Saudi Arabia

  • ¿Puede S.A. mantener su reputación en materia de derechos humanos en el Consejo de Seguridad de las Naciones Unidas?

    Por Masana Ndinga-Kanga, coordinadora del Fondo de Respuesta a las Crisis y responsable de incidencia para la región de Oriente Medio y África del Norte y Lyndal Rowlands, responsable de incidencia en Naciones Unidas de CIVICUS 

    ¿Puede un influyente país africano que alguna vez fue vitoreado como campeón de los derechos humanos ayudar a que una poderosa nación de Oriente Medio rinda cuentas de su atroz historial en materia de derechos humanos? Esa será la pregunta en boca de algunos observadores cuando Sudáfrica se una al Consejo de Seguridad de las Naciones Unidas en el mes de enero para un mandato de un año como miembro no permanente.

    Para leer el artículo en inglés: News24

  • 36 States stand with Saudi women human rights defenders

    Human Rights Council Stands with Saudi Women Human Rights Defenders

    Since early 2018, tens of women human rights defenders have been detained in Saudi Arabia for their human rights work. Last week, a cross-regional group of 36 States, including all EU Member States, called for the release of detained women human rights defenders in Saudi Arabia. This statement sent a strong message to the Saudi authorities that the Council will hold it accountable for human rights violations. The joint statement at the Council comes at a critical time as the Saudi Public Prosecution announced last week that some of the defenders will be referred to trial. 

    During the interactive dialogue held last week with the UN High Commissioner at the Human Rights Council, 36 States*, led by Iceland, called on Saudi Arabia to release women human rights defenders who are detained for exercising their fundamental freedoms. States also condemned the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and demanded that those responsible be held accountable.

    International Service for Human Rights, the Gulf Centre for Human Rights, Women’s March Global, CIVICUS and Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain - have been advocating for the immediate and unconditional release of Saudi women human rights defenders. Ahead of the 40th session of the Council, over 50 NGOs called on UN Member States to adopt a resolution at the Council calling explicitly for the immediate and unconditional release of the detained Saudi women human rights defenders and establishing a monitoring mechanism over the human rights violations in the country.

    Salma El Hosseiny, ISHR’s Human Rights Council Advocate welcomed the leadership of Iceland for this landmark statement and criticised other states who didn’t join; and said that “this was the first time ever States at the Council collectively condemned human rights violations committed inside Saudi Arabia, a country that has until now escaped Council scrutiny despite being a Council member with an appalling human rights record. The Saudi authorities, as Council members, now have an opportunity to engage constructively with the Council and immediately release the defenders. States should follow up on the joint statement by presenting a resolution at the June session if inadequate progress has been made.” said El Hosseiny. 

    "We appreciate last week’s joint statement, a one of a kind initiative that followed tireless advocacy efforts by members of the Free Saudi Women Coalition. It's heartening to see this resolution calling for the release of ten prominent women human rights defenders, some of whom were subjected to severe torture and ill-treatment. Yet, we shouldn't forget that there are many more in prison who can't be named out of fear for potential reprisals to them and their families. Some family members have been targeted already. We will continue to work and advocate to ensure that all defenders are free from prison and retaliation and that their perpetrators are held accountable," said Weaam Youssef, WHRDs Programme Coordinator of the GCHR.

     “We welcome this joint statement from members states at the UNHRC,” said Masana Ndinga-Kanga MENA Advocacy Lead at CIVICUS. “We see this as the first step of a much more rigorous process of accountability for complete impunity towards human rights defenders. More needs to be done to protect civil society in Saudi Arabia.” Saudi Arabia is rated closed on the CIVICUS Monitor.

    "This is a very big step for the 36 member states who have come forward to take - yet we are disappointed that more have not followed" said Uma Mishra-Newbery, Executive Director at Women's March Global. "This step shows that while progress is being made and the work of our coalition is making a difference, more work still needs to be done in holding Saudi Arabia accountable. We are concerned with every passing day at the safety of these activists and hope that member states will continue to keep pressure on Saudi Arabia."

    "We welcome the joint statement on Saudi Arabia and calling attention to the country's systematic rights abuses. We remain concerned over the ongoing detentions of women rights defenders, journalists, and other peaceful critics of the government. We call on Saudi Arabia to release all prisoners of conscience to undertake serious and good faith steps to bring its domestic laws into line with international standards, in particular the country's overly broad counter-terror law." Tyler Pry, Advocacy Officer, ADHRB.

    The joint statement called for the release of Loujain Al-Hathloul, Aziza Al-Yousef, Eman Al-Nafjan, Nouf Abdelaziz, Hatoon Al-Fassi, Samar Badawi, Nassima Al-Sadah, Mohammed Al-Bajadi, Amal Al-Harbi and Shadan Al-Anezi. Some of the women have been subject to electrocution, flogging, sexual harassment and other forms of torture.

    Saudi Arabia has silenced women human rights defenders for decades and those named above are not the only ones in prison, they are just emblematic cases. The decision by the Saudi government to allow women to drive is only a cosmetic change that fails to address the root causes of discrimination against women: the male guardianship system. 

    * The States who signed the joint statement are: Iceland, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Austria, Belgium, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Portugal, Finland, Germany, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Estonia, Czech Republic, Croatia, Denmark, Norway, Latvia, Montenegro, Malta, Slovakia, Liechtenstein, Italy, Bulgaria, France, Romania, Greece, Cyprus, Hungary, Poland, and Monaco.

    Read the joint statement here.

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

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

  • A year after imprisoned Saudi activist Abdullah al-Hamid’s passing, NGOs call for accountability & release of all HRDs

    April 24, 2021 marks one year since prominent Saudi human rights defender Dr Abdullah al-Hamid passed away, while serving an 11-year prison sentence on politically motivated charges. Before his passing, Dr al-Hamid was suffering from heart conditions and was advised to undergo surgery. However, prison authorities delayed his operation for several months, leading to the deterioration of his health. As a consequence, on April 9, 2020, he suffered a stroke in al-Ha’ir prison, entered into a coma, and eventually passed away. 

  • A year on, NGOs amplify calls for justice and accountability for Jamal Khashoggi's murder

    On 2 October 2018, Jamal Khashoggi entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to obtain official documents in order to get married, but he did not make it out alive. He was brutally killed inside the consulate in what the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Dr Agnes Callamard, called a “premeditated extrajudicial killing” for which the state of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is responsible.

