Southeast Asia

  • Another Wave of Atrocity Crimes in Chin State UN Security Council Must Act Now to End Myanmar Junta’s Campaign of Terror

    We, the undersigned 521 Myanmar, regional and international civil society organizations, call on the UN Security Council to urgently convene a meeting on the escalating attacks in Chin State, and address the rapidly deteriorating humanitarian, human rights and political crisis in Myanmar. We call for the UN Security Council to adopt a resolution to consolidate international action to stop the military's violent assault against the people of Myanmar. The UN Security Council must also impose a global arms embargo to stop the flow of weapons and dual-use goods to the Myanmar military junta.

    It has been nine months since the attempted coup by the brutal Myanmar military. 1,236 people have been killedand 9,667 arbitrarily detained as of 3 November, 2021. The junta has continued its violent assault throughout Myanmar, recently deployed troops and increased its attacks against civilians in Chin State, Sagaing and Magwe Regions in north-western Myanmar, while continuing its attacks in Karenni, Karen and Shan States.

    On Friday 29 October, the Myanmar military began shelling the town of Thantlang in Western Chin State, setting as many as 200 houses and at least two churches on fire. Soldiers also deliberately torched houses at random.

    Save the Children - whose office in Thantlang was set on fire alongside local civil society organizations including Chin Human Rights Organization - strongly condemned the recent attacks stating “the incident is further evidence of a deepening crisis in Myanmar” as the violence continues to affect large numbers of children across the country. Such indiscriminate attacks against civilians and humanitarian organizations are violations of international law and constitute war crimes.

    Following the 1 February attempted coup, Chin State has been at the forefront of some of the strongest resistance to the Myanmar military junta. This has been met with fierce attacks by the military, including use of fighter jets and heavy artillery used against civilians while hundreds have been arbitrarily detained, and dozens killed. Prior to this most recent attack, approximately 10,000 residents had already fled Thantlang as the military junta indiscriminately shot into homes and set off fires by shelling in September. At the time, a Christian pastor who was attempting to put out the fires was shot dead, and his ring finger cruelly cut off and removed, along with his wedding ring. Those displaced have taken shelter in nearby villages and others have sought refuge in India. Many of those who have been displaced have been unable to access humanitarian aid as the junta weaponizes aid for their own political benefit, often blocking access or destroying it in an effort to weaken the resistance.

    In early October, amid increasing deployment of heavy weapons and troops by the military junta, the spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights urged “the international community to speak with one voice, to prevent the commission of further serious human rights violations against the people of Myanmar.” The UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights also warned of greater human rights catastrophe and further mass atrocity crimes amid the deployment of tens of thousands of troops stating, “These tactics are ominously reminiscent of those employed by the military before its genocidal attacks against the Rohingya in Rakhine State in 2016 and 2017.” Echoing these concerns, 29 Rohingya organizations have urged the Council not to repeat the mistakes it made in 2017 by failing to act on warnings of an impending military offensive against the Rohingya.

    Since the start of the attempted coup nine months ago, hundreds of Myanmar and international society organizations have repeatedly and vehemently called for the UN Security Council to act. This includes a statement from 92 Chin civil society organizations and Burma Campaign UK, who have called on the UK as the “penholder” of Myanmar at the UN Security Council to urgently act. The Special Advisory Council for Myanmar have also called for the UN Security Council to “issue a resolution to consolidate international action towards resolving the crisis.”

    Yet, the Security Council has failed to take any effective actions beyond statements. As the offensives escalate in Chin State, the UN Security Council must act before it is too late. It must convene an urgent meeting on the escalating attacks in Chin State and the overall deepening political, human rights and humanitarian crisis as a result of the Myanmar military leaders search for power and greed that has caused immense suffering. The human security risk not only threatens the people of Myanmar but also regional and thus global security and peace. The Council must immediately build on previous statements with concrete action by adopting a resolution that consolidates international action to resolve the deepening crisis, a global arms embargo to stop the flow of weapons, including dual-use goods, and refer the situation in Myanmar to the International Criminal Court. The Council must demonstrate that it will take concrete actions to stop the junta from committing further atrocity crimes and posing further risk to human security of the people of Myanmar.

    The UN must not continue to fail the people of Myanmar.

    For more information, please contact:

    Signed by 521 Myanmar, regional and international civil society organizations* including:

     

    1. 8888 Generation (New Zealand)
    2. Action Committee for Democracy Development
    3. African Great Lakes Action Network
    4. All Burma Democratic Face in New Zealand
    5. All Burma IT Student Union
    6. Alternative Solutions for Rural Communities (ASORCOM)
    7. ALTSEAN-Burma
    8. America Rohingya Justice Network
    9. American Baptist Churches USA
    10. American Rohingya Advocacy
    11. Ananda Data
    12. Anti-Dictatorship in Burma - DC Metropolitan Area
    13. Arakan CSO Network
    14. Arakan Institute for Peace and Development
    15. Arakan Rohingya Development Association – Australia
    16. Arakan Rohingya National Organisation (ARNO)
    17. Arakan Rohingya Union
    18. Arizona Kachin Community
    19. ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR)
    20. Asho University Students Association (AUSA)
    21. Asho Youth Organization
    22. Asian Dignity Initiative
    23. Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)
    24. Asian Resource Foundation
    25. Asia-Pacific Solidarity Coalition
    26. Assistance Association for Political Prisoners
    27. Association of Human Rights Defenders and Promoters
    28. Association of Women for Awareness & Motivation (AWAM)
    29. Athan – Freedom of Expression Activist Organization
    30. Auckland Kachin Community Inc.
    31. Auckland Zomi Community
    32. Australian Burmese Rohingya Organisation
    33. Backpack Health Workers Team
    34. Balaod Mindanaw
    35. Bangkok Chin University Student Fellowship
    36. Banglar Manabadhikar Suraksha Mancha (MASUM)
    37. Baptist World Alliance
    38. Blood Money Campaign
    39. British Rohingya Community in UK
    40. Buddhist Solidarity for Reform
    41. Burma Action Ireland 
    42. Burma Campaign UK 
    43. Burma Human Rights Network
    44. Burma Medical Association
    45. Burma Task Force
    46. Burmese American Millennials
    47. Burmese Community Support Group (Australia)
    48. Burmese Democratic Forces
    49. Burmese Rohingya Association in Queensland-Australia (BRAQA)
    50. Burmese Rohingya Association Japan (BRAJ)
    51. Burmese Rohingya Association of North America
    52. Burmese Rohingya Community Australia (BRCA)
    53. Burmese Rohingya Community in Denmark
    54. Burmese Rohingya Community of Georgia
    55. Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK
    56. Burmese Rohingya Welfare Organisation New Zealand
    57. Burmese Student Association at UCSB
    58. Burmese Women’s Union
    59. California Kachin Community
    60. Calvary Burmese Church 
    61. Campaign for a New Myanmar
    62. Canadian Burmese Rohingya Organisation
    63. Canadian Rohingya Development Initiative
    64. Cantors' Assembly
    65. CAU Buddhist
    66. CDM Supporter Team (Hakha)
    67. Central Chin Youth Organization (CCYO)
    68. Centre for Human Rights and Development, Mongolia
    69. Cherry Foundation (Yangon), Burma/Myanmar
    70. Chin Baptist Association, North America
    71. Chin Baptist Churches USA
    72. Chin Civil Society Network (CCSN)
    73. Chin Community of Auckland
    74. Chin Community of USA-DC Area 
    75. Chin Education Initiative (CEI)
    76. Chin Human Rights Organization
    77. Chin Humanitarian Assistance Team Rakhine State (CHAT)
    78. Chin Leaders of Tomorrow (CLT)
    79. Chin Literature and Culture Committee (Universities of Yangon)
    80. Chin Student Union - Kalay
    81. Chin Student Union - Pakokku
    82. Chin Student Union - Sittwe
    83. Chin Student Union of Myanmar
    84. Chin University Student Fellowship – Paletwa
    85. Chin University Students in Rakhine State (CUSRS)
    86. Chin Women Organization (CWO)
    87. Chin Women's Development Organization (CWDO)
    88. CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
    89. Coalition for Democracy
    90. Community Resource Centre (CRC)
    91. Dallas Kachin Community
    92. Darfur and Beyond, Phoenix, Arizona, USA
    93. DEEKU-Karenni Community of Amarillo, TX
    94. Democracy for Ethnic Minorities Organization
    95. Democracy for Myanmar - Working Group (NZ)
    96. Democracy, Peace and Women's Organization – DPW
    97. Equality Myanmar
    98. European Rohingya Council (ERC)
    99. Falam Phunsang Tlawngta Pawlkom
    100. Federal Myanmar Benevolence Group (NZ)
    101. Fidi Foundation (Hakha)
    102. Florida Kachin Community
    103. Free Burma Action Bay/USA/Global
    104. Free Myanmar Campaign USA/BACI
    105. Free Rohingya Coalition (FRC)
    106. Freedom for Burma
    107. Freedom, Justice, Equality for Myanmar
    108. Future Light Center
    109. Future Thanlwin
    110. Gender and Development Institute – Myanmar
    111. Gender Equality Myanmar
    112. Generation Wave
    113. Georgia Kachin Community
    114. Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect
    115. Global Justice Center 
    116. Global Movement for Myanmar Democracy
    117. Global Myanmar Spring Revolution
    118. Global Witness
    119. Globe International Center
    120. Grassroots Movement for Burma
    121. Green Party Korea International Committee
    122. Hakha Campaign for Justice
    123. Hakha University Student Organization (HUSO)
    124. Houston Kachin Community
    125. Human Rights Alert
    126. Human Rights Development for Myanmar
    127. Human Rights Foundation of Monland
    128. Human Rights Watch
    129. Imparsial
    130. Incorporated Organization Shilcheon Bulgyo
    131. Infinite Burma
    132. Initiatives for International Dialogue
    133. Institute for Asian Democracy
    134. Inter Pares
    135. International Campaign for the Rohingya
    136. International Karen Organisation 
    137. Iowa Kachin Community
    138. Ipas
    139. Jewish World Watch
    140. Jogye Order Chapter of Korea Democracy Union
    141. Justice For Myanmar
    142. Kachin Alliance
    143. Kachin American Community (Portland – Vancouver)
    144. Kachin Community of Indiana
    145. Kachin Community of USA
    146. Kachin National Organization USA
    147. Kachin Peace Network (KPN)
    148. Kachin State Women Network
    149. Kachin Women’s Association Thailand
    150. Kanpetlet University Student Organization
    151. Kansas Karenni Community, KS
    152. Karen American Association of Milwaukee, WI
    153. Karen Association of Huron, SD 
    154. Karen Community of Akron, OH 
    155. Karen Community of Iowa, IA 
    156. Karen Community of Kansas City, KS & MO 
    157. Karen Community of Minnesota, MN 
    158. Karen Community of North Carolina, NC 
    159. Karen Environmental and Social Action Network
    160. Karen Human Rights Group
    161. Karen Organization of America
    162. Karen Organization of Illinois, IL
    163. Karen Organization of San Diego
    164. Karen Peace Support Network
    165. Karen Rivers Watch
    166. Karen Women’s Organization
    167. Karen Youth Education Pathways 
    168. Karenni Civil Society Network
    169. Karenni Community of Arizona, AZ
    170. Karenni Community of Arkensas, AK
    171. Karenni Community of Austin, TX
    172. Karenni Community of Bowling Green, KY
    173. Karenni Community of Buffalo, NY
    174. Karenni Community of Chicago, IL
    175. Karenni Community of Colorado, CO
    176. Karenni Community of Dallas, TX
    177. Karenni Community of Des Moines, IA
    178. Karenni Community of Florida, FL
    179. Karenni Community of Fort Worth, TX
    180. Karenni Community of Georgia, GA
    181. Karenni Community of Houston, TX
    182. Karenni Community of Idaho, ID
    183. Karenni Community of Indianapolis, IN
    184. Karenni Community of Massachusetts, MA
    185. Karenni Community of Michigan, MI
    186. Karenni Community of Minnesota, MN
    187. Karenni Community of Missouri, MO
    188. Karenni Community of North Carolina, NC
    189. Karenni Community of Portland, OR
    190. Karenni Community of Rockford, IL
    191. Karenni Community of San Antonio, TX
    192. Karenni Community of Sioux Falls, SD
    193. Karenni Community of Utah, UT
    194. Karenni Community of Utica, NY
    195. Karenni Community of Washington, WA
    196. Karenni Community of Wisconsin, WI
    197. Karenni Human Rights Group
    198. Karenni National Women’s Organization
    199. Karenni Society New Zealand
    200. Karenni Society of Omaha, NE
    201. Karenni-American Association
    202. Kaung Rwai Social Action Network
    203. Keng Tung Youth
    204. Kentucky Kachin Community
    205. Korean Ashram
    206. L'chaim! Jews Against the Death Penalty
    207. Los Angeles Rohingya Association
    208. Louisiana Kachin Community
    209. Manyou Power People
    210. Maryland Kachin Community
    211. Matupi University Student Fellowship
    212. Metta Campaign Mandalay
    213. Metta-Vipassana Center
    214. Michigan Kachin Community
    215. MINBYUN - Lawyers for a Democratic Society International Solidarity Committee
    216. Mindat University Student Union
    217. Minnesota Kachin Community
    218. Mizo Student Fellowship
    219. Myanmar Advocacy Coalition
    220. Myanmar Cultural Research Society (MCRS)
    221. Myanmar Engineers - New Zealand
    222. Myanmar Ethnic Rohingya Human Rights Organisation in Malaysia
    223. Myanmar Gonye (New Zealand)
    224. Myanmar Peace Bikers
    225. Myanmar People Alliance (Shan State)
    226. Myanmar Students' Union in New Zealand
    227. Nationalities Alliance of Burma USA
    228. NeT Organization
    229. Network for Human Rights Documentation (ND-Burma)
    230. Never Again Coalition
    231. New Bodhisattva Network
    232. New York Kachin Community
    233. New Zealand Doctors for NUG
    234. New Zealand Karen Association
    235. New Zealand Zo Community Inc.
    236. Ninu (Women in Action Group)
    237. No Business With Genocide
    238. North Carolina Kachin Community
    239. Nyan Lynn Thit Analytica
    240. Olive Organization
    241. Omaha Kachin Community
    242. Overseas Mon Association. New Zealand
    243. Pa-O Women’s Union
    244. Pa-O Youth Organization
    245. Pennsylvania Kachin Community
    246. People’s Initiative for Development Alternatives
    247. People's Solidarity for Participatory Democracy (PSPD)
    248. Progressive Voice
    249. Pyithu Gonye (New Zealand)
    250. Rohingya Action Ireland
    251. Rohingya American Society
    252. Rohingya Arakanese Refugee Committee
    253. Rohingya Community in Netherlands
    254. Rohingya Community in Norway
    255. Rohingya Culture Centre Chicago
    256. Rohingya Human Rights Initiative
    257. Rohingya Human Rights Network (Canada)
    258. Rohingya Organisation Norway
    259. Rohingya Refugee Network
    260. Rohingya Society Malaysia
    261. Rohingya Women Development Network (RWDN)
    262. Rohingya Youth Development Forum (RYDF)
    263. Rvwang Community Association New Zealand
    264. Save and Care Organization for Ethnic Women at Border Areas
    265. Save Myanmar Fundraising Group (New Zealand)
    266. Save the Salween Network
    267. SEA Junction
    268. SEGRI
    269. Shan Community (New Zealand)
    270. Shan MATA
    271. Sitt Nyein Pann Foundation
    272. Solidarity for Another World
    273. South Carolina Kachin Community
    274. Spring Revolution Interfaith Network
    275. Stepping Stone for Peace
    276. Students for Free Burma
    277. Support the Democracy Movement in Burma
    278. Swedish Burma Committee
    279. Swedish Rohingya Association
    280. Synergy - Social Harmony Organization
    281. Ta’ang Women’s Organization
    282. Tedim Youth Association (TYA)
    283. Tennessee Kachin Community
    284. Thantlang Revolutionary Campaigner
    285. Thantlang University Student Organization (TUSO)
    286. Thantlang Youth Association (TYA)
    287. The Center for Freedom of Information
    288. The Pastors Fellowship
    289. The Sound of Hope
    290. The Spring University Myanmar (SUM)
    291. Thint Myat Lo Thu Myar
    292. S. Campaign for Burma 
    293. UION
    294. Union for Reform Judaism (URJ)
    295. Union of Karenni State Youth
    296. Unitarian Universalist Association
    297. Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC)
    298. Virginia Kachin Community
    299. Washington Kachin Community
    300. West Virginia Kachin Community
    301. Women Peace Network 
    302. Women’s Advocacy Coalition – Myanmar
    303. Women’s League of Burma
    304. WOREC Nepal
    305. Yeollin Seonwon
    306. Zomi Federal Union (ZFU)
    307. Zomi Siamsim Kipawlna - Myanmar
    308. Zotung Student Society (ZSS - Myanmar)

