human rights

 

  • Algeria: Global Campaign urges authorities to lift restrictions on civic space

    CIVICUS joins 37 other organisations today in announcing a 10-day campaign against the increasing government repression of individuals and groups defending human rights in Algeria.

    A year ago, Algerian authorities shut down the “Hirak” pro-democracy protests in most of the country. Since then, the number of unfounded terrorism prosecutions has soared, problematic amendments to the Penal Code were adopted, legal actions were initiated against civil society organisations and opposition political parties, and the crackdown on human rights defenders and the media has intensified, while authorities have continued to obstruct independent unions’ registration and activity. 

    #NotACrime is an online campaign aiming to draw attention to the ways in which Algerian authorities have increasingly attempted to stifle dissenting voices and independent civil society. Launched by 38 Algerian, regional and international organisations, the campaign will be conducted between 19-28 May on the organisations’ respective social media accounts.

    The campaign calls on Algerian authorities to end their repression of human rights, immediately and unconditionally release those detained solely for the peaceful  exercise of their human rights and allow everyone to freely enjoy their rights. Those suspected of responsibility for grave human rights violations should be brought to justice in fair trials, and the authorities should provide access to justice and effective remedies for victims. The campaign calls on all individuals, organisations and relevant parties to contribute in collectively demanding an end to the criminalisation of the exercise of fundamental freedoms in Algeria, using the #NotACrime hashtag. 

    At least 300 people have been arrested since the beginning of 2022 (as of 17 April) for exercising their right to free expression, peaceful assembly or association, according to Zaki Hannache, a human rights defender, though some have since been released. Arrests and sentencing of peaceful activists, independent trade unionists, journalists and human rights defenders have continued unabated, even after the protest movement was shut down. Algerians jailed for their speech have repeatedly carried out hunger strikes - El Hadi Lassouli since 3 May for instance - above all to protest their arbitrary imprisonment. According to the Algerian League for the Defense of Human Rights (LADDH), these figures underrepresent the reality because many cases are not communicated due to fear of reprisal.

    The death in detention of Hakim Debbazi on 24 April, after he was placed in pretrial detention on 22 February for social media postings, shows what is at stake when people are detained  simply for exercising their human rights. 

    While international scrutiny has remained scarce, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, in her update to the Human Rights Council on 8 March 2022 , expressed concern over "increasing restrictions on fundamental freedoms" in Algeria and called on the government "to change course." Ahead of the examination of Algeria’s human rights record in November by the UN Human Rights Council, within the Universal Periodic Review process, the undersigned organisations express serious concern and hold Algerian authorities responsible for the dangerous backsliding in Algeria, notably in the rights to express one’s opinion, assemble and associate peacefully, and share and access information. 

    The campaign will extend until the anniversary of the death of Kamel Eddine Fekhar, a human rights defender who died in detention on 28 May 2019 after a 50-day hunger strike to protest his imprisonment for expressing views critical of the government. He had been charged with undermining state security and inciting racial hatred. On 11 December 2016, a British-Algerian journalist, Mohamed Tamalt, also died in custody following a hunger strike during his imprisonment for Facebook posts deemed offensive by the authorities. Algerian authorities have failed to adequately investigate both of their deaths.

    Exercising the fundamental freedoms of peaceful assembly, association and expression, and defending human rights is #NotACrime. 

    Signatories

    1. Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture (ACAT-France)
    2. Action for Change and Democracy in Algeria (ACDA)
    3. AfricanDefenders (Pan-African Human Rights Defenders Network)
    4. Algerian League for the Defence of Human Rights (LADDH)
    5. Amnesty International 
    6. ARTICLE 19
    7. Autonomous General Confederation of Workers in Algeria (CGATA, Algeria)
    8. Autonomous National Union of Electricity and Gas Workers (SNATEG, Algeria)
    9. Autonomous National Union of Public Administration Staff (SNAPAP, Algeria)
    10. Burkinabè Coalition of Human Rights Defenders (CBDDH)
    11. Burundian Coalition of Human Rights Defenders (CBDDH)
    12. Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) 
    13. Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (CJPME)
    14. Civil Rights Defenders (Sweden)
    15. Collective Action-Detainees (Algeria)
    16. Collective of the Families of the Disappeared in Algeria (CFDA)
    17. Confederation of Trade Union Workers' Commissions (CCOO, Spain)
    18. CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation 
    19. DIGNITY - Danish Institute against Torture
    20. Euro-Mediterranean Federation against Enforced Disappearances (FEMED)
    21. Euromed Rights
    22. Free Algeria
    23. Front Line Defenders
    24. General Confederation of Labour (CGT, France)
    25. Human Rights League (LDH, France)
    26. Human Rights Watch 
    27. International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
    28. International Labour Network of Solidarity and Struggles
    29. International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers’ Associations (IUF)
    30. Ivorian Coalition of Human Rights Defenders (CIDDH)
    31. Justitia Center for Legal Protection of Human Rights in Algeria
    32. MENA Rights Group
    33. Public Services International (PSI)
    34. Riposte Internationale (Algeria)
    35. Shoaa for Human Rights (Algeria)
    36. Syndicate Union – Solidaires (France)
    37. Tharwa N’Fadhma N’Soumer (Algeria)
    38. Trade Union Confederation of Productive Forces (COSYFOP, Algeria)

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

     

  • Algeria: Marked regression in human rights underscored by proliferation of baseless terrorism prosecutions

    Arabic

    The undersigned organisations are deeply concerned and alarmed by the sustained repression of fundamental freedoms and legitimate human rights work in Algeria, including the marked proliferation of prosecutions on baseless terrorism charges against human rights defenders, journalists and peaceful activists.

     

  • Alpha Condé wants a third term in Guinea. The AU must stop him

    By David Kode, Advocacy and Campaigns Lead 

    President Ramaphosa and the AU have a crucial role in aiding the continuation of Guinea's democracy. Guinea’s nascent democracy hangs in the balance as current President Alpha Condé’s resolve to defy the constitution and stand for a third term in office threatens to plunge the country into violence. Under the current constitution, President Conde is only allowed to serve two five-year terms. The only way he can change the presidential limit is through a new constitution, which requires a referendum.

    Read on: The Africa Report 

     

  • Amendments on the Media Services Act of 2016 of Tanzania

    Global civil society alliance CIVICUS welcomes the commitment by the Tanzanian authorities to review the restrictive Media Services Act of 2016 and create a more enabling environment for media outlets and journalists. The proposed review presents a key moment to address long-standing deficits in existing media legislation. It has the potential of opening the space for media actors to exercise their fundamental freedoms, including freedom of expression.

     

  • Angola decriminalises homosexuality

    Angola has officially decriminalised same-sex relationships and prohibited discrimination based on sexual orientation. LGBTQI+ advocacy lead for CIVICUS, Mawethu Nkosana spoke with eNCA's Sally Burdett on Angola's repeal of Anti-gay law.

     

  • ANGOLA: “The ruling party sees local elections as a threat”

    View the original interview in Portuguese here

    Pascoal Baptistiny 1CIVICUS speaks about the situation in Angola with Pascoal Baptistiny, Executive Director of MBAKITA  – Kubango Agricultural Benevolent Mission, Inclusion, Technologies and the Environment, a civil society organisation based in the Cuando Cubango province in southern Angola. Founded in 2002, MBAKITA defends the rights of Indigenous peoples and traditional communities, denounces the discrimination they suffer and the expropriation of their lands, and promotes a more just, democratic, participatory, tolerant, supportive, healthy and humane society.

    What is the state of civic space in Angola, and what are the main constraints faced by Angolan activists?

    The repression of civic space in Angola is one of the biggest challenges facing Angolan civil society today. Activists suffer arbitrary and illegal arrests, torture and ill-treatment, abductions, killings, harassment and disappearances by government forces, police and state intelligence services. This repression has made many Angolans careful about what they say in public. The few organisations that defend human rights in Angola often do so at great risk to the activists involved and their families.

    Could you tell us about the restrictions you and your colleagues faced in 2020?

    In 2020, my MBAKITA colleagues and I faced obstacles aimed at preventing, minimising, disrupting and reversing the impact of our organisation’s legitimate activities that focused on criticising, denouncing and opposing rights violations and ineffective government positions, policies and actions.

    The various forms of restriction we experienced included arbitrary restrictions and the interruption of demonstrations and meetings; surveillance; threats, intimidation, reprisals and punishments; physical assaults; smear campaigns portraying MBAKITA members as ‘enemies of the state’ and mercenaries serving foreign interests; judicial harassment; exorbitant fines for the purchase of means of transport; burglary of our offices and theft of computer equipment; search and seizure of property; destruction of vehicles; the deprivation of employment and income; and travel bans.

    In addition, 15 activists were arbitrarily detained and ill-treated during the COVID-19 prevention campaign. On 1 May my residence was invaded, and its guards were teargassed. On 16 November, two female activists were raped. Fatalities for the year included three of our activists and one protester.

    What kind of work does MBAKITA do? Why do you think it has been targeted?

    MBAKITA is an organisation that defends and promotes human rights. We work to promote, protect and disseminate universally recognised human rights and freedoms, and especially the rights to the freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression, the freedom of the press, the right to self-determination by Indigenous peoples, the rights to land, adequate food, clean water and the environment, and the fight against torture and ill-treatment.

    We challenge violations of the civil, political, economic, social, cultural and environmental rights of Indigenous and migrant people, ethnic and linguistic minorities, LGBTQI+ people and people with disabilities.

    My organisation uses peaceful and non-violent means in its activities. However, we have faced incalculable risks as a result of our human rights work in the southern provinces of Angola.

    MBAKITA has been systematically attacked for several reasons. First, because in 2018 we denounced the death of four children during Operation Transparency, an action against diamond trafficking and undocumented migrants carried out by the Angolan police and armed forces in the municipality of Mavinga, in the Cuando Cubango province. Second, because in 2019 we denounced the diversion of funds intended to support drought victims in Angola’s southern provinces by provincial governments. Third, because in April 2019, two activists of the organisation denounced the illegal appropriation of land by political businesspeople – generals, legislators and governors – in territories belonging to the San and Kuepe Indigenous minorities and used for hunting, fishing and gathering wild fruits, which make up the diet of these groups. Fourth, because in February 2020 MBAKITA denounced the diversion of funds designated for the purchase of biosecurity products for the prevention of COVID-19 and the diversion of food destined for the Basic Food Basket Assistance Programme for Vulnerable Groups. Fifth, because we participated in and conducted an awareness-raising campaign on COVID-19, which included the distribution of biosecurity materials purchased with MISEREOR-Germany funds. And finally, because we participated in all demonstrations held by Angolan civil society, including the most recent one on 9 January 2021, focused on the fight against corruption and the demand for local elections, under the slogan ‘Local elections now, 45 years in power is too long!’ and for the fulfilment of various electoral promises, including those of 500,000 jobs, the reduction of the cost of living for families and the socio-economic inclusion of Indigenous minorities.

    Why were the elections scheduled for 2020 cancelled?

    For one thing, because of the COVID-19 pandemic. But aside from this deadly pandemic, the government was never interested in holding local elections in 2020. The ruling party, the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), sees local elections as a threat to central power and fears losing its grip on power. It fears introducing an element of voter control over local government, that is, citizen participation and control over the management of public funds. The government thinks that the people will wake up to the idea of the democratic state and the rule of law, and that many people will become aware of their rights and duties. This would run counter to the MPLA’s intention, which is to perpetuate itself in power.

    The promise of local democracy in Angola has been a failure. Three years into his term in office, President João Lourenço has failed to deliver even 10 per cent of his electoral promises, leaving 90 per cent of Angolans in a state of total scepticism.

    In Angola, the party that has been in power for more than 45 years does not tolerate free people. Today, human rights defenders lose their jobs, are unable to feed their children, lose their careers and even their lives if they dare to be free, to desire democracy and to exercise their freedom.

    What are the prospects that the situation will change in the near future?

    For the situation to change, civil society has a lot of work to do. The most important and urgent actions are acquiring training in individual, institutional and digital security, learning English, obtaining observer status with the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, observing and participating in demonstrations and other public events, advocating and lobbying for the legalisation of human rights organisations, conducting prison visits, including interviews with prisoners and gathering evidence of torture, ill-treatment and imprisonment conditions, observing trials of activists in the lower courts, fundraising for the sustainability of human rights defenders’ activities, and monitoring the 2021 local elections and the 2022 general elections.

    What kind of support do Angolan activists need from international civil society to be able to continue their work?

    Needs are enormous and varied. Activists urgently need protection and security, including training in risk analysis, security planning and international and regional human rights protection mechanisms, as well as skills in investigating, litigating, documenting, petitioning and reporting human rights violations. Specifically, MBAKITA would like to receive technical assistance to assess what security arrangements could be put in place to increase the physical protection of the organisation’s office and my residence, as well as financial support for the purchase of such arrangements, such as a security system or a video surveillance camera.

    Assaulted activists, and especially the 15 MBAKITA activists who have been direct victims of repression and torture at the hands of government forces, also need post-traumatic psychological assistance. Financial assistance would help us pay the fees of the lawyers who worked for the release of six activists who were imprisoned between August and November 2020. It would also help us replace stolen work equipment, without which our ability to work has been reduced, including two vehicles, computers, memory cards, a digital camera and a camcorder.

    In the case of activists threatened with arbitrary detention, kidnapping or assassination, who have no choice but to leave the country or their region of origin quickly, we need support for transportation and provisional accommodation. Our activists would also benefit from exchanges of experience, knowledge and good practice, opportunities to strengthen their knowledge of digital security, training in journalistic and audio-visual techniques and the acquisition of English language skills.

    Finally, the operation of organisations and their sustainability would be helped by obtaining support for the installation of internet services and the creation of secure websites, the acquisition of financial management software and resources to recruit permanent staff, so that staff members are able to support their families and fully dedicate themselves to the defence of human rights.

    Civic space in Angola is rated ‘repressed’ by thehere.
    Get in touch with MBAKITA through itsFacebook page.