    Khashoggi was a well-known Saudi journalist and intellectual who, due to safety concerns and the inability to continue his work inside Saudi Arabia, decided to live in self-imposed exile in the United States. He was a firm promoter of freedom of speech and press freedom in the Arab world. While he was no outright opponent of the Saudi royal family and did not call for regime change in the country, he criticised the arrest of human rights defenders and the reform plans of the Crown Prince. This alone may have been enough to seal his fate.

    After more than two weeks of deception and denial about his death, on 19 October 2018 the Saudi authorities admitted that Khashoggi had been killed inside the consulate by a group of men connected to the authorities, but continued to deny any direct knowledge or responsibility for the crime. One year after his murder, the remains of Khashoggi’s body are still missing and have not been returned to his family. The Saudi authorities implicated 11 individuals responsible for Khashoggi’s killing, some of whom face the death penalty. They are currently being tried in the Specialised Criminal Court, a jurisdiction notorious for violations of fair trial guarantees. The trial proceedings remain in large part secret, and criminal responsibility in the chain of command has not yet been established.

    Khashoggi’s death sparked outrage and was widely condemned. In the days and weeks following his killing, the international community began to ask questions and to demand clarity. The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights issued several press releases, while the UN Special Procedures on enforced disappearance, summary executions and freedom of expression issued a joint Urgent Appeal. Moreover, the UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, stressed the need for a prompt, thorough and transparent investigation into the circumstances of Khashoggi’s death and full accountability for those responsible.

    On 24 October 2018, the EU Parliament issued a resolution urging the Saudi authorities to disclose the whereabouts of Khashoggi’s remains. In addition to demanding an independent and impartial international investigation into the journalist’s death, the resolution also classified it as being part of a pattern of a widespread crackdown against prominent human rights defenders, women activists, lawyers, journalists, writers and bloggers, which has intensified since Mohammad bin Salman began consolidating control over the country’s security institutions. It stated that the systematic practice of enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings could amount to a crime against humanity. Lastly, it requested that the perpetrators of Khashoggi’s murder be identified and brought to justice, following a fair trial held in accordance with international standards before an impartial court and with international observers present.

    On 5 November, 2018, Saudi Arabia’s human rights record was examined by UN Member States as part of the third cycle of the Universal Periodic Review. The killing of Khashoggi was raised extensively during the review and featured heavily among the 258 recommendations the Saudi authorities received to improve the human rights situation in the country. At least 27 states raised concerns about Khashoggi’s extrajudicial killing, with many reiterating the need for a transparent, impartial, independent and effective investigation.

    In January 2019, Dr Callamard decided on her own initiative and under the terms of her mandate as UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions to open a special human rights investigation into Khashoggi’s killing.

    On 7 March 2019, in a landmark initiative, a group of 36 UN Member States led by Iceland delivered a joint statement during the 40th session of the Human Rights Council (HRC) expressing serious concern over the human rights situation in Saudi Arabia and condemning in the strongest possible terms the killing of Khashoggi. The statement reiterated the call for a prompt, independent, impartial and transparent investigation into his murder and stressed the need to protect journalists and to uphold the right to freedom of expression.

    During the 41st session of the HRC, on 19 June 2019, Dr Callamard presented her report, which concluded that the murder of Khashoggi was “overseen, planned and endorsed by high-level state officials of Saudi Arabia”. The Special Rapporteur found that both the investigations conducted by Saudi Arabia and Turkey failed to meet international standards and that the ongoing trial in Saudi Arabia of 11 suspects, while seemingly an important step towards accountability, also fails to meet international fair trial standards. Dr Callamard believes that the killing of Khashoggi constitutes an international crime over which states should claim universal jurisdiction. Asserting that her human rights inquiry is not a substitute for a criminal investigation or a court of law, the UN Special Rapporteur called on the Human Rights Council, the Security Council or the UN Secretary-General to demand a follow-up criminal investigation.

    Most recently, on 23 September 2019, during the 42nd session of the HRC, Australia delivered a joint statement on behalf of 23 UN Member States raising concerns over the persecution and intimidation of activists, the practice of enforced disappearance and arbitrary detention, and reports of torture and unfair trials as well as extrajudicial executions. Furthermore, the statement called for an end to impunity over the murder of Khashoggi and highlighted the need for the truth to be established and accountability achieved. We deeply regret that a number of states that had joined the March 2019 statement have now decided to no longer support this immediate call for action. We would like to highlight that states still have the possibility to become co-signatories until 11 October 2019.

    Additionally, during the course of the past year and as a response to Khashoggi’s murder as well as the war in Yemen, some governments have suspended weapon sales to Saudi Arabia.

    While we welcome the appeals, pledges and measures taken by some states over the past year and consider them as steps in the right direction towards accountability for the murder of Khashoggi, more tangible actions must follow. There is an undeniable risk that with big events scheduled to take place in Saudi Arabia in 2020, such as the G20 summit and the famous Dakar Rally, state-to-state relations could normalise. We cannot stand by and allow the return of business as usual as this would mean that Khashoggi died in vain and that there is little hope for hundreds of other unlawfully disappeared, detained, tortured or executed activists whose cases failed to attract similar levels of international attention.  

    As Dr Callamard rightly said during a side event at the 42nd session of the HRC: “While one year must feel like a lifetime to Khashoggi’s family and friends, in human justice time and the search for truth it is very brief. Thus we should not lose sight of what we are trying to achieve; we should not lose hope and courage that justice can be attained.” In that spirit, the undersigned organisations renew their call for action, demanding the following:

    We call on the international community, and in particular the UN, to:

    1. Take action to ensure that a further impartial, prompt, thorough, independent and effective criminal investigation into the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi is opened;
    2. Ensure that all perpetrators of the crime, including those at the head of the chain of command, are identified and prosecuted in a fair and transparent trial without recourse to the death penalty;
    3. Establish an immediate moratorium on all arms sales and exports of surveillance technology to Saudi Arabia;
    4. Co-sign the joint statement led by Australia on behalf of 23 UN Member States by 11 October;
    5. Introduce and endorse a UN resolution establishing a monitoring mechanism over the human rights situation in Saudi Arabia; and
    6. Urge the authorities in Saudi Arabia to implement the recommendations below.