    *Note: 213 organizations' names are not disclosed at their request due to security concerns.

    Civic space in Myanmar is considered repressed by the CIVICUS Monitor

  • ASEAN must step up its efforts to address deteriorating human rights and civic space situation in Southeast Asia

    Under the Chairmanship of Cambodia in 2022, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) must meaningfully address the regressive human rights crisis in the region, including the rapidly deteriorating situation in Myanmar, said rights groups at a webinar today.

    The webinar titled ‘Cambodia as ASEAN Chair: Prospects for Human Rights in 2022’ organised by CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation and Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) discussed the human rights situation in the region and how the ASEAN has responded in 2021 as well as its trajectory as Cambodia spearheads ASEAN next year.

    Eleven months after the coup and eight months since ASEAN leaders adopted the five-point consensus, the human rights and humanitarian crisis continues unabated in Myanmar ‒ at least 1,200 people including children have been killed and 10,568 arrested. The deteriorating situation affects not only the daily lives of the people on the ground but also the human rights and political discourse at the regional and international level.

    Questions remain as to what extent the regional bloc can effectively bring immediate progress to the situation of Myanmar or if it will just be used to legitimise the military regime.

    ‘While we welcome the decision by ASEAN to exclude the military junta from ASEAN Summits, we are deeply concerned about the lack of substantive actions to mitigate the Myanmar crisis. The whole country is now dealing with a multi-level crisis. It is not sufficient for ASEAN alone to tackle this crisis. Therefore, we call on ASEAN to cooperate with the UN and international mechanisms to take immediate concrete actions. Further delays in actions will allow the junta to commit more atrocities and this means more bloodshed for the people on the ground,’ said Khin Ohmar, Chair of Progressive Voice.

    ‘As the next chair, Cambodia has a huge task ahead to ensure that ASEAN unity and credibility is not lost. If ASEAN allows the junta to continue in this manner, the Myanmar crisis will further impact the regional stability and development. ASEAN needs to understand that it is in its best interest to work with the National Unity Government and the people of Myanmar,’ she added.

    ‘We want ASEAN leadership to have a strategic vision and action plan. ASEAN will not be able to implement its five-point consensus alone, particularly after the junta military has blatantly denied their commitment in the consensus. Under the Cambodia Chairmanship, ASEAN must engage with NUG, the United Nations, dialogue partners, and civil society. What is happening is not only a crisis to Myanmar but a crisis to the credibility of ASEAN and threats to security in general,’ said U Bo Hla Tint, Myanmar National Unity Government Ambassador to ASEAN.

    According to the CIVICUS Monitor, fundamental freedoms in half of ASEAN Member States are rated as ‘repressed’. The year 2021 has also shown how restrictive laws have been used to stifle dissent and prosecute human rights defenders in numerous ASEAN countries and new laws passed that would curtail civic space. Further there has been a crackdown on peaceful protests and the use of extra-legal tactics, including online surveillance and smear campaigns, as well as torture and ill-treatment. In Cambodia specifically, CIVICUS documented the arbitrary arrest of dozens of activists, judicial harassment, and intimidation of opposition party CNRP members and families, and reprisals on journalists.

    ‘It is difficult to see how ASEAN would meaningfully progress on human rights issues with Cambodia at the helm. It has become a de facto one-party state after dismantling the opposition. Civic space has also continued to shrink in the country and those speaking up have faced blatant judicial harassment and at times outright violence. At the same time, we need to keep the pressure on them and support Cambodian civil society,’ said Josef Benedict, Asia Pacific Researcher of CIVICUS.

    Under the pretext of COVID-19, Cambodia has introduced draconian measures such as the National Internet Gateway to increase online surveillance. This adds to the long list of concerns including the arbitrary arrest and judicial harassment of defenders and political opposition in the country. Cambodia’s degrading human rights record raises concerns about whether it has the political will to take the steps needed to improve on the human rights situation of ASEAN.

    ‘Cambodia should strive to improve the dire human rights situation it is facing domestically – especially considering the fact that elections are fast approaching – while also seeking to ensure regional peace and stability. As ASEAN chair, Cambodia must rally its ASEAN partners to answer the calls for support coming from Myanmar, and take concrete action rather than hide behind the argument of non-interference,’ said Sopheap Chak, the Executive Director of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR).

    ASEAN’s prospects of human rights in 2022 remain rocky and uncertain, reflecting on the domestic situation ASEAN Member States, particularly its Chair, must deal with. Nevertheless, the panelists called on civil society and various actors to keep monitoring the progress, or lack thereof, by ASEAN in responding to the situation of human rights and civic space in the region, particularly on immediate measures to bring an end to the crisis in Myanmar.

    ***
    CIVICUS is a global alliance dedicated to strengthening citizen action and civil society around the world with 8,500 members in more than 175 countries. Based out of Johannesburg, CIVICUS has offices in New York and Geneva. www.civicus.org

    The Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) is a network of 82 member organisations across 23 countries, mainly in Asia. Founded in 1991, FORUM-ASIA works to strengthen movements for human rights and sustainable development through research, advocacy, capacity development and solidarity actions in Asia and beyond. It has consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council, and consultative relationship with the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights. The FORUM-ASIA Secretariat is based in Bangkok, with offices in Jakarta, Geneva and Kathmandu. www.forum-asia.org

    Media contact:

    • Cornelius Hanung, Asia Advocacy and Campaigns Officer of CIVICUS ()
    • Communications and Media Programme, FORUM-ASIA ()

    The CIVICUS Monitor is an online platform that tracks threats to civil society in all countries across the globe.

