United Nations


  • Enhance the process to select new UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

    In a letter to the UN Secretary-General, a coalition of more than 70 civil society organisations has put forward proposals to revitalise and enhance the process to select the new UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

    Mr. António Guterres, UN Secretary-General

    The appointment of the new United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, due to take place later this year, is a vital moment for the United Nations, with implications for the human rights of millions of people around the world.

    The new High Commissioner faces a world in which universal human rights norms are under threat or even in retreat, including in established democracies. The person appointed will have to confront global human rights challenges in the context of historic and on-going underfunding for the United Nation’s human rights pillar – now dubbed by many as “the forgotten pillar”. Against this backdrop, the need for global leadership and international cooperation in the area of human rights is greater than ever.

    It is therefore crucial that the most highly qualified candidate is selected who will be able to rise to the challenges of this demanding and important post. Under General Assembly resolution 48/141, the High Commissioner is expected to, inter alia: 

    • Monitor and speak out about human rights violations – ‘preventing the continuation of human rights violations throughout the world’;
    • Act as the secretariat to the ‘competent bodies of the United Nations system in the field of human rights and making recommendations to them;’
    • Provide capacity-building, advisory services and technical assistance, at the request of the State concerned, ‘with a view to supporting actions and programs in the field of human rights’;
    • Engage in human rights diplomacy (‘dialogue’) with governments and ‘enhance international cooperation,’ in order to promote the implementation of international human rights obligations and commitments, and respect for human rights;
    • Coordinate human rights mainstreaming across the UN system; and
    • Make recommendations and driving efforts to ‘rationalize, adapt, strengthen and streamline the United Nations machinery in the field of human rights with a view to improving its efficiency and effectiveness.’

    Additionally, given the pressure that civil society is under in many parts of the world, it is increasingly important that the High Commissioner be civil society’s champion. The High Commissioner is in a unique position to guarantee civil society space, not just through words but also through actions (e.g. by meeting marginalised or at-risk groups and human rights defenders while on country missions). 

    In recent years, international organisations, including the UN, have made major improvements and reforms to recruitment processes to enhance the transparency and accountability of high-level appointments. Of course, your own appointment as UN Secretary-General benefited greatly from a fairer, more open and more inclusive process. For the credibility of the United Nations as well as the standing and authority of the next High Commissioner, it is imperative that a rigorous selection process is undertaken which meets the high standards now expected by governments, civil society and the general public – standards which are also enshrined as part of universal human rights norms.

    In the opinion of the undersigned, a group of civil society organisations strongly committed to upholding the UN Charter and its values, the procedure adopted by the General Assembly in 1993 to appoint the High Commissioner can be enhanced – to make it more transparent, inclusive, meritocratic, and engaging for civil society and the general public. We believe this can be achieved in a manner consistent with existing UN documents, while avoiding politicisation and keeping the final decision in your independent hands.

    Specific proposals for consideration should include: publishing a formal set of selection criteria; improving the global visibility of the formal call for candidatures; publishing a clear timetable for the selection process that enables adequate assessment of candidates; publishing an official list of candidates; and requiring all candidates to produce vision statements.  We also believe, in the interests of transparency, inclusivity and public engagement, that the selection process should include wide consultation with all stakeholders, including civil society. 

    Such a process would, we believe, improve the authority, independence and credibility of the new High Commissioner, contribute to the existing reform agenda with regards to the revitalisation of the UN and, more broadly, improve the Organisation’s global legitimacy.

    Finally, we believe thought should be given to changing the mandate of the High Commissioner to a single non-renewable term of five years. This would help any new High Commissioner avoid political pressure and would strengthen her or his independence. We recognise that this would require bringing changes to the relevant General Assembly resolution, and should thus be carefully explored by the relevant actors.

    As the United Nations celebrates the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights this year, we hope that you will seize this historic opportunity to bring the procedure for the selection of the High Commissioner more squarely into line with the high principles set down in that inspiring document, including by giving due consideration to the proposals outlined above. This will help ensure that the best and most qualified candidate is selected to become the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

    Yours sincerely,

    Asian Human Rights Commission
    Association for the Prevention of Torture
    Association of Ukrainian Human Rights Monitors (UMDPL)
    Avaaz Bond · Society Building (United Kingdom)
    Canadian Council for International Co-operation
    Cecade (El Salvador)
    Centre for Civil Liberties (Ukraine)
    Child Rights International Network
    Coordinación de ONG y Cooperativas de Guatemala
    Deca Equipo Pueblo (Mexico)
    European Centre for Non-for-Profit Law
    Fundación para la Paz y la Democracia
    Freedom House
    Geneva Infant Feeding Association
    Fundacion Multitudes (Chile)
    Helsinki Citizens' Assembly-Vanadzor (Armenia)
    Human Rights Information Centre (Ukraine)
    Index on Censorship (United Kingdom)
    Institute of Social Sciences (India)
    International Centre for Non-for-Profit Law
    International Planned Parenthood Federation
    Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group (Ukraine)
    National Forum for Voluntary Organizations (Sweden)
    Network of Democrats in the Arab World
    Open Estonia Foundation
    Open Lithuania foundation
    Quê Me: Vietnam Committee for Human Rights
    Riksförbundet för Sexuell Upplysning - RFSU / The Swedish Association for Sexuality Education
    Sexual Rights Initiative
    Small Planet Institute
    Solidarity Center (United States)
    The Right Livelihood Award Foundation
    Transparency International Portugal
    United Nations Association – UK (UNA-UK)
    Universal Rights Group
    World Movement for Democracy
    Human Rights House Tbilisi on behalf of:
    Article 42 of the Constitution
    Georgian Centre for Psychosocial and Medical Rehabilitation of Torture Victims
    Human Rights Centre
    Media Institute
    Union Sapari – Family without violence
    Human Rights House Azerbaijan (on behalf of the following NGOs):

    • Election Monitoring and Democracy Studies Center
    • Legal Education Society
    • Women’s Association for Rational Development

    Human Rights House Belgrade (on behalf of the following NGOs):

    • Belgrade Centre for Human Rights
    • Civic Initiatives
    • Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia
    • Lawyers Committe for Human Rights
    • Policy Centre

    The Barys Zvozskau Belarusian Human Rights House (on behalf of the following NGOs):

    • Belarusian Association of journalists
    • Belarusian Helsinki Committee
    • Belarusian Language Society
    • Belarusian PEN Centre
    • Human Rights Centre Viasna
    • Legal Initiative

    Human Rights House Oslo (on behalf of the following NGOs):

    • Health and Human Rights Info
    • Human Rights House Foundation
    • The Norwegian Tibet Committee

    Human Rights House Yerevan (on behalf of the following NGOs):

    • PINK Armenia
    • Socioscope
    • Human Rights House Zagreb (on behalf of the following NGOs):
    • B.a.B.e. Be active. Be emancipated.
    • Center for Peace Studies
    • Croatian Platform for International Citizen Solidarity – CROSOL
    • Documenta - Center for Dealing with the Past


  • Eritrea: Extend the mandate of the UN Special Rapporteur

    Joint Letter
    To Permanent Representatives of Member and Observer States of the United Nations Human Rights Council 

    At the 41st session of the UN Human Rights Council (24 June-12 July 2019), the Council extended a hand to the Eritrean Government. While renewing the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the country, it signalled its willingness to offer Eritrea a constructive way forward, in particular by shifting the resolution from agenda item 4 to item 2. 

    While welcoming the adoption of Council resolution 41/1, and in particular the renewal of the mandate, many non-governmental organisations cautioned that any shifts in the Council’s approach should reflect corresponding changes in the human rights situation on the ground. 

    Regrettably, one year later, we, the undersigned non-governmental organisations, recall that the concerns expressed in a jointletter published last year remain valid, for the reasons set out below. Ahead of the 44th session of the Council (currently scheduled to begin in June 2020), we urge you to support the adoption of a resolution extending the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Eritrea. 

    As Eritrea has entered the second year of its Council membership term, its domestic human rights situation remains dire. A free and independent press continues to be absent from the country and 16 journalists remain in detention without trial, many since 2001. Impunity for past and ongoing human rights violations is widespread. Violations continue unabated, including arbitrary arrests and incommunicado detention, violations of the rights to a fair trial, access to justice and due process, enforced disappearances, lack of information on the fate or whereabouts of disappeared persons, violations of women’s and girls’ rights, and severe restrictions on the enjoyment of the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, association, and religion or belief. Secondary school students, some still children, continue to be conscripted in their thousands each year into the country’s abusive national service system. Indefinite national service, involving torture, sexual violence and forced labour continues; thousands remain in open-ended conscription, sometimes for as long as ten years or more, despite the 2018 peace accord with Ethiopia. 

    In resolution 38/15 (6 July 2018), the Council invited the Special Rapporteur to “assess and report on the situation of human rights and the engagement and cooperation of the Government of Eritrea with the Human Rights Council and its mechanisms, as well as with the Office of the High Commissioner [OHCHR], and, where feasible, to develop benchmarks for progress in improving the situation of human rights and a time-bound plan of action for their implementation.” The Council should ensure adequate follow-up by allowing the Special Rapporteur to pursue her work and OHCHR to deepen its engagement with the Eritrean Government. 

    As a Council member, Eritrea has an obligation to “uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights” and to “fully cooperate with the Council.” However, during the Council’s 43rd session, in February 2020, both the Special Rapporteur, Ms. Daniela Kravetz, and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms. Michelle Bachelet, reported that no concrete evidence of progress in Eritrea’s human rights situation, including against the benchmarks, could be reported. 

    By streamlining its approach and adopting resolution 41/1 under its item 2, the Council offered a way forward for human rights reform in Eritrea. In March 2019, Eritrea took an initial step by meeting with the Special Rapporteur in Geneva. More recently, in February 2020, a human rights dialogue took place between the Government and the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in a more constructive spirit than during Eritrea’s 2019 review by the Human Rights Committee. Unfortunately, despite the window of opportunity provided by Eritrea’s CEDAW review and the Eritrean Ambassador indicating, at the Council’s 43rd session, that his country was committed to confidence-building measures and technical cooperation, Eritrea refuses to cooperate with the Special Rapporteur, and recently launched yet another unwarranted attack on her and her mandate. The Government continues to reject findings of ongoing grave violations, as well as calls for reform, and human rights-based recommendations, including in relation to the Covid-19 crisis.  