     

     

  • Angola: Repressive restrictions include arrest of protesters

    Statement at the 43rd Session of the UN Human Rights Council
    Angola's adoption of Universal Periodic Review on Human Rights
    Watch us deliver our statement below

    CIVICUS welcomes Angola’s acceptance of 14 recommendations focusing on civic space in this UPR cycle. However, in our UPR submission, we documented that since its last review, Angola has not implemented or taken any concrete steps to implement 19 of the 20 recommendations relating to civic space made in 2014. 

    Several pieces of restrictive legislation that in the past have been used against Human Rights Defenders (HRDs) and journalists critical of the government, including provisions on criminal defamation in the Penal Code and restrictions under Law 23/10 on Crimes against the Security of the State, remain in place. 

    Additionally, we are concerned about restrictions on peaceful assembly, notably the arrest of protesters. More than ten people and two journalists were briefly arrested in front of Angola’s National Assembly in Luanda in January 2020 in a protest against the delay in the approval of the municipal legislative package. 

    In April 2018, the District Court of Malanje sentenced three student protesters to prison sentences of five to six months on charges of insult of public authorities and disturbance of the functioning of sovereign bodies, the latter a crime against state security. The three were released in July 2018, after a ruling of the Supreme Court.

    Civic space in parts of Angola, such as Cabinda, is severely restricted: HRDs are subject to threats and intimidation while arbitrary arrests and judicial harassment are systematically used to prevent protests from taking place. Between 28 January 2019 and 1 February 2019, security forces arrested at least 62 people in relation to a planned protest, on 1 February 2019, to call for independence for the enclave of Cabinda.

    CIVICUS calls on the Government of Angola to take proactive measures to address these concerns and implement recommendations to create and maintain, in law and in practice, an enabling environment for civil society.


    Civic space in Angola is currently rated as Repressed by the CIVICUS Monitor

    See our recommendations that were submitted to the UN Human Rights Council about the conditions of human rights in Angola.

    See our wider advocacy priorities and programme of activities at the 43rd Session of the UN Human Rights Council

     

  • ANTI-RIGHTS GROUPS: ‘Protesting once is not enough; we need to fight back every single day’

    Asia LeofreddiFollowing our 2019special report on anti-rights groups and civil society responses, we are interviewing civil society activists and leaders about their experiences of backlash from anti-rights groups and their strategies to strengthen progressive narratives and civil society responses. CIVICUS speaks about civil society protests against the World Congress of Families held in Verona, Italy, with Asia Leofreddi, a PhD Candidate at the Antonio Papisca Human Rights Centre of the University of Padua and a journalist with Confronti, a think tank and magazine dedicated to the study of the relationships between religion, politics and society.Based on the values of memory, hospitality, solidarity and pluralism, Confronti promotes dialogue among Christians of different denominations, Buddhists, Hindus, Jews, Muslims and lay people interested in the world of faiths, with the aim of breaking down misunderstandings and fundamentalism and helping to build an intercultural democratic society.

    How would you characterise the World Congress of Families?

    The World Congress of Families (WCF) is the biggest ‘pro-family’ gathering in the world. The Human Rights Campaign, the largest LGBTQI+ advocacy group and political lobbying organisation in the USA, has defined it as “the largest and most influential organization involved in anti-LGBT policies worldwide.” It was established by an American and a Russian in Moscow in 1997, and today it gathers together many associations, religious groups, scholars and political activists based in various countries, primarily belonging to Christian denominations. Among them, the Russian branch is particularly strong and acts with the open support of the Russian Orthodox Church and the Kremlin.

    The WCF’s pro-family agenda translates into support for the traditional family model and reflects a highly conservative view of gender roles. Accordingly, the WCF opposes abortion, surrogate motherhood, same-sex marriage and any progress towards equality in sexual and reproductive rights. Their gathering is organised by the International Organization for the Family (IOF) which is active at many other levels. At the international level, beyond organising international conferences, it tries to influence international institutions, such as the UN, in order to promote a conservative and restrictive interpretation of human rights, in particular of Article 16 of the Universal Declaration. In domestic politics, its member organisations link with or operate as interest groups infiltrating parties and academic institutions, lobbying officials and using democratic means such as referendums and mobilisations to advance their claims in national public spheres.

    Not coincidentally, over the past decade Brazil, Russia, the USA and several European countries have witnessed the rise of anti-gender and pro-family discourse, promoted by far-right parties, as well as the introduction, and sometimes also the approval and implementation, of morally conservative policies put forward by representatives of their national governments. In 2013, for instance, the Russian Duma unanimously approved a Law for the Purpose of Protecting Children from Information Advocating for a Denial of Traditional Family Values (popularly known as the ‘anti-gay law’). In Croatia a referendum was held that same year, promoted by an organisation called U ime obitelji (‘In the name of the family’) and aiming to establish a constitutional prohibition against same sex-marriage. It won with 67 per cent of the vote. In 2018 the right-wing governments of Bulgaria, Hungary and Slovakia decided not to ratify the Istanbul Convention of the Council of Europe on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, which they viewed as a threat to the traditional family structure. And in 2019 the Council of Verona approved Motion 434, described as ‘an initiative to prevent abortion and promote motherhood’, put forward by a representative of the far-right League Party, and declared Verona a ‘pro-life city’. All the organisations and political representatives involved in all these processes are somehow connected to the WCF, which shows that over the past decades the ‘family’ label has started to play a key role in the creation of new geopolitical alliances that were not even thought to be possible a short while ago.

    Who were the main groups involved in protesting against the WCF in Verona?

    The main protests held in Verona during the meeting of the WCF in March 2019 were led by the local branch of the transnational feminist movement Non Una di Meno (‘Not one woman less’). They organised a three-day mobilisation called Verona Città Transfemminista (Transfeminist City Verona) that encompassed a variety of events spread throughout the city. These events looked like a real counter-congress, complete with panels, shows and speakers coming from every part of the world.

    Additionally, another forum took place at the Academy of Agriculture, Letters and Sciences, a historic building in the city centre, on 30 March. This encounter was organised by the International Planned Parenthood Federation – European Network and the Union of Atheists and Rationalist Agnostics (Unione degli Atei e degli Agnostici Razionalisti) in collaboration with Rebel Network and other national and international organisations. This event gathered more than 30 speakers representing the transnational struggle of civil society for women’s and LGBTQI+ rights.

    Some Italian politicians also decided to show their opposition to the WCF, and several female representatives of the opposition Democratic Party organised a public meeting in the K2 Theatre of Verona on the same day.

    As all these events show, during those days Verona became a political laboratory in which two opposed views of society were on display. The small city became the battlefield of a global struggle. On the one hand, there was the reactionary and illiberal activism of the WCF, and on the other, the open and inclusive activism of national and international progressive movements and people who autonomously decided to participate in the protests.

    However, what was most surprising was the great participation of Italian civil society. The demonstration held on 30 March was the biggest Verona had ever seen: more than 100,000 people took to the streets of the city to side with women’s right to choose.

    What motivated all these groups and citizens to protest?

    For civil society groups, the main binding factor was the WCF. Mobilised groups focused their activism on defending sexual and reproductive rights, strongly jeopardised by the narratives promoted and political strategies used by Congress participants.

    Meanwhile Italian citizens took to the streets mostly in reaction against the strong support that the WCF received from an important sector of the Italian government at the time. Indeed, three then-ministers took part in the Congress – Matteo Salvini, then-Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Interior, Lorenzo Fontana, Minister of the Family and Marco Bussetti, Minister of Education – and both the governor of the Veneto region and the mayor of Verona gave official sponsorship to the gathering. A majority of Italians viewed the institutional promotion of a gathering detrimental to civil rights as a political action against our Constitution.

    What was the impact of the protests?

    This was the first time the WCF had to face such a huge protest. As soon it was announced that the 13th edition of the WCF would take place in Italy – a founding member of the European Union with a strong civil society and a deep attachment to a set of rights gained through many years of struggle – analysts started watching the events with great interest. However, I don’t think anyone expected such a big reaction – not even our politicians attending the Congress.

    At the national level, the protests achieved good results. For instance, they forced Matteo Salvini to publicly proclaim that Law 194 – the Italian law recognising abortion rights – would not be not touched and forced League Senator Simone Pillon to postpone a draft bill that had been widely criticised as not defending women from domestic violence. They also provided the opportunity for representative Laura Boldrini to pass a law against revenge porn, which until then had been strongly opposed by the parliamentary majority. Additionally, the days of the Congress were a great opportunity to unmask the strong connections that a section of our government, and particularly the League Party, which was in coalition government at that time, has with the global far right, despite their rhetoric on national sovereignty, and with some domestic far-right forces such as Forza Nuova, an extreme-right nationalist party, members of which were accredited to the Congress.

    At the international level, the WCF in Verona offered an opportunity for participating opposition movements to forge new transnational alliances and reflect on the construction of common narratives and strategies. It was then that groups that until then had focused on their own national, and sometimes provincial, contexts realised how important it was to act globally. The presence of foreign experts and activists helped Italian movements to understand better the strategies of ultra-conservative groups and their ability to function simultaneously at different levels.

    While we in Italy have always been confronted with the conservative positions of the Vatican and its influence on politics and civil society regarding sexual and reproductive rights, the WCF in Verona made it clear that we are facing a process of modernisation and professionalisation of ultra-conservative activism. As Kristina Stoeckl, an Austrian scholar, has widely demonstrated in her project on postsecular conflicts, these actors now enter public debate with their religious claims and turn them mainstream. They present them in a non-religious language, translating them into the language of human rights or natural law. They disseminate them with by using tactics and strategies typical of progressive mobilisations and campaigns. During the WCF held in Verona, Italian progressive movements became aware of the dimension of the phenomenon that they face as well as the fact that far from being limited to a national context, the politicisation of religion and pro-family rhetoric are actually part of a much broader political project.

    These successes, however, by no means turned the Verona edition of the WCF into a failure. They clearly showed they were not be ready to deal with countries with a strong civil society capable of mobilising discourses and resources at their same level. Still, about 10,000 people took part in their ‘family march’ on 31 March. They were far fewer than those who took to the streets to participate in the feminist and progressive mobilisation off the previous day, but they were still many. Moreover, I think the success of the WCF is measured more by what happens inside the Congress than what happens outside. In the WCF in Verona there were many representatives of governments from all over the world – far more than in previous years – which offered them a great opportunity to strengthen their networks.

    I don’t mean to diminish the results achieved by progressive movements in Verona, but to emphasise that protesting once is not enough. We need to remember to fight back every single day. We need to be aware that our opponents remain active even when they disappear from the scene. Ours is a battle of public opinion, which must be informed on a daily basis.

    What more could civil society be doing to push back against anti-rights groups such as the WCF, and what support does it need to be able to respond?

    First, the days in Verona demonstrated the importance of a vigilant and united civil society. On the way forward, it is important for progressive actors to develop better knowledge of these transnational networks and gain the ability not only to react but also to move proactively against ultra-conservative political projects on a daily basis. It is worth noting that the WCF has existed since 1997, and around the mid-2000s it started to become a political actor, capable of influencing national discourse and policies in several countries, from Russia to Central and Eastern Europe up to the USA. Moreover, for quite a long time some of its members have been involved in UN negotiations, playing a wider role in the international human rights debate. However, most Italian groups working on women’s and LGBTQI+ rights only became aware of its existence when it was announced that the Congress would take place in Verona.

    Second, it is important to move beyond a reductionist interpretation of these movements as simply anti-gender and of this phenomenon as a mere ‘conservative backlash’ against progressive and emancipatory movements. Defining ultra-conservative claims in culturally binary terms (past vs future, intolerance vs tolerance, religion vs secularism, traditional family vs sexual freedom) does not help grasp the complexity of their project and their strong contextual adaptability, nor prevent them from taking further actions.

    Indeed, their anti-gender claims often intersect with other issues including the right to homeschooling, concerns such as human ecology, demography, Christianophobia, political stances such as nationalism, the defence of national sovereignty and a more general critique of the Western liberal political and economic order and its supranational institutions. All these concepts help them build a more comprehensive and systematic ideology, mobilising forces in various countries and strengthening their political alliances.

    But binary oppositions overlook these groups’ capacity to function in a variety of contexts. For instance, although they support a conservative view of gender roles, several ultra-conservative political parties have female leaders – just think of Alice Weidel (Alternative für Deutschland, Germany), Marine Le Pen (Rassemblement national, France), Giorgia Meloni (Fratelli d'Italia) and Pauline Hanson (One Nation, Australia). Others have women among their leadership, as seen with Barbara Pas (Vlaams Belang, Belgium) and Magdalena Martullo-Blocher (Swiss People's Party). On top of that, once in power, many of them promote social policies that advance women’s interests, such as a monthly income for every child born or more general welfare measures. Of course, these policies only favour heterosexual families, but still, they allow many families – and many women – to get the support they need.

    Even regarding LGBTQI+ rights, they are able to contextualise their stances. While Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro says that he would prefer a dead son than a gay one, Alice Weidel is an out lesbian who lives with her partner and her two children. Similarly, prioritising the fight against radical Islam and foreign powers, during her latest electoral campaign the ultra-conservative Marine Le Pen recognised the acceptance of homosexuality as part of French values.

    Third, the media have a key role in opposing these movements. It is very important to do research and disseminate information, explaining for example that many of the populist forces we see emerging in our countries are part of larger networks. It is no coincidence that Italy’s Salvini publicly kisses the crucifix, Brazil’s Bolsonaro made the legalisation of homeschooling one of his key priorities for his first 100 days in office, and Donald Trump is the first US president to attend his country’s most important national anti-abortion march. They are all part of a specific structure of power and the media have the responsibility to unmask their political and economic links.

    Finally, I believe that the rise of these ultra-fundamentalist movements is the consequence of a broader crisis, which has also led to the success of several illiberal leaders in various parts of the world. Progressive movements need to be aware of this so as to rethink some key concepts of their strategy, assess whether they are still connected with the broader society and, if they are not, start addressing this issue. As masterfully expressed by Eszter Kováts, “We need to recognise the problematic nature of emancipatory discourse as it stands today: just because a particular criticism is coming from the Right of the political spectrum does not necessarily render our positions beyond critique. And then we need to ask the painful question: ‘how did we get here’, and what does the current popularity of the Right have to do with the unfulfilled promises and problematic developments of emancipatory movements. Of the very same movements that seem to have failed to address the real nature of inequalities and everyday material struggles of people.”

