human rights

 

  • BELIZE: ‘Many laws remain that keep LGBTQI+ people as second-class citizens’

    Caleb OrozcoCIVICUS speaks about the situation of LGBTQI+ rights in Belize and the ongoing impacts of the British colonial legacy with Caleb Orozco, the chief litigant in a case successfully challenging Belize’s discriminatory laws and co-founder of the United Belize Advocacy Movement (UNIBAM).

    Founded in 2006, UNIBAM was the first LGBTQI+-led policy and advocacy civil rights organisation in Belize. Focused on dismantling systemic and structural violence that impacts on human rights, it uses rights-based approaches to reduce stigma and discrimination.

    What was the process leading to the overturn of Belize’s so-called anti-gay laws?

    The process of overturning the sodomy laws contained in Section 53 of the Criminal Code started with a preliminary assessment that guided the development of the University of the West Indies’ Rights Advocacy Project (URAP) led by Tracy Robinson, whose group initiated my case in 2010. In 2011 we worked with Human Dignity Trust, which joined as interested party, to engage on international treaty obligations.

    In 2007, a conversation started at a meeting in Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic, organised by the Caribbean Vulnerable Communities Coalition. URAP engaged by email and Viper Messenger, with additional regional conferences to flesh out legal arguments. The process identified Lisa Shoman as local Senior Counsel and Chris Hamel Smith, who argued the case in 2013.

    Meanwhile, we submitted reports for Belize’s Universal Periodic Review at the United Nations Human Rights Council to test the government’s response to the challenge to the sodomy laws. We also resorted to thematic hearings at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. The response of the government was that it needed a ‘political mandate’. We worked with the subcommittee for policy and legislation of the National AIDS Commission to monitor legislative opportunities and gauge the position of the government and the prime minister. We knew the government would not significantly fight the process.

    In late 2010 we filed a challenge to Section 53 and a fight with the group of churches ensued. UNIBAM’s role was eventually reduced to that of an interested party, with the churches relegated to the same role, and I remained as the sole claimant.

    We did not have a communications strategy, so we developed one. Nor did we have a security strategy, but we got help from the Human Dignity Trust. We participated in around 300 media interviews, collectively, over the years. The process included the derailment of the government’s revised national gender policy of 2013, with hundreds protesting across the country. Also, in Jamaica, 25,000 people protested to demand the removal of Professor Brendon Bain, an expert witness in my case in support of the churches, from his job at the University of the West Indies. 

    The case was heard by the Supreme Court in May 2013. We submitted personal experiences of discrimination and tried to strike out the churches, but we failed. Three years later, on 10 August 2016, the judge ruled in our favour, establishing that Section 53 was unconstitutional, which effectively decriminalised consensual same-sex activity held in private by consenting adults.

    The Attorney General launched a partial appeal focused on the freedom of expression and non-discrimination on the grounds of ‘sex’, but the Court of Appeal’s judgment was reaffirmed in December 2019, with the expectation that the sodomy law had to be modified by parliament after the Court reaffirmed its unconstitutionality. Over time, the political tone changed: from claiming a political mandate was needed to change our sodomy law, to supporting 15 out of 17 Universal Periodic Review recommendations on LGBTQI+ rights in 2018. We are now waiting for parliament to modify the law as per the instruction of the Court of Appeal.

    Did you experience backlash?

    I experienced a lot of backlash throughout the process. This included character assassination and death threats, to the point that a personal security plan had to be put in place for me to go to court in 2013 and for my daily movement. Christian TV stations pushed negative propaganda and social media platforms buzzed with homophobia and threats. 

    How much progress has the LGBTQI+ rights movement achieved so far? 

    The LGBTQI+ rights movement became part of a National Working Group, in which I helped draft a cabinet note to advance the Equal Opportunities Bill and Hate Crime Legislation, with support from the Human Dignity Trust. Even though the Equal Opportunities Bill was endorsed by the cabinet, it didn’t reach parliament before the 2020 general election, because the evangelical ‘Kill the Bill’ campaign succeeded in derailing it just in time. We are not giving up in 2022!

    I run the only LGBTQI+-led observatory of human rights in Belize, which provides litigation support to clients. We produce knowledge products on systemic and structural violence that feeds into a national and transnational advocacy framework that includes LGBTQI+ economic inclusion and livelihoods. 

    The process influenced and inspired the development of several niche organisations focused on LGBTQI+ families, health, trans issues and lesbian and bisexual women. It helped launch the global mandate of the Human Dignity Trust’s campaign on decriminalisation. Ours was in fact their first case back in 2011.

    What challenges do LGBTQI+ people continue to face in Belize? How can challenges be addressed?

    There is the denial of gender markers for trans people. Violence against us can take place in the family and the workplace. Kids experience discrimination in schools. In addition, family insecurity for LGBTQI+ parents is a huge deal. We endure economic rights violations and economic exclusion, as well as unequal access to economic benefits such as social security and government pensions. 

    LGBTQI+ Belizeans experience daily deficits in the police’s work that deals with us as victims of violence and detainees. If you’re of African descent and gay, expect police harassment.

    We need resources to advance 20 amendments to laws that exclude LGBTQI+ Belizeans as citizens, which attack our dignity and rights and keep us as second-class citizens. The functions of the Human Rights Observatory, which provides redress to LGBTQI+ Belizeans and marginalised women, should be strengthened.

    What kind of international support does Belizean LGBTQI+ civil society need? 

    International allies can support us with donations through our GoFundMe page. We also really value offers of pro-bono legal support for the work of our Human Rights Observatory, including legal research, legal defence,  protection work, bill drafting, litigation support, and branding strategies, as well as offers of pro bono support to produce investigative or victim advocacy training.

    Civic space in Belize is rated ‘narrowed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.
    Get in touch with UNIBAMthrough itswebsite and follow@UNIBAMSupport on Twitter.

     

  • BERMUDA: ‘A right that the LGBTQI+ community enjoyed for four years has been stripped away’

    Adrian Hartnett BeasleyCIVICUS speaks about the recent court decision on same-sex marriage in Bermuda with Adrian Hartnett-Beasley, a founding board member of OUTBermuda.

    OUTBermuda is a civil society organisation that promotes and supports the wellbeing, health, dignity, security, safety and protection of the LGBTQI+ community in Bermuda. It provides educational resources on issues of diversity, inclusiveness, awareness and acceptance of LGBTQI+ people, and advances human rights, conflict resolution and equality and diversity in Bermuda.

     

    What is the significance of the recent court ruling declaring the ban on same-sex marriage constitutional? How has it affected LGBTQI+ people in Bermuda?

    In March 2022, Bermuda’s highest judicial body, the Privy Council’s Judicial Committee, sided with the government of Bermuda, stating that it may regulate and restrict marriage licences only to unions between a man and a woman. According to the judgement, this does not violate the Bermudian Constitution. It would have violated the Human Rights Act of 1981 if the Bermuda Government had not amended it to allow discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation.

    This judgement reversed previous decisions that starting in 2017 made it possible for same-sex couples to get legally married in Bermuda. As a result, a right that we as a community enjoyed for four years was stripped away.

    We don’t have survey data, but the general feeling of disappointment is palpable. Our community and our allies are disappointed that this fundamental human rights issue was ever made political in the first place, first with an irresponsible referendum held in 2016 – a non-binding consultation that failed due to low turnout – and then again by successive administrations who used our community as leverage in two electoral campaigns.

    We are still reviewing the case, but overall, we have concerns that our constitution has failed us and what this means, if people are paying attention, is that our constitution is not fit for purpose anymore.

    How was OUTBermuda involved in the case, and what will it do next?

    OUTBermuda was heavily involved throughout the process. We ran very successful arguments at the Supreme Court, the Court of Appeal and the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, with the guidance and hard work of our legal teams. We believe our leadership and standing helped bring together a consortium of plaintiffs, which together supported the novel and intricate legal arguments being made before the courts, including two churches and a couple of individuals – together encapsulating a broad range of perspectives, as reflected in the evidence we submitted to the courts.

    In its former life, that is, before it became a registered charity, OUTBermuda was known as Bermuda Bred and successfully sued the Bermuda government in 2015 to secure some immigration rights for non-Bermudian same-sex partners to live and work on the island. As a result of that victory, its members pivoted the organisation into OUTBermuda and registered it as a charity. The organisation has been leaning into the empty space in which the LGBTQI+ community had no voice ever since.

    This adverse ruling does not change that. We will continue to advocate for equality, justice and dignity for all LGBTQI+ Bermudians. If anything, the negative decision of the court highlights that OUTBermuda must continue its work.

    What other challenges do LGBTQI+ people face in Bermuda?

    The issues we face are as diverse as the community itself. At the core of all of it is acceptance; without acceptance, our community is subjected to unfair and illegal housing discrimination, which alongside family disapproval results in young people having nowhere to live and having higher rates of drug and alcohol abuse. Not surprisingly, this leads to members of our community staying in the closet longer, or at least being less comfortable about being themselves in public. All of this ends up resulting in our community not reaching its collective full potential.

    OUTBermuda gets requests for help regularly, and this is the typical story we hear over and over. Marriage has been one, very public, issue but it’s by no means the only one – probably not even the most important one. We will continue working to educate people, including our political leaders, about the human rights of LGBTQI+ people. The next government must re-amend the Human Rights Act to reinstate the full protection of sexual orientation.

    How much progress has the LGBTQI+ rights movement achieved so far? Have you experienced any anti-rights backlash?

    We have made a lot of progress. When we started litigating for same-sex marriage, polls showed a slight majority of Bermudians were against it, and within five years, when same-sex marriage became legal, a clear majority supported it.

    A poll we conducted in 2020, three years into same-sex marriage being legal, showed that 92 per cent of Bermudians believed that LGBTQI+ people deserved human rights protection, 95 per cent believed we deserved civil rights protection, 53 per cent were in favour of same-sex marriage and 72 per cent thought that a church should be allowed to perform a wedding between two consenting adults. An overwhelming majority of 75 per cent opposed the government spending more money on litigation to ban same-sex marriage, while a mere three per cent claimed they had been negatively affected by same-sex couples being able to marry, adopt or live together.

    But this progress was met with backlash, particularly by organisations such as Preserve Marriage, which grew markedly since the early days of the public debate on marriage equality. They are well-organised and well-funded and are reacting quite violently to the evidence that public perceptions on all LGBTQI+ issues is increasingly more accepting.

    What kind of support would Bermudian LGBTQI+ civil society need from their international counterparts?

    Bermudian LGBTQI+ civil society, while physically isolated – more than 600 miles away from North Carolina – is fortunate to have great internet accessibility, so resources are easy to access and connections are easy to make. OUTBermuda as an organisation has been fortunate to receive the support of comparable – but larger and more sophisticated – organisations overseas in the form of resources, ideas and solidarity. As we have just hired our first employee – a part-time executive director – we are looking forward to building out those relationships and capitalising on the great work that has already been done in other jurisdictions – while still doing it the uniquely Bermudian way.