    The Council should urge Eritrea to make progress towards meeting its membership obligations and to engage with the UN human rights system constructively. It should not reward non-cooperation by, but rather maintain scrutiny of, one of its members. We believe that a technical rollover of the Special Rapporteur’s mandate, under the same item, would contribute to this aim. 

    At its upcoming 44th session, the Council should adopt a resolution: (a) Extending the mandate of the Special Rapporteur for a further year; (b) Urging Eritrea to cooperate fully with the Special Rapporteur by granting her access to the country, in accordance with its obligations as a Council member; (c) Calling on Eritrea to develop an implementation plan to meet the progress benchmarks, in consultation with the Special Rapporteur and OHCHR; (d) Requesting OHCHR to present an oral update on Eritrea at the Council’s 46th session; and (e) Requesting the Special Rapporteur to present an oral update at the Council’s 46th session in an interactive dialogue, and to present a report on the implementation of the mandate at the Council’s 47th session and to the General Assembly at its 76th session. 

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


    1. African Centre for Democracy and Human Rights Studies
    2. AfricanDefenders (the Pan-African Human Rights Defenders Network)
    3. Amnesty International 
    4. Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies 
    5. Center for Civil Liberties (Ukraine) 
    6. CIVICUS 
    7. Civil Rights Defenders 
    8. Committee to Protect Journalists 
    9. CSW (Christian Solidarity Worldwide)
    10. DefendDefenders (East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project)
    11. Eritrean Law Society (ELS) 
    12. Eritrean Movement for Democracy and Human Rights (EMDHR) 
    13. Geneva for Human Rights / Genève pour les Droits de l’Homme
    14. Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect 
    15. Human Rights Concern - Eritrea (HRCE) 
    16. Human Rights Watch
    17. International Service for Human Rights 
    18. Network of Eritrean Women (NEW)
    19. Network of Human Rights Defenders in Central Africa / Réseau des Défenseurs des Droits Humains en Afrique Centrale (REDHAC)  
    20. One Day Seyoum 
    21. Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights 
    22. Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network (SAHRDN) 
    23. West African Human Rights Defenders Network / Réseau Ouest Africain des Défenseurs des Droits Humains (ROADDH/WAHRDN) 
    24. World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)


  • Eritrea: Impunity persists for attacks against human rights — international action needed

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


    CIVICUS and the Eritrean Movement for Democracy and Human Rights welcome the Special Rapporteur’s report.

    We are alarmed that the human rights situation in Eritrea continues to be dire, despite improved engagement with regional and international actors. Civic space remains closed, with no free and independent press, and at least 16 journalists have been held in detention without trial for about two decades. We are seriously concerned by the picture set out in the report of a culture of impunity for the perpetrators of human rights violations and abuses, including arbitrary and incommunicado detention, sometimes indefinitely, particularly of those expressing dissent and opinion; inhumane and degrading treatment and punishment of Eritreans through torture, forced labour, and sexual violence; religious and ethnic minority oppression, restrictions to free expression and peaceful assembly, and mandatory indefinite conscription of youth in the national military service system. Hundreds of thousands have fled the country in recent years. A humanitarian emergency is emerging owing to the government’s inadequate response to famine

    Madame President, these and many more raise long-standing concerns over continued refusal by Eritrean government to cooperate with the Special Rapporteur and other international human rights mechanisms. This is particularly egregious given Eritrea’s membership of this very Council.

    Where there is a lack of political will for domestic solutions, it is even more vital that international scrutiny remains. We urge the Council to ensure the continuation of this important mandate. We also call on the government of Eritrea to fully cooperate and allow access to UN Human Rights Council mechanisms as befits a member of the Council, and to take immediate steps to address its human rights and humanitarian emergency.

    Special Rapporteur, what more can the Council do to ensure steps are taken towards achievement of the benchmarks set out in your report?

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


  • Ethiopia: Amidst a humanitarian crisis, violations are compounded by civic space restrictions

    State,emt at the 51st Session of the UN Human Rights Council – 51st Session 

    Interactive Dialogue on Ethiopia 

    Delivered by Lisa Majumdar 

    Thank you, Mr President, and thank you to the Commission for their first report. 

    It paints a grim picture of resumed hostilities compounding violations which could amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity. 

    We are seriously concerned by the civic space restrictions that are adding to the crisis – from restrictions to humanitarian access, to imposition of internet blackouts, to widespread arbitrary detention. 

    The situation in Ethiopia, including the humanitarian disaster that has unfolded, will have consequences well beyond its borders. It is critical that full, unfettered, and sustained humanitarian access to Tigray is immediately restored. 

    The report references the arbitrary detention of thousands of Tigrayans across the country, including in administrative detention centres, as well as on a massive scale in western Tigray.

    We note that mass arbitrary detention can amount to a crime against humanity. 

    We call on the Ethiopian government to cease all forms of intimidation of human rights defenders, journalists and other media actors. 

    We note with serious concern the constraints on the work of the Commission owing to shortfalls in resources and lack of access. We therefore urge this Council to not only renew the mandate of the commission, but to ensure its adequate resourcing, and we call for the Commission’s unhindered access. 

    We thank you. 

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


  • EUROPE: ‘Delays in dealing with gender-based violence cost women, children and LGBTQI+ people their lives’

    Eliana Jimeno and Charlotte CramerAs part of the #16DaysOfActivism campaign, CIVICUS speaks about civil society efforts to eradicate gender-based violence (GBV) with Eliana Jimeno and Charlotte Cramer of Women Against Violence Europe (WAVE).

    Founded in 1994, WAVE is a network of organisations from across Europe working to prevent GBV and protect women and children from violence.

    The 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence is an annual international campaign that kicks off on 25 November, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, and runs until 10 December, Human Rights Day.

    What work does WAVE do?

    WAVE is a network of 160 women’s rights civil society organisations (CSOs) working against GBV in European countries. Most of these organisations provide specialised services such as shelters, rape crisis centres and helplines. Some are umbrella organisations that include among their membership groups delivering specialist services to women, while others focus more specifically on research and data collection, and yet others focus on advocacy and campaigning for better legislation at the national level and at the European Union (EU) and the United Nations (UN).

    WAVE’s work focuses on three main areas: advocacy, capacity building and data collection. Regarding our advocacy work, we lobby and campaign for better legislation to help fight GBV against women. WAVE is pushing for women’s specialist services all over Europe to be better funded so more women have access to specialist support.

    We also focus on capacity building. We provide training for our members so they are better equipped to support women and children exposed to violence. We do this through webinars, conferences and mutual learning exchanges.

    We collect data on women’s specialist support services in the 46 countries we operate in and analyse it to identify gaps in the implementation of the Istanbul Convention – the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence.

    What challenges have you faced?

    We have faced several challenges. The main one has been dealing with the strong anti-gender movement pushing to block theaccession of the EU to the Istanbul Convention. Because of the backlash, we have seen governments trying to get away with implementing it only partially, as in the case of Poland, or just completelywalking out, as in the case of Turkey.

    Anti-gender movements frame their narrative in ways that put feminist CSOs and institutions advancing women’s, children’s and LGBTQI+ people’s rights under threat. At a country level, they argue that women’s rights organisations challenge the ‘traditional values’ of the family, for example by demanding access to accessible contraception, or claim they are exposing kids to ‘harmful’ information – a reference to comprehensive sexuality education – in schools. There are also security challenges. Many of our members work in hostile environments and some have been threatened for challenging governments and holding them accountable.

    We also face issues regarding data collection and systematisation. Data is collected and codified in different ways in different EU countries, so it is very difficult to collect and compare information regarding women support services, access to sexual and reproductive rights or education. There is no standardised way of tracking GBV cases in Europe – particularly femicide, for which there is no common definition – so we are constantly trying to adapt to collect the data required to advance the rights of women, girls and LGBTQI+ people more effectively.

    A positive challenge is weaving our network together. We represent 160 organisations in 46 European countries, some of which are themselves umbrella organisations, which means we are talking about some 1,600 organisations. There is a lot of diversity within our membership, and this creates complexities when it comes to balancing what brings us together as feminist CSOs and our different perspectives due to our different national contexts.

    What have you planned for the 16 Days of Activism campaign?

    We have released astatement on femicides, one of the main topics of the campaign. We are also emphasising the need to adopt a standardised definition of femicide throughout Europe to better monitor the evolution of the phenomenon and push for the design and implementation of better policies to tackle it. We want to push key stakeholders to act right now, as every delay costs women, children and LGBTQI+ people their lives.

    On 8 March,International Women’s Day 2022, the European Commission presented aproposal for a directive to combat violence against women and domestic violence. The draft that was put forward, which resulted from consultations with selected CSOs, is rooted in a criminal law approach and fails to recognise GBV and domestic violence as human rights violations. It is also reactive, focusing on how states should act when violence has already happened rather than on preventing it happening in the first place. During the 16 days of Activism, we will campaign for a directive that enables victims of GBV and domestic violence to exercise their human rights. 

    We also plan on having webinars and releasing podcasts to highlight the problem of GBV in Europe, the intersectional harm it causes and the need for better legislation and practices to fight it. Our expectation is that the podcast and webinars will help us reach a larger audience. We will also focus on how the media can tackle GBV through a more sensitive approach.

    Additionally, WAVE has prepared a toolkit to make advocacy and campaigning more accessible to young people. The toolkit will serve as a resource to empower them and help them raise their own voices and run their own campaigns in a meaningful, sustainable and creative way.

    What should international bodies, particularly the UN, do to contribute to eradicating GBV?

    The UN has opened the space for specific conversations to take place on women’s rights, for example on the link between violence against women and child custody procedures. This has been really helpful because feminist CSOs all over the world run programmes and projects and provide specialist services for victims and survivors of violence with very limited resources. They seldom have the resources or logistics capacity to play such a global convening role. WAVE is one example of women’s grassroots organisations seeking to host conversations at a European level, but we are not a global network.

    In contrast, the anti-gender movement has a lot of funding as well as a global footing. To be able to compete, we must work extra hard and are still at a disadvantage. So, by bringing in its resources for convening, supporting the work of feminist CSOs and data collection, the UN can to some extent help level the playing field.

