Indonesia: Government should immediately withdraw arbitrary charges against Fatia Maulidiyanti & Haris Azhar

The Indonesian government should put an end to the judicial harassment against human rights defenders Fatia Maulidiyanti and Haris Azhar, and uphold the right to freedom of expression, a group of human rights organisations said.

‘The Government of Indonesia must uphold its international human rights obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) as well as its own national constitution which protects the right to freedom of expression,’ said the groups.

The groups urged the Indonesian government to ensure that all persons can express their opinions without fear of reprisals and to ensure its actions are compliant with Indonesia’s Constitutional protections for human rights and the ICCPR, of which Indonesia is a State Party. The National Human Rights Institution, Komnas HAM, must also work towards ensuring the protection of defenders facing judicial harassment, the groups said.

On 22 September, Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan, the Indonesian Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs and Investment filed a police report against human rights defenders Fatia Maulidiyanti, Coordinator of the Commission for the Disappeared and Victims of Violence (Kontras), and Haris Azhar, Founder of Lokataru Foundation. The police report alleges that the two individuals violated criminal defamation provisions (Article 310 (1) of the Penal Code), and the controversial Electronic Information and Transaction law (EIT Law). Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan has reportedly demanded IDR 300 billion, approximately USD 21 million, in compensation.

The report was filed after subpoenas were earlier sent to the two human rights defenders, following a talk show on Haris Azhar’s YouTube channel, titled ‘Ada Lord Luhut di balik Relasi Ekonomi-Ops Militer Intan Jaya!! Jenderal BIN Juga Ada!!’, (There is Lord Luhut behind the relation of Economy-Military Operation Intan Jaya!! General of State Intelligence Agency is also there!!) in which Haris Azhar and Fatia Maulidiyanti discussed the findings of a multi-stakeholder report revealing the alleged involvement of active and retired Indonesian army officials in the business operations of the gold mining sector.

In the report, Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan was identified as being affiliated with mining company PT Madinah Qurrata'ain, which holds the Derewo River Gold Project permit in Papua Province's Intan Jaya Regency, located along the Derewo fault zone, northwest of Grasberg and Wabu.

Through shareholding, Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan is affiliated with PT Toba Sejahtera, whose subsidiary PT Tobacom Del Mandiri or PT Tambang Raya Sejahtra is said to have acquired a 30 percent stake in PT Madinah Qurrata'ain. 

The report also recorded the escalation of violent and armed conflict triggered by military operations, one of which occurred in the Intan Jaya Regency. The conflict resulted in the loss of civilian lives and the displacement of thousands of people, including children and women.

‘The legal actions by the Coordinating Minister constitute judicial harassment and abuse of power. It criminalises the rights of these two human rights defenders to express their opinions on public affairs and creates a chilling environment for individuals who criticise the government,’ the groups said. 

‘We call on the Indonesian government to amend all repressive laws and legal provisions that hinder the protection of freedom of expression, and ensure the laws align with international human rights standards. The criminalisation of defamation is an inherently disproportionate and unnecessary restriction to the right to freedom of opinion and expression, under international human rights law. Indonesia must immediately drop the charges against Fatia and Haris and take steps towards preventing the misuse of litigation against human rights defenders and civil society that erode the exercise of their rights,’ they concluded.

Endorsed by the following organisations:

Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)
ASEAN Regional Coalition to #StopDigitalDictatorship 

  • Manushya Foundation
  • SAFEnet
  • Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR)
  • Access Now
  • ELSAM
  • ALTSEAN-Burma

Asia Democracy Network (ADN)
CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
FIDH, within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
Front Line Defenders (FLD)
Indonesian Legal Aid Foundation (YLBHI) 
Indonesian Legal Aid and Human Rights Association (PBHI) 
Human Rights Working Group (HRWG) 
OMCT (World Organisation Against Torture), within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders

Civic space in Indonesia is rated 'obstructed' by the CIVICUS Monitor.


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Thailand: Concerns regarding the right to peaceful assembly

 

1 September 2021

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha
Royal Thai Government
1 Pitsanulok road
Dusit, Bangkok 
Thailand

Re: Concerns regarding the right to peaceful assembly in Thailand

Dear Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha,

We, the 13 undersigned organizations, write to express our concern regarding violence and the excessive use of force by police at recent protests in Bangkok. We are troubled by the disproportionate response of riot police to provocations by protesters. We are also concerned by the arbitrary detention of protest leaders who have recently faced new criminal charges and have been denied bail and detained. Thailand needs to do more to protect protesters from violence and ensure that the public can safely exercise the right to peaceful assembly during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In recent weeks, both riot police and protesters have contributed to a significant escalation in violence at political protests in Bangkok. In August alone, police have forcibly dispersed at least ten demonstrations using rubber bullets, water cannons, and tear gas. At several protests, demonstrators threw rocks and Molotov cocktails, launched fireworks, and used slingshots to shoot nuts and bolts at riot police. Many of the clashes have occurred near Din Daeng intersection, which is close to the headquarters of the 1st Infantry Division of the Royal Guard. Youth participation in these protests has been high, with a large proportion of protesters under the age of 18.

Crowd control measures and other actions taken by law enforcement officers have frequently violated the human rights of protesters and international standards on the policing of protests. Police officers have repeatedly fired rubber bullets at protesters in an indiscriminate fashion. Footage from a recent protest shows riot police firing rubber bullets from a highway overpass at a distance too great to ensure the targeting of violent individuals in a manner consistent with international standards. In other videos, police officers appear to shoot rubber bullets at individuals passing on motorcycles, including at point blank range. Journalists, including those who visibly identified themselves as press, have also reported being hit with rubber bullets at protests.

Police have reportedly fired tear gas canisters directly at protesters. On 13 August 2021, a protester, Thanat Thanakitamnuay, was hit in the face by an object believed to be a tear gas canister fired by police at Din Daeng intersection and has reportedly lost sight in his right eye.

The recent use of firearms by unknown assailants at a protest raises further grave concerns. On 18 August 2021, three teenage protesters were shot with live ammunition in front of the Din Daeng Police Station. One of the victims—a 15-year-old boy—was hit by a bullet in the neck and remains in intensive care. According to a hospital report he is suffering from paralysis of both arms and legs and is not responding to stimulus. The other two injured protesters were reportedly 14 and 16 years old. The police have denied using live ammunition during the protest and said they are investigating the shooting.

In addition to cracking down on street protests, Thai authorities have continued their harassment of protest leaders and participants through legal processes. Since July 2020, more than 700 individuals, including at least 130 children, have been investigated in connection to their protest activities.[1] Between 7 and 9 August 2021, at least 32 protest leaders and participants were arrested and charged with a variety of offences. Ten were arbitrarily denied bail and subjected to pre-trial detention.

Two of the protesters who were arrested, Arnon Nampa and Jatupat Boonpattararaksa, are Gwangju Prize for Human Rights laureates. Arnon was charged, inter alia, with lèse-majesté (defaming the monarchy) in relation to a speech he gave on monarchy reform at a protest in Bangkok on 3 August 2021. Jatupat was charged with, inter alia, violating a COVID-19 emergency regulation after he organized a protest in front of Thung Song Hong Police Station on the same day. Seven other protest leaders—Parit Chiwarak, Nutchanon Pairoj, Sirichai Natueng, Phromsorn Weerathamjaree, Panupong Chadnok, Thatchapong Kaedam, and Panadda Sirimatkul—were all charged, inter alia, with violating a COVID-19 emergency regulation as a result of their participation in a peaceful protest in front of the Border Patrol Police Region 1 Headquarters on 2 August 2021. Sam Samart, a 19-year-old, was arrested on 7 August and charged, inter alia, with violating a COVID-19 emergency regulation in relation to the protest in front of the Border Patrol Police Region 1 Headquarters on 2 August 2021.

Many of these activists have previously been detained, prosecuted, and imprisoned for their protest activities. In 2016, Jatupat was sentenced to two-and-a-half years’ imprisonment after he was convicted of lèse-majesté. Earlier this year, Parit was detained for 91 days on similar charges. Arnon, Panupong, and Phromsorn were also arrested earlier this year and were released from pre-trial detention in June.

The court determined that the activities of key protest leaders including Arnon, Parit, and Jatupat violated the bail conditions connected to their previous lèse-majesté cases, which prohibited them from participating in political protests or further defaming the monarchy. They could face years of pretrial detention.

At least eight of the detained protesters have reportedly tested positive for COVID-19 while jailed. On 26 August 2021, the Court of Appeal granted bail to Sirichai Natueng, Panadda Sirimasakul, and Sam Samart, and they were released from custody. Even though prisons are overwhelmed with COVID-19 cases, the other seven protest leaders remain in pre-trial detention, each having been denied bail at least twice.

Thailand’s obligations under international law and relevant standards

Article 21 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which Thailand ratified in 1996, guarantees the right to peaceful assembly. While some restrictions on assembly are permissible under international law, any restriction on this right must be ‘imposed in conformity with the law and . . . necessary in a democratic society.’[2] ICCPR Article 21 enumerates a list of the permissible justifications for a restriction on assembly: to protect national security, public safety, public order, public health, public morals, or the rights and freedoms of others.[3] No other governmental interest can justify a restriction on peaceful assembly.

The Convention on the Rights of the Child, which Thailand ratified in 1992, protects children’s right to freedom of peaceful assembly.[4]

In its General Comment No. 37, the UN Human Rights Committee elaborated on the importance of the right to peaceful assembly:

Together with other related rights, [the right to freedom of peaceful assembly] constitutes the very foundation of a system of participatory governance based on democracy, human rights, the rule of law and pluralism. Peaceful assemblies can play a critical role in allowing participants to advance ideas and aspirational goals in the public domain and to establish the extent of support for or opposition to those ideas and goals. Where they are used to air grievances, peaceful assemblies may create opportunities for the inclusive, participatory and peaceful resolution of differences.[5]

The right to peaceful assembly is foundational to many other rights and, in particular, helps to ensure economic, social, and cultural rights are upheld. Moreover, protest is often one of the most effective tools available for marginalized individuals and groups to successfully advocate for change.[6]

For these reasons, international law is especially protective of protests with a political nature. According to the Human Rights Committee, ‘assemblies with a political message should enjoy a heightened level of accommodation and protection.’[7] As such, the creation of perimeters around government buildings or official locations that demarcate where assemblies may not take place ‘should generally be avoided, inter alia, because these are public spaces. Any restrictions on assemblies in and around such places must be specifically justified and narrowly circumscribed.’[8]

The threat to public health posed by the COVID-19 pandemic may justify narrow restrictions on the right to freedom of peaceful assembly, but such restrictions must meet the requirements of legality, necessity, and proportionality under international human rights law.[9] In assessing whether a measure is necessary and proportionate to a legitimate aim, consideration should be given to whether the measure in question is the least intrusive means of achieving that aim. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has issued guidance on issues affecting civic space in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, noting that:

States should ensure that the right to hold assemblies and protests can be realized, and only limit the exercise of that right as strictly required to protect public health. Accordingly, States are encouraged to consider how protests may be held consistent with public health needs, for example by incorporating physical distancing.[10]

In April 2020, UN Special Rapporteurs and Working Groups warned against the excessive use of force to enforce COVID-19-related restrictions on protesters, stating, ‘emergency measures can be a more direct threat to their life, livelihood, and dignity than even the virus itself.’[11] Moreover, aggressive police action against protesters may defeat the purpose of emergency measures. Arrest, detention, the use of force, and dispersal of protests can increase the risk of virus transmission for protesters and law enforcement officials alike.[12]

States have an obligation to protect journalists, monitors, and members of the public - as well as public and private property - from harm.[13] As such, state actors must take steps to ensure that protesters can exercise their rights safely, while exerting the ‘minimum force necessary’ to reduce the likelihood of injuries and property damage.[14]

In a joint statement, the UN Special Rapporteurs on the freedoms of association and expression declared that there is ‘no such thing in law as a violent protest’.[15] Rather, there are only violent protesters who should be dealt with individually. According to the Special Rapporteurs and Human Rights Committee, the right to peaceful assembly is an individual right, not a collective right, and must be treated as such.[16] Any isolated act of violence by some participants must not be attributed to other participants in the assembly. In addition, so long as organizers take reasonable efforts to encourage peaceful conduct during an assembly, they may not be held responsible for the violent actions of others.[17] 

State authorities may only disperse assemblies when ‘strictly unavoidable,’ such as when there is clear evidence of an imminent threat of serious violence that cannot be dealt with by targeted arrests or other less drastic actions.[18] Before dispersing a crowd, law enforcement officers must take all reasonable measures to enable the assembly by providing a safe environment. Even if some protesters act violently, all those involved retain all their rights under the ICCPR, including, of course, the right to life and protection against arbitrary detention.[19]

Law enforcement officers should only resort to force in ‘exceptional’ circumstances.[20] Any use of force must only be the minimum amount necessary, targeted at specific individuals, and proportionate to the threat posed.[21] The restrictions on the use of force at assemblies are even more important when police use lethal force, including the use of firearms. When policing an assembly, firearms may only be used when strictly necessary to counter an imminent threat of death or serious injury.[22]

Rubber bullets can also be deadly. The OHCHR Guidance on Less Lethal Weapons in Law Enforcement states that ‘kinetic impact projectiles should generally be used only with the aim of striking the lower abdomen or legs of a violent individual and only with a view to addressing an imminent threat of injury to either a law enforcement official or a member of the public.’[23] Rubber bullets should not be used as a general tool to disperse protesters, nor should they be fired indiscriminately into a crowd.[24]

Tear gas and other ‘area weapons’ also pose risks to protesters and should only be used in response to widespread violence with the sole purpose of dispersal and as a measure of last resort after giving an audible warning and providing reasonable time for protesters and bystanders to vacate the area.[25] Tear gas cartridges and canisters may not be aimed at individuals or used in confined spaces.[26] Their use on a person who is already restrained amounts to a violation of the prohibition against torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment under international law.

According to the Human Rights Committee, states should ‘consistently promote a culture of accountability for law enforcement officials during assemblies.’[27] As such, it is essential that police receive adequate training to facilitate assemblies. Law enforcement officers must understand the legal framework governing assemblies, their obligation to enable peaceful assemblies, and the importance of political assemblies in a rights-respecting society. They should receive training on proper techniques to manage crowds and how to avoid escalation while responding to violence by protesters.[28] Any use of force must be investigated to determine whether the force was necessary and proportionate.[29] States have ‘an obligation to investigate effectively, impartially and in a timely manner any allegation or reasonable suspicion of unlawful use of force or other violations by law enforcement officials … in the context of assemblies’.[30]

In March 2020, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights urged all states to release ‘every person detained without sufficient legal basis, including political prisoners, and those detained for critical, dissenting views’ in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.[31] By continuing to detain protest leaders despite high infection rates and overcrowding in prisons, the Thai government is unnecessarily putting their lives at grave risk.

Conclusion

In order to fulfill its human rights obligations, the Thai government should not only refrain from suppressing protests but also needs to create a safe and enabling environment for members of the public to exercise their rights to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.

We call on the Thai government to ensure that law enforcement officials only resort to the use of force against protesters in full compliance with international human rights law and standards. In particular, authorities must not use greater force than necessary to achieve a legitimate objective and must not cause greater harm than the harm they seek to prevent. Any use of force must be proportionate to a legitimate law enforcement objective, such as meeting any threat of violence. We further call on your government to ensure that all law enforcement personnel present at protests have been properly trained in strategies and tactics that comply with international human rights law and standards. Authorities should promptly, effectively, impartially, and independently investigate any violations of domestic law and international standards and ensure that perpetrators are held accountable.

We further call on the Thai government to immediately end its harassment of protest leaders and participants. Individuals detained solely because of their exercise of the right to peaceful assembly, including protest leaders recently denied bail, should be immediately and unconditionally released. No one should be detained merely for exercising a human right, such as the rights to peaceful assembly or freedom of expression.

We urge you to initiate a review of all laws and policies impacting the right to freedom of peaceful assembly in Thailand. Laws and policies that unjustifiably restrict the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and expression should be amended in line with international law and standards.

Thank you for your attention to the issues and recommendations raised in this letter. We would welcome the opportunity to assist and support the Thai government in meeting its human rights obligations.

Sincerely,
Amnesty International
ARTICLE 19
ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights
Asia Democracy Network
Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)
Asian Network for Free Elections (ANFREL)
CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
Civil Rights Defenders
FIDH – International Federation for Human Rights
Fortify Rights
Human Rights Watch
International Commission of Jurists
Manushya Foundation


CC:
Police General Suwat Jangyodsuk,
Commissioner-General of the Royal Thai Police
Rama I Rd, Pathum Wan
Bangkok 10330 


Civic space in Thailand is rated Repressed by the CIVICUS Monitor


[1] Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, ‘สถิติคดี 1 ปี หลังเยาวชนเริ่มปลดแอก: ยุติการใช้ “กฎหมาย เป็นเครื่องมือปราบปรามทางการเมือง’, 18 July 2021, available at: https://tlhr2014.com/archives/32258.  

[2] International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Article 21.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Convention on the Rights of the Child, Article 15.

[5] Human Rights Committee General Comment No. 37, UN Doc. CCPR/C/GC/37, para. 1, (23 July 2020) [hereinafter General Comment No. 37]. Unofficial Thai language translation is available at: https://www.icj.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/08/1.-ไทย_GC-37.pdf

[6] Id. at para. 2.

[7] Id. at para. 32.

[8] Id. at para. 56.

[9] See Human Rights Committee General Comment No. 37, UN Doc. CCPR/C/GC/37, para. 45, (23 July 2020) [hereinafter General Comment No. 37].

[10] Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, ‘Civic Space and COVID-19: Guidance’, 4 May 2020, available at: https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Issues/CivicSpace/CivicSpaceandCovid.pdf.

[11] UN OHCHR, ‘COVID-19 security measures no excuse for excessive use of force, say UN Special Rapporteurs’, 17 April 2020, available at: https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=25802&LangID=E.

[12] Amnesty International, ‘COVID-19 Crackdowns: Police abuse and the global pandemic’, 2020, p. 25, available at: https://policehumanrightsresources.org/content/uploads/2020/12/ACT3034432020ENGLISH.pdf?x96812

[13] Id. at paras. 74, 76.

[14] Id. at paras. 76, 79.

[15] UN OHCHR, ‘UN rights experts urge lawmakers to stop “alarming” trend to curb freedom of assembly in the US’, 30 March 2017, available at: https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=21464&LangID=E.

[16] Id. See also: General Comment No. 37 at para. 4.

[17] Joint report of the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association and the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions on the proper management of assemblies, U.N. Doc A/HRC/31/66, 4 February 2016, at para. 26 [hereinafter HRC 31/66].

[18] HRC 31/66 at para 61; General Comment No. 37 at para. 85.

[19] General Comment No. 37 at para. 9.

[20] HRC 31/66 at para. 57.

[21] Id. at paras. 57–58.

[22] General Comment No. 37 at para 88; HRC 31/66 at para. 59. See also: Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials, principles 9 and 14; Amnesty International, Dutch Section, ‘Use of Force: Guidelines for the implementation of the UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials’, August 2015, section 2, available at: https://www.amnesty.org.uk/files/use_of_force.pdf, [hereinafter Amnesty International, ‘Use of Force’].

[23] United Nations Human Rights Guidance on Less Lethal Weapons in Law Enforcement, para. 7.5.8, available at: https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/HRBodies/CCPR/LLW_Guidance.pdf [hereinafter Guidance on Less Lethal Weapons].

[24] Amnesty International, ‘Use of Force’, section 7.4.2.

[25] Id. at para. 87.

[26] Guidance on Less Lethal Weapons, paras. 7.3.6-8.

[27] General Comment No. 37 at para. 89.

[28] HRC 31/66 at para. 42.

[29] General Comment No. 37 at para. 91.

[30] Id. at para. 90.