    Get in touch with OUTBermuda through itswebsite or itsFacebook page, and follow@OUTBermuda on Twitter. 

     

  • Bin the Travel Ban: Lift undue restrictions on Mozn Hassan and Egyptian civil society’s right to freedom of association

    Mozn Hassan is a courageous feminist and a human rights defender who protested with her fellow citizens to overthrow President Hosni Mubarak, calling for a new era of freedom and democracy in Egypt. Her struggle for equal rights for women during and after the Egyptian revolution, through her organisation Nazra for Feminist Studies, earned her the 2016 Right Livelihood Award. But she’s unlikely to receive this prestigious award because of a travel ban imposed on her by the Egyptian authorities.

    Mozn’s travel ban is the latest in a series of measures taken against her and other prominent leaders of Egyptian civil society under the ambit of the infamous Case 173 of 2011, commonly known as the “NGO Foreign Funding case”.

    In March 2016, Mozn Hassan was summoned to appear before a judge investigating the “NGO Foreign Funding” case soon after her participation at the UN Commission on the Status of Women. On June 27, 2016, she was prevented by the airport authorities in Cairo - acting on the instructions of the investigating judge and the Prosecutor General - from participating in the Women Human Rights Defenders Regional Coalition for the Middle East and North Africa meeting held in Lebanon.

     

  • Blocage de l'accès internet au Cameroun prive la société civile des ressources essentielles

    English

    Le Cameroun a vu l'État imposer toute une série de restrictions aux droits fondamentaux de la société civile en 2017, notamment une fermeture d'Internet de quatre mois dans les régions anglophones du pays en réponse aux protestations contre la marginalisation de ces régions. CIVICUS parle avec Maximilienne Ngo Mbe, Directrice du Réseau des Défenseurs des Droits de l’Homme de l’Afrique Centrale (REDHAC). Créé en 2007, le REDHAC est un réseau d’activistes et d’organisations de la société civile d’Afrique centrale qui compte des membres dans huit pays de la région et se concentre principalement sur la protection des droits humains fondamentaux.

    1. Comment décririez-vous l'état actuel de la démocratie au Cameroun? La pratique de la démocratie dans le pays a-t-elle changé au cours des dernières années?

    La démocratie est actuellement en recul au Cameroun malgré des nombreuses structures successivement mises en place par le gouvernement pour garantir la pratique démocratique. Tels sont les cas de l’Observatoire National des Élections (ONEL), une structure indépendante de supervision et contrôle du processus électoral créé en Décembre 2000; et ses successeurs l’ONEL1 et ELECAM (Elections Cameroun) de 2006. Tous les membres d’ELECAM sont des cadres du Rassemblement Démocratique du Peuple Camerounais (RDPC), le parti au pouvoir, nommées par décret présidentiel et financés par le gouvernement. En conséquence, son impartialité n’est pas garantie.

    Il y’a une décennie on observait que la pratique démocratique se mettait en place étant entendu que c’était un processus. Mais cela n’a été que de courte durée car en 2013 le président a déclaré la guerre à la secte terroriste Boko Haram qui sème la terreur à l’Extrême Nord du Cameroun. En conséquent, la démocratie a pris un coup dur, sous la forme d’une loi électorale qui ne favorise pas la transparence et l’alternance, qui n’est pas indépendante et qui limite la participation par les coûts exorbitants, alors que le salaire minimum est de 25000 francs; des lois restrictives des libertés fondamentales; de l’absence d’application des lois votées; et de l’établissement d’un État de non droit.

    L'Etat du Cameroun reste répressif. Nous assistons chaque jour à la violation des libertés fondamentales, et en particulier de la liberté d'expression et de la liberté d'association. La prédominance du pouvoir exécutif sur les pouvoirs législatif et judiciaire reste constante. La pratique de la démocratie n'a véritablement pas changé au cours de ces dernières années, car nous avons toujours eu le même président depuis 35 ans. En plus de cela il y a l’absence véritable d'un vrai parti d'opposition car toute manifestation d'un parti autre que le parti au pouvoir est réprimée par le gouvernement.

    1. La société civile est-elle actuellement en mesure de contribuer à la gouvernance démocratique au Cameroun?

    On peut répondre par oui et non: Oui, car elle reste la moins corrompue et la plus neutre parmi les autres forces (traditionnels, religieuses, élites, administratives); et non, parce qu’elle est déstructurée, amateur, sans financement.

    1. Comment les restrictions récentes à la liberté d'expression, telles que le blocage de l'accès à Internet, ont-elles affecté la société civile?

    Les restrictions à la liberté d’expression sont devenues une règle au Cameroun, et incluent la censure, des menaces, des arrestations et détentions arbitraires, des intimidations, des cambriolages dans les locaux des OSC, des fermetures des medias, des impôts très élevés pour les patrons de télévision privés, et la mise en résidence surveillée. De novembre 2016, date à laquelle la crise a commencé dans le Nord-Ouest et le Sud-ouest du Cameroun, on a assisté à des restriction additionnelles: la coupure de la connexion internet pendant trois mois (janvier-avril 2017) et des perturbations de la communication et coupures dans les organisations de la société civile hors des deux régions où les activistes qui manifestait avaient été arrêtés. En conséquent, la société civile a été privée d’accès à l’information, de moyens pour diffuser et partager de l’information et pour s’organiser efficacement, et de la possibilité de recevoir des rapports pour poursuivre des activités, ce qui a produit des retards auprès des bailleurs et le ralentissement de la mise en œuvre des activités. En plus, la société civile a été affectée par l’interruption du soutien financier par des partenaires en raison de leurs délais dans la soumission des rapports narratifs.

    1. Comment la société civile y a-t-elle réagi?

    La société civile a très mal appréhendé la coupure d’internet dans les régions du nord et du sud-ouest Cameroun suite à une décision du gouvernement. Du coup elle a mobilisé toutes ses forces et énergies afin de convoquer ce dernier à rétablir la connexion internet dans ces deux régions. Plusieurs organisations de la société civile d’autour le monde, et notamment les sociétés civiles camerounaises à l’instar du REDHAC, se sont démarquées par ses multiples communiqués de presse condamnant ce geste du gouvernement. Bien plus, le représentant spécial du Secrétaire général et chef du Bureau régional des Nations Unies pour l’Afrique centrale (UNOCA), François Louncény Fall, a décrit la décision du gouvernement comme ayant créé une «situation déplorable». Après d’énormes efforts et de multiples combats fournis par les organisations de la société civile, internet fut rétablit trois mois plus tard.

    1. Quel soutien ou solidarité la société civile internationale peut-elle vous offrir en ces temps?

    Nous avons besoin de plusieurs formes de soutien. Premièrement, de soutien financier à moyen et à long terme et avec une certaine souplesse dans la soumission des projets et rapports, ainsi que des fonds d’urgence permanents capables de réduire les vulnérabilités des défenseurs en danger. Deuxièmement, on a besoin de soutien technique, sous la forme par exemple de l’approvisionnement de matériel sophistiqué de sécurité (cameras de surveillance, systèmes d’alarme, empreinte digital, cameras photo avec la capacité d’authentifier des photos et vidéos lors du monitoring et la soumission de rapports) et autres outils informatiques sécurisés. Finalement, on a besoin aussi des formations permanentes pour renforcer les capacités de la société civile en termes de sécurité numérique, physique et de gestion de leurs données informatiques; des formations relatives à la consolidation de la démocratie et l’état de droit et à l’implication au processus électoral et à la bonne gouvernance; des formations sur la surveillance et le signalement des violations des droits humains en toutes circonstances et en particulier dans les périodes de conflit ou de terrorisme; et des formations en plaidoyer national, régional et international.

    ·         L'espace civique au Cameroun est classé comme ‘répressif’ par leCIVICUS Monitor,indiquant de sérieuses restrictions aux libertés d'association, de réunion pacifique et d'expression.

     

     

     

  • BOLIVIA: ‘We empower young people so they can lead the climate movement’

    Rodrigo MeruviaFollowing a year marked by massive mobilisation on the climate emergency, CIVICUS is interviewing civil society activists, leaders and experts about the main environmental challenges they face in their contexts and the actions they are taking. CIVICUS speaks with Rodrigo Meruvia, general coordinator and researcher of the Gaia Pacha Foundation, a civil society organisation (CSO) dedicated to environmental protection and conservation. Based in Cochabamba, Bolivia, Gaia Pacha undertakes research, extension and development initiatives on the basis of cooperation with other CSOs, universities, research centres, government agencies and private companies.

     

     

    What is the main environmental problem in the context where you work?

    The central issue is climate change, a planetary phenomenon that is having impacts at all levels, on populations and their productive and food systems, and that exceeds local and institutional capacities. Among other things, this phenomenon is reflected in an increase in the frequency and magnitude of climatic events and the depth of their impacts.

    We work with the aim of increasing the resilience of rural communities in the face of climate change, as well as building awareness among the urban population regarding the ways in which their consumption patterns affect the development prospects of many communities in rural areas. First of all we work to show how climate change impacts on areas of small family subsistence production and create mechanisms to help increase their resilience to climate change. We also work to empower young people both in rural communities and cities. We train them in technical issues as well as in matters of strategy and leadership, so that they can produce initiatives and generate alternatives on topics such as deforestation or greenhouse gas emission. We encourage them to generate projects applicable to their immediate surroundings and we foster networks and bridges with other civil society and academic organisations to support the implementation of their initiatives.

    For example, at the moment we are working with universities in Cochabamba on the subject of alternative transportation, with the aim of establishing bike paths between the various university campuses within the city, so that young people can use bicycles as an emission-free and safe means of transportation. With that aim in mind, mobile phone apps are being developed that will indicate the safest routes, and parking lots for bicycles are being established, among other things. Work is also being done to educate car drivers, in partnership with the university and in a joint initiative with the municipality and some private companies that are interested in this issue.

    Were there climate mobilisations in Bolivia during 2019?

    Yes, in September, when the global climate mobilisations were held, major Bolivian cities joined as well. In Cochabamba, we provide support to the youth movement, providing them with resources so that they can lead the climate movement. We provide them with logistical and institutional support, which is needed because there is still a lack of trust in young people in our cities. We propel them without becoming the spokespeople for the movement. We provide training on a variety of topics and transmit the fundamentals and basic concepts to them so that they can account for the reasons for their mobilisation rather than just go to a march armed with a single slogan. The idea is for them to become the disseminators of accurate information regarding both the causes and local effects of global climate change.

    With that aim we held several workshops targeted at young people. We trained about 100 young people directly, and indirectly we have reached around 1,400.