    Get in touch with Confronti through its website and Facebook page, or follow @Confronti_CNT on Twitter.

     

  • Arabia Saudita: El asesinato del periodista y las detenciones generalizadas de defensores de los derechos de las mujeres

    Arabia Saudita: la monarquía saudita debe rendir cuentas por la eliminación de la disidencia, tras el asesinato del periodista y las detenciones generalizadas de defensores y defensoras de los derechos de las mujeres

    Reconociendo el derecho fundamental a expresar nuestras opiniones, libres de represión, las organizaciones de la sociedad civil abajo firmantes instamos a la comunidad internacional, entre otros, a las Naciones Unidas, a las instituciones multilaterales y regionales, así como a los Gobiernos democráticos comprometidos con la libertad de expresión, a adoptar medidas inmediatas para que Arabia Saudita rinda cuentas por violaciones graves de los derechos humanos. El asesinato del periodista Jamal Ahmad Khashoggi en el Consulado de Arabia Saudita en Estambul el 2 de octubre muestra únicamente una de las muchas, graves y sistemáticas violaciones perpetradas por las autoridades sauditas tanto dentro como fuera del país. A medida que se acerca el Día Internacional para Poner Fin a la Impunidad de los Crímenes contra Periodistas, el 2 de noviembre, nos hacemos eco de los llamamientos para que se lleve a cabo una investigación independiente sobre el asesinato de Khashoggi, a fin de que llevar a los responsables ante la justicia.

    Este caso, junto a las crecientes detenciones de defensores y defensoras de derechos humanos, entre otros, periodistas, académicos, defensores y defensoras de los derechos de las mujeres, la represión interna, la posible imposición de la pena de muerte a manifestantes y las conclusiones del informe del Grupo de Eminentes Expertos de las Naciones Unidas que indican que la Coalición dirigida por Arabia Saudita ha cometido actos en Yemen que pueden ser constitutivos de crímenes internacionales, demuestra el historial de violaciones graves y sistemáticas de los derechos humanos de Arabia Saudita. Por consiguiente, nuestras organizaciones también instan a la Asamblea General de las Naciones Unidas a suspender a Arabia Saudita del Consejo de Derechos Humanos (CDH), de conformidad con lo dispuesto en el párrafo 8 de la resolución 60/251 de 13 de abril de 2006 de la Asamblea General.

    Arabia Saudita nunca se ha destacado por su tolerancia y respeto de los derechos humanos, pero se esperaba que, cuando el príncipe heredero Mohammed Bin Salman puso en marcha su plan económico (Visión 2030) y por fin se permitió conducir a las mujeres, se podría producir una flexibilización de las restricciones de derechos de las mujeres y de las libertades de expresión y asamblea. Sin embargo, antes de que se levantara la prohibición de conducción en el mes de junio, las defensoras de derechos humanos recibieron llamadas telefónicas advirtiéndoles de que permaneciesen en silencio. Entonces, las autoridades sauditas detuvieron a decenas de defensores y defensoras de los derechos de las mujeres que habían participado en la campaña contra la prohibición de conducir. La represión ejercida por las autoridades sauditas contra toda forma de disidencia continúa hasta la fecha.

    Khashoggi criticó las detenciones de los defensores y defensoras de derechos humanos y los planes de reforma del príncipe heredero y vivía en un exilio autoimpuesto en Estados Unidos. El 2 de octubre de 2018, Khashoggi fue al Consulado de Estambul con su prometida para realizar unos trámites, pero nunca salió de allí. Las autoridades turcas pronto afirmaron que había pruebas de que había sido asesinado en el Consulado, pero las autoridades sauditas no admitieron su asesinato hasta dos semanas más tarde.

    Tan solo dos días después, el 20 de octubre, el Ministerio Fiscal saudita publicó sus conclusiones confirmando que Khashoggi había muerto. Sus informes indican que murió tras “una pelea a puñetazos” en el Consulado y que se había detenido a 18 ciudadanos sauditas. El rey Salman también emitió varios reales decretos destituyendo a funcionarios de alto nivel, entre otros Saud Al-Qahtani, asesor de la corte real, y Ahmed Assiri, subdirector de los servicios de Inteligencia. La Fiscalía continúa su investigación, pero el cuerpo todavía no ha sido hallado.

    En vista de los informes contradictorios de las autoridades sauditas, es esencial que se lleve a cabo una investigación internacional independiente.

    El 18 de octubre, el Comité para la Protección de Periodistas (CPJ), Human Rights Watch, Amnistía Internacional y Reporteros Sin Fronteras pidieron a Turquía que solicitase al Secretario General de las Naciones Unidas,António Guterres, una investigación de la ONU sobre la ejecución extrajudicial de Khashoggi.

    El 15 de octubre de 2018, David Kaye, Relator Especial de las Naciones Unidas sobre la libertad de expresión, y Agnès Callamard, Relatora Especial de las Naciones Unidas sobre ejecuciones sumarias, solicitaron una investigación independiente que pueda alcanzar conclusiones creíbles y siente las bases para la adopción de medidas punitivas claras, entre otras, la posible expulsión de personal diplomático, la suspensión de organismos de las Naciones Unidas (como el Consejo de Derechos Humanos), prohibiciones de viajar, consecuencias económicas, reparaciones y la posibilidad de celebrar juicios en terceros Estados.

    Observamos que el 27 de septiembre, Arabia Saudita se sumó al consenso del Consejo de Derechos Humanos de la ONU cuando aprobó una nueva resolución sobre la seguridad de los periodistas (A/HRC/Res/39/6). Observamos también que esta resolución insta a “realizar investigaciones imparciales, prontas, minuciosas, independientes y efectivas de todas las denuncias de actos de violencia, amenazas o agresiones contra periodistas y trabajadores de los medios de comunicación que competan a su jurisdicción, lleven a los autores de esos delitos ante la justicia, incluidos quienes ordenen cometerlos o conspiren para ello, sean cómplices en ellos o los encubran.” Y también “a quienes corresponda a que dejen en libertad, de inmediato y de manera incondicional, a los periodistas y trabajadores de los medios de comunicación que hayan sido detenidos o recluidos arbitrariamente”.

    Khashoggi fue colaborador de los periódicos Washington Post y Al-Watan y redactor jefe del efímero canal de noticias Al-Arab News Channel en 2015. Salió de Arabia Saudita en 2017, cuando comenzó la escalada de detenciones de periodistas, escritores y defensores y defensoras de derechos humanos. En su último artículo de opinión publicado en el Washington Post, critica la condena a cinco años de prisión del periodista Saleh Al-Shehi, en febrero de 2018. Al-Shehi es uno de los más de 15 periodistas y blogueros arrestados en Arabia Saudita desde septiembre de 2017, lo que, según Reporteros Sin Fronteras, eleva a un total de 29 de ellos en prisión, además de 100 defensores y defensoras de derechos humanos y, probablemente, miles de activistas que también permanecen detenidos, según el Centro del Golfo para los Derechos Humanos (GCHR) y otros colaboradores sauditas como ALQST. Muchas de las personas detenidas en el último año han criticado públicamente los planes de reforma relacionados con Vision 2030 y han señalado que las mujeres no alcanzarían la igualdad económica únicamente por poder conducir.

    Otro objetivo reciente de la represión contra la disidencia es el destacado economista Essam Al-Zamel, un empresario conocido por sus escritos sobre la necesidad de reformas económicas. El 1 de octubre de 2018, el Tribunal Penal Especializado (TPE) celebró una sesión secreta en la que la Fiscalía acusó a Al-Zamel de violar la Ley de Delitos Informáticos al “movilizar a sus seguidores en las redes sociales”. Al-Zamel criticó Vision 2030 en las redes sociales, donde tenía un millón de seguidores. Al-Zamel fue arrestado el 12 de septiembre de 2017, al mismo tiempo que otros muchos defensores de derechos humanos y reformistas.

    La inédita persecución actual contra las defensoras de derechos humanos se inició en enero de 2018 con la detención de Noha Al-Balawi por su ciberactivismo para apoyar las campañas en las redes sociales en favor de los derechos de las mujeres como (#Right2Drive) o contra el sistema de tutela masculina (#IAmMyOwnGuardian). Antes incluso, el 10 de noviembre de 2017, el TPE de Riad condenó a Naimah Al-Matrod a seis años de prisión por ciberactivismo.

    La ola de detenciones continuó después del periodo de sesiones de marzo del Consejo de Derechos Humanos y de la publicación de las recomendaciones del Comité para la Eliminación de la Discriminación contra la Mujer de las Naciones Unidas (CEDAW) sobre Arabia Saudita. Loujain Al-Hathloul, fue secuestrada en los Emiratos y trasladada a Arabia Saudita contra su voluntad el 15 de mayo de 2018; le siguió la detención de Eman Al-Nafjan, fundadora y autora del Saudiwoman's Weblog [Blog de las mujeres sauditas], quien previamente protestó contra la prohibición a conducir, y la de Aziza Al-Yousef, destacada activista de los derechos de las mujeres.

    Otras cuatro defensoras de derechos humanos fueron detenidas en mayo de 2018, Aisha Al-Manae, Hessa Al-Sheikhy Madeha Al-Ajrous, que participaron en el primer movimiento de protesta de mujeres exigiendo el derecho a conducir en 1990, así como Walaa Al-Shubbar, una joven activista conocida por su movilización contra el sistema de tutela masculino. Todas estas personas son académicas y profesionales que apoyan los derechos de las mujeres y ayudan a supervivientes de violencia de género. Aunque todas han sido liberadas, se cree que las cuatro mujeres aún se enfrentan a acusaciones penales.

    El 6 de junio de 2018, la periodista, editora, productora de televisión y defensora de los derechos humanos Nouf Abdulazizfue detenida después de una violenta incursión en su casa. Después de su arresto, Mayya Al-Zahranipublicó una carta de Abdulaziz, tras lo que ella misma fue detenida el 9 de junio de 2018 por la publicación de la carta.

    El 27 de junio de 2018 fue detenida Hatoon Al-Fassi, una reconocida académica y profesora asociada de historia de las mujeres en la Universidad Rey Saud. Durante mucho tiempo ha defendido el derecho de las mujeres a participar en las elecciones municipales y a conducir, y fue una de las primeras en ponerse al volante el 24 de junio de 2018, día en que se levantó la prohibición.

    En dos ocasiones en el mes de junio, los procedimientos especiales de las Naciones Unidas instaron a la puesta en libertad de los defensores y defensoras de derechos de las mujeres. El 27 de junio de 2018, nueve expertos independientes de la ONU declararon que, en marcado contraste con este momento de celebración por la liberación de las mujeres sauditas, se ha arrestado y detenido a gran escala a defensoras de derechos humanos en todo el país, lo que es verdaderamente preocupante y, probablemente, el mejor indicador del enfoque del Gobierno en relación a los derechos de las mujeres. Destacaron que las defensoras de derechos humanos “sufren una estigmatización más grave, no solo por su labor como defensoras de derechos humanos, sino también por discriminación en razón de su género”.

    Sin embargo, las detenciones de defensoras de los derechos humanos continuaron con la de Nassima Al-Sadah y Samar Badawiel 30 de julio de 2018. Permanecen detenidas en régimen de aislamiento en una cárcel controlada por la Dirección de Seguridad Nacional, un mecanismo creado por mandato del rey Salman el 20 de julio de 2017. El hermano de Badawi, Raif Badawi, actualmente cumple condena a diez años de prisión por su actividad de incidencia política en línea y su exmarido Waleed Abu Al-Khair cumple una condena de quince años. Abu Al-Khair, Abdullah Al-Hamid y Mohammed Fahad Al-Qahtani (los dos últimos, miembros fundadores de la Asociación Saudí de Derechos Civiles y Políticos - ACPRA) recibieron conjuntamente el Premio “Right Livelihood” en septiembre de 2018. De momento todos ellos siguen en la cárcel.

    También han sido detenidos familiares de defensores y defensoras de derechos humanos. Amal Al-Harbi, esposa del destacado activista Fowzan Al-Harbi, fue detenida por agentes de seguridad del Estado el 30 de julio de 2018, mientras se encontraba en la playa con sus hijos en Jeddah. Su marido es otro miembro de ACPRA actualmente encarcelado. Resulta alarmante que, en octubre de 2018, se hayan impuesto prohibiciones de viajar a las familias de varias defensoras de derechos como Aziza Al-Yousef, Loujain Al-Hathloul y Eman Al-Nafjan.

    Preocupa también el hecho de que, en un juicio ante el TPE el 6 de agosto de 2018, el Ministerio Fiscal solicitó la pena de muerte para Israa Al-Ghomgam detenida junto a su marido, Mousa Al-Hashim,el 6 de diciembre de 2015 por su participación en protestas pacíficas en Al-Qatif. Al-Ghomgam fue acusado en virtud del artículo 6 de la Ley de Delitos Informáticos de 2007 por su actividad en las redes sociales, así como por otros cargos relacionados con las protestas. Si se la condena a muerte, sería la primera mujer que se enfrenta a la pena capital por acusaciones relacionados con el activismo. La próxima audiencia está prevista el 28 de octubre de 2018.

    El TPE fue creado en 2008 para juzgar casos de terrorismo y se ha utilizado principalmente para procesar a defensores y defensoras de derechos humanos y a personas críticas con el Gobierno, a fin de mantener un férreo control sobre la sociedad civil.

    El 12 de octubre de 2018, los expertos de la ONU volvieron a instar a la liberación de todas las defensoras de derechos humanos detenidas en Arabia Saudita. Manifestaron una especial preocupación por el juicio de Al-Ghomgam ante el TPE, afirmando que, “nunca se debe utilizar las medidas antiterroristas para eliminar o limitar el trabajo de derechos humanos”. Es evidente que las autoridades sauditas no han tomado medidas tras la preocupación manifestada por los procedimientos especiales, y esta falta de cooperación aumenta el descrédito que suscita su pertenencia al CDH.

