human rights


  • UN Human Rights Council adopts resolution on equal participation in political and public affairs


    CIVICUS welcomes the adoption by consensus of a resolution on equal participation in political and public affairs by the UN Human Rights Council.


  • UN Human Rights Council: Civic space in Eritrea

    38th Session of UN Human Rights Council
    Dialogue with UN Special Rapporteur on Eritrea

    On behalf of CIVICUS, Reporters without Borders, the Eritrean Movement for Democracy and Human Rights, the Eritrean Law society, Eritrea Focus, Network of Eritrean Women, Amnesty International, and the Horn of Africa Civil Society Forum, I would first like to express our deepfelt gratitude and appreciation to the Special Rapporteur for her unwavering support to Eritrean victims of human rights violations.

    Today, her work is all the more important. The latest reports emerging from the country indicate that the human rights situation is not improving. Following the imprisonment and death in detention of respected Muslim elder Haji Musa in March 2018, Eritrean authorities have conducted mass arrests and disappearances of youth.

    We are also concerned by the Special Rapporteur’s reports that individuals who dare to exercise their right to freedom of expression have been targeted with arrest and detention, while peaceful demonstrations in October 2017 following the arrest of Haji Musa were met with scores of arrests and night house raids without search or arrest warrants.

    Since the publication of the UN Commission of Inquiry’s (COI) report, government officials have continued to torture, imprison, and arbitrarily detain people without notifying them of the reason for their arrest.

    Mr President, since the publication of the CoI report, not a single individual has been held accountable for the human rights violations, including crimes against humanity, committed in Eritrea. Civil society remains forced to work outside the country and independent press is still not permitted to operate inside the country. Eritrea remains the largest jailer of journalists in sub-Saharan Africa.

    The Eritrean government has repeatedly ignored the Special Rapporteur’s requests for access to conduct investigations.

    Mr President, we urge the UN Human Rights Council to renew the Special Rapporteur’s mandate and maintain attention on some of the most egregious human rights violations in sub-Saharan Africa. The Human Rights Council has a responsibility to follow up on the CoI’s serious findings and ensure that accountability for crimes against humanity committed in Eritrea remains a priority.


  • UN Human Rights Council: New Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association

    38th Session of the Human Rights Council  
    Interactive Dialogue with Special Rapporteur on freedom of peaceful assembly and of association and the  Independent Expert on sexual orientation and gender identity

    CIVICUS welcomes this occasion to dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on freedom of peaceful assembly and of association and the Independent Expert on sexual orientation and gender identity. 

    We note with great appreciation the Special Rapporteur’s prioritisation of consultation and engagement with a range of civil society actors during the first months of his mandate. 

    Mr President, the report presented by the Special Rapporteur today exemplifies the endemic threat civil society across the world is facing. In both severity and frequency, the 1156 communications sent to governments by the mandate since 2011 expose the systematic campaigns to silence dissent as well as the resoluteness of civil society to continue protecting and promoting human rights.

    CIVICUS’ research comports with the Special Rapporteur’s analysis that state and non- state actors are using a range of unwarranted and pernicious tactics with the explicit intent to stifle fundamental rights.

    We remain deeply concerned that many governments in this chamber routinely pay lip service to the need to protect all human rights and at the same time actively persecute defenders and civil society leaders who work tirelessly to defend these very same rights. This hypocrisy and deceit has rarely, if ever, been so acute.

    On this, the first day of the 38th Council Session, we call on all states to heed the Special Rapporteur’s recommendation to treat civil society an ally, rather than an adversary.

    We further urge all States to pledge their support to the Special Rapporteur including by providing all necessary informational and financial resources to discharge the mandate and to work closely with civil society.

    See latest updates from CIVICUS' work at the UN Human Rights Council here. Follow the latest events on Twitter #HRC38


  • UN Human Rights Council: Statement on widespread arbitrary detention

    UN Human Rights Council
    36th session
    12 September 2017

    Statement at the UN Human Rights Council during interactive diialogue with the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention
    CIVICUS welcomes the annual and mission reports of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.  We applaud the Working Group for its unstinting dedication and invaluable work in exposing the wilful and unwarranted persecution of human rights defenders.

    As noted by the Working Group from its annual missions to both Azerbaijan and the United States, politically motivated detention of those who dare to speak out against the government or its policies afflicts both mature and emerging democracies across the world.

    It is a matter of deep concern that despite constitutional protections, peaceful demonstrators engaged in legitimate activities continue to face judicial harassment in the US. At least 20 states that have proposed legislation making it harder to protest, creating harsher penalties for protesters who are arrested.

    One recent example of the criminalisation of protests is the trial of protesters arrested during the mass demonstration on Inauguration Day in January 2017. Initially, approximately 230 people were arrested and charged with felony rioting. However, on 27th April 2017, additional charges were made against 212 defendants, including three of whom had not previously been charged. 

    In Azerbaijan, the authorities have failed to head repeated calls from the Work Group and a range of independent UN experts to end the use of judicial harassment to suppress independent dissent. On 3 March 2017, Journalist and blogger, Mehman Huseynov was sentenced to two years in prison on libel charges.

    Weeks earlier on 17 February 2017, another Azeri journalist, Elchin Ismayilli, was arrested. Ismayilli is well-known for his articles detailing acts of corruption and human rights violations in Azerbaijan. The authorities haev since charged him with extortion and abuse of power in a position of influence.

    We urge both Azerbaijan and the United States to immediately and unconditionally implement the recommendations made by the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, including releasing all persons detained for exercising their legitimate rights and repeal all laws and policies which criminalise international and national enshrined rights to association, assembly and expression. 


  • UN must condemn systematic violations of fundamental freedoms in Hong Kong

    The UN’s highest official principally responsible for human rights, High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet, should publicly denounce the Hong Kong Government for its systematic violations of the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of expression, and condemn the unnecessary and disproportionate use of force by police in Hong Kong. 

    The Hong Kong Police Force have systematically suppressed the right to peaceful assembly by using excessive force against individuals exercising their rights, including beating peaceful protesters and using tear gas, pepper spray, and rubber bullets. Police have increasingly denied permits for assemblies and marches and arbitrarily detained individuals for “unlawful assembly.” 

    The Hong Kong and Chinese Central governments have allowed police to operate with complete impunity. No police officer has faced legal action over excessive use of force or abuse of power in connection to the violent suppression of the protests since the demonstrations broke out. In contrast, police have arrested almost 4,500 individuals in connection to the protests since June 9. There has been credible evidence of torture and ill-treatment of protestors by police in detention.

    On November 19, the Office of the High Commissioner released a press briefing which stated incorrectly that the Hong Kong “authorities have by and large respected the exercise of [the] right [to peaceful assembly].” The Office of the High Commissioner failed to condemn police violence. This amounts to a denial of the extensive documentation from credible sources of violations of human rights in Hong Kong and ignores concerns raised by other UN independent experts.

    According to the mandate determined by the UN General Assembly, the High Commissioner has the responsibility to “promote and protect the effective enjoyment by all of all human rights,” and to “play an active role in removing the current obstacles and in meeting the challenges to the full realization of all human rights and in preventing the continuation of human rights violations throughout the world.”

    This mandate asks that the High Commissioner use her position to raise serious concerns about human rights abuses everywhere in the world. By not doing so, the Office has harmed its credibility by ignoring police brutality and the suppression of the Hong Kong people’s largely peaceful exercise of their fundamental freedoms. 

    China’s Government in Beijing has increasingly signalled that it is ultimately in charge in Hong Kong. On November 16, People’s Liberation Army soldiers cleared up debris and bricks, without being invited by the Hong Kong Government to assist, as required by the Basic Law. On November 18, China’s Ambassador to the United Kingdom Liu Xiaoming said, “We [the Central Government] have enough resolution and power to end the unrest.” Holding the China-controlled Hong Kong Government accountable for its human rights abuses is a key test if the UN can resist interference in the UN human rights system by an increasingly powerful China. 

    Beginning in June, millions of people in Hong Kong have publicly demonstrated against an extradition bill to Mainland China that would have undermined the separate freedoms that are enshrined in law in Hong Kong. The police have repeatedly responded to these peaceful protests with excessive force, and the protests have since morphed into a movement denouncing police violence and demanding full democratic rights for the people of Hong Kong. Police inaction in the face of attacks on protesters, journalists and bystanders at the Yuen Long MTR Station on July 21 represented a clear failure to protect the rights to life and security of persons. Journalists trying to cover the protests have faced violence, intimidation, and threats from police, including an incident in which police shot an Indonesian journalist in the face with a rubber bullet while she covered the protests, permanently blinding her in one eye. Medics and social workers providing assistance to arrestees and injured individuals have also faced police obstruction.