    Did climate mobilisations in Bolivia echo global demands, or did demands have specific local components?

    Demonstrations in Bolivia expressed demands related mainly to the forest fires that come hand in hand with the expansion of the agricultural frontier. Their main demand was the repeal of domestic laws that benefit agribusiness and neglect the protection of forests.

    Bolivian laws do not protect forests, but rather the opposite. In mid-2019, just a few months before 2019’s great forest fires, the government enacted decree 3973, which authorised clearance for agricultural activities in private and community lands in the departments of Beni and Santa Cruz, and allowed controlled fires. In other words, the law gives free rein to any owner interested in expanding their production space, whether for livestock or agriculture. Unfortunately, this has been the position of the state so far, and in our experience whether there were leftist or right-wing governments in place has not made any difference. Beyond the party ideology of the incumbent government, there’s the interests of the agribusiness sector, which are much more permanent and broader, since they involve not only local actors but also transnational companies.

    We believe that the cause of the fires is primarily human in origin, since they are started to expand the agricultural frontier. This is how about five and a half million hectares have already been burned. To give an idea of​​the dimensions of the disaster: the area that has been burned in the lowlands of Bolivia is almost the same size as Guatemala. And not only the forest is lost, but also the entire habitat is degraded, the water sources of some communities disappear and the effects of this extend beyond Bolivia, as bioclimates and rainfall change.

    We understand that the phenomenon that affects us is part of a bigger problem, which this year had several expressions in the form of fires in the Brazilian Amazon, in African countries and in Australia. As there is insufficient rainfall due to climate change, forests are much more prone to burning. In addition to agricultural expansion policies, especially those aimed at growing soybeans – which in addition are genetically modified – this makes these places much more vulnerable. The consequences of this are suffered not only by the population living in the territories where these incidents occur, which is directly affected, but also by the general population.

    At the same time, we also put forward the issue of urban deforestation. In Cochabamba there are around 200 deaths per year due to respiratory problems. It is one of the cities with the most polluted air in Latin America, so this was also one of the specific demands of our mobilisations, as well as the fact that we adhere to the global call for definitive and effective action by governments.

    Have you had participated in international processes related to climate change?

    We have participated from the local level, training young people to take part in the international negotiation processes, mainly at the COP – Conference of the Signatory Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change – series of meetings.

    We started by recruiting in various institutions that work with young people, and making a diagnosis to identify who were the ones who were ready and committed to addressing the issue of climate change, and then we made selections based on the issues we were working on. We gave workshops on topics ranging from the conceptual and technical approach to the issue of climate change, to the management of environmental projects, the characteristics of the negotiation process and strategies to participate, as well as workshops to improve people’s ability to express themselves adequately at these events. It was a long process, but it yielded very good results, because we already have leaders in the country’s nine departments who are trained to go participate in discussions and show the world the initiatives and projects that are being developed in Bolivia.

    Unfortunately, the last-minute change of the venue for COP 25 to Spain – because it could not take place in Santiago de Chile due to the context of protests and repression – deflated us, because we were well prepared and had a firm position that in the end we could not contribute to the event. This was the case not just for us in Bolivia, but more generally for Latin America, where something very big was being prepared to share in Chile. The change of location and the short notice with which it was decided created a big complication for us, financially and logistically. On top of this, for us in Bolivia the consequences of recent socio-political conflicts also were an obstacle that prevented us from implementing our strategy before COP 25.

    But we do not want to throw away the existing motivation and the accumulated work that we have done over approximately one and a half years, so we have continued to work to train young leaders. Our goal is to underpin the ability of young people to generate proposals and initiatives, both technically and politically, not only in their regions but also in international spaces.

    Do you think that the disappointing outcomes of COP 25 had something to do with the absence of many people who were ready to influence the agenda but could not participate?

    Yes, I think so. Without detracting from the work done by the countries and organisations that did participate, I think it ended up being a very improvised event, and if it had been held in Chile as planned, the results could have been a bit more significant and positive thanks to the presence and the participation of young people. For the first time, Bolivia was going to count on the participation of a group of young people recognised by the state, who were to carry out the mandate of a collective process developed in Bolivia’s nine departments through four or five prior forums.

    However, we are trying to have a constructive attitude in the face of this setback, and we are taking advantage of the extra time we have to get ready. We already have these young people who are in a position to formulate demands and proposals wherever it might be necessary to do so – be it in the UK, where COP 26 will be held, or in any other international event if the opportunity arises.

    Civic space in Bolivia is rated as ‘obstructed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.

    Get in touch with the Pacha Gaia Foundation through itswebsite and itsFacebook page, or follow@GaiaPacha on Twitter.

     

  • Burundi civil society sees the International Criminal Court as a last resort for justice

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

     

  • BURUNDI: ‘Our right to be recognised and represented as an Indigenous community is being violated’

    Severin SindizeraCIVICUS speaks about Indigenous peoples’ rights in Burundi with Severin Sindizera, Global Coordinator of the Indigenous Peoples Global Forum for Sustainable Development (IPGFforSD).

    IPGFforSD is a civil society organisation (CSO) that advocates for the rights of Indigenous peoples in Burundi and monitors the implementation of the Sustainable Development Gaols (SDGs) in relation to Indigenous peoples at the national and international levels.

    What is the situation of Indigenous people in Burundi?

    The Batwa Indigenous people represent approximately two per cent of Burundi’s population. The context is disheartening because most of our rights are not recognised. Most Batwa people live in extreme poverty and are marginalised and discriminated against. They are often excluded from access to basic resources such as public services, education, land and healthcare. One common issue affecting Indigenous people across the globe is lack of access to land and decision-making bodies. 

    The Batwa people are not exempt from this, as our land rights are not recognised in Burundi. We need land to survive – to build our houses, grow our crops, graze our animals and preserve our culture.

    Batwa people are not well represented in decision-making processes, which explains why development strategies rarely cater to us and our needs. We have been excluded from the economic, social, political and cultural development of our country. It is quite unfair to have people make decisions on our behalf without consulting with our community. When projects are implemented, we are often sidelined. It would seem the government is trying to make people think it is helping Indigenous people while we are not really receiving the help we need.

    The SDGs aim to eradicate many problems affecting societies globally, but their implementation in Burundi has not been inclusive of Indigenous people. The government must understand that our place in society is already under threat, so it needs to approach the SDGs in an intersectional manner to serve all people of Burundi equally.

    The international community has also shown a lack of a solid plan to address the rights of Indigenous peoples during implementation of the SDGs. We want to know how international organisations aim to promote Indigenous peoples’ development through the SDGs. I had the privilege of attending the Forum on Financing for Development (FfD) in New York, but was disappointed I was the only member representing Indigenous peoples.

    What are the main rights violations experienced by Batwa people in Burundi?

    Batwa people in Burundi do not have access to education, healthcare and proper legal services. Many people have suffered and died due to being denied access to healthcare facilities in their communities. When we try to get legal help to hold accountable those responsible for negligence in healthcare centres, we do not qualify to receive it. We hope this will change one day and the Batwa people of Burundi will be inclusively integrated in their communities.

    But Batwa people currently face serious discrimination. We are often called names such as witches and made feel unwanted by the wider society. Our dignity is looked down upon and we are forced to take a lesser place in society. Without access to good jobs, Batwa people have a high prevalence of poverty.

    Batwa people are disproportionately affected by arbitrary arrests and rights violations, as well as by land grabbing from the government and international stakeholders. People take advantage of us because they know that the majority of us do not have identity cards, making it difficult for us to access justice. Whatever laws have been put in place to protect us are not really working.

    Our right to be recognised and represented as a community is being violated. We need members of our community to advocate for our rights independently, without being associated with any political party. The history of this country should inform policymakers about the importance of cultural recognition. No one should be left behind because of their identity. We have a right to participate fully in public life without facing rights violations.

    Has any progress been made in terms of representation in policymaking processes?

    The Burundian government has launched an initiative to include Indigenous people in some governmental positions. There are now a few Batwa people in parliament. However, the fact that participation in public affairs requires association with a political party makes us uncomfortable. This restricts many Indigenous people from speaking out about their rights because they are controlled by their political parties.

    Political representation is an opportunity for our needs to be heard but our people who are actively participating in public affairs do not necessarily speak on our behalf. Participation of ethnic minorities in Burundi still has a long way to go despite the efforts of the government. Batwa women are inadequately represented in political positions.

    Our government focuses on development but fails to promote it in an inclusive manner. It recently setup a national strategy for Indigenous people, highlighting issues we are dealing with and stating its plan to advance Indigenous people’s rights. We hope that they will consult with members of our community and Indigenous leaders about our needs so the strategy actually benefits us.

    How can Indigenous groups across the world work together to promote Indigenous people’s rights?

    Indigenous groups must have regional and international forums to collaborate towards the achievement of our human rights, economic and social development, as well as civil and political rights. We must partner with international organisations that have experience with working on Indigenous people’s rights so that they can help us with our advocacy work and share strategies to make our work more effective.

    Our organisation, IPGFforSD, works for Indigenous rights through international advocacy and innovative initiatives. We work in collaboration with Indigenous groups an encourage them to create and enhance their platforms in their respective countries from across the globe who face similar issues. We focus on monitoring SDG implementation because the rights and needs of Indigenous people are currently not well represented when SDGs are implemented. We have worked with the United Nations (UN) mechanisms, including the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), to raise awareness of the plight of Indigenous people and the need to recognise them in both national and international policies. We advocate for national governments and international organisations to implement the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

    We also work to sensitise our leaders about Indigenous rights through workshops and seminars. Our aim is for them to be well informed so they can, we hope, help us in the battle of getting our rights recognised in Burundi.

    Civic space in Burundi is rated ‘closed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.
    Get in touch with IPGFforSD through itsFacebook page and follow@IIpgfforsd on Twitter. 

     

  • Burundi: Continued UN investigation of human rights violations needed

    Frances

    To Permanent Representatives of Member and Observer States of the United Nations Human Rights Council, Geneva, Switzerland
    Burundi: Call to renew the mandate of the Commission of Inquiry

    Excellencies,

    Ahead of the 39th session of the UN Human Rights Council (“HRC” or “the Council”), we, the undersigned national, regional and international civil society organisations, write to urge your delegation to support a resolution renewing the mandate of the UN Commission of Inquiry (CoI) on Burundi. [1] Such a resolution should also ensure continuity for the work of the CoI through continued adequate resourcing of its secretariat, including its crucial investigative and evidence-gathering work.