    We call on the authorities in Saudi Arabia to:

    1. Return the remains of Khashoggi’s body to his family;
    2. Invite independent international experts to oversee investigations into his murder; cooperate in good faith with all UN mechanisms; and ensure that those responsible for his death are brought to justice;
    3. Immediately and unconditionally release all human rights defenders, writers, journalists and prisoners of conscience in Saudi Arabia whose detention is a result of their peaceful and legitimate work in the promotion and protection of fundamental human rights;
    4. Establish a moratorium on the death penalty, including as punishment for crimes related to the exercise of the rights to freedom of opinion and expression, and peaceful assembly;
    5. Guarantee in all circumstances that all human rights defenders and journalists in Saudi Arabia are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities and public reporting without fear of reprisals; and
    6. Ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and bring all national laws limiting the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association into compliance with international human rights standards.

    List of signatories:

    • ALQST
    • Americans for Democracy and Human Rights
    • Amnesty International
    • English PEN
    • European Center for Democracy and Human Rights
    • European Saudi Organisation for Human Rights
    • Gulf Center for Human Rights
    • Index on Censorship
    • International Service for Human Rights
    • MENA Rights Group
    • PEN America
    • Rights Realisation Centre
    • World Organisation Against Torture
  • Advocacy priorities at 42nd Session of UN Human Rights Council (September)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Current council members:

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

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

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

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

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

    see individual member country ratings - ...

    Country-specific situations

    The Philippines (Civic space rating:Obstructed)

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

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

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

    Burundi (Civic space rating:Closed)

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

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

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

    Cambodia (Civic space rating:Repressed)

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

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

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

    Saudi Arabia (Civic space rating: Closed)

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

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

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

    China (Civic space rating:Closed)

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

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

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

    Thematic situations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Current council members:

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

    Civic space ratings from the CIVICUS Monitor



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Instamos a las autoridades de Arabia Saudita a que:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

    By Uma Mishra-Newbery, Interim Executive Director of Women’s March Global, which is a founding member of the Free Saudi Women Coalition & Kristina Stockwood works with the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR)

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

    Amid a high-profile public relations campaign to convince the world just how much the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is modernising – highlighted in last year’s lifting of the ban on women driving – Saudi authorities continue their relentless persecution of women human rights defenders. A trial that has drawn international condemnation and intensified criticism of the country’s human rights record, features nine women who were arrested in 2018 for campaigning for the right to drive and an end to the Kingdom’s male guardianship system.

    Read on: Inter Press Service

  • Can SA uphold its reputation for human rights on the UN Security Council?

    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

  • CIVICUS UN Universal Periodic Review submissions on civil society space

    CIVICUS and its partners have submitted joint and stand-alone UN Universal Periodic Review (UPR) submissions on eight countries to the UN Human Rights Council in advance of the 31st UPR session (November 2018). The submissions examine the state of civil society in each country, including the promotion and protection of the rights to freedom of association, assembly and expression and the environment for human rights defenders. We further provide an assessment of the States’ domestic implementation of civic space recommendations received during the second UPR cycle over 4-years ago and provide a number of targeted follow-up recommendations.

    Countries examined: Chad, China, Jordan, Malaysia, Mexico, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia and Senegal

    Chad EN or FR -CIVICUS and Réseau Des Défenseurs Droits Humains en Afrique Centrale (REDHAC) examine ongoing attacks on and intimidation, harassment and judicial persecution of HRDs, leaders of citizen movements and CSO representatives. We further discuss restrictions on the freedoms of assembly and association in Chad including through lengthy bans and violent repression of protests and the targeting of unions which protest against austerity measures or the reduction of salaries for workers.

    China - CIVICUS and the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) outline serious concerns related to the escalation of repression against human rights defenders, particularly since 2015, which Chinese activists described as one of the worst years in the ongoing crackdown on peaceful activism. The submission also describes unlawful restrictions on the freedom of association, including through the Charity Law and the Law on the Administration of Activities of Overseas Nongovernmental Organizations. CIVICUS and AHRC call on the government of China to immediately release all HRDs arrested as part of the “709 crackdown” and repeal all laws restricting civic space in China.

    Jordan -CIVICUS, the Arab NGO Network for Development (ANND) and Phenix Center highlight the lack of implementation of recommendations on the right to freedom of association. Current legislation governing the formation and operation of civil society organisations (CSOs), including trade unions, imposes severe restrictions on the establishment and operation of CSOs. We are also concerned by the restrictive legal framework that regulates the right to freedom of expression and the authorities’ routine use of these laws to silent critical voices.

    Malaysia - CIVICUS and Pusat KOMAS highlight a range of restrictive laws used to constrain freedom of association and to investigate and prosecute government critics and peaceful protesters, in their exercise of the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. We also raise concerns about the harassment of and threats against HRDs as well as the increasing use of arbitrary travel bans by the government to deter their freedom of movement.

    Mexico (ES) - CIVICUS and the Front for the Freedom of Expression and Social Protest (Frente por la Libertad de Expresión y la Protesta Social - FLEPS) address concerns regarding the threats, attacks and extrajudicial killings of HRDs and journalists for undertaking their legitimate work. The submission further examines the multiple ways in which dissent is stifled through stigmatisation, criminalisation and violent suppression of social protests and restrictions on freedom of expression and independent media.

    Nigeria - CIVICUS and the Nigeria Network of NGOs (NNGO) examine the difficult operating environment for journalists who are routinely harassed, beaten and sometime killed for carrying out their journalistic work. CIVICUS and the NNGO are concerned by the actions of some officers of the Department of State Services who are at the forefront of persecuting human rights defenders.

    Saudi Arabia - CIVICUS, the European Saudi Organization for Human Rights (ESOHR) and Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB) address Saudi Arabia’s continued targeting and criminalization of civil society and human rights activists, particularly under the auspices of its counter-terror laws, which severely undermine the freedoms of association, expression and assembly.

    Senegal - CIVICUS and the Coalition Sénégalaise des Défenseurs des Droits Humains (COSEDDH) document a number of violations of the freedom of expression and restrictions on media outlets. In particular we discuss the continued criminalisation of press offences in the new Press Code, including criminal defamation, among other restrictive provisions. Since its last UPR examination, implementation gaps were found with regard to the rights to the freedom of expression and issues relating to the freedom of peaceful assembly.