    The political situation in Hong Kong has deteriorated since October. Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam used colonial-era emergency powers to ban face-masks at assemblies (which was later ruled unconstitutional) and police have used live ammunition to shoot three young protesters. The death of 22-year-old student Chow Tsz-lok (周梓樂) on November 8 after being injured close to a police operation sparked the most recent outbreak of violence; the campuses of Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) and Polytechnic University have been turned into battlefields. While certain protestors have used violence, including petrol bombs, bricks and arrows, the Hong Kong Police Force’s response has been severe and disproportionate. Hong Kong police must distinguish violent elements from peaceful protestors and restrict the use of force to the minimum extent necessary, in accordance with the UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials.

    On June 28, four UN independent human rights experts appointed by the UN Human Rights Council sent a communication to the Chinese Government raising concern over allegations of excessive use of force by Hong Kong police on June 12 against “overwhelmingly peaceful” demonstrators. These same four experts then issued a public statement on September 12 stating, “We are seriously concerned by credible reports of repeated instances where the authorities failed to ensure a safe environment for individuals to engage in public protest free from violence or interference.” We are disappointed that this language does not appear in the Office of the High Commissioner’s November 19 press statement. 

    On August 13, the High Commissioner’s spokesperson said the Office has “credible evidence” of law enforcement officials using some anti-riot measures which are “prohibited by international norms and standards” and urged the Hong Kong authorities to “act with restraint.” The failure of Hong Kong authorities to heed this call from the High Commissioner’s office should have been raised in the latest press statement. Instead, the statement lacks a sense of proportion between the violent actions of small groups of protesters and the systematic use of unnecessary and disproportionate force by police against unarmed protesters.

    The High Commissioner herself called on the Hong Kong Government to immediately carry out an “effective, prompt, independent and impartial investigation” into violence during a press conference on October 5. Hong Kong has no independent mechanism to investigate excessive use of force by authorities, as the Independent Police Complaints Council (IPCC)’s expert advisers themselves re-confirmed recently. The IPCC does not have investigatory powers such as subpoenaing documents and summoning witnesses. The Human Rights Committee, which monitors the implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, raised concern over the lack of independence of the IPCC to the Hong Kong Government in 2013. 

    The High Commissioner for Human Rights must call on Hong Kong authorities to take concrete steps to de-escalate tensions and reduce violence on both sides - police and protesters. As a minimum first step, Hong Kong authorities must establish an independent commission of inquiry into excessive use of police force, bringing to justice any law enforcement official responsible for unlawful use of force, as well as their superior officers. Any response to allegations of violent attacks on police must be handled through a fair judicial process. Those detained solely for exercising their rights to peaceful assembly and free expression should be unconditionally released and charges against them should be immediately dropped.

    This statement is endorsed by: 

    Amnesty International 
    Article 19 
    Australia Tibet Council
    Child Rights International Network (CRIN)
    Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD)
    CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
    Covenants Watch Taiwan
    CSW (Christian Solidarity Worldwide)
    Free Tibet
    Geneva for Human Rights
    International Campaign for Tibet 
    International Movement Against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism (IMADR)
    International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) 
    International Tibet Network Secretariat
    International Women's Rights Action Watch Asia Pacific
    Safeguard Defenders
    Students for a Free Tibet
    Taiwan Association for Human Rights
    Tibet Action Institute
    Tibet Justice Center
    World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)
    World Uyghur Congress 


  • UN RESOLUTION ON CLIMATE CHANGE: ‘The climate crisis is a human rights crisis’

    HaileyCampbellCIVICUS speaks with Hailey Campbell about the recent United Nations General Assembly (UNGA)resolution on the environment, which enables the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to issue an advisory opinion on states’ obligations to address climate change.

    Hailey is a climate activist and co-executive director of Care About Climate, ajustice-driven climate education and empowerment civil society organisation (CSO) and network of international young climate leaders seeking to share climate solutions on the international stage.

    What was the origin of the initiative to take climate matters to the ICJ?

    The historic initiative was first introduced in 2019 by the Pacific Students Fighting Climate Change (PISFCC), a youth-led organisation established by students from eight Pacific Island countries. The PISFCC started by persuading the Pacific Island Forum, the region’s main political and economic organisation, to bring the issue of climate change and human rights to the ICJ. CSOs from the Pacific supported this campaign and built the Alliance for a Climate Justice Advisory Opinion (ACJAO) to include other non-state actors. In 2021, the state of Vanuatu, a small island state that is highly susceptible to climate catastrophes, initiated negotiations and the drafting of the resolution, which was later supported by over 130 countries and over 220 CSOs, and eventually adopted by consensus by the UNGA on 29 March 2023.

    Do you view this resolution as a civil society victory?

    This resolution is a monumental victory! This victory is the beginning of a wave of change in how we all think about the climate crisis and a reminder that climate change doesn’t respect geopolitical boundaries. Environmental CSOs, young leaders, island nations leading the call for the resolution, and PISFCC are reminding the world that before being an advocate, a fossil fuel executive, or a politician, we are all people. As humans, we all share this beautiful planet and sharing it requires caring about each other. If some leaders fail to recognise this, they should be held accountable.

    The resolution calling for an ICJ advisory opinion is also a celebration of island innovation and perseverance. Islanders have relied on traditional knowledge and collaborative leadership to adapt to environmental impacts for thousands of years. Taking the world’s greatest challenge to the highest court highlights their strength and experience. As a young person living on an island in the Pacific, I am grateful to the leadership of other young islanders and allies who are paving the way for future generations to have a sustainable future.

    How could the ICJ help address climate change?

    The ICJ is the world’s highest court, which sets precedents via advisory opinions and rules on how states should cooperate globally. As such, it plays a prominent role in keeping peace among our nations.

    The ICJ advisory opinion embodies the reality that we can’t solve the climate crisis by continuing the very practices that brought us to it. The scope of the resolution moves beyond the Paris Agreement, referencing the importance of having a safe climate as a vital human right for well-being. Through outlining potential legal consequences for nations causing significant harm to vulnerable communities and future generations, it could finally ensure greater accountability for the climate crisis. If nations are held more accountable and pushed to act, the door is opened to ensure fossil fuel emissions are fully eliminated and capacity-building for adaptation needs are fulfilled.

    How have you personally engaged in advocating for this resolution and broader climate action?

    I first learned about the PISFCC’s campaign in 2019, when I got involved with the climate movement following the COP25 climate change summit. As a sustainability student dedicated to working in the climate field, I was inspired by how a small group of students across island boundaries was strongly calling for an ICJ advisory opinion. I started following their journey and supporting their calls to action in various ways, from reposting social media content to bringing up relevant arguments in my conversations with leaders at subsequent COPs.

    Inspired by their island leadership, I accepted an internship with the Local 2030 Islands Network, the world’s first global, island-led peer-to-peer network devoted to advancing the Sustainable Development Goals. I learned more about island sustainability and the impacts of climate change from island leaders and was amazed by their examples of innovative solutions and optimist spirit. Empowered to use my education to support islanders in making their voices heard, I chose to focus my master’s degree on developing a workplan for how islanders can work together with their communities to develop, track and implement sustainable solutions for climate change.

    This journey of student activism helped me become a cross-sector environmental leader, work on climate adaption on islands, and lean into coalitions, like Care About Climate, as vulnerable groups to stand up for our right to a climate safe future. In fact, their inspiration led to my empowerment to work with young people to ensure the first-ever inclusion of young people as stakeholders in a UN climate conference decision at COP27.

    What can international allies do to support this struggle?

    All international allies must continue fighting! This historic resolution is only the first step. Before the ICJ can issue its opinion, written and oral arguments from states and select international organisations, such as the United Nations Environment Program, will be requested. It is important for community members to continue contacting their national representatives and international organisations selected to submit testimonies and call for support of the opinion. In fact, the PISFCC have just launched an amazing handbook to support policymakers, youth, and environmental CSOs in understanding their role that I highly recommend checking out. My favourite example from the handbook is about the importance of sharing your personal testimony as to why you believe in the need for an ICJ’s advisory opinion on climate rights and what impact it could have on your future with your national representatives. I hope everyone feels empowered to join me in the Alliance to stay up to date on ways to make an impact.

    Get in touch with Care About Climate through itswebsite or itsFacebook page, and follow@careaboutclimate and@hailey_campbell on Twitter andInstagram.



  • UN TAX CONVENTION: ‘People power is the major weapon we bring to the fight against inequality’

    JennyRicksCIVICUS speaks about civil society’s work to tackle inequality from the ground up and discusses the prospects of a United Nations (UN) tax convention with Jenny Ricks, Global Convenor of Fight Inequality Alliance.

    Fight Inequality Alliance is a growing global coalition bringing together a wide range of social movements, grassroots and community-based organisations, civil society organisations, trade unions, artists and individual activists organising and mobilising from the ground up to find and push for solutions for the structural causes of inequality in order to rebalance power and wealth in our societies.

    Is there a global consensus that inequality is wrong and needs to be addressed?

    In recent years there has been quite a consensus that inequality has reached new extremes and is damaging for everybody in society as well as for the environment. We are at a time when it’s not just people on the frontlines who are most affected by inequality saying it’s wrong and grotesque and it needs to change, but even organisations like the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank are saying it’s a problem. The Pope is saying it’s a problem. Governments have signed up to reducing inequality through one of the Sustainable Development Goals.