    Muchos de los defensores y defensoras de derechos humanos arrestados este año han permanecido en régimen de incomunicación, sin acceso a sus familiares o abogados. A algunos se les ha tachado de traidores y han sido objeto de campañas de difamación en los medios de comunicación gubernamentales, aumentando así la posibilidad de ser condenados a largas penas de prisión. En vez de garantizar un entorno seguro para los defensores y defensoras de derechos humanos en el contexto de la reforma económica, las autoridades sauditas han decidido aumentar la represión contra las voces disidentes.

    Nuestras organizaciones reiteran su llamamiento a la comunidad internacional para que Arabia Saudita rinda cuentas, a fin de que no se permita la impunidad por estas violaciones de los derechos humanos.

    Instamos a la comunidad internacional y, en especial, a las Naciones Unidas a que:

    - Tomen las medidas necesarias para garantizar que se lleva a cabo una investigación internacional, imparcial, rápida, exhaustiva, independiente y efectiva sobre el asesinato del periodista Jamal Ahmad Khashoggi.

    - Garanticen que Arabia Saudita rinde cuentas por el asesinato de Khashoggi y por sus sistemáticas violaciones de los derechos humanos.

    - Convoquen un periodo extraordinario de sesiones del Consejo de Derechos Humanos ante la reciente ola de detenciones y ataques contra periodistas, defensores y defensoras de derechos humanos y otras voces disidentes en Arabia Saudita.

    - Tomen las medidas necesarias en la Asamblea General de las Naciones Unidas para suspender a Arabia Saudita como miembro del Consejo de Derechos Humanos.

    - Pidan al Gobierno de Arabia Saudita que cumpla las recomendaciones que se formulan a continuación.

    Instamos a las autoridades de Arabia Saudita a que:

    - Entreguen el cuerpo de Jamal Ahmad Khashoggi e inviten a expertos internacionales independientes a supervisar las investigaciones sobre su asesinato; cooperen con todos los mecanismos de las Naciones Unidas y garanticen que se lleva a los responsables de esta muerte ante la justicia, entre ellos a los responsables de mando.

    - Anulen inmediatamente las condenas de todos los defensores y defensoras de derechos humanos, entre otros, de las mujeres y los hombres que defienden la igualdad entre géneros, y que retiren todas las acusaciones en su contra.

    - Liberen inmediata e incondicionalmente a todos los defensores y defensoras de derechos humanos, escritores, periodistas y prisioneros de conciencia en Arabia Saudita detenidos por su legítimo y pacífico trabajo de promoción y protección de los derechos humanos, entre otros, de los derechos de las mujeres.

    - Establezcan una moratoria de la pena de muerte, incluso cuando se utiliza como castigo para los delitos relacionados con el ejercicio del derecho a la opinión y expresión y de reunión pacífica.

    - Garanticen en toda circunstancia que todos los defensores y defensoras de derechos humanos y periodistas en Arabia Saudita pueden desempeñar actividades legítimas de derechos humanos y de información de interés general sin temor a represalias.

    - Cumplan de manera inmediata las recomendaciones del Grupo de Eminentes Expertos de las Naciones Unidas sobre Yemen, y

    - Ratifiquen el Pacto Internacional de Derechos Civiles y Políticos y, que todas las leyes nacionales que restringen los derechos a la libertad de expresión, de reunión pacífica y de asociación se ajusten a la normativa internacional de derechos humanos.

    Firmado:

    1. Access Now
    2. Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture (ACAT) - France
    3. Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture (ACAT) - Germany
    4. Al-Marsad - Syria
    5. ALQST for Human Rights
    6. ALTSEAN-Burma
    7. Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB)
    8. Amman Center for Human Rights Studies (ACHRS) - Jordan
    9. Amman Forum for Human Rights
    10. Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI)
    11. Armanshahr/OPEN ASIA
    12. ARTICLE 19
    13. Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)
    14. Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC)
    15. Asociación Libre de Abogadas y Abogados (ALA)
    16. Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE)
    17. Association for Human Rights in Ethiopia (AHRE)
    18. Association malienne des droits de l’Homme (AMDH)
    19. Association mauritanienne des droits de l’Homme (AMDH)
    20. Association nigérienne pour la défense des droits de l’Homme (ANDDH)
    21. Association of Tunisian Women for Research on Development
    22. Association for Women's Rights in Development (AWID)
    23. Awan Awareness and Capacity Development Organization
    24. Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD)
    25. Bureau for Human Rights and the Rule of Law - Tajikistan
    26. Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS)
    27. Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (LICADHO)
    28. Canadian Center for International Justice
    29. Caucasus Civil Initiatives Center (CCIC)
    30. Center for Civil Liberties - Ukraine
    31. Center for Prisoners’ Rights
    32. Center for the Protection of Human Rights “Kylym Shamy” - Kazakhstan
    33. Centre oecuménique des droits de l’Homme (CEDH) - Haïti
    34. Centro de Políticas Públicas y Derechos Humanos (EQUIDAD) - Perú
    35. Centro para la Acción Legal en Derechos Humanos (CALDH) - Guatemala
    36. Citizen Center for Press Freedom
    37. Citizens’ Watch - Russia
    38. CIVICUS
    39. Civil Society Institute (CSI) - Armenia
    40. Code Pink
    41. Columbia Law School Human Rights Clinic
    42. Comité de acción jurídica (CAJ) - Argentina
    43. Comisión Ecuménica de Derechos Humanos (CEDHU) - Ecuador
    44. Comisión Nacional de los Derechos Humanos - Dominican Republic
    45. Committee on the Administration of Justice (CAJ) -Northern Ireland
    46. Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)
    47. Committee for Respect of Liberties and Human Rights in Tunisia
    48. Damascus Center for Human Rights in Syria
    49. Danish PEN
    50. DITSHWANELO - The Botswana Center for Human Rights
    51. Dutch League for Human Rights (LvRM)
    52. Election Monitoring and Democracy Studies Center - Azerbaijan
    53. English PEN
    54. European Centre for Democracy and Human Rights (ECDHR)
    55. European Saudi Organisation for Human Rights (ESOHR)
    56. FIDH en el marco del Observatorio para la Protección de Defensores de Derechos Humanos
    57. Finnish League for Human Rights
    58. Freedom Now
    59. Front Line Defenders
    60. Fundación regional de asesoría en derechos humanos (INREDH) - Ecuador
    61. Foundation for Human Rights Initiative (FHRI) - Uganda
    62. Groupe LOTUS (RDC)
    63. Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR)
    64. Hellenic League for Human Rights (HLHR)
    65. Human Rights Association (IHD) - Turkey
    66. Human Rights Center (HRCIDC) - Georgia
    67. Human Rights Center “Viasna” - Belarus
    68. Human Rights Commission of Pakistan
    69. Human Rights Concern (HRCE) - Eritrea
    70. Human Rights in China
    71. Human Rights Center Memorial
    72. Human Rights Movement “Bir Duino Kyrgyzstan”
    73. Human Rights Sentinel
    74. IFEX
    75. Index on Censorship
    76. Initiative for Freedom of Expression (IFoX) - Turkey
    77. Institut Alternatives et Initiatives citoyennes pour la Gouvernance démocratique (I-AICGD) - DR Congo
    78. International Center for Supporting Rights and Freedoms (ICSRF) - Switzerland
    79. Internationale Liga für Menscherechte
    80. International Human Rights Organisation “Fiery Hearts Club” - Uzbekistan
    81. International Legal Initiative (ILI) - Kazakhstan
    82. International Media Support (IMS)
    83. International Partnership for Human Rights (IPHR)
    84. El Instituto International de la Prensa
    85. International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)
    86. Internet Law Reform and Dialogue (iLaw)
    87. Iraqi Association for the Defense of Journalists' Rights
    88. Iraqi Hope Association
    89. Italian Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
    90. Justice for Iran
    91. Karapatan - Philippines
    92. Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and the Rule of Law
    93. Khiam Rehabilitation Center for Victims of Torture
    94. KontraS
    95. Latvian Human Rights Committee
    96. Lao Movement for Human Rights
    97. Lawyers' Rights Watch Canada
    98. League for the Defense of Human Rights in Iran (LDDHI)
    99. Legal Clinic “Adilet” - Kyrgyzstan
    100. Ligue algérienne de défense des droits de l’Homme (LADDH)
    101. Ligue centrafricaine des droits de l’Homme
    102. Ligue des droits de l’Homme (LDH) - Belgium
    103. Ligue des Electeurs (LE) DRC
    104. Ligue ivoirienne des droits de l’Homme (LIDHO)
    105. Ligue sénégalaise des droits humains (LSDH)
    106. Ligue tchadienne des droits de l’Homme (LTDH)
    107. Maison des droits de l’Homme (MDHC) - Cameroon
    108. Maharat Foundation
    109. MARUAH - Singapore
    110. Middle East and North Africa Media Monitoring Observatory
    111. Monitoring Committee on Attacks on Lawyers, International Association of People's Lawyers (IAPL)
    112. Movimento Nacional de Direitos Humanos (MNDH) - Brasil
    113. Muslims for Progressive Values
    114. Mwatana Organization for Human Rights
    115. National Syndicate of Tunisian Journalists
    116. No Peace Without Justice
    117. Norwegian PEN
    118. Odhikar
    119. Open Azerbaijan Initiative
    120. Organisation marocaine des droits humains (OMDH)
    121. People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy (PSPD)
    122. People’s Watch
    123. PEN America
    124. PEN Canada
    125. PEN International
    126. PEN Lebanon
    127. PEN Québec
    128. Promo-LEX - Moldova
    129. Public Foundation - Human Rights Center “Kylym Shamy” - Kyrgyzstan
    130. Rafto Foundation for Human Rights
    131. RAW in WAR (Reach All Women in War)
    132. Reporters Without Borders (RSF)
    133. Right Livelihood Award Foundation
    134. Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights
    135. Sahrawi Media Observatory to document human rights violations
    136. SALAM for Democracy and Human Rights (SALAM DHR)
    137. Scholars at Risk (SAR)
    138. Sham Center for Democratic Studies and Human Rights in Syria
    139. Sisters’ Arab Forum for Human Rights (SAF) - Yemen
    140. Solicitors International Human Rights Group
    141. Syrian Center for Legal Studies and Research
    142. Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM)
    143. Tanmiea - Iraq
    144. Tunisian Association to Defend Academic Values
    145. Tunisian Association to Defend Individual Rights
    146. Tunisian Association of Democratic Women
    147. Tunis Center for Press Freedom
    148. Tunisian Forum for Economic and Social rights
    149. Tunisian League to Defend Human Rights
    150. Tunisian Organization Against Torture
    151. Urgent Action Fund for Women’s Human Rights (UAF)
    152. Urnammu
    153. Vietnam Committee on Human Rights
    154. Vigdis Freedom Foundation
    155. Vigilance for Democracy and the Civic State
    156. Women Human Rights Defenders International Coalition
    157. Women’s Center for Culture & Art - United Kingdom
    158. World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA)
    159. Organización Mundial Contra la Tortura (OMCT), en el marco del Observatorio para la Protección de Defensores de Derechos Humanos
    160. Yemen Center for Human Rights
    161. Zimbabwe Human Rights Association (ZimRights)
    162. 17Shubat For Human Rights

     

  • Armenia: ‘For the quality of democracy to improve, judicial independence must be guaranteed and labour rights need further protection’

    Elections held in Armenia in 2017 resulted in the ruling party holding onto power, but were marred by allegations of fraud, including vote-buying and misuse of state resources.CIVICUS speaks to Artur Sakunts, chairman of Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly - Vanadzor Office (HCA Vanadzor), a non-political, non-religious and not-for-profit civil society organisation that seeks to advance the values of human rights, democracy, tolerance and pluralism in Armenia. HCA Vanadzor works in the areas of research, dissemination, litigation, training, lobbying, campaigning and the promotion of public debate.

    1. How would you describe the current state of democracy and human rights in Armenia?

    Since 2013, human rights and democracy have considerably regressed in Armenia. The constitutional referendum, held in 2015, and elections to the National Assembly and Yerevan City Council in 2017 were marked by fraud and procedural violations. As a result of the constitutional referendum, Armenia changed from a semi-presidential to a parliamentary republic, and the changes began to be implemented during the 2017 elections. The new parliamentary system strengthened the dominant position of the Republican Party, which is the main party, and the power of its leader. A number of opposition figures have suffered and still suffer persecution. Any demonstration of civic activism has faced a harsh reaction and pressure by law enforcement agencies, and the space for civil society organisations (CSOs) and civil society initiatives has further shrunk. Additionally, the Four Day War with Azerbaijan in April 2016 led to a large loss of human lives and exposed the country's vulnerability to external threats. All these processes have occurred in an atmosphere of impunity. Meanwhile, the steps towards reform taken by the authorities have been reactive or aimed at solving problems by increasing the social burden on citizens rather than by making systemic changes.

    In December 2015, a new phase of negotiations was launched between Armenia and the European Union (EU). The Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement was initialled in March 2017 and eventually signed in November 2017. However, the unpredictable behaviour of the Armenian authorities creates uncertainty in terms of the expected developments in EU-Armenia relations, even after the agreement has been signed.

    2. Have recent changes in CSO regulations affected civil society’s ability to contribute to democratic governance?

    On 16 December 2016, after long-held discussions, the Law on Non-Governmental Organisations was adopted, entitling CSOs to represent the public interest in court, albeit only in the field of environmental protection. It should be noted, however, that in its ruling of 7 September 2010, the Armenian Constitutional Court recognised the right of CSOs to represent the public interest in national courts without any limitation.

    Another risk associated with the Law on Non-Governmental Organisations was that it initially prescribed state supervision over the financial activity of all CSOs. However, as a result of public debate, this requirement was eventually prescribed only for state-funded CSOs.

    In short, contrary to expectations, the new regulations ended up being a positive development for civil society.

    3. What is the environment like for human rights defenders in Armenia?

    In early 2016 a well-known human rights defender, Karen Andreasyan, stepped down as Armenia’s Human Rights Ombudsman without providing any reasons. It should be noted that in the autumn of 2015, during the presentation of his annual report to the National Assembly, Andreasyan was strongly criticised and personally insulted by Republican Party deputies. His resignation exposed the vulnerability of the Human Rights Ombudsman’s office. In December 2013 Andreasyan had published a well-substantiated report on the spread of corruption in courts and the lack of independence of judges, which was harshly criticised by the Prosecutor General's Office, the Republican faction of the National Assembly and several judges. None of the concerns raised by the report on the state of the judiciary have been considered or examined.