    The renewal of the CoI’s mandate is critically important to improve the human rights situation in Bu-rundi, and it offers the Council a number of practical and effective advantages. Among other things, it would allow the Council to:

    • Avoid a monitoring gap, which is all the more important given the Burundian Government’s ongoing refusal to cooperate with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and to sign a new Memorandum of Understanding regarding its presence in the coun-try; [2
    • Ensure the continued documentation of human rights violations and abuses ahead of the upcoming elections of 2020, through testimonies of victims, witnesses, human rights defenders, and other actors operating in and outside of the country;
    • Ensure ongoing public reporting and debates — while the African Union’s observers continue to monitor the human rights situation in Burundi despite a number of limitations imposed by the authorities, their findings are not publicly reported. Interactive dialogues at the Council provide the only regular space for public reporting and debates on human rights developments in the country; and
    • Enable the CoI to continue to highlight under-addressed aspects of the crisis — for instance, the Commission has stressed the importance of dedicating more attention to violations of economic, social and cultural rights.

    At the Council's 36th session (September 2017), the CoI informed the HRC that there were “reasonable grounds to believe that serious human rights violations and abuses have been committed in Burundi since 2015,” and that some of the violations may constitute “crimes against humanity.” At the 37th and 38th sessions of the Council (March and June-July 2018), the CoI described a political, security, econ-omic, social and human rights situation that has not improved since September 2016. In March 2018, the Commission’s Chairperson, Mr. Doudou Diène, stressed that the situation in the country continued to deserve the Council’s “utmost attention.” In October 2017, the International Criminal Court (ICC) authorised an investigation into crimes committed in Burundi since April 2015. A preliminary exam-ination of the situation had been opened in April 2016.

    The constitutional referendum that was held on 17 May 2018 was marred with violence and repression, with arbitrary arrests, beatings and intimidation of citizens campaigning for a “no” vote. [3] The BBC and VOA, two of the country’s main international radio stations, have been suspended for 6 months at the start of the official campaign, illustrating the climate of fear in which journalists and medias were pre-vented from a proper coverage of the event. [4]  In the Commission’s words, as of June 2018 “human rights violations, among which extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearances, acts of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment […], facilitated by a continuing environment of threats and intimidation,” continue unabated. The CoI added: “The fact that several missing people have not been found and that unidentified bodies continue to be discovered in various parts of the country gives reason to fear the continuation of practices consisting of getting rid of the bodies of people arrested sometimes by individuals in police uniform or identified as agents of the National Intelligence Service (SNR) or the Imbonerakure.” [5

    Since it became a member of the Council, on 1st January 2016, Burundi has delivered multiple state-ments that have made clear its refusal to cooperate with human rights monitoring and investigation bodies and mechanisms. The Government has repeatedly launched attacks, which have sometimes des-cended to a personal level, against the High Commissioner, UN officials, and independent experts. With no basis or evidence, it has publicly questioned the independence, competence, professionalism, inte-grity and legitimacy of High Commissioner Zeid and his Office, and has threatened, stigmatised, and exercised reprisals against human rights defenders and civil society organisations. [6] Burundians who have sought protection outside of Burundi have been subjected to harassment and persecution, including by members of the National Intelligence Service (SNR) and Imbonerakure.

    Members of the CoI continue to be denied access to Burundi. Furthermore, at the time of writing, the Burundian authorities have withdrawn visas from the team of experts mandated by HRC resolution 36/2, despite the fact that the latter was adopted at Burundi’s own initiative, with its support and the support of members of Burundi’s own regional group. Burundi’s action in this regard clearly violates its Council membership obligations.

    Recalling the letter a group of civil society organisations wrote in September 2017,7 we urge the Council, consistent with its mandate to address situations of violations of human rights, including gross and systematic violations, to pave the way for accountability by renewing the mandate of the CoI to enable it to continue monitoring human rights developments in the country, documen-ting violations and abuses, and publicly reporting on the situation.

    We thank you for your attention to these pressing issues and stand ready to provide your delegation with further information as required.

    Sincerely,

    Action des Chrétiens pour l’Abolition de la Torture – Burundi (ACAT-Burundi) African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies (ACJPS)
    Amnesty International
    Association Burundaise pour la Protection des Droits Humains et des Personnes Détenues (APRODH)
    Association for Human Rights in Ethiopia (AHRE)
    Centre for Civil and Political Rights (CCPR)
    CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
    Coalition Burundaise pour la Cour Pénale Internationale (CB-CPI)
    Collectif des Avocats pour la Défense des Victimes de Crimes de Droit International Commis au Burundi (CAVIB)
    Community Empowerment for Progress Organisation South Sudan (CEPO)
    DefendDefenders (the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project)
    East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Network (EHAHRD-N)
    Eritrean Law Society (ELS)
    Eritrean Movement for Democracy and Human Rights (EMDHR)
    Forum pour la Conscience et le Développement (FOCODE)
    Forum pour le Renforcement de la Société Civile au Burundi (FORSC)
    Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect (GCR2P)
    Human Rights Concern – Eritrea
    Human Rights Watch
    International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
    International Federation of Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture (FIACAT)
    International Movement Against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism (IMADR)
    International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)
    Ligue Iteka
    Mouvement Citoyen pour l’Avenir du Burundi (MCA)
    Mouvement des Femmes et des Filles pour la Paix et la Sécurité (MFFPS)
    National Coalition of Human Rights Defenders – Burundi (CBDDH)
    Observatoire de la Lutte contre la Corruption et les Malversations Économiques (OLUCOME)
    Organisation pour la Transparence et la Gouvernance (OTRAG)
    Pan-African Human Rights Defenders Network
    Reporters Without Borders (RSF)
    Réseau des Citoyens Probes (RCP)
    SOS-Torture/Burundi
    TRIAL International
    Union Burundaise des Journalistes (UBJ)
    World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)


    1. See its webpage: www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/HRC/CoIBurundi/Pages/CoIBurundi.aspx
    2. See the UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights’ statement at the Council’s 37th session (OHCHR, “Introduction to country reports/briefings/updates of the Secretary-General and the High Commissioner under item 2,” 21-22 March 2018, www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=22875&LangID=E, accessed 20 July 2018).
    3. FIDH and Ligue Iteka, “A forced march to a Constitutional Referendum,” May 2018, www.fidh.org/IMG/pdf/report_burundi_may2018_referendum_on_constitution.pdf (accessed 27 July 2018). 
    4. Reporters Without Borders, “Harassment of Burundi’s media intensifies for referendum,” 16 May 2018, www.rsf.org/en/news/harassment-burundis-media-intensifies-referendum# (accessed 7 August 2018). 
    5. OHCHR, “Oral briefing by the members of the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi to the Human Rights Council,” 27 June 2018, www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=23274&LangID=E (accessed 20 July 2018). 
    6. See DefendDefenders, “Headlong Rush: Burundi’s behaviour as a member of the UN Human Rights Council,” 25 July 2018, www.defenddefenders.org/publication/headlong-rush-burundis-behaviour-as-a-member-of-the-un-human-rights-council/ (accessed 25 July 2018). 
    7. “Renewing the Mandate of the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi and Ensuring Accountability for Serious Crimes,” 19 September 2017, www.defenddefenders.org/press_release/hrc36-renewing-the-mandate-of-the-commission-of-inquiry-on-burundi-and-ensuring-accountability-for-serious-crimes/ (accessed 30 July 2018).
     

     

  • Burundi: Extend the Special Rapporteur’s mandate

    Ahead of the 51st session of the UN Human Rights Council (12 September-7 October 2022), CIVICUS joins over 50 civil society organisations in calling the Permanent Representatives of Member and Observer States of the United Nations Human Rights Council to renew the mandate of the UN Special Rapporteur on Burundi. 


     

  • Burundi: Les violations généralisées des droits de l'homme persistent

    Déclaration à la 44e session du Conseil des droits de l'homme des Nations unies

    Dialogue interactif avec la Commission d'enquête des Nations unies sur le Burundi


    Je vous remercie, Madame la Présidente ;

    CIVICUS et les organisations indépendantes de la société civile burundaise saluent le travail important de la Commission d'enquête, et remercient la Commission pour sa mise à jour, en notant le refus continu du gouvernement du Burundi d'accorder l'accès au pays.

    Nous félicitons le Burundi pour ses élections, et le nouveau président Évariste Ndayishimiye, et les nouvelles possibilités d'engagement qu'elles offrent. Toutefois, les processus électoraux ont été caractérisés par un rétrécissement de l'espace démocratique et des violations de la liberté d'expression, d'association et de réunion pacifique. Les fermetures d'Internet et les blocages des réseaux sociaux ont sapé l'accès à l'information. Nous sommes également profondément déçus par la nomination de personnes faisant l'objet de sanctions internationales pour des violations flagrantes des droits de l'homme à des postes clés du gouvernement, notamment le Premier ministre et le ministre de l'intérieur. 

    Nous sommes sérieusement préoccupés par le fait que les membres de la ligue des jeunes du parti au pouvoir, l'Imbonerakure, souvent avec des fonctionnaires locaux, le service national de renseignement et la police, continuent de commettre des violations généralisées des droits de l'homme, notamment des meurtres, des arrestations arbitraires, des extorsions, des passages à tabac et des intimidations, qui visent souvent les opposants politiques et leurs familles. La société civile et les médias indépendants ont été interdits, contraints de fermer ou empêchés de critiquer le gouvernement. Les journalistes qui enquêtent sur des questions de sécurité ou de droits de l'homme sont victimes d'intimidations, de surveillance et de poursuites, tandis que les médias font l'objet d'interdictions, de suspensions et de réglementations indûment restrictives qui étouffent les reportages indépendants.

    Le 5 juin, la cour a rejeté l'appel des journalistes Christine Kamikazi, Agnès Ndirubusa, Égide Harerimana et Térence Mpozenzi du groupe de médias Iwacu, qui avaient été arbitrairement arrêtés alors qu'ils enquêtaient sur les activités des rebelles en octobre 2019. Ils continuent leur peine de deux ans et demi de prison.

    Nous appelons le nouveau gouvernement du Burundi à coopérer pleinement avec la Commission d'enquête de l'ONU et à lui accorder l'accès nécessaire. Nous appelons également le gouvernement à libérer sans condition toutes les personnes détenues pour des raisons politiques, y compris les militants et les défenseurs des droits de l'homme.

    Nous demandons à la Commission de s'engager avec le nouveau président sur les crimes perpétrés pendant la dernière présidence afin de garantir la vérité et la justice pour les victimes ; et si la Commission identifie des opportunités à la lumière de la nouvelle présidence, pour un engagement renouvelé avec le gouvernement pour la mise en œuvre de ses recommandations passées et l'amélioration des droits de l'homme dans le pays. 


    L'espace civique au Burundi est actuellement classé comme fermé par le CIVICUS Monitor.