    There is this broad consensus on the surface: it seems like everybody thinks concentration of power and wealth at the top of societies has gone too far and the gap is too extreme and affects people’s daily lives and livelihoods as a matter of life and death. And not only that: it also corrodes democracies. When oligarchs control the media, buy elections, crack down on human rights defenders and civic space and trash the environment, it affects everybody.

    But underneath that superficial consensus, I think there’s still deep disagreement about what fighting inequality really means. We at the Fight Inequality Alliance are interested in dismantling the systems of oppression that drive inequality, including neoliberalism, patriarchy, racism and the legacy of colonialism. These are the deep structural roots of the inequalities that are the reason billions of people struggled to survive under a global pandemic while the richest people in the world continued to have a great time. So we have an agenda of transformation of the nature of our economies and our societies, and not just tinkering with the status quo, making minor tweaks to stop people rioting.

    How can structural inequality be tackled?

    When we started forming the Fight Inequality Alliance, we were clear that the problem was not a matter of lack of policy solutions. We know what the policy solutions are to fight inequality, such as the measures needed to tackle climate change, the redistributive tax policies needed or the policies required to ensure decent work.

    The problem was that the overwhelming concentration of power and wealth at the top wasn’t matched by a countervailing force from below. The richest and most powerful are organised and well-funded. They are pursuing their interests and their greed aggressively and successfully. What we have is people power. But across civil society and beyond, groups were very fragmented, very siloed and focused on their individual agendas and absorbed by the issues their constituencies most need them to respond to. There was not enough connection across struggles.

    0rganising around inequality is a good way for people to understand how their struggles are interconnected: underneath the day-to-day struggles there are common roots, and therefore there are also common solutions to be fought for. That’s where we saw our role lay, and also in shifting the narratives we have about inequality. We need to change what we envisage as being necessary and possible in our societies, and build power behind the alternative visions we are striving for. When we are limited by what popular narratives deem as natural or normal, such as the false idea that billionaires are hardworking geniuses so deserve unlimited wealth, it limits our energies and our organising capacities for structural change.

    People at the grassroots know their problems and their solutions. Inequality isn’t an issue for economists and technocrats to solve: it is primarily a fight that needs to be fought by people. And the voices of people living at the sharp end of these inequalities needs to be heard. They are the real experts in this struggle. So people power is the biggest weapon that we bring to the fight. Governments and international institutions want to take these debates to the technical arenas of policy-making bodies and conference hall settings, wrapping them in technical language that intentionally makes them inaccessible to most people. Many issues that require structural changes, and certainly inequality, are seen as things to be measured, reported on and talked about in economic circles.

    But inequality is a human tragedy, not a technical matter. It is about power. And solutions need to be owned by the people whose lives are most affected by it. We need to shift the balance of power, in our societies and in the global arena, not wrangle over the wording of a technical paper discussed behind closed doors, and that’s done by organising on a large scale. This people power is the major weapon we bring to the fight against inequality.

    Why is taxation important in the struggle against inequality?

    Fighting inequality requires us to redistribute power and wealth, and taxation is a major redistribution tool.

    Over the last decade or two civil society has done a lot of work to try and challenge the fact that the richest people and the biggest corporations across the world are not paying their fair share of tax. The economic model is exploitative, unjust and unsustainable, based on resource extraction, primarily from the global south, abusive labour practices, underpaid workers and great environmental damage.

    But everyone can relate to this issue nationally too – when it comes to national or local budgets, governments often increase indirect taxes such as value-added tax, which is the most regressive kind of tax because it applies to anything people buy, including essentials, instead of taxing rich people or multinationals more, and they have set up whole global industry and schemes to avoid and evade tax on a massive scale.

    Redistribution is happening as we speak, but it is based on extracting from the poorest and distributing towards the wealthiest people in the world – billionaires, corporate shareholders and the like. That is what we are fighting to reverse, at a local level as well as globally.

    How could a UN convention on taxation help?

    The current level of wealth concentration is so grotesque that it requires solutions and action at all levels. We need to fight on the local front where people are struggling while we push for systemic change in places like the UN. The discussion of global tax rules feels quite distant from the day-to-day struggles that most people, within our alliance and beyond, are campaigning for. But decisions made about them have repercussions for those struggles.

    Rules on taxation have so far been set by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), an intergovernmental organisation with 38 member states – a rich countries’ club. How can decisions over global taxation rules that affect everybody sit anywhere but the UN, which for all its faults and failings is the only multilateral body where every state has a seat at the table?

    Even so, as we have seen with climate negotiations, there is a huge power struggle that needs to be fought at the UN. It will still be a titanic struggle to get the kind of global tax rules we want. But if global tax rules are made within the OECD, the majority of the world doesn’t even stand a chance. Asking rich countries to please behave better is not going to yield the kind of transformation we want.

    So in November 2022 we saw a first positive step as the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution calling for more inclusive and effective international tax cooperation and urging member states to kick off negotiations on a global tax treaty. The resolution echoed a call made by the Group of 77 (G77), the largest bloc of developing countries in the UN, as well as the Africa Group, and gave the UN a mandate to monitor, evaluate and determine global tax rules and support the establishment of a global tax body.

    A global tax convention would put global south states on an equal footing with global north states, so the proposal faced pushback. Global power dynamics were clearly at play. This was to be expected: this is bound to be a long-term process, and an open-ended one. There is no guarantee it will result in the strong global framework that we need. But it’s still a fight worth fighting, and the UN is the right arena for it, simply because there’s no other space to have these negotiations. Where else could the G77 or the Africa Group renegotiate global tax rules?

    How are you campaigning in the light of the resolution?

    We are not directly campaigning for the UN Tax Convention as much as we are trying to bring people into this agenda in a different way. We’ve been campaigning a lot on taxing the rich and abolishing billionaires, which is a more appealing way to present the issue and mobilise people around it. We can’t imagine hundreds of thousands of people taking to the street for the UN Tax Convention at this point. So instead we’ve been organising around the need to tax the rich, domestically and globally, both individuals and corporations.

    This call has a lot of popular resonance because people find it easier to link it to their primary struggles, for jobs, healthcare spending, better public services or basic income, or against austerity measures, regressive tax rises or subsidy cuts. It’s become part of the campaigns of a lot more movements across the world through our organising over the last few years. This has been the way into the tax agenda for a lot of grassroots movements in the global south. It has potential to bring people’s attention to the broader tax justice agenda. You can’t start by holding a community meeting about the UN Tax Convention. You need to start from the daily inequalities people are facing.

    Get in touch with Fight Inequality Alliance through itswebsite orFacebook page, and follow@jenny_ricks and@FightInequality on Twitter.


  • Under threat: five countries in which civic space is rapidly closing

    By Danny Sriskandarajah

    The closing of civic space is not just about people’s right to organize or protest in individual countries. This year’s Gobal Risks Report, published last week by the World Economic Forum ahead of its annual Davos meeting, looks in detail at the risks posed by threats to governments clamping down on fundamental civic freedoms. The report points out that, “a new era of restricted freedoms and increased governmental control could undermine social, political and economic stability and increase the risk of geopolitical and social conflict.”

    Read on: Open Democracy 


  • UNITED NATIONS: ‘From now on, states should adopt a human rights approach to environmental regulation’

    Victoria Lichet

    CIVICUS speaks with Victoria Lichet, executive director of the Global Pact Coalition, about the resolution recently passed by the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) recognising the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment as a human right.The Global Pact Coalition brings together civil society organisations (CSOs), activists, artists, lawyers and scientists advocating for the adoption of the Global Pact for the Environment, a draft international treaty to enshrine a new generation of fundamental rights and duties related to the protection of the environment, and particularly the right to a healthy environment.

    What are the relevance and implications of the recent UNGA resolution on the right to live in a clean, healthy and sustainable environment?

    The adoption of a resolutionon the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment by the UNGA, the legislative body of the UN, which includes all the UN member states, is a historic victory for environmental protection. The recognition of the right toa clean, healthy and sustainable environment as a universal human right makes environmental protection a core aspect of human rights protection. It is a major step towards a human rights-based approach in environmental litigation, as it integrates human rights norms into environmental matters.

    In addition to recognising the right to a healthy environment as a right for all people, the resolution’s preamble clearly affirms the linkage between a healthy environment and human rights. The UNGA recognises that ‘environmental damage has negative implications, both direct and indirect, for the effective enjoyment of all human rights’.

    While UNGA resolutions are not legally binding, this resolution is a strong political and symbolic message. It will play a role in shaping and strengthening new and stronger international environmental norms, laws, standards, and policies. As such, it will necessarily improve the overall effectiveness of environmental law and catalyse further environmental and climate action. This also proves that multilateralism still has a role to play in international environmental law.

    What role did civil society play in the process leading to this resolution?