    In many countries the space for civil society is shrinking, and the UN can play a key role in creating the platforms where we, as feminist CSOs, can have these very important conversations, instead of just giving the space to national governments that are disseminating narratives not reflective of the experiences of survivors of GBV.

    Further, we hope accountability will move at the centre of the UN’s work. The UN must hold perpetrators accountable to stop the culture of impunity, including UN staff, such as soldiers serving in UN peacekeeping operations. The UN must send a strong message that it does not tolerate GBV.

    Finally, we hope that world leaders, governments, international institutions and CSOs will genuinely and meaningfully work together and take an intersectional approach to achieve the SDGs for world justice and leave no one behind.

     Get in touch with WAVE through itswebsite or itsFacebook andInstagram pages, and follow@WAVE_europe on Twitter.


  • France at UN Human Rights Council: Adoption of Universal Periodic Review Report

    In our Universal Periodic Review submission, we documented that since its last review, France only partially implemented one of the two recommendations it received relating to civic space. We regret that the recommendations pertaining to the ban on full face veils in public places were not accepted by the government, despite being criticised as a violation of the rights to freedom of expression and religious freedom.

    Mr. President, we are deeply concerned by the recent introduction of a new national security and counter terrorism law which effectively makes permanent extraordinary powers given to French security forces since the November 2015 state of emergency was implemented. Through this now-permanent legal regime, French police have expanded powers of arrest, detention and surveillance without adequate judicial oversight or due regard for the proportionality of measures taken to restrict fundamental freedoms.

    CIVICUS also notes with concern the police’s use of disproportionate force against protestors including during labour protests in 2016; anti-racism demonstrations in 2013; and, most seriously, in October 2014 when ecologist Rémi Fraisse was killed after police threw a flash grenade into a crowd of demonstrators opposing the construction of a dam in Sivens. Mr. President, just two months ago, French police again used disproportionate force, firing thousands of tear gas canisters as part of an operation to forcibly remove a peaceful anti-capitalist community in Notre-Dame-des-Landes.

    Finally, in its submission, CIVICUS set out a range of concerns that risk eroding the right to freedom of expression in France, including the use of legal proceedings to compel media to release their sources. In France, losing a libel case against a public official can result in a fine of up to four times the fine for losing a case against a private citizen; this has been criticised for creating a “chilling effect” on the media’s scrutiny of government.

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


  • Freedom of association for migrants --- joint statement at Human Rights Council

    Joint tatement at the 44th Session of the UN Human Rights Council

    Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants

    Madame President; Special Rapporteur,

    This is a statement on behalf of CIVICUS, Solidarity Center, and the International Service for Human Rights.

    We welcome the Special Rapporteur’s report. For the marginalised in society, including migrant workers, the freedom to act collectively offers protection against discrimination, exploitation and poverty. When the right to association is open to migrant workers and refugees, they can organize to uphold their interests in their workplaces and communities, influence public opinion and hold public officials accountable.

    We share your concern that hostility towards migrants and those who defend their rights has given rise to restrictive laws and practices that undermine the human rights, safety and dignity of migrants.

    A report released by CIVICUS and Solidarity Centre last October revealed serious challenges for migrant workers in exercising their freedom of association, including the threat of deportation for speaking out.

    Migrant workers in Malaysia reported that intimidation and pressure from their employers often prevents them from organizing, and that they can be coerced by agents or their employers not to join unions. In some cases, their working contracts deny their participation. Two-thirds of migrant workers surveyed in Kenya say harassment or pressure from employers is a major barrier to exercising freedom of association.

    COVID-19 has dramatically exposed the importance of freedom of association rights for migrant workers and refugees. They must have the right to speak out and organize collectively to ensure health and safety at work, especially as they are disproportionately represented in “essential sectors” such food processing, agriculture and health services in many countries.

    Defenders of migrants’ and refugee rights play a crucial role in supporting migrants, elevating their voices and providing humanitarian assistance. We are seriously alarmed at the harassment of individuals and civil society organizations supporting migrants, including migrant workers, in the EU and the US; including criminalization of their activities; and barriers to registration and funding. Such attacks can be a matter of life or death for those whose rights and freedoms they defend. 

    We call on all States to heed the recommendations of the report to recognize and protect migrants’ right to freedom of association, to stop the misuse of smuggling and trafficking laws to target migrant rights defenders and to create an enabling environment for civil society organizations, including those working on migration and migrants’ rights issues.


  • Fulfilling the UN75 Declaration Expert Series

    Summary of insights & recommendations from mult-sectoral discussion on how take forward the UN75 Declaration and its commitments to "Leave no one behind" and "Be prepared" 

    On February 18, 2021, a consortium of civil society stakeholder organizations initiated the first in a six-part “Fulfilling the UN75 Declaration Expert Series,” where thought leaders from global civil society engaged UN Missions and Secretariat officials in a candid dialogue on progress, challenges, and further measures needed to meet two of the twelve commitments presented in the UN75 Declaration. This inaugural discussion, co-sponsored by the Coalition for the UN We Need, CIVICUS, and the Stimson Center, and in collaboration with The Elders, addressed the UN75 Declaration commitments #1 on “We will leave no one behind” (focused on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development) and #12 on “We will be prepared” (focused on preventing health crises). 

    The series is intended to take stock of progress toward achieving the twelve UN75 Declaration commitments, introduce alternative institutional, policy, and normative measures for improving implementation, and consider steps for achieving such reforms, including a possible follow-on intergovernmental process as recommended in the Eminent Persons Open Letter signed by 49 former world leaders and UN officials. The expert series aims to contribute insights and concrete proposals for consideration in the Secretary-General's forthcoming (Our Common Agenda) report—expected to be released by September 2021, prior to UNGA High-Level Week. 

    The first roundtable’s lead-off speakers included: H.E. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Former President of Liberia and Member of The Elders; Cristina Petcu, Research Associate, Stimson Center; Mandeep Tiwana,Chief Programmes Officer,CIVICUS; and (moderator) Fergus Watt,International Coordinator, Coalition for the UN We Need. 2 

    Key Lead-Off Speaker Quotes 

    “The pandemic has highlighted the deeply interconnected nature of our world, and the extent to which our own security is wholly dependent on the security of others. It has also laid bare the stark inequalities that exist both within and between countries. Nowhere can this inequality be more obviously seen than in the monopolisation of vaccines by the richest and most powerful countries, which risks preventing much of the Global South from having widespread access to vaccines until 2022 or 2023. This approach will not only lead to a deepening of global inequalities but will actively undermine all countries’ national efforts to bring this disease under control.”- H.E. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf 

    “The current health crisis demonstrates a continued and severe lack of preparedness in our global health system. And despite various disease outbreaks over the years, we still lack a global health system that, for example, ensures global access to essential medical equipment, such as personal protective equipment, sanitation items, medicines and vaccines.”- Cristina Petcu (in presenting two Stimson Center Overviews of UN75 Declarations commitments #1 and #12) 

    “To ‘be prepared’ for the next global challenge, international cooperation, coordination and solidarity through the UN are critical. Much more needs to be done to realize people-centred multilateralism in the spirit of the UN Charter. Our present approach to international cooperation remains predominantly state-centric. There are many reasons for this including the global democratic deficit and civic space challenges.”- Mandeep Tiwana 

    The following summary offers key international policy insights and recommendations for the fulfillment of the two UN75 Declaration commitments explored during the roundtable: 

    UN75 Declaration Commitment #1 - We will leave no one behind 

    Major Insights 

    • For the UN to work effectively in a multi-sectoral way, it must extend beyond traditional paradigms and attitudes, focusing on how its pillars (Human Rights, Peace and Security, and Development) can work coherently together rather than along separate paths. The 2030 Agenda negotiations demonstrated the potential for multi-sectoral coherence, despite the difficulty in forging consensus across many UN Member States. 
    • The UN75 Declaration represents a shared roadmap to ensure that multilateralism is working, but there remains a deficit in multilateral leadership among national political representatives. A more inclusive approach to multilateralism that brings together various stakeholders is needed in light of the critical debate on public goods vs private interests. 
    • The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) seek to tackle structural inequalities within and between states, but COVID-19 only underscores the lack of needed change across the board. Progress toward meeting the SDGs was off course before COVID-19, and in many cases, the pandemic has halted and even reversed progress on the 2030 Agenda. 
    • To address the myriad challenges highlighted by COVID-19 and the commitment to “build back better”, governments must feature the 2030 Agenda prominently and holistically in their recovery responses. Moreover, COVID-19 recovery must focus on green and sustainable measures. 
    • The post-COVID-19 world provides an opportunity to address unheeded structural problems, including inequality, even if the needs are great and action may be costly. 
    • COVID-19 has also shown that progressive taxation that addresses inequalities in wealth is fundamental for diminishing inequality and leaving no one behind. Civil society groups (including Indigenous Peoples and Trade Unions) should push the United Nations and its Member States to abandon austerity; fortunately, most states are stepping up and at least trying to provide some kind of stimulus to citizens. 
    • By actively engaging global civil society, the United Nation will also be encouraged to place human rights and global public goods at the center of its decision-making and programming. Given the private sector’s inherent limitations, the United Nations would be wise to not over-rely on it or to afford it undue influence. 
    • Leaving no one behind also means leaving no one offline. Digitalization needs to be stressed by governments at local and national levels. Now is the time to digitize all peoples. 
    • A fundamental question to help guide effective and equitable policy action is: “How do we involve everybodyin re-setting our strategy?” Progress will be constrained in rolling out the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, Paris Climate Agreement, and the Sustainable Development Goals if local and international civil society organizations are not involved directly, including organizations for women, girls, and scholars. Civil society, including academia, can, for instance, help to advance the 2030 Agenda simply by bolstering the case for science. However, civic space around the world remains highly constrained. CIVICUS Monitor statistics reveal that 87% of the world’s population live in countries with adverse civic space conditions despite the freedoms of expression, association and peaceful assembly being an inalienable part of international and constitutional law. The absence of civic space robs the ability of the vast majority of people to shape the decisions that impact their lives and undermines progress on Agenda 2030 commitments. 

