16 Days of Activism - Women in Solidarity during COVID-19

16 Days of Activism, running annually from 25 November to 10 December, comes at the end of a year that saw a global pandemic affect families, economies, and every aspect of society worldwide. All around the globe, women stepped up when governments and businesses failed to act. After a tough year, this 16 Days global civil society alliance CIVICUS is celebrating the inspiring stories of women: activists involved in protest, women human rights defenders behind bars, and women’s organisations across the globe working to mitigate rising levels of gender based violence during the COVID-19 pandemic.

 

Polish authorities must stop persecuting and intimidating protesters

Read the statement in Polish

  • Civil society organisations express serious concerns over civic space restrictions in Poland
  • Detention and intimidation of protesters by authorities a huge concern
  • Protests sparked by decision to impose a near-total ban on abortion

 

States must partner with civil society as second wave of COVID-19 hits countries

 

Arabic | Portuguese

As the COVID-19 pandemic swept the globe, civil society organisations responded nimbly and effectively, providing frontline help and defending the rights of people across the world. A report released today by global civil society alliance CIVICUS, ‘Solidarity in the Time of COVID-19’, highlights the irreplaceable role of activists, NGOs and grassroots organisations during the pandemic and calls on states to work with civil society to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 and create a better post-pandemic world. 

 

Polish government must stop violent crackdowns on protesters

 

Przeczytaj oświadczenie w języku polskim

Polish law enforcement and military, deployed today across the country, must refrain from using excessive force against protesters who have taken to the streets to express their discontent with the Polish government under the ruling PiS (Law and Justice) party.  

 

Burundi: four journalists still in jail one year after they were arrested

  • Burundian authorities should release four journalists and drop charges against them
  • Journalists added to #StandAsMyWitness campaign calling for release of all human rights defenders
  • Media freedoms and civic rights declining in Burundi

 

Tanzania: Systematic restrictions on fundamental freedoms in the run-up to national elections

READ IN SWAHILI (KISWAHILI)

Civil society letter endorsed by over 65 organisations to President of Tanzania ahead of 28 October National Elections 


To: President John Magufuli

Excellency, 

We, the undersigned civil society organizations, are deeply concerned about the continued deterioration of democracy, human rights and rule of law in the United Republic of Tanzania. In the past five years, we have documented the steady decline of the country into a  state of repression, evidenced by the increased harassment, intimidation, prosecution, and persecution of political activists, human rights defenders (HRDs), journalists and media houses; the enactment of restrictive laws; and disregard for rule of law, constitutionalism, as well as regional and international human rights standards. We are deeply concerned that the situation has worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic and as the country heads for general elections on 28 October 2020.[1]

Tanzania as a party to several regional and international treaties, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, has a legal obligation to respect and protect fundamental rights, particularly the right to - freedom of expression and the media, peacefully assemble, form and join associations, and to participate in public affairs, which are fundamental rights for free and fair elections in a democratic society. As a member of the African Union (AU) and the Southern African Development Community (SADC), Tanzania has committed to uphold and promote democratic principles, popular participation, and good governance.

Leading up to the elections in Tanzania, we have unfortunately documented an unfavourable environment for public participation and free engagement in the political process. The role of the media in providing information and access to varying viewpoints in a true democracy is indispensable. Media houses must be allowed to provide these services without undue restrictions, yet in recent times, several independent media houses have been suspended. These have included the seven-day suspensions of The Citizen newspaper in February 2019,[2] Clouds TV and Clouds FM in August 2020, and the six-month suspension of Kwanza online TV in September 2019[3] and again in July 2020 for 11 months;[4] the online publication ban against Mwananchi news in April 2020;[5] the revocation, effective June 24, 2020, of the license of the Tanzania Daima newspaper;[6] and the fines against online stations, Watetezi TV and Ayo TV in September 2019.[7]We note, with great disappointment, that the government is yet to comply with a ruling by the East African Court of Justice requiring the amendment of the Media Services Act to address the unjustified restrictions on freedom of expression.[8]