    This resolution followed months of mobilisation by CSOs and Indigenous peoples’ organisations (IPOs), including the Global Pact Coalition. Under the inspiring leadership of the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment, David R Boyd, and his predecessor, John Knox,the coalition of CSOs and IPOs was able to reach out to governmentsthrough emails and letters to better inform them about the importance of the right to a healthy environment. It also led social media campaigns to inform the public about the process. 

    The core group of countries that led this initiative, made up of Costa Rica, Maldives, Morocco, Slovenia and Switzerland, was really helpful and communicated important steps regarding the resolution. We are very grateful for their leadership.

    Does the final text of the resolution fully reflect civil society contributions?

    The final text of the resolution mostly reflects civil society expectations. Through negotiation, some states were able to remove a few paragraphs. For example, the first draft said that the right to a healthy environment was related to the right to life and the right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health. But the final draft also included additional paragraphs, for example to include ‘business enterprises and other relevant stakeholders’ in the call to adopt policies to enhance international cooperation to scale up efforts to ensure a healthy environment.

    Overall, the main goal for civil society was to have the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment recognised as a human right for all, and this was obviously fully reflected in the final text. So it is in fact a historic victory for civil society.

    What measures should states adopt to make the right recognised in the resolution effective?

    Recognition should be combined with strong and ambitious national and regional public policies that implement mechanisms to strengthen environmental protections, the protection of people’s health and the enjoyment of their other human rights. From now on, states should adopt a human rights-based approach in environmental regulation as well as better renewable energy and circular economy policies.

    As Special Rapporteur David Boyd said, the international recognition of the right to a healthy environment should encourage governments to review and strengthen their environmental laws and policies and enhance their implementation and enforcement.

    What should civil society do next?

    Civil society should now advocate for stronger and more ambitious instruments to protect the environment, our right to a healthy environment and other environmental rights. Now that the right to a healthy environment has been recognised at the international level, we should introduce additional progressive rights and duties that will take us even further in environmental protection.

    The UNGA resolution could be the foundation for a more comprehensive international instrument on the right to a healthy environment and other environmental rights. We already have ambitious models that could be used in these future negotiations, including the Global Pact for the Environment and the draft covenant of the International Union for Conservation of Nature, the world’s largest global environmental network.

    The path from ‘soft law’ to ‘hard law’ – in this case, from the non-binding UNGA resolution to a convention on the right to a healthy environment – is a very common one in international law. For example, the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which is one part of the UNGA resolution on the International Bill of Human Rights, and therefore not legally binding, resulted in two treaties adopted in 1966: the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. It took 18 years to incorporate the Declaration into two legally binding texts.

    We hope it will not take 18 years to achieve a convention on environmental rights, because that would bring us to 2040. We do not have that kind of time. The time has come to adopt such a convention, a ‘third pact’ recognising a third generation of human rights. After civil and political rights, and economic and social rights, it is time to enshrine our environmental rights.

    As we face a triple planetary crisis, a binding international environmental text is critically important because millions of people are already dying from toxic environments, particularly from air pollution.

    Get in touch withthe Global Pact Coalition through itswebsite or itsFacebook page, and follow@VictoriaLichet and@PactEnvironment on Twitter.



  • UNITED NATIONS: ‘Outstanding issues on the binding treaty on business and human rights are mainly political’

    Fernanda HopenhaymCIVICUS speaks with Fernanda Hopenhaym, chair of the United Nations (UN) Working Group on Business and Human Rights, about the process to develop a binding international treaty on business and human rights.

    Why is a binding treaty on business and human rights so important?

    The process to develop this treaty stems from the conviction that a legally binding instrument is needed to regulate the obligations of private companies and, above all, to facilitate access to justice for victims of their abuses. Its aim is to incorporate human rights protections in the context of business activity.

    An international treaty would transcend the jurisdictional limitations of states. Transnational capital operates across borders. Huge numbers of companies in most sectors operate global supply chains. When abuses occur somewhere in these chains, it is very difficult for victims to access justice, as there are no justice mechanisms that transcend borders. Corporate operations are transnational but justice is not.

    Of course, states must take measures at the domestic level, strengthen their regulations, improve their laws and develop public policy and action plans to ensure effective protection of human rights. And companies must also make commitments to improve their practices. The treaty under negotiation would be part of a package of measures that are complementary, not mutually exclusive.

    The treaty process began in June 2014, when the UN Human Rights Council established an open-endedintergovernmental working group mandated to negotiate and agree on an international legally binding instrument to regulate the activities of transnational corporations and other business enterprises under international human rights law.

    What role is the Working Group on Business and Human Rights playing?

    TheWorking Group on Business and Human Rights is a UN special procedure, established by a 2011resolution of the Human Rights Council, with a mandate to promote, disseminate and implement theGuiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, exchange and promote good practices and lessons learned from the implementation of the Guiding Principles, and assess and make recommendations on these. Its mandate has been successively renewed in 2014, 2017 and 2020. It is composed of five independent experts, mostly academics, and has balanced geographical representation. I have been a member of the Working Group since 2021. The other four current members are from Australia, Nigeria, Poland and Thailand. Three of the five of us are women.

    While it does not have any decision-making authority over the Treaty, the Working Group plays an important role. We participate in almost all negotiating sessions through roundtables and discussions and we provide technical opinions. We have commented on the draft articles and we encourage the proactive participation of states from different regions of the world.

    One of the premises of the Guiding Principles is the development of measures that can be combined in order to address the problems that exist in relation to the protection of human rights in the context of business activity. A legally binding instrument is just one of those necessary measures.

    The Working Group has been very clear in sending out a message favourable to the treaty negotiation process.

    What progress has been made in negotiating the treaty?

    In the previousinterview we had in 2018, the process had been going on for four years. At that time the fourth session of negotiations, based on the ‘zero draft’, was about to start in Geneva. And I was not yet part of the Working Group. Four more years have passed, and at the eighth session held in October 2022, the third draft, which emerged in advance of the 2021 negotiations, was discussed.

    The pandemic affected the negotiation processes, partly because face-to-face contact was not possible for a long time. Representatives and delegates in Geneva, for example, were unable to meet in person for more than a year, so the possibilities for exchanges were severely limited. In turn, the pandemic affected the participation of civil society and other stakeholders in the discussions. Processes slowed down and therefore were extended.

    Currently, the third draft is still being discussed, and Ecuador, which chairs the Intergovernmental Working Group, has apparently said that it will not bring yet another new draft to the table, but that changes, modifications and additions will continue to be made to this third draft. Eventually, all these adjustments will lead to a final draft.

    The current draft has come a long way on issues such as acknowledging vulnerable groups, women, children and Indigenous peoples. Its scope, which was a very tough issue to negotiate, has also been clarified. In general, civil society’s position is to prioritise transnational corporations, while the current draft proposes that all companies should be under the umbrella of the treaty. The current draft reflects the position shared by our Working Group. A number of issues have been untangled, although there are still many things to be resolved.

    What are the unresolved issues?

    There are many discussions that are more political than technical. Some states and the private sector have said that the text is too prescriptive and rigid. Civil society has expressed that it wants more clarification and specificity on some issues such as the definition of the courts where cases covered by the treaty would be adjudicated and the consideration of the victims’ perspective, as the burden of proof remains a contentious issue. On this point the Working Group has been very clear: states have an obligation to facilitate access to justice and to remove barriers and obstacles for victims to access justice.

    While the European Union (EU) and the USA participate in this process, they lack conviction on the direction of the text. The EU is very active, but I see divergent positions among its member states. Many countries, such as France, support it, but the EU as a whole maintains reservations.

    One of the great triumphs of the early process was that China did not block it, but rather abstained. The same was true of India. This was partly because the treaty was supposed to be about transnational corporations. China has not approved of the extension of the treaty’s scope to all companies and has lately taken a more negative position.

    African states have participated very little in the last two rounds of negotiations. We believe that South Africa, which was co-leader with Ecuador when the resolution that initiated the process was negotiated, is also unhappy with the expanded focus beyond transnational corporations. Ecuador has recently called for the formation of a ‘friends of theChair‘ group and Africa is the only region without participating members.

    Latin America in comparison is participating quite proactively, although the region has experienced many political changes, including in Ecuador itself, which are likely to influence negotiating positions.

    In sum, there are ongoing technical discussions on the draft articles, but most of the outstanding issues are mainly political discussions. For this reason, I think the process will take several more years.

    Do you think that the final version of the treaty will meet civil society expectations?

    My hope is that we will not be left with a treaty that sets out good intentions without establishing clear rules. As is the case in all negotiations of this nature, some of the issues civil society is calling for will probably be left pending. There is a lot to accommodate: the perspectives of states, the expectations of business and the private sector in general, and the demands of civil society and all rights holders.

    I would expect a pretty good text, which in some ways reflects the character of the process, which has included a very strong civil society and social movements. From my perspective, the process has been sustained not only by the commitment of states to negotiate, but also by the impetus of civil society and dialogue among all involved.

    My expectations are intermediate. With some caution as to the scope of the articles, I think the treaty will contain some elements that satisfy civil society, and particularly victims.