[31] UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, ‘Urgent action needed to prevent COVID-19 “rampaging through places of detention”’, 25 March 2020, available at: https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=25745&LangID=E.

 

Uganda: End Repression of civil society

Joint statement on Uganda’s NGO Bureau suspension of 54 NGOs in the country

Uganda’s NGO Bureau, the country’s regulatory authority for non-governmental organizations (NGOs), should immediately rescind the decision to suspend 54 organizations that they have classified as NGOs, which comes in the context of intensifying intimidation and harassment of civil society organizations. The suspension is intended to restrict the rights to freedom of expression and association and stop the activities of independent civil society organizations that are perceived as critical of the authorities.

On 20 August 2021, the National Bureau for NGOs (NGO Bureau) ordered the immediate suspension of these organizations claiming that they had failed to comply with NGO legislation, including by operating with expired permits, failing to file accounts, or failing to register with the Bureau.

According to the Uganda National NGO Forum, most of the organizations were not informed of the Uganda NGO Bureau’s decision or given an opportunity to respond in advance.

Uganda’s 2016 NGO Act imposes burdensome requirements for application for permits for NGOs with multiple layers of registration with periodic renewal applications, and organisations are required to have memorandums of understanding with the district they operate in. There is also lack of clarity over which organizations fall under this regulatory regime.

The suspension of the organizations is arbitrary, as it goes against Section 33 (2) of the NGO Act, which requires the Bureau to give 30 days’ notice in writing to permit holders to enable them to show cause why the permit should not be revoked. Suspension of independent civil society organizations simply for carrying out their work is an attack on human rights, including the rights to freedom of expression and association. Suspending civil society organizations also exposes those organizations to additional legal risks if they are unable to pay staff or suppliers.

Many of the organizations affected work in critical areas such as legal practices to help poor or marginalized people. Others work on accountability and transparency in the oil sector, and some monitored human rights in the context of the elections. To shut down organizations working so closely with Ugandans abruptly will hurt people who rely on their services or advocacy.

The rights to freedom of expression and association are guaranteed under Articles 9 and 10 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights to which Uganda is a state party. Accordingly, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights issued guidelines on freedom of association and assembly as provided for in the African Charter, that among other things prohibits states from compelling associations to register to be allowed to exist and to operate freely. Further, informal organisations shall not be punished or criminalized under the law or in practice based on their lack of formal status. This decision by the NGO Bureau is a clear demonstration of the repressive nature in which Ugandan authorities have continued to clamp down on civic space and human rights.

The NGO Bureau is mandated to play a regulatory and facilitative role in creating an enabling environment for non-profit organizations in Uganda, but this has not been the case in the recent past.

We acknowledge the positive discussions held between the Minister of Internal Affairs and Civil Society Leaders on 24 August and implore the minister to expeditiously follow through the commitments made to redress the anomalies in the suspension of some of the affected NGOs and establish an Adjudication Committee as required by the law. We further call on authorities in Uganda to ensure that civil society actors involved in promoting fundamental rights can freely exercise their rights consistent with Ugandan Constitution and the country’s international human rights obligations including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.

Signed off by the following civil society organizations:

1. ActionAid International Africa
2. Advocacy Network for Africa (AdNA)
3. AfricanDefenders (the Pan-African Human Rights Defenders Network)
4. Amnesty International
5. Asylum Seeker, Refugee & Migrant Coalition (ASRM Coalition)
6. Campaign for Good Governance (CGG – Sierra Leone)
7. Campaign for Human Rights and Development International (CHRDI)
8. Center for Advancement of Rights and Democracy (CARD – Ethiopia)
9. Center for Constitutional Governance
10. Center for International Governance, Peace and Justice (CIGPJ – South Sudan)
11. Center for Youth Advocacy and Development (CEYAD)
12. Centre for Democracy and Development (CCD)
13. Change Tanzania
14. Chapter One Foundation Zambia
15. CIVICUS
16. Civil Society Human Rights Advocacy Platform of Liberia
17. Civil Society Reference Group - Kenya
18. Consortium of Ethiopian Human Rights Organizations (CEHRO)
19. Crown The Woman – South Sudan
20. Digital Society of Africa
21. DITSHWANELO - The Botswana Centre for Human Rights
22. Echoes of Women in Africa Initiative (ECOWA – Nigeria)
23. Ethiopian Human Rights Defenders Center (EHRDC)
24. FIDH (International Federation for Human Rights)
25. Foundation for Democratic and Accountable Governance (FODAG – South Sudan)
26. Haki Africa
27. Haki Kenya Organisation
28. Human Rights Defenders Network (HRDN – Sierra Leone)
29. Human Rights Institute of South Africa (HURISA)
30. Independent Human Rights Investigators (IHRI – Liberia)
31. Initiative for Equality and Non-discrimination (INEND)
32. Inuka Kenya Ni Sisi!
33. Institute for Democracy and Leadership – Swaziland
34. Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC)
35. Khulumani Support Group
36. Kongamano La Mapinduzi Movement
37. Mozambique Human Rights Defenders Network
38. Network of the Independent Commission for Human Rights in North Africa
39. Nigerian Human Rights Defenders Network
40. Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA)
41. Pan African Lawyers Union (PALU)
42. Panos Institute Southern Africa (PSAf)
43. Partnership for Justice (PJ)
44. Protection International Kenya
45. Resource Rights Africa (RRA)
46. South Sudan Human Rights Defenders Network (SSHRDN)
47. Southern African Human Rights Defenders Network (SAHRDN)
48. Tanzania Human Rights Defenders Coalition (THRDC)
49. World March of Women - Kenya
50. Yiaga Africa
51. Youth and Society (YAS - Malawi)
52. Youth Forum for Social Justice
53. Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum
54. Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR)

Civic space in Uganda is rated as repressed by the CIVICUS Monitor.

*Photo credit: Chaper Four Uganda

 

Hungary: concerns over the erosion of the rights of LGBTQIA+ persons

Victor Madrigal-Borloz, UN Independent Expert on sexual orientation and gender identity 

Irene Khan, UN Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Opinion and Expression  

Tlaleng Mofokeng, UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Physical and Mental Health 

Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)

Palais Wilson, 52 Rue des Pâquis

1201 Geneva, Switzerland 

Hungary: concerns over the erosion of the rights of LGBTQIA+ persons

We are writing to you with regards to serious concerns about the rights of LGBTQIA+ persons in Hungary. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the Hungarian government, under Prime Minister Viktor Orban and the Fidesz party, has passed several pieces of legislation, including amendments to the Constitution, which undermine the rights of LGBTQIA+ persons in the country. In addition the government and non-state actors continue to publicly smear and vilify LGBTQIA+ persons. These developments are in violation of the right to freedom of expression and non-discrimination and will lead to further violence and discrimination against LGBTQIA+ persons on the basis of their gender identity and sexual orientation.

Anti-LGBTQIA law 

Despite mass protests staged in Budapest, on 15th June 2021 the Hungarian Parliament passed an anti-LGBTI law which bans any content, including media, advertising and educational materials, that is deemed to “popularise” or even depict, consensual same-sex conduct or the affirming of one’s gender to children. As a reaction to the Russian-style anti-LGBTI+ law, the European Union launched legal proceedings against Hungary's government. On 6 August 2021 a government decree implementing the law was adopted, banning the sale of products popularising or depicting homosexuality and transgender identities within 200m of schools, children or youth institutions and churches, and prescribing that such products targetting children be sold in special packaging separate from other products in any other shops.

The law, which conflates homosexuality with paedophilia, is part of an intense anti-LGBTQIA+ government campaign ahead of the upcoming parliamentary election in 2022. In addition, on 30th July 2021, Hungary’s National Election Committee approved the government's request for a referendum, which is meant to protect the new anti-LGBTQIA legislation from “the attacks of Brussels”. The referendum is set to take place in early 2022 before the parliamentary election. Hungarians will be asked whether they support the holding of sexual orientation workshops in schools without parental consent and whether they believe that gender re-assignment should be promoted amongst children and made available to them. 

The law comes on the back of several cases where media or books promoting LGBTQIA+ content has been banned. For example, a children’s book which retells fairy tales with LGBTQIA characters was banned in kindergartens by the local Fidesz-party mayor in one of the districts of Budapest, smeared and labelled as “homosexual propaganda”. In another case, the government ordered the Labrisz Lesbian Association,to print disclaimers in their book stating “behaviour inconsistent with traditional gender roles”. A fine of 250, 000 HUF(840 USD) was imposed on a bookshop for selling a children’s book featuring rainbow families together with other children’s books. Independent broadcaster RTL media group is facing legal proceedings initiated by Hungary’s media regulator for broadcasting an advertisement which raised awareness about LGBTI families. The Council, which is made up of members appointed by the ruling Fidesz party, stated that it had received complaints that the advert was not suitable for young children and should have been aired after 9pm for this reason. 

The European Commission has launched infringement procedures against Hungary in relation to these developments. 

Constitutional Amendments

The government has made several amendments to the Constitution, reinforcing institutionalised homophobia and transphobia. On 15th December 2020, the parliament amended the Hungarian Constitution to include the following sentence to Article L which relates to family and marriage: “The mother is a woman, the father is a man”The second change, Article XVI (1) states that “Hungary protects the right of children to self-identify according to their sex at birth and provides an upbringing in accordance with the values based on Hungary’s constitutional identity and Christian culture”. With direct reference to the latter constitutional provision, amendments were also made to the Civil Code and the Child Protection Act which state that single parents will be able to adopt only under special circumstances and their adoption must be approved by the minister of family. As same sex marriage is not legalised in Hungary, this amendment effectively denies adoption rights to same-sex couples. 

In addition, on 10th November 2020, the Justice Committee of the Hungarian Parliament presented legislation that would abolish the Equal Treatment Authority (ETA), with the Hungarian Commissioner for Fundamental Rights absorbing its activities, which according to the government will  provide a more efficient institutional structure. Throughout the years, the ETA has been the most successful body addressing discrimination against the LGBTQIA+ community. Although the mandate of the institution will not change, it will be subordinate to the Commissioner, who, in contrast to the ETA, has not shown interest in defending LGBTQIA+ rights in recent years.

Legal gender recognition 

On 19th May 2020 the Hungarian parliament passed an omnibus bill changing the Registry Act to only recognise “sex at birth”. The new law makes the legal recognition of transgender and intersex persons impossible and will lead to further discrimination of these persons. While the law is being legally challenged, transgender activists have described this development as “traumatic” and having serious mental health consequences for an already excluded group. The National Authority for Data Protection and Freedom of Information foundthat the law violates the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). In March 2021, Hungary’s Constitutional Court ruled that a legal ban on changing gender does not apply retroactively. It stated that people who began changing their gender before the law came into effect must be allowed to complete the process. However, the Budapest Government County Office which was responsible for handling legal gender recognition applications prior to the amendment still fails to process these applications appropriately. The law itself still remains in force pending legal challenge.

Requested Actions:

We respectfully urge you to condemn these regressive and anti-LGBTQIA legislative developments in Hungary through a communication, in your individual capacities or jointly with other special procedures, notably by:

  • Calling on the Hungarian government to refrain from attacking and smearing LGBTQIA persons in general and especially in the context of the upcoming election in 2022
  • Calling on the Hungarian government to reverse regressive legislation which directly  attacks and discriminates against LGBTQIA+ persons
  • Calling on the EU and its leaders to launch an infringement procedure against Hungary regarding the outlawing of legal gender recognition, and continue infringement on the anti-LGBTQIA law and its application

Signatories

  1. CIVICUS
  2. Hatter Society
  3. Civil Liberties Union for Europe
  4. European Civic Forum
  5. Hungarian Helsinki Committee 
  6. Hungarian Civil Liberties Union (HCLU)
  7. New Europeans International
  8. International Planned Parenthood Federation European Network (IPPFEN)
  9. CNVOS Slovenia 
  10. Peace Institute, Ljubljana, Slovenia
  11. Network for Police Monitoring (Netpol)
  12. Nyt Europa 
  13. European Movement, Italy 
  14. Human Rights House Zagreb 
  15. ACCEPT Romania
  16. Euroregional Center for Public Initiatives (ECPI)
  17. Identity.Education
  18. PRIDE Romania
  19. Rise Out
  20. Estonian LGBT Association
  21. Osservatorio Repressione 
  22. Statewatch
  23. Netherlands Helsinki Committee 

Civic space in Hungary is rated as "Obstructed" by the CIVICUS Monitor

 

Rights Groups Urge Bahrain to Release Dr Abduljalil AlSingace, Jailed Academic on Hunger Strike

Dr Abduljalil AlSingace, an imprisoned opposition activist and human rights defender, has been on hunger strike since 8 July 2021. He is protesting against persistent ill-treatment at the hands of Jau Prison authorities, the main prison in Bahrain, restrictions imposed during COVID19 limiting prisoners contact to only five numbers, and to demand that a book he wrote in prison that was confiscated be immediately handed to his family, a coalition of 16 rights groups stated today.

A respected academic and blogger, Dr AlSingace has spent the last decade in prison serving a life imprisonment sentence. He was amongst 13 opposition activists arrested between 17 March and 9 April 2011, including high-profile political opposition leaders, activists and human rights defenders, who were then convicted by a military tribunal for their roles in the 2011 pro-democracy protest movement.

According to the 2011 Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry, Bahraini authorities placed Dr AlSingace in solitary confinement for two months and subjected him to torture following his arrest, including being repeatedly beaten and “sexually molested”.

Dr AlSingace launched a hunger strike on 8 July 2021 in response to degrading treatment he was subjected to by a prison officer, to protest the restriction of being permitted to call only five numbers during the ongoing COVID19 pandemic, and to demand the return of his book, confiscated by prison guards on 9 April 2021, and on which he worked for at least four years. We understand the book to be a study of linguistic diversity among Bahraini Arabic dialects, without any political content, yet the book has not been returned despite repeated promises by prison authorities.

On 19 July, the Office of the Public Prosecution referred AlSingace’s case to the Ombudsman of the Ministry of Interior (the Ombudsman). The statement from the Public Prosecution incorrectly provided that AlSingace’s hunger strike was also related to “the refusal of the [Jau’s Reformation and Rehabilitation] centre’s administration to allow him to contact his relatives”.

According to the Ombudsman, who cleared the prison officials from any wrongdoing and accused Dr AlSingace for alleged “smuggling” of his own work, Dr Al Singace “was not subjected to mistreatment”. This conclusion was reached without Dr AlSingace’s testimony as he refused to be interviewed. Human Rights Watch has found that the Ombudsman has repeatedly failed to investigate credible allegations of prison abuse or to hold officials accountable. The UN Committee against Torture has also raised concerns that these bodies were neither independent nor effective.

Although the Ombudsman states that prison authorities “did not intend to confiscate the papers”, it confirms “that the reason for [Dr AlSingace’s] hunger strike was the confiscation of the papers he wrote” and that his work cannot be returned until a “legal decision” is taken.

Many imprisoned political leaders in Bahrain are older and suffer from pre-existing health conditions and consequences of their torture in 2011, which today make them particularly vulnerable to diseases like COVID-19. Dr AlSingace has several chronic illnesses, suffering from post-polio syndrome, vertigo, causing him to lose his balance and fall, a slipped disk in his back and neck, causing chronic pain, and paresthesia in his muscles and limbs. Consequently, AlSingace requires the use of crutches or a wheelchair and is among those most at risk. Dr AlSingace has faced sustained medical negligence by prison authorities throughout his 10-year imprisonment, namely the prison’s regular refusal to take him to appointments with medical specialists over the past four years.

We are thus deeply disturbed receive reports from family members that on 18 July 2021 Dr AlSingace was transferred to the Ministry of Interior medical facility in al-Qalaa for monitoring and to be given intravenous fluids; by 29 July AlSingace had reportedly already lost 10kg. Recent outbreaks of COVID-19 reported at Jau Prison create an additional threat to Dr AlSingace’s health.

Since his imprisonment, the international community has made consistent calls for his immediate and unconditional release, including the United Nations Special Rapporteurs on Human Rights Defenders, leading international human rights organisations, and American, British and European legislators.

The confiscation of Dr AlSingace’s book is an unjust punishment and the authorities must ensure the protection of his rights, including the return of his intellectual property. We call for Dr AlSingace’s immediate and unconditional release and for his work to be immediately given to his family.

Signatories

1. Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB)
2. Amnesty International
3. Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR)
4. Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD)
5. CIVICUS
6. Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)
7. English PEN
8. European Centre for Democracy and Human Rights (ECDHR)
9. Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR)
10. Human Rights First
11. IFEX
12. International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)
13. PEN International
14. Scholars at Risk
15. REDRESS
16. World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)

Civic space in Bahrain is rated as Closed by the CIVICUS Monitor

 

Sri Lanka: Release Hejaaz Hizbullah and others denied due process under abusive law

We, the undersigned organisations express deep concern for the ongoing detention of lawyer and minority and civic rights activist Hejaaz Hizbullah, who has been held under Sri Lanka’s notorious Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) for 15 months. In the absence of any credible evidence presented before a court of law, Hejaaz Hizbullah should be released immediately and unconditionally. 

Stand with Hejaz

Hejaaz Hizbullah was arrested on April 14, 2020 under the PTA. He was accused by the police of aiding and abetting Inshaf Ahamed (who was involved in the April 21, 2019 bombings), an accusation that has since been withdrawn. Since Hejaaz Hizbullah has been in detention the allegations against him have changed several times and his detention has been extended for over 15 months. 

The latest allegation on which an indictment was filed against Hejaaz Hizbullah in the High Court on February 18, 2021, is a speech-related offence of “causing communal disharmony,” one of a number of overly broad offences provided under the PTA. The indictment is based on a statement to the Criminal Investigation Department of the police made by a child regarding a speech allegedly made by Hizbullah in Puttalam. Other children who were questioned at the same time by the same officers filed fundamental rights cases claiming they were coerced by police officers to falsely implicate Hejaaz Hizbullah. Combined with the repeated changes in the allegations, this leads us to believe the allegations against him are unsupported by any credible evidence.

The PTA allows for the prolonged incarceration, based on mere suspicion, of any person who “causes or intends to cause commission of acts of violence or religious, racial or communal disharmony or feelings of ill-will or hostility between different communities or racial or religious groups.” The same provision has been used in the past to prevent and effectively punish the exercise of freedom of expression particularly critics of the government, including journalists.  

Hejaaz Hizbullah is a vocal critic of the government. He is a minority rights advocate in a climate increasingly hostile to Sri Lanka’s religious and ethnic minorities. He is also one of the lawyers who challenged the dissolution of the parliament in 2018 in the Sri Lankan Supreme Court. Since the Sri Lankan authorities have so far been unable to show any evidence of wrongdoing, it appears he is being targeted solely for exercising his right to freedom of expression. We call for Hejaaz Hizbullah’s immediate release and for the charges against him to be dropped.  

Since the time of his arrest Hejaaz Hizbullah has been repeatedly denied the right to due process safeguards recognized by international law. He was not informed of the reason for his arrest and has been held in prolonged administrative detention without judicial oversight to monitor his wellbeing, without access to bail. While in police custody he was prevented from accessing his legal counsel in private until an order was made by the Court of Appeal. In February, he was charged and moved to judicial remand custody, where he was able to speak with his family for the first time in 10 months. Thereafter visitation rights were restricted, and he has not been allowed any access to his family or counsel since April 2021. Under international human rights law, particularly under article 9 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) to which Sri Lanka is a state party, all detainees have a right of reasonable access to their family and lawyers. 

Hejaaz Hizbullah is one of many people detained for inordinate lengths of time without due process under Sri Lanka’s draconian counter-terrorism laws. In a study published in December 2020, the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka found that many PTA prisoners were in remand for up to 15 to 20 years. This is abuse of detainees held under the PTA and is a flagrant violation of the right to liberty and the right to a fair trial, as protected under articles 9 and 14 of the ICCPR. Many PTA detainees have also been allegedly tortured or ill-treated in custody.