We are further concerned about the restrictions on individuals peacefully expressing their opinions, including criticising public officials.[9] The latter are required to tolerate a greater amount of criticism than others - a necessary requirement for transparency and accountability. Tanzania’s criminal justice system has however been misused to target those who criticize the government. Tito Magoti and IT expert Theodory Giyani were arrested in December 2019 and questioned over their social media use and association with certain government critics.[10] The duo were subsequently charged with economic crimes, including “money laundering” which is a non-bailable offence. Despite their case being postponed more than 20 times since December 2019, and no evidence being presented against them, they remain in pre-trial detention.[11] Investigative journalist Erick Kabendera was similarly arrested and charged with “money laundering” where he was held in pre-trial detention for seven months with his case postponed over ten times.[12] Several United Nations (UN) mandate holders have raised concern about the misuse of the country’s anti-money laundering laws that “allow the Government to hold its critics in detention without trial and for an indefinite period.”[13]

Most recently, a prominent human rights lawyer and vocal critic of the government, Fatma Karume was disbarred from practising law in Tanzania following submissions she made in a constitutional case challenging the appointment of the Attorney General.[14] Other lawyers are also facing disciplinary proceedings for publicly raising issues on judicial independence and rule of law.  Opposition leader, Zitto Kabwe was arrested and prosecuted for statements made calling for accountability for extrajudicial killings by State security agents.[15] The above cases are clear evidence of intolerance for alternative views and public debate.

In addition, authorities should ensure respect for the right of individuals to freely form associations and for those associations to participate in public affairs, without unwarranted interference. We note the increasing misuse of laws to restrict and suspend the activities of civil society organisations.[16] On August 12, Tanzania Human Rights Defenders Coalition (THRDC) was notified that its bank accounts had been frozen pending police investigations. THRDC’s coordinator was then summoned by the police to explain an alleged failure to submit to the State Treasury its contractual agreements with donors.[17]  Prior to this, in June 2020, the authorities disrupted the activities of THRDC for allegedly contravening “laws of the land.”[18] Several other non-governmental organisations working on human rights issues have been deregistered or are facing harassment for issuing public statements critical of the government. Ahead of the elections some civil society organisations have reported being informally told by authorities to cease activities. As a result of the repressive environment, civil society organisations have been forced to self-censor activities. 

We also note the enactment of further restrictive laws.[19] For example, the Written Laws Miscellaneous Amendments Act (The Amendment Act)[20] which has introduced amendments to 13 laws.[21] The Amendment Act requires anyone making a claim for violation of rights to have been personally affected.[22] This limits the ability of civil society organisations to carry out legal aid and law-based activities where they are not personally harmed. It violates Article 26(2) of the country’s Constitution, which provides for the right of every person “to take legal action to ensure the protection of this Constitution and the laws of the land.” Furthermore, it is an internationally recognized best practice that all persons, whether individually or in association with others, have the right to seek an effective remedy before a judicial body or other authority in response to a violation of human rights.[23] The Amendment Act further provides that lawsuits against the President, Vice-President, Prime Minister, Speaker, Deputy Speaker, or Chief Justice cannot be brought against them directly but must be brought against the Attorney General.[24] This provision undermines government accountability for human rights violations. We remind the authorities that international bodies have raised concerns about Tanzania’s repressive laws.[25]

We are especially concerned over the continued cases of verbal threats and physical attacks against members of opposition political parties.[26] We note with concern that to date, no one has been held accountable for the 2017 attack against the CHADEMA party leader, Tundu Lissu, who is a presidential candidate in the upcoming elections. Most recently, opposition leader Freeman Mbowe was brutally attacked and his assailants are still at large. Failure to thoroughly and impartially investigate such cases breeds a culture of violence and impunity, which in turn threatens the peace and security of the country. The government must take steps to bring perpetrators of such violence to account and to guarantee the safety of all other opposition party members and supporters.