    What work will need to be done once the treaty is adopted?

    To begin with, I think there is a long way to go before this treaty is adopted. It may still take several more years. There is a long way to go in the negotiations and regarding the content of the text.

    Once the treaty is adopted, ratification will have to be pushed through. Let us remember that international treaties only enter into force when a certain number of states ratify them, and only those states that ratify them are bound by them. This is where I see a huge challenge ahead. Hopefully, once we get to produce a good, comprehensive text, the process of ratification will not be so slow and cumbersome.

    For this to happen, we will need a strong civil society to push states to ratify the treaty so it enters into force and becomes binding on the signatory parties. Again, I would expect this process to be long and arduous, as the issue of human rights protection in the context of business is a thorny one, given that there are many interests at stake. What lies ahead will be a big challenge for all involved.

     Follow@fernanda_ho and@WGBizHRs on Twitter.



  • UNITED NATIONS: ‘The existing human rights system must be criticised, while still being defended’

    CIVICUS speaks with Brian Schapira, Director of Institutional Relations at the Center for Latin America´s Opening and Development (Centro para la Apertura y el Desarrollo de América Latina, CADAL), a foundation based in Argentina that works to defend and promote human rights. With a focus on supporting those who suffer severe restrictions to their civil and political liberties, CADAL promotes international democratic solidarity in collaboration with activists and civil society organisations (CSOs) around the world.


  • UNITED NATIONS: ‘The power of anti-rights groups is growing; difficult times lie ahead’

    CIVICUS speaks with Tamara Adrián, founder and director of DIVERLEX-Diversity and Equality Through Law, about the successful civil society campaign for the renewal of the mandate of the United Nations’ (UN) Independent Expert on sexual orientation and gender identity.

    Tamara Adrián is a lawyer and university professor, and the first trans woman to be elected to a national parliament in Latin America.

    DIVERLEX is a Venezuelan civil society organisation dedicated to research, training, advocacy and strategic litigation on issues of sexual diversity. Due to the complex humanitarian crisis affecting Venezuela, most of its leaders are currently based outside Venezuela, where they continue to work to improve the living conditions of LGBTQI+ people in exile.

    Tamara Adrian

    Why is the mandate of the UN Independent Expert on sexual orientation and gender identity so important?

    This is an extremely important figure. The weapon of choice of all bigots is to make certain groups and the violation of their rights invisible. This has been a constant in relation to women, Indigenous peoples, racial minorities and religious minorities. As long as the intolerant can say a problem does not exist, their power system remains active and nothing changes. In the universal human rights system, what bigots want to keep invisible is made visible through the work of independent experts and rapporteurs.

    The first Independent Expert, Vitit Muntarbhorn, was in office for a couple of years and produced a report on violence based on sexual orientation or gender identity, which he shared with the office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. He kicked off the process of shedding light on the injustices, inequities and violence against LGBTQI+ people globally.

    The three reports submitted by the current Independent Expert, Víctor Madrigal-Borloz, pointed at many countries that are failing in their duty to protect all their citizens. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights highlighted that states have a positive obligation to ensure equal rights to all people.

    We understand there is still a long way to go and that reports – those by the Independent Expert, the High Commissioner and regional bodies such as the Organization of American States – are important to this process.

    So important are they that this work triggered strong backlash from fundamentalist groups that reorganised in the form of ‘non-governmental organisations’. These sought to obtain consultative status with the UN Economic and Social Council in order to interfere in their processes.

    How do these groups operate within the UN?

    Anti-rights groups have been changing their strategy. Rather than identify as religious organisations, they have sought to present themselves as defenders of religious freedom and, above all, of the freedom of expression. They have promoted strategies of religious unity, bringing together Catholic fundamentalists and representatives of the Holy See with neo-evangelical fundamentalists and the most regressive Muslim groups.

    They have also refined their arguments. First, they argue that the concept of sexual orientation and gender identity is a western concept and not a universal one, and therefore should not be protected by the UN. Second, they claim that no existing treaty or international instrument provides protection against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. Third, they say that countries with traditional values should be able to maintain discriminatory laws or criminalise same-sex relationships or diverse gender identities.

    These three claims were implicit in the arguments of the countries that opposed the renewal of the Independent Expert's mandate and proposed amendments, alongside a fourth: that no country should protect criminals, and the determination of what is a criminal act is subject to the criminal law of each country and is not subject to verification before the international human rights system.

    Historically, this issue has been resolved on the basis of the recognition that everyone has a right to their own beliefs, but no one can impose their beliefs or deny others their rights on the basis of their faith. Fundamentalists want this situation reversed so that believers can discriminate against and deny rights to other people

    Have anti-rights groups grown in power in recent years?

    The power of anti-rights groups is growing, which is possibly linked to the regression that is taking place in the USA. Indeed, in the vote to renew the mandate we saw two groups of states putting up resistance: countries that have never made progress in recognising rights and where there is a lot of resistance to change, and countries that are moving backwards, such as the USA.

    In the USA, links connecting white supremacism, neo-Pentecostal groups and the more radical segments of the Republican Party have been growing closer for at least a decade. Anti-rights groups have been taking up space in the courts, from the lowest levels to the Supreme Court, as well as in governorships and state legislatures, resulting in more and more anti-trans, anti-sex education and pro-religious freedom rulings, laws and policies. They have been outspoken in their plans to reverse abortion rights, reject the concept of gender and repeal sexual and reproductive education and contraceptive rights, and even women’s rights, equal marriage and protections against racial discrimination.

    The USA has also played a key role in the international funding of the anti-rights movement and the development of neo-Pentecostal churches around the world, particularly in Africa and Latin America. It has also influenced the establishment of a phenomenon that has not been given enough attention: the movement of biology-fixated feminists, who deny the concept of gender with the same arguments used by the most conservative churches.

    This unity of argumentation is highly suspicious, and all the more so when one looks at the funding streams coming from the USA feeding biology-focused feminist groups in places including Brazil, Central America, the Dominican Republic, Spain and the UK. The target of these groups is not LGBTQI+ people generally, but trans people specifically. By upholding the biological and natural character of differences they seek to destroy the whole structure of gender-based protections.

    I honestly think this is a very well-thought-out plan. I understand that they have mimicked the strategy we initially adopted to give visibility to our struggles. However, they have the advantage of being in power. The number of states that have signed a ‘pro-life’ resolution at the UN and declared themselves ‘pro-life’ states shows that their aim is not just to oppose just LGBTQI+ rights but all rights based on the concept of gender.

    How was the campaign for the renewal of the Independent Expert’s mandate organised?

    The organisations that lobbied for the renewal of the mandate have worked together ever since the campaign for the appointment of the first Independent Expert. Every time, the process starts long before the appointment. In this case, we started working about three years ago: practically the year after the mandate was renewed we were already working to create the core group to work for a new renewal.

    With Latin American organisations, a recurrent limitation is lack of knowledge of the English language, which restricts the ability of activists to internationalise their struggles. To overcome this problem, our core group is made up of both Spanish-speaking and English-speaking activists. This was very important because the coalition was mainly made up of Latin American groups.

    It was a very difficult process, and while the vote eventually turned out to be favourable, over several months the outcomes of the sessions did not make us feel confident. We saw growing resistance from countries with fundamentalist positions that were increasingly embracing the idea of rolling back rights.

    What are the next steps following the mandate’s renewal?

    I believe we should not relax. Difficult times lie ahead. Many rights we thought had already been secured are likely to be reversed in the USA, including those linked to racial equality. It is no longer even a question of returning to a 20th century vision, but to a 16th or 17th century one.

    This will have a strong impact at the global level, especially in countries with less developed institutions. Countries with stronger institutions will probably be better able to resist the onslaught to roll back sexual and reproductive rights. 

    As next steps, I would emphasise organising. In many places people tell me, ‘don’t worry, that would never happen here’, but I insist we cannot relax. We must focus on forming coalitions and organising stronger alliances to stop advances by neoconservative groups and challenge them to gain back the spaces of power they have occupied.

    Get in touch with Tamara Adrián through herwebsite or herFacebook page, and follow@TamaraAdrian on Twitter. 


  • Upcoming UN review critical moment for Maldives to address civic freedom gaps

    CIVICUS and the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) call on UN member states to urge the Government of the Maldives to protect civic freedoms as its human rights record is examined by the UN on 4 November 2020 as part of the 36th session of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR).


  • Urgent appeal for the release of Malak Al-Kashif


    We, the undersigned human rights organisations, call on UN Special Rapporteurs, Members of the European Parliament, and representatives in national Parliaments of the European Union to urgently intervene and communicate with the Egyptian authorities to immediately release jailed activist Malak Al-Kashif, who was arrested for expressing her views on Facebook.


    On 6 March 2019, after expressing her opinions on her personal Facebook account about how the authorities addressed a train station accident in Egypt which killed dozens of citizens, 19-year-old Malak Al-Kashif was arrested in a dawn police raid of her mother’s home. Malak was disappeared; both her location and conditions of detention were undisclosed until she was brought before the State Security Prosecution on 7 March 2019.