    Major Recommendations: Policy, institutional, legal, normative, and operational reforms 

    • The UN’s Human Rights pillar is important to “leaving no one behind”, and in this regard, the Secretary-General’s Call to Action should be kept front and center. 
    • Effective SDGs implementation and sustainable recovery from COVID-19 require greater targeting and inclusion of marginalized groups in decision-making. 
    • Civil society (and not simply Member States) must also play an integral part in UN decision-making on assessing SDGs progress and addressing gaps in implementation. 
    • In May 2000, a Millennium People’s Forum was convened and proved to be extremely useful as diverse civil society representatives and other stakeholders debated UN policy issues and made concrete recommendations to the General Assembly. Such a major civil society and other stakeholders forum should be formalized and could occur every 2-3 years in the GA Hall and involve both the President of the General Assembly and Secretary-General. 
    • As co-facilitators of the review of the High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF), Austria and Senegal are currently engaging UN Member States on how to make the HLPF more effective. Canada and Jamaica’s related work on improving financing for development (including matters such as debt management) are also critical to strengthening SDGs implementation. 
    • Leaving no one behind means: 1) accelerating access to equitable and affordable vaccines; 2) ensuring human rights (to combat growing infringement on civic freedoms and the spread of misinformation); and 3) strengthening the HLPF’s mandate. 
    • Changing the policy priorities of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, Paris Climate Agreement, and the SDGs in silos will not help advance the goals each framework is committed to implementing. Rather, policy linkages between the three frameworks should be strengthened, public financing improved (e.g., a philanthropic institution, the Gates Foundation, should not serve as the WHO’s largest funder, although its support is appreciated), and the governance systems for implementing these frameworks should be innovated. 
    • The precursor to the HLPF, the Commission on Sustainable Development, did two things that were unique at the time: (1) reported on progress in implementing the 1992 Rio Earth Summit conventions and Agenda 21, and (2) tracked related public expenditure. The HLPF should fulfill similar functions, with the support of relevant stakeholders from civil society and other stakeholders, including the business community. An inclusive, multi-stakeholder approach is critical because diverse state and non-state actors are needed to deliver the Sustainable Development Goals on the ground; HLPF discussions, therefore, need to help facilitate and connect local and sub-national level actions with national, regional, and global-level policy discussions. 
    • To better deliver on Agenda 2030 the private sector needs to discharge its social responsibilities in upholding key commitments by, for example, supporting measures to address inequality, sustainable consumption and production, and respecting rule of law. To better deliver on the 2030 Agenda, the private sector needs more accountable platforms to report on issues and advances in support of the SDGs. 

    UN75 Declaration Commitment #12 - We will be prepared 

    Major Insights 

    • Today’s greatest moral test of multilateral cooperation is ensuring equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines worldwide. Disagreements are widespread as to how to best curb excessive “vaccine nationalism” and improve equitable access to life-saving vaccines. 
    • Vaccines should be viewed as a global public good, and the upcoming World Health Assembly in Geneva should prioritize expanding access globally to COVID-19 vaccines, including through the ACT Accelerator initiative. The pandemic cannot be defeated without resilient health systems worldwide. 
    • During the present COVID-19 crisis, more traditional financing for development models has proven slow and insufficient to meet development needs around the world. 
    • To more efficiently link global public goods and development assistance financing models, better coordination across major socio-economic sectors is required globally. Moreover, to better fight future health pandemics, their prevention must be addressed simultaneously and in a multi-sectoral fashion at both national and global levels. 
    • The current pandemic reveals the need for more data (easily accessible at national/local levels) and closer collaboration among those engaged in vaccine production. 
    • More effort is also needed to mobilize and share global vaccine manufacturing and distribution capabilities worldwide. Some plurilateral agreements exist that, in effect, contribute to fragmented Research & Development and unequal access to vaccines in many parts of the globe. 
    • Debates continue about responsibility for the protection of intellectual property across borders but given what is at stake with respect to pandemic preparedness and broader health security measures, intellectual property and, for example, Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) need to be reconceptualized in order to bring about more equitable production and distribution of vaccines around the world. 
    • Scientists’ warning of new zoonotic diseases has not been incorporated into a global preparedness system that can then support regional and national institutions and operate as a kind of first line of defense against the spread of future deadly diseases. 
    • Local and international civil society organizations represent (though not exclusively) the voices of the people, and when they are encouraged to support multi-stakeholder partnerships with governments and the UN Secretariat, progressive coalitions for change can be forged in response to a particular global problem-set, such as health insecurity. 
    • Promoting effective health security goes hand-in-hand with building trust, and trust must be continuously nurtured to prepare for future health crises, especially if it is to help to combat widespread misinformation that can exacerbate health insecurity. 

    Major Recommendations: Policy, institutional, legal, normative, and operational reforms 

    • Investing in health-security preparedness should remain a policy priority and entail steps to improve TRIPS agreement implementation through the World Trade Organization. 
    • A strong and supportive international financial architecture is needed to help developing countries invest in health-security and to treat pandemic preparedness as a global public good for the benefit of all countries and peoples. 
    • Not everything can be left to the United Nations, which depends on health security interventions by the G20, WTO, and regional and sub-regional bodies. The global vaccination plan led by a combination of the G20, WHO, GAVI, CEPI, and the private sector is essential in R&D, distributing, and administering vaccines. Pharmaceuticals need to be mobilized, and the private sector has to play its part with full transparency to ensure proper and equitable vaccine distribution. The WHO-GAVI-CEPI and other partners COVAX facility needs to be funded fully and given other capabilities and the authorities to fulfill its central mission of building the manufacturing capabilities and purchasing vaccines, ahead of time so that some 2 billion doses of proven safe vaccines can be fairly distributed by the end of 2021. 
    • The pandemic’s economic repercussions have been felt most severely in developing countries. In order to prevent the present global public health crisis from precipitating a sustained global economic crisis, post-vaccine economic recovery must be managed carefully, coordinated across countries and regions, and include a mix of economic tools, including strategic investments and debt forgiveness. 
    • Many developing countries facing knock-on socioeconomic effects from the COVID-19 pandemic became even more dependent on (relatively scarce and slow) international development assistance. More reliable public financing (especially for financing at scale) is needed urgently. Moreover, to respond more quickly to health and broader socioeconomic emergencies, a faster release of funds is necessary. 
    • In terms of one possible new and major source of development financing, the IMF argues that a carbon tax could generate much-needed public revenue equivalent to 2 percent of a country’s GDP. However, at the same time, one cannot ignore that some countries are spending upwards of 5 percent of GDP to subsidize energy. In short, much more could be done in both poor and rich countries alike within existing national resources. 

    Participant List 

    • Her Excellency Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Former President of Liberia and Co-Chair, The Elders 
    • Tom Brookes, Policy Advisor, The Elders 
    • Sara Burke, Senior Policy Analyst, Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung New York 
    • Erich Cripton, Principal Advisor to the Representative, Permanent Mission of Canada to the United Nations 
    • Ambassador María Bassols Delgado, Deputy Permanent Representative of Spain, Permanent Mission of Spain to the United Nations 
    • Felix Dodds, Adjunct Professor, University of North Carolina 
    • Sakiko Fukuda-Parr, Professor of International Affairs, The New School 
    • Ambassador Silvio Gonzato, Deputy Head, Delegation of the European Union to the United Nations 
    • Nick Hartmann, Director of the Partnerships Group, United Nations Development Program 
    • Aditi Haté, Project Manager for Our Common Agenda, Executive Office of the Secretary-General of the United Nations 
    • Oli Henman, Global Coordinator, Action for Sustainable Development 
    • Ambassador Samson Itegboje, Former Deputy Permanent Representative, Permanent Mission of Nigeria to the United Nations 
    • Vincent Jechoux, Head of Climate and Development Unit, Permanent Mission of France to the United Nations 7 
    • Ambassador Inga Rhonda King, Ambassador and Permanent Representative, Permanent Mission of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines to the United Nations 
    • Keisuke Kodama, Counsellor at the Economic Section, Permanent Mission of Japan to the United Nations 
    • Augusto Lopez-Claros, Chair, Global Governance Forum 
    • Nuno Mathias, Deputy Permanent Representative, Permanent Mission of Portugal to the United Nations 
    • Ambassador Michal Mlynár, Permanent Representative, Permanent Mission of Slovakia to the United Nations 
    • Daisy Owomugasho, Regional Director for East Africa, The Hunger Project 
    • Cristina Petcu, Research Analyst, Stimson Center 
    • Marcel Pieper, Senior Advisor, Delegation of the European Union to the United Nations 
    • Richard Ponzio, Director and Senior Fellow, Stimson Center 
    • Ambassador Adela Raz, Permanent Representative, Permanent Mission of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan to the United Nations 
    • Megan Roberts, Director of Policy Planning, United Nations Foundation 
    • Edna Ramirez Robles, Professor of International Law, Unversidad de Guadalajara 
    • Marlene D. Ramirez, Secretary General, Asian Partnership for the Development of Human Resources in Rural Areas 
    • Amélie Rioux, Technical Officer, Secretariat of the Global Preparedness Monitoring Board at the World Health Organization 
    • Julia Sanchez, Secretary General, Action Aid International 
    • María Antonieta Socorro Jáquez Huacuja, Political Coordinator, Permanent Mission of Mexico to the United Nations 
    • Alexandre Stutzmann, Special Adviser on UN75 Strategy and Implementation, General Assembly of the United Nations 
    • Mandeep Tiwana, Chief Programmes Officer, CIVICUS 
    • Marilou Uy, Director of the Secretariat, Intergovernmental Group of Twenty-Four on International Monetary Affairs and Development 
    • Jukka Välimaa, First Secretary of the Fifth Committee, Permanent Mission of Finland to the United Nations 
    • Zach Vertin, Senior Advisor, Permanent Mission of the United States to the United Nations 
    • Fergus Watt, Executive Director, World Federalists Movement—Canada 


  • Gates Foundation award to India’s Modi a setback for civic freedoms and democratic values

    The decision by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to award Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi with a Goalkeepers Global Goals Award on 24 September sends the wrong message. Prime Minister Modi's violation of civic freedoms should not be overlooked by one of the world’s largest philanthropic donors. Prime Minister Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party government have a dismal human rights record which includes persecuting activists and undermining the watchdog roles of the media and civil society groups.

