we are waiting for this to happen. We are just waiting for the Taliban’s final decision regarding girls’ education. If the Taliban don’t keep their promise and open the schools, we won’t stay silent – we will take to the streets.

    We will protest outside the Ministry of Education until schools are reopened. The reason I stayed in Afghanistan was to open all schools and to defend this fundamental right. This is now PenPath’s responsibility.

    To what extent are people able to mobilise for girls’ education in Afghanistan?

    Mobilising in Afghanistan is not an easy task. Every day we work to change the narrative around protests. We tell the media that we love our people and our country, and that is why we are fighting. But we must accept the hardships of mobilising in Afghanistan.

    We receive threats and face any challenges that come our way. I could write books about all the challenges I’ve encountered because of my work. But I prefer not to focus on the challenges: I try to share with the media just the positive things. We want to reopen schools, and we will do whatever is necessary to achieve this. We won’t be silenced.

    How does a ‘secret school’ work?

    Secret schools function inside people’s homes. Many houses in Afghan villages are sufficiently big, with very big entrance halls. Some secret schools have grades one to six (ages 7 to 12), and others have grades six to nine (ages 12 to 16). Girls usually attend the latter since the biggest problem is that now they can’t attend high school. We also have five online programmes that are specially designed for girls who can’t attend school right now due to the political situation. The vast majority of our secret schools are located in the most remote areas or in war zones. We provide them with teachers, grade divisions and the necessary infrastructure.

    In 2016 we started with 12 secret schools. These were located in a war zone area where there were no teachers available. We moved education to the houses and family teachers helped us with this. At this time, we didn’t want to promote this initiative on the media or among the government because we were afraid for the well-being of the teachers and students who took part. If they saw we had secret girls’ schools in that area, the military would try to kill our teachers.

    Right now, we have 33 secret schools in the poorest provinces of Afghanistan. These areas had no schools 20 years ago, and we were the ones who brought education to them. There are two kinds of schools in these areas: one has only one class, and the other one has up to nine classes. Girls from poor areas used to have no access to schooling, and now they do. This is what matters to us. We give girls hope. Right now, 5,000 girls are studying every day in our secret schools.

    How could international civil society support your work?

    Funding is a big challenge for us. During the last government, I had contacts with the president and the minister of education, but I’ve never had contacts with the local Taliban. This means that no one in the current administration will help us. We used to have a team of 2,400 volunteers and worked together with the government. They had a big salary budget and helped us with donations. But the majority of those officials don’t have a job anymore, and this is a problem because we are running very low on donations.

    On the ground I can manage, because all of our activities used to be in war-zone areas, which were 50 per cent Taliban-controlled anyway. I know how to talk to religious leaders and how to navigate these difficulties. But funding is a whole different thing.

    I am very active on social media. PenPath has a website, Facebook page and Twitter account. I also use Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. If international civil society or foreign CSOs want to contribute to our projects, they can always get in touch with us on social media, by email and through WhatsApp. We currently don’t receive any kind of international funding, and all our work is volunteer work. But we do need your support to continue running secret schools, public libraries, online classes and other activities. Donations would be a big help for PenPath.

    Another key way the international community could help is by putting pressure on the Taliban government to reopen schools and by supporting education in Afghanistan. Before the Taliban took over in August last year, there were still many areas with no schools, so we need help building schools, providing scholarships, distributing books and stationery and bringing all these to remote places. We need all the help we can get if we are to provide education opportunities to every woman, girl and boy in Afghanistan.

    Civic space in Afghanistan is rated ‘repressed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.
    Get in touch with PenPath through itswebsite or itsFacebook page, and follow@PenPath1 and@matiullahwesa on Twitter and@penpathvolunteers and@matiullah_wesa on Instagram.

    PenPath Afghanistan 1

     

  • AFGHANISTAN: ‘Our fight for accountability has become a thousand times harder under the Taliban’

    CIVICUS speaks with Horia Mosadiq, an Afghan women human rights defender (HRD) and founder of Safety and Risk Mitigation Organization (SRMO). SRMO aims to empower, support and protect Afghan civil society activists and organisations, including those working in remote and insecure areas, and to advocate for greater state protection and accountability for any abuses they suffer as result of their work.