    Malak was interrogated under State Security case no. 1739 on trumped-up charges of joining a terrorist group under Article 12 of the Anti-Terrorism Act 2015, exposing her to severe penalties including the maximum imprisonment penalty. Malak was also charged with using her Facebook account to commit a crime punishable by law under Article 27 of the Electronic Crimes Prevention Act of 2018, which could result in an additional sentence of up to two years’ imprisonment and a fine of no less than LE100,000 (approximately $5,970 USD). On 7 March 2019, the Prosecution gave Malak 15 days of pretrial detention, which she spent in solitary confinement at Al-Haram police station in Giza. On 19 March, the Prosecution extended her pretrial detention for another 15 days, which she spent in solitary confinement in the El-Zeraa section of Tora Prison. Malak is a transgender woman undergoing the advanced stages of gender reassignment treatment and requires continuous physical and physiological treatment due to an accident she had last year, as documented in medical reports in her possession at the time of her arrest.

    A repressive trend in Egypt

    Malak was one of many persons recently arrested by the Egyptian authorities for expressing opinions on social and political issues in the country, including the train station accident and the proposed constitutional amendments. ECRF has documented 116 persons arrested from 27 February until 2 March 2019. Some were forcibly disappeared and others were sent to the prosecution on charges of “joining a terrorist group” and “publishing fake news.”This recent surge in arrests was enabled by an oppressive legislative framework deployed by the Egyptian authorities against individuals who express opinions on any national issue; this framework includes repressive laws that do not comply with the Egyptian Constitution and international human rights laws, such as the 2015 Anti-Terrorism Act and 2018 Cybercrime Law.

    The Egyptian authorities have increasingly used pre-trial detention as a punishment for political prisoners, especially since 2013. Although pre-trial detention violates the legal principle of the presumption of innocence of the accused person, Article 143 of the Code of Criminal Procedure permits prolonged pre-trial detention that can go on for two years in some cases.

    Transgender and imprisoned

    As a transgender woman, Malak is outspoken about her identity and conditions, and has advocated for the rights of transgender people in Egypt using social media platforms. Consequently, Malak’s arrest for expressing her opinion on the train accident has enabled the Egyptian state to silence her on all issues for which she has advocated, including transgender rights.

    In addition, Malak’s identity has made her a target of cruel and humiliating treatment by the Egyptian authorities. Malak’s gender is classified as “male” in official documentation, compounding the state’s discrimination against her as a transgender woman, and placing her in male detention facilities where she is vulnerable to further mistreatment on the basis of her gender.

    Malak testified that she had been subjected to a forced anal examination and sexual harassment in one of the government hospitals, as documented by ECRF. Malak also informed her lawyer that she was prevented from going to the toilet for long periods of time, and was bullied in the police station because of her gender identity. The police station administration also refused to provide Malak with essential healthcare requirements for her diabetes.

    Malak’s arrest and treatment violate human rights laws and standards

    Egypt is a part of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the UN
    Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (UNCAT), which prohibit the treatment to which Malak has been subjected, as well as protect her right to express her views.

    Article 7 of ICCPR and articles 2 and 16 of the 1984 Convention against Torture prohibit torture and all other forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, with no restriction on these prohibitions. Article 19 of ICCPR also states that everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression, which includes the freedom to hold opinions without interference.

    In addition, the High Commissioner for Human Rights has recommended the prohibition of coercive medical procedures imposed by some countries on transgender people, as well as guaranteeing their right to obtain identity papers reflecting their self-defined gender identity.

    ECRF considers the treatment and examinations to which Malak has been subjected as a flagrant violation of privacy and human dignity, which fall within a pattern of discrimination and violence against sexual minority groups in Egypt, and qualify as a form of cruel and inhumane treatment amounting to torture.

    This is not the first time that Egypt has violated international human rights laws and standards. In its 2002 report, the Committee against Torture recommended that Egypt take the necessary steps to end all forms of degrading treatment during physical examinations. In 2009, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention stated that the forced anal examinations carried out by the Egyptian authorities had no medical value in determining whether a person had engaged in any homosexual practices, and that they violated international human rights law and contravened the prohibition on torture under the 1984 Convention against Torture.

    Request for urgent intervention by UN Special Rapporteurs, Members of the European Parliament, and representatives in national Parliaments of the European Union

    In consideration of the information above, we respectfully appeal to you to raise Malak’s case with the Egyptian authorities. We request immediate protection for Malak and other transgender individuals, by treating them accordingly to their gender identity and holding them in the corresponding detention facilities, without exposing them to sexual harassment and cruel, humiliating procedures that amount to physical and psychological abuse. The ultimate objective is Malak’s release, along with that of all other political detainees in Egypt imprisoned for expressing their opinions.

    If you have any additional questions about Malak’s case, please do not hesitate to contact us.

    Thank you for your consideration,

    • Arab Network for Knowledge about Human-rights
    • Adil Soz
    • Albanian Media Institute (AMI)
    • Association Adala pour le droit à un procès équitable
    • Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE)
    • Associazione Ricreativa Culturale Italiana
    • Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
    • Centre national de coopération au développement
    • Circolo Cultura Omosessuale Mario Mieli
    • Committee for Justice
    • EuroMed Rights
    • FIDH, in the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
    • Free Media Movement (FMM) - Sri Lanka
    • Freedom of Expression Institute (FXI)
    • Gulf Center for Human Rights (GCHR)
    • Ifex
    • Independent Journalism Center (IJC) - Moldova
    • Index on Censorship
    • Initiative Franco-égyptienne pour les Droits et les Libertés
    • Ligue des droits de l’Homme
    • Media Institute of South Africa (MISA)
    • Media Rights Agenda (MRA)
    • Mediacenter Sarajevo
    • Norwegian PEN
    • Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)
    • PEN America
    • South East Asia Press Alliance (SEAPA)
    • Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM)
    • World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), in the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders


  • Uyghur Violations a Litmus Test for Global Governance and Rules-Based International Order

    By Mandeep Tiwana, Head of Programs and United Nations Representative at CIVICUS

    This week is a momentous one for the world’s premier human rights body. At stake is a resolution to decide whether the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva can hold a debate on a recently released UN report. The report concludes that rights violations by China’s government in its Xinjiang region ‘may constitute international crimes, in particular crimes against humanity’.Unsurprisingly, China’s government is doing everything in its power to scotch plans for a debate on the report’s contents. Its tactics include intimidating smaller states, spreading disinformation and politicising genuine human rights concerns – the very thing the Human Rights Council was set up to overcome.

    The historic report, which affirms that the rights of Xinjiang’s Uyghur Muslim population are being violated through an industrial-level programme of mass incarceration, systemic torture and sexual violence, attracted huge controversy before it was released on 31 August 2022, minutes before the end of the term of the outgoing High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet.

    Read on Inter Press Service


  • VENEZUELA: ‘We need a multilateral, flexible and creative approach from the international community’

    CIVICUS speaks with Feliciano Reyna, founder and president of Acción Solidaria, a Venezuelan civil society organisation (CSO) established in 1995 with the mission to contribute to reducing the social impact of the HIV epidemic. As a result of the multiple crises facing Venezuela, Acción Solidaria has expanded its scope of action and provides medicines and medical supplies to wider vulnerable populations.

    Feliciano Reyna

    How has the current crisis come about in Venezuela?

    A process of dismantling the rule of law has taken place over several years and is still ongoing. The judiciary has long ceased to be independent and now operates according to the interests of the government. Added to this is a high level of corruption. Many documents and reports, such as a recent one by the United Nations (UN) Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Venezuela, describe how a non-independent justice structure was put in place, taking advantage of the opacity of public data and discretionary state management.

    As a result, many people, acting in their own interest, destroyed the economic and productive apparatus. Nowadays the Venezuelan economy is 20 per cent of the size it was in 2013. This has impacted on poverty levels, the quality of public services and the resulting lack of protection.

    An initial period of enormous income, lasting many years, allowed for a great waste of wealth, with resources reaching the major groups that supported Hugo Chávez’s government, from 2005 to 2013. But money was just spent on individual benefits, not invested in public services. Thus, little by little, the public sector was left in a state of total abandonment: hospitals, roads, lighting, electrical system, water distribution. Everything is pretty much destroyed. There are about four million people who cook with firewood or charcoal because they don’t receive gas. Where I live, we get water once a week for 24 hours, and sometimes we don’t get water for two or three weeks.

    There was a major shift in the global economy, with a sharp drop in oil prices coinciding with Chávez’s last days in office. When Nicolás Maduro took power in 2013, the fragility of a regime largely based on Chávez’s personality was exposed. Maduro’s victory triggered political protests because his mandate was questioned, and very harsh repressive practices were adopted in response. The situation has deteriorated ever since, leading to the current human rights crisis. CSOs have documented arbitrary detentions, torture and cruel treatment under detention. There has been a sustained attack on dissent and political opponents. Anyone in a position of power who is viewed as a political threat is taken out of play.