  • ASEAN: Cambodia Chairmanship Should Thoroughly Address Crisis in Myanmar

    We, the undersigned organisations, call on the Association of Southeast Asian Nations(ASEAN) to increase its effort to address the ongoing human rights crisis in Myanmar, which was triggered by the attempted coup in February 2021. Under the incoming chairmanship of Cambodia in 2022, ASEAN needs to align its endeavours with the international efforts of the United Nations and civil society to hold the military junta accountable for its actions. Failure to meaningfully address the suffering of the people of Myanmar will be the failure of the regional bloc to promote and protect human rights in the region.

    More than seven months since ASEAN agreed on a Five-Point Consensus on Myanmar, there has yet to be significant progress on the implementation of the consensus, or significant action taken by ASEAN to tackle the escalation of violations and number of victims. Analysis from civil society has revealed that the Myanmar military junta, and to some extent ASEAN, have failed to uphold all five points. This is reflected in the increase in attacks since the adoption of the consensus on civilians and members of the National League for Democracy (NLD) and National Unity Government (NUG), which formed as the legitimate government after the November 2020 election. ASEAN’s response to this situation has been slow, which is apparent from the late appointment of the ASEAN Special Envoy, while the commitment to facilitate dialogue between the junta and the NUG or other parties is still unclear. This negligence has resulted in a further crisis and shrinking civics pace in Myanmar, which is having a ripple effect on the region’s human rights situation.

    We appreciate the unprecedented decision made through the Emergency ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting (EAMM) on 15 October 2021 to exclude the Myanmar junta’s representative of the Myanmar junta from sitting as the country’s representative during the 38th and 39th ASEAN Summit from 26–28 October. While noting the bloc’s decision to invite a “non-political representative” from Myanmar, our stance remains that no seat should be given to the military junta at future ASEAN meetings until the Five-Point Consensus is accomplished or until democracy is restored in Myanmar.

    From the Chairman’s Statement of the 38th and 39th ASEAN Summits issued by Brunei Darussalam,we noted ASEAN’s commitments to find a balance between the non-interference principle and to upholding the rule of law, good governance, the principles of democracy, and constitutional government in addressing the situation in Myanmar. The exclusion of the Myanmar military junta will need to be normalised in the upcoming ASEAN process.

    Moving forward to Cambodia’s ASEAN chairmanship in 2022, the regional bloc must move faster and meaningfully to address the situation in Myanmar. This includes formally engaging the NUG and other parties after excluding the military junta from the latest Summit. Only with the willingness to reassess the non-interference principle and consensus tradition can ASEAN act strategically.

    We also call for ASEAN to focus its efforts outside the regional bloc, by engaging with the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), dialogue partners, and the international community to formulate a time-bound and comprehensive action plan.

    For further information, please contact:

    Putri Kanesia (AJAR)  

    Supporting organisations

    ADN(Asia Democracy Network)
    AJAR (Asia Justice and Rights)
    Amnesty International Indonesia
    CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
    FORUM ASIA
    Kurawal Foundation
    KontraS (the Commission for the Disappeared and Victims of Violence)
    Migrant Care
    SAFEnet(Southeast Asia Freedom of Expression Network)
    SEA Junction

     

  • BANGLADESH: ‘The government is banishing the opposition in the run-up to the election’

    ZamanAshrafCIVICUS speaks with Zaman Ashraf about the current pre-election crackdown in Bangladesh.

    Zaman is a Bangladeshi human rights defender who advocates for the rights of survivors of torture and victims of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances, and seeks stronger legal protections for human rights in compliance with international law. He currently lives in exile in Hong Kong, since human rights activism has become increasingly risky in Bangladesh.

  • Call on INTERPOL to ban the illegal junta from representing Myanmar at its General Assembly

    To: Kim Jong Yang, INTERPOL President; Jürgen Stock, INTERPOL General Secretary; the INTERPOL Executive Committee and INTERPOL Member Countries

    Dear INTERPOL President Kim Jong Yang, INTERPOL Vice Presidents Benyamina Abbad and Šárka Havránková,INTERPOL General Secretary Jürgen Stock, INTERPOL Executive Committee Delegates Khaled Jameel Al Materyeen, Ahmed Nasser Al-Raisi, Jean-Jacques Colombi, Rogerio Galloro, Robert Guirao Bailén, Destino Pedro, Olushola Kamar Subair, Jannine Van den Berg, and Member Countries.

    We, the undersigned 259 organizations, call on INTERPOL to immediately ban the Myanmar military junta from representing Myanmar as a member of INTERPOL. We demand you ensure that the military junta is excluded from the upcoming 89th INTERPOL General Assembly and all benefits and future cooperation that membership entails.

    According to media reports, the Myanmar military junta’s police force is currently representing Myanmar in INTERPOL and its members, led by the Head of Police and Deputy Home Affairs Minister Lieutenant-General Than Hlaing, will act as delegates for the Myanmar government at the INTERPOL General Assembly. This is a matter of grave concern to us and raises serious credibility issues for INTERPOL itself for the following reasons:

    1. The military junta does not represent the government of Myanmar. The international community has refused to recognise the military junta as the legitimate government of Myanmar and has prevented members of the military junta from participating in international forums including the UN General Assembly, the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) and the ASEAN Summit.
    2. The attempted coup on 1 February 2021, under the leadership of Senior General Min Aung Hlaing by violent means violated the Myanmar Constitution, international law and the principle of rule of law.
    3. The head of the UN Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar recently stated that since the attempted coup the Myanmar military junta’s widespread and systematic attack on the civilian population amounts to crimes against humanity.
    4. The Special Advisory Council for Myanmar, composed of international experts including former members of the UN Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar and a former Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, has recently argued that, in addition to crimes against humanity, the Myanmar military is engaging in terrorism and should be classified as a terrorist organization.
    5. Lt. General Than Hlaing, as the junta’s Deputy Minister of Home Affairs and Chief of Police, is directly responsible for decision making concerning repressive policies and violent actions committed by police against peaceful demonstrators and is therefore responsible for serious human rights violations in Myanmar/Burma.
    6. For this and other reasons, Lt. General Than Hlaing has been placed by the European Union under a travel ban and asset freeze as of 3 March 2021.
    7. Targeted sanctions against Lt. General Than Hlaing also remain in place by the US, UK, and Canada (overview with links here).
    8. Lt General Than Hlaing has been appointed to lead operations in Chin State. Escalating military attacks against civilians there and in Sagaing and Magwe Regions have caused rights groups to draw similarities to “clearance operations” used to violently oppress the ethnic Rohingya population – now at issue in the International Criminal Court and International Court of Justice

    INTERPOL’s vision is to connect police for a “safer world” and to support security for the world’s citizens. The people of Myanmar are in dire need of safety and security. The single biggest threat to their security is the Myanmar military junta, who is attempting to represent Myanmar in INTERPOL and use the General Assembly as a platform for political gain and international legitimacy. This will embolden the Myanmar military to continue to commit international crimes with blanket impunity.

    We note that countering the threat of terrorism is the first of INTERPOL’s seven Global Policing Goals, and INTERPOL has a responsibility to counter and disrupt terrorism wherever it occurs, including in Myanmar.

    We draw your attention to condemnation by the UN Security Council regarding the junta following the February 2021 coup, including a November 2021 statement by the Council’s President Juan Ramón de la Fuente Ramírez citing “deep concern at further recent violence across Myanmar”.

    We note that upholding human rights is central to INTERPOL’s mandate. We implore you to meet the commitment to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights stated in Article 2 of the Constitution of the ICPO-INTERPOL. Recognizing the Myanmar military junta, responsible for systemic and grave human rights violations would be a clear violation of this article.

    We appeal to you to adhere to INTERPOL’s commitment to political neutrality stated in Article 3 of the INTERPOL Constitution. Awarding an unlawful military junta that lacks domestic and international recognition with legitimacy would violate this article, and amount to a partisan intervention that would embolden the military to continue to commit international crimes with total impunity.

    Instead of legitimizing the military junta through INTERPOL membership, we appeal to you to uphold international law by supporting the ongoing investigation at the International Criminal Court concerning crimes of genocide against the Rohingya, and future investigations, to bring all perpetrators of Myanmar atrocities to account. The Myanmar military must be recognized as a terrorist organization, not recognized as representatives of the Myanmar people who are the very victims of the junta’s daily barrage of violence that INTERPOL aims to protect.

    We therefore call on INTERPOL to:

    • Ban the Myanmar military junta from INTERPOL, including the 89th General Assembly.
    • Support efforts to bring Senior Gen Min Aung Hlaing, Lt Gen Than Hlaing and all other perpetrators of atrocity crimes to justice by identifying and arresting suspects.
    • Take all measures available to prevent the Myanmar military junta’s continued acts of terrorism by disrupting terrorism movement and tracing and disrupting their international revenue and arms supply networks.

    At this fragile and crucial time in Myanmar, INTERPOL and their member countries must act in the interests of the safety and security of Myanmar people, victims and survivors of crime and in accordance with international law and norms.

    -----

    For more information, please contact:

    Khin Ohmar, Progressive Voice,

    Veronica Pedrosa, ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights,

    Annie Boyajian, Freedom House,

    Signed by:

    1. 8888 Generation (New Zealand)
    2. Action Committee for Democracy Development
    3. Activists Group for Human Rights ‘BARAM’
    4. Albany Karen Community, Albany
    5. All Arakan Students’ and Youths’ Congress
    6. All Burma Democratic Face in New Zealand
    7. ALL FOR LITTLE ONE
    8. Alliance for Gender Inclusion in Peace Process (AGIPP)
    9. Alternative Solutions for Rural Communities (ASORCOM)
    10. ALTSEAN-Burma
    11. Arizona Kachin Community
    12. ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights – APHR
    13. Asia Pacific Solidarity Coalition (APSOC)
    14. Asian Dignity Initiative
    15. Assistance Association for Political Prisoners
    16. Association of Human Rights Defenders and Promoters
    17. Athan – Freedom of Expression Activist Organization
    18. Auckland Kachin Community NZ
    19. Auckland Zomi Community
    20. B-Farm
    21. Blood Money Campaign
    22. Boat People SOS
    23. Burma Action Ireland
    24. Burma Campaign UK
    25. Burma Human Rights Network
    26. Burma Rohingya Organisation UK
    27. Burmese Relief Center - Japan
    28. Burmese Rohingya Welfare Organisation New Zealand
    29. Burmese Women’s Union
    30. Calgary Karen Community Association (CKCA)
    31. California Kachin Community
    32. Campaign for a New Myanmar
    33. Center for Alliance of Labor and Human Rights Committee (CENTRAL)
    34. Chin Community of Auckland
    35. CHRF
    36. Christian Solidarity Worldwide
    37. Citizen of Burma Award-New Zealand
    38. CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
    39. Coalition to Abolish Modern-day Slavery in Asia (CAMSA)
    40. Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (COMFREL)
    41. Committee for Religions Freedom in Vietnam
    42. COVIL
    43. CRPH & NUG Supporters Austria
    44. CRPH & NUG Supporters Ireland
    45. CRPH Funding Ireland
    46. Dallas Kachin Community
    47. DANA
    48. Decency & Clarity
    49. DEEKU-Karenni Community of Amarillo, TX
    50. Democracy for Myanmar - Working Group (NZ)
    51. Democracy, Peace and Women’s Organization – DPW
    52. DONEUIDONG
    53. Dongjadong Sarangbang
    54. Edmonton Karen Community Youth Organization
    55. Education Community Woorijari Social Cooperation
    56. Equality Myanmar
    57. European Karen Network
    58. Federal Myanmar Benevolence Group (NZ)
    59. Federation of General Workers Myanmar
    60. Federation of Workers' Union of the Burmese Citizen in Japan
    61. Freedom House
    62. Future Light Center
    63. Future Thanlwin
    64. Gangbuk Housing Welfare Center
    65. Gender and Development for Cambodia (GADC)
    66. Gender Equality Network
    67. Georgia Kachin Community
    68. Global Movement for Myanmar Democracy (GM4MD)
    69. Global Myanmar Spring Revolution
    70. Gwangju Asia sisterhood
    71. Gyeonggi Association of Self-Sufficiency Promotion Center
    72. HANBARAGI
    73. Houston Kachin Community
    74. Human Rights Foundation of Monland
    75. Incorporated Organization Shilcheon Bulgyo
    76. Independent Trade Union Federation (INTUFE)
    77. Info Birmanie
    78. Initiatives for International Dialogue
    79. International Campaign for the Rohingya
    80. International Child Rights Center
    81. International Karen Organisation
    82. International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC)
    83. Iowa Kachin Community
    84. Jangsuwon
    85. JCMK
    86. JPIC of Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill
    87. Junta Denouncing Committee Korea
    88. Justice For Myanmar
    89. Kachin American Community (Portland – Vancouver)
    90. Kachin Community of Indiana
    91. Kachin Community of USA
    92. Kachin Gender Star Group
    93. Kachin Women’s Association Thailand
    94. Kaesong Tourism Center
    95. Kansas Karenni community, KS
    96. Karen American Association of Milwaukee, WI
    97. Karen Association of Huron, SD
    98. Karen Community of Akron, OH
    99. Karen Community of Canada (KCC)
    100. Karen Community of Czech Republic
    101. Karen Community of Finland
    102. Karen Community of Hamilton
    103. Karen Community of Iowa, IA
    104. Karen Community of Ireland
    105. Karen Community of Israel
    106. Karen Community of Kansas City
    107. Karen Community of Kitchener & Waterloo
    108. Karen Community of Leamington K
    109. Karen Community of Lethbridge
    110. Karen Community of London
    111. Karen Community of Minnesota, MN
    112. Karen Community of North Carolina
    113. Karen Community of Ottawa
    114. Karen Community of Regina
    115. Karen Community of Saskatoon
    116. Karen Community of Thunderbay
    117. Karen Community of Toronto
    118. Karen Community of Windsor
    119. Karen Community of Winnipeg
    120. Karen Community Society of British Columbia (KCSBC)
    121. Karen Human Rights Group
    122. Karen Organization of America
    123. Karen Organization of Illinois, IL
    124. Karen Thai Group
    125. Karen Women’s Organization
    126. Karen Youth Education Pathways
    127. Karen Youth Networks
    128. Karen Youth of Norway
    129. Karen Youth of Toronto
    130. Karen Youth Organization
    131. Karenni Civil Society Network
    132. Karenni Community of Arizona, AZ
    133. Karenni Community of Arkensas, AK
    134. Karenni Community of Austin, TX
    135. Karenni Community of Bowling Green, KY
    136. Karenni Community of Buffalo, NY
    137. Karenni Community of Chicago, IL
    138. Karenni Community of Colorado, CO
    139. Karenni Community of Dallas, TX
    140. Karenni community of Des Moines, IA
    141. Karenni Community of Florida, FL
    142. Karenni Community of Fort Worth, TX
    143. Karenni Community of Georgia, GA
    144. Karenni Community of Houston, TX
    145. Karenni Community of Idaho, ID
    146. Karenni Community of Indianapolis, IN
    147. Karenni Community of Massachusetts, MA
    148. Karenni Community of Michigan, MI
    149. Karenni Community of Minnesota, MN
    150. Karenni Community of Missouri, MO
    151. Karenni Community of North Carolina, NC
    152. Karenni Community of Portland, OR
    153. Karenni Community of Rockford, IL
    154. Karenni Community of San Antonio, TX
    155. Karenni Community of Sioux Falls, SD
    156. Karenni Community of Utah, UT
    157. Karenni Community of Utica, NY
    158. Karenni Community of Washington, WA
    159. Karenni Community of Wisconsin, WI
    160. Karenni Human Rights Group
    161. Karenni National Women’s Organization
    162. Karenni Society New Zealand
    163. Karenni Society of Omaha, NE
    164. Karenni-American Association
    165. Keng Tung Youth
    166. Kentucky Kachin Community
    167. Kijamii Table
    168. Kim Wan Sik (MR)
    169. Korea Christian Solidarity for Democracy and Human Rights in Myanmar
    170. Korea Karen Organization
    171. Korea Karen Youth Organization
    172. Korea Women's Associations United (KWAU)
    173. Korean House for International Solidarity
    174. Korean Solidarity for Overseas Community Organization
    175. Let’s Help Each Other
    176. Louisiana Kachin Community
    177. Maryland Kachin Community
    178. May18 Seoul Memorial Society
    179. Metta Campaign Mandalay
    180. Michigan Kachin Community
    181. Migrant Health Association in Korea WeFriends
    182. Milk Tea Alliance (Friend For Myanmar)
    183. MINBYUN - Lawyers for a Democratic Society International Solidarity Committee
    184. Minnesota Kachin Community
    185. Myanmar Accountability Project
    186. MYANMAR Action Supporters
    187. Myanmar Community Austria
    188. Myanmar Democratic Force (Denmark)
    189. Myanmar Engineers - New Zealand
    190. Myanmar Family Community in Ireland
    191. Myanmar Gonye (New Zealand)
    192. Myanmar People Alliance (Shan State)
    193. Myanmar Students Organization
    194. Myanmar Students' Union in New Zealand
    195. National Clergy Conference for Justice and Peace
    196. NeT Organization
    197. Network for Advocacy Action
    198. Network for Human Rights Documentation Burma (ND-Burma)
    199. Neutinamu
    200. New Bodhisattva Network
    201. New York Kachin Community
    202. New Zealand Doctors for NUG
    203. New Zealand Karen Association
    204. New Zealand Zo Community Inc.
    205. No Business With Genocide
    206. North Carolina Kachin Community
    207. NUG & CRPH Supporter Denmark
    208. Nyan Lynn Thit Analytica
    209. Olive Organization
    210. Omaha Kachin Community
    211. Organization of Social Welfare Service Bokumjari
    212. Oversea Karen Organization Japan
    213. Overseas Mon Association. New Zealand
    214. Pa-O Youth Organization
    215. Pennsylvania Kachin Community
    216. People’s Initiatives for Development Alternatives
    217. People's Solidarity for Participatory Democracy (PSPD)
    218. Progressive 3.0
    219. Progressive Korea
    220. Progressive Voice
    221. Pyeongchang
    222. Pyithu Gonye (New Zealand)
    223. RCSD/FSS Chiang Mai University
    224. Rvwang Community Association New Zealand
    225. SAMYANG CITIZENS NETWORK
    226. SARANGBANG Group for Human Rights
    227. Save and Care Organization for Ethnic Women at Border Areas
    228. Save Myanmar Fundraising Group (New Zealand)
    229. Shan Community (New Zealand)
    230. Shan MATA
    231. Sisters 2 Sisters
    232. Sitt Nyein Pann Foundation
    233. Social Action for Community and Development (SACD)
    234. Solidarity for Another World
    235. South Carolina Kachin Community
    236. Support Group for Democracy in Myanmar (Netherlands)
    237. Supporters group for migrant workers in Korea
    238. Suwon Migrants Center
    239. Swedish Burma Committee
    240. Synergy – Social Harmony Organization
    241. Ta’ang Women’s Organization
    242. Ta'ang Legal Aid
    243. Tanintharyi Women Network
    244. Tennessee Kachin Community
    245. The Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)
    246. The People Center for Development and Peace (PDP-Center)
    247. Tongirinreoygeo
    248. Union of Karenni State Youth
    249. US Campaign for Burma
    250. Utica Karen Community, NY
    251. Virginia Kachin Community
    252. Washington Kachin Community
    253. West Virginia Kachin Community
    254. With Gilbut Welfare Foundation
    255. Women Advocacy Coalition – Myanmar (WAC-M)
    256. Women’s League of Burma
    257. Women’s Peace Network
    258. Youth of Kim Dae-jung Foundation
    259. Youth Resource Development Program (YRDP)

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

  • Cambodia Should Scrap Rights-Abusing National Internet Gateway

    We, the following 32 human rights organisations, call on the Cambodian authorities to revoke the Sub-Decree on the Establishment of the National Internet Gateway (NIG).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    What role did civil society play in the election process? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

    What support does Cambodian civil society need from international organisations?

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

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

  • CAMBODIA: ‘This is a textbook case of organised crime with links to the state’

    CIVICUS speaks with Alejandro Gonzalez-Davidson, a Spanish national and co-founder of Mother Nature Cambodia (MNC), a civil society organisation (CSO) that advocates and campaigns locally and internationally for the preservation, promotion and protection of Cambodia’s natural environment. Due to their work, the authorities have systematically intimidated and criminalised MNC activists. Gonzalez-Davidson has been convicted in absentia for his activism and currentlyfaces further charges.

    Alejandro Gonzalez Davidson

    What were the origins of MNC?

    We founded MNC in 2013, and the most important factor leading to its founding was that the environment in Cambodia, and especially the forest, was being decimated so fast. Because I could speak Khmer, I was a translator and was reading about it in the news and eventually also seeing it happen.

    This senseless destruction was being disguised as development, but in reality it was organised crime sponsored by the state, including the army, the police, politicians at all levels and local authorities. It was painful to see. Local Indigenous people were being cheated and this got me fired up.

    I also came to the realisation that civil society, and especially international organisations that were allegedly protecting the environment, were not doing anything that was effective enough. Local groups were not able to do much, and some international groups were doing greenwashing: misleading the public with initiatives that were presented as environmentally friendly or sustainable, but were not addressing the real causes of the problems. 

    A small group of friends and I started a campaign to stop a senseless hydroelectric dam project, which we knew was never about electricity but about exploiting natural resources and allowing logging and poaching. I was deported a year and a half after we started MNC. Over time, we have had to evolve to try and expose environmental crimes by the state on a large scale.

    What have been the main activities and tactics of MNC?