  • Countries of concern at the Human Rights Council

    42nd Session of the UN Human Rights Council
    Countries of concern

    Civic space restrictions often precede wider human rights abuses. In order to prevent further repression, we would like to draw the Council’s attention to the following:

    Last year, several civil society organisations raised Tanzania’s worrying decline in respect for fundamental freedoms. Now, sweeping new legislation, rushed through its parliament in June, places new punitive restrictions on CSOs in the country. As the situation deteriorates further, the time left for the Council to take preventative action is running out.

    In Honduras, the government’s violent response to peaceful protests have left at least three dead, including a 17-year-old student, and many more injured. Honduras has become one of the world’s most dangerous countries for human rights defenders facing constant violence, criminalization, and slander. 

    The past 40 days have seen severe restrictions to fundamental rights in Kashmir. Sweeping internet blackouts have had serious implications on freedom of expression and access to information. There have been reports of restrictions on movement and numerous ongoing arrests, including of activists, and we call on the Council to establish an independent international investigation into allegations of human rights violations.

    We are concerned that elections in Kazakhstan were marred by serious restrictions to freedom of peaceful assembly and of expression. Crackdowns on protests related to the elections, and persecution of journalists, marked yet another regressive measure to silence dissent in Kazakhstan.

    Finally, CIVICUS remains deeply concerned about the situation in Saudi Arabia. At the last Council Session, we joined other CSOs to call for a monitoring mechanism in Saudi Arabia. No action has been taken, women human rights defenders remain detained, the space for participation remains virtually non-existent, and investigations into the killing of Jamal Kashoggi remained shrouded in lack of transparency. It is past time for the Council to take action on Saudi Arabia and we reiterate calls on the Council to address human rights violations with the utmost urgency.

  • Detention and disappearance of activists is widespread

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Five countries added to watchlist of countries where civic freedoms are under serious threat


    • Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, Sudan, and Venezuela join global watchlist
    • Escalating rights violations include killings, attacks on protesters, media restrictions and arbitrary detentions of human rights defenders
    • International community must pressure governments to end repression

    Five countries from Asia, the Middle East, Africa, Europe and Latin America have been added to a watchlist of countries which have seen a rapid decline in fundamental freedoms in recent weeks and months. The new watchlist released by the CIVICUS Monitor, an online platform that tracks threats to civil society across the globe, identifies growing concerns in Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, Sudan, and Venezuela.

    Activists and civil society organisations in these countries are experiencing an infringement of their civic freedoms as protected by international law. These violations include the use of excessive force by security forces during peaceful protests and journalists being arbitrarily detained and harrassed in both Sudan and Venezuela. In Serbia, space for independent media is under concerted attack while massive anti-government demonstrations are taking place. In Saudi Arabia, authorities continue the crackdown on women human rights defenders, who are being subject to arbitrary detentions and ill treatment for their activism on gender issues. While, in Afghanistan, there has been a record high number of civilian casualties (3,800 in 2018). The upcoming July presidential elections pose additional security risks and a threat to shrinking civic space, as over 400 civilians and voters were killed or injured (including eight candidates), during last October’s parliamentary elections.

    “It is deeply concerning to see escalated threats to basic rights in these countries,” said Ms. Barreto, CIVICUS Civic Space Research Lead. “It is critical that these five governments wake up to their failure to respect international law and take swift action to respect their citizens’ most basic freedoms in a democratic society and create an enabling environment for civil society organisations” Belalba said. “We also call upon neighbouring states and international bodies to put pressure on these countries to end the repression and ensure positive steps are taken to guarantee the safe space for civil society to continue their legitimate work”

    Large-scale anti-government demonstrations have been ongoing across Sudan since 19th December 2018 calling for President Omar Al-Bashir to step down in the context of a growing frustration over the harsh economic and social situation. In response, the authorities have launched a violent campaign targeting protesters, including doctors, teachers, journalists, women activists and opposition political leaders. With the declaration of a state of emergency, civic space restrictions continue to increase with hundreds of protesters on trial and dozens sentenced in summary trials on charges of participating in demonstrations.

    Serbia has witnessed sustained protest since December 2018. Protests started after an opposition politician was assaulted by unknown assailants wielding metal rods. For the most part, authorities in Serbia have largely ignored or attempted to downplay the scale of the protests. However on 17th March 2019 after 14 consecutive weeks of demonstrations, police in Belgrade used excessive force to disperse protesters that were calling for greater press freedom and fair elections. After encircling the Presidential building, clashes between protesters and police broke out, leading to the use of tear gas by Serbian authorities. Ten people were arrested in the confrontation. The government has also orchestrated a smear campaign against protesters  labelling opponents of the government as “paid” activists working against Serbian interests.

    Despite claims that the Saudi Arabian government is leading reforms to improve the situation of women in the country, Saudi authorities continue to persecute women activists. Since the crackdown began in May 2018, at least 22 women human rights defenders have been arrested and subjected to human rights violations because of their activism on gender issues. Reports indicate that several detained rights defenders have been subjected to torture including sexual assault and harassment.

    In Venezuela, since January 2019, massive anti-government protests have continued to take place in the country. The government has responded by using excessive force against demonstrators, arbitrarily detaining protestors, including teenagers, as well as detaining and harassing human rights defenders and journalists. Just between 21 and 25 January, at least 41 people died in circumstances linked to the protests,and more than 900 people were arbitrarily detained. For years, protesters in Venezuela have been met with excessive force by authorities, as people take to the streets to demand a change in government, the pattern of repression will likely intensify. Human rights organisations working to deliver humanitarian aid are especially targeted with harassment, and in some cases, their offices have been raided. It is estimated that more than three million venezuelans have fled the country due to the humanitarian crisis and denial of basic rights such as health and food.

    Since the beginning of 2019, at least three journalists have been killed in Afghanistan. The country was the world's deadliest for journalists in 2018 with 13 reporters and 2 other media professionals killed. Citizens risk being killed and attacked for participating in government elections and civil society is currently excluded from peace negotiations between the Taliban and the United States (U.S.), and parallel peace talks in Moscow. Women’s groups and persecuted communities are campaigning to have their voices heard in the peace process, and to ensure that any agreement guarantees human rights and democratic freedoms.

    In the coming weeks, the CIVICUS Monitor will closely track developments in each of these countries as part of efforts to ensure greater pressure is brought to bear on governments. CIVICUS calls upon these governments to do everything in their power to immediately end the ongoing crackdowns and ensure that perpetrators are held to account.