    The years between 2014 and 2016 were terrible. In addition to human rights violations, there was widespread harm caused to the population in terms of health, nutrition, access to water, education and other rights. As the economy deteriorated, there began to be many social protests, not for political reasons but regarding income, lack of resources, power cuts, lack of transportation and public services, and so on. With two major exceptions – the 2017 and 2019 protest waves, in which people expressed political grievances – the vast majority of protests have been social protests, not ideological ones, through which many people who ultimately supported and voted for the government expressed their discontent.

    While the attack on opposition and dissent has driven many into exile, economic shortages have led to a massive emigration wave. More than four million Venezuelans have emigrated, including many professionals, teachers and doctors, further weakening service delivery systems.

    What is the context in which civil society works?

    There state has been greatly weakened and is unable to control all the territory under its jurisdiction, so it has handed over control to other groups. Power is increasingly in the hands of local parastate actors who enjoy small bubbles of well-being within the context of immense poverty in which the vast majority of the population lives.

    Because of the weakening of the state and the deterioration of the oil industry, which has always been the main source of national income, the government has opened some spaces for a freer economy. That means that in order to serve the populations we work with, we have been able to import medicines and supplies thanks to international cooperation. Our international donors send us supplies or pay for transportation so that we can receive them, using a door-to-door delivery system.

    Since 2017 Acción Solidaria has brought in almost 240 tons of aid. We have grown from nine staff in 2016 to 40 in 2021. Every week about 120 people come to the offices of Acción Solidaria to seek medicine. Most of them are women and people with very little resources, over 55 years old. The things they need may be available in the parallel economy, but at prices they can’t afford.

    But the environment for civil society remains a high-risk one. Last year we experienced a raid by the Special Action Forces, the most fearsome command of the Bolivarian National Police. What they did to us was not an official operation but a criminal action. CSOs doing human rights advocacy are criminalised, and CSOs conducting humanitarian action face serious problems of access and are subject to extortion by these autonomised groups and paramilitary actors. We have become targets not because we are opponents or dissidents, but because we have coveted resources.

    One colleague of ours was imprisoned 160 days ago and five comrades from an organisation that works alongside the UN Refugee Agency were imprisoned for a month in a military facility.

    As the electoral process was underway, the government’s information networks among the population seemed to have become aware that government programmes – which transfer the equivalent of about US$4 a month to their beneficiaries – could not compete with the nearly US$60 that humanitarian organisations were transferring to people in their target populations, without demanding anything in return, simply as part of the humanitarian response. So they immediately stepped in and suspended the 38 humanitarian aid programmes that were making cash transfers.

    Following the elections, the transfer ecosystem has started to begin again, but so far only transfers from the Food and Agriculture Organization and UNICEF have been reactivated.

    How much popular support does the Maduro government have left? Did it have enough to win the November regional elections, or did it resort to fraud?

    In November 2021, regional elections were held to renew all executive and legislative seats in the country’s 23 federal entities and 335 municipalities. The official turnout was just over 40 per cent, and the government won 19 governorships, compared to four won by the opposition. The government also won 213 mayorships, but various opposition groups won 121, a not insignificant number.

    The conditions of electoral competition were set up well before the selection of candidates, the campaigns and the voting took place, as new members to the National Electoral Council (CNE) were appointed. The CSO Foro Cívico had proposed names of independent candidates for the CNE: people with a strong electoral background who could build a bridge of dialogue with the people in government who wanted a less authoritarian rule. This resulted in a more balanced CNE, with one independent rector and one from the opposition among the five full members, and three out of five alternates proposed by civil society. This allowed us to expect an election with greater legitimacy than previous ones.

    The electoral process was very tense. While there was no fraud in the sense that voting figures were changed, there was a lot of pressure and obstacles to prevent opposition supporters from voting. Leading opposition politicians were disqualified and unable to stand as candidates. The conditions in voting centres, including schedules, were altered for the government’s benefit, and many people were brought out to vote, despite the fact that the government no longer has the same mobilisation capacity as in previous elections. Turnout was low for several reasons: because millions of people have emigrated, and because many popular opposition figures were not taking part in the election.

    The opposition also bore a great deal of responsibility for this, because it viewed the elections with a lot of suspicion. Many of its key spokespeople were opposed to participating, and it did not reach the kind of broad agreements that would have allowed it to win as many as 10 or 12 governorships. In part, its growth was limited not just by the obstacles imposed by the government, but also by its own inability to reach an agreement.

    Still, it is important to emphasise that the playing field was not level. The opposition could have won more governorships than it did, but there was a clear limit to this. This was seen in Hugo Chávez’s home state of Barinas, which the government could not afford to lose to the opposition. An opposition candidate clearly won there, so after the fact the Supreme Court ruled that the winning candidate did not actually meet the conditions to be eligible to compete, and ordered a rerun.

    Faced with these limitations, which were foreseeable, there was a part of the opposition that from the beginning opposed participating in the elections and left the way open for many pro-government victories that might not otherwise have taken place.

    How consolidated is the Maduro regime, and what are the chances that a democratic transition can take place?

    A democratic transition does not seem to be an option in the short term. The opposition is very diverse and is dispersed both programmatically and in terms of its institutional approach, so it is questionable whether it would be able to govern if it had the opportunity right now.

    What lies ahead of us is a long trek through the desert. The government suffers from many weaknesses, but it has the support of China, Iran, Russia, Turkey, and a lot of political support from Cuba and other countries in the region, as is apparent in the UN Human Rights Council. Maduro’s government has adopted a deft approach in the image of these supportive states: despite corruption and lack of transparency, it has allowed an opening in the economy while keeping its repressive behaviour intact.

    The international support that the government receives is important and has been systematically underestimated, while the support received by the interim government led by Juan Guaidó has been overestimated. It has been said that he has the USA and 60 other countries on his side, but those who support him with real actions are in fact much fewer.

    For many in the opposition, the interim government has itself been a big problem, partly because it became associated with the Donald Trump administration, and partly because since the interim government was established what it did became the only thing that mattered, and the space of the National Assembly, which had enjoyed broad popular support, was abandoned.

    The interim government was prompted on the basis of Article 233 of the Venezuelan Constitution. Since by virtue of his fraudulent re-election in 2018 Maduro was not recognised by the opposition as a legitimate president, the opposition-dominated National Assembly proclaimed its president, who at the time was Juan Guaidó, as interim president of Venezuela. I think that the opposition should have continued to work through the National Assembly, an elected and legitimate body whose presidency alternated between the parties with the most votes. Evidence of corruption could have been collected and mechanisms sought to protect the country’s assets with the help of the international community.

    Instead, the opposition named itself as a legitimate government without having any control over internal processes. And when it took over, it set out expedited conditions and deadlines, demanding that Maduro should first leave office so that the interim government could constitute itself as a transitional government and organise free elections.

    The choice of the opposition to proclaim an interim government was the result of it underestimating the government’s forces and overestimating its own. When expectations were not met, as was bound to happen, disaffection with the interim government began to grow. There is still an enormous desire for change, because things remain bad for the vast majority of the population, but the hope that this change would be achieved through the interim government has faded.

    What kind of support should the international community provide to facilitate a democratic transition?

    What we would like to see from the international community is a multilateral, flexible and creative approach. The change of administration in the USA has been extremely important because the approach of the Trump administration was unilateral and overbearing. Fortunately, the Biden administration appears to adhere to a multilateral approach and to include Europe, Canada and other countries in our region.

    Regarding Europe, it was very important that the European Union sent an election observation mission for the 21 November elections, as it was for the UN and the Carter Center to send their election experts. The UN also has essential contributions to make in humanitarian and human rights matters, both in terms of mobilising resources to address the humanitarian emergency in the country and to support migrants and refugees across the region, as well as with regard to the human rights violations that continue to occur.

    The international community must listen to civil society and pay attention to the grievances of the people who are directly affected by the measures that external actors take in relation to Venezuela. Many of the sanctions that have been imposed on the government, such as the US secondary sanction that penalises the exchange of oil for diesel, end up not affecting the government, which has alternative courses of action, and instead harm users and consumers, ordinary people whose already complicated lives are complicated even further.

    If this part of Venezuelan society were listened to, it would be possible to think of alternative policies to generate spaces for negotiation and agreements that would allow us to return to the path of democracy and human rights in a non-violent manner.

    Civic space in Venezuela is rated as ‘repressed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.
    Get in touch with Acción Solidaria through itswebsite or itsFacebook andInstagram pages, and follow@AccionSolidaria and@fjreyna onTwitter.



  • Venezuela: Continued deterioration of human rights

    Statement at the 47th Session of the UN Human Rights Council

    CIVICUS thanks the High Commissioner for her report, which shows the continued deterioration of the human rights situation in Venezuela and lack of effective implementation of the recommendations made in the last report.