We are deeply concerned by Sri Lanka’s continuing use of the PTA to enable arbitrary detention, despite commitments made to repeal the Act. The government of Sri Lanka should: 

  • Guarantee the protection of the human rights of all PTA detainees including guarantees of due process and a fair trial, and protection from arbitrary arrest, detention, torture or other ill-treatment, including; 
    • Immediately review the detention of those held under the PTA, ensuring adequate access to fair bail hearings, and immediate release for all those not facing internationally recognisable charges;
    • Ensure that all PTA detainees have regular access to legal counsel on a confidential basis and to family members and friends at regular intervals;
    • Ensure the right to a fair trial, including pre-trial rights, of those accused under the PTA;
  • Repeal the PTA and issue an immediate moratorium on its use; and
  • Facilitate access to effective remedies and reparations to those whose human rights have been violated due to the use of the PTA.

Signed by:

  1. Amnesty International
  2. Article 19
  3. Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)
  4. CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
  5. Front Line Defenders
  6. Human Rights Watch
  7. International Bar Association’s Human Rights Initiative
  8. International Commission of Jurists
  9. International Movement Against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism (IMADR)
  10. International Working Group on Sri Lanka 
  11. Sri Lanka Campaign for Truth and Justice

 

Nearly 70 human rights groups condemn state violence in Eswatini

To the Government of Eswatini and the international community:

 

Malaysia: Drop investigation and halt intimidation of activists

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hamzah Zainudin
Minister of Home Affairs of Malaysia
Block D1, D2 & D9, Complex D, 
Federal Government Administrative Centre 
62546 Putrajaya, Kuala Lumpur

We are writing on behalf of five civil society organisations including CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation, Asia Democracy Network (ADN), Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA), Front Line and WITNESS with regards to our concerns around police investigations into at least six activists and human rights defenders around an animated film about torture in police custody. 

The four-minute animated film, titled “Chilli Powder & Thinner”, is based on the testimony of a 16-year-old boy who was allegedly arrested and beaten up by police along with two other individuals. One method illustrated in the film - the application of chili powder and paint thinner to the skin - is the source of the film’s name.

On 2 July 2021, Freedom Film Network co-founder Anna Har and cartoonist Amin Landak were called in by the police for questioning around the film. An hour later, police also raided the office of the Freedom Film Network as well as the home of Amin Landak. The police confiscated computers, modems, routers, pen drives, microphones and related equipment.

The two activists are being investigated under Section 500 of the Penal Code for defamation, Section 505 (b) of the Penal Code for statements that could cause public alarm and distress, and Section 233 (1) (a) of the Communications and Multimedia Act for improper use of network facilities. 

On 6 July 2021, three members of human rights groups SUARAM including Sevan Doraisamy, Mohammad Alshatri, Kua Kia Soong and a guest panel speaker at the forum from Misi Solidariti, Sharon Wah, were also called in for questioning by the police in relation to the film. 

We are extremely concerned about the probe into the six activists by the police for their work in creating awareness around police abuse. The right to freedom of opinion and expression includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.” This right is guaranteed in the Malaysian Constitution as well as Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Instead of targeting them, the authorities should rather focus on investigating the allegations of police abuse highlighted in the film.

Our organisations are also concerned about the raids on their office and home which we believe are aimed to intimidate them and to create a chilling effect for those who would like to speak up and expose abuses by the authorities.

Further, the laws being used against them are extremely broad and vague and inconsistent with international law and standards. These “catch-all” provisions have been systematically used to arrest and investigate human rights defenders for the activism as well government critics. 

These actions highlight a broader pattern of human rights violations by the Perikatan Nasional government which has initiated baseless criminal proceedings against government critics, human rights defenders, journalists, and individuals expressing critical opinions, since coming to power in March 2020. It has also attempted to silence peaceful protesters and impede the formation of political parties.

It is also disappointing that such actions are being taken at a time when Malaysia is seeking for candidacy of the UN Human Right Council and has made pledges to respect and protect human right including freedom of expression. 

As such, we urge Malaysia authorities to take the following steps as a matter of priority: 

  • Immediately and unconditionally drop all investigations and stop all acts of intimidation against all the civil society activists associated with the animated short film and lift all restrictions on the exercise of their human rights;
  • Create a safe and enabling environment for activists, human rights defenders and other members of Malaysia civil society to peacefully exercise their rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly without intimidation, harassment, arrest or prosecution;
  • Review all provisions that criminalises freedom of expression in the Penal Code, the Communications and Multimedia Act and other laws and bring them in line with international law and standards.

We express our sincere hope that you will take these steps to address the human rights violations highlighted above. 

Signatories:

CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation is a global alliance of civil society organisations (CSOs) and activists dedicated to strengthening citizen action and civil society around the world. Founded in 1993, CIVICUS has more than 10,000 members in more than 175 countries throughout the world.

The Asia Democracy Network (ADN) is a civil society-led multi-stakeholder platform dedicated to defending and promoting democracy in Asia. ADN aims to strengthen solidarity and a collective voice among Asian civil society engaged in democracy, human rights and development at the global, regional, national and local levels.

The Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) is a regional network of 81 member organisations across 21 Asian countries, with consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council, and consultative relationship with the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights. Founded in 1991, FORUM-ASIA works to strengthen movements for human rights and sustainable development through research, advocacy, capacity-development and solidarity actions in Asia and beyond. Its regional secretariat is in Bangkok, and it has sub-regional offices in Geneva, Jakarta, and Kathmandu. 

Front Line Defenders is the Ireland-based international human rights organization that works for the security and protection of human rights defenders at risk (HRDs) around the world.

WITNESS help people use video and technology to protect and defend human rights.

Cc:

Dr. Ahmad Faisal Muhamad
Permanent Representative of Malaysia to the United Nations Office in Geneva
Acryl Sani Abdullah Sani
Inspector-General of Police (IGP), Malaysia 

 

Civil society calls on UN member states to address Israeli attacks against Palestinians

Regional and international civil society organisations from around the world call on United Nations Member States to address the escalating and institutionalised Israeli attacks against Palestinians on both sides of the Green Line during the 30th HRC Special Session

Your Excellency, 

Israel’s repression against Palestinians on both sides of the Green Line escalated in May 2021 in response to widespread Palestinian demonstrations against Israel’s imminent threat of eviction and displacement of eight Palestinian families from their homes in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in Jerusalem. Notably, this is only the latest example of Israel’s institutionalized regime of racial domination and oppression, which the Palestinian people have endured for decades. While the international community has ensured Israel’s impunity since 1948, enabling Israel to continue to commit widespread and systematic human rights violations, Palestinians on both sides of the Green Line and refugees and exiles abroad continue to oppose and stand steadfast against 73 years of Israeli settler colonialism and apartheid. 

As Israel intensifies its crackdown on Jerusalem and other parts of the West Bank, conducts military strikes against civilians in the Gaza Strip, which have been living under a comprehensive land, air, and sea closure for 14 years, and targets Palestinians inside the Green Line, the undersigned civil society organizations, from around the world, urge your delegation to  engage in the 30th Special Session by the UN Human Rights Council and  address all violations of human rights law and international humanitarian law, including the root causes of Israeli violations against Palestinians on both sides of the Green Line.

Since 13 April 2021, the beginning of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, the Israeli occupying forces (IOF) have systematically targeted and attacked Palestinians in Jerusalem. The attacks escalated when the occupation police targeted worshippers at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, with tear gas, sound bombs, and rubber-coated metal bullets, resulting in hundreds of injured Palestinians. The occupation police prevented paramedics from accessing the compound to treat the injured and even directly targeted emergency responders by firing tear gas and wastewater containers on volunteers, paramedics, and ambulances. In other parts of the West Bank, Israel has violently suppressed demonstrations calling for an end to Israeli oppression, including by shooting live ammunition at demonstrators, killing 14 Palestinians between 14 and 18 May 2021. According to the Palestinian Ministry of Health, between 7 and 19 May, 5164 Palestinians were injured, 578 with live ammunition. 

These attacks come in the context of increasing Palestinian mobilization against Israel’s policies and practices of racial domination and oppression, in response to the imminent eviction of eight Palestinian families, totaling 19 households of around 87 individuals, from the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in Jerusalem. The forcible transfer of Palestinians from Jerusalem is a war crime and likely amounts to a crime against humanity as it is being perpetrated in a widespread and systematic manner. Principle 6 of the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, prohibits arbitrary displacement, including “when it is based on policies of apartheid, ‘ethnic cleansing’ or similar practices aimed at/or resulting in altering the ethnic, religious or racial composition of the affected population.” All of these criteria are applicable to Israeli practices, policies and laws implemented with the intention of maintaining Jewish Israeli domination over the Palestinian people. 

The Israeli police have also violently repressed Palestinian demonstrations inside the Green Line. Since 10 May 2021, thousands of Palestinian citizens of Israel came out to protest the evictions of Palestinian refugee families in Sheikh Jarrah, the use of extreme violence and attacks on worshippers and protestors by the police in Al-Aqsa Mosque and elsewhere, and the Israeli military attacks in Gaza. The Palestinian protestors were subjected to police violence and human rights violations, including denial of emergency medical care. High Commissioner Bachelet highlighted “reports of excessive and discriminatory use of force by police against Palestinian citizens of Israel”. Since 10 May, the  police have arrested 1097 Palestinians. 

Moreover, Israeli settlers have intensified attacks against Palestinians living in the West Bank, including Jerusalem, with the support of the IOF. Inside the Green Line, far-right Jewish Israelis organized and coordinated the arrival of armed Israelis to attack Palestinians in al-Lydd, Ramle, Akka, Haifa, and Yafa, among other cities and areas. Moreover, the IOF has allowed Israeli settlers coming from the West Bank entry into Israel to target Palestinian neighborhoods and villages and provided support and protection as they attacked Palestinian residents and destroyed Palestinian property. In response, the Israeli police has not taken any action against and in some cases cooperated and supported the mob violence. High Commission Bachelet raised concern at “reports that Israeli police failed to intervene where Palestinian citizens of Israel were being violently attacked, and that social media is being used by ultraright-wing groups to rally people to bring ‘weapons, knives, clubs, knuckledusters to use against Palestinian citizens of Israel.” 

In the Gaza Strip, the IOF continues to target civilian structures, in particular homes, wiping out whole families, and inflicting widespread destruction and collective punishment on the entire, trapped population. Since 10 May 2021, human rights organizations documented Israel’s use of disproportionate, indiscriminate, and unnecessary military force in violation of international law. Residential blocks are “being targeted pursuant to an apparent policy agreed by Israel's military and political leadership”. The number of residential buildings targeted now stands at 94, including six towers—three of which were completely destroyed—ultimately destroying 371 residential units. In addition, hundreds of private properties, as well as tens of governmental sites, schools, banks, and mosques have sustained significant damages. Israel’s airstrikes have also led to the large-scale destruction of power and water networks, as well as thousands of square meters of vital paved roads. 

Israel’s extensive and systematic attacks on buildings, and the shelling of residential areas, especially those near the separation fence, force civilians—men, women, and children—to flee their homes in search of safety. Around 41,900 people have moved to 53 UNRWA schools, and the numbers are still increasing. Displaced people are experiencing appalling humanitarian conditions, especially when UNRWA schools have not officially been opened as shelters. 

As of 2 pm on 17 May, 231 Palestinians, including 65 children and 39 women were killed; 1212 others have been injured in the attacks, including 277children and 204women. According to Israeli media, ten Israelis have been killed following rocket fire from Gaza. 

It is again clear that civilians are paying the price of Israel’s pervasive impunity. Any firing of rockets or attacks must meet assessments of proportionality and the requirement for a concrete and direct military advantage. Indiscriminate attacks or targeting of civilians not taking a direct part in hostilities constitute a grave violation of international law. In order to protect all civilians, the Human Rights Council should address the root causes of Israel’s settler colonialism and apartheid to achieve lasting justice. 

We call on your missions to:

 

  • Engage in the 30th UN Human Rights Council Special Session and address the escalating Israeli attacks against the Palestinian people, including the root causes of Israeli violations against Palestinians on both sides of the Green Line.
  • Establish a commission of inquiry to:
  • Monitor, document and report on all violations of human rights and humanitarian law, including the escalating attacks against Palestinians on both sides of the Green Line since April 2021;
  • Include and address the root causes of Israel’s institutionalized regime of racial domination and oppression over the Palestinian people in line with the 2019 Concluding Observations on Israel by the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) which highlighted Israeli policies and practices against Palestinians on both sides of the Green Line are in violation of Article 3 of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) pertaining to racial segregation and apartheid;
  • Identify individuals responsible for serious crimes; 
  • Collect and preserve evidence related to violations to be used for accountability in relevant judicial bodies and transfer evidence to the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court.

Endorsing organisations 

  1. Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies 
  2. International Service for Human Rights 
  3. Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) 
  4. International Women's Rights Action Watch Asia Pacific (IWRAW AP)
  5. DefendDefenders (East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project)
  6. Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales (CELS) 
  7. Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights 
  8. CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
  9. Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network (SAHRDN)
  10. Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) 
  11. Women League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF)
  12. Sexual Rights Initiative
  13. International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
  14. 11.11.11 
  15. The Center for Reproductive Rights 
  16. Baytna 
  17. Bytes For All, Pakistan 
  18. Ireland-Palestine Solidarity Campaign 
  19. Human Rights solidarity 
  20. Association des Universitaires pour le Respect du Droit International en Palestine (AURDIP) 
  21. European Legal Support Center 
  22. Just Peace Advocates/Mouvement Pour Une Paix Juste
  23. Collectif Judéo Arabe et Citoyen pour la Palestine
  24. The Niagara Movement for Justice in Palestine-Israel (NMJPI) 
  25. ICAHD Finland
  26. Association belgo-Palestinienne WB
  27. Viva Salud
  28.  Intal
  29. CNCD-11.11.11
  30. EuroMed Rights
  31. The Palestinian Human Rights Organization (PHRO) - Lebanon 
  32. Scottish Palestinian Forum
  33. Trócaire
  34. European Trade Union Network for Justice in Palestine (ETUN)
  35. Istituto Internazionale Maria Ausiliatrice (IIMA)
  36. UPJB (Union des Progressistes Juifs de Belgique)
  37. Akahatá
  38. Association France Palestine Solidarité (AFPS)
  39. Habitat International Coalition – Housing and Land Rights Network
  40. Canadian BDS Coalition
  41. ASGI - Association for juridical studies on immigration
  42. Network for Immigration, Development and Democracy (IDD)
  43. Aegis for Human Rights
  44. Geneva Bridge Association
  45. Association of Maghreb Workers in France
  46. Association for the Promotion of the Right to Difference
  47. El Na aura Association, Belgium
  48. Coordination for Maghreb Human rights Organizations (CMODH)
  49. SAM organization for Rights and Liberties
  50. Yemeni Observatory for Human Rights
  51. Dameer Foundation for Rights and Freedom
  52. INSAF Center for Defending Freedoms and Minorities
  53. Abductees’ Mothers Association
  54. Together We Raise (Social Association) 
  55. Watch for Human Rights 
  56. Mwatana for Human Rights 
  57. Hadramout Foundation For Legal Support and Training
  58. Yemeni Observatory of Mines
  59. Mwatana for Human Rights
  60. Social Peace Promotion and Legal Protection
  61. Al-Haq Foundation for Human Rights 
  62. Al-Rakeezeh Foundation for Relief and Development 
  63. Growth foundation for development & improvement
  64. Namaa Foundation for Development and Improvement 
  65. Lebanese Center for Human Rights
  66. Freedom of Thought and Expression
  67. Committee for Justice
  68. Belady Center for Rights and Freedoms
  69. Egyptian Front for Human Rights
  70. Egyptian Human Rights Forum
  71. The Freedom Initiative
  72. Arabic Network for Human Rights Information
  73. Centre for Egyptian Women Legal Assistance
  74. Libyan Center for Freedom of the Press
  75. February 17 Organization for Environment and Human Rights
  76. Shiraa Association to fight AIDS and drugs
  77. Thought Pioneers Organization Mattress
  78. Mattress Youth Organization
  79. Al-Tebyan Association for Human Rights Dirj
  80. Al-Massar Organization for Youth and Culture Dirj Branch
  81. Mediterranean Organization for Development and Humanitarian Relief
  82. International Arabic Organization for Women’s Rights
  83. Nass for Nass organization to support youth Misurata
  84. Defender Center for Human Rights
  85. Libyan Crimes Watch
  86. Libyan Organization for Legal Aid
  87. Human rights solidarity
  88. The Tunisian General Labor Union 
  89. The Committee for the Respect of Liberties and Human Rights in Tunisia
  90. The Tunisian Organization Against Torture
  91. The Tunisian Association for the Defense of Individual Liberties
  92. The Tunisian Association 23-10 for the Support of the Democratic Transition Process
  93. The National Observatory for the Defense of the Civic Character of the State
  94. The Tunisian Association for the Defense of Minorities
  95. Hassan Saadaoui Association for Democracy and Equality
  96. The National Union for Tunisian Journalists
  97. Vigilance for Democracy and Civic State       
  98. The Tunisian Forum for Economic and Social Rights
  99. Democratic Association of Tunisians in France
  100. Association Aswat Nissa
  101. Tunisian Federation for Citizenship on both shores
  102. Tunisian Union for Citizenship Action
  103. Tunisian Center for Press Freedom
  104. EuroMaghreb Network: citizenship and culture
  105. Vigilance for Democracy in Tunisia (Belgium)
  106. Ga3 Kifkif Network
  107. Algerian Feminist Journal Foundation
  108. Tharwa N'Fadhma N'Soumeur organisation
  109. Action for Change and Democracy in Algeria (ACDA)
  110. Algerian League for the Defense of Human Rights (LADDH)
  111. Autonomous Union of Public Administration Personnel (SNAPAP)
  112. General Autonomous Confederation of Workers in Algeria (CGATA)
  113. Riposte Internationale
  114. Collective of the Families of the Disappeared in Algeria (CFDA)
  115. National Committee for the Release of Detainees (CNLD)
  116. SHOAA for Human Rights
  117. Association for the Defense of Human Rights in Morocco (ASDHOM)
  118. Organization for freedoms of Media and Expression
  119. Libyan Organization for Independent Media 
  120. Youth for Tawergha 

 

Urgent call to release Abdul-Hadi al-Khawaja on his 60th Birthday &10th anniversary of his detention

To: United Nations Secretary General and diplomatic Missions

United Nations Special Rapporteurs/Targeted Governments (to be amended based on recipient)

Re: Urgent call to release Abdul-Hadi al-Khawaja on his sixtieth Birthday and Tenth anniversary of his detention

Your Excellencies,

We the undersigned, representing civil society organisations from around the world, write to bring to your urgent attention the continued detention of human rights defender Abdul-Hadi Abdulla Hubail al-Khawaja. As you may be aware, al-Khawaja, who is a dual Bahraini-Danish citizen, is currently serving a life sentence for his peaceful human rights activities.  As he marks his 10th year in prison and commemorates his 60th birthday on 5 April 2021, we urge the United Nations through its Secretary General, governments around the world and representatives of the diplomatic community to urgently call on  Bahraini authorities to release him immediately and unconditionally. 

Al-Khawaja’s active campaigning for human rights began when he was 16 years old. Spanning decades of activism, he is the co-founder of both the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) and the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) for which he was also President. Until early 2011, al-Khawaja worked as MENA Protection Coordinator for human rights group Frontline Defenders. He also previously took part in a fact-finding mission to Iraq in 2003 with Amnesty International and is a member of the International Advisory Network of the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre. He is a peaceful advocate of human rights and the recipient of several human rights awards, including the “World without Torture” Award which he received in October 2013 in recognition of his struggle for human rights.  