    See full CIVICUS Monitor Watchlist Summary

  • Free Saudi Activists commemorate 2-Year anniversary of the Saudi government's arrest of women's rights defenders


  • Free Saudi Activists commemorating 2-year anniversary of the Saudi government’s arrest & torture of WHRDs

    On 15 May, Free Saudi Activists, a coalition of women human rights defenders and organisations advocating for the release of women’s rights activists from prison, is hosting a webinar to update the public on the status of those who were arrested two years ago for calling for the dismantling of the male guardianship system and defying the government’s ban on women driving. The arrests involved approximately a dozen women human rights defenders (WHRDs), including Loujain Al-Hathloul, who remains in prison along with other activists. Reports suggest that these WHRDs have been subject to multiple human rights violations under Saudi authority, including electric shocks, flogging, and sexual assault, and have been denied due process.

    In addition to updating the public on the prisoners’ status, webinar panelists will address the state of women’s human rights across Saudi Arabia, as well as the coalition’s campaign progress and future advocacy efforts.  

    What:   Representatives from the Free Saudi Activists Coalition will participate in a 1 hour webinar to commemorate the two-year anniversary of the arrest of women human rights defenders. Panelists will provide an update on the human rights violations suffered by those who remain behind bars in Saudi Arabia, as well as a more comprehensive assessment of the state of women’s human rights in the kingdom. Free Saudi Activists Coalition members will also discuss their campaign efforts to date and their future plans to secure the unconditional release of the Saudi prisoners. The webinar will be followed by a Twitter storm to help raise awareness.

    When:     Friday, May 15th from 3:00pm-4:00pm GMT +2

    Who:   The event is organized by the Free Saudi Activists coalition, which includes Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB), CIVICUS, Equality Now, Gulf Centre for Human Rights, International Service for Human Rights (ISHR), Women Human Rights Defenders (WHRD) and Women’s March Global. 

    The event will be moderated by:

    UmaMishra-Newbery - Women’s March Global Executive Director 

    Webinar panelists include: 

    Salma El Hosseiny – Programme manager, Human Rights Council, International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)

    Suad Abu-Dayyeh - Middle East and North Africa Consultant, Equality Now

    Husain Abdulla - Founder and Executive Director, Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain 

    Weaam Youssef- Programme Manager, Women Human Rights Defenders Programme, Gulf Centre for Human Rights 

    Masana Ndinga Kanga - Crisis Response Fund and MENA Advocacy Lead, CIVICUS

    Why:   Saudi Arabia has one of the worst international records when it comes to the protection and advancement of women’s human rights. Now more than ever, during the COVID-19 pandemic, those who are arbitrarily detained and at increased risk, must be released - including Saudi activists While Saudi authorities propagate a message of progress on its human rights record, the unlawful arrest and imprisonment of women’s human rights defenders - for peacefully protesting the ban on women driving and calling for the dismantling of the male guardianship system - shows the inherent disconnect between the government’s actions and their alleged push towards respecting its human rights obligations. Continued advocacy by groups like the Free Saudi Activists and coalition members is vital to putting public pressure on Saudi authorities and the international community to hold the government accountable for its actions. 

    How:   Media is invited to attend at any time during the event. 

    Register HERE

    Free Saudi Activists is a coalition of women human rights defenders advocating for the unconditional release of Saudi women’s human rights activists from prison. The coalition includes representatives from the ADHRB, CIVICUS, Equality Now, Gulf Centre for Human Rights, International Service for Human Rights (ISHR), WHRD-MENA and Women’s March Global. 


  • Free Saudi Women Coalition Calls for Immediate Release of Saudi Women Activists

    SaudiArabia JointStatement


    • Coalition of global human rights groups launch a campaign for release of all Saudi women activists behind bars
    • At least 12 women human rights defenders arrested in past six months and have had their rights violated for their activism
    • Almost a quarter of a million signatures on a petition calling on the UN to hold Saudi Arabia accountable 
    • More than 170 NGOs have called on the UN to suspend Saudi Arabia's membership of the UN Human Rights Council and hold inquiry into human rights abuses
    • The coalition calls for action including ending arms sales to Saudi Arabia, which has been enabling war in Yemen since 2015  

    On November 29, the world commemorates International Women Human Rights Defenders Day - just 10 days before the 20th Anniversary of the international signing of the Declaration on human rights defenders. On these important milestones, we turn the spotlight on the rights of women human rights defenders and call attention to serious violations of these rights globally but particularly in Saudi Arabia.

    Since May 2018, at least a dozen women’s rights defenders have been arrested and subject to human rights violations for their activism in Saudi Arabia. Recent reports have emerged that some of the detained women activists have been subject to electrocution, flogging, sexual harassment and other forms of torture. Testimonies recount that this abuse has left some of the women unable to walk or stand properly with uncontrolled shaking and marks on their bodies. One of them has attempted suicide multiple times.

    “Since May we have been advocating for the unconditional release of Saudi Women’s Rights Defenders - and to learn of the torture WHRDs are subject to fuels our work even further,” said Uma Mishra-Newbery,Director of Global Community from Women’s March Global.

    A campaign launched by members of the Free Saudi Women Coalition including Women’s March Global and Coalition partners, the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR), the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR), CIVICUS and Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB), has been advocating for the immediate and unconditional release of Saudi women human rights defenders.

    More than 240,000 signatures have been collected on Women’s March Global’s petition calling on the United Nations to hold Saudi Arabia accountable. More than 170 NGOs have called on the United Nations to suspend Saudi Arabia from the UN Human Rights Council and to hold an inquiry into human rights abuses in the country.

    “Among the women’s rights defenders jailed this year in Saudi Arabia are partners and friends. One young woman was kidnapped and brought to Saudi Arabia against her will – just as the authorities had planned with prominent journalist Jamal Khashoggi who was murdered in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul in October,” said Khalid Ibrahim, GCHR Executive Director.

    “We can’t forget the brave women’s rights defenders who are at risk of torture and abuse in prison, and we fear greatly for their well-being.”

    Notably, Saudi Arabia has silenced women human rights defenders for decades, and those recently arrested are not the only ones in prison, where other women are serving prison sentences or even facing execution for protesting.

    “Authorities continuously violate rights to peaceful assembly, curb the formation of independent civil society organisations, and restrict freedom of expression for Saudi activists” said Masana Ndinga-Kanga, MENA Advocacy Lead from CIVICUS.