    Horia has extensive experience in assisting HRDs at risk and providing human rights and safety training. She previously worked as the Afghanistan researcher for Amnesty International.

    Since the Taliban takeover in August 2021, Afghanistan has experienced a human rights and humanitarian crisis. Protests,especially by women, have been dispersed with excessive force, gunfire and beatings, leading to deaths and injuries of peaceful protesters. Journalists and HRDs have been threatened, intimidated and attacked and had their homes raided.

    Horia Mosadiq

    Why did you establish your organisation?

    Along with two other dedicated activists, I established SRMO in 2013 with a mandate to protect HRDs and civil society in Afghanistan. We founded it because there was no mechanism inside the country to respond to growing threats against activists. I was an HRD at risk for many years and was totally reliant on international civil society organisations (CSOs) such as Freedom House, Front Line Defenders and Urgent Action Fund.

    But we wanted to set up something led and run by Afghans, by people who understood the situation on the ground and could respond to the needs of Afghan HRDs who don’t speak English and don’t have access to international platforms and organisations. The whole idea behind SRMO is to reach out and protect grassroots activists, especially those in volatile areas and without international access or funding.

    What does your research reveal about the current situation of Afghan HRDs?

    We recently published a report that contains two distinct sections. The first covers the situation in 2021 until 15 August, a time when the previous government was in control and there was an elected president in charge. A clear law enforcement system, a judiciary and other accountability mechanisms were in place. They were not anywhere near perfect or even responsive, but at least they existed.

    The second section covers the events following the Taliban takeover on 15 August 2021. The whole security situation in the country changed significantly and the republic of Afghanistan was gone. The Taliban operate on the basis of Islamic ideology and renamed the country ‘Islamic Emirates of Afghanistan’. There is no law-and-order system anymore. The whole system is run by a group of mullahs with no clear accountability. Nobody knows which laws they are implementing. There is a lack of clarity and a definite legal gap. In many instances they refer to Sharia law, although we don’t have a codification of Sharia, so it is all open to interpretation. This is the situation on the ground today.

    Following the Taliban takeover, attacks against HRDs have continued and nobody has been held accountable. Many HRDs have been killed, abducted, tortured and disappeared. Between January and March 2022 alone, SRMO documented 120 violations against activists, journalists and critics, including killings and kidnappings. Even medical doctors have been abducted by the Taliban.

    Many CSOs have had to shut down and media workers and journalists have faced numerous restrictions. We documented the case of a TV journalist who interviewed a critic of the Taliban, and right afterward he and his crew were arrested and tortured, and were only released after signing statements pledging not to reveal their treatment to the international community. Many activists who protested had their passports and IDs taken away so they couldn’t leave the country and expose the truth. Activism is still happening, but civic space is increasingly shutting down.

    Contrary to the general belief among the diplomatic community, the security situation has not improved under the Taliban. Although you may not hear about many bombings or active fighting in various parts of the country, the general security situation has deteriorated. Dozens of HRDs, journalists and others have been abducted, tortured, disappeared and detained unlawfully and without any explanation. The de facto authorities are part of an abusive system. The limited accountability mechanisms that existed under the previous regime are all gone. Now no one is accountable to anyone. Our fight for accountability has become a thousand times harder under the Taliban.

    How have you conducted your work following the Taliban takeover?

    Since August 2021, our focus shifted to reactive work to provide safety and protection to HRDs at risk and evacuate them from the country. The evacuations have since slowed down, but we also support the internal relocation of those at risk. We also provide humanitarian assistance to women HRDs, as many have lost their jobs and livelihoods. So as well as facing security threats, many have lost their means of surviving, paying for food and essentials required for their family. We have tried to support some minimal living costs where possible.

    What has happened to the activists who were evacuated?