    Following the National Assembly’s appointment of a new Human Rights Ombudsman, the concentration of oversight and protection mechanisms over different fields of human rights, including children’s rights and the rights of persons with disabilities, has increasingly raised serious concerns. Along with such centralisation, space for other human rights institutions is becoming more limited and the variety of human rights protection mechanisms is being reduced. Given that since the Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office was introduced, all Ombudsmen have resigned before the end of their term under pressure from political and executive powers, the concentration of protection mechanisms in the hands of a single person makes the Human Rights Ombudsman and human rights protection mechanisms extremely vulnerable.

    In early July 2016, an armed opposition group known as Sasna Tsrer seized a police station and took hostages. As Sasna Tsrer members underwent trial, significant restrictions were imposed on various stakeholders engaged with the Human Rights Ombudsman’s office, and particularly on attorneys and on the public monitoring group on penitentiary institutions. Before Sasna Tsrer’s surrender, members of the Group of Public Observers Conducting Public Monitoring in Penitentiary Institutions and Bodies of the Ministry of Justice were illegally banned from meeting Zhirayr Sefilyan, a political prisoner detained at the Vardashen penitentiary institution. Later, members of the Group of Public Observers were also banned from meeting Sasna Tsrer members detained at the Nubarashen penitentiary institution, after information was aired that on 28 June 2017 Sasna Tsrer members had been subjected to violence at the General Jurisdiction Court of the Avan and Nor Nork administrative districts.

    It should be also noted that during the former Minister of Justice’s tenure, draft regulations were put forward suggesting that any new members of the Group of Public Observers would need to be confirmed by the Ministry of Justice, although the Group's Charter states that new members only need to be accepted by the Group itself. The draft regulation was rejected, but it was an attempt to restrict the activities and independence of the Group of Public Observers. The current Human Rights Ombudsman has not reacted in any way to this attempt, which is yet further evidence of the dangers of concentrating human rights defence mechanisms.

    Illegal attempts were made to search the defence attorneys of Sasna Tsrer members before they entered the courtroom. As the attorneys resisted those searches, the court adopted a tactic of imposing sanctions on the attorneys and replacing them with public defenders, which posed a risk of substantially reducing the protection of Sasna Tsrer members. The legal community also faces pressures through disciplinary proceedings initiated against lawyers on suspicious grounds. An added challenge is the behaviour of the Bar Association, which imposes its own disciplinary sanctions on individual attorneys. The Bar Association’s chairman has openly argued against laws preventing domestic violence and has repeatedly made homophobic statements.

    The environment has also been unfavourable for journalists, including legislative restrictions and physical attacks, particularly during protests, as well as legal actions meant to silence them.

    4. How have the authorities responded to peaceful protests over the years?

    President Serzh Sargsyan's second term in office, which began in 2013, has been marked by increasing civic activism, which has in turn been suppressed by the police and other state bodies. Citizens’ protests have mostly been related to various issues of public or social significance, particularly transportation and electricity price hikes, the introduction of a mandatory funded pension system, the dismantling and destruction of cultural monuments and environmental issues.

    On 2 December 2013, the day of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s state visit to Armenia, a large number of citizens held protests in Yerevan, the capital, against Armenia joining the Eurasian Customs Union and Eurasian Economic Union. The police dispersed the protests using violence and apprehended 110 peaceful protesters, who were kept in police stations for eight hours without access to legal assistance.

    The summer of 2015 was marked by the so-called ‘Electric Yerevan’ protests against the hike in electricity prices, which lasted almost two weeks. On 23 June 2015 at 5am, the police used water cannons to disperse a peaceful sit-in on Baghramyan Avenue. Using physical violence, the police apprehended around 240 protesters and attacked 21 journalists, damaging their equipment. Following the police violence, the number of sit-in participants dramatically rose, but at the end of June 2015 protesters split up as some of them obeyed police warnings and moved to Liberty Square. The number of sit-in participants on Baghramyan Avenue gradually decreased, and on 6 July 2015 the police eventually dispersed the demonstration. Criminal proceedings were initiated, against both protesters and police officers that used violence against them. Four police officers faced charges for using violence against journalists, but none has so far been held liable for the violence.

    In July 2016, following the Sasna Tsrer incident, a series of mass protests was held in Khorenatsi Street and Liberty Square in Yerevan, and the police again used violence against the demonstrators. Hundreds of people were illegally apprehended and the protests were brutally dispersed through excessive force. According to official data, between 17 July and 4 August 2016, 775 people were arrested. On 20 and 29 July 2016 police used unprecedented violence against protesters; as a result, several protesters and journalists received serious bodily injuries. For the first time in the entire history of the Republic of Armenia, protesters were violently taken to the Police Internal Troops barracks and illegally deprived of their freedom. Many people compared this with the situation in Chile in 1973 when dictator Augusto Pinochet kept people captive in a football stadium.

    As a rule, no police officer that uses violence against protesters or violates their rights in any way are held accountable, while protesters are liable for administrative and criminal offences. In this regard, it should be noted that in 2012 a Police Disciplinary Commission was created with a provision allowing for the inclusion of representatives from five CSOs. The Disciplinary Commission’s membership and procedures were decided by the government. However, through a decree issued on 31 March 2016, the government handed this power over to the Chief of Police. This change may lead to a conflict of interests and to a further reduction of the Commission’s independence.

    5. Have any civil society freedoms been restricted around the 2017 elections?

    The new draft Electoral Code resulting from the constitutional amendments first became available on 22 February 2016 on the official website of the Venice Commission (the Council of Europe’s advisory body on constitutional matters), in English. Its Armenian version was posted on the Armenian government’s website no sooner than 3 March 2016.

    Unlike what had happened with the draft constitutional amendments and the initial draft of the Electoral Code, which had been prepared within a narrow pro-government circle, wider participation was ensured during the further amendment of the Electoral Code. At the suggestion of Levon Zurabyan, a deputy with an opposition party, the Armenian National Congress, negotiations on the draft Electoral Code started between the ruling party, the political opposition and civil society in a 4+4+4 format. As a result, the Electoral Code included a number of recommendations, mostly of an administrative nature, put forward by the opposition and civil society. However, the authorities made no concessions on issues of political significance or that would affect the distribution of power in the parliament to be formed. It should be noted that civil society members took part in the negotiations only at the initial stage and refused to sign the agreements that were eventually reached by the government and the opposition.

    The Electoral Code adopted in May 2016 imposed significant restrictions on observers and mass media representatives. In particular, the Code gave precinct electoral commissions the right to set a maximum number of observers and mass media representatives allowed at a polling station. The Code set a requirement for election observation organisations to have had a provision on human rights and democracy in their statutory goals for at least the past year and imposed an accreditation requirement for mass media, allowing for only a limited number of representatives. As a result, a media outlet may have a maximum of 50 representatives throughout the country. The new Electoral Code also stipulates that commission members may remove observers, mass media representatives and proxies from a polling station by a vote.

    It is noteworthy that the Electoral Code considers CSOs as the main entities engaged in civic oversight and particularly in electoral observation, but it gives them no right to appeal against the actions or inactions of electoral commissions, or election results, or to file any other complaints.

    The Code extended the voting population, as the right to vote was granted to persons who have committed crimes of minor and medium gravity and have served their sentences, and to persons doing military study abroad; however, the rest of the approximately 450,000 to 500,000 Armenian nationals living abroad were not granted the opportunity to vote.

    As a result of amendments passed a few months later, the Electoral Code also provided for the publication of signed voter lists, something that the opposition and civil society had been demanding for years. Citizens were given the right to file an application for voter impersonation cases, although the Armenian Criminal Code included an article on false statements regarding such applications. According to the Central Electoral Commission’s report, only one person filed an application on voter impersonation in the context of the National Assembly elections of 2 April 2017. Among other reasons, this might have been due to the relevant article of the Criminal Code, though it is widely held that the number of cases of multiple voting or voter impersonation during the elections was not considerable, and the authorities mostly distorted the election through the abuse of administrative resources and vote-buying.

    During the National Assembly elections of 2 April 2017 and the Yerevan City Council elections of 14 May 2017, widespread abuses were identified that took the form of fake observation. The Central Electoral Commission accredited around 28,000 observers from 49 organisations to observe the National Assembly elections. The overwhelming majority of those observers acted at polling stations mostly as proxies representing the interests of the Republican Party or the Tsarukyan Bloc, which came second in the election.

    6. What needs to change for the quality of democracy to improve in Armenia?

    First, more protection of labour rights is needed in both the government and business sectors, where rights are not protected. This was explicitly revealed during the recent elections. At the same time, the independence of the business sector and the protection of their rights from the ruling elites should be ensured as well.

    The second important issue is judicial independence from executive power. Control of the judiciary is the main tool that the government uses to reinforce impunity, and this is an obstacle for the effective protection of citizens and civil society groups.

    • Civic space in Armenia is rated as ‘obstructed’ by the CIVICUS Monitor, indicating the existence of significant restrictions on civil society rights.
    • Get in touch with HCA Vanadzor through their websiteor Facebookpage, or follow @HCAVanadzor on Twitter

     

  • ARMS CONTROLS: ‘Greater women’s participation in male-dominated mechanisms would increase prospects for peace’

    CIVICUS speaks with Aaron Lainé, Policy and Government Liaison Officer, and Raluca Muresan, Programme Manager at Control Arms, a civil society coalition that advocates for greater controls in the international arms trade to end the human suffering caused by the irresponsible arms trade, and to stop arms transfers that fuel conflict, systemic armed violence, poverty and serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law.

    Aaron Laine

    It was quite surprising to hear that the 2019 Conference of States Parties to theArms Trade Treaty (ATT) would focus on gender. What is the connection between gender and weapons, and between women’s rights and gun control?

    The thematic focus of the Sixth Conference of States Parties to the ATT (CSP6) on gender and gender-based violence (GBV) was the result of long-term efforts by progressive governments and civil society who called for more integration in the areas of sustainable development, women, peace and security and arms control. Building on the fact that the ATT is the first legally binding instrument to recognise the link between GBV and the international arms trade, efforts were concentrated on ensuring that governments recognise the importance of stopping arms transfers that perpetuate GBV and creating gender-sensitive arms control policies and programmes.

    A gender perspective in arms control requires governments to examine how socially constructed gender roles affect policy decisions, particularly related to arms exports and controls. It also requires a better understanding of the gendered impact of armed violence and conflict, including of how women and men are impacted on, due to their sex or prevailing expectations about gender. It must be noted here that gender is not limited to women and girls but also includes men and boys and LGBTQI+ people.

    While the body of evidence that connects women and peace and security with arms control policies is continually growing, several studies outline the disproportionate effect of irresponsible arms transfers and arms proliferation on women and children and the gendered impact of modern armed conflicts. While men and boys are both perpetrators and the primary victims of armed violence and conflict, women and girls bear a substantial and differentiated burden, including because of GBV, displacement and lack of access to medical care during pregnancy and childbirth due to the destruction of medical facilities. Research on the gendered impact of conflict also indicates that bombs, missiles, mortars and rockets, when used in populated areas, result in disproportionate casualties among women and children.

    Therefore, Control Arms – along with other civil society organisations following the ATT process – has been urging governments to go beyond examining the risks that transferred arms may be used to commit violations of international human rights and humanitarian law, and look at the gendered impact of the use of weapons as part of a thorough examination of the potential for GBV facilitated by transferred arms. This is an essential component in reducing human suffering, the key purpose of the ATT.

    While gender and GBV are beginning to be receive proper recognition by various United Nations mechanisms, including in disarmament forums, what is more important is to see meaningful action on the ground. In the case of the ATT, Control Arms hopes that states parties will base arms export control decisions on the recognition of the risk of commission or facilitation of GBV. The Control Arms practical guide on how the ATT can address GBV was specifically designed to help states parties implement GBV criteria effectively when conducting a risk assessment before authorising an arms export, and help push for meaningful change by using the ATT to address GBV.

    Can you tell us more about the ATT and the role played by Control Arms in its negotiation and implementation?

    The ATT, which was adopted in 2013 and entered into force on 24 December 2014, is part of the international response to the tremendous human suffering caused by the widespread proliferation of conventional weapons and poorly regulated trade in them. The ATT sets common international standards for the transfer of conventional arms and ammunition, with the express purpose of reducing human suffering. The ATT represents a significant paradigm shift in the world of arms control through its prohibitions on certain arms transfers (Article 6) and the establishment of a detailed export risk assessment mechanism (Article 7). Under these articles of the Treaty, states parties must determine if an arms transfer would violate specific international obligations or arms embargos or if the arms would be used to commit or facilitate genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, serious human rights or humanitarian law violations, to enable terrorism or organised crime, or to commit or facilitate GBV, and stop it in case it risks having any of these consequences. With the inclusion of Articles 6 and 7, for the first time in history, states are required to place international human rights and humanitarian law at the core of their arms export decisions.

    The Treaty also sets out guidelines for importing, transit and transhipment states, requiring them to cooperate and share the information necessary to conduct the mentioned assessment.

    Today, the ATT’s membership comprises 105 states parties and 33 signatories.

    The Control Arms Coalition formed and launched a campaign in 2003 that tirelessly pushed for states to accept the idea of and negotiate the first global treaty to regulate the conventional arms trade. Since the adoption of the ATT in 2013, Control Arms has continued to push, first, for the 50 ratifications required for its entry into force, and then to hit a target of 100 states parties and for effective implementation. Through each stage of the ATT process, the role of civil society has evolved from primarily one of advocacy and awareness-raising to where we are today – where civil society plays an instrumental role in shaping the discussions and agenda of the Conferences of States Parties, advancing the Treaty’s universalisation and implementation, and ensuring transparency and accountability in the ATT through mechanisms such as the Control Arms’ ATT Monitor Report.

    What does the Arms Trade Treaty say about GBV, and how could its provisions be used to protect women and children?