    “The very women at the forefront of campaigning for the right to drive, which was recently granted, have been detained for their calls for an end to the male guardianship system over women,” said Ndinga-Kanga.

    The CIVICUS Monitor, an online platform that tracks threats to civil society in all countries around the globe, has rated civic space – the space for civil society – in Saudi Arabia as “closed”.

    “Women human rights defenders in Saudi Arabia, in the absence of any independent NGOs, provide a vital lifeline of support for equality and protection from violence for women of their country who are left with blocked access, inadequate resources or ineffective protection from violence of all forms," said a Saudi human rights defender who can’t be named for their own protection.

    The coalition partners have called for international action, including ending arms sales to Saudi Arabia, which is enabling the war in Yemen since 2015. Salma El Hosseiny, ISHR's Human Rights Council Advocate said that UN Human Rights Council members should call for a Special Session on the increasing internal repression by the Saudi authorities against human rights defenders, journalists and other peaceful critics.

    "Silence by the world's top UN human rights body on these egregious violations would only embolden the Saudi authorities to escalate their internal repression and continue to torture defenders, with complete impunity,” said El Hosseiny.

    “Action by the international community will put Saudi Arabia on notice not only that domestic repression is unacceptable, but that its actions in Yemen are unacceptable,” said Husain Abdulla, ADHRBExecutive Director.

    “We call for accountability for those responsible, not only for the arrests of women’s rights defenders, but the millions facing famine in Yemen, and for the kingdom to meet its international treaty obligations.”

    Women’s March Global, GCHR, ISHR, CIVICUS and ADHRB reiterate calls for Saudi Arabia to immediately release all human rights defenders, including women’s rights activists, and end the abuse and torture of women human rights defenders in prison. The Saudi claims that torture is not taking place in prison are not credible and the international community must act immediately to protect these detainees, especially the women who are reportedly being subjected to torture.

    To arrange interviews or for further information or media assistance, please contact:

    For the CIVICUS Press Centre, click here.
    CIVICUS facebook page
    CIVICUS twitter account

    About CIVICUS:

    CIVICUS is a global alliance of civil society organisations and activists dedicated to strengthening citizen action and civil society throughout the world. Established in 1993 and headquartered in Johannesburg, South Africa, CIVICUS has hubs across the globe and more than 4,000 members in more than 175 countries.

    Photo credit: ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2013/Ayene

  • G20: ‘Civil society is treated as a second-class partner; its recommendations often go unheard’

    CIVICUS speaks with María Emilia Berazategui, Transparency International’s Global Advocacy Coordinator, about the role of civil society in international and inter-governmental forums and the degree to which it can influence decision-making processes, and the successes achieved and challenges encountered in 2019 by the C20, the engagement group for civil society within the G20. Before joining Transparency International, María Emilia led the area of Political Institutions and Government at an Argentine civil society organisation, Poder Ciudadano. In 2018 she was appointed C20 Sherpa under the presidency of Argentina. In 2017 and 2019 she was a member of the C20 Steering Committee, and in 2018 and 2019 she was the co-Chair of the C20 Anti-Corruption Working Group.

    Emilia Berazategui 

    What is the C20, and why does it matter?

    The C20 (Civil-20) is one of the G20’s official engagement groups, and it the natural space for civil society organisations (CSOs) to advocate at the G20 level.

    There are two additional ways in which CSOs can participate in G20 processes: by attending the G20 Working Group meetings, as guests, to present thematic recommendations, and by being present at the G20 International Media Center when summits take place, which allows them to engage directly with the media covering the G20 summit and disseminate their messaging around key themes.

    The C20 is a global civil society space, without a permanent structure and with a presidency that rotates annually, in line with that of the G20, for CSOs from all over the world – from grassroots and local groups to large international CSOs – to influence the G20 collectively. According to the recently adopted C20 Principles, its aim is to ensure that world leaders listen not only to voices representing the government and business sectors, but also to the proposals and demands of civil society, and that they are guided by the core values of human rights, inclusion and sustainable development.

    Civil society engagement with the G20 matters because we are only 10 years away from the 2030 deadline to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, and the gap between the actions taken by governments and the measures that need to be taken to achieve them is immense. Most of the challenges we face – political polarisation and extremism, human rights abuses and civic space restrictions, extreme inequality, systemic corruption, gender disparities and gender-based violence, intersectional discrimination, the lack of decent employment, the health crisis and the negative impact of digitalisation and technology in our lives – not only remain unanswered but continue to deepen.

    Governments and multilateral institutions have a central role to play in finding shared solutions to common challenges. World leaders need to come together urgently to find those solutions, and despite all of its challenges, the G20 is one of the few spaces that provides them with the opportunity to do so.

    Sadly, in the last few years we have seen little evidence of any real progress from G20 leaders. Commitments are made in front of the world’s media but are quickly forgotten and rarely implemented once they return home. A recent report by Transparency International exposing issues of money laundering and anonymous company ownership found deeply troubling weaknesses in almost all G20 countries.

    What can civil society contribute?

    Civil society engagement with the G20 can help because civil society brings a set of unique skills to the table.

    First, in trying to make sure that policy outcomes serve the common good, we hold governments accountable. So when governments commit to something, we will hold them to their promises. Sometimes they resist, but other times we succeed in strengthening champions inside governments who really want to get things done.

    Second, we contribute our expertise. Civil society groups are not just watchdogs. We are innovators, technologists, researchers and policy experts who can help support policy implementation to achieve the best possible results. Civil society can also contribute to increased transparency and the credible evaluation of outcomes.

    Third, civil society functions as a bridge, helping translate technical jargon into language people actually use, explaining what change means and bringing citizens’ perspectives back to decision-makers. Governments should talk to civil society about their plans so we can provide feedback on how those plans will impact on people.

    Last but not least, civil society provides much-needed balance. One of the greatest weaknesses of the G20 is the lack of openness to having civil society represented at the same table where business interests sit. This raises the question of whether the G20 values the interests of corporations more than those of citizens. This certainly does nothing for trust, and it shows why people around the world believe that governments are too close to business or only act for the benefit of a few private interests.

    How much space do international forums such as the G20 offer for civil society to influence policy-making in reality?