    Those who were part of an organised effort undertaken by some countries and CSOs are being looked after while they resettle. But those who fled the country to Central Asia, Pakistan or Turkey experience an extremely bad situation as they run out of funds, their visas expire and there are no programmes for their resettlement. Many are pushed back by embassies or told they need to register with the United Nations (UN) Refugee Agency and that it can take years before they are resettled.

    Some with expired visas are even being deported back to Afghanistan. I just heard that Greece has deported 500 Afghans to Turkey, which sent them back to Afghanistan. In Central Asian countries people cannot get their expired visas renewed while in the country; they must leave to get a new one, which many HRDs are unable to do. This is making it difficult for them to survive. Many activists and journalists are facing ever-growing economic difficulties. They can’t pay for rent or food. Things are particularly difficult for those with small children. Many funders don’t provide resources for HRDs outside their country.

    What can the international community do to support HRDs in Afghanistan?

    I am disappointed with the international community. The way they have responded to the Ukraine crisis is very different from how they have responded to the situation in Afghanistan. They were open to receive millions of Ukrainian refugees, whose cases were processed within weeks. In contrast, only a few countries – including Canada, Germany and the USA – have been willing to issue visas to Afghans. This is not nearly enough, as thousands are currently stranded in neighbouring countries and in need of immediate help. If they can do it for Ukraine, why not for Afghanistan? Is it because of our skin colour or because they don’t view the Taliban as the enemy? There may be politics involved but I think there is also systematic racial discrimination. 

    More positively, the appointment of the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Afghanistan is an excellent step. At the moment there is a vacuum of human rights monitoring mechanisms. CSOs can only do so much and having someone working with a UN mandate and the support of the international community is key. The international community should provide the UN Special Rapporteur all the necessary financial and diplomatic support and his recommendations must be taken seriously and implemented.

    Our recent report includes a series of recommendations for the international community to put pressure on the Taliban to ensure accountability for crimes committed against HRDs and to provide financial, diplomatic and political support to Afghan HRDs at risk, including by issuing humanitarian visas and funding resettlement programmes. The international community should use its leverage to pressure the Taliban to create a safer space for HRDs and journalists in Afghanistan. This issue is currently not being addressed adequately at the international and diplomatic level.

    Civic space inAfghanistanis rated ‘repressed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.
    Follow SRMO Afghanistan via itswebsite and follow@AfgSrmo on Twitter 

     

  • African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) reaches 30-year milestone but challenges remain

    November 15 marked the last day of the 61st Ordinary Session of the ACHPR taking place in Banjul, The Gambia as the Commission celebrates 30 years of advancing human rights in Africa.

     

  • Alaa Abdel Fattah

    Alaa Abdel Fattah

    Name: Alaa Abdel Fattah

    Country: Egypt

    Update:

    He was again sentenced to 5 years in prison by a Criminal Court in Cairo during a re-trail of the case on 23 February 2015 for participating in a protest and assaulting a policeman.

    Reason Behind Bars:

    On 11 June 2014 civil society activist and blogger, Alaa Abdel Fattah was sentenced to 15 years in prison and handed a fine of EGP 100000 (approximately US $14000) for participating in a peaceful protest. Alaa was among a group of activists who protested against the use of military courts to try civilians. The protests took place on 26 November 2013 outside the Shuna-Council – Egypt’s Upper House of Parliament. He was charged with “demonstrating without prior notification,” “assaulting security forces,” “stealing a public radio,” and “interrupting the work of national institutions.”  He was sentenced in absentia as he was denied access to the court when the sentencing was done.

    On 28 November 2013, about 20 security agents physically assaulted Alaa and his wife Manal Bahey el Din who is a blogger and activist and confiscated computers and telephones at their home before he was arrested.  He was detained for close to four months and later released on bail. 

    Background information 

    Alaa has been arrested and detained several times in the past for his activism and played an instrumental role in the protests during the Arab Spring that led to the down fall of former President Hosni Mubarak.   He was detained in 2006 for a month and a half for his online activities and was summoned by the Egyptian authorities in October 2011 for taking part in a peaceful demonstration organised by Egypt’s Coptic Christians in October 2011. 27 protesters and a military officer were killed during the demonstrations. 