He was arrested on 9 April 2011 for his role in organising peaceful protests to defend the realisation of human rights of Bahrainis and for political reform during the popular ‘Arab Spring’ movements which began in Bahrain in February 2011.  He was violently detained by security forces as detailed in a report by the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) published in November 2011 at the request of the King of Bahrain.  He is serving a life prison sentence in Jau prison following unfair trials in courts that did not comply with Bahraini criminal law or international fair trial standards.

At its 63rd session in April/May 2012, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention considered that al-Khawaja’s arrest was arbitrary as it resulted from his exercise of the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly.

On 17 March 2021, GCHR in co-operation with its human rights partners Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (AHRDB), BCHR, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), released a report detailing some of the ill-treatment and torture al-Khawaja has faced during his arrest and subsequent arbitrary detention. This has included severe physical, psychological and sexual torture.

During his early detention, al-Khawaja suffered multiple fractures to his jaw and has undergone multiple surgeries but still suffers from chronic pain and requires additional intervention as he has not healed properly. His facial bone structure is permanently damaged. In January 2021, over 100 NGOs appealed to the Danish government to help free al-Khawaja so he could travel to Denmark for treatment.

In a January 2021 phone call, al-Khawaja listed four concerns including that prison authorities placed restrictions on his phone calls with the family (that have replaced their in-person visits) and confiscated hundreds of his books and other materials.  He also stated that prison authorities arbitrarily deny him adequate healthcare and refuse to refer him to specialists for the urgent surgeries he requires.  Denying a prisoner needed medical care violates the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, known as the Nelson Mandela Rules. 

Al-Khawaja continues to protest the arbitrary detention to which he is subjected.  Since his arrest, he has undertaken six-hunger strikes, one lasting 110 days in 2012 to protest conditions in Jau Prison and his unjust imprisonment. 

In March 2020, at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, Bahrain released 1,486 prisoners, 901 of whom received royal pardons on “humanitarian grounds.” However, al-Khawaja and other prominent human rights defenders - many of whom are older or suffer from underlying medical conditions - were not among those released. 

On 11 March 2021, the European Parliament voted overwhelmingly in a plenary session to adopt an urgent resolution condemning human rights abuses in Bahrain, including the persecution of human rights defenders, lawyers and other civil society figures, while calling on Bahrain’s government to enact reforms. The resolution calls for the release of al-Khawaja and others “who have been detained and sentenced for merely exercising their right to freedom of expression.”

On al-Khawaja’s 60th birthday and the 10th anniversary of his arrest we appeal to you to personally hold talks with the government of Bahrain to immediately and unconditionally release him.

The undersigned,

  1. Activista Moviment
  2. African National Congress Youth League
  3. Amnesty International
  4. Association El Ghad pour les droits de l’homme
  5. Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR)
  6. Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD)
  7. Brothers Keeper NPO
  8. Bytes For All, Pakistan
  9. Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS)
  10. Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR)
  11. CIVICUS
  12. Community Transformation Foundation Network (COTFONE)
  13. Danish PEN
  14. FIDH, within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
  15. Front Line Defenders
  16. Globe International Center, Mongolia
  17. Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR)
  18. Human Rights Sentinel
  19. IFEX
  20. International Media Support
  21. International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)              
  22. Intersection Association for Rights and Freedoms
  23. Iraqi Journalism Rights Defence Association
  24. Kuza Livelihood Improvement Projects
  25. Maharat Foundation
  26. Media Institute of Southern Africa
  27. OMCT (World Organisation Against Torture), within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
  28. Pacific Islands News Association (PINA)
  29. Protection Adolescent Organization
  30. South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO)
  31. Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM)
  32. The Community Human Rights Defenders Network - ACPDH
  33. Universidade do Minho
  34. Vigilance for Démocracy and Civic state
  35. Vigilance for Democracy and the Civic State
  36. منظمة الفيصل لمناهضة الاعتقال والتعذيب والإخفاء القسري (Al-Faisal Organization Against Detention, Torture and Enforced Disappearance)

 

31 human rights groups call for urgent response to the Algerian government’s intensifying crackdown on civil society and journalists amidst the COVID-19 pandemic

عربى

We, the undersigned regional and international non-governmental organisations, write to draw your attention to the alarming and the intensified crackdown on Algerian civil society, targeting peaceful activists and journalists, including with arbitrary detention. We urge you to address these worrying developments, and to:

  • Strongly condemn the arbitrary and unlawful arrest, detention and judicial harassment of journalists, human rights defenders, civil society and other peaceful activists solely for expressing their views, for protesting peacefully and/or calling for democratic change; 
  • Call on the Algerian authorities to immediately and unconditionally release these individuals, arbitrarily detained;
  • Call on authorities to cease all judicial harassment and intimidation against them; and
  • Call on Algeria to ensure and guarantee the right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly as included in the Algerian Constitution, in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) ratified by Algeria.

Illustrative of this crackdown, in August, two journalists - Abdelkrim Zeghileche and Khaled Drareni – were sentenced respectively to two and three years in prison. Drareni’s appeal is set for 8 September. Human rights defender and activist Abdullah Benaoum has remained in pre-trial detention since December 2019, despite a very critical health condition. Opposition figure Amira Bouraoui was sentenced to a year in prison on 21 June and is awaiting her appeal on 24 September. On19 June 2020, about 500 peaceful protesters were subjected to mass arbitrary detentions.

The Algerian authorities’ relentless prosecution and harassment of civil society and journalists undermines human rights as the country undertakes its democratic transition process, ahead of a constitutional referendum to be held on November 1st, endangers the health of individuals detained given the heightened risk of contracting COVID-19 in the midst of an outbreak of the virus in Algerian prisons. This risk is illustrated by the recent death of two detainees and the infection of at least eight others.

In the 44th HRC session, civil society organisations urged the Council to increase its scrutiny of the situation in Algeria, knowing that within less than a month - between 30 March and 16 April 2020 - three communications were sent to the Algerian government by multiple special procedures in relation to arbitrary and violent arrests, unfair trials and reprisals against human rights defenders and peaceful activists. Despite these communications, and while President Tebboune announced his support for an open dialogue with the Hirak and his desire to break with previous repressive practices following controversial elections in December 2019, the reality on the ground shows that the level of repression has increased drastically.

We therefore call on you to raise these pressing and worrying developments in order to protect Algerian civil society as it strives to protect its democratic transition, and its freedom of assembly and expression.

We thank you for your consideration and look forward to your response.

Yours sincerely,

  • Adil Soz
  • Afghanistan Journalists Center (AFJC)
  • Africa Freedom of Information Centre (AFIC)
  • Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB)
  • Amnesty International 
  • Article 19
  • Bytes for All (B4A)
  • Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS)
  • Cambodian Center for Independent Media (CCIM)
  • Cartoonist’s Rights Network International (CRNI)
  • Civicus 
  • Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA)
  • Committee for the Respect of Liberties and Human Rights in Tunisia
  • Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)
  • Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF)
  • Globe International Center
  • Initiative for Freedom of Expression (IFoX) - Turkey
  • International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
  • International Federation of Journalists (IFJ)
  • International Press Centre (IPC)
  • International Press Institute (IPI)
  • International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)
  • Maharat Foundation
  • Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA)
  • Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA)
  • Media, Entertainment &Artis Alliance (MEAA)
  • Metamorphosis
  • Pacific Islands News Association (PINA)
  • Reporters without Borders (RSF)
  • South East Europe Media Organization (SEEMO)
  • World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters (AMARC)

Context

Since the outbreak of COVID-19, and the suspension of the peaceful protest movement called the Hirak, Algerian authorities have accelerated arbitrary prosecutions and harassment of journalists, peaceful activists, rights defenders, and citizens expressing dissenting opinions. Between March and June 2020, local rights groups estimate that at least 200 people were subjected to arbitrary arrests for expressing their opinion or for their alleged support to the Hirak, while more than 1,400 were prosecuted in relation to the protests since the start of the Hirak movement in February 2019. As of 25 August, and according to the National Committee for the Release of Detainees (CNLD), at least 44 people are behind bars after being arbitrarily detained for expressing their opinion, and a number of them are in pre-trial detention. On 19 June 2020, about 500 peaceful protesters were subjected to mass arbitrary detentions. 

Among those recently sentenced or prosecuted: 

  • Political activist Samir Ben Larbi and national coordinator of the families of the disappeared Slimane Hamitouche (subject of a joint communication from UN Special Procedures), were sentenced on 10 August to two years in prison over online publications and their participation in peaceful protests. 
  • On 21 June, Amira Bouraoui, activist and opposition figure, was sentenced to a year in prison after criticizing President Tebboune online. She is awaiting her appeal, scheduled to take place on 24 September 2020. 
  • The pre-trial detention of Walid Kechida, creator of a satirical Facebook page, arrested in April for "contempt and offense to the President" and "attack on the divine entity", was renewed on 27 August 2020 for another 4 months.  
  • Activist Abdullah Benaoum’s health is in critical condition. He has remained in pre-trial detention since his participation in a peaceful demonstration in December 2019, although he suffers from a heart condition requiring an urgent surgical intervention. His petition for a pretrial release was rejected again on 2 September. 

Peaceful activists and journalists are sentenced on vague charges such as “weakening the morale of the army”, “undermining national unity” or “offending the President”, all stemming from exercising their right to free speech or peaceful assembly. The National Union of Magistrates (SNM) has recently denounced the abusive recourse to pre-trial detention

In addition, authorities have continued to clamp down on freedom of information by blocking news websites and multiplying the prosecution of journalists. In April 2020, the Parliament hurriedly passed vaguely worded amendments to the Penal Code allowing for people exercising free speech to be charged with “spreading false news”, harming “national unity” and “public order”, punishable by one to three years in prison. At least six online news websites covering the COVID-19 pandemic and the Hirak protests were made unavailable on Algerian networks in April and May. Two of them were blocked four days after the editor-in-chief of both websites published an op-ed criticizing President Abdelmadjid Tebboune’s first 100 days in office. Minister of Communication Amar Belhimer admitted that the authorities, without prior notification, had blocked them pending "further legal proceedings" against the director for "defamation and insult" against President Tebboune.   

Among the journalists targeted:

  • Reporter Abdelkrim Zeghileche was sentenced to two years in prison on 24 August 2020 after he called for the creation of a new political party and criticized President Tebboune. He was accused of “endangering national unity” and “insulting the head of state”; 
  • Journalist Khaled Drareni, correspondent for TV5Monde and Reporters Without Borders (RSF), Director of the Casbah Tribune, was sentenced to three years in prison over his reporting on the Hirak protest movement on 10 August 2020; 
  • On 28 July 2020, Algerian authorities detained Moncef Aït Kaci, a former France 24 correspondent, Ramdane Rahmouni, a freelance producer and camera operator, and Mustapha Bendjama, a local journalist and advocate for the freedom of the press. They were released temporarily pending investigation, and Bendjama continues to face inappropriate criminal charges.
  • After a one-day trial, in April 2020, Algerian authorities also charged three journalists with “attack on national unity” over their reporting on the coronavirus pandemic.

Furthermore, members of the judiciary who demand respect for judicial independence have been sanctioned professionally. On February 10, the Justice Ministry ordered the arbitrary transfer of prosecutor Mohamed Belhadi 600 kilometers south of Algiers, after Belhadi requested the acquittal of 16 protesters. The spokesperson for the Algerian Magistrates Association, Saad Eddine Merzouk and other judges who called for the protection of judiciary independence, were summoned in an extraordinary session before the Superior Judicial Council on 1 June 2020. Back in November 2019, police had forcefully dislodged a peaceful gathering of magistrates on strike, in a courthouse in Oran, over the reshuffling of judicial positions. 

 

Global call for international human rights monitoring mechanisms on China

An open letter to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, UN Member States.

China

 

Over 30 rights organisations call on international powers to pressure Cambodia over human rights abuses

Joint Letter

We call on Australia, Canada, Finland, France, Germany, India, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand, Sweden, the Netherlands the United Kingdom, and the United States of America, to join the EU in its call to the Cambodian government to take concrete action to address the human rights situation in the country. Repressive laws that restrict human rights and civic freedoms in Cambodia have worsened during COVID-19.


Your excellency,

We, the undersigned 32 civil society organizations, urge the Governments of Australia, Canada, Finland, France, Germany, India, Japan, New Zealand, Sweden, the Netherlands, the Republic of Korea, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America to echo the European Union (EU) in its call for the respect of human rights in Cambodia. On August 12, 2020, the EU will partially suspend Cambodia’s “Everything But Arms” (EBA) tariff preferences in response to the Cambodian government’s “serious and systematic violations” of four human and labor rights conventions: the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966), the International Labor Organization (ILO) Convention concerning Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize No. 87 (1948), the ILO Convention concerning the Application of the Principles of the Right to Organize and to Bargain Collectively, No. 98 (1949), and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1966).

The Cambodian government continues to crack down on civil society, independent media, and the political opposition and human rights defenders to silence critical voices in the country. In the past three years it has adopted a series of repressive laws that unduly restrict human rights. In November 2019, the Cambodian authorities had arbitrarily detained nearly 90 people solely on the basis of the peaceful expression of their opinions or political views as well as their political affiliations. While 74 opposition members, detained on spurious charges, were released from detention in December 2019, the charges against them remain, and they risk re-arrest. Opposition leader Kem Sokha’s criminal trial for unsubstantiated treason charges has been marred by irregularities since it began in January. Sokha remains banned from politics and faces up to 30 years in prison if convicted. The Prime Minister announced that the trial could drag on into 2021.

In April, the Cambodian government used the Covid-19 crisis to adopt an unnecessary and draconian state of emergency law that provides the authorities with broad and unfettered powers to restrict freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association – rights that have already been severely restricted during his 35 years in power. Currently, another 30 political prisoners are behind bars due to the Cambodian government’s continued onslaught on free speech in the guise of combating Covid-19.

Cambodia committed to protecting and promoting fundamental human rights, providing equal protection of the law, and holding genuine periodic elections when it ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The Cambodian government ratified all of the fundamental ILO Conventions that protect the rights of workers and trade unions. Respect for human rights and the rule of law are essential for a stable and flourishing business environment over the long term.

Cambodia agreed that access to the EU’s Everything But Arms preferential trade scheme is conditional on adherence to the principles in 15 core human rights and labor rights conventions. The European Commission’s decision on February 12, 2020 to partially suspend Cambodia’s EBA preferences followed a yearlong process of ‘enhanced engagement’ between the EU and Cambodia during which the Cambodian government was given every opportunity to cooperate and make significant progress in improving its protection of human rights and labor rights. The European Commission concluded that Cambodia had failed to take necessary measures to retain full EBA benefits.

We agree. For example, on January 22, 2020, 23 companies and nongovernmental organizations, including major international garment brands sourcing from Cambodia, raised concerns about the labor rights situation and urged the government to amend or repeal two deeply problematic laws, the Trade Union Law and the Law on Associations and NGOs (LANGO), and drop all outstanding criminal charges against union leaders. The government’s tokenistic amendments to the repressive Trade Union Law fell considerably short of what was required to address that issue. More broadly, the government has demonstrated an unwillingness to take concrete and meaningful steps to improve the rights situation; to the contrary, Cambodia adopted further repressive laws and arrested more peaceful critics during the intensive monitoring and evaluation process.

We therefore call on Australia, Canada, Finland, France, Germany, India, Japan, New Zealand, Sweden, the Netherlands, the Republic of Korea, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America, acting collectively and bilaterally, to echo the EU in its call to the Cambodian government to take concrete action without delay, including but not limited to the following, to address the human rights situation in the country:

  1. Immediately and unconditionally release all political prisoners, including activists, human rights defenders, journalists, and members of the political opposition.
  2. Cease harassment, arbitrary arrests, and physical attacks against union leaders, land activists, human rights defenders, opposition members, and journalists.
  3. Immediately drop the baseless treason charges against opposition leader Kem Sokha.
  4. Conduct independent, impartial, prompt and thorough investigations into attacks, including killings, against critics of the government and hold those responsible to account. For example, the Cambodian government should establish an independent Commission of Inquiry to conduct an effective investigation into the extrajudicial killing of political commentator and human rights defender Dr. Kem Ley in July 2016.
  5. Repeal the Law on the Management of the Nation in State of Emergency.
  6. Reverse the three rounds of amendments to the Law on Political Parties that permit the arbitrary dissolution of political parties and ban party leaders from political activity without due process.
  7. Significantly amend the Trade Union Law in consultation with workers, labor advocates and other stakeholders to bring it into full compliance with ILO Conventions No. 87 (Freedom of Association) and No. 98 (Right to Organize and Collectively Bargain), both ratified by Cambodia.
  8. Repeal or significantly amend the Law on Associations and Non-Governmental Organizations (LANGO), which violates Cambodia’s obligations under international human rights law.
  9. Cease the government’s arbitrary interference and surveillance of the online and offline media and end the use of repressive laws to censor and control independent media.
  10. Restore the work of the Arbitration Council by enabling it to hear all labour disputes, including termination of union leaders, and guaranteeing unrestricted access to all workers, irrespective of union status.
  11. Ensure prompt, fair and transparent resolution of all land conflicts by providing fair compensation to victims of land grabbing and introduce an effective and fair system of land titling, while ending the harassment of land rights activists and affected communities.
  12. Cooperate with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and UN Special Procedures in order to allow them to fulfil their mandates without interference.

The Cambodian government should take meaningful measures that reverse the deterioration of Cambodia’s human rights situation in order to restore trade preferences or lift suspensions of bilateral aid.

We urge your government to call on the Cambodian government to comply with its obligations under international human rights law and to support the EU in its efforts to bring respect for human rights, rule of law, and democracy to the Cambodian people.

Yours sincerely,

Arab Network for Food Sovereignty - Regional
Article 19
ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR)
Asian Democracy Network (ADN)
Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)
Asian Network for Free Elections (ANFREL)
Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact (AIPP)
Business and Human Rights Resource Centre (BHRRC)
Civil Rights Defenders
CIVICUS
Clean Clothes Campaign East Asia
EarthRights International
Fair Labor Association (FLA)
FIAN Germany
Forest Peoples’ Programme
Front Line Defenders
Global Witness
Human Rights Now (HRN)
Human Rights Watch (HRW)
International Commission of Jurists (ICJ)
International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX)
International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)
Pakistan Kissan Mazdoor Tehreek
People’s Coalition on Food Sovereignty (PCFS) - Europe
People’s Coalition on Food Sovereignty (PCFS) - Global
Pesticide Action Network Asia Pacific - Regional
Roots for Equity, Pakistan
Struggle to Economize Future Environment (SEFE), Cameroon
The B Team
World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)
Zambia Social Forum


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

 

Egypt: End Reprisals, Harassment and Threats Against Civil Society Leader Mostafa Fouad

Arabic

The undersigned civil society organisations call on Egyptian authorities to immediately end their harassment of Egyptian activist and Deputy Director of HuMENA for Human Rights and Civic Engagement, Mostafa Fouad.


 

Release human rights defenders at risk in the context of COVID-19

Safoora asked for equal rights for all

Mr Amit Shah
Union Home Minister of India
Ministry of Home Affairs
Government of India

Re: Release human rights defenders at risk in the context of COVID-19

Dear Home Minister

We, the undersigned organizations, write with great concern regarding the situation of student activists Safoora Zargar, who is four months pregnant, Meeran Haider, Shifa-Ur-Rehman and Sharjeel Imam, all detained under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA). We believe their detention is unfounded and designed to punish them for defending human rights and engaging in peaceful protest against a discriminatory law. In addition, their being jailed in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic is unnecessarily putting their lives and health at serious risk. We urge you to immediately and unconditionally release all four activists, as well as other persons who have been detained, charged, or convicted simply for defending human rights and exercising their right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.