    Prime Minister Modi is being awarded in recognition of his work to improve sanitation through the Clean India Programme. Many civil society organisations and individuals have over the last few weeks voiced serious concerns about the implications the presentation of the award would have on global philanthropic endeavours and the collective advancement of human rights. As a partner of the Goalkeepers Youth Action Accelerator, CIVICUS has taken a decision in principle not to attend the awards ceremony.  

    We recognise that the Foundation has made significant contributions to enhance people’s lives around the world in the health and sanitation field. However, honouring Prime Minister Modi with this award ignores serious concerns raised by civil society on the decline of civic freedoms in India as well as the holistic nature of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. The Modi government is ignoring the democratic pillars of the goals by failing to implement commitments related to public access to information, inclusive decission making and fostering civil society partnerships - targets largely embodied in Goals 16 and 17.

    “All 17 sustainable development goals are interdependent and co-related, said Mandeep Tiwana, Chief Programmes Officer at CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation. “The Modi government has a lot of ground to cover with regards to fulfillment of SDG commitments on inclusive governance, civil society partnerships, access to information and fundamental freedoms. In fact it has deliberately suppressed these.”

    CIVICUS has highlighted a pattern of attacks and violations against freedoms of expression, association and assembly in India. These attacks include a recent lock down on civic freedoms in Jammu and Kashmir, raids on the offices of Lawyer’s Collective and Amnesty International, persistence of arbitrary arrests, judicial harassment and attacks on civil society activists and journalists and those expressing democratic dissent. Activists seeking to protect the rights of minority communities and environmental justice face particular challenges.

    India is rated as obstructed on the CIVICUS Monitor, a participatory platform that rates and measures the state of civic freedoms in 196 countries.


    For more information or to arrange interviews with event organisers, please contact: 


  • Gaza: We condemn the killing of Palestinian protesters

    Special session of the UN Human Rights Council on the deteriorating human rights situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem
    Oral Statement

    CIVICUS, the Palestinian NGO Network and the Arab NGO Network for Development condemn the atrocities committed by the Israeli Occupation Forces against peaceful Palestinian protesters in Gaza. On 14 May alone more than 61 Palestinians including 8 children were killed and nearly 3000 wounded as Israeli forces used live ammunition on protesters who were demonstrating against the relocation of the US embassy to Jerusalem.

    Since 30 March 2018, when Palestinians embarked on a campaign of peaceful protests against forced evictions and demanding their right to return, more than 110 Palestinians have been systematically killed including at least 11 children, 2 journalists and several people with disabilities. In addition, over 12000 Palestinians have been wounded.

    The use of unnecessary, indiscriminate and disproportionate force against protesters is a grave violation of international law. Israel’s occupation forces have used snipers, plastic coated steel bullets, explosive bullets and gas grenades fired from drones in a calculated attempt to kill, maim and inflict serious bodily harm on Palestinians.

    Mr. President, the lack of concrete action from the international community and the defence of these atrocious acts by some states emboldens Israel’s occupation forces to maintain a shoot to kill policy, preserve its prolonged occupation and disregard for the rule of law.

    We urge Council members to call on the Israeli government to respect all United Nations resolutions and its obligations under international law, giving an immediate end to occupation and recognizing Palestinians right to self-determination. We call on the Council to urgently establish a Commission of Inquiry to facilitate independent international investigations and ensure accountability for perpetrators of violations of international law in occupied Palestine.

    For updates on the state of civic space, please see the Palestine and Israel and country pages on the CIVICUS Monitor. 


  • GLOBAL HEALTH: ‘On World AIDS Day we remind people that the HIV pandemic is not over’

    GastonDevisichCIVICUS speaks with Gastón Devisich, Head of Community Engagement of Fundación Huésped’s Research Department, about the role of civil society in the fight against HIV/AIDS, both at the community level and in global governance bodies.

    Fundación Huésped is an Argentinian civil society organisation (CSO) that has been working since 1989 on public health, including on the right to health and disease control. It is a member of the regional platformCoalición Plus and, represented by Gastón, one of the two Latin American and Caribbean organisations that are part of the NGO Delegation to the UNAIDS Programme Coordinating Board.

    What have been the results of the latest round of pledges to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, and what will be their implications?

    The primary goal of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria is to make catalytic investments and leverage innovations to drive faster progress in reducing new infections, address structural barriers to improving outcomes for these pandemics and build equity, sustainability and lasting impact. Its new strategy places people and communities front and centre in all its work, challenging power dynamics to ensure that affected communities have a voice in the fight and opportunities for a healthy future.

    The Global Fund’s Seventh Replenishment has brought in a total of US$15.7 billion. It was the culmination of a successful campaign that began more than a year ago. It is a remarkable achievement, not only because several public and private donors increased their pledges, in many cases by more than 30 per cent, but also because a record number of implementing governments – at least 20 – have stepped up to become donors as well.

    This support will be dedicated to saving 20 million lives, averting 450 million new infections and generating new hope for ending AIDS, TB and malaria. This investment will also strengthen health and community systems to increase resilience to future crises.

    Given its central role in the fight against pandemics, the Global Fund also plans to continue contributing to the global pandemic preparedness agenda in coordination with the World Health Organization, the World Bank and other partners.

    What role does civil society have in the governance of UNAIDS?

    The Joint United Nations (UN) Programme on HIV/AIDS, known as UNAIDS, was the first UN programme to have formal civil society representation on its governing body. The participation of CSOs on the UNAIDS Programme Coordinating Board is critical to the effective inclusion of community voices in this key global policy forum in the area of HIV/AIDS.

    The NGO Delegation is composed of five CSOs, three from developing countries and two from developed countries or countries with economies in transition, plus five more acting as alternate members. Our purpose is to bring the perspectives and experience of people living with HIV/AIDS and those populations particularly affected by the pandemic, as well as civil society, to ensure that UNAIDS is guided by an equitable, rights-based, gender-sensitive approach to ensuring access to comprehensive HIV prevention, diagnosis, treatment, care and support for all people.

    The existence of a community delegation within the highest governance body of a programme such as UNAIDS is critical to ensure the meaningful involvement of populations most affected by HIV at all levels of policy and programme development, implementation, monitoring and evaluation. Strengthening meaningful community engagement fosters a relationship of greater trust and respect with those of us who are the direct beneficiaries of any programme or policy.

    The involvement of all stakeholders, provided it is transparent and based on mutual understanding, can minimise misunderstandings and reduce the likelihood of unnecessary conflict or controversy. This helps improve our access to rights and the provision of quality services necessary to ensure it, as well as addressing power inequalities between decision-makers and the community to establish more equitable and horizontal relationships.

    Why is it important to incorporate the voices of communities in decision-making spaces?

    There is an urgent need to develop additional strategies to address the HIV epidemic. A wide range of factors create, intensify and perpetuate the impact of the virus and its underlying determinants may be rooted in the cultural, legal, institutional and economic fabric of society.

    To achieve a comprehensive response to HIV, it is essential to recognise power imbalances and address them by developing practices that prevent their inadvertent replication or reinforcement throughout the implementation of programmes and policies.

    Local organisations have unique expertise to contribute to the HIV response. We have critical knowledge and understanding of local cultures, perspectives and language, the local dynamics of the HIV epidemic, the concerns of the most vulnerable or marginalised populations and local priorities that other stakeholders may not necessarily have. The community can help ensure that the goals and procedures of HIV response are appropriate and acceptable for them, in order to avoid reinforcing existing inequalities.

    What does Fundación Huésped’s work consist of, both at the national level and within this global space?

    Our comprehensive approach includes the development of research, practical solutions and communication related to public health policies in Argentina and Latin America. We seek to develop scientific studies and preventive actions and advocate for rights to guarantee access to health and reduce the impact of diseases, with a focus on HIV/AIDS, viral hepatitis, vaccine-preventable diseases and other communicable diseases, as well as sexual and reproductive health.

    As representatives of civil society in UNAIDS, we actively seek the views of our communities on key issues related to UNAIDS policies and programmes, and advocate with governments and cosponsoring organisations – 10 UN organisations that make up the UNAIDS Joint Programme – for significant improvements in the implementation and evaluation of HIV/AIDS policies and programmes.

    What challenges do organisations working on HIV/AIDS face and what support do they need to continue doing their work?

    The HIV agenda is still current, with new challenges and the persistence of stigma, discrimination and rights violations. Forty years after the first cases of HIV were reported in the world, and thanks to scientific advances, the implementation of policies, plans and programmes, civil society activism and human rights achievements, there are more and better strategies available to control the virus, which could end AIDS today. Yet this year there were 1.5 million new HIV cases and 680,000 new AIDS-related deaths worldwide – including 110,000 cases and 52,000 deaths in Latin America and the Caribbean.

    World AIDS Day, 1 December, is our annual opportunity to remind people that the HIV pandemic is not over. Over the past 40 years science has generated much innovation, but these benefits do not reach all people equally. The best science in the world cannot compete with the debilitating effects of poor health systems. To end AIDS we need to correct the course of the HIV response, starting with ending inequities. A better response is needed today. We cannot afford to waste any more time.

    Get in touch with Fundación Huésped through itswebsite orFacebook page, and follow@FundHuesped on Twitter.


  • Global rights group condemns detention of human rights activist in Pakistan

    • Global rights alliance condemns the detention of Muhammad Ismail, a human rights activist and CIVICUS member who has been promoting human rights in Pakistan for more than a decade
    • Ismail and his family have been facing months of harassment and intimidation
    • This incident highlights the hostile environment for human rights defenders and others in Pakistan to exercise their freedom of expression

    CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance, is extremely concerned about the arbitrary detention of Muhammad Ismail, a human rights activist and CIVICUS member, and calls for his immediate release. His detention is a serious escalation of the ongoing judicial harassment and intimidation of Ismail and his family that has persisted for months.

    In July 2019, Muhammad Ismail was accused of baseless charges under the Anti-Terrorism Act in connection with the legitimate human rights work of his daughter, Gulalai Ismail. On 24 October 2019, he travelled to the Peshawar High Court for a hearing, which had been routinely postponed. He was leaving the premises when he was accosted outside the court by men dressed in black militia uniform, who forced him into a black vehicle. His whereabouts remained unknown until the morning of 25 October, when he appeared in the custody of Pakistan’s Federal Investigations Agency before a judicial magistrate and brought with further charges under the Pakistan Electronic Crimes Act. He was served a 14-day judicial remand and remains detained.