    They have changed over time. Back in 2013 to 2015, we could still do community empowerment and hold peaceful protests. We could bring people from cities to remote areas. In 2015, the harassing and jailing of activists started. We realised peaceful protests could not happen anymore because protesters would be criminalised. We continued to do community empowerment until 2017, but then had to stop that too.

    One of our biggest tactics is going to a location, recording short videos and presenting them to the public so that Cambodians can understand, click, share and comment. We have received millions of views. We also did shows on Facebook live and lobbied opposition parties in parliament. From 2019 onwards, activists could no longer appear in the videos and we had to blur their faces and distort their voices. Now we can’t even do that because it is too risky.

    What is the state of civic space in Cambodia?

    The regime of Prime Minister Hun Sen has destroyed democratic institutions, including active and independent civil society, independent media and opposition parties. It has dismantled all these as it realised people were ready and hungry for democracy.

    There is a lot for the regime to lose if the status quo changes, mainly because of money. The regime is mostly organised crime. They don’t want pesky independent journalists, activists organising protests or CSOs doing community empowerment. They don’t want to lose power and be held accountable. This is why now there is very little space compared to five years ago, and the situation is still going downhill. 

    Most civil society groups have retreated and are not pushing the boundaries. They are afraid of their organisation being shut down, funding being cut, or their activists and staff being thrown in jail. Indeed, working in Cambodia is difficult but it’s not acceptable to have a very small number of CSOs and activists speaking up.

    What gives me hope is that conversations and engagement among citizens about democracy are still happening, and that repression cannot go on forever.

    Why has MNC been criminalised, and what impact has this had and what is impact of the court cases?

    Cambodia doesn’t really have any other group like us. We are a civil society group, but we are made up of activists rather than professional staff. Other activists used to do forest patrols in the Prey Lang forest, but the government forced them to stop. There are also Indigenous communities and environmental activists trying to do some work, but what happened to MNC is also a message to them.

    In 2015, three MNC activists were charged and subsequently convicted for their activities in a direct-action campaign against companies mining sand in Koh Kong province. In September 2017, two MNC activists were arrested for filming vessels we suspected were illegally exporting dredged sand on behalf of a firm linked to the ruling Cambodian People’s Party. In January 2018, the two activists were fined and sentenced to a year in jail.

    In September 2020, three activists affiliated with MNC were arbitrarily detained while planning a peaceful protest as part of a campaign against the planned privatisation and reclamation of Boeung Tamok lake in the capital, Phnom Penh. They were sentenced to 18 months in prison for ‘incitement’.

    Most recently, in June 2021, four environmental activists affiliated with MNC were charged for investigating river pollution in the Tonle Sap river in Phnom Penh. They have been charged with ‘plotting’ and ‘insulting the King’. There are currently six MNC activists in detention.

    We have been charged with threatening to cause destruction, incitement, violating peoples’ privacy – just for filming at sea – and the latest additions to the list are ‘plotting’ to violently overthrow institutions – just for recording sewage going into the Mekong river – and insulting the King. The government is no longer even pretending that this is about law enforcement and is now just picking crimes to charge us with.

    As we become more effective in what we do, the state’s rhetoric against us has become more aggressive. The authorities have vilified us, calling us traitors and terrorists. Repression starts from the very bottom, with the local police, the mayor, the military police and their civilian friends who are in the business of poaching, logging and so on. They follow you, threaten you and even try to bribe you. They also control the media narrative and have trolls on social media. Even if all you do is a media interview, they will threaten you online.

    This has created a climate of fear among activists. As in any other dictatorship, Cambodia has always been ruled by fear. This percolates down to young people, who make up the vast majority of our activists. Their families and friends get really worried too. When people feel there is less of a risk in getting involved, the state hits activists and civil society again with more arbitrary and trumped-up charges, as a way to instil further fear in people’s minds.

    The impact of the court cases against MNC has been strong. At first we were able to put up with them by diversifying our tactics and putting new strategies in place, but over the last two years and with six people in jail, it’s become more difficult. But this won’t stop our activism. It will not defeat us.

    Have you faced threats from private companies?

    The line between the private sector and the state is blurred in Cambodia, and in certain cases is just not even there. You don’t have a minister or the army saying, ‘this is my hydroelectric dam’ or ‘we are doing sand mining’, but everyone knows the links are there.

    Those representing the state will provide the apparatus and resources to threaten activists and local communities, and businesspeople – who sometimes are their own family members – will give them a percentage of the earnings. For example, sand from mining exported to Singapore – a business worth a few hundred million dollars – was controlled by a few powerful families, including that of the leader of the dictatorship, Hun Sen. This is a textbook case of organised crime with links to the state. And when a journalist, civil society group or local community tries to expose them, they use the weapons of the state to silence, jail, or bribe them. 

    Why did MNC decide to formally disband?

    In 2015 the government passed a repressive NGO law with lots of traps that made it difficult for us to be in compliance. I was also no longer in the country, as I was not allowed to return even though I had been legally charged and convicted there. In 2013, when we registered, there were three of us, plus two nominal members who were Buddhist monks. The other two founders were taken to the Ministry of Interior and told to disband or otherwise go to jail, so they decided to disband.

    We also thought it would be better not to be bound by the NGO law. Cambodian people have the right to protect their national resources. According to the Cambodian Constitution and international treaties the state has signed, we are not breaking the law. But we know this will not stop them from jailing us.

    What can international community do to support MNC and civil society in Cambodia?

    Some things are being done. Whenever there is an arbitrary arrest of activists, there are embassies in the capital, United Nations institutions and some Cambodian CSOs who speak up. 

    That’s good, but sadly it’s not enough. If you are doing business with Cambodia, such as importing billions of dollars per year worth of garments, you have to do more than just issue statements. You should make a clear connection between the health of democracy in Cambodia and the health of your business relationships. For example, the UK is working on a trade deal with Cambodia, and it must attach to it conditions such as ensuring a free media and halting the arbitrary jailing of activists. 

    The problem is that some diplomats don’t understand what is going on or don’t care about the human rights situation. Southeast Asian countries should also help each other and speak up on the situation in Cambodia. Not just civil society but members of parliament should call out, send letters to their ambassador and so forth.

    Civic space inCambodiais rated ‘repressed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.
    Get in touch with Mother Nature Cambodia through itswebsite or itsFacebook page, and follow@CambodiaMother on Twitter. 

  • COP26: ‘False solutions are brandished to divert our attention from those responsible’

    In the run-up to the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26), which will take place in Glasgow, UK between 31 October and 12 November 2021, CIVICUS is interviewing civil society activists, leaders and experts about the environmental challenges they face in their contexts, the actions they are undertaking to tackle them and their expectations for the upcoming summit.

    CIVICUS speaks with Lia Mai Torres, Executive Director of the Center for Environmental Concerns (CEC) – Philippines, a civil society organisation (CSO) that helps Filipino communities address environmental challenges. Founded in 1989 through an initiative of organisations representing fisherfolk, farmers, Indigenous peoples, women, people living in urban poverty and professional sectors, CEC focuses on environmental research, education, advocacy and campaigning. It is also part of the secretariat of the Asia Pacific Network of Environment Defenders (APNED), a coalition of organisations working in solidarity to protect the environment and its defenders.

    Lia Mai Torres

    What’s the key environmental issue in your country that you’re working on?

    The main environmental issue that the Philippines is currently facing is the proliferation of environmentally destructive projects and programmes. This situation persisted or even worsened under the pandemic.

    Just recently, the current administration lifted a moratorium on mining, based on claims that it will help the economy recover, after it was hard hit by the poor pandemic response. This will usher in around 100 mining agreements in different parts of the country. This was opposed by many communities due to the negative impacts of existing mining operations. An example is in the village of Didipio, Nueva Vizcaya, in the northern part of the Philippines, where a mining agreement with the Australian-Canadian company OceanaGold was renewed for another 25 years. The Bugkalot and Tuwali Indigenous communities are already suffering from a lack of water supply due to the mining operations and they fear that this will worsen with the continuing operations.

    Infrastructure projects are also a priority of the government, which claims that they will also help the economy. However, there are projects that are foreign funded under onerous loans that will worsen the situation of residents. An example of this is the China-funded Kaliwa Dam in Rizal province, in the southern part of Luzon island. It will encroach on the Dumagat Indigenous people’s ancestral domain, including sacred sites, as well as a protected area.

    Another example are the monocrop plantations that can be found mostly in the provinces of Mindanao. Ancestral domains of the Lumad Indigenous people have been converted into banana and pineapple plantations. Some residents report illnesses from the synthetic chemicals used in the plantations and many are being displaced from their farmlands.

    These are a few examples of priority projects that are pushed by the government to bring so-called development. However, it is obvious that these do not genuinely improve the situation of local communities, most of which are already experiencing poverty. In addition, the natural resources of the country are mostly not exploited to the benefit of its citizens, since the products extracted are destined for export. Only very few local and international corporations benefit from them. Natural resources are used for profit and not for national development.

    Have you faced backlash for the work you do?

    CEC works with local communities, since we believe that environmental struggles cannot be won without the united efforts of the people who are experiencing environmental impact. The real power comes from the organisations on the ground. CSOs like ours and other sectors should support their efforts, connecting local struggles to build a strong environmental movement at the national and international levels.

    Because of our support to local communities, we have faced reprisals. In 2007, Lafayette Mining Ltd, an Australian mining company, filed a libel case against CEC’s then-executive director for exposing the impacts of the company’s operations. In 2019 and 2021, our organisation was targeted through red-tagging, a practice by which the government declares individuals and organisations as terrorists or communists, in retaliation for our humanitarian missions following a typhoon and during the pandemic. 

    We also received information of a threat of a police raid in our office for providing sanctuary to Lumad Indigenous children who were forced out of their communities due to militarisation, threats and harassment. Our peaceful protest actions are often violently dispersed by the police and private security forces, and a member of our staff was arrested in 2019.

    Behind all these attacks are state security forces alongside the private security forces of corporations. The police and military have seemingly become part of the corporations’ security forces, using repressive measure to ensure that their operations run smoothly.

    How do you connect with the broader international climate movement?

    As many countries, especially from the global south, are experiencing similar environmental problems, we recognise the need to connect with organisations in other countries. In 2015, CEC was among the conveners of the International People’s Conference on Mining, in which environmental defenders were able to learn from each other’s experiences and coordinate local campaigns.

    CEC also helped establish APNED, a solidarity campaign network that provides mutual support to campaigns, raises issues at the international level, advocates for greater protection to defenders, conducts capacity-building activities and facilitates services. We believe that it is important to have solidarity among defenders to help strengthen local movements as well as the international struggle for our environmental rights.

    What hopes, if any, do you have for COP26 to make progress on your issue, and how useful generally do you find such international processes?

    Even before the pandemic, there were concerns regarding the inclusion of frontline or grassroots environmental defenders in international processes such as the climate talks. Lack of inclusivity became more evident under the pandemic, as many CSOs have found it difficult to attend due to additional requirements and expenses. In addition, only accredited organisations can attend formal events, and these are only very few with accreditation. Further, governments’ reports are usually far from reality. The worsening climate crisis is proof that governments are not doing enough.