Earlier, in November 2019, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) issued a press statement on the “deteriorating human rights situation in Tanzania.”[27] The Commission specifically voiced concern over “the unprecedented number of journalists and opposition politicians jailed for their activities.” The ongoing crackdown on civic space in Tanzania also led the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, to issue a strong warning ahead of the 28 October 2020 General Elections. At the opening of the UN Human Rights Council’s 45th session, she “[drew] the Council's attention to increasing repression of the democratic and civic space, in what is becoming a deeply deteriorated environment for human rights” and stressed that “[with] elections approaching later this month, we are receiving increasing reports of arbitrary arrests and detention of civil society actors, activists, journalists and members of opposition parties.” She added: “Further erosion of human rights could risk grave consequences, and I encourage immediate and sustained preventive action.”[28]

While we acknowledge measures taken by your government to halt the spread of the COVID-19 virus and protect the citizens of Tanzania, we are deeply concerned that the pandemic has been used to unduly restrict fundamental freedoms. Examples are the arrest and sentencing of two Kenyan journalists for interviewing members of the public in Tanzania on the status of the pandemic in the country[29] as well as, the suspension of  Kwanza Online TV for reposting an alert by the U.S. embassy in Tanzania regarding the pandemic in the country.[30]  The rights to peacefully express one’s opinion, receive information, peaceful assembly and association, and to participate in public affairs are not only essential in the context of the upcoming elections, but also in relation to the current COVID-19 pandemic. Freedom of expression in particular, ensures “the communication of information to the public, enabling individuals to … develop opinions about the public health threat so that they can take appropriate steps to protect themselves and their communities.”[31]  The UN has repeatedly emphasized that Government responses to COVID-19 must not be used as a pretext to suppress individual human rights or to repress the free flow of information.[32] 

The need for Tanzania to uphold human rights, democracy and the rule of law is now more than ever important as a matter of national security, following recent reports of insurgent attacks along Tanzania’s border with Mozambique.[33] Studies have shown that experiences of injustice, marginalization and a breakdown in rule of law, are root causes of disaffection and violence. A peaceful and prosperous nation requires good governance and respect for rule of law, with a society that protects fundamental freedoms and ensures justice for all.

As civil society organisations deeply concerned about constitutionalism, justice, and democracy in the United Republic of Tanzania, we strongly urge your Excellency to adhere to your undertaking to ensure a free and fair election in Tanzania. The government has an obligation to create an enabling environment for everyone, including political opposition, non-governmental organisations, journalists, and other online users, HRDs, and other real or perceived government opponents to exercise their human rights without fear of reprisals. As such, we call on the relevant authorities to immediately drop criminal charges and release defenders such as Tito Magoti and Theodory Giyani and any others being prosecuted for peacefully exercising their rights. Suspensions and the freezing of assets of non-governmental organisations such as THRDC, independent media houses such as Kwanza Online TV, and members of the legal profession- particularly Fatma Karume, must be reversed.  Opposition parties must be allowed to freely and peacefully campaign and engage with their supporters without undue restrictions such as arbitrary arrests, physical attacks, forceful dispersal and intimidation of supporters, and harassment by security forces. The legitimacy of Tanzania’s elections is at stake.

We call on Tanzania to heed the messages delivered by national, African, and international actors and to change course before the country enters a full-fledged human rights crisis, with potentially grave domestic and regional consequences.

Signed:

  1. Access Now, Global
  2. Acción Solidaria on HIV/aids, Venezuela
  3. Africa Freedom of Information Centre 
  4. Africa Judges and Jurists Forum
  5. AfroLeadership
  6. ARTICLE 19, Global
  7. Asia Dalit Rights Forum (ADRF), New Delhi and Kathmandu
  8. Association for Human Rights in Ethiopia (AHRE)
  9. Association of Freelance Journalists
  10. BudgIT Foundation, Nigeria
  11. CEALDES, Colombia
  12. Center for Civil Liberties, Ukraine
  13. Centre for Human Rights & Development (CHRD), Mongolia
  14. Centre for Law and Democracy, Canada
  15. Center for National and International Studies, Azerbaijan
  16. Child Watch, Tanzania
  17. CIVICUS, Global
  18. Civic Initiatives, Serbia
  19. CIVILIS Human Rights, Venezuela
  20. Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA)
  21. Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)
  22. Community Empowerment for Progress Organization (CEPO), South Sudan
  23. Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI)
  24. Corporación Comuna Nueva, Santiago de Chile
  25. DefendDefenders (East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project)
  26. Democracy Monitor PU, Azerbaijan
  27. Eastern Africa Journalists Network (EAJN)
  28. Ethiopian Human Rights Council (EHRCO)
  29. Ethiopian Human Rights Defenders Coalition (EHRDC)
  30. Espacio Público, Venezuela
  31. Front Line Defenders, Global
  32. Gestos (HIV and AIDS, communication, gender), Brazil
  33. Greenpeace Africa
  34. Groupe d’Action pour le Progrès et la Paix (GAPP-Afrique), Canada
  35. Groupe d’Action pour le Progrès et la Paix (GAPP-BENIN)
  36. Groupe d’Action pour le Progrès et la Paix (GAPP Mali)
  37. HAKI Africa, Kenya
  38. Human Rights Concern - Eritrea (HRCE)
  39. Human Rights Defenders Network, Sierra Leone
  40. Humanium, Switzerland
  41. HuMENA for Human Rights and Civic Engagement (HuMENA Regional)
  42. International Partnership for Human Rights (IPHR) - Belgium
  43. Jade Propuestas Sociales y Alternativas al Desarrollo, A.C. (JADESOCIALES)- México
  44. Ligue Burundaise des droits de l’homme Iteka-Burundi
  45. Maison de la Société Civile (MdSC), Bénin
  46. MARUAH, Singapore
  47. Media Rights Agenda (MRA), Nigeria
  48. Nigeria Network of NGOs, Nigeria 
  49. Nouvelle Dynamique de la Société Civile de la RD Congo (NDSCI)
  50. Odhikar, Bangladesh
  51. ONG Convergence des Actions Solidaires et les Objectifs de Développement Durable (CAS-ODD ONG) - Bénin
  52. ONG Nouvelle Vision (NOVI), Bénin
  53. Open School of Sustainable Development (Openshkola), Russia
  54. Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA)
  55. Partnership for Peace and Development, Sierra Leone
  56. RESOSIDE, Burkina Faso
  57. Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, Global
  58. Sisters of Charity Federation, United States
  59. Somali Journalists Syndicate (SJS), Somalia
  60. Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network (SAHRDN)
  61. Sudanese Development Initiative (SUDIA), Sudan
  62. The Human Rights Centre Uganda (HRCU), Uganda
  63. Tournons La Page (TLP)
  64. Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Network, Sierra Leone
  65. Women in Democracy And Governance, Kenya (WIDAG)
  66. Zambia Council for Social Development, Zambia

[1] United Nations, Office of the High Commissioner, UN Experts call on Tanzania to end the crackdown on civic space, July 22, 2020, available at https://www.ohchr.org/en/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=26117&LangID=E.

[2] Committee to Protect Journalists, Tanzania imposes 7-day publication ban on The Citizen, March 01, 2019, available at https://cpj.org/2019/03/tanzania-citizen-7-day-publication-ban/

[3] Committee to Protect Journalists, Tanzanian authorities ban online TV station, fine 2 others, January 8, 2020, available at https://cpj.org/2020/01/tanzanian-authorities-ban-online-tv-station-fine-2/

[4] Committee to Protect Journalists, Tanzania bans Kwanza Online TV for 11 months citing ‘misleading’ Instagram post on COVID-19, July 09, 2020, available at https://cpj.org/2020/07/tanzania-bans-kwanza-online-tv-for-11-months-citing-misleading-instagram-post-on-covid-19/

[5] Committee to Protect Journalists, Tanzanian newspaper banned from publishing online for 6 months over COVID-19 report, May 11, 2020, available at https://cpj.org/2020/01/tanzanian-authorities-ban-online-tv-station-fine-2/

[6] Committee to Protect Journalist, Tanzanian government revokes license of Tanzania Daima newspaper, June 26, 2020, available at https://cpj.org/2020/06/tanzanian-government-revokes-license-of-tanzania-daima-newspaper/

[7] Committee to Protect Journalists, Tanzanian authorities ban online TV station, fine 2 others, January 8, 2020 available at https://cpj.org/2020/01/tanzanian-authorities-ban-online-tv-station-fine-2/

[8]Committee to Protect Journalists, East Africa court rules that Tanzania’s Media Services Act violates press freedom, March 28, 2019, available at https://www.mediadefence.org/news/important-media-freedom-judgment-east-african-court-justice

[9] We refer to cases such as the arrest of prominent comedian, Idris Sultan, in May 2020 (https://thrdc.or.tz/tanzanian-comedian-and-actor-mr-idris-sultan-charged-for-failure-to-register-a-sim-card/), and the disbarment from practicing law of prominent lawyer and human rights advocate, Fatma Karume (https://www.icj.org/tanzania-icj-calls-for-reinstatement-of-lawyer-fatma-karumes-right-to-practice-law/). 