    Muhammad Ismail is a prominent member of Pakistani civil society and the focal person for the Pakistan NGO Forum (PNF), an umbrella body composed of five networks of civil society organizations (CSOs) in Pakistan. He is a long-standing member of the Affinity Group of National Associations (AGNA), a network of national associations and regional platforms from around the world. His daughter Gulalai Ismail is a human rights defender who has faced persecution from authorities for her advocacy for the rights of women and girls, and her efforts to end human rights violations against the ethnic Pashtun people. She was subsequently granted asylum in the United States of America.

    “The Pakistan authorities must immediately release Muhammad Ismail from pre-trial detention and drop all charges against him. The new set of baseless charges levelled against him today are a clear continuation and escalation in an ongoing campaign of judicial harassment,” said Josef Benedict, Civic Space Researcher with CIVICUS.

    Prior to his detention, Muhammad Ismail and his family had faced months of harassment and intimidation, including at least three raids on their family home in Islamabad, as well as threats of physical harm to Gulalai Ismail’s younger sister. Security forces also took away the family’s driver, interrogated him, and subjected him to physical acts of ill-treatment. Previously, on 18 October 2019, Muhammad Ismail survived an attempt to abduct him from his home in Islamabad.

    “The authorities must also cease all forms of harassment and threats against Ismail’s family. This highlights the hostile environment for human rights defenders and others in Pakistan to exercise their freedom of expression,” said Josef Benedict.

    CIVICUS has documented systematic harassment and threats against human rights defenders and political activists, many who have been charged for exercising their freedom of expression. Journalists have also been targeted and media coverage critical of the state have been suppressed. There have been ongoing cases of enforced disappearances in Pakistan despite pledges by the government of Prime Minister Imran Khan to criminalise the practice

    These violations are inconsistent with Pakistan’s international obligations, including those under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) which it ratified in 2008. These include obligations to respect and protect civil society’s fundamental rights to the freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression. These fundamental freedoms are also guaranteed in Pakistan’s Constitution.

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

    For more information or to arrange an interview, please contact:

    Josef Benedict ;


  • HAITI: ‘Civil society must get involved because political actors cannot find a solution to our problems’

    MoniqueClescaCIVICUS speaks about Haiti’s ongoing crisis and calls for foreign intervention with Monique Clesca, a journalist, democracy advocate and member of the Commission to Search for a Haitian Solution to the Crisis (Commission pour la recherche d’une solution haitienne a la crise, CRSC). CRSC, also known as the Montana Group, is a group of civic, religious and political organisations and leaders that got together in early 2021. Following the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse in July 2021, it promoted theMontana Accord, calling for a two-year provisional government to take over from acting Prime Minister Ariel Henry and hold elections as soon as possible, as well as a road map to reduce insecurity, tackle the humanitarian crisis and respond to social justice demands. The Monitoring Office of the Montana Accord continues to follow up on this roadmap.

    What are the causes of Haiti’s current crisis?

    People seem to associate the crisis with the assassination of President Moïse, but it started way before that, because there were various underlying issues. It is a political crisis but also a much deeper social crisis. The majority of people in Haiti have suffered the effect of profound inequalities for many decades. There are huge gaps in terms of health and education so there is a need for basic social justice. The problem goes far beyond the more visible political, constitutional and humanitarian issues.

    Over the past decade, we have had governments that tried to undermine state institutions so that a corrupt system could prevail: there have not been transparent elections and no alternation of power, with three successive governments of the same political party. Former president Michel Martelly postponed the presidential elections twice. He ruled by decree for more than a year. In 2016, fraud allegations were made against Moïse, his successor. In his time in office, Moïse dissolved parliament and never organised elections. He fired several Supreme Court judges and politicised the police.

    He also put forward a constitutional referendum, which has been repeatedly postponed, that is clearly unconstitutional. The 1987 Constitution defines how it should be amended, so by trying to rewrite it, Moïse went the unconstitutional way.

    By the time Moïse was killed, Haiti was left with his legacy of weak institutions, massive corruption and the lack of elections and renewal of the political class. After Moïse’s assassination the situation worsened further, because now there was no president and no functioning judiciary and legislative body. We had, and continue to have, a full-blown constitutional crisis.

    Ariel Henry, the current acting prime minister, clearly has no mandate. Moïse selected him as the next prime minister two days before he was killed and didn’t even leave a signed nomination letter.

    What has the Montana Group proposed as a way out of this crisis?

    The Montana Group formed in early 2021 out of the realisation that civil society must get involved because political actors could not find a solution to Haiti’s problems. A forum of civil society then put together a commission that worked for six months creating dialogue and trying to build consensus by speaking to all political actors, as well as to civil society organisations. As a result of all this input, we came up with a draft agreement that was finalised and signed by almost a thousand organisations and citizens: the Montana Accord.

    We put together a two-part plan: a governance plan and a social justice and humanitarian roadmap, which was signed as part of the agreement. To get consensus with wider participation, we proposed the creation of a checks and balances body that would carry out the role of the legislative branch and also an interim judiciary during the transition. Once Haiti can have transparent elections, there would be a proper elected legislative body and the government could go through the constitutional process to name the high-level judiciary body, the Supreme Court. That is the governance that we’ve envisioned for the transition, one that is closer to the spirit of the Haitian Constitution.

    Earlier this year, we met several times with Henry and tried to start negotiations with him and his allies. At one point, he told us he didn’t have the authority to negotiate. So he closed the door to negotiations.

    What are the challenges to holding elections in the current context?

    The main challenge is the massive insecurity. Gangs are terrorising the population. Kidnappings are rampant, people are being assassinated. People can’t go out of their homes: they can’t go to the bank, to the stores, to the hospital. Children can’t go to school: classes were supposed to start in September, then in October and now the government is silent on when they will start.

    There is also the dire humanitarian situation, only made worse when gangs blocked the main oil terminal of Varreux in Port-au-Prince. This impacted on power supply and water distribution, and therefore on people’s access to basic goods and services. Amid a cholera outbreak, health facilities were forced to reduce their services or shut down.

    And there is political polarisation and massive mistrust. People don’t only mistrust politicians; they also mistrust one another.

    Because of the political pressure and gang activity, citizen mobilisations have been up and down, but since late August there have been massive demonstrations calling for Henry’s resignation. People have also marched against rising fuel prices, shortages and corruption. They have also clearly rejected any foreign military intervention.

    What is your position regarding the prime minister’s call for foreign intervention?

    Henry has no legitimacy to call for any military intervention. The international community can help, but it is not up to them to decide whether to intervene or not. We first need to have a two-year political transition with a credible government. We have ideas, but at this point, we need to see a transition.

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

    Contact theCommission to Search for a Haitian Solution to the Crisis through itsFacebook page, and follow@moniclesca on Twitter.


  • High Level Group Reaffirms Commitment to Develop Framework to Fight Poverty

    The panel tasked with advising on the global development agenda beyond 2015, the target date for achieving the anti-poverty targets known as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), reaffirmed its commitment to work together on a framework to combat poverty in a High Level Panel Meeting in London. According to a news release, discussion among the Panel members covered human development, jobs and livelihoods, and how to reach the marginalized and excluded. The three-day meeting also allowed Panel members to gather input from international civil society, private sector representatives and global youth, answering Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's call for transparency and inclusiveness in its consultations.

    Read more at the source, United Nations News.


  • High Level Intersessional celebrating the centenary of Nelson Mandela

    CIVICUS welcomes this celebratory discussion of a true icon of our times. For an organization headquartered in Johannesburg, Nelson Mandela has been for us a constant reminder and an inspiration to engage in the fight for justice, to call for the release of prisoners of conscience and to continue to protect the space for a vibrant civil society to operate.

    But today this is also my personal witness:

    I was privileged to meet and look into the eyes of Nelson Mandela on 9 June 1990 when he had come to pay tribute to the World Council of Churches (WCC) here in Geneva for their long-standing support, shortly after his release from 27 years in prison.   It was a moment I will never forget.

    Later, during extensive visits in South Africa, in 1998, I was awed by his prison cell in Robben Island. I met with Commissioners of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and Archbishop Desmond Tutu and was inspired by the institutions Mandela had created to help overcome the hate and mistrust of the long standing racial segregation but also as a mechanism to hold violators of the worst crimes to account.

    In the same year, at the 8th World Assembly of the WCC in Harare I saw President Mandela with a broad smile and as Statesman and committed activist dancing,.. spreading joy and love to the whole world.

    Where in the world do we have such an Icon today?

    Distinguished panelists, how can Mandela’s visionary legacy, his long peaceful march to freedom, to human rights, democracy and social justice be the inspiration and hope for many who are still suppressed and enslaved, but above all how can he be the example for many governments today?


  • HIV/AIDS: ‘We need a global civil society movement that stands together for all rights’


    Alessandra NiloCIVICUS speaks toAlessandra Nilo, co-founder and Executive Director of GESTOS – HIV and AIDS, Communication and Gender, a civil society organisation (CSO) created in 1993 in Recife, Brazil. She is a member of the NGO Delegation to the Programme Coordinating Board of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), an institution that uniquely involves civil society in its governance board. Here, Alessandra discusses civil society’s important role in UNAIDS, her work on HIV/AIDS in the deteriorating political climate of Brazil and the growing challenge posed by anti-rights groups that oppose action on HIV/AIDS and human rights.

    Can you tell us about your background and how you came to work on issues of HIV/AIDS?

    I am a journalist, specialised in health and with a postgraduate qualification in diplomacy. I was also involved in student movements and workers’ and political movements. In 1993, a group of us created GESTOS. At that time, we didn’t know much about the epidemic. I lost a friend, whose family locked him in his house and wouldn’t allow us to talk to him. That was why GESTOS was born, to address the issues of people living with HIV/AIDS.

    We knew that having an organisation to help people was not enough. We needed to exercise accountability. We needed to improve policies. We were pioneers because at that time we knew that gender was an important dimension, and also that without communication, we could not move forward, because it was important to involve the public and mobilise them for our cause. This is why we were named GESTOS – Seropositivity, Communication and Gender.