    Membres actuels du Conseil :

    Afghanistan, Allemagne, Angola, Argentine, Arménie, Australie, Autriche, Bahamas, Bahraïn, Bangladesh, Bulgarie, Burkina Faso, Cameroun, Chili, Danemark, ErithréeEspagne, Fidji, Inde, Indonésie, Italie, Libye, Iles Marshall, Mauritanie, Mexico, Namibie, NépalNigeriaPakistan, Pays-BasPérou, PhilippinesPologneQuatar, République de CoréeRépublique démocratique du CongoRépublique tchèque, Sénégal, Slovaquie, Somalie, Soudan,Togo, Ukraine, Uruguay, Venezuela

    Classement de l'espace civique par le CIVICUS Monitor

    OUVERT    RETRECI OBSTRUE  REPRIME FERME

     

     

  • Burundi: Widespread human rights abuses persist

    Statement at the 44th Session of the UN Human Rights Council

    Interactive Dialogue with the UN Commission of Inquiry on Burundi

     


    Thank you, Madame President;

    CIVICUS and independent Burundian civil society organisations welcome the important work of the Commission of Inquiry, and thank the Commission for its update, noting the continued refusal of the government of Burundi to grant access to the country. 

    We congratulate Burundi on its elections, and the new President Évariste Ndayishimiye, and the new opportunities this presents for engagement. However, the electoral processes were characterised by shrinking democratic space and violations of freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly. Internet shutdowns and social media blockages undermined access to information. We are also deeply disappointed with the appointment of individuals under international sanctions for gross human rights violations to key government positions, including the Prime Minister and Ministry of Home Affairs. 

    We are seriously concerned that members of the ruling party’s youth league, the Imbonerakure, often with local officials, the national intelligence service, and police, continue to carry out widespread human rights abuses including murders, arbitrary arrests, extortion, beatings, and intimidation, often targeting political opponents and their families. Independent civil society and media have been banned, forced to close down, or otherwise prevented from criticising the government. Journalists investigating security or human rights issues face intimidation, surveillance, and prosecution, while media outlets face bans, suspensions, and unduly restrictive regulations that stifle independent reporting.

    On 5 June, the court rejected an appeal by journalists Christine Kamikazi, Agnès Ndirubusa, Égide Harerimana and Térence Mpozenzi of the Iwacu media group, who were arbitrarily arrested while investigating rebel activities in October 2019. They continue their sentence of two and half years in prison. 

    We call on the new government of Burundi to fully cooperate with and grant access to the UN Commission of Inquiry. We also call on the government to unconditionally release all politically motivated detentions including of activists and human rights defenders. 

    We ask the Commission to engage with the new President on crimes perpetrated during the last presidency to ensure truth and justice for victims; and whether the Commission identifies opportunities in light of the new presidency, for renewed engagement with the government for the implementation of its past recommendations and the improvement of human rights in the country. 


    Civic space in Burundi is currently rated as Closed by the CIVICUS Monitor

    Current council members:

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

    Civic space ratings from the CIVICUS Monitor

    OPEN NARROWED OBSTRUCTED  REPRESSED CLOSED

     

     

  • Call for a resolution to establish an Expert on Human Rights & extension of HC mandate on Sudan

    Statement at the 50th Session of the UN Human Rights Council

    Enhanced Interactive Debate on High Commisioners report on Sudan

    Delivered by Sibahle Zuma

    We welcomed the Council’s Special Session on Sudan last November and its adoption of a resolution mandating a designated Expert on Human Rights in the Sudan. It is imperative that this scrutiny continues.

    As the de facto military authorities continue to consolidate their power, human rights violations and abuses have continued unabated. Excessive force against protesters, including sexual and gender-based violence and enforced disappearance, firing live ammunition, stun grenades and tear gas, resulted in at least 13 civilian deaths and thousands of injuries between February and May 2022. There have been 13 cases of gang rape of women and girls and numerous allegations of sexual harassment brought against security forces during the protests in March alone.

    The transitional government had relaxed the restrictions and impediments placed on civil society by the previous regime, but civic space has deteriorated significantly since the October 2021 coup. Rights of association and assembly have been hard hit with continued enforcement of the state of emergency and the violent response of authorities to peaceful protests. Freedom of expression and access to information has deteriorated significantly at the hands of security forces who continue to assault and arrest journalists, many of whom had had licenses revoked under spurious allegations of ‘inciting violence’ or committing ‘crimes against the state’.

    As the country struggles for sustainable peace, a need for political settlement must be grounded in respect of human rights and accountability for human rights violations, which requires a continued oversight from the Human Rights Council with clear mandate for the Expert on Human Rights in the Sudan.

    We urge the UN Human Rights Council to take action that will enable continued scrutiny, including the vital monitoring and reporting on the human rights situation in the country by the High Commissioner and the designated Expert.

    We thank you.


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

     

  • CAMBODIA: ‘No free and fair election can take place in the current political environment’

    Lee Chung LunCIVICUS speaks about Cambodia’s communal elections of June 2022 with Lee Chung Lun, Campaign and Advocacy Programme Officer of the Asian Network for Free Elections (ANFREL).

    Established in 1997, ANFREL is a regional civil society organisation (CSO) that promotes democratic, free and fair elections by conducting election monitoring, capacity building and civic engagement in member countries.

    How free and fair were the recent local elections in Cambodia, and what were their results?

    The official results of the elections for the commune and sangkat – an administrative subdivision – council held on 5 June 2022 gave the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) 9,376 (80.7 per cent) of the 11,622 council seats and 1,648 (99.8 per cent) of the 1,652 positions of commune chief. The recently reactivated Candlelight Party gained 2,198 (18.9 per cent) of council seats and four commune chief positions. The remaining 48 council seats went to other small parties.

    The CPP’s victory is no surprise given its tight control of politics and the pressures on the opposition, including the dissolution of the main opposition party, the Cambodia National Rescue Party. In such context, the CPP won over 3,000 more seats than it did in the 2017 elections, and its popular vote surged from 3.5 million to 5.3 million.

    However, it was unexpected that the Candlelight Party only managed to secure four commune chief positions despite winning one-fifth of the popular vote. The disproportionate vote-to-seat translation warrants further investigation.

    Overall, Cambodia still falls short of the benchmark for free, fair and inclusive elections, as assessed in ANFREL’s pre-election assessment mission. ANFREL’s member, the Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (COMFREL), also noted various irregularities in the process.

    The undemocratic elements of the existing legal framework continue to allow room for abuse. In recent years, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, crackdowns on the media, CSOs and the political opposition have increased. Numerous opposition candidates and members of opposition parties, most notably from the Candlelight Party, became the target of harassment and intimidation throughout the election period. As long as threats against the opposition and civil society continue to be prevalent, there can’t be a genuine and legitimate election.

    What role did civil society play in the election process? 

    In July 2021, a coalition of 64 Cambodian CSOs launched a list of recommendations that they named ‘minimum conditions for legitimate commune and sangkat council elections’. These included enabling a free political environment and active participation in political activities and allowing the main opposition to review and select members of the National Election Committee (NEC). They also called for greater political neutrality of military forces and independence of the courts, as well as freedom for the media and CSOs to function. Regrettably, no significant changes have been made since then.

    CSOs such as COMFREL recruited, trained and deployed citizen observers to monitor the election process. The NEC’s accreditation standards, however, are questionable, given that 93 per cent of the 74,885 accredited election observers came from organisations closely linked to the CPP. More than half of them came from the Union of Youth Federations of Cambodia and Cambodian Women for Peace and Development, led by Cambodian prime minister’s son Hun Manet and deputy prime minister Men Sam An, respectively.

    Cambodia is virtually a one-party state and now has a mostly closed civic space as a result of ongoing attacks on CSOs, independent media and the political opposition. Since 2017, the government has arrested, imprisoned, and harassed hundreds of activists, opposition figures and journalists. Some flee the country out of fear of retaliation.

    The draconian provisions outlined in the Law on Associations and Non-Governmental Organisations continue to be in effect. The law forbids unregistered organisations from carrying out any activity and grants sole authority over the registration process to the Ministry of the Interior, while registered organisations must adhere to a broadly defined ‘political neutrality’ requirement. CSOs are frequently required to go through informal approval processes with local authorities to carry out their work on the ground, even though the law does not require them to do so.

    Do you think the results of the communal elections will be replicated in the upcoming national elections?

    The results of the commune and sangkat council elections can be regarded as a predictor of the results of the next National Assembly elections, scheduled to take place in July 2023. They confirm once again that no free and fair election can take place in Cambodia’s current political environment. If attacks on the opposition and civil society continue, the CPP will retain its power in the next election.

    What support does Cambodian civil society need from international organisations?

    Cambodian civil society needs more attention from the international community on critical human rights violations and the dwindling state of democracy. International organisations should keep up their efforts to monitor developments in Cambodia closely and extend solidarity with Cambodian civil society, which frequently faces threats and harassment while carrying out their work. Local CSOs also need funding to continue their advocacy and campaigning on the ground.

    Civic space in Cambodia is rated ‘repressed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.
    Get in touch with the Asian Network for Free Elections through itswebsite orFacebook page, and follow@Anfrel on Twitter. 

     

  • Cambodia: Stop silencing critical commentary on COVID-19

    We, the undersigned international human rights organisations, call on the Cambodian government to immediately stop its assault on freedom of expression in the context of theCOVID-19 pandemic. In recent months, the government has warned against public criticism of its actions, prevented independent journalists from reporting on the pandemic, prosecuted individuals for criticising the inoculation campaign, and threatened journalists and social media users with legal actions on the spurious grounds of provoking “turmoil in society.”

    While Cambodia was spared from high numbers of severe COVID-19 cases in 2020, beginning in February 2021 there has been a spike in cases to which the government responded with disproportionate and unnecessary measures in violation of Cambodia’s international human rights obligations. This includes a campaign against freedom of expression that further constricts media freedom and promotes fear and self-censorship in the country. These measures serve to undermine, not advance, efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19.

    The Cambodian authorities placed a de factoban on independent reporting in Phnom Penh’s red zones—areas deemed to be high risk for COVID-19 transmission. On 3 May 2021, the Ministry of Information announced that only state media or journalists invited by the government would be permitted to report from red zones. The next day, the Ministry of Information issued a letter warning journalists not to disseminate information that could “provoke turmoil in society” and threatening legal action against those who disobey. The letter followed viral livestream footage from multiple Facebook news outlets of long queues of COVID-19 patients outside government treatment centres.

    The government’s campaign to silence critical commentary has extended beyond journalists to ordinary people, in a manner incompatible with international human rights standards.

    In a press release dated 1 May 2021, the Government Spokesperson Unit demanded the immediate cessation of social media posts intended to “provoke and create chaos” in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, referring to such posts as “acts of attack” that must be punished. The press release concluded by praising the efforts of government officials to curb the spread of COVID-19 but did not provide any legal justification for imposing these possible restrictions on the right to freedom of expression.