    Despite this, we will still participate in the formal and side events of COP26, aiming to bring attention to how many developed countries and big corporations are worsening the climate crisis through resource grabbing and the exploitation of the natural resources of poor countries, exacerbating existing poverty, and how false solutions are brandished to divert our attention from their responsibility and lack of accountability. We also want to highlight the importance of environmental defenders in protecting our environment and upholding our environmental rights, and therefore the need to ensure that they do not suffer more politically motivated human rights violations that hinder them from doing their important work.

    What one change would you like to see that would help address the climate crisis?

    We hope that the profit-oriented capitalist framework will be changed in the Philippines. This would ensure resource conflicts will be addressed, environmental protection for ecological balance upheld, genuine climate adaptation programmes established and due attention given to vulnerable groups. This also includes holding countries and corporations that contribute to the climate crisis accountable and providing support for poor countries to adapt.

    Civic space in the Philippines is rated ‘repressedby theCIVICUS Monitor.
    Get in touch with the Center for Environmental Concerns-Philippines through itswebsite orFacebook page, and follow@CEC_Phils on Twitter. 

  • COP26: ‘My hope lies in the people coming together to demand justice’

    Mitzi Jonelle TanIn the run-up to the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26), which will take place in Glasgow, UK between 31 October and 12 November 2021, CIVICUS is interviewing civil society activists, leaders and experts about the environmental challenges they face in their contexts, the actions they are undertaking to tackle them and their expectations for the upcoming summit.

    CIVICUS speaks with Mitzi Jonelle Tan, a young climate justice activist based in Metro Manila, Philippines, who organises with Youth Advocates for Climate Action Philippines and is active in Fridays for Future International.

    What’s the key climate issue in your community?

    The Philippines is plagued by several impacts from climate change, from droughts that are getting longer and warmer to typhoons that are getting more frequent and more intense. Aside from these climate impacts – that we have not been able to adapt to and leave us with no support when it comes to dealing with the loss and damages – we also face numerous environmentally destructive projects, often undertaken by foreign multinational companies, that our government is allowing and even encouraging.

    Youth Advocates for Climate Action Philippines, the Fridays for Future of the Philippines, advocates for climate justice and to make sure that voices of people from the most affected communities are heard, amplified and given space. I first became an activist in 2017 after working with Indigenous leaders of the Philippines, which made me understand that they only way to achieve a more just and greener society is through collective action leading to system change.

    Have you faced backlash for the work you do?

    Yes, just like anyone who speaks up against injustice and inaction, our government through its paid trolls red-tags and terror-tags activists – it basically calls us terrorists for demanding accountability and pushing for change. There is a fear that comes along with being a climate activist in the Philippines, which has been characterised as the most dangerous country in Asia for environmental defenders and activists for eight years in a row. It’s not just the fear of the climate impacts, it’s also the fear of police and state forces coming to get us and making us disappear. 

    How do you engage with the broader international climate movement?

    I organise a lot with the international community, especially through Fridays for Future – MAPA (Most Affected Peoples and Areas), one of the global south groups of Fridays for Future. We do it by having conversations, learning from each other and creating strategies together, all while having fun. It’s important for the global youth movement to connect with one another, unite and show solidarity in order to truly address the global issue of the climate crisis.

    What hopes, if any, do you have for COP26 to make progress on your issue, and how useful generally do you find such international processes?

    My hope doesn’t lie with the so-called leaders and politicians who have continued business as usual for decades for the profit of the few, usually for the global north. My hope lies in the people: activists and civil society coming together to demand justice and to really expose how this profit-oriented system that brought us to this crisis is not the one that we need to bring us out of it. I think COP26 is a crucial moment and this international process has to be useful because we’ve already had 24 too many. These problems should have been solved at the very first COP, and one way or another we have to make sure that this COP is useful and brings meaningful change, not just more empty promises.

    What one change would you like to see – in the world or in your community – to help address the climate crisis?

    The one change I ask for is a big one: system change. We need to change our system from one that prioritises the overexploitation of the global south and marginalised peoples for the profit of the global north and the privileged few. The way we view development, it shouldn’t be based on GDP and everlasting growth, but rather on the quality of people’s lives. This is doable – but only if we address the climate crisis and all the other socio-economic injustices at its roots.

    Civic space inthe Philippinesis rated as ‘repressedby theCIVICUS Monitor.
    Get in touch with Youth Advocates for Climate Action Philippines through itswebsite or Facebook page, and follow @mitzijonelle onTwitter andInstagram. 

  • Hongkong: Civic space deteriorates as another civil society group plans closure

    CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance, expresses grave concern over increasing restrictions of civic space in Hong Kong exacerbated by the implementation of the National Security Law (NSL). These restrictions have led to the closure of human rights organisations and independent unions and highlight the proliferation of a climate of fear for activists and those who are critical of the authorities. 

    In the most recent case, prominent human rights watchdog Amnesty International announced the closure of its local and regional office in Hong Kong. In a statement, the organisation said that the NSL “has made it effectively impossible for human rights organizations in Hong Kong to work freely and without fear of serious reprisals from the government”. It added that “the recent targeting of local human rights organisations  and trade unions  signals an intensification of the authorities’ campaign to rid the city of all dissenting voices.”

    Between August and October 2021, several other organisations announced their disbandment in the wake of the sweeping NSL. These include the Civil Human Rights Front (CHRF), the pro-democracy group that organized some of Hong Kong's biggest protests in 2019. Other groups include the Hong Kong Alliance, responsible for organising three decades of vigils commemorating the victims of the Tiananmen Square massacre, Hong Kong Professional Teacher’s Union, the city’s largest teachers’ union and the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions (HKCTU), the largest independent trade union.

    All the groups cited the drastic change in the political situation in Hong Kong and the potential risks of criminalisation under the NSL as the main driving force behind their decision.

    “The recent closure of offices announced by Amnesty International and the disbandment of other organisations out of a fear of potential reprisals send a chilling message to people in Hong Kong and across the region. It confirmed concerns raised by many when the law came about that it was not so much about security but rather designed as a tool to crackdown on civic freedoms in Hong Kong,” said Cornelius Hanung, Asia Advocacy and Campaigns Officer, CIVICUS.

    CIVICUS has previously documented the detrimental impact of the NSL imposed by Beijing, which criminalises four types of activities, namely secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with “foreign forces.” According to the law, these  carry a maximum sentence of life in prison. Following the passage of the law in June 2020, several pro-democracy organisations including Demosisto, one of Hong Kong’s most prominent pro-democracy political groups, ceased their operations.  Some civil society staff left their jobs while others have exercised greater caution in their activities. More than a year on, it has been arbitrarily used to criminalise more than a hundred activists and opposition politicians, restrict press freedom and silence protests.

    “We stand in solidary with the people of Hong Kong and our civil society colleagues, and reiterate our calls for the government to repeal the National Security Law which is clearly in contravention of international human rights law. We further urge the international community not to remain silent in the face of increasing  restrictions on civil society but to use all avenues to speak up on these abuses” said Cornelius Hanung.

    In September 2020, CIVICUS supported the call by 50 United Nations experts calling for decisive measures to protect fundamental freedoms in China, including Hong Kong, and for an international mechanism to address the Chinese government’s human rights violations. We call on delegations to the Human Rights Council to take collective, coordinated action at the next Council session to make clear that systemic human rights violations in China, including those taking place in Hong Kong, will not go unnoticed and unchecked. 

  • ICC urged to resume its investigation into alleged crimes against humanity in the Philippines

    Honourable Karim A. A. Khan QC
    Prosecutor
    The Office of the Prosecutor
    International Criminal Court
    Oude Waalsdorperweg 10, 2597 AK Den Haag, Netherlands

    To ICC Prosecutor Karim A. A. Khan

    We, human rights organisations working on the Philippines, call on your office to resume its investigation into alleged crimes against humanity, in relation to the country’s ‘war on drugs’.

    In its 10 November 2021 letter, the Philippine Government raised issues of complementarity, citing that it has domestic mechanisms in place to investigate the killings. However, we reiterate concerns that of an estimated tens of thousands killed in the ‘war on drugs’, only a small number were covered in the review of documents by the country’s Department of Justice. Of these cases, the Justice Department cited only procedural errors, and most police officers involved in human rights violations merely received suspensions, raising concerns on the Philippines’ commitment to justice.

    The government likewise refuses to investigate the national policy landscape that enabled these killings, including the National Police Commission’s Memorandum Circular, which launched Operation Double Barrel, implementing the President’s ‘war on drugs’. On this account, the highest officials most responsible for the widespread human rights violations are escaping official domestic investigations.

    The Philippines’ human rights record speaks for itself. There has only been one criminal conviction out of the huge number of estimated extrajudicial killings. The government continues to refuse to work with the National Human Rights which has done intensive investigations into many cases of such killings.

    To date, there has been no independent body established and relatives of victims remain fearful of reprisals should they cooperate with independent investigations.The country’s President has incited violence against his critics while assuring protection to the police officers involved in the ‘war on drugs’. In light of this, what we see is a government that has used domestic mechanisms only to shield perpetrators from international accountability.

    We reiterate that the ICC investigation has wider implications beyond the Philippines. When the investigation was announced, it sent a message of hope to victims in the country and across the region where people continue to face State-sponsored violence. Civil society had hoped that the ICC would serve as a deterrent to human rights atrocities perpetrated by many authoritarian leaders across Asia. However, an order of deferment may be used to incite a disregard for international accountability.

    We have, over the past five years, documented cases of extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, and other crimes against humanity. We work with victims, who, until this day, are afraid to speak because of the real threat of reprisals. The ‘war on drugs’ has expanded into a war on civic space and a war against its people, where critics and civil society opposing the ‘war on drugs’ have been systematically targeted.

    As perpetrators of these violations once again try to take power in the coming 2022 national elections, any deferment poses risks that this cycle of impunity will only continue. The ICC was established to provide justice to victims of the gravest violations. We remain committed in supporting the Court in the pursuit of this mission.

    Signatories

    Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)
    BALAOD Mindanaw
    CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
    Karapatan Alliance Philippines
    DAKILA - Philippine Collective for Modern Heroism
    Human Rights Online Philippines (HRonlinePH)
    In Defense of Human Rights and Dignity Movement (iDefend)
    LILAK (Purple Action for Indigenous Women's Rights)
    Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates (PAHRA)
    Philippine Human Rights Information Center (PhilRights)
    Task Force Detainees of the Philippines (TFDP)

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

  • India: Joint statement on the deteriorating health of G. N. Saibaba in Nagpur Central Jail

    Seven human rights organisations expressed concerns about the deteriorating health of the activist and Delhi University professor Gokarakonda Naga Saibaba in Nagpur Central Jail, Maharashtra State, and called on the Indian authorities to provide urgent access to health care.

  • INDONESIA: ‘Communities have the right to have their opinions heard and considered’

    Kahar S CahyonoCIVICUS speaks about the recent protests triggered by rising fuel prices in Indonesia with Kahar S Cahyono, vice president of communications of Konfederasi Serikat Pekerja Indonesia (KSPI), a trade union organisation that promotes social justice and the welfare of workers.