    We started to engage with the national councils in Brazil. These are bodies established by the 1988 Federal Constitution, where government, civil society and interested parties sit together to define public policies. These were spaces where we could practise direct democracy and have direct participation. Through participation GESTOS became very close to the ministries of health and gender and we began to engage in social networks of the Latin American region.

    What have been some of the impacts of the HIV/AIDS movement, in Brazil and globally?

    In general Brazil’s HIV/AIDS movement is very strong. We have helped people take action to define their own responses to HIV/AIDS. Worldwide, the HIV/AIDS movement has been responsible for many breakthroughs in HIV/AIDS policies, and this happened in Brazil.

    We were the first movement to start pushing that treatment was a right, rather than a commodity delivered by governments depending on whether they wanted to or had capacity. We were responsible for big discussions around sexuality that contributed to the sexual and reproductive rights movement. We built strong alliances with the feminist movement. We were the first movements to include people who use drugs, men who have sex with men, transgender people and sex workers in a global resolution at the United Nations (UN). We also engaged in debates that led to the Sustainable Development Goals. The fact that in the Agenda 2030 resolution there is a mention of people living with HIV/AIDS is because GESTOS was there as part of the Brazilian delegation and Brazil proposed this at the last minute of negotiations in New York.

    The bottom line is that people living with HIV/AIDS proved at local, national and international levels to have a strong capacity to advocate for amplifying the spaces and formal sites and mechanisms for civil society participation in general.

    How did civil society’s role in UNAIDS develop?

    UNAIDS created the Programme Coordinating Board (PCB), UNAIDS’ governing body, in 1995 – it started operating in 1996 – and it is super innovative because it is the only governing body in the UN system that includes formal participation by civil society. It has 22 voting Member States, 11 co-sponsors, who are other UN bodies, and five civil society delegates plus five alternates, which means 10 people from civil society are involved. We have one member and one alternate per region, from Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, North America, Asia and Europe.

    The PCB is the place where the main global policies on HIV/AIDS have been discussed and formed, and these have informed other UN debates. More than that, it has informed and inspired the ways UN member states implement HIV/AIDS policies at national levels.

    The rationale for civil society’s involvement lies in the fact that the HIV/AIDS movement was really based on participation. Since the beginning, people living with HIV and key populations pushed and insisted that politicians, scientists and affected people should come together and figure out how to create solutions together. We built this social movement where it was almost impossible to move forward any discussion without involving us. We were pressing since the beginning to have meaningful participation.

    Because of this, when the PCB was formed, civil society was considered a very important player that had to participate. This was very innovative at that time and continues to be innovative today.

    How does civil society’s involvement work in practice? How are the delegates selected and how do they connect with wider civil society?

    The PCB NGO Delegation members have mandates for two years and depending on the performance of a delegate, the group can expand this mandate for one more year. Delegates are selected by current NGO PCB members. We put forward a public call, in response to which interested applicants make a submission. Shortlisted applicants are then invited to an interview panel. The panel, which consists of NGO delegates, as well as an external civil society partner or a former NGO delegate, makes a recommendation. Final deliberation and decision are done by the full Delegation.

    We have a number of requirements for these candidates. One is that they should have the capacity to represent and communicate with their constituencies. It is essential to have the capacity for broader communication.

    We have a very transparent process. We have a website where we publicise the calls, but also use social media to publicise the opportunity. We have a list of advisory groups, CSOs and activists who are always interested in issues of the UNAIDS PCB, and we communicate with them and involve them in preparations before, between and after the biannual PCB meetings. In recent years, we have been trying to reach out to other spheres, including groups working on issues such as sustainable development and financing for development.

    Since 2008, there has also been an independent Communication and Consultation Facility (CCF) to support the NGO Delegation by providing technical, administrative and programme support. Since 2013, the CCF’s host organisation has been the Asia Pacific Network of People Living with HIV, based in Thailand. The CCF is the backbone of the NGO Delegation. It is hard to imagine how the Delegation would function effectively without it. A key objective of the CCF is to facilitate communication among the delegates and consultation with wider civil society.

    What have the impacts and challenges been?

    The NGO Delegation has no right to vote, but can participate in every other aspect of PCB activities. There is a very fine line between participating in deliberations and taking part in decision-making, because traditionally the PCB does not hold votes but decides by consensus. There have been so many examples where the NGO Delegation has been able to table decision points during meetings for critical agenda items, and had its points approved. Most decisions that have come out of the PCB came in one way or another after strong civil society participation.

    Civil society and communities are really strong players and our voice is considered in a very respectful manner. It has been proven that with civil society participation, policies, programmes and services are designed much more efficiently and with much higher chances of working and benefiting people.

    In terms of the process, since 2012, the NGO Delegation has been trying to create connections with other groups working with the UN to show them how the experience of the UNAIDS PCB accepting us and having us as formal members can be transposed to other UN bodies. We think this would be a great achievement for civil society in general. We tried to push this while the UN was having a conversation about restructuring and reforms. We talked with so many people, but it seems there is not an appetite for the UN to become more democratic in terms of the participation of civil society in formal decision-making bodies.

    To have formal spaces for civil society is important, but it is not enough. There is absolutely a need to be able to inform decisions and participate in the decision-making processes of the UN at this time when, at the national and international levels, we are every day being pushed farther away from spaces for participation because of the advancement of reactionary political forces.

    Although our PCB NGO Delegation succeeded, gaining formal space to participate was challenging. This is why we value it so much. If you think about the face of our movement you see people who use drugs, sex workers, men who have sex with men, LGBTQI people and women, people who have always led our movement but who have been marginalised in society. And even nowadays, stigma and discrimination continue to prevent us from reaching and accessing some places. While the HIV/AIDS movement has been successful in gaining public attention and claiming spaces, it has been very hard to do so, because stigma, prejudice and discrimination continue to fuel this epidemic.

    With all these populist movements nowadays, the communities impacted on and affected by HIV/AIDS are not only the most marginalised but also the most criminalised. Criminalisation really impacts on the kind of organising we can do. In many countries in Africa and Asia, homosexuality, sex work and drug use are criminalised. There are real legal barriers for our communities that really impact on participation and engagement.

    How is the restricted space for civil society in many contexts impacting on your work?

    In the past decades we were fighting to improve the work that we were doing, but now we are working toward maintaining the rights we have, to resist, to recover from losses, and this is a very different game. In general, there is this trend of the space for civil society being increasingly restricted, and it is even more so for the HIV/AIDS movement because the forces opposing us are reactionary.

    We are seeing different experiences in different countries. And, including in countries that were known as democratic, we have seen civil society dismantled, and colleagues in civil society forced to flee their places in order to keep some movements alive.

    Besides this, in general, governments have used economic crises to justify cuts in programmes that used to have civil society participation. One very efficient way of diminishing civil society’s capacity is to cut funds, and this has happened to the HIV/AIDS movement. Until recently, we had countries investing in HIV/AIDS response, and that included investing in communities and civil society. This was working in a very progressive way, but now we have seen that resources for civil society, particularly international resources in middle-income countries, have decreased, and this has impacted negatively on our capacity to continue responding to HIV/AIDS and influencing governments.

    In recent years we have seen the rise of fundamentalism and nationalism and a rejection of multilateralism in general. This has completely jeopardised the progress made in previous years in human, economic and environmental rights. Even in contexts where states had no interest in supporting civil society participation, we used to have an organisation such as UNAIDS and other international entities that could fund international networks and those networks could support national work, or could directly fund communities on the ground. This is not the case any longer. Formal space is being diminished, resources have been reduced and the groups that organise to provide support face increasing demands, because when democratic spaces shrink, public services and policies that benefit everyone in society usually suffer. And then the demand on us increases further. This equation simply does not work.

    At the UNAIDS PCB itself, we see a political trend of some Member States becoming more aggressive towards CSOs, and some conservative governments questioning our model of participation. PCB meetings have seen attempts to challenge the existence of the NGO Delegation. In 2013 this was brought up by a couple of Member States that questioned the Delegation’s standing to participate in the meeting. In December 2018, a Member State questioned the recruitment process of the NGO delegates. I think the threat of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) resolution that established the PCB being revised is always there, especially in the current climate of declining democracy in various parts of the world. If that resolution is revised, then anything can be revised.

    What challenges do you now face under an extreme right-wing president In Brazil?

    In Brazil, the federal government is really going after LGBTQI people, the indigenous population, people who use drugs, black people. In June the Senate approved a law to make the policy on drugs even more restrictive, going in the opposite direction to many other countries. LGBTQI people are much more scared of being visible now. Also in May, the new government issued a decree to basically shut down all civil society participation in national councils. All councils created by law will continue to function but their composition will be revised, and all councils created by decree were immediately cancelled.

    The government spread confusion about civil society in relation to the Amazon Fund, which is a big international fund to which CSOs can apply to fight climate change. The government lied by stating that the fund was being misused, while what they really want is not to let civil society get funding.

    Also, as soon as it took power, the government cut several contracts with CSOs. At this moment we do not know that will happen with women’s rights and human rights policies. All progressive agendas are being cut by 65 per cent, 85 per cent, 95 per cent. Can you imagine that the Environment Ministry’s fund for climate change was cut by 95 per cent? As well as being a fundamentalist and economically ultraliberal, the new President doesn’t believe in climate change, the Minister of International Affairs stated that "globalism is a cultural Marxist conspiracy" and they want to solve the violence problem by releasing weapons for the entire population. How do you deal with people like that?


    Given challenges, what is needed to improve the impact of the NGO Delegation?

    UNAIDS and Member States should improve the level of investment in the NGO Delegation. Because our delegation operates very differently from government delegations, we lack the resources we need to amplify our voices and our advocacy work. The reason why we have not done more structured advocacy work in other areas of the UN is that we never have funds for that.

    We also need more support in terms of communications, because we would like to do more campaigns around the results of our work and publicise key debates happening at the PCB, including intensifying our communication about the unique role of the PCB and civil society’s role within it.

    More generally, how can the challenges that HIV/AIDS-related civil society is facing be addressed?

    We need to improve our capacity to communicate and amplify our voice. If we could do that, people would pay more attention and value more what we do. It would be helpful if people could understand that the HIV/AIDS movement is an important part of the development agenda.