    According to ATT’s Article 7.4, ‘[t]he exporting State Party, in making this [risk] assessment, shall take into account the risk of the conventional arms covered under Article 2.1 or of the items covered under Article 3 or Article 4 being used to commit or facilitate serious acts of GBV or serious acts of violence against women and children’.

    The aim of Article 7.4 is to ensure that an exporting state party takes into account the risk that the arms transferred will be used to commit or facilitate acts of GBV, when conducting its export assessment outlined in Article 7.1. It is an explicit requirement aimed at reducing the historical tendency to overlook GBV.

    In practical terms, if applied correctly, the ATT will help deprive human rights abusers of the arms that help facilitate violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law, including acts of GBV and violence against women and children.

    What kind of advocacy work has Control Arms been doing in the area of GBV?

    The Control Arms Coalition played a key role in advocating for the inclusion of Article 7.4 in the Treaty. Since then, Control Arms has sought to raise awareness about the importance of this provision, through bilateral and regional meetings, social media campaigns such as 10 Reasons to #StopGBV, and interventions and statements in ATT-related meetings.

    Control Arms also produced a range of resources such as the Practical Guide on how to use the ATT to address GBV, a paper that provides interpretations on key terms from Article 7 and a factsheet on gender in the ATT. These resources were used in the first-ever training programme for export control officials on the implementation of the GBV criteria. Organised by Control Arms and the government of Latvia, the training session brought together representatives from 12 Central and Eastern European governments to learn in greater detail about the links between GBV and arms transfer decisions and the application of the ATT risk-assessment criteria that take these risks fully into account.

    Do you think women’s participation in disarmament and arms control negotiations and processes could increase the prospects for peace?

    Greater women’s participation in male-dominated disarmament and arms control mechanisms would without a doubt contribute to greater prospects for peace. Several studies, for example by the Council on Foreign Relations and a 2018 study by Jana Krause, Werner Krause and Piia Bränfors, highlight the positive impact of women in conflict resolution, concluding that “women’s participation in conflict prevention and resolution can improve outcomes before, during, and after conflict.” Similarly, gender equality among participants in international multilateral mechanisms can lead to more inclusive, effective and sustainable policy outcomes. This is relevant particularly for disarmament and arms control forums that have remained largely male-dominated and are stuck in an ideological window characterised by aggression, dominance, egotism and other characteristics of toxic masculinity.

    A recent study by the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research, Still Behind the Curve, outlines the state of gender balance in arms control, non-proliferation and disarmament diplomacy. Its main conclusion is that “the proportion of women participating in arms control, non-proliferation and disarmament diplomacy… has grown steadily over the last four decades, but women remain underrepresented.” This applies to the ATT as elsewhere: only 27 per cent of representatives at the 2018 Conference of States Parties were female.

    Get in touch with Control Arms through itswebsite andFacebook page, or follow@controlarms and@AaronLaineRicoy on Twitter.

     

  • As resistance grows against the Myanmar military, the Council must ensure accountability for violations

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

    Item 4: Interactive Debate on the High Commissioner’s report on Myanmar

    Delivered byLisa Majumdar

    Thank you Mr President, and Madame High Commissioner.

    In Myanmar, a human rights catastrophe is compounded by a humanitarian emergency.

    For the past year, civil servants mobilised alongside students and the workers’ movement to resist the military’s attempt to seize control. In response, the Myanmar security forces intensified their crackdown on protests, escalating to battlefield weapons against protesters, killing nearly fifteen hundred people.

    Resistance against the military continues to grow and unify within Myanmar, despite the great risk. At this critical point, we call for the immediate recognition of the National Unity Government as the legitimate government of Myanmar.

    Over 9,000 are currently in arbitrary detention. They include human rights defenders, lawyers, trade unionists, activists and monks. Some were taken in terrifying night-time raids. Others were abducted off the streets, held in secret facilities and denied access to lawyers. We call on Myanmar to immediately release all those arbitrarily detained.

    Internet shutdowns and willful restrictions to humanitarian aid prevent much-needed supplies from reaching those in dire need. ASEAN’s efforts to halt the grave violations have failed.

    The ongoing impunity for serious crimes despite clear evidence is a travesty. We welcome particularly the High Commissioner’s recommendation to support the referral of the situation to the International Criminal Court, by the UN Security Council or by duly recognised national authorities, and we urge the Council to seriously consider further steps towards accountability.

    As immediate steps towards protecting those on the ground, the junta must be deprived of resources and arms. To this end, we urge States to follow the recommendations of the High Commissioner to take immediate action to prevent arms flows to the Myanmar military, and apply other targeted sanctions on military economic interests as appropriate; and to encourage businesses that maintain connections with Myanmar military owned or affiliates to cease their operation.

    To the High Commissioner, what are the further measures the Council must take to ensure that accountability and justice can be achieved?


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

     

  • ASIA: ‘Under the pandemic, racism against Indigenous peoples has intensified’

    CIVICUS speaks to Gam Shimray, Secretary General of the Asian Indigenous Peoples Pact (AIPP), about the situation of Indigenous groups in Asia amid the COVID-19 pandemic. AIPP is a regional federation of Indigenous peoples’ movements in Asia that works to promote and defend Indigenous peoples’ human rights, including land rights and cultural rights. Because of their subordination and distinctiveness from mainstream culture and politics,Indigenous peoples are subjected to gross human rights violations, systematic racism, discrimination and dispossession. As a result of the denial of their rights to land, territory and resources, many Indigenous peoples are among the most disadvantaged and vulnerable groups.

    Gam Shimray

    Can you tell us about the work of AIPP?

    The work of AIPP is guided by our belief in universal human rights and the inherent right to self-determination of all peoples, including Indigenous peoples. The rights to self-determination and self-government are a social necessity for the continuity of Indigenous social processes and self-development.

    While our advocacy work is primarily focused on the regional and global levels, linkages with country-level processes are built through our members and networks. AIPP consolidates a common position of Indigenous organisations for regional and global advocacy. For this, we focus on building capacity in communities, consolidating Indigenous movements and setting a common agenda for collective campaigning and advocacy at the country level.

    AIPP also focuses on building leadership and promoting distributive leadership across Asia, including among women, young people and persons with disabilities.

    What was the situation of Indigenous peoples in Asia prior to the COVID-19 pandemic?

    Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the political situation in Asia had been deteriorating, particularly in the past few years. We have seen an increasing clampdown on civil society and the restriction of democratic space for public debate and opinion formation in several Asian countries. Some public intellectuals attribute this trend to the retreat of political leadership from democracy and human rights.

    The transitions to democracy from authoritarian governments in recent decades, such as the Philippines in the 1980s, Indonesia in the late 1990s and Nepal in the 2000s, have remained incomplete. Other countries, such as China, Laos and Vietnam, have de jure one-party systems, and Cambodia has a de facto one. In Myanmar, the military still holds a grip on the government, while Thailand’s tradition of high tolerance is yet to produce a stable democratic modern state. Further, rising populism is posing a serious threat to democracies. In India, the world’s largest democracy and arguably one of Asia’s strongest, we are seeing a continuous assault on autonomous institutions, from the judiciary to the central bank and the free press, under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s populist government.

    The result is that in the last few years, most of the human rights defenders killed have been Indigenous peoples. They lost their lives defending their rights, homes, lands, territories and resources.

    These problems are also evidence of deeper and underlying issues that relate to the inadequacy of political and institutional capacity to address effectively the challenges of democracy and human rights in Asian countries. We are faced with moral and political questions that call for serious examination of the erosion of human rights standards and practices and the weakening of political and institutional capacity to respond to present social and political issues. The suffering experienced by poor people during the COVID-19 pandemic is evidence of this.

    What challenges have Indigenous groups and activists faced under the pandemic?

    Issues and challenges vary across countries as the situation differs. One of the main challenges relates to the fact that most governments in Asia initiated countrywide lockdowns without much preparation, leading to chaos. The situation was simply overwhelming, and we could not respond to the needs of activists, communities, or migrant labourers.

    Migrant workers, refugees and stateless persons suffered the most, and those without ID cards struggled to prove their citizenship, which they needed to receive government aid. Most migrants and refugees lack proper documentation and errors in registration abound. Those left out from national registries are denied national ID cards.

    Under the pandemic, racism against Indigenous peoples has intensified. The situation has been worst in India, where people from the north-eastern part of the country have been thrown out of their hotels and rented houses. They have been denied the ability to buy food from grocery shops and board public transport. They have been spat on and taken into custody without an explanation. Many people, including women, have been beaten up for no reason, and many in cities across India are living in fear.

    In some countries, governments are using the situation as a cover for conducting military campaigns, grabbing land, granting permission for large-scale development projects, rolling back protective rights and weakening environmental laws and safeguards. Several activists and community members have been killed or jailed under trumped-up charges in countries such as Bangladesh, India, Myanmar and the Philippines. Community leaders have also been stopped by police and security forces from carrying out relief work and helping starving communities.

    These incidents are grave in nature and there is extraordinarily little that we can do about them, as people cannot go out and protest or campaign, and can hardly access the courts. In India, e-petitions are allowed, and urgent matters are still heard by courts through video conferencing, but most communities are not familiar with such complicated processes and many do not even have proper internet access.

    How have AIPP and other Indigenous rights organisations responded to the situation? 

    The first thing we did was reach out to our members and networks to gather information from the ground. We also responded to those reaching out to us for support. Our first action was to provide or mobilise relief, and particularly food for those in critical need, in different areas through our members and networks. Our outreach also focused on sharing information concerning Indigenous communities. This was necessary because misinformation has been overwhelming, leading to panic-driven reactions from communities. We shared appeals to communities calling for humane responses and disseminating good practices that communities could implement.

    The situation is complicated because it is not just about responding to the pandemic. Indigenous peoples face multiple underlying issues. The least we could do was register our protest and conduct our campaigns through digital channels.

    The COVID-19 pandemic has unfolded many hidden issues and poses new challenges. So we are assessing and making efforts to take the next steps to cope with the longer-term impact of the pandemic. In this regard, we have also formed a regional network for COVID-19 response, which is in the process of expansion. We will be coming up with a preliminary regional assessment report soon, which will help us plan better. We can already see that capacity building will be crucial as we adapt to what is called the ‘new normal’.

    What further support do Indigenous groups need at this time?

    The support that Indigenous communities need is enormous as the impact is going to be long term. But few things that must be stressed are the following.

    First, we need to set up COVID-19 response cells with designated funds at the local level, with a team of designated nodal officers to coordinate with state or provincial authorities and civil society organisations to monitor Indigenous issues and provide the necessary support. The response team should also coordinate with the appropriate authorities to cater to the special needs of women, children, older people and persons with disabilities in Indigenous areas.

    Second, we need to ensure that appropriate guidelines and instructions are issued to provincial and local authorities on measures to be taken for Indigenous peoples to deal with COVID-19 and lockdown, including on ensuring compliance.

    Third, it is critical to raise awareness and ensure access to healthcare. It is important to prepare community-friendly information materials that clearly explain the nature of the disease, quarantine and containment measures and testing, helping dispel myths. Coordination between health department workers and traditional healers is needed to ensure that Indigenous knowledge systems are part of these response mechanisms. Localised and separate quarantine strategies encouraging natural environment and community participation should be promoted. COVID-19 care centres can be set up at the community level, managed by community healers and nurses. 

    In remote areas, mobile health units should be deployed involving community healers and health workers. Special attention should be given to areas with migrant workers who have returned home. Testing and quarantine facilities should be immediately provided to them. Access to health services in case of emergencies, including transportation, should also be provided. Access to safe water for cleaning and drinking is another critical need that should be ensured. 

    Ensuring food security and incomes and protecting livelihoods is also crucial given the known evidence of undernourishment in many Indigenous areas. Over at least the next six months it will be necessary to distribute free rations of nutritional food to everybody, irrespective of people’s migratory status or whether they have an ID card. 

    Lastly, it is urgent to strengthen non-timber forest produce (NTFP)-based livelihoods by urgently devising effective institutional mechanisms for collection, storage, procurement and sale. Dependence on NTFP is high across Asia. Financial and logistical support should be provided directly to the communities to help generate sustainable livelihoods. Communities living in protected areas must be allowed to have access to forests for livelihood purposes. 

    What lessons you have learned so far about the situation of Indigenous people under the pandemic?

    Under the pandemic, the situation has been overwhelming, and the measures imposed by governments have led to acts of brutality from police and security forces. We saw hundreds of poor people die of starvation and those venturing out in desperation brutalised by the police.

    The potential impact was looking grim, and had we not put our trust in the people and the communities, the efforts we made would have been far less successful. Relief work had to be efficient and putting our trust in community volunteers to do the job was the key to success, for instance in Malaysia and Thailand. Whatever resources were generated were transferred to them and they reported back on the actions carried out through phone or other means available to them.

    Further, in our observation, several communities responded very well to the situation by initiating village lockdowns, regulating visits, quarantining returnees, or self-isolating themselves despite having little information or no appropriate resources and equipment. There were fears too but communities were quick in overcoming them and improved their responses. Communities have not just received relief from us or others, but some of them also contributed food for other communities in need. Most of those communities had worked with us and had successfully managed their food production systems and natural resources. They were not worried about food shortages; rather, their leaders used the opportunity to create awareness about the importance of improving local production and sustainable resource management. Personally, this has been inspiring.

    We have also been inspired by communities organising themselves and using local healing practices and medicine to improve immunity and resistance to the disease, or establishing food exchange systems with little or no help  from the state, at a time when state-run programmes were not functional or did not arrive in time. Most importantly, this showed that devolution and community empowerment can be more effective in dealing with the crisis if resources and support are provided to such self-governing local institutions. 

    Spontaneous community responses came almost naturally because these are historically self-governing communities. Looking forward, trusting people and empowering communities will enable the state to deal more efficiently with public health crises and their long-term impacts.

    Get in touch with the Asian Indigenous Peoples Pact through itswebsite andFacebook page, and follow@aippneton Twitter.