    On 5 January 2014, the North Giza Criminal Court sentenced Alaa to one year in prison on charges of  arson, damage to property and danger to public safety. The charges were based on allegations that Alaa and another activist attacked the campaign headquarters of former presidential candidate Ahmed Shafiq on 28 May 2012. The one year sentence was suspended for three years.   

    Alaa was given a summons for his arrest by the Office of the Public Protector and on 28 November he wrote to the Public Protector confirming that that he will respect the summons.  He was however arrested on 28 November 2013, and held in pre-trial detention until he was provisionally released in March 2014 by the South Cairo Criminal Court on bail of EGP 10000 (approximately us $ 1400).  He is a prisoner of conscience and is in jail on fictitious charges for his human rights campaigns.  

    On 18 August 2014, Alaa began a hunger strike following news that his father Ahmed Seif El-Islam, a prominent human rights lawyer, was taken into an extensive care unit after his open heart surgery. According to a statement released by Alaa’s family the hunger strike followed a “decisive moment” when Alaa decided he “will not cooperate with this absurd and unfair situation, even if it costs him his life." Alaa’s family and friends stated that they are holding the Egyptian government accountable for any deterioration in Alaa’s health, since it was the draconian Egyptian government that imprisoned him for the third time since 25 January 2014 based on trumped up charges. 

    For more information 

    Amnesty International: Egypt – heavy jail sentences for peaceful protests

    Egypt: Sentencing to 15 years of prison of Mr. Alaa Abdel Fatah and Mr. Ahmed Abdel Rahman  

    Egypt: 15 year sentences for 25 peaceful protesters

    Egypt: Update- suspended sentences on trumped-up charges for human rights defenders Ms. Mona Seif and Mr. Alaa Abd El Fattah  

    Take Action 

    Write immediately to the Egyptian authorities urging them to release Alaa Abdel Fattah and other activists arrested for exercising their rights of assembly and association.  

    Send Appeals to 

    President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi 

    Office of the President 

    Al Ittihadia, Cairo 

    Arab Republic of Egypt 

    Fax: 0020223911441

     

    Deputy Assistant Minister of Foreign Affairs for Human Rights 

    Mahy Hassan Abdel Latif 

    Multilateral Affairs and International Security Affairs 

    Corniche al-Nil, Cairo 

    Arab Republic of Egypt 

    Fax: 00202 25749713

    Email:

    Write to the Egyptian diplomatic representation in your country.  See a list of Egyptian diplomatic representation abroad here.

     

  • ALGERIA: ‘The authorities are arresting human rights defenders to suffocate civil society’

    Rachid AouineCIVICUS speaks about the situation of human rights and civic freedoms in Algeria with Rachid Aouine, Director for SHOAA for Human Rights.

    SHOAA for Human Rights is an independent civil society organisation (CSO) aimed at supporting and protecting human rights in Algeria. Founded in 2020 and based in London, UK, it raises human rights awareness and monitors, documents and denounces abuses committed against citizens by those in power.

    What is the current situation of human rights and civic space in Algeria?

    As a result of the escalation of repressive practices by the Algerian authorities, human rights are in a critical state. Arbitrary arrests have increased, targeting journalists, human rights defenders, civil society activists and political activists associated with political parties linked to the Hirak protest movement for their exercise of the rights to the freedoms of association, expression, belief and peaceful assembly. In recent months they have been criminalised in an unprecedented way.

    The authorities are unjustly prosecuting people for their alleged association with the political opposition movements Rachad and the Movement for the Self-Determination of Kabylie, which in May 2021 were designated as ‘terrorist organisations’ by the High Security Council. This is a consultative body chaired by the president. It has also blamed these organisations for the devastating forest fires that overtook north-eastern Algeria in August 2021 and the murder of activist and artist Djamel Bensmaïl while he was in police custody. It announced it would intensify efforts to arrest their members until their ‘total eradication’.

    Since early 2021, prosecutions on bogus terrorism charges have proliferated alarmingly. For those convicted of these charges, the Penal Code dictates sentences ranging from one year in jail to lifelong imprisonment and the death penalty.