    We need to reshape the entire conversation about international cooperation and decision-making in terms of the allocation of funds for communities and civil society. Decisions not to support countries because of their income levels are flawed. Brazil, for example, is defined as a middle-income country; as a result, over the past 10 years or so international cooperation agencies have withdrawn from Brazil. As a consequence of the low capacity to respond to right-wing fundamentalism, repressive forces have flourished. We need to go back to the basics, to our peers, to frontline groups, to political education. Conservative forces were just hidden and waiting for the moment to rise again. And they did so with discourse filled with falsities, for instance claiming to oppose corruption, an issue that has dominated in Brazil in the past years.

    In countries with repressive right-wing leaders – such as Brazil, Hungary and the Philippines – civil society is doing its best to respond on several fronts despite lack of funding. Luckily for humanity, some people are born activists and do this work whether there is money or not. But I truly believe that, in order to keep our movement sustainable, we have to engage more deeply in global discussions about how to fund an independent civil society, one that does not rely upon states to raise funds and therefore remains independent of government decisions.

    Given the impossibility of engaging with the federal government, another response in Brazil is to engage more with sub-national authorities and parliament. More connections are needed at the sub-national level, where it is possible to identify many people who support our causes.

    Another idea is to make more use of litigation: to use legal frameworks to maintain the agenda. But, again, we need funds to do that.

    For the UN, we need to be mindful about institutional reforms that are taking place and be vigilant. We need innovative mechanisms and funds that can help make the UN more independent of Member States, and to increase civil society capacity to play a bigger part. There should not be such distance between the international and national levels. People on the ground can benefit from discussions at the global level, and international discussions should be informed by the desires of people on the ground. People on the ground need to know why multilateralism is important, what the UN is, what UNAIDS is, why they matter. But it is hard when international cooperation funds keep shrinking and most organisations are relegated to providing services rather than advocating for rights, developing capacity and enabling new activists.

    The issue of restricted space for civil society connects us all, independently of our field of action. Therefore it is crucial to have cross-movement dialogues and open conversations, because this is where we can build resilience and solidarity and support each other. We need different sectors to come together to keep growing and not to be intimidated into silence by forces that are sometimes literally killing us. We cannot be isolated in our own agendas. We really need a global civil society movement that stands together for all rights.

    We are in a very delicate movement for democracy where social media and education play a crucial role. Communication is also a major issue for social movements. At this point in history we should be able to communicate better. What is our role? What is our success story in terms of supporting and strengthening democracy? Well, if you look at history, you will see that our role is essential and that most existing rights resulted from civil society demands and victories. Because without meaningful community and civil society participation there is no sustainable development, there is no democracy, and it is unlikely that public policies can be translated into services and programmes that really serve the needs of people.

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

    Visit the websites ofGESTOS and theUNAIDS PCB NGO Delegation.


  • Honduras: Adoption of Universal Periodic Review on Human Rights

    Statement at the 46th Session of the UN Human Rights Council

    Universal Periodic Review on Human Rights -- Outcome Adoption for Honduras

    Thank you, Mr President.

    The Association of Non-Governmental Organisations, CIVICUS and RedLad welcome the government of Honduras’ engagement with the UPR process. However, our joint UPR submission documents that since its previous review Honduras has not implemented 19 of the 30 recommendations it received relating to space for civil society, and has only partially implemented eight.

    As detailed in our submission, Honduran legislation restricts workers’ freedom of association. Additionally, the enjoyment of this freedom by activists working on politically sensitive issues is limited in practice, often as a result of the intervention of non-state actors. There was positive change in the legal framework for civil society, but the work of CSOs continued to be undermined by extra-legal factors. Action by indigenous people’s rights, environmental and land rights defenders, as well as students and LGBTQI+ HRDs, is also hampered through criminalisation, criminal prosecution, harassment and surveillance. Although Honduras established a protection mechanism for HRDs and journalists, it failed to ensure its effectiveness. Persistently high levels of violence make Honduras one of the most dangerous countries in the world for HRDs and journalists.

    As also documented in our submission, the 2019 Criminal Code maintained the crimes of slander and insult, which continued to be used against journalists, and the right to access information enshrined by law continued to be restricted by the so-called Law of Official Secrets.

    The exercise of freedom of peaceful assembly remained subjected to de facto and legal barriers. Peaceful demonstrations, particularly by student, indigenous, peasant and environmental movements, were often arbitrarily dissolved with excessive force, typically leading to people being arrested or injured, and occasionally resulting in fatalities. A legal vacuum persists regarding the accountability of the security forces for abuses committed against peaceful protesters.

    We welcome recommendations made to Honduras in this cycle to address these concerns and we call on the Government of Honduras to take proactive measures to implement these recommendations to create and maintain, in law and in practice, an enabling environment for civil society. We further call on the States who made such recommendations to ensure follow-up on their implementation.

    We thank you.

     Civic space in Honduras is rated as Repressed by the CIVICUS Monitor


  • How can the post 2015 process drive real change? The political economy of global commitments

    What are the lessons of the Millennium Development Goals process? What has been their impact on aid and on decision making by national governments? This discussion paper seeks to inform the post-2015 debate by examining these questions. It argues that leverage over national governments and civil society involvement will increasingly eclipse leverage on aid as the determining factor of post-2015 success, and discusses how alternative international instruments can achieve such traction. This paper is intended to provoke reflection and debate, and does not represent Oxfam policy positions. It is a working draft, and the authors welcome all comments and suggestions.
    Read the Report


  • Human Rights Council adopts resolution to ensure scrutiny on Tigray

    CIVICUS welcomes a new Human Rights Council resolution which ensures Council scrutiny on the Tigray region of Ethiopia. This resolution is a vital step towards preventing further human rights violations and abuses in Tigray and furthering accountability.

    Since Prime Minister Ahmed Abiy came to power in April 2018, his initially much-lauded domestic reforms have been severely undermined by ethnic and religious conflicts that have left thousands dead. Conflict broke out in the Tigray region in November 2020 between the Ethiopian army and the leading party in the Tigray region, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). Since then, an overwhelming number of reports have emerged of abuses and violations of international humanitarian and human rights law, including a surge in sexual violence and assault, massacres of civilians, and reports of ethnic cleansing. There have been widespread arrests of and attacks against journalists covering the conflict. Ethiopia is currently on the CIVICUS Monitor's Watchlist.

    On 25 March 2021, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) announced a joint investigation into violations and abuses. The resolution adopted today ensures that the High Commissioner can update the Council on the situation of human rights in the Tigray region and on progress made in the context of the joint investigation during debates to be held in its next two sessions.


  • Human rights groups globally call for end to killing of activists in record numbers

      • Human rights activists are being violently attacked and killed in record numbers 20 years after historic UN declaration adopted to protect them.
      • More than 900 organisations sign global statement raising concern about crisis for rights campaigners and calling for greater protection of activists
      • December 9 is 20th anniversary of the adoption of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders
      • More than 3,500 human rights campaigners have been killed since then, mostly at the hands of governments, businesses and armed groups

    Activists in Jail Around the World -- See Map & Get Involved

    Exactly twenty years after the United Nations adopted a historic declaration to protect human rights defenders, activists are being violent attacked and killed globally in unprecedented numbers.

    This crisis for rights campaigners has prompted more than 900 organisations working on human rights to endorse a global statement raising serious concerns about the glaring gaps between the provisions in the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders and the treatment of those on the frontlines of the fight for human rights.

    The statement comes as the world commemorates the 20th anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders on December 9.

    The Declaration is an inspirational text that upholds the rights of all human rights defenders (HRDs) to promote, protect and defend human rights, from the individual to global spheres. It affirms the responsibility and duty of states to protect defenders against violence, threats, retaliation and arbitrary actions resulting from the exercise of their fundamental rights.

    “Twenty years after the adoption of the Declaration on HRDs, HRDs across the world are exposed to excesses by state and non-state actors. There are glaring gaps in the recognition of the work of HRDs and in protecting them. A lot more needs to be done to ensure HRDs are able to do their work without fear of intimidation, threats or violence.” Said David Kode, CIVICUS’s Advocacy and Campaigns Lead.  

    The global statement is a collective call to governments, identified as the primary perpetrators of violence against HRDs, to respect the Declaration’s provisions, recognise rights activists as key players in the development of societies and create an enabling environment for them to engage in their activism without fear of intimidation, threats and violence.

    As the international community commemorates this milestone, we are reminded of the dangerous environment in which many HRDs operate. Over the past two decades, more than 3,500 rights activists have been killed for their work. Last year alone, more than 300 were murdered in some 27 countries. Despite the fact that these heinous crimes are preceded by threats, which are often reported to the authorities, in almost all cases, pleas for help and protection are routinely ignored. The high levels of impunity enjoyed by perpetrators of these acts are enhanced by the fact that culprits are often not prosecuted even when they are known to the authorities.

    HRDs continue to be subjected to judicial persecution and are charged with serious crimes such as terrorism, secession, treason, engendering state security and drug trafficking for their part in pro-democracy and human rights campaigns. Most of these charges carry hefty penalties and, in most cases, trials are flawed.

    Rights defenders are also subjected to acts of intimidation and smear campaigns and, in a time of heightened geopolitical tensions and bolstered government counter-terror programmes, are labeled “agents of foreign powers,” and “enemies of the state.” The objective is to discredit their work and force them to self-censor or leave their base communities.

    Many HRDs have been abducted and simply disappeared with no official information on their whereabouts. Others have fled to other countries to avoid state reprisals. While activists are targeted for violence and attacks by states, increasingly they also face specific and heightened risks because they challenge business interests.  

    “It is time for states to ensure that they fully commit to their international human rights obligations. Women human rights defenders, environmental, land rights and indigenous activists as well as those defending the rights of excluded communities continue to bear the brunt of attacks and restrictions by state and non-state actors.” Kode continued.

    As leaders of civil society organisations working across different nations and regions at all levels, the statements’ signatories have called on governments as primary duty bearers to guarantee that human rights defenders can carry out their work safely, without fear of intimidation or the threats of violence. The group has urged businesses to respect the rights of people to express their views and protest, in accordance with UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.


    For more information, please contact:

    David Kode

    Grant Clark