    On 30 April 2021, Kandal provincial authorities warned farmers in Sa’ang district not to post images of vegetables spoiling in their fields due to the closure of markets, stating that such communications are bad for morale. One farmer, Tai Song, was pressured by the provincial authorities to sign a document agreeing not to post such content again after he shared a photo on Facebook showing his vegetables rotting and stating that he had to clear and throw away his crops.

    The Cambodian authorities have arrested dozens of individuals for expressing critical opinions about the government’s COVID-19 response, including at least six individuals for their criticism of the government’s vaccination campaign. One Chinese journalist, Shen Kaidong, was subsequently deported for publishing a story deemed ‘fake news’ in which multiple Chinese nationals reported receiving a text offering them the Sinopharm vaccine for a service fee.

    Authorities have also prosecuted at least three individuals—Korng Sambath, Nov Kloem, and Pann Sophy—for posting TikTok videos criticising the use of Chinese-made vaccines under the new, overly broad and vague Law on Measures to Prevent the Spread of COVID-19 and other Serious, Dangerous and Contagious Diseases (the COVID-19 Law).

    These actions are consistent with the government’s systematic and relentless crackdown on freedom of expression and information spanning far beyond the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. This latest surge contributes to the government’s broader efforts to silence all critical voices in Cambodia.

    The right to freedom of expression is protected by Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Cambodia acceded in 1992, and by Article 41 of Cambodia’s Constitution.

    Protecting public health is the grounds on which the government is purporting to restrict freedom of expression. While there is a legitimate need to counter the spread of misinformation online to protect public health during a pandemic, this objective must be provided by a clear and accessible law and pursued using the least intrusive means, rather than unnecessary and disproportionate measures like unwarranted arrests, detentions, and criminal prosecutions.

    In its General Comment 34, the UN Human Rights Committee emphasised the essential role of the media in informing the public and stated that “in circumstances of public debate concerning public figures … the value placed [on] uninhibited expression is particularly high.” A 2017 Joint Declaration of four independent experts on freedom of expression stressed that “general prohibitions on the dissemination of information based on vague and ambiguous ideas” are incompatible with international human rights standards.

    The UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights emphasised in General Comment 14 that the protection of freedom of expression is a key component of the right to health—enshrined in Article 12 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights—enabling vital information collected by the public and journalists to reach policymakers. We therefore strongly condemn the Cambodian government’s efforts to inhibit the free flow of information relevant to the pandemic. Such actions will negatively impact the quality and reliability of news reporting and undermine the government’s own ability to respond to COVID-19.

    Open dialogue and robust investigative journalism are critical during times of crisis, including public health emergencies. The Special Rapporteur on the right to health has emphasised the crucial role of the media in ensuring accountability in health systems. During a pandemic, free and independent media can help identify viral hotspots or outbreaks, monitor national and international responses, and promote transparency and accountability in the delivery of necessary public health services.

    The Cambodian government’s clampdown on free speech is having a chilling effect on the exercise of freedom of expression in Cambodia. The authorities’ actions are reinforcing the already widespread atmosphere of self-censorship, preventing participation in governance and public affairs, and extinguishing an important safeguard for government accountability.

    We therefore call on the Cambodian government to end the harassment of independent journalists reporting on COVID-19 and individuals who voice critical opinions or fears about the pandemic on social media platforms and to take steps to ensure a free, independent, and diverse media environment. We urge the Cambodian authorities to substantially amend or repeal the new COVID-19 Law and other non-human rights compliant legislation that criminalise or unduly restrict freedom of expression and information. The Cambodian government should uphold the right to freedom of expression, including the freedom to seek, receive and impart information instead of using a public health crisis as an excuse to extinguish dissent.

    This statement is endorsed by:

    1. Access Now
    2. Amnesty International
    3. ARTICLE 19
    4. ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR)
    5. Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)
    6. CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
    7. Human Rights Watch
    8. International Commission of Jurists (ICJ)
    9. International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
    10. International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX)
    11. Reporters Without Borders (RSF)
    12. World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)

    Civic space in Cambodia is rated as Repressed by the CIVICUS Monitor.

     

  • Cambodia: the Council must be prepared to take action to guarantee human rights and free & fair elections

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

    Item 10: Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on Cambodia

    Delivered by Lisa Majumdar

    This is a critical moment for Cambodia ahead of local elections this year and national elections next year.

    The resolution adopted last session has not resulted in any tangible human rights improvements on the ground. The Cambodian government continues to invoke laws to arbitrarily restrict human rights, undermine and weaken civil society, and criminalise individuals’ exercise of their right to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly.

    Human rights defenders, activists and journalists are regularly subjected to harassment and legal action. Labour strikes by the Labour Rights Supported Union of Khmer Employees of NagaWorld (LRSU) have been disrupted and protesters met with state-sponsored violence, including sexual harassment, and arbitrary arrests. Cambodia’s highly politicised judicial system leaves defendants deemed a threat to the interests of the government with virtually no prospect of a fair trial.

    The last round of elections, held in 2017 and 2018, were neither free nor fair. Since then, attacks on civil and political rights and the systematic dismantlement of any credible opposition have made Cambodia a de facto one-party State. Earlier this month, Cambodian courts convicted and sentenced 20 former members of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party to prison sentences of 5-10 years following a mass trial on bogus charges of incitement and plotting. Many other opposition activists are standing trial on politically motivated charges. Peaceful gatherings organised by families of jailed opposition activists to demand their release have frequently been met with excessive force by the authorities.

    If the elections take place in the current climate, they will further entrench a ruling party which has proven that it will use any legislative or extra-legal means at its disposal to remain in power.

    There are steps Cambodia can take to improve its human rights situation ahead of elections, which include removing restrictions on civil society; improving space for political participation; and ensuring that independent media can operate freely and without fear of reprisal.

    This Council must be prepared to take further action on Cambodia should these not be met.

    We thank you.


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

     

  • CAMEROON: ‘Indigenous people should be at the forefront of our own movement and speak for ourselves’

    UnusaKarimuCIVICUS speaks about Indigenous peoples’ rights in Cameroon with Barrister Unusa Karimu, board member of Mbororo Social and Cultural Development Association (MBOSCUDA).

    MBOSCUDA is a civil society organisation with ECOSOC Status that advocates for the rights of Indigenous peoples in Cameroon. It aims to ensure that Indigenous peoples are integrated in the development of Cameroon by promoting their participation in decision-making processes.

    What is the current situation of Indigenous people in Cameroon?

    The situation of Indigenous people in Cameroon is not particularly good at the moment. There are people trying to get self-determination, and this has caused conflict in some parts of Cameroon. Unfortunately, the bulk of Indigenous people I work with, pastoralists, are in the English-speaking part of Cameroon, where calls for independence have led to conflict, and they have been caught in the middle of the violence.

    They are being abused. There is no respect for their territories and their basic human rights, and the government has failed to protect them. Civil Society organisations have collected data that indicate gruesome acts are being committed against Indigenous peoples during the ongoing armed conflict in the Northwest and Southwest of Cameroon. Indigenous people are being killed and they cannot defend themselves.

    Indigenous people in Cameroon still live below the poverty line. Most people in the community struggle to get employed because of limited opportunities in the labour market. Some of them end up engaging in small income-generating activities such as livestock farming and the sale of hunting products. But this is not enough to sustain their lives.

    The reason it is sometimes difficult for Indigenous people to get employed is because they struggle to get access to education. There are not enough schools, teachers and educational resources in Indigenous communities. The government has tried to implement projects to address this problem, but these have not really been effective.

    Much work still needs to be done for Indigenous peoples to gain full recognition in Cameroon. It is saddening that health services and other social facilities are not adequately provided to Indigenous people. The government needs to do a lot more to ensure that Indigenous people have access to healthcare in their communities.

    The government has tried to give visibility to Indigenous peoples in Cameroon through the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, held annually on 9 August, but if their right to life is threatened then the visibility given to them is not having much of an impact. There is a need for structural changes to guarantee sustainable development for all people in Cameroon.

    What human rights violations do Indigenous people experience in Cameroon?

    One of the biggest human rights violations that Indigenous people face in Cameroon is the lack of legal recognition of their right to their territories and their right to life, especially in the conflict-ridden English-speaking regions of the country. Land legislation in Cameroon does not recognise Indigenous peoples’ land holdings and therefore does not protect their land and resources. It is challenging for Indigenous people to register their land because the activities they tend to carry out do not fall under the requirements set out by the government when it comes to effective occupation and exploitation, which is a condition sine qua non for land registration in Cameroon. Activities such as hunting and livestock grazing do not fall under the category of productive land use required for land registration. Commercial developments in Indigenous peoples’ territories affect their livelihoods, and their land is grabbed by people who are not part of the Indigenous community.

    The implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous peoples (UNDRIP) is supposed to provide Indigenous people with better living conditions and protection against losing their territories. However, I do not think the declaration has been well implemented in Cameroon.

    UNDRIP urges governments to recognise and protect Indigenous peoples and their rights. Their land and territories should be protected by the government, but the government violates their rights on a daily basis. We understand that the declaration does not carry any legal obligations, but it should be used as guidance on how to respect Indigenous people and value their participation in the development of the country.

    Cameroon still has land laws that were colonially inspired and do not recognise the rights of Indigenous peoples as far as territories are concerned. This might be the reason the government does not take UNDRIP into account.

    Are Indigenous people well represented in policies?

    Unfortunately, there is no binding legal framework that recognises Indigenous peoples in Cameroon. We have policies in place that serve as guidance for the recognition of Indigenous peoples but there has not been that much progress yet. The government has recently started doing things such as the appointing Indigenous people to decision-making positions. Forest dwellers are represented in decision-making. But these positions are often limited, and their people are not in high positions.

    Pastoral people have a secretary general in the Ministry of Livestock, Fisheries and Animal Industries, which is something positive, but it is very limited. It is safe to say that Indigenous people still lack political representation.

    What should the Cameroon government do to help advance the rights of Indigenous people?

    It would be good if the government met the requirements set by international legal instruments aimed at advancing and protecting the rights of Indigenous peoples. It should also revise the laws that discriminate against Indigenous people, along with its land tenure policies.

    Indigenous peoples should be considered in decision-making. Enabling Indigenous people to participate in national politics would ensure inclusive development, taking into consideration the needs of everyone in Cameroonian society. Often the government puts development strategies in place without conducting proper research and consulting Indigenous peoples, and as a result development strategies do not benefit Indigenous peoples and their way of life.

    In addition, administrative recognition of Indigenous communities would help preserve their cultural and historical heritage. When Indigenous peoples are mixed with neighbouring communities their culture becomes diluted and their history is easily neglected. Ensuring that they are not forcefully integrated with other communities would secure a future for the coming generation. The government should also promote land rights reform.