    What triggered recent protests in Indonesia?

    Workers’ protests were triggered by several government policies deemed to be detrimental for workers. The most recent was the increase in fuel prices, which lead to the increase of prices of basic necessities.

    Previously, to determine the minimum wage for 2022, the government had used the regulations of a very problematic law, the Omnibus Law on Job Creation. As a result, the wage increase was at the minimum level. For workers in many areas there was no increase at all. The national average wage rise was roughly one per cent, while the inflation rate in September 2022 reached almost six per cent. In other words, wage increases could not accommodate the sudden increase of prices. The situation worsened due to the increase in fuel prices.

    In this context, the government announced it would continue to use the same mechanism provided by the Omnibus Law on Job Creation to calculate the wage increase for 2023. On top of that, the government recognised that in 2023 there will be a global recession. When this happens, workers will likely be the main victims, not least because there will be massive layoffs.

    In sum, the purchasing power of workers’ salaries, which already declined because the wage increase has been lower than inflation, will plunge further due to the fuel price rise. The situation will worsen even more because next year’s wage increase will also be the minimum, and will also likely be overcome by inflation. On top of all this, workers will also be haunted by the fear of losing their jobs due to a global recession. 

    What are your demands, and what tactics are you employing to put them forward?

    KSPI has made four demands: cancellation of the increase in the fuel price, repeal of the Omnibus Law on Job Creation, a 13 per cent increase in the minimum wage for 2023 and measures to avoid job losses in a context of global recession.

    On top of these four, KSPI has conveyed two additional demands: the implementation of agrarian reform and the adoption of the draft Law on the Protection of Domestic Workers.

    Agrarian reform is important to achieve food sovereignty. If Indonesia is able to satisfy its food demand without depending on imported goods, it could avoid the worst impacts of a global recession. The draft Law on the Protection of Domestic Workers is key because domestic workers are typically employed in the informal sector and lack any protection.

    KSPI employs a ‘CLAP’ strategy, which stands for concept, lobby, action and politics. Concept refers to developing thought and arguments regarding the issues, through discussion, seminars and other exchanges. Lobbying refers to conducting meetings with relevant officials to convey our position on each issue.

    Action is conducted both through litigation – for example, we submitted a petition for judicial review to the Constitutional Court on the Law on Job Creation, as well as a petition to the Administrative Court on the determination of the minimum wage – and peaceful protest at both local and national levels – for instance, by demonstrating outside parliament or the office of the mayor or governor.

    Finally, politics refers to campaigning so that people will not vote for a political party that supports measures that hurt workers, such as the Omnibus Law or the increase in fuel prices. This is in addition to establishing a political party representing workers, that is, the Labour Party as a tool for class struggle.

    KSPI uses all these tactics jointly with organisations of farmers, fishers, young people, students, women, people living in urban poverty and academics.

    Have protesters experienced any human rights violations?

    Major human rights violations were recorded during theprotests against the Omnibus Law on Job Creation in 2020. An investigation byAmnesty International Indonesia documented at least 402 victims of police violence in 15 provinces and at least 6,658 individuals arrested in 21 provinces. People who protested online were also intimidated. Between 7 and 20 October 2020, at least 18 people in seven provinces were criminalised for allegedly violating the Information and Electronic Transactions Law. 

    As for workers, when KSPI urged a nationwide strike against the Omnibus Law, security force officers came to several factories, even entering production areas, to prevent workers joining the protest. Buses rented by workers to join the protest in Jakarta were suddenly cancelled for no reason, possibly as a result of intimidation or prohibition.

    Rather than with repression, the government should respond to labour action by implementing mechanisms for meaningful participation, enacting the right of the community to have their opinions heard and considered and to receive reasoned responses to the opinions provided.

    How did KSPI react to the football stadium disaster on 1 October?

    More than 130 people died and more than 300 were injured on 1 October as a result of the violence that erupted at Kanjuruhan stadium in Malang during an Indonesian league soccer match when supporters from the losing team invaded the pitch and police fired teargas, provoking a stampede. 

    When this happened, we conveyed our deepest condolences to the victims’ families and to those who were injured. We also examined the facts and concluded there were procedural failures in handling the crowd, and condemned the unprofessional behaviour that led to the tragedy.

    KSPI published a media release with a series of calls. First, we urged the head of Indonesian Police to strip the police head of Malang from his position due to his failure to police the incident adequately.

    Second, we called for this case to be handled by the Indonesian Police Headquarters so that it is thoroughly investigated and those found responsible are punished through either criminal or administrative proceedings, according to laws and regulations.

    Third, we urged the Football Association of Indonesia (PSSI) to suspend league matches until after the conclusion of the investigation of the tragedy. The PSSI should also ensure this won’t happen again by tightening its security protocol for football matches.

    Fourth, we urged the public to raise the Indonesian flag at half-mast in their homes as a symbol to express condolences. And finally, we urged society to promote a healthier, more peaceful sports culture.

    At KSPI we thought it was important for us to convey our position on this issue, not only because many football supporters are also workers, but also because we realise that the use of excessive force by the security forces is very easily directed against workers. Security forces also often use teargas to dissolve workers’ protests. We hope incidents such as this will not be repeated either inside or outside stadiums, in any mass protest attended by thousands of people.


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

    Get in touch with Konfederasi Serikat Pekerja Indonesia through itswebsite or itsFacebook andInstagrampages.

  • INDONESIA: ‘The new Criminal Code spells danger for civil society’

    FatiaMaulidiyantiCIVICUS speaks about the new criminal code passed in Indonesia withFatia Maulidiyanti, Executive Coordinator of KontraS/The Commission for the Disappeared and Victims of Violence.

    KontraS is an Indonesian civil society organisation (CSO) established in 1998 to investigate enforced disappearances, acts of violence and other human rights violations.

    What are the main changes introduced in the new Criminal Code?

    It is KontraS’s opinion that this Criminal Code Bill will have effects well beyond hampering people’s right to privacy. Many of its articles seek to legitimise the ongoing restrictions that are shrinking civic space, bringing back the spirit of the authoritarian Suharto era.

    For example, articles 218 and 219 introduce the crimes of defamation and insult against the president and vice president. This will allow the criminalisation of government critics. Similarly, article 240 bans defaming and insulting the government, and article 351 makes it a crime to defame or insult any authorities or state institutions. These articles are meant to criminalise the publication of any kind of research, data or criticism of the government and the state institutions.

    This amounts to the reintroduction of a once repealed lèse-majesté clause dating back to Dutch colonial times, which of course has long been repealed in the Netherlands. And it spells danger for civil society. It is worth noting that the policing and judicial systems in Indonesia are very problematic. Police standards are low and there is a lot of corruption. Arbitrary arrest and detention are commonly used, as are unfair trials. This already hinders the ability of civil society movements to exist and sustain their work.

    There are also several problematic articles related to the need to request and obtain permits to conduct demonstrations, rallies and other public gatherings.

    What are the forces behind the changes?

    There have been too many obscure political bargains between the government and parliament to accommodate the interests of all political parties at the expense of civil rights and fundamental freedoms.

    While there seems to have been a group of academics supporting the drafting process, there has been no consultation with or participation of civil society or business interests. At the centre of the new criminal code is an attempt to secure power, guarantee public order and gain control in preparation for the 2024 presidential election.

    What do you make of the changes regarding ‘morality’ issues such as sex outside marriage?

    Regression on morality issues may be counterproductive at a time when the government is trying to prevent mass protests against their policies, particularly in view of the upcoming election.

    But the criminalisation of private relationships, acts and behaviours can also be seen as a bargaining chip as the current government is trying to bring Islamic fundamentalist groups into the fold. They are trying to ensure their loyalty by showing they are willing to safeguard conservative religious values. LGBTQI+ rights have been at the forefront of the battles waged by fundamentalist political and religious groups, so they have been the first to go.

     

    How has civil society tried to stop these changes from happening?

    We often discussed with our allies whether and how to provide inputs and recommendations to the Ministry of Law and Human Rights and to the House of Representatives during the process. We did have meetings and took part in various consultations, but as it turned out, these just went through the motions of public engagement, keeping the formalities but disabling any meaningful opportunity to influence the outcomes.

    Numerous CSOs across Indonesia have been protesting about this since at least 2019. There was a big campaign, #ReformasiDikorupsi (‘corrupt reform’) followed by a series of demonstrations against the enactment of the criminal code. However, the government and parliament chose to continue ignoring our objections and instead accelerated the process.

    What kind of support does Indonesian civil society need from the international community?

    We need all sectors of the international community, including international CSOs, foreign governments and their diplomatic missions and United Nations bodies, to send a clear warning to the Indonesian government against continuing to shut down civic space.

    We really hope the movement to warn the government of Indonesia comes not only from domestic civil society, but also from our international counterparts.

    Investors should also use their leverage, as the government is trying to attract foreign investments while the human rights situation continues to deteriorate on the ground.

    The Indonesian state should be held accountable and be persuaded to step back and change course.


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

    Get in touch with KontraS through itswebsite and follow@kontras_update on Instagram and@KontraS on Twitter.

  • INDONESIA: ‘The Sexual Violence Bill is one step further in claiming the rights of women and children’

    Nuril QomariyahCIVICUS speaks with Nuril Qomariyah, coordinator of Perempuan Bergerak, about the Sexual Violence Bill recently passed in Indonesia and the key roles played by civil society.

    Founded in 2016, Perempuan Bergerak is an Indonesian civil society organisation (CSO) that promotes women’s rights in local communities, striving for the values of equality, justice and human rights, and providing support for both women and men to build more equal gender relationships.

    What is the relevance of the newly passed Sexual Violence Bill?

    The Sexual Violence Bill that Indonesia’s House of Representatives passed on 9 May 2022, formally known as RUU TPKS, seeks to protect victims of sexual violence crimes and help them with the recovery process. 

    The bill deals with nine types of criminal acts of sexual violence regulated in article 4, paragraph 1: non-physical sexual harassment, physical sexual harassment, forced contraception, forced sterilisation, forced marriage, sexual torture, sexual exploitation, sexual slavery and electronic-based sexual violence. Perpetrators proven guilty of these crimes will be subject to imprisonment.

    It is interesting that the inclusion of electronic-based sexual violence received some criticism. In the early stages, when the bill was being drafted, it was not included. However, CSOs and activists advocated for its inclusion because sexual violence cases, especially among young children, are increasingly happening in or in connection with cyberspace.

    How might the new law change things for the better?

    The main outstanding thing about this bill is that it focuses on the victims and seeks to create an environment that will help them recover from acts of sexual violence. According to a study conducted by the Indonesia Judicial Research Society, the law should be appreciated because it clearly takes sides with sexual violence victims by mandating the establishment of mechanisms to support their recovery.

    In its article 30, paragraph 1 the bill states that victims are entitled to services such as restitution and counselling. If the perpetrator is unable to pay restitution the state will compensate the victim in accordance with the court’s decision. Further, victims are recognised as having the right to receive the necessary treatment, the right to be protected and the right to recovery.