    Of course, those arrested and prosecuted have seen their due process and fair trial guarantees systematically violated.

    A new wave of arrests started in February 2022. Why are the authorities targeting human rights defenders in such large numbers?

    The Algerian authorities are arresting human rights defenders to suffocate civil society. Human rights defenders are the only limit to their power, because they are the only ones defending and advocating for human rights in Algeria. Their elimination would effectively end the flow of information about the human rights violations they commit to the outside world.

    Rather than addressing the problems that civil society denounces, the authorities are attacking those advocating for change, because they view change as a threat and a limitation to their power. To cover up the ongoing human rights violations, they are using systematic repression, specifically targeting human rights defenders and the exercise of the freedom of expression.

    Three years after the Hirak protests, the authorities continue to restrict protests. What tactics of suppression do they use?

    Indeed, three years after Hirak (which stands for ‘movement’ in Arabic) peacefully pushed for political change and forced President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s resignation, at least 300 activists, many of them associated with Hirak, are being held by the authorities.

    Through presidential decrees, the Algerian authorities have recently enacted new legislation hostile to the freedoms of expression and assembly. In June 2021, the Penal Code was amended by presidential decree, leading to the expansion of an already too broad definition of terrorism. People are now being accused of crimes such as ‘offending public bodies’, ‘spreading false information’, ‘membership of a terrorist group’, ‘apology for terrorism’, and ‘conspiracy against state security’. A Facebook post may lead to charges such as ‘using information technologies to spread terrorist ideas’ and ‘disseminating information that could harm the national interest’. Even a simple remittance is listed as an act of treason.

    All human rights defenders and advocates who fall under the thumb of these new laws, in particular articles 87 bis and 95 bis of the Penal Code, are automatically slapped with vague charges such as ´undermining national unity’ as well as bogus terrorism-related charges. Despite the presentation of evidence of their innocence by their defence, judicial authorities impose the verdicts sought by the authorities.

    The authorities are also accusing pro-Hirak CSOs of allegedly holding activities contrary to the objectives listed in the Law on Associations and in their own by-laws. On this basis, some of them have been dissolved, including Rassemblement Action Jeunesse and the cultural association SOS Beb El Oued, whose president was sentenced to a year in prison for ‘undermining national unity and national interest’ in connection with the association’s activities.

    Political activists and leaders of parties linked to Hirak are also punished for ‘crimes’ such as ‘calling for a gathering’, and parties are accused of not complying with the Law on Political Parties by organising ‘activities outside the objectives stipulated in its by-laws’. This happened, for example, after several activists gathered to discuss the establishment of a united front against repression.

    What needs to change in Algeria?

    Civil society must be preserved while there is still something left. Civil society plays a major role in any movement for change. When CSOs are absent or disabled, people are left without protection and guidance. This is especially true in efforts to avoid violence and prevent human rights violations; when a society is devoid of CSOs, people lack guidance in knowing what steps to take and human rights violations go unaccounted for. Civil society associations, centres and bodies are key for framing the protest movement – to provide it with structure, strategy and a goal.

    If nothing is done about it, the authorities will continue repressing independent civil society and the human rights situation will worsen. If nothing is done, the goal of democracy and respect for human rights will float further and further away, until it’s completely out of reach.

    How can international civil society support Algerian civil society in its struggle for human rights and democratic freedoms?

    Algerian civil society cannot achieve its goals on its own; it needs cooperation and support from the international community. To address human rights violations and promote democratic freedoms in Algeria, domestic civil society must establish relationships of cooperation and work jointly with international organisations.

    Algerian civil society can develop an effective strategy by opening international lines of communication and becoming a major source of information on the real conditions of human rights on the ground. On the basis of this information, international organisations can help activate international monitoring mechanisms and put pressure for change on Algerian authorities.

    Civic space in Algeria is rated ‘repressed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.
    Get in touch with SHOAA for Human Rights through itswebsite or itsFacebook page, and follow@shoaa_org on Twitter.