    Hopefully, with time Indigenous peoples will get economic support and their participation in the development of the country will become noticeable. I believe all of the above can be achieved if the government ratifies the International Labour Organization’s Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention, ILO Convention 169.

    How is your organisation working to advance Indigenous rights?

    MBOSCUDA is a community and membership-based organisation present in almost all regions of Cameroon. It was established in 1992 to promote proper living conditions for Mbororo pastoralists. We work to have the socio-cultural, political and economic rights of the Mbororo people recognised. We have consultative status with United Nations Economic and Social Council and had an observer status with the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights.

    We collaborate with various ministries of the Cameroonian government. Our hope is that we can secure some of the services Indigenous people need to have a dignified life. These include, but are not limited to, civil status registration so they can get married, educational resources and healthcare facilities. We also undertake lobbying and advocacy work. To raise awareness of Indigenous peoples’ rights we participate in seminars on Indigenous peoples in Africa.

    Unfortunately, the ongoing crisis in the Anglophone regions has reduced our activities in some parts of the country. There are places we cannot currently work in because of the conflict. If we decide to go regardless, the chances are high that we will not come back. In addition, some communities that act as if they own Indigenous peoples feel threatened by our work because they know they will not be able to continue exploiting them once Indigenous people have access to information and education.

    How can Indigenous groups work together to promote their rights globally?

    Indigenous people should collaborate and form a strong global alliance. Their voices will be stronger and the possibility of them getting recognised will be higher. We should offer each other a helping hand because we are all fighting the same battle, just in different territories.

    The platforms that international organisations provide us should be used as a tool to hold our governments accountable. It is very important that we share our narratives and do not let people speak on our behalf. We know our struggles and nobody but us can elaborate on what our needs are, so we should be at the forefront of our own movement and speak for ourselves.


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

    Get in touch with MBOSCUDA through itsFacebook page.

     

  • Cameroon: UN action is needed to address human rights crisis

    Joint letter

    To Permanent Representatives of Member and Observer States of the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council (Geneva, Switzerland)

    Multilateral action is needed to address the human rights crisis in Cameroon


    Excellencies,

    We, the undersigned civil society organisations, are deeply concerned over ongoing grave human rights violations and abuses in Cameroon. Ahead of the Human Rights Council’s (“HRC” or “Council”) 47th session (21 June-15 July 2021), we urge your delegation to support multilateral action to address Cameroon’s human rights crisis in the form of a joint statement to the Council. This statement should include benchmarks for progress, which, if fulfilled, will constitute a path for Cameroon to improve its situation. If these benchmarks remain unfulfilled, then the joint statement will pave the way for more formal Council action, including, but not limited to, a resolution establishing an investigative and accountability mechanism.

    Over the last four years, civil society organisations have called on the Government of Cameroon, armed separatists, and other non-state actors to bring violations and abuses to an end. Given Cameroonian institutions’ failure to deliver justice and accountability, civil society has also called on African and international human rights bodies and mechanisms to investigate, monitor, and publicly report on Cameroon’s situation.

    Enhanced attention to Cameroon, on the one hand, and dialogue and cooperation, on the other, are not mutually exclusive but rather mutually reinforcing. They serve the same objective: helping the Cameroonian Government to bring violations to an end, ensure justice and accountability, and fulfil its human rights obligations. In this regard, the establishment of cooperation between the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the Government of Cameroon, following High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet’s May 2019 visit to Yaoundé, and building on the capacity of the OHCHR Regional Office for Central Africa (CARO), is a step forward.

    However, since a group of 39 States delivered a joint oral statement to the HRC during its 40th session (March 2019), and despite the High Commissioner’s visit, the holding of a national dialogue, and OHCHR’s field presence, violations have continued unabated. Some of the violations and abuses committed by Government forces and non-state armed groups may amount to crimes under international law. Impunity remains the norm.

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

    Cameroon is among the human rights crises the Human Rights Council has failed to adequately address. Given other bodies’ (including the African Union (AU) and the UN Security Council) inaction, it is all the more vital for the HRC to send a clear message by stepping up its scrutiny and engagement.

    We believe that further multilateral action is needed. At the Council’s 47th session, we urge Member and Observer States to, at a minimum, support a joint statement. This statement should make clear that should Cameroon fail to take concrete steps to investigate human rights violations and abuses, ensure accountability, and improve its human rights situation, more formal action will follow in the form of a resolution establishing an investigative and accountability mechanism.

    A joint statement should:

    • Address violations and abuses committed by Government forces and non-state armed groups in the North-West, South-West, Far North, and other regions of Cameroon, and urge all parties to immediately bring these violations and abuses to an end;
    • Remind the Cameroonian Government of its primary responsibility to protect its population from crimes and human rights violations;
    • Urge the Cameroonian Government, in cooperation with OHCHR and Cameroonian human rights groups, to design and implement a road map for human rights reforms and accountability with a view to preventing further human rights violations and abuses and ensuring accountability as part of a holistic effort to settle the crisis in the country, in particular in the North-West and South-West regions and the armed conflict in the Far North region;
    • In addition to designing and implementing a road map for reforms and accountability, outline concrete benchmarks to be fulfilled by the Government of Cameroon to ensure demonstrable progress on human rights, including by:
    • putting an immediate end to violations committed against members and supporters of the opposition, media professionals and outlets, demonstrators, and members of civil society, including lawyers, union leaders, teachers, and human rights defenders and organisations;
    • releasing prisoners of conscience;
    • fully respecting all Cameroonian citizens’ human rights, including their rights to freedoms of opinion and expression, peaceful assembly, and association, as well as the right to life, liberty and security of person;
    • fully cooperating with OHCHR, including granting it unhindered access to the North-West and South-West regions to conduct human rights investigations, monitoring, and reporting;
    • fully cooperating with the Council and its mechanisms, including granting access to special procedure mandate-holders, in line with Cameroon’s Council membership obligations;
    • granting unrestricted access to humanitarian aid and human rights organisations and workers, including restoring access for international non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to report on the human rights situation in the country; and
    • engaging with regional bodies and mechanisms, including the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR); 
    • Encourage the High Commissioner for Human Rights to make the findings of the OHCHR 2019 investigations in the Anglophone regions public, and to provide regular updates to the Council, including by holding inter-sessional briefings or informal conversations with Council Members and Observers. These updates should include information about her engagement with Cameroonian authorities, the situation in the country, and OHCHR’s work in the country;
    • Encourage states to enhance their voluntary contributions for OHCHR’s activities, including for the OHCHR Regional Office for Central Africa’s work in Cameroon and Central Africa; and
    • Make clear that should Cameroon fail to take concrete steps to improve its situation and ensure demonstrable progress on human rights by the Council’s 48th session (13 September-1 October 2021), more formal Council action will follow, under the appropriate agenda item.

    We thank you for your attention and stand ready to provide your delegation with further information as required.

    Sincerely,

    1. Africa Call – South Sudan
    2. AfricanDefenders (Pan-African Human Rights Defenders Network)
    3. Amnesty International
    4. Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
    5. CDDH – Benin
    6. Center for Human Rights Defenders Zimbabwe (CHRDZ)
    7. CIVICUS 8. Club Humanitaire sans Frontières (CHF)
    9. Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI)
    10. Community Empowerment for Progress Organization (CEPO) – South Sudan
    11. DefendDefenders (East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project)
    12. Defenders Coalition – Kenya
    13. Dialogue and Research Institute (DRI) – South Sudan
    14. Dignity Association – Sierra Leone
    15. Economic Justice Network Sierra Leone
    16. Franciscans International
    17. Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect
    18. HAKI Africa
    19. HRDSNET Uganda Ltd – Human Rights Defenders Solidarity Network
    20. Human Rights Defenders Network – Sierra Leone
    21. Human Rights Watch
    22. Initiative for Plataforma das Organizações Lusófonas dos Direitos Humanos (POLDH)
    23. International Civil Society Action Network (ICAN)
    24. International Refugee Rights Initiative
    25. International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)
    26. Kenya Human Rights Commission
    27. National Alliance of Women Lawyers (NAWL) – South Sudan
    28. Network of the Independent Commission for Human rights in North Africa
    29. Nouvelle Génération de la Cinématographie Guinéenne (NOGECIG)
    30. Oasis Network for Community Transformation
    31. Pan African Lawyers Union
    32. Partnership for Justice, Lagos – Nigeria
    33. Protection International – Kenya (PIK)
    34. Raise The Young Foundation
    35. REDRESS
    36. Réseau des Organisations de la Société Civile pour l’Observation et le Suivi des Élections en Guinée (ROSE)
    37. Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network (SAHRDN)
    38. South Sudan Human Rights Defenders Network (SSHRDN)
    39. Tanzania Human Rights Defenders Coalition (THRDC)
    40. The Independent Medico-Legal Unit
    41. Togolese Human Rights Defenders Coalition / Coalition Togolaise des Défenseurs des Droits Humains (CTDDH)
    42. Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition International (TASSC)
    43. West African Human Rights Defenders Network / Réseau Ouest Africain des Défenseurs des Droits Humains (ROADDH/WAHRDN)
    44. Watch Democracy Grow
    45. Women’s Centre for Guidance and Legal Awareness (WCGLA) – Egypt

    62. 17 additional organisations join this letter, which brings the total number of signatories to 62. In light of the security environment they face, their name is kept confidential.

     

    Civic space in Cameroon is rated as Repressed by the CIVICUS Monitor.

     

     

     

     

  • Cameroun : L'action de l'ONU est nécessaire pour faire face à la crise des droits humains

    Lettre conjointe

    Aux Représentants permanents des États Membres et Observateurs du Conseil des droits de l’homme des Nations Unies (Genève, Suisse)

    Une action multilatérale robuste est nécessaire pour répondre à la crise au Cameroun


    Madame, Monsieur le Représentant permanent,

    Nous soussignées, organisations de la société civile, sommes gravement préoccupées par les viola-tions graves et persistantes des droits humains au Cameroun. Alors que le Conseil des droits de l’homme de l’ONU (ci-après « CDH » ou « Conseil ») s’apprête à tenir sa 47ème session, du 21 juin au 15 juillet 2021, nous exhortons votre délégation à soutenir une action multilatérale en réponse à la crise des droits humains dans le pays, sous la forme d’une intervention orale conjointe. Cette intervention devrait comporter des indicateurs de progrès qui, s’ils étaient remplis, constitue-raient pour le Cameroun un chemin vers l’amélioration de sa situation. Si, à l’inverse, ces indica-teurs restaient lettre morte, l’intervention orale conjointe ouvrirait alors la voie à une action plus formelle du Conseil, notamment (mais pas nécessairement uniquement) une résolution instituant un mécanisme d’enquête et de redevabilité.