     

  • AUSTRALIA: ‘Indigenous Australians must be represented at the heart of policy-making’

    Paul WrightCIVICUS speaks about Indigenous peoples’ rights in Australia with Paul Wright, National Director of Australians for Native Title and Reconciliation (ANTaR), a civil society organisation (CSO) that works in solidarity with and advocates for the rights of Indigenous peoples in Australia, including by aiming to change the attitudes and behaviours of non-Indigenous Australians.

    What is the current situation of Indigenous peoples in Australia?

    As soon as colonisation began in 1788, Australia’s First Nations peoples, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, were systematically persecuted and marginalised. They were dispossessed of their lands and denied the rights afforded to settlers or colonisers.

    In 2022, more than 230 years since colonisation began and 120 years after the former colonies federated into the Commonwealth of Australia, Indigenous Australians continue fighting for their rights and to have their sovereignty recognised.

    Through the years, there have been big wins, frustrating disappointments and broken promises from governments. Human rights have been consistently denied or violated. Australia was one of the last nations to ratify the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), and following ratification it has done very little to honour or domesticate the articles of the declaration.

    More positively, the Australian Human Rights Commission includes an Indigenous Social Justice Commissioner whose role is to advocate for the rights of Indigenous peoples and keep Indigenous issues on the agenda of the Australian federal government. The position is currently filled by a Bunuba woman, Dr June Oscar, who is a great source of information on the human rights situation of Indigenous Australians.

    While things are slowly improving, Indigenous Australians continue to have a lower life expectancy, live in poorer health and have worse employment and education outcomes than non-Indigenous Australians.

    The wide health gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities was highlighted by the Close the Gap Campaign, co-chaired by the Indigenous Social Justice Commissioner and the CEO of the National Association of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Workers and Practitioners. In response, the Australian government entered into the National Agreement on Closing the Gap with the Coalition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peak Organisations, committing to implementing tangible policy reforms. In July 2020 it issued its second Annual Data Compilation Report that tracks the implementation of the agreement.

    Do you think Australian Indigenous peoples are well represented in policy-making processes?

    They are not, so the current political battle in Australia is to make sure Indigenous Australians are represented at the heart of the policy-making that affects them. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have issued the Uluru Statement from the Heart, an invitation to ‘walk with us in a movement of the Australian people for a better future’. It calls for structural reforms, including constitutional change, to establish a First Nations’ ‘Voice to Parliament’ and kick off a national process of truth-telling and reconciliation. The current federal Labor government has committed to holding a referendum to decide this question. This is a major moment for Australia.

    Since the 1992 Mabo High Court decision, which recognised that a group of Torres Strait Islanders, led by Eddie Mabo, held ownership of Mer (Murray Island), native title has been recognised for all Indigenous people in Australia. In response to that seminal High Court ruling, the government introduced the Native Title Act, and over the next 30 years, 40 per cent of the Australian landmass has been returned to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples that have made claims. Not all claims have been successful, however: native title rights are limited and do not entail self-determination at the level outlined in the UNDRIP and other international standards.

    How is ANTaR working to advance the rights of Indigenous Australians?

    ANTaR is a national advocacy organisation that promotes the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people that was founded 25 years ago. We began as a grassroots protest movement to resist government attempts to water down legislation on native title rights. We have subsequently worked alongside many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders, organisations and communities to advocate for rights and justice. Our priorities have included health equality, justice, anti-racism, advocacy for a treaty, reconciliation and much more.

    As an ally organisation, we operate under the principle of not speaking for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and instead look to their leadership and direction to channel our resources and support. There are a growing number of solid connections between Indigenous peoples globally, which is encouraging. Australia has learned many lessons from Indigenous affairs in Canada, Norway, New Zealand and elsewhere.

    Civic space in Australia is rated ‘narrowed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.
    Get in touch with ANTaR through itswebsite orFacebook andInstagram pages, and follow@ANTaR_National on Twitter. 

     

  • BANGLADESH: ‘Protecting water amounts to protecting basic human rights in all nations’

    Following a year marked by massive mobilisation on the climate emergency, CIVICUS is interviewing civil society activists, leaders and experts about the main environmental challenges they face in their contexts and the actions they are taking. CIVICUS speaks with Sharif Jamil, an environmental activist and the General Secretary of Bangladesh Paribesh Andolon (BAPA), a platform that organises civil society movements against environmental degradation. Since 2009 Sharif has been involved with the Waterkeeper Alliance, a global network aimed at ensuring every community’s right to clean water, and he is currently the Coordinator of Waterkeepers Bangladesh.

     sharif jamil

     

    What is the key environmental issue that you work on?

    The Waterkeeper Alliance is a global platform and network that now includes over 400 organisations in 40 countries across the globe. We protect the water bodies that we all need and use, but that cannot speak for themselves. We call for people to respect water bodies and defend their rights, so when a waterkeeper speaks it is as if a water body spoke.

    We focus on water, but we don’t work only on water, because if there is no rainforest there is no water, if there are no mountains there is no water: if you don’t preserve the environment and ecology as a whole, then the water is also in trouble. So our water protection movement is not limited to protecting water bodies. 

    We have launched a global campaign because water does not respect borders, so it needs to be protected globally. Climate change and global warming are threatening the entire planet, and we need the planet to come out of this crisis as a whole.

    While thinking globally, you are also acting locally. Can you tell us about the work you are doing in Bangladesh?

    I started my activism 20 years ago. BAPA was formed in 2000 at an international conference on the environment in Bangladesh. The conference was held to discuss what we could do for the environment from the civil society level. It was agreed that civil organisations were doing good work but a platform was still needed for all of them to act as a unified pressure group, to bring the conflict to the table and apply pressure to come up with a solution. When BAPA started, we prioritised the issues directly affecting the environment in Bangladesh, but as rivers do not follow political boundaries, we realised that protecting water amounts to protecting basic human rights in all nations. That is why I also got involved with human rights organisations and members of a human rights group based in Colombo, Sri Lanka, and we are now tracking human rights violations related to ecological degradation.

    Specifically in Bangladesh, in recent times, we are focusing our work on the conflict between fossil fuels, the energy system and environmental degradation. In 2010 the government updated a power system master plan required for the country to grow economically. The government decided to focus on industrialisation, so it formed a special economy zone authority and declared more than 100 special economic zones across the country. These were meant to attract investment from foreign investors and to facilitate the establishment of multinational companies in the country. Industry requires energy, so to foster industrialisation the government came up with a plan to produce the power that it estimated would be required up to 2030. In order to meet the requirement, it decided to increase dramatically the share of energy produced from coal, from 2.5 per cent of total electricity to over 50 per cent. The government made this decision just as the world was shifting away from coal because of global warming.

    At this point there were civil society reactions, but initially we did not know enough. We lacked information, expertise and funding. But we worked hard to understand how much this master plan would impact on water and climate. With the collaboration of the Waterkeeper Alliance, in 2015 we organised an international conference in Dhaka, ‘Coal energy in Bangladesh: impact on water and climate’, and we came to understand that coal is more of a problem than a solution. The government’s plan identified three major hubs to establish coal-based power plants in the coastal region, and each of those hubs is threatening a unique ecological treasure.

    One of them is the Sundarbans, a mangrove area in the delta formed by the confluence of the Ganges, Brahmaputra and Meghna rivers in the Bay of Bengal. The Sundarbans, a World Heritage Site, is the largest remaining mangrove forest in the world. It covers an area of about 10,000 square kilometres in both Bangladesh (60 per cent) and India (40 per cent) and it is the last habitat of the endangered Bengal tiger. The Sundarbans protects the entire nation from cyclone and storm surges because Bangladesh is a densely populated country and is highly vulnerable to global warming, climate change and extreme weather hitting the land from the Indian Ocean. Bangladesh is almost a flat country and is therefore affected by floods. The Sundarbans is a lot more than just a huge forest – it is also a barrier that protects all of our country’s land.

    So we started protesting against the Rampal and Orion coal power-plant projects, located only around four kilometres away from the Ecologically Critical Area of the Sundarbans. We first started protesting against the coal-based power developments that were closest to home and then found out that on the other side of the Sundarbans, there were also huge numbers of coal-based power production plants going on in and around Payra, which were also threatening the Sundarbans as well as one of the rarest sea beaches where you can see the sunrise and sunset. And more importantly, thinking about the food security of our nation, the pollution that it causes threatens our national fish, hilsa. This is a fish that migrates from sea to freshwater and from freshwater to sea. The region is one of the major landing stations for this migratory fish and would be entirely destroyed by the coal plants.

    What we are trying to do is to reach a balance and understand what we should do and how we can protect this environment while keeping development moving onwards, that is, how we can make development sustainable. But the most urgent thing to do is protecting our water and air from this kind of pollution. We have been organising people’s movements. We are trying to convince our government, doing research and presenting global data and studies to our policy-makers. We are also inviting global investors like China, Japan and the UK to review their strategies. Some of the biggest investors are phasing out coal in their own countries while funding its use in this poor, overpopulated nation. We want the global community to influence and engage global investors to keep development progressing while ensuring that it is done with renewable energy. The global community should understand that producing 5,000 megawatts in Australia is not the same as producing 5,000 megawatts in Bangladesh. We are an overpopulated deltaic country, with more than 1,084 people per square kilometre. 

    Have you participated in global climate mobilisations?

    I was the national coordinator of the climate march in Bangladesh in 2015, when the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP 21) was held in Paris, France. We took people out on the street and had a very good turnout. We held a procession together with other civil society organisations in the capital, Dhaka, and more than 30,000 people participated in the march.

    More recently, in September 2019, we mobilised in the context of the global climate strike called by Greta Thunberg. Waterkeepers Bangladesh, Waterkeepers Nepal, the Nepal River Conservation Trust and BAPA jointly organised a series of events and activities in solidarity, including a mobilisation to protect the Himalayas by the banks of the Sunkoshi River in Nepal, near the source of the Brahmaputra and Ganges rivers, on 23 September, and another focused on protecting the Sundarbans, held at Katka Beach in the Bay of Bengal, near the source of the sea, on 29 September.

    I also took part in COP 25 in Madrid, Spain, and joined the European Union’s 21st EU-NGO Human Rights Forum in Brussels, Belgium, both in December 2019. Discussions there revolved around building a fair environmental future.

    So yes, Bangladeshi people are the victims of climate change, which they face every day, but they are also protecting themselves with their own knowledge and capacity, and reaching out to the global community.

    A big problem is that many in the global community are ready to help people with adaptation, but no one is putting enough attention on mitigation. So we request help for Bangladesh not only regarding adaptation to climate change, but also for mitigation, to keep our forest, to protect the Sundarbans, to protect the water bodies. The truth is that if you don’t keep this place alive, the entire region will be in trouble.

    The situation is urgent because water is depleting and there are no shared protocols. So we have started efforts within civil society, with people-to-people communication. We are working on the five countries – Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, India and Nepal – to manage the entire Brahmaputra, Ganges and Meghna basins together on the basis of equity and trust. These countries should come up with a treaty or some form of consensus to deal with the problem of melting Himalayan glaciers. Bangladesh is a water-scarce country as we get only 20 per cent of total water over half of the year from upstream during the lean period. When a neighbouring country blocks all the water, water bodies die, agriculture collapses and the economy is destroyed.

    Do you think international climate forums provide a useful space for civil society?

    I have participated in many global talks; in September 2018 I was even invited as a speaker to the Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco, USA. The problem with these forums is that sometimes good things are said, but actions do not match words. The government of California was one of the organisers of the summit in San Francisco, but California’s policies are all about protecting themselves while exporting fossil fuels to other countries. It’s irrational to think that you can save yourself alone. What you have to do to protect the planet from climate change is to keep fossil fuel underground. You cannot exploit mines in poor nations and then organise a nice summit to come up with recommendations to solve the problem you have created and that you do not have any intention to implement.

    Still, we are invited to these forums and we attend. The former BAPA general secretary was a member of the Bangladeshi government team for the climate negotiations at three successive sessions of the COP. We try to help our government in the negotiations, for instance by providing data and analysis. True, our government still needs to change its mindset and understand that economic growth needs to be sustainable. Our government needs to conduct itself diplomatically while being firm in searching for funding for sustainable development. 

    But we support our government in international negotiations because Bangladesh is a poor nation and there are many things that our government is not in a position to do or decide by itself; we depend on developed nations in many respects. We understand that responsibility falls on our government when it comes to changing its mindset and becoming more inclusive in its decision-making processes, but it is the responsibility of the global community to come up with a holistic approach to deal with a global problem.

    Civic space in Bangladesh is rated as ‘repressed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.
    Get in touch with Waterkeepers Bangladesh through itswebsite and itsFacebook page, or follow@WaterkeepersBD on Twitter.

     

     

  • BANGLADESH: “To address rape we need a thorough reform of the legal system”

    CIVICUS speaks to Aparajita Sangita, a Bangladeshi human rights activist and an international award-winning independent filmmaker. Aparajita has worked on several films on discrimination against women and women’s rights and has been involved in various social activities including street children’s education and food banking. In response to her activism, she has been harassed by the police. She was also sued for harassment under the draconian Digital Security Act for her online activism. The case was withdrawn in the wake of widespread protests on the streets and online.

    Aparajita Sangita

    What triggered the recent anti-rape protests in Bangladesh?

    On the evening of 5 January 2020, a student at Dhaka University (DU) was raped after getting off a university bus in the Kurmitola area of the capital, Dhaka. DU students were disturbed by this incident, which led to protests and the organisation of several other events.

    Despite widespread protests against the rape, sexual violence against women persisted and even increased during the COVID-19 pandemic.

    On 25 September, a woman who was visiting MC College in Sylhet with her husband was raped in a hostel on campus by political activists linked to the ruling party. As protests erupted over this, a video of a woman being abused in Begumganj, Noakhali on 4 October went viral on social media. The video clip showed a group of men entering the woman’s house, stripping her naked and physically assaulting her, while capturing it all on video.

    These incidents are just a few of the numerous cases of rape and sexual violence against women that have been circulating on social media in Bangladesh. The perpetrators of this violence include fathers, close relatives, law enforcement officials, public representatives, political leaders and religious actors.