    Community-based service providers such as the police are required to receive and follow up on reports of sexual violence and provide assistance to the victims. Under the new law they are no longer allowed to dismiss sexual violence cases, and instead must conduct the investigation needed to help the victims. The role of families, communities and central and local governments in preventing sexual violence is also emphasised. The new law seeks to make victims of sexual violence feel comfortable enough to report their perpetrators and open legal cases against them. We consider this bill fundamental in helping victims and survivors of sexual violence.

    Do you see it as a civil society victory?

    Indeed, we consider this a civil society victory because we have been involved in the whole process and have long advocated for the bill to be passed. CSOs working closely with victims and survivors of sexual violence understand how important this bill is, which is why we were at the forefront of the efforts that resulted in its approval. 

    It took us 10 years to get here. This is quite a long time. During the past decade, we have organised and made sure we built a unified front pushing for this law. Sexual violence is an offence that affects those who constitute the majority in our society; it is women and children who experience it the most. So getting this law passed is one step further in claiming the rights of women and children, including their right to live in a safe and secure environment. 

    The new law empowers victims because it provides tools to respond to cases of sexual violence. We are very happy to see this kind of progress. A victory like this provides confirmation of the great influence our work has on society. 

    What tactics did you use to encourage the passage of the new legislation?

    Perempuan Bergerak is based in Malang, the second-largest city in the province of East Java. We provide safe spaces for people, and especially women, to get together, exchange with one another, learn and organise. We also provide space for men to learn about equality in human relations so they are able to see women as fully autonomous human beings, rather than weak creatures of lesser value who are under their dominion.

    The Sexual Violence Bill is crucial for this work because it has the potential to provide the same kind of safe space, with legal guarantees, for women and children all over Indonesia. This is why we collaborated with various community groups in Malang, including students, academics and activists, to raise wide awareness about the importance of the bill. Perempuan Bergerak has a large virtual community on social media platforms, so we created content to promote the bill and shared it on these platforms. The young generation is very active on social media, so we channelled much of our activism there. 

    In addition to social media activism, we did a lot of work on the ground, including organising discussion forums, making as many appearances as we could on television and local radio stations, and demonstrating on the streets alongside other organisations and activists.

    We are also part of Koalisi Masyarakat Sipil Anti Kekerasan Seksual (KOMPAKS), a coalition of Indonesian civil society groups fighting against sexual violence. As a coalition, we share the same vision and have worked together to push the government to pass this bill. We mobilised in unity throughout the whole process. 

    What challenges do you see moving forward, and how does civil society plan to address them?

    The main challenge we anticipate is implementation. We know we will have to be very vigilant, monitor each implementation stage and make sure local governments respect the law. We have known this would be a challenge all along, so throughout our advocacy and campaigning in the process to get the bill passed we acted together as civil society to create awareness at the community level about the importance of this bill’s implementation. Now that our strategy to get the bill has worked, we will need to keep moving together to ensure a successful process of implementation. We believe that through collaboration with as many stakeholders as possible, including with the government, educational institutions and civil society, we can make the implementation stage progress smoothly.

    Civic space in Indonesia is rated ‘obstructed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.
    Get in touch withPerempuan Bergerakthrough itsInstagram page.

  • Indonesia: Intimidation against human rights activists exemplify narrowing civic and democratic space

    CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance, is highly alarmed by the Indonesian authorities' decision to name human rights defenders Fatia Maulidiyanti and Haris Azhar as suspects in a defamation case for speaking up about human rights violations connected to corporate crime in Papua allegedly linked to government officials.

  • Indonesia: Release Victor Yeimo and hold perpetrators of human rights violations in Papua accountable

    CIVICUS, a global civil society alliance, and Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) are gravely concerned by the ongoing prosecution of human rights defender Victor Yeimo.

  • Laos: Nine years on, civil society worldwide still demands answers on Sombath's enforced disappearance

    On the ninth anniversary of the enforced disappearance of Lao civil society leader Sombath Somphone, we, the undersigned organisations, reiterate our calls on the Lao government to determine his fate and whereabouts and deliver justice to him and his family.

  • Malaysia: IPCC bill is a step backwards for police accountability

    Today, we—Amnesty International Malaysia, ARTICLE 19, CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation and Human Rights Watch—call on Members of Parliament in Malaysia to reject the deeply flawed Independent Police Conduct Commission (IPCC) bill and move quickly to table a bill to establish a police accountability mechanism that is truly independent and capable of ensuring adequate police oversight.

    The IPCC bill is expected to be tabled in Parliament during this Parliamentary sitting for its second reading. While there is little doubt that Malaysia desperately needs an independent oversight commission for the police, the IPCC bill, first tabled in August 2020, further weakens the already anaemic oversight mechanism currently in place and must be rejected.

    The bill fails to address widespread public concerns about police misconduct, ongoing misuse of power against government critics, and custodial deaths. If passed, the bill would not, as the government states, promote accountability, but rather shield police officers from scrutiny and independent oversight.

    Police abuse of power in Malaysia

    Malaysia has a long history of police abuse, including the excessive use of force, torture, ill-treatment, harassment, and deaths in custody. Human rights violations by police officers have been documented by both national and international non-governmental organisations (NGOs).

    The police have also abused their power to restrict freedom of expression and assembly in Malaysia. The space for peaceful protests has shrunk considerably. Police personnel continue to harass those criticising governmentofficials and have arbitrarily arrested peaceful protesters under the guise of dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.

    The aggressive application of the Sedition Act 1948, in particular against government critics, is another abuse of police power frequently witnessed. Between January and August 2021, NGOs documented investigations under the Sedition Act being opened by police in 17 cases involving 37 individuals in total. The recent investigations of the #Lawan protest organisers under the Sedition Act are another worrying example of police overstep to the detriment of human rights.

    The Communications and Multimedia Act is also frequently used by the police to censor human rights defenders, journalists, artists, political opponents, and ordinary members of the public who have been critical of the police, government officials or Malaysian royalty, or shared opinions about issues deemed sensitive by the government, such as race and religion.

    Police misconduct and violence

    This year alone we have seen multiple alarming custodial deaths. In January, former police volunteer reservist Mohd Afis Ahmad died from blunt force trauma to the head just a day after he was arrested. In another case in April, milk trader A Ganapathy was admitted to the Intensive Care Unit upon his release following 12 days in police custody, where he later died. Autopsy results revealed he died from complications arising from injuries on his legs and shoulders, believed to have been sustained while in police custody. In May, security guard S Sivabalan died about 70 minutes after he was arrested by police, allegedly of a heart attack. Promised investigations into each of the above cases appear not to have made any progress.

    Police misconduct is not limited to deaths in custody. Allegations of corruption, abuse of power and links to criminal elements have also been raised in recent years. In March this year we were alarmed by allegations from the former Inspector General of Police (IGP) Abdul Hamid Bador that there is a movement of corrupt young police officers or ‘cartels’ within the police force whose ambition is to dominate the police force enabling them to carry out ‘dirty work’ for their own personal interests.

    The allegations from the former IGP have shocked the public and highlighted how crucial it is to establish an independent body to investigate these claims and to reform the police force. An independent and effective oversight commission is not going to solve all these problems, but it is an important first step, given the lack of accountability within the police force in Malaysia.

    Independent Police Conduct Commission (IPCC)

    Despite these concerns, the tabled IPCC bill is not a move towards police accountability but the opposite. The bill further weakens the limited police oversight provided by the current system under the Enforcement Agency Integrity Commission (EAIC). Our key concerns with the bill are as follows:

    1. No powers of search and seizure- The EAIC, for all its weaknesses, has the power to perform searches and seizures in its investigations of wrongdoing, including custodial deaths. The IPCC does not and as such would weaken the ability to conduct meaningful and effective investigations into police misconduct.
    1. Limited powers to compel documents and no provisions for hearingsUnder the IPCC, documents or evidence can be withheld if deemed ‘prejudicial to national security or national interest,’ a vaguely defined clause that is open to abuse. Unlike the EAIC, the IPCC does not provide for a hearing. Hearings would allow commissioners to fully explore and examine complaints, ensure greater transparency to victims of abuses and their families, and inform the public and decision makers around police procedures and policies.
    1. Prior notice requirement for site visits- The IPCC commissioners cannot visit police premises, lockups, or places of detention without prior notice to the head of department. Experience from the National Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (SUHAKAM) shows that authorities may treat early notice requirements as permission requirements, diluting the power of site visits.
    1. Limited investigation power - Even if the IPCC commissioners are able to successfully carry out investigations despite the above limitations, its powers are limited to making recommendations to a relevant body such as the Police Force Commission, the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission or other relevant authorities. Given how recommendations by bodies such as the EAIC and SUHAKAM have been consistently ignored, it is not unreasonable to expect the IPCC will face the same blue brick wall. The IPCC is also exempt from investigating any act provided for in the Inspector-General Standing Orders (IGSO) (Sections 96 and 97 of the Police Act 1967). The standing orders generally govern issues such as the conduct of arrests, the treatment of detainees, and on matters related to permissible use of weapons, amongst others.
    1. Appointment process lacks independence and is unclear- Under the IPCC, as with the EAIC, members of the Commission will be appointed and dismissed by the King on the advice of the Prime Minister, calling into question the independence of the body. Moreover, appointed members may themselves be police officers. The Chief Executive Officer of the Commission is appointed by the Minister of Home Affairs, which further undermines the principle of independence and impartiality.

    The need for an independent police oversight body

    The idea of an independent police oversight body was first proposed in 2005, as part of 125 recommendations made by the Royal Commission to Enhance the Operation and Management of the Royal Malaysian Police. The commission was composed of prominent public figures, including a former IGP. The police force also made its submissions as did the Retired Senior Police Officers' Association of Malaysia.

    A key recommendation was the establishment of an Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC) to investigate police abuses and discipline those responsible. A proposed bill was drafted as part of the report. Yet, more than 16 years later, Malaysia seems to be moving ever further away from meaningful police reform.

    Police leadership has resisted independent oversight and the IPCMC has not yet been established, despite vigorous and sustained campaigning from civil society and human rights organisations. The previous Pakatan Harapan government tabledan IPCMC bill in July 2019 although it was criticised by human rights groups for being insufficient.

    Malaysia needs an independent oversight body that is truly independent and impartial from the State and the police, to avoid a conflict of interests. To be effective, the oversight body must possess real powers and responsibilities to investigate and take concrete action against police officers responsible for serious abuses. It is long overdue for the Malaysian government to treat the matter of custodial deaths and other police misconduct with the urgency it warrants. The families of those who have died while in police detention deserve answers and justice for their loved ones. People in Malaysia need to be assured that these deaths will not continue to occur with impunity and that those who abuse their positions of power and responsibility will be held accountable.

    Therefore, we urge the government to drop the IPCC bill and instead urgently table a bill that establishes an oversight commission that is truly independent, with sufficient powers to effectively investigate and take action against police misconduct. The rule of law applies to all, even the police.

    Endorsed by

    1. Amnesty International Malaysia
    2. ARTICLE 19
    3. CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
    4. Human Rights Watch

    Civic space in Malaysia is rated as ‘obstructed’ by the CIVICUS Monitor.

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