    Au cours des quatre dernières années, les organisations de la société civile ont appelé le Gouvernement du Cameroun, les groupes séparatistes armés et les autres acteurs non étatiques impliqués à mettre un terme aux violations et atteintes aux droits humains1. Compte tenu de l’incapacité des institutions came-rounaises à garantir la justice et la redevabilité, la société civile a également appelé les organes et méca-nismes africains et internationaux de protection des droits humains à enquêter, surveiller et faire rapport publiquement sur la situation au Cameroun.

    Un niveau élevé d’attention au Cameroun, d’un côté, et, de l’autre, dialogue et coopération, ne s’exclu-ent pas mutuellement. Au contraire, ils sont de nature à se renforcer. Ils visent le même objectif : aider le Gouvernement camerounais à mettre fin aux violations, à garantir la justice et la reddition des comp-tes et à remplir ses obligations en termes de droits humains. À cet égard, l’établissement d’une coopé-ration entre le Bureau de la Haute-Commissaire des Nations Unies aux droits de l’homme (HCDH) et le Gouvernement du Cameroun, à la suite de la visite à Yaoundé de la Haute-Commissaire, Michelle Bachelet, en mai 20192, et s’appuyant sur les capacités du bureau régional du HCDH pour l’Afrique centrale (CARO)3, est un pas en avant.

    Toutefois, depuis qu’un groupe de 39 États a co-signé une intervention orale conjointe lors de la 40ème session du CDH (mars 2019) et en dépit de la visite de la Haute-Commissaire, de la tenue d’un dialogue national et de la présence du HCDH dans le pays, les violations se sont poursuivies. Certaines d’entre elles, commises par les forces gouvernementales et des groupes armés non étatiques, pourraient être constitutives de crimes de droit international. L’impunité demeure la norme.

    Dans les régions anglophones du Nord-Ouest et du Sud-Ouest, les atteintes perpétrées par les sépara-tistes armés et les forces gouvernementales continuent de causer des pertes en vies humaines et d’af-fecter la sécurité, les droits et les moyens de subsistance des habitants. Les griefs ayant donné naissance à la « crise anglophone » demeurent intacts4. Dans l’Extrême Nord, le groupe armé Boko Haram conti-

    nue à commettre des violations à l’encontre de la population civile. Par leur réponse aux menaces sécu-ritaires, les forces de sécurité ont également commis de graves violations des droits humains. Dans le reste du pays, les autorités camerounaises ont intensifié leur répression des membres et soutiens de l’opposition politique, des manifestants, des professionnels des médias et des acteurs de la société civile, notamment via des actes de harcèlement, des menaces, des arrestations arbitraires et des détenions.

    Le Cameroun fait partie des crises des droits humains face auxquelles le Conseil des droits de l’homme a échoué à formuler une réponse appropriée. L’inaction d’autres organes (notamment l’Union africaine (UA) et le Conseil de sécurité des Nations Unies), rend d’autant plus indispensable l’envoi par le CDH d’un message clair, qui élève son niveau de surveillance et d’engagement.

    Nous pensons qu’une action multilatérale plus robuste est nécessaire. Lors de la 47ème session du Conseil, nous exhortons les États Membres et Observateurs à soutenir, au minimum, une inter-vention orale conjointe. Cette intervention devrait indiquer clairement que si le Cameroun échouait à prendre des mesures concrètes pour enquêter sur les violations des droits humains, garantir la reddition des comptes et améliorer sa situation des droits humains, une action plus formelle du Conseil s’ensuivrait sous la forme d’une résolution instituant un mécanisme d’en-quête et de redevabilité.

    Une intervention orale conjointe devrait :

    • Répondre aux violations et atteintes commises à la fois par les forces gouvernementales et par les groupes armés non étatiques dans le Nord-Ouest, le Sud-Ouest, l’Extrême Nord et d’autres régions du Cameroun, et exhorter toutes les parties à mettre un terme immédiat à ces violations et atteintes ;
    • Rappeler au Gouvernement camerounais sa responsabilité primaire de protéger sa population des crimes et autres violations des droits humains ;
    • Exhorter le Gouvernement camerounais, en coopération avec le HCDH et les organisations came-rounaises de défense des droits humains, à mettre au point et à appliquer une feuille de route pour les réformes en matière de droits humains et la redevabilité, dans le but de prévenir des violations supplémentaires et de garantir la reddition des comptes, ceci dans le cadre d’un effort global de règlement de la crise que traverse le pays, en particulier dans les régions du Nord-Ouest et du Sud-Ouest, ainsi que le conflit armé dans la région de l’Extrême Nord ;
    • Au surplus, l’intervention conjointe devrait définir des indicateurs de progrès devant être remplis par le Gouvernement du Cameroun afin de démontrer la réalité de tout progrès en termes de droits humains, y compris en :
      • mettant un terme immédiat aux violations commises à l’encontre des membres et des soutiens de l’op-position, des professionnels et organes des médias, des manifestants et des membres de la société civile, notamment avocats, responsables syndicaux, professeurs et défenseurs et organisations des droits hu-mains ;
      • libérant les prisonniers de conscience ;
      • respectant pleinement les droits humains de tous les citoyens camerounais, notamment leurs droit à la liberté d’opinion et d’expression, de réunion pacifique et d’association, ainsi que leur droit à la vie, à la liberté et à la sûreté ;
      • coopérant pleinement avec le HCDH, y compris en lui permettant un accès sans entrave aux régions du Nord-Ouest et du Sud-Ouest, afin qu’il y conduise des enquêtes et un travail de surveillance de la situation et de rédaction de rapports publics ;
      • coopérant pleinement avec le Conseil et ses mécanismes, conformément aux obligations du Cameroun en tant que Membre du Conseil, y compris en permettant aux titulaires de mandats de procédures spé-ciales d’accéder au pays ;
      • fournissant un accès plein et sans entrave aux organisations et aux travailleurs humanitaires et de pro-tection des droits humains – ceci inclut la restauration de l’accès au pays pour les organisations non gouvernementales (ONG) internationales afin qu’elles puissent faire rapport sur la situation des droits humains dans le pays ; et
      • coopérant avec les organes et mécanismes régionaux, y compris la Commission africaine des droits de l’homme et des peuples (CADHP)5.
    • Encourager la Haute-Commissaire aux droits de l’homme à rendre publiques les conclusions des enquêtes menées en 2019 par le HCDH dans les régions anglophones et à fournir des mises à jour régulières au Conseil, notamment en tenant des briefings ou des conversations informelles avec les Membres et Observateurs, entre les sessions. Ces mises à jour devraient inclure des informa-tions sur son dialogue avec les autorités camerounaises, la situation dans le pays et le travail du HCDH dans le pays ;
    • Encourager les États à augmenter leurs contributions volontaires en faveur des activités du HCDH, notamment pour le travail du bureau régional du HCDH pour l’Afrique centrale au Cameroun et en Afrique centrale ; et
    • Indiquer clairement que si le Cameroun échouait à prendre des mesures concrètes pour améliorer sa situation et démontrer des progrès en termes de droits humains d’ici à la 48ème session du Conseil (13 septembre-1er octobre 2021), une action plus formelle du Conseil s’ensuivrait, sous un point de l’ordre du jour approprié.

    Nous vous remercions de l’attention que vous porterez à ces préoccupations et nous tenons prêts à fournir à votre délégation toute information supplémentaire.

    Dans l’attente, nous vous prions de croire, Madame, Monsieur le Représentant permanent, en l’assu-rance de notre haute considération.


    1. Africa Call – South Sudan
    2. AfricanDefenders (Pan-African Human Rights Defenders Network)
    3. Amnesty International
    4. Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
    5. CDDH – Benin
    6. Center for Human Rights Defenders Zimbabwe (CHRDZ)
    7. CIVICUS 8. Club Humanitaire sans Frontières (CHF)
    9. Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI)
    10. Community Empowerment for Progress Organization (CEPO) – South Sudan
    11. DefendDefenders (East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project)
    12. Defenders Coalition – Kenya
    13. Dialogue and Research Institute (DRI) – South Sudan
    14. Dignity Association – Sierra Leone
    15. Economic Justice Network Sierra Leone
    16. Franciscans International
    17. Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect
    18. HAKI Africa
    19. HRDSNET Uganda Ltd – Human Rights Defenders Solidarity Network
    20. Human Rights Defenders Network – Sierra Leone
    21. Human Rights Watch
    22. Initiative for Plataforma das Organizações Lusófonas dos Direitos Humanos (POLDH)
    23. International Civil Society Action Network (ICAN)
    24. International Refugee Rights Initiative
    25. International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)
    26. Kenya Human Rights Commission
    27. National Alliance of Women Lawyers (NAWL) – South Sudan
    28. Network of the Independent Commission for Human rights in North Africa
    29. Nouvelle Génération de la Cinématographie Guinéenne (NOGECIG)
    30. Oasis Network for Community Transformation
    31. Pan African Lawyers Union
    32. Partnership for Justice, Lagos – Nigeria
    33. Protection International – Kenya (PIK)
    34. Raise The Young Foundation
    35. REDRESS
    36. Réseau des Organisations de la Société Civile pour l’Observation et le Suivi des Élections en Guinée (ROSE)
    37. Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network (SAHRDN)
    38. South Sudan Human Rights Defenders Network (SSHRDN)
    39. Tanzania Human Rights Defenders Coalition (THRDC)
    40. The Independent Medico-Legal Unit
    41. Togolese Human Rights Defenders Coalition / Coalition Togolaise des Défenseurs des Droits Humains (CTDDH)
    42. Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition International (TASSC)
    43. West African Human Rights Defenders Network / Réseau Ouest Africain des Défenseurs des Droits Humains (ROADDH/WAHRDN)
    44. Watch Democracy Grow
    45. Women’s Centre for Guidance and Legal Awareness (WCGLA) – Egypt

    62. 17 organisations supplémentaires se joignent à cette lettre, portant le nombre total de signataires à 62. En raison du contexte sécuritaire auquel elles font face, leur nom demeure confidentiel.

    L'espace civique au Cameroun est classé comme Réprimé par CIVICUS Monitor.

     

  • Campaign to Whitewash Saudi Arabia’s Image Does Little for Women in the Kingdom

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    This article was facilitated by CIVICUS as part of a series on the current state of civil society organisations (CSOs)

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    Read on: Inter Press Service

     

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    By Masana Ndinga-Kanga, Crisis Response Fund Coordinator and Advocacy Officer for the Middle East/North Africa region and Lyndal Rowlands, CIVICUS UN Advocacy Officer.

    Can an influential African country that was once celebrated as a champion of human rights help hold a powerful Middle East nation to account for its atrocious human rights record? That will be the question on the lips of some observers when South Africa joins the United Nations Security Council in January for a one-year term as a non-permanent member. 

    Read on: News24