[10] Committee to protect journalists, Mwanachi, The Citizen, last seen in Tanzania, November 21, 2017, available at https://cpj.org/data/people/azory-gwanda/.

[11] American Bar Association, Center for Human Rights, Tanzania: Preliminary Analysis of the criminal case against Tito Magoti and Theodory Giyani, July 28, 2020, available at https://www.americanbar.org/groups/human_rights/reports/tanzania--preliminary-analysis-of-the-criminal-case-against-tito/.

[12] Committee to Protect Journalists, Tanzanian journalist Erick Kabendera freed but faces hefty fines, February 24, 2020, available at https://cpj.org/2020/02/tanzanian-freelancer-erick-kabendera-freed-but-fac/

[13] Mandates of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders; the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention; the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances; the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression; and the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, Letter to President of Tanzania, Reference AL TZA 1/2020, January 31, 2020, available at https://spcommreports.ohchr.org/TMResultsBase/DownLoadPublicCommunicationFile?gId=25049.

[14] International Commission of Jurists, Tanzania: ICJ Calls for the reinstatement of lawyer Fatma Karume’s right to practice law, October 8, 2020, available at https://www.icj.org/tanzania-icj-calls-for-reinstatement-of-lawyer-fatma-karumes-right-to-practice-law/

[15]The Citizen, Zitto Kabwe sentenced to serve one year ban not writing seditious statements, May 29, 2020, available at https://www.thecitizen.co.tz/news/Zitto-Kabwe-found-guilty-of-sedition/1840340-5567040-m7pifrz/index.htm

[16] The cancellation of a training organised by Tanzania Human Rights Defenders Coalition (THRDC), the subsequent arrest of THRDC’s Director, Onesmo Olengurumwa, and suspension of the activities of the organisation, as well as freezing of their accounts, exemplifies the misuse of these laws against civil society (See: https://www.aa.com.tr/en/africa/tanzania-human-rights-group-suspends-operations/1945400)

[17] DefendDefenders, Tanzania: Respect the right to freedom of association, August 24, 2020, available at https://defenddefenders.org/tanzania-respect-the-right-to-freedom-of-association/.

[18] Two employees of one of THRDC were arrested in Dar es Salaam and thereafter authorities proceed to arbitrarily cancel the hosting of a three-day security training for 30 human rights defenders. The police claimed that the training was in contravention of the “laws of the land” but did not give a specific provision

[19] These include the Electronic and Postal Communications (Online Content) Regulations; Media Services Act; Cybercrimes Act; and Political Parties Amendment Act.

[20] Written Laws (Miscellaneous Amendments Act (No. 3) of 2020)

[21] Southern Africa Litigation Center, Joint letter, The Written Laws Miscellaneous Amendments Act no.3 ( 2020), available at https://www.southernafricalitigationcentre.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/Honourable-Minister-of-Justice-for-the-Republic-of-Tanzania.pdf-August-2020.pdf

[22] Section 7(b) of the Written Laws Amendments Act

[23] The African Commission’s Principles and Guidelines on the Right to a Fair Trial and Legal Assistance in Africa provide that States must ensure through the adoption of national legislation that any individual, group of individuals or nongovernmental organization is entitled to bring a human rights claim before a judicial body for determination because such claims are matters of public concern.

[24] Amendments to Chapter 310 of the Law Reform (Fatal accidents and miscellaneous provisions) Act and to the Chapter 3 of the Basic Rights and Duties Enforcement Act

[25]   See for example communication of the Mandates of the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression; and the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association to the government of the United Republic of Tanzania, AL TZA 3/2020, 17 July 2020, https://spcommreports.ohchr.org/TMResultsBase/DownLoadPublicCommunicationFile?gId=25442 