    We are deeply concerned about recent legislation that unduly restricts the right to association in Venezuela. A new ordinance of May 2021 introduces concerning elements which may be used to criminalise civil society work. A new draft law introduced in the National Assembly would limit international funding to civil society. This legislation would continue to restrict the operation of CSOs in the country, and would particularly have a devastating impact on those organisations working to provide much needed humanitarian assistance in the country.

    Restrictions on freedom of expression continue in Venezuela, with recent examples of attacks against media outlets like the raid and seizure of newspaper El Nacional and the case of CNP in Sucre whose office was set on fire. Digitals attacks continue to increase in the country with 153 media outlets affected by digital censorship in Venezuela in 2020.

    As people continue to take to the streets in the context of a terrible socioeconomic situation, security forces continue to use excessive force against protesters. Local organisations reported that during the first trimester of 2021, 23 demonstrations were repressed, andone person killed.

    We echo the High Commissioner’s remarks in her March statement that ‘shrinking civic space has ‘a paralysing effect on all those engaged on legitimate and essential activities’. We ask the High Commissioner in the context of her ongoing reporting to set out concrete ways in which the international community can support those on the ground.

    Civic space in Venezuela is rated Repressed by the CIVICUS Monitor.


  • Venezuela: Lack of substantive progress requires renewal of the Fact-Finding Mission’s mandate

    Statement at the 51st Session of the UN Human Rights Council 

    Interactive Dialogue with Fact-Finding Mission on Venezuela

    Delivered by Marysabel Rodríguez

    CIVICUS and Espacio Público reiterate to this Council the importance of maintaining the monitoring of the human rights situation in Venezuela. We welcome States’ willingness to ensure scrutiny of the crisis to prevent it from normalising and worsening even further.

    This report reiterates the active participation at all levels of the chain of command in ordering and carrying out torture and ill-treatment of members of political opposition, journalists, demonstrators and human rights defenders.

    As the Fact-Finding Mission (FFM) 's reports point out, the capacity of the justice system to protect people and prevent State crimes is weak. To date, there has been no substantive progress to address serious violations and crimes, nor have restrictive practices ceased, increasing the number of victims, with a particular impact on vulnerable sectors.

    Obtaining real justice depends on the validity of complementary mechanisms; the importance of the Mission lies in the fact that its registry allows the establishment of individual responsibilities in the perpetration of human rights violations and crimes against humanity.

    We urge this Council to renew both the mandate of the FFM and that of the Office of the High Commissioner, in order to continue monitoring the ongoing situation and to build paths to effective justice for the individuals and families whose fundamental rights have been violated.

    Thank you.

     Civic space in Venezuela is rated as "Repressed" by the CIVICUS Monitor 


  • Venezuela: Restrictions to civic space continue unabated as government defies commitments

    Statement at the 50th Session of the Human Rights Council 

    Adoption of the UPR report of Venezuela

    Delivered by Carlos Correa, Espacio Público

    Thank you, Mr President. 

    Over the past five years, Venezuela promoted unjustified restrictions on civic space, including the rights to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression. Of the 40 recommendations received in 2016, it partially implemented 7.  

    Space for civil society has been repressed. Despite accepting recommendations to guarantee freedom of expression online, restrictions continue. Venezuela committed to ensure the work of journalists, human rights defenders and humanitarian workers, but judicial persecution remains common. Authorities adopt a disqualifying discourse that seeks to justify attacks on the exercise of freedom of association and expression. 

    Today at least 45 news portals are blocked in Venezuela. Between January and April of this year 2022, 43 journalists were victims of illegitimate restrictions to do their work. While this UPR process was ongoing, a bill was announced to control international cooperation funds. In the last year, at least 8 human rights defenders have been detained and criminal proceedings are ongoing against them. 

    We regret that Venezuela accepted 27 of the 53 recommendations it received on civic space during this third cycle.  

    Mr President, Espacio Público and CIVICUS call on the Government of Venezuela to take concrete steps to address these concerns, including by repealing undue legal restrictions on civil society and the press, reinstating media outlets unwarrantedly closed, ceasing censorship practices, and by releasing all those detained for defending human rights and expressing themselves. 

    Thank you very much.  

     Civic space in Venezuela is rated as "Repressed" by the CIVICUS Monitor 


  • Victims of human rights violations will be worst affected if South Africa exits the International Criminal Court

    CIVICUS speaks to Angela Mudukuti about South Africa’s withdrawal from the International Criminal Court, the implications for human rights and justice and the work which the Southern Africa Litigation Centre is doing on this issue. Angela is a lawyer with the International Justice Programme at the Southern Africa Litigation Centre. Angela is involved in advocacy around international criminal justice issues and strategic litigation, including taking the South African government to court for failure to arrest President Bashir of Sudan

    1. What do you think motivated South Africa’s withdrawal from the International Criminal Court (ICC)?

    The state seems to advance a number of misplaced excuses for withdrawal in its legal papers and media statements. This includes the allegation that the ICC is targeting Africa, which is of course unfounded as evidenced by the number of self-referrals and the fact that the ICC has preliminary examinations in Afghanistan, Iraq for example. The state also alleges that its commitments to the Rome Statute are a hindrance to peace and security efforts in Africa yet this too does not make any sense as South Africa has been engaged in peace and security initiatives for several years “despite” the obligations in terms of the Rome Statute. South Africa signed the Rome Statute in 1998 and ratified it in 2000 and not once has the Rome Statute been raised as a hindrance to peace-keeping efforts. It is only since the arrival of President Omar Al Bashir in 2015 that South Africa has had problems with the ICC. Thus it cannot really be about peace-keeping as South Africa does not have to host suspected perpetrators in South Africa to successfully conduct peace-keeping activities. They have been involved in mediation efforts since former President Thabo Mbeki’s time and not once have they needed to host President Bashir in South Africa. In fact they explicitly declined to do so in 2009 when President Bashir was expected to attend the 2009 inauguration of President Jacob Zuma. It was made publically clear that President Bashir would be arrested if he came to South Africa and as such he did not come to South Africa in 2009.

    The arguments of the state seem to be labouring under the misconception that withdrawal will allow them to host President Bashir, yet as made clear by article 127 of the Rome Statute, the obligations of state party do not evaporate because it decides to leave the Rome Statute, thus South Africa is still duty bound to arrest President Bashir for as long as he is wanted by the ICC. The state has failed to provide justifiable and reasonable excuses for leaving the Rome Statute thus the only plausible explanation was an unfortunate political explanation that only the government itself could provide.

    2. What do you think is motivating the antipathy of several African states towards the ICC?

    The allegation that the ICC is targeting Africa is the main reason advanced by a number of African leaders. Yet as described above this is not factually accurate. In addition to the fact that this is because of a lack of understanding about the jurisdictional limits of the Court it is also an excuse that is conveniently used by politicians to further their political agenda instead of prioritising justice, accountability and the victims of international crimes. While the ICC is not a perfect institution, it requires support and critical yet constructive engagement from member states.

    3. What are the likely implications on human rights and justice for victims of human rights violations?

    South Africa leaving the ICC will have serious implications for justice and human rights. It sends the wrong message to the victims of crimes. It also shows that South Africa has chosen to support impunity given its failure to arrest President Bashir and the fact that they seek to abandon the only permanent international criminal court instead of constructively engaging with it. South Africa could potentially become a safe haven for suspected perpetrators of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity as the government seeks to repeal the Implementation Act which domesticates the Rome Statute and includes a provision on universal jurisdiction. Should the Implementation Act be repealed a lacuna will be created which could be exploited by potential perpetrators of heinous crimes. In addition, if justice fails at the domestic level, there is no African Court with criminal jurisdiction and if South Africa successfully leaves the ICC, there will be no justice at the international level either. This creates an untenable situation which will leave the victims with nowhere to turn.

    4. How is civil society in South Africa responding to the withdrawal?

    The Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC) is actively involved in legally challenging the constitutionality of South Africa’s notice of withdrawal. The matter was heard in the High Court on December 5 and 6 and the court reserved judgment. SALC will also continue with advocacy to raise awareness and sensitise the general public on the importance of supporting international criminal justice as the move to repeal the Implementation Act should go through the parliamentary process which also includes a process of public participation. Hence it is vital that the general public understand the importance of supporting international criminal justice. Civil society is also actively supporting the development and improvement of domestic justice mechanism as the ICC was designed as a court of last resort and will only function as such if domestic systems are willing and able to deal with international crimes. Though the Rome Statute does not recognise regional courts, civil society are actively seeking to promote credible, impartial regional courts that will not provide immunity for heads of state or senior government officials as we see justice as a three-layer system where each layer functions in a complementary fashion.

    5. What are three things South Africans need to know about the ICC as an institution of justice for victims of human rights violations?

    a) South Africans need to know that the ICC is an impartial and independent court with limited jurisdiction.
    b) They should also know that without the support of the African states, the court may not have come into existence in the first place and thus it is more constructive to work towards improving the ICC instead of simply abandoning it.
    c) South Africans should also know that regionally there is no African court with criminal jurisdiction and thus if domestic justice fails it is the ordinary citizens who will have no access to justice.

    Visit the Southern Africa Litigation website -