Safoora Zargar, Meeran Haider and Shifa-Ur-Rahman are student activists who were involved in protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) and arrested in April 2020. Safoora Zargar, Meeran Haider and Shifa-Ur-Rahman, were arrested by the Delhi Police on 10 April, 1 April and 24 April on charges of rioting and unlawful assembly, reportedly in connection with their alleged role in the demonstrations.The CAA legitimises discrimination on the basis of religion and contravenes the Constitution of India and international human rights law. Student activist Sharjeel Imam was arrested in January 2020 under charges of sedition for his speech during anti-CAA protests. The additional charges under UAPA were brought in April 2020. All of them are currently in pre-trial detention. 

Their situation is not unique. For example, on 14 April 2020, the authorities also detained human rights activists Anand Teltumbde and Gautam Navlakha under the UAPA for allegedly inciting caste-based violence during a 2018 demonstration in Bhima Koregaon, Maharashtra state. Nine other activists have been detained since 2018 in relation to the same case. They are known for their work defending the rights of Adivasi and Dalit communities and should all be released immediately.

We are seriously concerned that the Indian authorities have routinely misused draconian, anti-terrorism laws such as the UAPA, to undermine human rights, stifle dissent and press freedom. This is even more concerning during the COVID-19 pandemic. The slow investigative processes and extremely stringent bail provisions under these laws mean that human rights defenders and others who speak out may face many years behind bars unjustly.  In their communication to the Government of India on 6 May 2020, eight UN Special Rapporteurs and the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention raised serious concerns about the 2019 amendment to the UAPA regarding 'the designation of individuals as "terrorists" in the context of ongoing discrimination directed at religious and other minorities, human rights defenders and political dissidents, against whom the law has been used.' They also noted that non-violent criticism of state policies or institutions should not be made a criminal offence under counter-terrorism measures in a society governed by the rule of law and abiding by human rights principles and obligations. Arrests of peaceful protesters violate India’s obligations under international law, specifically the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to respect and protect the rights to liberty, to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, set out in Articles 9, 19 and 21 of that treaty.

On 25 March 2020, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights urged all states to release “every person detained without sufficient legal basis, including political prisoners, and those detained for critical, dissenting views” in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. With at least 200 prison inmates and jail staff testing positive for the COVID-19 across India, including in Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka, when the authorities misuse draconian laws to detain activists and human rights defenders, including peaceful protesters, they are not only persecuting them, they are unnecessarily putting their lives at grave risk.

In addition, Safoora Zargar’s pregnancy makes her release even more urgent, particularly amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The United Nations Rules for the Treatment of Women Prisoners and Non-custodial Measures for Women Offenders, also known as the Bangkok Rules, recommend that while deciding on pre-trial measures, non-custodial alternatives should be preferred for pregnant women where possible and appropriate.

The Indian authorities need to ensure that, as they apply the Supreme Court of India’s directive to decongest prisons to contain the spread of COVID-19, they immediately and unconditionally release student activists Safoora Zargar, Meeran Haider, Shifa-Ur-Rehman and Sharjeel Imam who remain in jail simply for peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression by opposing the discriminatory law. They should also immediately release the 11 rights activists and journalists jailed in the Bhima Koregaon case. 

The fight against the pandemic must be inclusive and not selectively used to dissuade and prevent human rights defenders from exercising their human rights. 

Respectfully,

(in alphabetical order)

African Center for Democracy and Human Rights Studies
Amnesty International
ARTICLE 19 - Bangladesh and South Asia 
Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) 
Association for Human Rights in Ethiopia (AHRE), Ethiopia
Center for Civil Liberties, Ukraine
Centre d'études et d'initiatives de solidarité internationale (CEDETIM), France
Citizens for Justice and Peace (cjp.org.in), Mumbai, India
CIVICUS
Front Line Defenders
Groupe d’Action pour le Progrès et la Paix (G.A.P.P.-Afrique)
Human Rights Watch
Human Rights Concern (HRCE), Eritrea
International Commission of Jurists
International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), in the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
MARUAH, Singapore
Muslim Womens Forum, India
National Campaign for Diversity and Harmony (NCDH), India
Odhikar, Bangladesh
Reporters Without Borders (RSF)
Réseau syndical international de solidarité et de luttes (International Labour Network of Solidarity and Struggles), France
Rutgers International
Union syndicale Solidaires, France
WHRD-MENA Coalition
World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), in the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders

 

Egypt: open letter calling for an independent investigation into the death of Shady Habash

Arabic

CIVICUS, together with more than 60 organisations, calls for an open and independent investigation into the jailing and death of filmmaker hady Habash. 

 

UAE: Freedom of expression must be upheld at all times

Freedom of expression must be upheld at all times, not only tolerated during Hay Festival Abu Dhabi

Arabic

As the Hay Festival Abu Dhabi opens on 25-28 February 2020 in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), we the undersigned call on the Emirati authorities to demonstrate their respect for the right to freedom of expression by freeing all human rights defenders imprisoned for expressing themselves peacefully online, including academics, writers, a poet and lawyers. In the context of the Hay Festival, the UAE’s Ministry of Tolerance is promoting a platform for freedom of expression, while keeping behind bars Emirati citizens and residents who shared their own views and opinions. We support the efforts of festival participants to speak up in favour of all those whose voices have been silenced in the UAE. We further support calls for the UAE authorities to comply with international standards for prisoners, including by allowing prisoners of conscience to receive books and reading materials.

The country’s most prominent human rights defender, Ahmed Mansoor, is currently serving a 10-year prison sentence after being convicted on the spurious charge of “insulting the status and prestige of the UAE and its symbols including its leaders” in reprisal for his peaceful human rights activism, including posts on social media.

Mansoor is being held in solitary confinement in an isolation ward in Al-Sadr prison, Abu Dhabi, in dire conditions with no bed or books. In the nearly three years since his arrest in March 2017, he has only been permitted to leave his small cell for a handful of family visits, and only once has he been allowed outside to the prison sports yard for fresh air. In protest, he went on two separate hunger strikes which have harmed his health - harm which has been exacerbated by the lack of adequate medical care. By holding Mansoor in such appalling conditions, the UAE authorities are violating the absolute prohibition of torture and other ill-treatment under international law. We urge the Emirati authorities to comply with international law and we appeal to the humanity of members of the government to provide Mansoor with acceptable conditions until he is released.

Mansoor, who has four young sons, is also an engineer and a poet. He serves on the advisory boards of the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) and Human Rights Watch’s Middle East division. In October 2015, Mansoor gained international recognition for his vital work when he received the prestigious Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders.

Mansoor undertook a month-long hunger strike in March 2019 to protest his punitive prison conditions, arbitrary detention, and unfair conviction. In May, seven United Nations independent experts expressed grave concern about Mansoor. Again, in early September 2019, after being tortured through beatings by prison guards, he began a second hunger strike. Due to the lack of independent human rights NGOs in the country, it is very difficult to obtain news about his current situation, including whether or not he remains on the hunger strike since the last report that he was still not eating solid food in January 2020, leaving him unable to walk.

In October 2019, over 140 NGOs worldwide appealed to the UAE authorities to free Ahmed Mansoor, who spent his 50th birthday in isolation and on hunger strike.

UAE Activists

Other prisoners have been tortured in prison in the UAE. A Polish fitness expert, Artur Ligęska, was held in the same isolation ward as Mansoor, in conditions he described as “medieval”. After his charges were dismissed and he was freed in May 2019, Ligęska wrote a book in which he recounted the prison conditions in Al-Sadr’s isolation wing, where prisoners were held without running water for many months in very unhygienic conditions, and some were subjected to torture, abuse and sexual assault. He was instrumental in getting the news about Mansoor’s hunger strike out to the world from prison in March 2019, at great personal risk.

Other human rights defenders have faced similar mistreatment in prison, where they are often held in isolation, resorting to hunger strikes to try to bring attention to their unjust imprisonment and ill-treatment in detention.

Human rights lawyer Dr Mohammed Al-Roken, who has been detained since July 2012 solely for peacefully exercising his rights to freedom of expression and association, including through his work as a lawyer, is serving a 10-year prison sentence for signing - along with 132 other people - an online petition calling for political reform. He was convicted and sentenced following a grossly unfair mass trial of 94 people (known as the “UAE 94” trial) including human rights lawyers, judges and student activists. Among them, was another human rights lawyer, Dr Mohammed Al-Mansoori who was also arrested in July 2012 and sentenced to 10 years in prison. Dr Al-Mansoori had not been allowed to contact his family for over a year, and was only permitted to do so recently. Both men are being held in Al-Razeen prison, a maximum-security prison in the desert of Abu Dhabi, which is used to hold activists, government critics, and human rights defenders. They face arbitrary and unlawful disciplinary measures, such as solitary confinement, deprivation of family visits, and intrusive body searches.

Dr Al-Roken was a member of the International Association of Lawyers (UIA) and the International Bar Association, and both Dr Al-Roken and Dr Al-Mansoori served as president of the UAE’s Jurists Association before its arbitrary dissolution by the Emirati authorities in 2011. Dr Al-Roken has authored books on human rights, constitutional law, and counterterrorism. He dedicated his career to providing legal assistance to victims of human rights violations in the UAE, for which he was awarded the Ludovic Trarieux International Human Rights Prize in 2017. Over two dozen NGOs called for his release in November 2019.

Academic and economist Dr. Nasser Bin Ghaith, a lecturer at the Abu Dhabi branch of the Paris-Sorbonne University, was sentenced on 29 March 2017 to 10 years in prison for critical comments he made online about human rights violations in the UAE and Egypt.

In a letter written from prison, Dr. Bin Ghaith stated that “the verdict proves that there is no place for freedom of speech in this country” and announced that he would begin a hunger strike until he was released unconditionally. He has also undertaken subsequent hunger strikes to protest conditions in Al-Razeen prison, including to demand his immediate release following the pardon of British academic Matthew Hedges on 26 November 2018, a week after he was sentenced to life in prison on spying allegations. Hedges was held, mainly incommunicado and in degrading and inhuman conditions for seven months, until he faced an unfair trial on charges of spying for the United Kingdom government.

In October 2018, the European Parliament adopted a resolution, calling on the UAE to, among other demands, stop all forms of harassment and immediately lift the travel ban against human rights defenders, and urging the authorities to “guarantee in all circumstances that human rights defenders in the UAE are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities, both inside and outside the country, without fear of reprisals”.

The Hay Festival Abu Dhabi is supported by the UAE’s Ministry of Tolerance, in a country that does not tolerate dissenting voices. Regrettably, the UAE government devotes more effort to concealing its human rights abuses than to addressing them and invests heavily in the funding and sponsorship of institutions, events and initiatives that are aimed at projecting a favourable image to the outside world.

With the world’s eyes on the Hay Festival Abu Dhabi, we urge the Emirati government to consider using this opportunity to unconditionally release our jailed friends and colleagues, and in the interim, to at least allow prisoners of conscience to receive books and reading materials, to have regular visits with family, to be allowed outside of their isolation cells to visit the canteen or go outside in the sun. In particular, we ask that Ahmed Mansoor be given a bed and a mattress so that he no longer has to sleep on the floor, and that prison officials cease punishing him for public appeals that are made on his behalf. We ask the authorities to improve their prison conditions as a sign of goodwill and respect for people who wish to organise and participate in events in the UAE, such as the Hay Festival Abu Dhabi or the upcoming Expo 2020 Dubai, in the future. By doing so, the UAE would demonstrate that the Hay Festival is an opportunity to back up its promise of tolerance with actions that include the courageous contributors to freedom of expression who live in the country.

Signatories:

Access Now
Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain

Amnesty International

Arabic Network for Human Rights Information

Association for Victims of Torture in the UAE 

Bar Human Rights Committee of England and Wales (BHRC)

Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS)

Campaign to FreeLatifa

CIVICUS

Committee to Protect Liberties and Human Rights in Tunisia

Detained in Dubai

Detained International

Electronic Frontier Foundation

European Center for Democracy and Human Rights 

FIDH, in the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders

Front Line Defenders

Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR)

IFEX

International Campaign for Freedom in the UAE

International Centre for Justice and Human Rights 

International Press Institute (IPI)

International Publishers Association (IPA)

International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)

Lawyers' Rights Watch Canada 

Maharat Foundation

MENA Rights Group

No Peace Without Justice 

Norwegian PEN

PEN America

PEN International

Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED)

Rights Realization Centre

Tunisian Association for the Defense of Individual Liberties

Tunisian League for the Defense of Human Rights

Tunis Center for Press Freedom

Vigilance for Democracy and the Civic State, Tunisia

World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), in the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders

April Alderdice, CEO MicroEnergy Credits

Fadi Al-Qadi, author and MENA human rights expert

Noam Chomsky, Professor

Ronald Deibert, Director of the Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto

Brian Dooley, human rights advocate

Drewery Dyke, human rights advocate

Jonathan Emmett, author

Stephen Fry, author and presenter

Ahmed Galai, Ex-Vice President of the Tunisian Human Rights League (member of the National Dialogue Quartet, co-winner of the Nobel Peace Prize 2015)

Melanie Gingell, human rights lawyer

Chris Haughton, author

Matthew Hedges, PhD candidate and former prisoner in the UAE

Bill Law, journalist

Artur Ligęska, Polish activist and former prisoner in the UAE

Danielle Maisano, novelist, poet and activist

Michael Mansfield QC, Barrister

Albert Pellicer, poet and lecturer

Simone Theiss, human rights advocate

 

Pakistan: Release activists from Pashtun movement

To: Dr Shireen M Mazari, Federal Minister for Human Rights Ministry of Human Rights
Re: Concerns regarding arrests of Pashtun activists and supporters

Your Excellency,

CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation is a global alliance of civil society organisations (CSOs) and activists dedicated to strengthening citizen action and civil society around the world. Founded in 1993, CIVICUS has 8,000 members in more than 170 countries.

We are writing to you to express our serious concerns over the arbitrary arrests of activists from the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM) over the last week. On 27 January 2020, PTM leader and activist Manzoor Pashteen was arbitrarily arrested in Peshawar for criticising government policies based on a speech he gave on 18 January in Bannu. He was charged under Sections 506 (punishment for criminal intimidation), 153-A (promoting enmity between different groups), 120-B (punishment of criminal conspiracy), 124 (sedition), and 123-A (condemning the creation of the country and advocating the abolishment of its sovereignty) of the Pakistan Penal Code. A court denied Pashteen bail and sent him to jail on a 14-day judicial remand in Dera Ismail Khan district. 

On 28 January 2020, while holding a peaceful protest outside Islamabad’s National Press Club against the arbitrary arrest of Pashteen, PTM leader and lawmaker Mohsin Dawar was taken into custody with 28 other individuals. Those arrested include PTM activists, Awami Workers Party members and civil society activists, including three women. Six have been released including Mohsin Dawar but 23 have been charged and sent to Adiala jail on judicial remand. They have been reportedly charged under Sections 188 (disobedience against an order duly promulgated by a public servant), 353 (assault on a public servant), 147 (rioting), 149 (being members of an unlawful assembly), 505-A (defaming the army), 505-B (public mischief), 124-A (sedition), 341 (punishment for wrongful restraint), 186 (obstructing a public servant) of the Pakistan Penal Code.

CIVICUS has also received information that Mohsin Abdali, a young student activist from Lahore, was detained by unidentified men believed to be security officials at 4am on the morning of 30 January and released later in the evening. He had been involved in a demonstration against the arrest of PTM protesters and supporters in Islamabad.

CIVICUS has had longstanding concerns about similar human rights violations against the ethnic Pashtun people and in particular the PTM, which in recent years has mobilised nationwide against abuses targeting the ethnic Pashtun people. We have previously raised these concerns in a letter to your office in May 2019 which highlighted the judicial harassment of PTM activists, arbitrary arrest of protesters and disruption of protests, the unlawful killing of a PTM leader Arman Loni, and restrictions on media coverage.

These arrests are inconsistent with Pakistan’s international obligations, including those under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) which Pakistan 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.

As such, we urge Pakistan authorities to take the following steps as a matter of priority:

  • Release all PTM activists and supporters arrested for exercising their right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly and drop all charges against them; 
  • Investigate the abduction of activist Mohsin Abdali and take steps to bring the perpetrators to justice; 
  • End the arrest, harassment, and intimidation of PTM activists and their supporters and ensure that they
    can freely express their opinions and dissent without fear of reprisals.
    We express our sincere hope that you will take these steps to address the human rights violations highlighted above, and we are available for further discussion.

We express our sincere hope that you will take these steps to address the human rights violations highlighted above, and we are available for further discussion.

 

Saudi Arabia: Over 50 human rights groups call for immediate release of women’s rights defenders

Arabic 

The following letter was sent to over 30 Ministers of Foreign Affairs of States calling on UN Member States to adopt a resolution at the 40th session of the UN Human Rights Council calling explicitly for the immediate and unconditional release of the detained Saudi women human rights defenders and establishing a monitoring mechanism over the human rights violations in the country.

 

Thailand:Civil society groups urge government to dismiss cases brought by company against human rights defenders

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha
Office of the Permanent Secretary,
Prime Minister’s Office
Royal Thai Government
Government House
1 Pitsanulok Road
Dusit, Bangkok 10300
Thailand

RE: New Lawsuits Brought by Thammakaset Company Limited Against Human Rights Defenders

Dear Prime Minister Prayut,

The 89 undersigned organizations write to express our deep concern regarding recent spurious complaints brought by Thammakaset Company Limited against several human rights defenders in Thailand.

We respectfully urge the Thai government to take immediate action to oppose and seek the dismissal of cases filed by Thammakaset that run counter to your government’s proclaimed policy to support business and human rights as well as Thailand’s interests, legal obligations, and international human rights law commitments.

To date, Thammakaset—a Thai-owned poultry company in Lopburi Province— has filed no fewer than 13 criminal and civil complaints against a number of human rights defenders, including former employees. While Thai authorities and courts have dismissed most of the complaints, some are still pending and, in November 2018, a company representative pledged to bring more complaints.

In December 2018, Thai authorities summoned 14 former employees of Thammakaset, all migrant workers, to acknowledge complaints by the company, alleging that the workers “wrongly filed a false case with officials and caused damage to another [person or entity].” Lopburi Province police also called Suthasinee Kaewleklai, the Thailand Coordinator of the Migrant Workers Rights Network (MWRN)—an advocacy group that supports migrant rights in Thailand—to report to the police on January 28, 2019 to discuss a separate complaint by Thammakaset against her. On the same day, the Lopburi Province police requested information from witnesses as part of an investigation into complaints brought by Thammakaset at the end of 2018 against six individuals relating to activity on social media.

Thammakaset’s criminal complaints stem from its former 14 employees’ involvement in reporting labor rights abuses to the Department of Labor Protection and Welfare (DLPW) and the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand (NHRCT) in 2016. In separate investigations, both DLPW and the NHRCT found evidence of labor rights abuses, including that Thammakaset failed to pay minimum and overtime wages and failed to provide adequate leave to workers as required by law. On January 15, 2019, the Supreme Court upheld a lower court’s order requiring Thammakaset to pay 1.7 million Thai Baht (US$51,470) in compensation to the 14 former employees for violations of Thailand’s Labor Protection Act.

Thammakaset recently brought additional legal complaints against human rights defenders involved in publicly reporting on labor rights abuses and employer reprisals against the workers. As of October 2018, Nan Win, a former Thammakaset employee, faces new criminal defamation charges for speaking out on the alleged labor abuses and reprisals against the 14 former employees in a film produced by the human rights organization Fortify Rights and during a Facebook-live press conference that Fortify Rights organized. Sutharee Wannasiri, a former human rights specialist with Fortify Rights, also faces criminal and civil defamation charges for sharing Fortify Rights’ film on social media. The Bangkok Criminal Court is scheduled to consider the complaints against Nan Win and Sutharee Wannasiri on February 4 and March 11, 2019, respectively, and the Civil Court scheduled hearings in August 2019 to consider the civil complaint against Sutharee Wannasiri.