    The G20 is often described as elitist, as a group of economic powerhouses – although not all the largest economies take part in it – trying to rewrite the rules of global economic governance, operating largely behind closed doors in an opaque way. It’s no wonder that many in civil society instinctively feel that we should oppose the G20 rather than engage with it.

    The G20 invites a variety of guests to take part in its meetings, including representatives from different regional groupings, guest states and international organisations. However, its record of speaking to citizen groups and civil society is mixed at best. Despite all that we have to offer, we do not sit at the same table; we are treated as second-class partners and our recommendations and ideas on important issues often go unheard.

    Experiences vary widely across the various working groups that comprise the G20. For instance, despite all the knowledge that civil society has on financial issues, the G20 International Financial Architecture Working Group has systematically closed its doors to civil society participation. On the other hand, we are lucky to have a standing item on the agenda of the Anti-Corruption Working Group, in which governments speak to business and civil society on the same footing. Still, while we appreciate this, we think that both this working group and the G20, in general, need to improve their engagement with civil society significantly.

    Despite all these limitations and challenges, during 2019, when the G20 presidency was in the hands of Japan, civil society managed to influence the G20 in some areas including the protection of whistleblowers, making infrastructure spending more transparent and on gender and corruption.

    In 2019, the G20 Anti-Corruption Working Group adopted two important documents: the High-Level Principles for the Effective Protection of Whistleblowers, which was much in line with civil society’s recommendations and included an unprecedented recognition by the G20 of the gender-specific aspects of whistleblowing, and a Compendium of Good Practices for Promoting Integrity and Transparency in Infrastructure Development, also aligned with civil society recommendations.

    Through the Compendium, the G20 also recognised that transparency regarding who the ultimate owners of companies are is critical to the fight against corruption. In line with civil society suggestions, they recommended implementing company beneficial ownership registers to reduce the possibility of public funds being used to favour specific individuals or companies, and to identify conflicts of interest.

    Overall, what would you say were the main successes of civil society engagement with the G20 during 2019?

    In one word, the main success of civil society engagement during 2019 was its continuity. Civil society was able to maintain a similar degree of engagement with the G20 as it had in 2018, when Argentina chaired the G20. In 2018, and for a short period of time, civil society won access to some G20 Working Group meetings, although unfortunately, not to the working groups that are part of the so-called G20 Finance Track, and to the G20 Media Center. This allowed civil society to access, for the first time ever, some sessions that used to be held behind closed doors. In addition, we got G20 local representatives, including the G20 Sherpa, to attend the C20 in-person meetings.

    Civil society's 2018 call for G20 delegates to move from words to action passed from Argentina to Japan. This had an echo on social media, through the hashtag #G20takeaction. In order to continue strengthening civil society participation and ensure an increasing impact within the G20, in 2019 the C20 agreed a set of principles that enshrined transparency, collaboration, independence, internationalism, inclusiveness and respect for human rights and gender equality as central pillars of the engagement group’s practice. This was a very important milestone in the C20’s history.

    And what were the challenges and what needs to improve?

    Despite these successes, there is an urgent need for the G20 to change the way it engages with civil society. At the G20, governments discuss policies that have a huge impact on our lives. As civil society, we should be allowed to bring to the table the voices of citizens, real and diverse. These are the people who will be affected by the public policies promoted in this forum.

    The few times we have managed to gain access to G20 meetings, the experience has usually not been positive. We make great efforts to be there. After finding the resources and traveling many hours, we wait – sometimes for a very long time – outside the meeting room until they finally let us in. Once inside, we  share our ideas and recommendations as quickly as possible in order to ensure there is time for dialogue with the delegations, which itself is rarely an open and honest conversation. After a short while, we are diplomatically ushered out of the room so that, having ticked the civil society participation box, negotiations can continue.

    The G20 still has a long way to go to ensure effective civil society participation. G20 leaders need to stop thinking that inviting civil society representatives to a couple of meetings amounts to the fulfillment of their obligation to consult widely and open themselves to scrutiny. They need to acknowledge the unique skills that civil society brings to the table and move towards more meaningful and sustained engagement with civil society.

    They can do this in many ways. First, they can, and should, invite civil society as well as business representatives to additional sections of various Working Group meetings, to provide insights and guidance on a thematic basis, and not just during a single, short session dedicated to listening to all of our concerns. Additionally, they should share the agenda of those meetings with us. It may sound crazy, but more often than not we are invited and go to meetings without knowing what is being discussed, so we are not necessarily sending the most appropriate person or preparing the most relevant or detailed contribution.

    Second, the G20 delegates should consistently meet with domestic civil society throughout the year, both prior to and after G20 Working Group meetings. This already happens in some G20 countries but not all of them.

    Third, G20 representatives need to be more open and honest in their exchanges with civil society. When G20 delegates speak to civil society, mostly they only share limited information on what they are doing to address major global challenges, which sometimes simply amounts to propaganda. How about they asked us what we want to discuss and what information we’d like to receive? Or how about they provide honest and direct feedback on the proposals and recommendations we shared with them?

    G20 leaders seem to be unaware that good communication and access to information are key. There is no permanent G20 website. Instead, every presidency establishes its own, which isn’t updated afterwards. The digital landscape is littered with redundant G20 websites. This makes documents hard to find for civil society, media and researchers seeking to inform themselves about G20 activities. In 2017, when Germany chaired the G20, the German government took an excellent initiative: it compiled all existing anti-corruption commitments in one location. This should be normal practice. For transparency and accountability, all G20 Working Groups should publish minutes and agendas of their meetings. And they should systematically consult with civil society so we provide an input into the draft documents they are planning to adopt and suggest key topics the G20 should focus on.

    What changed in terms of civil society engagement when the G20 presidency passed on to Saudi Arabia for 2020?

    Despite its limitations and weak engagement with civil society, the G20 has been a relevant space to bring our concerns directly to governments and advocate with them to tackle the most critical issues we face. Unfortunately, in 2020 the space for civil society engagement became significantly reduced when the presidency of the G20 and all its Engagement Groups, including the C20, passed to Saudi Arabia – a decision taken by G20 governments in 2017 in Hamburg, Germany.

    Saudi Arabia is a state that provides virtually no space for civil society and where independent civil society voices are not tolerated. It systematically suppresses criticism from the media, regularly arrests and prosecutes human rights defenders, censors free speech, limits free movement and tortures and mistreats detained journalists and activists. This makes civil society participation ethically dubious.