    All of this led to the mass anti-rape protests of October 2020, when people from all over the country came together to protest against violence against women. The anti-rape protest movement started in Shahbag, known as the ‘Movement Square of Bangladesh’, but soon spread to every city, even villages, across Bangladesh. This includes Bogra, Brahminbaria, Champainababganj, Chandpur, Dhamirhat (Nowgaon), Faridpur, Gafargaon (Mymensingh), Gopalganj, Jaipurhat, Kurigram, Manikganj, Noakhali, Panchgarh, Rajshahi, Satkhira and Syedpur (Nilphamari).

    People from different walks of life, including members of political parties, writers, cultural activists, online activists, national cricket team players, women’s rights activists and journalists, converged in the anti-rape protest movement. For the first time in Bangladesh, women marched against rape in the middle of the night. In Dhaka, they marched from Shahbag to Parliament House, carrying torches and shouting slogans.

    What were protesters’ main demands?

    The anti-rape protest movement raised nine demands to stop rape and sexual violence. They included the introduction of exemplary punishment for those involved in rape and violence against women across Bangladesh and the immediate removal of the home minister who had failed to deliver justice.

    Protesters also demanded an end to all sexual and social abuse of tribal women; the establishment of a committee to prevent sexual harassment of women in all government and private organisations as well as in educational institutions, following High Court orders; and the full implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). They also urged the abolition of laws and practices that create inequality towards women.

    Other calls included putting a stop to the mental harassment of victims during investigations and ensuring their legal and social security, the inclusion of crime and gender experts in Women and Children Repression Prevention Tribunals, and the establishment of more tribunals to ensure the quick processing of cases.

    Finally, they urged the amendment of Section 155(4) and other relevant sections of the Evidence Act to end the admissibility of character evidence of complainants in rape trials and the elimination from textbooks of all materials deemed defamatory of women or depicting them as inferior.

    How did the authorities respond to the protests?

    On 6 October, protesters marched from Shahbag to the Prime Minister’s Office with black flags but were stopped by the police at the Hotel Intercontinental Junction. Several leaders and activists of a left-wing student body were injured by the police.

    In addition, a section of a statement issued by the police headquarters on 10 October attempted to vilify the protesters. It stated that “vested quarters” were trying to use the protest “to serve their interests” by undermining law and order and “creating social chaos.” The police warned protesters to avoid any “anti-state activities” and announced that the police were committed to ensuring internal peace and order at all costs. This statement caused panic among protesters, who feared a crackdown.

    Besides facing police repression, several women activists, including the leader of the Left Students’ Association, who participated in the anti-rape movement, were threatened with rape over the phone and on Facebook Messenger. Some of the activists were also threatened with criminal cases.

    What has happened to the movement since? Has the campaign stopped?

    After the protests against rape and sexual assault spread across the country, the Women and Children Repression Prevention Law was amended. The death sentence was imposed as the most severe punishment for rape. Previously, the maximum punishment for rape in Bangladesh was life imprisonment. The death penalty was only applied in cases of gang rape, or rape that resulted in the victim’s death.

    Following this the protests halted, as many thought that the death penalty would see a reduction in rape crimes. However, many women’s rights campaigners insist the death penalty is not the answer and demand a thorough reform of the legal system and more education to address what they say is an epidemic of violence against women in Bangladesh.

    What can the international community support the movement?

    In the wake of the various cases of sexual violence and rape committed against women, we have seen an important protest movement emerge within the country. However, some protesters and activists have faced threats when they have raised their voices. The solidarity of the international community is essential for those protesting against human rights violations and making fair claims.

    Bangladesh is an extremely patriarchal society, and there have been numerous attempts to restrict women’s lives and voices for years. Rape is an expression of this environment. It is a fundamental right for a woman to live in safety and it is the responsibility of all citizens, as well as the international community, to ensure this right.

    Civic space inBangladesh is rated as ‘repressed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.

     

  • Bangladesh: Authorities must conduct investigations into death of protesters

    The Bangladeshi authorities must conduct prompt, thorough, impartial, and independent investigations into the death of at least 14 protesters across the country between 26 and 28 March, and respect the right to freedom of peaceful assembly, said 11 human rights organisations in a joint statement today. The organisations also called on the international community to urge Bangladeshi authorities to put an end to the practice of torturing and forcibly disappearing opposition activists.

     

  • Bangladesh: International community must respond to crackdown on freedom of expression

    The Bangladeshi authorities must end their escalating crackdown on human rights, and respect and protect people’s rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly in Bangladesh to curb protesters demanding justice for writer Mushtaq Ahmed’s death in prison on 25 February, the nine undersigned human rights organizations said in a joint statement today.

    Ahmed, 53, was a Bangladeshi writer held in pre-trial arbitrary detention for nine months under the draconian Digital Security Act of 2018 (“DSA”), following his arrest in May 2020 for Facebook posts and social media communications that were deemed critical of the government. The death in prison of Mushtaq Ahmed raises serious concerns about the protection of fundamental freedoms, including the rights to life, privacy, and the right to liberty.

    Ahmed Kabir Kishore, 45, a prominent Bangladeshi cartoonist was also arrested in the same case as Mushtaq. After ten months in prison, on March 3 he was granted bail and was released on March 4 but the charges against him have not been dropped. Further, there are strong reasons to believe that Ahmed Kabir Kishore has been tortured while in custody of the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), a Bangladesh paramilitary force, which has been accused of serious human rights violations in the past. In addition to no longer being able to hear on his right ear, he also has difficulty walking due to pain in his left knee and ankle. Furthermore, Ahmed Kabir Kishore is diabetic and has been suffering from severely high levels of blood sugar during his detention. Without urgent and proper medical attention, he is at risk of visual impairment due to his deteriorating health.

    In light of these developments, the organizations call on Bangladeshi authorities to conduct prompt, thorough, impartial, and transparent investigations into the death in prison of writer Mushtaq Ahmed and the allegations of torture against cartoonist Ahmed Kabir Kishore. Perpetrators must be identified and brought to justice.

    Authorities must also unconditionally and permanently release Ahmed Kabir Kishore, end the practice of arbitrary, pre-trial detention of people solely for the peaceful exercise of their right to freedom of expression. 

    Mushtaq Ahmed and Ahmed Kabir Kishore are among hundreds of victims whom the Bangladeshi authorities have held in detention under the DSA. Nine others have been accused in the same case for publishing “false information” and “propaganda against the liberation war, the spirit of liberation war, father of the nation”, which could “deteriorate law and order” by “supporting or organizing crime” under sections 21, 25, 31 and 35 respectively of the DSA. If convicted, they could face up to 10 years in prison and fines of up to 10 million Bangladeshi takas (equivalent to USD 115,891). These vaguely defined provisions of the law are incompatible with international human rights law and are being used to criminalize freedom of expression. The organization urge the Bangladeshi government to repeal the DSA - under which both Ahmed and Kishore were charged. All digital and cybersecurity laws must conform to international human rights law including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

    The undersigned organizations also expressed concern over reports of police violence on peaceful protestors, including activists of opposition political parties, who took to the streets to demand justice for Mushtaq Ahmed’s death in prison. The violent crackdown by police has left hundreds of protesters injured, dozens detained, and several others accused of charges, including attempted murder. Bangladeshi authorities must respect and protect the people’s rights, including the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, and liberty. Authorities must drop all charges against the peaceful protesters, and immediately and unconditionally release those detained.

    To protect and respect the human rights, individual states should urge the Bangladeshi authorities to address the allegations of grave human rights violations being committed in Bangladesh. The international community should impose targeted sanctions on those responsible for grave human rights violations in Bangladesh. Given the concerning record of human rights abuses committed by Bangladesh’s security forces and law-enforcement agencies, the UN should review their participation in UN Peacekeeping Operations.

    This statement is endorsed by the Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances (AFAD), Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA), Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), Asian Network for Free Election (ANFREL), CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation, Eleos Justice - Monash University, FIDH: International Federation for Human Rights (within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders), OMCT: World Organisation Against Torture, (within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders), Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights.

    For more information, please contact:

    For the Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances (AFAD), Nilda L. Sevilla;  Email:  

    For Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA), in Bangkok, Melissa Ananthraj, Communication and Media Programme, .

    For Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), in Hong Kong, Mohammad Ashrafuzzaman (Bangla & English): +852 6073 2807 (Mobile);

    Asian Network for Free Election (ANFREL), Chandanie Watawala, Email:  

    For CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation, Josef Benedict, Asia Pacific Researcher (English): Email:

    For Eleos Justice - Monash University, Mai Sato (English): Email:  
    FIDH: International Federation for Human Rights, within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders

    OMCT: World Organisation Against Torture), within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders,  Iolanda Jaquemet Email:

    For Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, in Washington, DC, Minhee Cho, Media Relations Associate (English):


    The CIVICUS Monitor, an online platform that tracks threats to civil society in countries across the globe, rates civic space – the space for civil society – in Bangladesh as Repressed

     

  • Bangladesh: Release all those arbitrarily arrested and investigate police abuse

    To the President of Bangladesh,
    H.E. Md Abdul Hamid

    Bangladesh: Release all those arbitrarily arrested and investigate police abuse

    Dear President Hamid,

    We are writing to express our concerns about serious violations of civic freedoms perpetrated during recent protests in Bangladesh. We urge your government to take immediate steps to address these issues in accordance with your international human rights obligations.

    Our organisations are concerned about reports that police used excessive force, including firing rubber bullets and tear gas on 4th August 2018 to disperse demonstrations in Dhaka which were triggered by the killing of two teenagers by a speeding bus on 29th July 2018. We are also concerned that the government may be covering up the actual death toll and have received information that at least three others students may have also been killed and one critically injured.

    Some of the student protesters were also allegedly attacked by members of the Bangladesh Chhatra League (BCL) and Jubo League, the student and youth wing of the ruling Bangladesh Awami League (BAL) party.

    More than 20 journalists were attacked, some of whom were later detained briefly by the police. At least four journalists from The Daily Star newspaper were reportedly beaten while at least seven photojournalists were injured in attacks in Jhigatala and Science Lab areas of the city on 5 August 2018. While some attackers wore helmets, the journalists identified some of their attackers as BCL members.

    We are also concerned about the arbitrary arrest of scores of individuals around the protest, in particularly Bangladeshi photographer Shahidul Alam who was taken from his home, just hours after he made comments on Al-Jazeera about protests in the city. He was subsequently charged under section 57 of Bangladesh’s Information Communications Technology Act a provision that has been frequently used to bring charges against critics, activists and other dissenting voices in Bangladesh. He has also alleged that he was tortured while in custody. A lawyer in Sirajganj, Sakhawat Hossain Shakil, was also arrested and remanded under Section 57 of the ICT Act on 7th August for allegedly sharing anti-government posts and expressing solidarity with safe road protesters on Facebook.

    At least 22 protesters were remanded in police custody for two days and five are facing charges under Section 57 of the Information and Communication Technology Act. Some were allegedly tortured or ill-treated in custody. They are now detained in prison as the courts have rejected the applications for bail.

    In the last few months, our organisations have also documented attacks by the BCL against students protesting the civil service quota system, which reserves 30 percent of government jobs for children of freedom fighters from Bangladesh’s Liberation War in 1971. Academics and journalists supporting them have also been targeted. Some student activists were subsequently detained and charged. At least six are languishing in jail and according to their lawyers were allegedly tortured in police custody. 

    The arrest and charging of peaceful protesters and allegations of torture and ill-treatment, clearly contravene Bangladesh obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment. Our organisations also believe that the violent actions of the police at these protests are inconsistent with international human rights standards on the use of force such as the United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement, and that the failure to take appropriate measures to prevent and punish harm caused by private actors, such as the BCL, also contravenes Bangladesh’s international human rights obligations.

    Many of the issues above were also raised at the Human Rights Council during Bangladesh’s recent Universal Periodic Review in May 2018, and received support from your government. Protecting civic freedoms is also part of Bangladesh’s commitments under Agenda 2030 and these violations highlight that the country is failing abysmally to meet targets set under Sustainable Development Goal 16 on promoting peaceful and inclusive societies, and particularly target 16:10 to “protect fundamental freedoms, in accordance with national legislation and international agreements”.

    Therefore, we urge your government to take the following steps as a matter of priority:

    • Immediately and unconditionally release all protesters who have been arbitrarily detained for exercising their human rights, in particular photographer Shahidul Alam, and drop all charges against them;
    • Carry out prompt, impartial, independent and efficient investigations into all complaints and reports of excessive use of force by the police, as well as attacks by non-state actors, against protesters and journalists, bring those responsible to justice and provide reparations to the victims;
    • Review and amend all laws that restrict freedom of expression, such as section 57 of the 2006 Information and Communication Technology Act;
    • Send a clear message to members of the Bangladesh Chhatra League (BCL) and other non-state actors that violence by them will not be tolerated;
    • Create a safe and enabling environment for activists, civil society and citizens to exercise their rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly without intimidation, harassment, arrest or prosecution.

    We express our sincere hope that you will consider and implement these recommendations. 

    Sincerely, 

    David E. Kode
, Advocacy and Campaigns Lead
, CIVICUS
    Ichal Supriadi
, Secretary General, 
Asia Democracy Network (ADN)
    Basil Fernando, Director, Policy and Programme, 
Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC)
    Henri Tiphagne
, Executive Director, 
People’s Watch
    Mathew Jacob
, National Coordinator, 
Human Rights Defenders Alert – India (HRDA)
    John Samuel, 
Executive Director, 
Forum Asia (Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development)

     

  • Belarusian authorities must end suppression of citizens, says CIVICUS

    Johannesburg. 19 May 2011. The recent detention of 14 Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) activists in Minsk is just one more incident in an on-going crackdown on civil society in Belarus, said CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation today. The arrests came as local LGBT groups were gathering in Minsk to commemorate the International Day of Anti-Homophobia on 17 May.

    According to one organiser, Sergei Androsenko, head of the organisation Gay Belarus, the protestors were planning to gather peacefully with the goal of spreading tolerance and understanding, but were detained pre-emptively by police before they could assemble. The fourteen detainees, including Androsenko, were taken to a local police precinct, where they were finger-printed, harassed with slurs and had some of their personal effects confiscated, including a thousand flyers advertising the campaign to ‘legalise love’, before being released.