We are alarmed that Thai authorities are proceeding to investigate and prosecute these complaints by Thammakaset, particularly after the Don Mueang Sub-District Court has already dismissed similar criminal defamation charges in July 2018 brought by the company against the same 14 former employees. These new charges filed by Thammakaset constitute harassment by the company that waste valuable time and resources of police, prosecutors, and judicial officers.

The complaints by Thammakaset appear to be reprisals brought to harass human rights defenders involved in exposing abuses. Such reprisals interfere with the work of human rights defenders and prevent the implementation of labor rights protections. The cases brought by Thammakaset are emblematic of Strategic Litigation against Public Participation (SLAPP) lawsuits. These cases demonstrate the dangers SLAPP suits pose for workers and human rights defenders in Thailand and illustrate the need for your government to adopt clear policies and enact regulations and laws to oppose such cases from proceeding. Thammakaset has a long history of aggressively using the courts to intimidate and silence human rights defenders, who have exposed business related human rights abuses. In August and October 2017, Thammakaset filed criminal suits against two migrant workers and Suthasinee Kaewleklai for the alleged theft of employment timecards. In fact, the timecards were presented to Thai government labor inspectors as evidence of labor violations, assisting officials to perform their duty as required by law. Although Thai courts eventually dismissed Thammakaset’s complaints, the cases should never have proceeded in the first place and resulted in undue stress, unnecessary legal costs, and lost time and wages for those facing charges.

We recognize recent legislative steps by the National Legislative Assembly in December 2018 to amend Section 161/1 of the Thailand Criminal Procedure Code. This amendment allows a court to dismiss and forbid the refiling of a complaint by a private individual if the complaint is filed “in bad faith or with misrepresentation of facts in order to harass or take advantage of a defendant.” Section 161/1 should apply to the recent complaints brought by Thammakaset.

This amendment is insufficient to address SLAPP suits generally in Thailand. In addition to relying on the court’s application of Section 161/1, we urge your government to clearly demonstrate its opposition to SLAPP lawsuits, such as the ones filed by Thammakaset. Seeking the expeditious dismissal of the recent complaints by Thammakaset would be instructive to both foreign and Thai businesses operating in Thailand and demonstrate your government’s commitment to implementing the law and upholding business and human rights principles.

To prevent future SLAPP lawsuits like those filed by Thammakaset, we recommend that Thailand develop comprehensive anti-SLAPP legislation that fully protects workers, human rights defenders, and others from judicial harassment. It is also essential that the public prosecutor and the Attorney General’s Office be provided with adequate resources and support to exercise their powers under Section 21 of the 2010 Public Prosecutor Organ and Public Prosecutors Act to screen out unwarranted complaints, including those brought to harass, intimidate, or retaliate against human rights defenders or others. Thailand should also decriminalize defamation and end imprisonment or fines as a penalties for acts of defamation.

We urge the Thai government to follow the recommendation provided by a group of six United Nations human rights experts in May 2018 to “revise its civil and criminal laws as well as prosecution processes to prevent misuse of defamation legislation by companies.” During its official visit to Thailand in April 2018, the U.N. Working Group on Business and Human Rights similarly called on the Thai government to “ensure that defamation cases are not used by businesses as a tool to undermine legitimate rights and freedoms of affected rights holders, civil society organizations and human rights defenders.” The Working Group further recommended “enacting anti-SLAPP legislation to ensure that human rights defenders are not subjected to civil liability for their activities.” We encourage the Thai government to incorporate these recommendations into Thailand’s National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights and also ensure meaningful consultations with Thai civil society on developing and implementing the National Action Plan.

We thank you for your attention to the issues and recommendations raised in this letter. We welcome the opportunity to assist and support the Thai government in meeting its commitments to uphold business and human rights principles as well as to protect the rights of workers, human rights defenders, and basic freedoms in Thailand.

Sincerely,

  1. Aksi! for Gender, Social and Ecological Justice, Indonesia
    2. American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO)
    3. Amnesty International
    4. Anti-Slavery International
    5. Article 19
    6. ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights
    7. Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development
    8. Asia Pacific Mission for Migrants (APMM), Hong Kong
    9. Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network
    10. Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)
    11. Assembly of the Poor, Thailand
    12. Australian Council of Trade Unions
    13. Building and Wood Workers’ International (BWI)
    14. Bune United Sisters, Tombil Community, Minj , Jiwaka Province, PNG
    15. Burma Campaign UK
    16. Business & Human Rights Resource Center
    17. Center for Alliance of Labor and Human Rights (CENTRAL)
    18. Center for Trade Union and Human Rights (CTUHR), Philippines
    19. Chab Dai
    20. CIVICUS
    21. Civil Rights Defenders
    22. Coalition for the Rights of Refugees and Stateless Persons
    23. Community Resource Centre Foundation
    24. Conservation International
    25. Cross Cultural Foundation
    26. Danish Ethical Trading Initiative
    27. Environmental Justice Foundation
    28. Ethical Trading Initiative
    29. Ethical Trading Initiative Denmark
    30. Ethical Trading Initiative Norway
    31. FIDH (International Federation for Human Rights), within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
    32. FishWise
    33. Fortify Rights
    34. Foundation for Education and Development (FED)
    35. Free the Slaves
    36. Freedom Fund
    37. Freedom United
    38. Frontline Defenders
    39. GABRIELA Alliance of Filipino Women, Philippines
    40. Global Coalition on Migration
    41. Global Legal Action Network
    42. Global Migration Policy Associates
    43. Greenpeace
    44. Highlands Women Human Right Defenders Movement, PNG
    45. Human Rights and Development Foundation
    46. Human Rights Lawyers Association
    47. Human Rights Now
    48. Human Rights Watch
    49. Humanity United Action
    50. IJM Foundation (มูลนิธิไอเจเอ็ม)
    51. Indonesian Migrant Workers Union, Indonesia
    52. International Accountability Project
    53. International Labor Rights Forum
    54. Kabar Bumi (Indonesian Migrant Workers Union), Indonesia
    55. Korea Center for United Nations Human Rights Policy (KOCUN), the Republic of Korea
    56. Kugar Farmers Association, Kudjip, BANZ, Jiwaka Province, PNG
    57. LawAid International
    58. Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada
    59. Liberty Shared
    60. Manushya Foundation
    61. MAP Foundation
    62. MARUAH, Singapore
    63. Migrant Workers Rights Network
    64. National Alliance of Women Human Rights Defenders (NAWHRD), Nepal
    65. National Indigenous Women Forum (NIWF), Nepal
    66. NEthing, India
    67. North Whagi Country’s Women Association, Jiwaka Province, PNG
    68. Oxfam
    69. RITES Forum, India
    70. Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights
    71. Rural Women Association Alga, Kyrgyzstan
    72. Shan Women’s Action Network
    73. Slave Free Seas
    74. Social accountability international
    75. SRED, India
    76. Stop the Traffik Australian Coalition
    77. Suara Perempuan Desa (Rural Women’s Voices), Indonesia
    78. SwedWatch
    79. Tarangini Foundation, Nepal
    80. Thai Lawyers for Human Rights
    81. Trades Union Congress
    82. Uniting Church of Australia (Synod of Victoria and Tasmania)
    83. Verité
    84. Voice
    85. Voice for Change, Jiwaka Province, PNG
    86. Walk Free Foundation
    87. We Women Sri Lanka, Sri Lanka
    88. Women’s League of Burma
    89. World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders

 

China: Open letter from global civil society calls for release of student activists and workers

On 9 and 11 November, only days after China underwent a UN review on its human rights situation, Chinese authorities carried out a massive crackdown, forcibly disappearing student activists in five cities across the country. The missing activists are supporters of workers at Jasic Technologies, in Shenzhen, who have been fighting for their rights. This is the most severe case of repression against workers and students in China in recent years.

 

Joint letter in support of the UN General Assembly resolution on the situation of human rights in Iran

Joint statement

To: All Permanent Missions to the United Nations in New York

Your Excellencies,

The undersigned national, regional and international civil society organisations urge your government to support resolution A/C.3/73/L.42 on the promotion and protection of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran, which has been presented to the Third Committee in the framework of the 73rd session of the United Nations General Assembly. This annual resolution provides an opportunity for the General Assembly to take stock of human rights violations in Iran over the last year and the many other human rights concerns that remain unaddressed in the country, as detailed in reports recently issued by the UN Secretary-General and the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran, and offers key recommendations for how the Government of Iran can better implement its national and international human rights obligations.

We echo the Secretary-General’s observation that this year has been “marked by an intensified crackdown on protesters, journalists and social media users”, in the wake of the wave of protests that erupted across Iran in December 2017 and continued into 2018. The Iranians authorities have stepped up their repression of the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly, jailing hundreds of people on vague and broadly worded national security charges. Those targeted include peaceful political dissidents, journalists, online media workers, students, filmmakers, musicians and writers, as well as human rights defenders, including women’s rights activists, minority rights activists, environmental activists, trade unionists, anti-death penalty campaigners, lawyers, and those seeking truth, justice and reparation for the mass executions and enforced disappearances of the 1980s. In a worrying development, the Iranian authorities this year arbitrarily arrested and detained, prosecuted and imprisoned on spurious criminal charges lawyers representing civil society activists and others charged for politically motivated reasons. Judicial authorities have denied detainees accused of national security-related charges access to a lawyer of their choice, particularly during the investigation process.

The resolution also acknowledges positive steps taken by the Government, including putting into effect an amendment to the country’s drug law which has resulted in fewer executions for drug-related offences being carried out in the country.

Nonetheless, Iran’s wide use of the death penalty remains of great concern. Iranian law still retains the death penalty for a wide range of drug trafficking offences. Iran also continues to use the death penalty for vaguely worded offences such as “enmity against god” (moharebeh) and “spreading corruption on earth” (efsad-e fel arz), which do not amount to an internationally recognisable criminal offence. The death penalty is also retained for acts that should not even be considered crimes including some consensual same-sex sexual conduct and intimate extra-marital relationships. The penal code also continues to provide for stoning as a method of execution.

Also deeply concerning is Iran’s continued use of sentencing to death and executing those who were under the age of 18 at the time of the crime. Despite repeated condemnations by UN bodies, to date in 2018, the Iranian authorities have executed at least five people who were under the age of 18 at the time of the crime of which they were convicted; according to Amnesty International, at least 85 others remain on death row and the real number could be much higher. This horrific practice is a flagrant violation of Iran’s human rights obligations under the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights as well as under customary international law, and requires urgent action by UN member states.

We, as civil society actors, believe that the UN’s ongoing engagement is necessary in order to press Iran to undertake long-overdue reforms and respect the human rights of all in the country. The Secretary-General and the Special Rapporteur have repeatedly stressed that various laws, policies and practices in Iran continue to seriously undermine the fundamental rights of the people of Iran, including their rights to life; freedom from torture and other ill-treatment; fair trial; freedom of religion or belief; peaceful exercise of the freedom of expression (online and offline), association and assembly; and equal enjoyment of all to education, to health and to work.

Violence and discrimination, in law and practice, against individuals on the basis of gender, religion, belief, ethnicity, language, political opinion, sexual orientation and gender identity, among other grounds that are universally recognized as impermissible under international law, also remain widespread and continue to be sanctioned by laws, policies and government practices.

Women and girls experience pervasive discrimination, in law and practice, and receive little or no protection against cruel, inhuman or degrading practices, including domestic violence, marital rape, early and forced marriage and forced veiling.

In addition, the systematic persecution of Baha’is continues unabated. Other religious minorities including Christian converts, Yaresan (Ahl-e Haq) and Sunni Muslims also face systematic discrimination. This year the authorities have subjected Gonabadi Dervishes to a harsh crackdown, with hundreds arrested and subjected to torture and other ill-treatment, and over 200 sentenced after grossly unfair trials to harsh prison terms, floggings, internal exile, travel bans, and/or a ban on membership of social and political groups. Ethnic minority activists, including Arabs, Baloch, Kurds and Azerbaijani Turks have also been subjected to widespread patterns of abuse and serious violations of their rights.

Further to this, Iran has by and large failed to implement key recommendations by UN human rights bodies. For instance, torture and other ill-treatment at the time of arrest and in detention, including prolonged solitary confinement, continue to be committed on a widespread basis and with complete impunity. Judicial authorities also continue to impose and implement sentences that constitute cruel, inhuman or degrading punishments, including floggings and amputations, which amount to torture.

Cooperation with UN human rights mechanisms is lacking. The Government’s engagement with these entities, including the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran, has been cursory. Despite the Government’s issuance of a standing invitation to the UN Special Procedures in 2002 and dozens of UN recommendations urging the Government’s cooperation with them, pending requests for country visits from 10 thematic procedures remain unaddressed. No special procedure has been allowed to visit Iran since 2005. Furthermore, individuals, including human rights defenders, have faced reprisals on the basis of real or perceived contact with UN bodies.

The continued attention of the international community is required to ensure Iran upholds its international human rights obligations. By supporting resolution A/C.3/73/L.42, the UN General Assembly will send a strong signal to the Iranian authorities that the promotion and respect of human rights is a priority, and that genuine and tangible improvements to the situation are expected to ensure the dignity inherent to all persons in Iran.

Signatories:

Abdorrahman Boroumand Center for Human Rights

All human rights for all in Iran

Amnesty International

Arseh Sevom

Article 18

ARTICLE 19

ASL19

Association for Human Rights in Kurdistan of Iran - Geneva

AHRAZ - Association for the Human Rights of the Azerbaijani people in Iran

Balochistan Human Rights Group

Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies

Ceasefire Centre for Civilian Rights

Center for Human Rights in Iran

Centre for Supporters of Human Rights

Child Rights International Network (CRIN)

CIVICUS : World Alliance for Citizen Participation

Conectas Direitos Humanos

Ensemble contre la peine de mort (ECPM)

Gulf Centre for Human Rights

Human Rights Activists in Iran (HRAI)

Human Rights Watch

Impact Iran

International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)

International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA)

International Movement Against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism

International Service for Human Rights

Iran Human Rights

Iran Human Rights Documentation Center

Iranian Queer Organization (IRQO)

Justice for Iran

Kurdistan Human Rights Network

Minority Rights Group International

OutRight Action International

Reprieve

Siamak Pourzand Foundation

Small Media

The Advocates for Human Rights

United for Iran

World Coalition Against the Death Penalty

6Rang (Iranian Lesbian & Transgender Network)

 

Tanzania: Civil society groups all on UN Human Rights Council to address crackdown on human rights

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

Excellency,

Ahead of the 39th regular session of the UN Human Rights Council (“the Council”), which will be held from 10-28 September 2018, we write to call on your delegation to deliver statements, both jointly and individually, to address the ongoing crackdown on civic space and human rights back­sliding in the United Republic of Tanzania.

Considering the rapidly declining environment for human rights defenders (HRDs), civil society, jour­na­lists, bloggers, the media and dissenting voices in Tanzania, we, the undersigned non-governmental organisations (NGOs), make a joint appeal to Member and Observer States of the Council. At the 39th session, States should urge the Tanzanian Government to change course, cease any form of intimidation, harassment and attacks against HRDs, journalists, bloggers, and opposition members and their suppor­ters, and amend restrictive laws and regulations with a view to bringing them in line with international human rights standards.

Since 2015, Tanzania has implemented newly-enacted draconian legislation and applied legal and extra-judicial methods to harass HRDs, silence independent journalism and blogging, and restrict freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly, and association. 

We call on your delegation to make use of the following agenda items[1] to raise concern, jointly and individually, and to engage in a constructive dialogue with the Tanzanian authorities:

  • General debate (GD) under item 2, following the High Commissioner’s update;
  • General debate under item 3, in relation to reports of the High Commissioner and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR);
  • General debate under item 4;
  • General debate under item 10; and
  • Interactive dialogues (IDs) with the Working Group on arbitrary detention and the Working Group on enforced or involuntary disappearances.
  • Additionally, bilateral and collective engagement in multilateral fora such as the Council and at the embassy level, in Tanzania, should be used to raise relevant issues with the Government.

Through these opportunities for dialogue, your delegation can help the Council fulfil its responsibility to “address situations of violations of human rights […] and make recommend­ations thereon” and to “contribute, through dialogue and cooperation, towards the prevention of human rights violations and respond promptly to human rights emergencies.”[2]

The 39th session should be leveraged to help prevent a further deterioration of the human rights situation in Tanzania and send the Tanzanian Government a message that the international com­munity expects it to uphold its citizens’ human rights, in line with its obligations and the country’s history of openness, engagement, and respect for human rights.

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

Sincerely,

  1. African Centre for Democracy and Human Rights Studies (ACDHRS)
  2. Africans Rising for Justice, Peace & Dignity
  3. ARTICLE 19
  4. Association for Human Rights in Ethiopia (AHRE)
  5. Association for Progressive Communications (APC)
  6. Caucasus Civil Initiatives Center
  7. Сenter for Civil Liberties – Ukraine
  8. CEPO – South Sudan
  9. CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
  10. Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA) – Uganda
  11. Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)
  12. Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative
  13. Conectas Human Rights – Brazil
  14. DefendDefenders (The East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project)
  15. FIDH, within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
  16. Freedom House
  17. Global Witness
  18. HAKI Africa – Kenya
  19. Human Rights Concern – Eritrea
  20. HURISA – South Africa
  21. International Civil Society Center
  22. JOINT Liga de ONGs em Mocambique – Mozambique
  23. Ligue Burundaise des droits de l’homme Iteka – Burundi
  24. Observatoire des droits de l’homme au Rwanda – Rwanda
  25. Odhikar – Bangladesh
  26. Réseau Ouest Africain des Défenseurs des Droits Humains/West African Human Rights Defenders Network (ROADDH/WAHRDN)
  27. Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights
  28. Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC)
  29. World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
  30. Zambia Council for Social Development (ZSCD) – Zambia

[1] See the annex for more detailed proposals for action, as well the report and letter referenced in footnotes 3 and 4.

[2] UN General Assembly resolution 60/251, paras. 3 and 5(f).

 

 

Tanzania: Civil society groups express concern over rapid decline in human rights

Tanzania: 65 civil society groups call on the Tanzanian Government to address rapidly deteriorating environment for media, human rights defenders and opposition party members

 

To President John Magufuli

Your Excellency,

We, the undersigned civil society organisations (CSOs) from across the world, write to express our deep concern over the worrying decline in respect for human rights, including the rights to freedom of association, expression and peaceful assembly, in Tanzania. We urge your government to take proactive measures to protect these rights which are crucial to civic space and publicly recognise the essential role that a vibrant civil society and an independent media play in creating peaceful and equal societies.

Tanzania’s long-standing commitment to improving the human rights of all people, both nationally and within the region, is notable and should be acknowledged as such.  However, we are deeply alarmed that these human rights issues are being precipitously undermined by the unwarranted closure of media outlets, judicial persecution and harassment of independent journalists, the targeted assassination of opposition party members, blanket restrictions on peaceful protests and the introduction and invocation of a raft of laws to undermine freedom of speech online. These and other forms of harassment and persecution of civil society and media discussed below erode Tanzania’s role as a regional champion of public freedoms, peace and stability and represent a breach of its international, national and regional human rights obligations and commitments.

New legal restrictions criminalizing freedom of expression on social and traditional media

The Electronic and Postal Communications (Online Content) Regulations, which was signed into law in March 2018, criminalises a broad scope of legitimate forms of online freedom of expression. Under the regulation, all bloggers and persons operating online radio and television streaming services must secure a license and pay an annual fee of over $900 before they can publish any material online. Such fees are not only financially prohibitive but place an arbitrary bar to entry to exercise the right to freedom of expression. We are also deeply concerned by provisions which endow the government with the authority to revoke a permit if a site or blogger publishes content that "causes annoyance" or "leads to public disorder."