    In addition, the C20 principles emphasise a series of elements that the Saudi presidency is unable to provide, such as inclusion of a variety of truly independent civil society actors, from local to global, the transparency of decision-making procedures and the guiding values of human rights, gender equality and women’s empowerment. By participating in the very limited space that the Saudi government would be able to provide, we would only help launder Saudi Arabia’s international reputation. The Saudi government has already recruited expensive Western public relations advisors and spent millions of dollars to polish its tarnished image.

    In response, an overwhelming number of CSOs from all over the world have joined their voices together and decided to boycott the C20 hosted by Saudi Arabia this year. At Transparency International we are looking forward to re-engaging fully with the C20 process next year, when the presidency will pass to Italy.

    Civic space in Saudi Arabia is rated as ‘closed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.
    Get in touch with Transparency International through itswebsite andFacebook page, and follow@anticorruption and@meberazategui on Twitter.


  • Hassan al-Rabea’s extradition constitutes a grave violation of Morocco’s international obligations


    Mr. Aziz Akhannouch

    Head of Government of Morocco

    Prime Minister’s Office

    Touarga, Rabat

    CC: Ministry of Foreign Affairs, African Cooperation and Moroccans Residing Abroad; Ministry of Justice; National Human Rights Council

    To the Prime Minister of Morocco, Mr. Akhannouch:

    We, the undersigned human rights organisations, write to express our grave concern for the fate of Saudi national Hassan al-Rabea and seek clarification as to why your government approved his extradition to Saudi Arabia. 

    Al-Rabea arrived in Morocco in June 2022. On January 14, 2023, he was arrested at Marrakesh airport, following the Arab Interior Ministers Council’s issuance of a provisional arrest request made by Saudi Arabia. He was wanted on charges of “collaboration with terrorists by having them agree and collaborate with him to get him outside of Saudi Arabia in an irregular fashion,” based on article 38 of the 2017 Law on Combating Terrorism Crimes and its Financing, which carries a prison sentence of between 10 to 20 years.

    On February 6, 2023, al-Rabea was extradited from Morocco despite repeated civil society calls for his release and non-extradition to Saudi Arabia, where he faces credible risks of persecution and other serious harm, including a risk of torture, for reasons related to his religious beliefs and his family’s history of political protests.

    We are deeply concerned by Morocco’s apparent violation of the principle of non-refoulementunder international human rights and refugee laws to which Morocco is a party, including the UN and African refugee conventions, the Convention against Torture, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

    Saudi Arabia’s human rights record is particularly concerning, with due process violations, arbitrary and secret detention, enforced disappearance, torture and capital punishment being rampant practices.

    Furthermore, al-Rabea’s extradition may violate the Moroccan Code of Criminal Procedure, particularly article 721, which provides that: “extraditions shall not be granted when there are substantial grounds for believing that an extradition request apparently related to an ordinary offence has in fact been made for the purpose of prosecuting or punishing a person on the grounds of his or her race, religion, nationality or political opinion, or may aggravate this person’s situation for any of these reasons.”

    Al-Rabea’s family has long been persecuted by the Saudi authorities: his brother Munir is wanted by the authorities for allegedly protesting in al-Awamiyah in 2011, and his brother Ali Mohammed is currently in detention facing the death penalty following his sentencing in November 2022. Two of al-Rabea’s cousins, Hussein al-Rabea and Ahmed al-Rabea, were executed on April 23, 2019, in a mass execution of 37 men, 33 of them Shia, who had been convicted following unfair trials for various alleged crimes, including protest-related offences, espionage, and terrorism.

    Al-Rabea and his family belong to the Shia minority, which the Saudi authorities have historically discriminated against and subjected to persecution. In fact, many Shia Saudi citizens have been sentenced to long years of imprisonment, have been executed or face the death penalty as a result of unfair trials. Furthermore, Shia Saudis convicted of protest-related crimes in 2011 gave confessions allegedly tainted by the practices of torture and ill-treatment, such as beatings and prolonged solitary confinement.

    We believe that Hassan’s detention and extradition are part of the Saudi authorities’ reprisals against the al-Rabea family, and that he is likely to face serious human rights abuses upon his arrival to Saudi Arabia. 

    Morocco extradited al-Rabea following a favourable opinion of the Court of Cassation issued on February 1, 2023. The Court's decision was issued following a single hearing that appears not to have allowed al-Rabea reasonable time to present his case for protection.

    Al-Rabea’s extradition represents the continuation of a worrying trend: in 2021, Morocco extradited another Saudi national, Osama al-Hasani. Although the UN Committee against Torture requested interim measures by suspending his extradition pending the review of his case, al-Hasani was swiftly extradited on board a private plane chartered by Saudi Arabia. On September 3, 2021, it was reported that the Saudi Specialised Criminal Court, known for its politicised and grossly unfair trials, sentenced al-Hasani to four years’ imprisonment, despite him being cleared of wrongdoing in the case back in 2018.

    In 2016, Morocco acted in accordance with international human rights standards by suspending the extradition of a Syrian national facing extradition to Saudi Arabia after the UN Committee against Torture raised concerns. Morocco had taken additional steps such as ratifying the Optional Protocol to the UNCAT and establishing a national preventive mechanism. More recently, you have refrained from validating the extradition of Yidiresi Aishan after the Court of Cassation ruled in favour of his extradition to China on December 15, 2021, after several hearings.

    In light of the above, we, the undersigned, seek an explanation for the decision to extradite Hassan al-Rabea to Saudi Arabia.


    1. Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture (ACAT-France)
    2. ALQST for Human Rights
    3. Amnesty International
    4. Association Marocaine des Droits Humains (AMDH)
    5. Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS)
    6. Committee for Justice (CFJ)
    7. Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN)
    8. Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor
    9. European Saudi Organization for Human Rights (ESOHR)
    10. Freedom Forward
    11. Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR)
    12. Human Rights First
    13. Human Rights Foundation (HRF)
    14. Human Rights Watch
    15. HuMENA for Human Rights and Civic Engagement 
    16. International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)
    17. MENA Rights Group
    18. Moroccan Collective Against the Death Penalty
    19. Moroccan Collective of Human Rights Instances
    20. Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED)
    21. Salam for Democracy and Human Rights (Salam DHR)
    22. The Freedom Initiative
    23. World Alliance For Citizen Participation (CIVICUS)
    24. World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)


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