Of equal concern are vague and overbroad provisions of the 2015 Cybercrimes Act which empower the government to arbitrarily ban and sanction the dissemination of newspaper articles or social media posts which it deems critical, including insulting the President. In particular, Article 16 criminalizes the publication of all information deemed “false, deceptive, misleading or inaccurate.” Persons found to have contravened the Act are subject to draconian prison sentences and harsh fines of not less than five million shillings ($2,190) or a term of not less than three years or both. Since coming into force, the law has been invoked to persecute dozens of individuals and journalists. In one week alone, five private citizens were charged under the Cybercrimes Act for statements made on Facebook, WhatsApp and other social media platforms, including a three-year sentence handed down to a private citizen for insulting President John Magufuli on Facebook.

Moreover, the Media Services Act, which came into force in November 2016, allows the authorities to unilaterally determine which journalists receive licenses, forces all journalists to obtain a license, and makes defamation and sedition a criminal offense. Under the law,  the government-run Accreditation Board is empowered to “suspend or expunge journalists” for committing “gross professional misconduct as prescribed in the code of ethics for professional journalists.” The penalties for violating provisions of law are severe. According to the law, anyone found guilty of acting with a seditious intention who commits an offence is liable to a fine of not less than 5 million Shillings (approximately $2,260) or three years in prison or both.

Suspensions, fines and banning media outlets

Despite strong constitutional, United Nations and African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights safeguards protecting the right to freedom of expression, the government has systematically targeted Tanzanian media outlets through a combination of closures and hefty fines on newspapers. This campaign of harassment, which appears to be an attempt to suppress their work to report on government policy and conduct, has resulted in four prominent newspapers being banned in 2017 and four other papers being heavily fined in early 2018.

On 24 October 2017, the government banned the Swahili-language Tanzania Daima for a period of 90 days on specious claims of publishing false news about anti-retroviral drug use for people with HIV. This was the fourth newspaper banned since June 2017 including Mwanahalisi which was banned for 24 months in September 2017; the weekly Raia Mwema for 90 days in September and Mawio newspaper for 24 months in June 2017.

On 2 January 2018, the Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority (TCRA) fined five television stations a combined 60 million Tanzanian shillings ($27,000) for broadcasting “offensive and unethical” content, in particular for airing a press statement issued on 30 November by the Legal Human Rights Centre (LHRC). The report by LHRC documented violations such as detentions, intimidation and physical abuse in the context of  the 6 November 2017 elections of councillors in 43 wards. The TV stations that featured the LHRC's press statement and were subsequently penalised include: Star TV, Azam Two, East Africa TV, Channel 10 and ITV.

Judicial harassment and persecution of journalists and human rights defenders

In stark contrast to the authorities’ human rights obligations to uphold and protect the safety of journalists, several independent media practitioners have recently been subject to physical attacks and judicial persecution. Recently on 21 November 2017, newspaper journalist Azory Gwanda was abducted by a group of unknown assailants in the Coast Region. Prior to his enforced disappearance, Gwanda who is a journalist with newspapers, Mwananchi and The Citizen, had authored a number of articles documenting the murders of several local officials and police officers. To date Gwanda’s whereabouts remain unknown.

In August 2017, a Tanzania court began hearing a case against Micke William and Maxence Melo Mubyazi, co-owners of the whistleblower website, Jamii Forums. Both journalists were charged under the Cybercrimes Act on spurious accusations of obstructing justice for failing to disclose the identities of persons who posted details of allegedly corrupt officials on Jamiiforums. There have been over 40 adjournments of the case, including most recently on 3 May 2018. If convicted, they face fines up to 3 million shillings ($1,300) or a jail term of at least one year, or both.

Groups and defenders advocating for the rights of LGBTI individuals have also been equally persecuted. Among a wave of recent attempts to suppress organisations and activists working on SOGI issues, in October 2017, 13 human rights lawyers and defender were arbitrarily arrested and detained on allegations of promoting “promoting homosexuality”. Three civil society representatives, including Ugandan and South African lawyers from the Initiative for Strategic Litigation in Africa and nine members of Tanzanian Community Health and Education Services and Advocacy (Chesa), were arrested during a private meeting.

Killings and criminal cases against political opposition members

Since the start of 2018, scores of political opposition members and parliamentarians have been violently attacked and even killed. On 22 February, Godfrey Luena, a member of parliament with Tanzania’s main opposition party Chama Cha Demokrasia Na Maendeleo (CHADEMA) and a vocal land rights defender, was killed with machetes outside of his home. Mr Luena had been a critic of alleged state sponsored land-grabbing. Days earlier, on 13 February, Daniel John, a CHADEMA official in Dar es Salaam, was abducted and killed by unknown assailants using machetes. Mr John was supporting an opposition political campaign for a contested parliamentary seat in Dar es Salaam.

A number of opposition party members and lawmakers have also been targeted in what appears to be a systematic campaign of judicial harassment. Among other worrying cases, two opposition leaders, CHADEMA MP Joseph Mbilinyi and local party leader Emmanuel Masonga were sentenced to five months on 26 February 2018 for insulting President John Magufuli during a political rally.

Harassment, intimidation arbitrary arrest of peaceful protesters

In response to growing public frustration over human rights backsliding in the country, individuals and groups have increasingly sought to exercise their rights to peaceful assembly to air their legitimate grievances. Worryingly, the authorities, including members of the government and security apparatus, have resorted to arbitrary arrests, excessive use of force and intimidation to silence these protests.

In April 2018, Tanzanian activists called for national demonstrations to bring attention to the decline in respect for human rights in Tanzania. However, in contravention of international standards, the authorities, which require anyone seeking to hold a public assembly to secure a permit, declared the protests illegal.

The government and police forces responded to these calls to stage public protests with severe intolerance, including hostile statements by senior government and police officials, including threats that protesters “will be beaten like stray dogs." Days before the planned 26 April demonstrations seven people were arrested in Arusha for their purported role in organising the protests. The few who dared to take part in the protests were quickly persecuted; nine protesters, who marched in Dar Es Salaam, were almost immediately arrested.

Recommendations to the Government of Tanzania

The undersigned groups urge your government to create an enabling environment for civil society and the media to operate in accordance with the rights enshrined in the Constitution of Tanzania, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, including the guidelines on freedom of association and peaceful assembly. Tanzania has ratified both the ICCPR and the African Charter. At a minimum, the following conditions should be ensured: freedom of association, freedom of expression, the right to operate free from unwarranted state interference, the right to seek and secure funding and the state’s duty to protect. In light of this, the following specific recommendations are made.

1) All disabling and restrictive provisions in the Cybercrimes Act, the Electronic and Postal Communications (Online Content) Regulations and the Media Services Act must be amended and replaced by progressive sections that will guarantee freedom of expression and the media in line with international human rights standards.

2) The cases of newspapers banned, suspended or fined under the Media Service Act 2016 should be reviewed to enable them to continue their operations without undue interference.

3) Independent investigations should be conducted into cases of attacks and assaults on journalists, human rights defenders and opposition party members with a view to bringing suspected perpetrators to justice and these attacks should be publicly and unequivocally condemned.

4) Government officials should desist from publicly threatening human rights defenders including when activists that are working to expose corrupt practices in government or are critical of government policies and actions.

5) Best practices on the right to freedom of peaceful assembly prescribed by the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association should be adopted by the Government of Tanzania including removing the permission regime and providing recourse in cases of unlawful denial of the right to freedom of peaceful assembly.

Sincerely,

  1. Access Now
  2. African Centre for Democracy and Human Rights Studies (ACDHRS)
  3. Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB)
  4. Amnesty International
  5. ARTICLE 19 East Africa
  6. The Article 20 Network
  7. Asian Legal Resource Centre (ALRC)
  8. Association for Human Rights in Ethiopia (AHRE) - Ethiopia
  9. Association for Progressive Communications (APC)
  10. Bahrain Center for Human Rights - Bahrain
  11. Balkan Civil Society Development Network (BCSDN)
  12. Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS)
  13. Caucasus Civil Initiatives Center (CCIC)
  14. Center for Civil Liberties - Ukraine
  15. Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR) - Malawi
  16. Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations
  17. Chapter Four - Uganda
  18. Citizens for Democratic Rights in Eritrea (CDRiE) - Eritrea
  19. CIVICUS
  20. Civil Rights Defenders (CRD)
  21. Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)
  22. Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI)
  23. Community Empowerment for Progress Organization (CEPO) - South Sudan
  24. DefendDefenders (East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project)
  25. End Impunity Organisation
  26. Ethiopia Human Rights Project (EHRP) - Ethiopia
  27. Freedom House
  28. Front Line Defenders
  29. Greenpeace Africa
  30. Governance, Elections, Advocacy, Research Services (GEARS) Initiative - Zambia
  31. Groupe d’Action pour le Progrès et la Paix (ONG GAPP-BÉNIN) - Bénin
  32. HAKI Africa - Kenya
  33. Human Rights Defenders Network - Sierra Leone
  34. International Civil Society Center (ICSC)
  35. International Rivers - Africa Program
  36. Iraqi Network of Social Media - Iraq
  37. Jamaa Resource Initiatives - East Africa
  38. JOINT Liga de ONGs em Mocambique - Mozambique
  39. Karapatan Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights - Philippines
  40. Kepa - the Finnish NGO platform - Finland
  41. Latin American and Caribbean Network for Democracy (REDLAD)
  42. Liberia Coalition of Human Rights Defenders (LICHRD) - Liberia
  43. Ligue Djiboutienne des Droits Humains (LDDH) - Djibouti
  44. Ligue Iteka - Burundi
  45. Lumiere Synergie pour le Developpement - Senegal
  46. Malawi Human Rights Defenders Coalition  - Malawi
  47. Minority Rights Group International
  48. National Civic Forum - Sudan
  49. Observatoire des Droits de l'Homme au Rwanda - Rwanda
  50. Odhikar - Bangladesh
  51. OutRight Action International
  52. Pan-African Human Rights Defenders Network (PAHRDN)
  53. Public Interest Law Center (PILC) - Chad
  54. RESOCIDE - Burkina Faso
  55. Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights
  56. Robert L. Bernstein Institute for Human Rights | NYU School of Law
  57. Servicios y Asesoría para la Paz (Serapaz) - México
  58. Sinergia - Venezuela
  59. Solidarity Center
  60. Sudanese Development Initiative (SUDIA) - Sudan
  61. Tournons la page (TLP)
  62. West African Human Rights Defenders’ Network (WAHRDN)
  63. World Movement for Democracy
  64. The Zambia Council for Social Development (ZCSD) - Zambia
  65. Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum - Zimbabwe

 

Bangladesh: Open letter on Digital Media Security Bill

To

The President of Bangladesh, H.E. Md Abdul Hamid

The Chair of the National Human Rights Commission, H.E. Kazi Reazul Hoque

Subject: Open letter on Digital Media Security Bill

Your Excellencies

We write to you as international civil society organisations engaged on human rights and sustainable development issues in Bangladesh. We are concerned that in the current political climate in Bangladesh, which is narrowing avenues for free debate and legitimate democratic dissent in the country, the Bangladesh Digital Security Bill 2018, likely to be introduced in the current session of Parliament, fails to protect the right of the media, civil society and members of the general public to freely express their opinions on policies and actions of decision makers.

Many of our organisations have closely followed debates about this bill over the years. In the past we have raised concerns about the existence of overbroad definitions and harsh punishments in the bill which, if enacted, would severely undermine freedom of expression as well as the freedom of the press. From available information, it appears that our concerns about the bill’s provisions as likely to impinge on constitutional rights and well as Bangladesh’s commitments under international law persist. Both Article 29 of the Constitution of Bangladesh and Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights allow the imposition of restrictions on the right to freedom of expression only in very limited and clearly defined circumstances.

In the present situation we recommend that the bill’s provisions are carefully considered from a constitutional and international law standpoint. Mr. David Kaye, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression, has done extensive work on the subject including on the exercise of the freedom of expression in the digital age. We believe that the government would greatly benefit from engagement with Mr. Kaye, who could advise on the permissible limits on the freedom of expression under international law.

Furthermore, we urge the government to seek assistance from the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) on measures to strengthen the protection and promotion of human rights in the country in line with constitutional and international standards. We are concerned to hear that an official visit to Bangladesh by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, H.E. Zeid bin Ra’ad Al Hussein has been postponed and request the facilitation of a such a visit at the earliest opportunity.

We believe that Bangladesh’s democracy and commitment to human rights and sustainable development will be strengthened through constructive engagement with UN human rights experts. We urge you to kindly consider the above requests in the interests of the people of Bangladesh.

Sincerely,

List of signatories (in alphabetical order)

Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances (AFAD)

Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)

Asian Human Rights Commission

CIVICUS

FIDH – International Federation for Human Rights

Human Rights Watch

Odhikar

People’s Watch

Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights

World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)

 

Joint statement from Environmental rights defenders workshop

In response to the rise in the attacks, harassment and killings of human rights defenders and activists defending land, environmental and indigenous rights, CIVICUS and Publish What you Pay released a report on the different restrictions and attacks faced by activists. 

 

NGOs Raise Concern Over Forcibly Disappeared Sayed Alawi

Sayed Alawi has been detained for over nine months, with no access to a lawyer or to his family since his arrest. During this time, he was allowed only four brief phone calls to his family, who has repeatedly inquired during this time about the reasons for and location of his detention. To date, the authorities have not provided this information.In the letter, the NGOs urge the Bahraini government to immediately disclose the location and charges against Sayed Alawi and to provide him with access to his family, legal representation, and medical treatment. The NGOs call for the release of Sayed Alawi unless the Bahraini government has charged him with a recognizable criminal offence.

Read the Joint Letter

 

Egypt: Call to postpone the EU-Egypt Association Council

A coalition of civil society organisations have written to Ms. Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the European Commission and Mr. Donald Tusk, President of the European Council, and EU Member States’ Ministers of Foreign Affairs urging them to postpone the EU-Egypt Association Council and not to extend a formal invitation to the Egyptian authorities for July 2017.  This event would constitute a public political gesture conveying to them, and to public opinion in Europe and in Egypt, an endorsement of Egypt’s policies of the past few months, by the EU and its Member States. We consider that would encourage President Al-Sisi’s government to proceed with further, broader repressive measures, thus accelerating the destabilisation of Egypt even further. This would serve neither the Egyptian people’s interests, nor those of Europe in its search for stability, resilience and security in the MENA region.

Read the letter 

 

Bahrain: End Degrading Treatment of Activists

Bahraini authorities’ treatment of wrongfully imprisoned detainees violates international standards on prisoner treatment and in some cases may constitute cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment, a coalition of ten rights groups said today. The authorities should ensure that all detainees are treated with humanity and in accordance with the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, known as the Nelson Mandela Rules, including access to the adequate medical care they require and contact with their relatives.

Family members of 12 opposition activists or human rights defenders held in Building 7 of Jaw Prison have told rights groups that under new regulations the authorities shackle the men, many of them elderly and in poor health, whenever they leave their cells, including for medical visits. The men are serving long prison terms in connection with their prominent and peaceful roles in the pro-democracy uprising in February 2011.

“These new regulations degrade and humiliate prisoners who clearly pose no escape risk,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Authorities can take reasonable measures to prevent escapes, but shackling infirm patients, many of them torture victims, clearly goes beyond any need for security.”

The authorities should immediately and unconditionally release all prisoners held solely for peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, the groups said.

On April 12, 2017, Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, a human rights defender held in Building 7, began a hunger strike to protest the new regulations at Jaw Prison, which the prisoners believe are a disproportionate response to the escape of 10 prisoners from another part of Jaw Prison on January 1.

In addition to the shackling, which has led the detainees to refuse to attend medical appointments in protest at what they perceive as degrading treatment, the authorities have cut visiting hours and the time for phone calls with their relatives.

Since the escape, which resulted in the death of a police officer, family members of the opposition and human rights activists and several other prisoners have told the rights groups that the authorities’ treatment of their relatives has worsened significantly.

Since March 1, authorities have shackled prisoners in Building 7 whenever they leave their cells. This practice is contrary to Rule 47 of the Mandela Rules, which states that restraint instruments should only be used as a precaution against escape or to prevent prisoners from injuring themselves or others. Family members of prisoners in other buildings have also told rights groups that their relatives are shackled whenever they leave their cells and that since the escape, their cells are locked most of the day, meaning that those without toilet in their cell have only limited access to toilets.

International human rights mechanisms have said that the use of restraints on elderly or infirm prisoners who do not pose an escape risk can constitute ill-treatment. The prison authorities appear willing to abide by some of the Nelson Mandela Rules by transferring patients requiring specialized treatment to specialized institutions or civil hospitals. But the disproportionate use of physical restraints is degrading and is preventing detainees from getting the health care they require.

Family members of Al-Khawaja, 56, told rights groups that he had an appointment with an eye specialist at the Bahrain Defense Forces military hospital on March 12 because of headaches and vision problems. But the prison administration insisted that he had to wear the prison uniform, have his legs and ankles shackled, and submit to full body strip search.

The family said he refused because of the humiliation involved. Al-Khawaja wrote to the prison authorities in March requesting a new medical appointment and to be allowed to go without a strip search and shackles, but has received no response. On April 12, he began a hunger strike. His family expressed concern about the impact of his hunger strike on his already deteriorating health and said that on April 15 he refused medical attention to address a low blood sugar level in protest at the regulations.

On April 20, Al-Khawaja began to take necessary liquids to avoid losing consciousness and being transferred to hospital, where he feared he would be force-fed, as in past hunger strikes. He suffers from exhaustion, general weakness, and dizziness. He has lost weight and his blood sugar remains low.

A family member of Dr. Abduljalil al-Singace, 55, who requires crutches or a wheelchair as the result of polio and sickle-cell anemia, told rights groups that he refused to attend medical appointments, including a March 12 appointment with a hematologist and an appointment in early March to deal with a shoulder infection, because of the prison authorities’ insistence on shackling him with chains during the transfer.

Family members say that Mohamed Hassan Jawad, 69, and Hasan Mshaima, 69, have also refused essential medical appointments in protest over the authorities’ insistence that they be shackled and wear the prison uniform. Mshaima has heart problems and is a former cancer patient who requires regular checks-ups. His family said that he needs Positron Emission Tomography (PET) scans every six months and that the last one was over eight months ago.

“These leading Bahraini political and human rights activists have suffered deteriorating health during their prolonged arbitrary detention since 2011,” said Husain Abdulla, executive director of Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain. “Shackling these prisoners of conscience is not a legitimate prison security measure but is intended to degrade and humiliate them. The international community must not forget these long-term prisoners of conscience and should work to end their unjust and punitive detention.”

Since March 1, the prison administration has reduced all prosioners’ family visits from one hour to 30 minutes, once every two or three weeks, and that prisoners are now separated from their families by a glass barrier during visits. Since June 2016, phone calls to their families, which they are allowed to make up to three times per week, have been cut from 40 minutes to 30 minutes combined for all calls. On March 20, prison authorities stopped providing the detainees with toilet paper or tissues.

On March 1, the detainees in Building 7 and others in Jaw Prison began boycotting family visits in protest.

“These opposition activists are prisoners of conscience who should not have spent even a single day in prison,” said Lynn Maalouf, research director at Amnesty International’s Regional Office in Beirut. “The authorities must immediately put an end to the collective and arbitrary punishment of the entire Jaw prison population as a result of the escape of a group of prisoners; they must release all prisoners of conscience without delay and ensure all prisoners are treated humanely and receive the adequate medical treatment they require.”

Rule 36 of the Nelson Mandela Rules states that discipline and order shall be maintained with no more restriction than is necessary to ensure safe custody, the secure operation of the prison, and a well-ordered community life. Thus, while authorities can take steps to minimize the risk of further escapes, the measures they introduce must be proportionate, should not impinge on prisoners’ dignity, and should not unnecessarily aggravate the suffering inherent in the deprivation of liberty.

Any deliberate infliction of inhuman or degrading treatment of prisoners should be investigated and those responsible held accountable.

Eleven of the 12 detainees in Building 7 were sentenced in trials that did not meet international standards on fair trials and convicted of crimes that included alleged involvement with a group whose purpose was to replace Bahrain’s monarchy with a republican form of government. The evidence produced against them at their trial consisted only of public statements advocating reforms to curtail the power of the ruling Al Khalifa family and “confessions” that were coerced while they were in incommunicado detention. The twelfth detainee, Sheikh Ali Salman, whose nine-year prison sentence was reduced to four years on April 3, was convicted in relation to peacefully exercising his right to freedom of expression, following a grossly unfair trial.

The Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry’s report of November 2011 said that authorities subjected the group to a “discernible pattern of mistreatment,” including torture, after their arrests in some cases. Authorities have not provided physical or psychological rehabilitation for detainees who were tortured.

Signatories:
• Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB)
• Amnesty International
• Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR)
• Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD)
• CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
• English PEN
• European Centre For Democracy and Human Rights (ECDHR)
• Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR)
• Human Rights First
• Human Rights Watch

 

Open Letter to the President of the Republic of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenka

Dear Mr. President

We, 48 undersigned organizations from 24 countries, strongly condemn the continuing wave of detentions and harassment of peaceful protesters, journalists, human rights defenders, civil society activists, anarchists and opposition party members in Belarus.

 

25 African CSOs oppose Ugandan Anti-Homosexuality Bill

Uganda’s draconian Anti-homosexuality Bill is currently awaiting President Yoweri Museveni’s signature. President Museveni has 30 days from 23 January 2014 when the bill was presented to him to either sign it into law or return it back to Parliament for reconsideration. The bill is in gross violation of basic human rights principles enshrined in Uganda’s constitution and international law.  CIVICUS has coordinated a joint letter by 25 civil society groups based in Africa urging President Museveni - for reasons outlined below - to do the right thing by rejecting this regressive Bill.

----------------------------------

4 February 2014

President Yoweri Museveni
Office of the President
Parliament Avenue
P.O. BOX 7168,
Kampala
Uganda

Dear President Museveni, 

We write to you as a group of civil society organisations based in Africa. We are deeply concerned about the passing of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill which is currently under review by your office. We understand that, as the President of Uganda, you have the power to reject this repugnant bill and send it back to Parliament for reconsideration. 

We believe that the Anti-Homosexuality Bill is profoundly un-African as it preaches an agenda of intolerance, discrimination and ultimately, divisiveness. It also breaches the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights’ promise of human beings being inviolable and entitled to respect for their life and integrity of their person.

 

An Open Letter to Egypt's Interim Government

Acting President Adly Mansour,
Magles El Shaab St., Kasr El Aini St.
Cairo
Egypt

Re: Escalation of violence and a call for restoration of sovereignty to the people of Egypt

Dear Acting President Adly Mansour,

CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation is appalled at the state-led violence against protestors across Egypt which has caused deaths and debilitating injuries to hundreds of people. We condemn in the strongest terms, the criminal actions of your regime and reject the official justifications being offered for use of indiscriminate and deadly force against protestors, including through the deployment of snipers, armoured vehicles and bulldozers. Nevertheless, we appeal for respect of the fundamental freedoms of all Egyptians, including those who stand in opposition to the current regime.

 

CIVICUS releases an open letter requesting the Indonesian Parliament to reject the proposed ORMAS Law and create an enabling environment for civil society

The People's Representative Council of Republic Indonesia
Gedung Nusantara III
Jl. Jenderal Gatot Subroto Jakarta 10270
Indonesia

Re: Restrictions on Civil Society under the 'ORMAS Bill'

Dear House Speaker Marzuki Ali,

CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation, the Indonesian Forum for Environment (WALHI) and the International NGO Forum on Indonesian Development (INFID) write to express our deep concern on the Bill on Mass Organisations (ORMAS Bill) due for hearing in Parliament on 12 April 2013.

We believe that the Bill severely undermines freedom of association enshrined in the Constitution of Indonesia and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to which Indonesia is a state party. We urge the Indonesian Parliament to reject the ORMAS Bill in its current form and adopt alternative legislation to create an enabling environment for civil society free from unwarranted restrictions.

 

Joint Open Letter on Bahrain

HM. King Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa
Office of the King
The Amiri Court
Rifa’a Palace
The Kingdom of Bahrain

Your Majesty,

CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation an international alliance of civil society in over 100 countries and the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) are deeply concerned about the use of military courts to stifle civil society. Of particular concern is the sentencing of 20 medical doctors for 5 to 15 years in prison on 29 September 2011 on unproven charges including occupying the Salmanya Medical Complex, calling for the overthrow of the regime and spreading false information. We are also concerned by the harsh sentences of 14 opposition leaders and human rights defenders on 28 September 2011 as well as the sentencing of two Teachers’ Association leaders on 25 September 2011 to long prison term on unsubstantiated charges of disrupting schooling, broadcasting false news and threatening national security.

Read more

 

Joint letter to Secretary Clinton regarding Uzbekistan

September 27, 2011


Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
US Department of State
Harry S. Truman Building
2201 C Street, NW
Washington, DC 20520


Dear Secretary Clinton,


We represent a broad, international coalition of human rights organizations, labor groups, trade unions, investors, and others, including independent civil society groups based in Uzbekistan, brought together by our common concern over recent actions by the US government to move toward “business as usual” with the Uzbek government, which remains one of the most repressive in the world.


Last week, an Appropriations Committee in the Senate approved a bill that will allow the provision of taxpayer-funded military and police assistance to the Uzbek government at a time when Uzbek authorities continue to silence civil society activists, independent journalists, and all political opposition; severely curtail freedom of expression and religion; and organize forced child labor on a massive scale.

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Open Letter to Ugandan Parliament: CIVICUS calls for the immediate and complete withdrawal of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill in Uganda

Johannesburg, 10 May 2011. CIVICUS is calling for the immediate and complete withdrawal of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill in Uganda. As Museveni’s government try to push through the infamous Bill this week, the international community must react quickly and increase pressure on the country. 

The proposed Bill was drafted in 2009 but shelved due to international outcry. US President Obama described the Bill as "odious" and civil society organisations around the world have joined a global campaign against the Bill. However, public hearings on the Bill are currently taking place through the Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee and there is a significant chance the Bill will be passed by Parliament by the end of the week (13 May).

The provisions of the Bill to issue the death penalty for HIV infected persons who have sexual relations with a person of the same gender, life imprisonment for attempting to contract a marriage with a person of the same gender, extradition to Uganda of citizens or permanent residents if they have sexual relations with a person of the same gender, and enhanced punishment of life imprisonment for sexual relations between people of the same gender, all overtly violate personal freedoms and the guarantee of non-discrimination enshrined under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to which Uganda is a party. It also breaches the Ugandan Constitution and existing human rights commitments by violating the rights to privacy, freedom from discrimination, equal protection for all, and protection of minorities.

In addition, the Bill is not just targeted at homosexual individuals, but is a wider attack on the freedoms of expression and association. Civil society space will be suppressed as the work of civil society organisations that promote the rights of LGBTI people will be criminalised through the cancellation of registration and punishment of the head of the organisation with seven years imprisonment.

See the Open Letter by CIVICUS calling for the Ugandan Parliament to fully reject the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, whether in its original or amended form. We call for the recognition of the freedom of expression and protection of civil society activists in Uganda."CIVICUS is calling for the immediate and complete withdrawal of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill in Uganda. As Museveni's government tries to push through the infamous Bill this week, the international community must react quickly and increase pressure on the country.



Open Letter to the Speaker of the Ugandan Paliament Download PDF

10 May 2011


Rt. Hon. Edward SsekandiKiwanuka
Speaker of Parliament
PO BOX 7178
Parliamentary Avenue
Kampala
Uganda


Sir,

I write from CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation, an international alliance of civil society with members and partners in over a hundred countries. We urge you to call for an immediate and complete withdrawal of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill that is to be brought before Parliament this week. The proposed Bill rolls back international human rights obligations undertaken by Uganda by declaring that the provisions of any international legal instrument contradictory to the spirit of the Bill shall be null and void.

We believe that the widely-condemned Bill, which was drafted in 2009 and has been the subject of criticism both at home and abroad, must be unanimously rejected. A number of world leaders have condemned the Bill including US President Obama who described it as "odious." Civil society groups have warned that the Bill risks further isolating Uganda from the international community.

We call on Parliament to reject the Bill for the following reasons:

  • The Bill overtly violates personal freedom and the guarantee of non-discrimination enshrined under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to which Uganda is a party.

  • The Bill breaches the Ugandan Constitution and existing human rights commitments by violating the rights to privacy, freedom from discrimination, equal protection for al, and protection of minorities.

  • The Bill is not just targeted at homosexual individuals, but is a wider attack on the freedoms of expression and association. Civil society space will be suppressed as the work of civil society organisations that promote the rights of LGBTI people will be criminalised through the cancellation of registration and punishment of the head of the organisation with seven years imprisonment.

We urge Parliament to fully reject the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, whether in its original or amended form. We call for the recognition of the freedom of expression and protection of civil society activists in Uganda.

Sincerely,

Ingrid Srinath
Secretary General
CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation

Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, Hon. Kiddhu Makubuya ()


 

CIVICUS Letter concerning freedom of movement for Turkmen journalists

Click here to download.

 

Open Letter to President Aquino Concerning Civil Society in the Philippines

Click here to download

 

Re: Proposed International Cooperation Bill

Presidente de la República
S.E. Hugo Chávez Frías
Palacio de Miraflores, Caracas,
Venezuela
Fax:+58.212.806 3698
E-mail:
 

Your Excellency,

 
 

Re: Proposed International Cooperation Bill

 
 
 
I write as the Secretary General of CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation, an international alliance of civil society with members and partners in over a hundred countries. CIVICUS works to strengthen civil society and citizen action throughout the world.
 
 
We at CIVICUS, our members and partners, are deeply concerned about your recent comments urging National Assembly members to adopt a "severe" law to effectively stop international funding for NGOs. We would like to emphasise that Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) play an extremely important role in national life. Their constructive criticism and quest for greater accountability in public life are important assets for the nation. We therefore urge your government to respect expressions of legitimate dissent and unequivocally uphold civil society's rights to express, associate and assemble freely.
 
 

We would like to draw your attention to the International Cooperation Bill, currently being discussed by law makers. We believe that the bill has been drawn up without adequate consultation with civil society. Moreover, we are deeply apprehensive that that passage of the Bill in its current form will severely curtail civil society space in the following ways:

  1. Subjecting CSOs to additional layers of bureaucracy by requiring them to register with the government in order to receive funds from international sources could increase the possibility of subjective denial of registration to CSOs who have been critical of official actions.
  2. The creation of an official fund for International Cooperation and Assistance for the collection of monetary grants from overseas and their subsequent disbursement by the government is likely to impede international cooperation activities between Venezuelan CSOs and their counterparts abroad. Moreover, it will lead to government ownership and prioritisation of international cooperation funds rather than democratic ownership by CSOs and local communities.
  3. By increasing executive discretion to monitor CSO affairs through the creation of an Agency for International Cooperation, limits of whose powers and have not been clearly defined, raising apprehension of increased restrictions on CSO affairs. 

We believe that the registration and funding requirements of the Bill, given their ambiguity, have the potential to breach the right to freedom of association embodied in the Venezuelan Constitution, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the American Convention on Human Rights and the UN Human Rights Defenders Declaration. 

We urge you to use your executive powers and influence to carry out consultations with civil society with regard to the need for an international cooperation law as well as the principles that should underpin any regulatory mechanism for civil society.

Sincerely,

Ingrid Srinath
Secretary General
CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation

 

CIVICUS calls for the immediate and complete withdrawal of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill in Uganda

CIVICUS is calling for the immediate and complete withdrawal of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill in Uganda. As Museveni's government tries to push through the infamous Bill this week, the international community must react quickly and increase pressure on the country.

The proposed Bill was drafted in 2009 but shelved due to international outcry. US President Obama described the Bill as "odious" and civil society organisations around the world have joined a global campaign against the Bill. However, public hearings on the Bill are currently taking place through the Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee and there is a significant chance the Bill will be passed by Parliament by the end of the week (13 May).

The provisions of the Bill to issue the death penalty for HIV infected persons who have sexual relations with a person of the same gender, life imprisonment for attempting to contract a marriage with a person of the same gender, extradition to Uganda of citizens or permanent residents if they have sexual relations with a person of the same gender, and enhanced punishment of life imprisonment for sexual relations between people of the same gender, all overtly violate personal freedoms and the guarantee of non-discrimination enshrined under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to which Uganda is a party. It also breaches the Ugandan Constitution and existing human rights commitments by violating the rights to privacy, freedom from discrimination, equal protection for all, and protection of minorities.

In addition, the Bill is not just targeted at homosexual individuals, but is a wider attack on the freedoms of expression and association. Civil society space will be suppressed as the work of civil society organisations that promote the rights of LGBTI people will be criminalised through the cancellation of registration and punishment of the head of the organisation with seven years imprisonment.

See the Open Letter by CIVICUS calling for the Ugandan Parliament to fully reject the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, whether in its original or amended form. We call for the recognition of the freedom of expression and protection of civil society activists in Uganda."

 

Concern for the 43 health workers known as the 'Morong 43'


An open letter from Ingrid Srinath (Secretary General, CIVICUS) to the H.E. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo President of the Philipines regarding the unconstitutional detention of 43 health workers by the Armed Forces of the Philipines.

 

H.E. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo

President of the Republic
Malacañang Palace,
JP Laurel St., San Miguel
Manila Philippines

Your Excellency,

I write as the Secretary General of CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation, an international movement of civil society with members and partners in over a hundred countries. We are deeply concerned with regard to the detention of the 43 health workers, known commonly as the "Morong 43," by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP). As discussed in the correspondence herewith attached, we strongly believe that justice requires the return of the 43 health workers to their families without further delay.

We urge you, Madame President, to lead the Philippines in living up to its constitutional and international commitments, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, by ordering the immediate release of the 43 health workers.

Sincerely,

Ingrid Srinath
Secretary General for Civicus: World Alliance for Citizen Participation

Download letter here (PDF)

 

CIVICUS' Open Letter to Iranian parliament

18 April 2011

H.E. Ali Larijani
Speaker of Parliament
Majles-e Shorura-ye-Eslami
Baharestan Square, Tehran, Iran
Email:


Your Excellency,

I write as the Secretary General of CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation, an international alliance of civil society with members in over one hundred countries.

CIVICUS is pleased to hear that the Iranian Parliament has voted to suspend the review of the Establishment and Supervision of NGOs Bill for three months and referred it to the Social Commission of the Iranian Parliament for further deliberation. We welcome this action and implore members of Parliament and the government to use this interim period to reflect on provisions in the Bill that will guarantee the freedoms of expression, association and assembly as enshrined in the Iranian Constitution and in line with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to which Iran is a party.

We remain concerned that despite strong reservations from Iranian civil society, sections (including Article 6 and parts of Article 12) of the proposed Bill which have already been implemented will not be subject to this review. Article 6 of the Bill, for instance, authorises the creation of a Supreme Committee which will be composed of representatives from the security and other sectors including the judiciary, Ministry of Intelligence and the Basij resistance forces with powers to approve or reject the registration permits for NGOs. The Supreme Committee has also been empowered to have control over the choice, activities and decisions of the Board of Directors of NGOs and can decide to monitor the activities of NGOs and close their operations. We note with deep anxiety that the NGO community will have only one representative on the Supreme Committee.

Sections of Article 12 of the draft Bill mandate that all forms of demonstrations must be devoid of political affiliations and will only be considered legal following the approval of the Supreme Committee. If ratified, the law will empower the Supreme Committee to approve any relations or forms of cooperation including participation at conferences, seminars, signing of agreements and contracts between Iranian civil society organisations and international NGOs.

We believe that by attempting to ensure that the activities of NGOs are placed under the control of the security apparatus the Bill in its current form will pose a major threat to independent civil society in Iran. If not thoroughly reviewed, Article 6 in particular will provide military and strategic oversight and control over the activities of civil society organisations and practically restricts NGOs from interactions with international organisations including United Nations agencies.

Your Excellency, laws pertaining to civil society should be enabling of their activities and provide a conducive environment for them to operate. We request that the Establishment and Supervision of NGOs Bill be reviewed to reflect this.

Please do not hesitate to get in touch with us if you need further information in respect of best practices with regard to NGO laws.

Sincerely

Ingrid Srinath

 

Open Letter to president of Venezuela regarding the proposed International Cooperation Bill

Presidente de la República
S.E. Hugo Chávez Frías
Palacio de Miraflores, Caracas,
Venezuela
Fax:+58.212.806 3698
E-mail: 
 
Your Excellency,
 
Re: Proposed International Cooperation Bill
 
I write as the Secretary General of CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation, an international alliance of civil society with members and partners in over a hundred countries. CIVICUS works to strengthen civil society and citizen action throughout the world.
 
We at CIVICUS, our members and partners, are deeply concerned about your recent comments urging National Assembly members to adopt a "severe" law to effectively stop international funding for NGOs. We would like to emphasise that Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) play an extremely important role in national life. Their constructive criticism and quest for greater accountability in public life are important assets for the nation. We therefore urge your government to respect expressions of legitimate dissent and unequivocally uphold civil society's rights to express, associate and assemble freely.

 

Open Letter to Uzbek President Karimov

Click here to download copy of letter.

 

Open Letter to President of Kazakshtan about 30 Uzbek refugees

8 September 2010

To
H.E. President Nursultan Nazarbayev
President of Kazakhstan
Ak-Korda, President Residence
Astana
Kazakhstan

Your Excellency,

I write as the Secretary General of CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation, an international alliance of civil society with members and partners in over a hundred countries. Together with the undersigned partners, we are deeply concerned about the imminent decision of the Kazakhstan government on whether to extradite 30 Uzbek refugees to their country of origin. In their country, these individuals have been accused of involvement in terrorist activities, and will be at a serious risk of torture and inhumane treatment upon extradition.

 

Letter of appeal for the release of Ameer Makhoul

Letter of appeal for the release of Ameer Makhoul - Click here to download

 

Letter to Israeli Prime Minister appealing for the release of Mr. Makhoul

Click here to download

 

Open Letter to the UN Secretary General on the situation in Kyrgyzstan

Click here to download

 

CIVICUS makes a case for the release of Popov at the 14th Session of the Human Rights Council

Item 3
Promotion and Protection of all Human Rights
ID on the Reports of the Special Rapporteurs on Violence against Women, Extreme Poverty and the Right to Health
7 June 2010


Mr. President,

CIVICUS wishes to thank all three Rapporteurs for their reports and wants to highlight a few aspects of their work.

1. On violence against women: CIVICUS welcomes Ms Rashid Manjoo's first report and her focus on reparations. In particular, we want to underscore the importance she gives to structural and multiple forms of discrimination and that reparations cannot be just about returning women to the situation on which they were found before the individual instance of violence, but instead should strive to have a transformative potential. We would like to ask her to elaborate further on how to achieve this transformative potential on the ground, for example the area of dismantling patriarchal understanding that is so often the reason for systemic violence.

2. On extreme poverty: CIVICUS thanks Magdalena Sepulveda for her very clear demand to invest in social protection floors, including through non-contributory pensions, as a human rights obligation for governments as duty bearers, to prevent older persons from falling into extreme poverty and society as a whole from gliding into an appalling inequality. CIVICUS also commends her for her stand during her Zambian visit on the rights of civil society to participate freely and/or in cooperation with governments on all these important decisions regarding social protection issues, and not be curtailed through any unwarranted controls and restrictions on their independence and freedom of association.

 

Open letter to the President of Uzbekistan regarding Maxim Popov's continued incaceration

Click here to download

 

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