[26] These include the verbal abuse and threats of execution against Zitto Kabwe, leader of Alliance for Change and Transparency (ACT) Wazalendo opposition party (see: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-51355148), his conviction for sedition for statements he made at a press conference in relation to alleged extra judicial killings by state security forces (https://www.thecitizen.co.tz/news/Zitto-Kabwe-found-guilty-of-sedition/1840340-5567040-m7pifrz/index.html), and his re-arrested together with several party members while they participated in an internal meeting (https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/06/24/tanzanian-opposition-leader-zitto-kabwe-released-on-bail/); as well as the conviction of nine Members of Parliament belonging to the opposition Chama Cha Demokrasia(CHADEMA) party and their sentencing in March 2020 to five months in prison or an alternative fine, for allegedly making seditious statements (https://www.reuters.com/article/us-tanzania-politics/tanzanian-opposition-lawmakers-found-guilty-of-making-seditious-statements-idUSKBN20X2O8); and the attack against the party leader, Freeman Mbowe, by unknown assailants leaving him with a broken leg (https://www.reuters.com/article/us-tanzania-politics/tanzanian-opposition-lawmakers-found-guilty-of-making-seditious-statements-idUSKBN20X2O8).

[27] African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, Press statement of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the deteriorating human rights situation in Tanzania, available at https://www.achpr.org/pressrelease/detail?id=459.

[28] Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, “In her global human rights update, Bachelet calls for urgent action to heighten resilience and protect people's rights,” 14 September 2020, https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=26226&LangID=E

[29] Tanzania Human Rights Defenders Coalition, Two Kenyan Journalists convicted and fined in Tanzania, repatriated back to Kenya, May 21, 2020, available at https://thrdc.or.tz/blog/.

[30]American Bar Association, Center for Human Rights, Report on the arbitrary suspension of Kwanza Online TV for sharing information related to the COVID-19 pandemic, October 22, 2020. See also Kwanza TV Instagram, available athttps://www.instagram.com/p/CCGT_5ECT_n/?utm_source=ig_web_button_share_sheet

[31] Disease pandemics and the freedom of opinion and expression, A/HRC/44/49, para. 30

[32] The Guardian, Coronavirus pandemic is becoming a human rights crisis, UN warns, 23 April 2020, available at https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/apr/23/coronavirus-pandemic-is-becoming-a-human-rights-crisis-un-warns. See also UNHRC,, UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, States responses to Covid 19 threat should not halt freedoms of assembly and association, April 14, 2020, available at https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=25788&LangID=E.

[33] BBC, Tanzania border village attack “leaves 20 dead”, October 16, 2020, available at https://www.bbc.com/news/live/world-africa-47639452?ns_mchannel=social&ns_source=twitter&ns_campaign=bbc_live&ns_linkname=5f896f00c4548e02bf3cb441%26Tanzania%20border%20village%20attack%20%27leaves%2020%20dead%27%262020-10-16T10%3A29%3A29.229Z&ns_fee=0&pinned_post_locator=urn:asset:2f81fc88-030c-49d4-9d25-b8268a2dbf55&pinned_post_asset_id=5f896f00c4548e02bf3cb441&pinned_post_type=share

 

Nigeria: Urgent call to end violence against #EndSARS protesters

The brutal shooting of peaceful protesters in Lagos by Nigerian security forces is a gross violation of protesters’ rights and those responsible should be held accountable by the authorities, global civil society alliance CIVICUS said today.

 

Thailand: Drop charges against peaceful protesters and end restrictions on civic freedoms

Read the Thai version of the letter

Letter to the Prime Minister of Thailand as the government cracks down on peaceful protests calling for democracy, human rights and reform.


Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha
Office of the Prime Minister
Pitsanulok road
Bangkok 10300
Thailand

Thailand: Drop charges against peaceful protesters and end restrictions on civic freedoms

CIVICUS, the 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.

We are writing to you to highlight our serious concerns about the escalating crackdown on peaceful protests in Thailand. According to reports by civil society groups, at least 80 individuals have been arbitrarily arrested since 13 October 2020. [1]

  • On 13 October, police forcibly dispersed a pro-democracy protest organised by the People’s Group at Bangkok’s Democracy Monument. Police allegedly kicked, punched, and threw some protesters to the ground. At least 23 protesters including protest leader Jatuphat “Pai Dao Din” Boonpattararaksa were arrested.[2]
  • On 14 and 15 October, another 34 people were reportedly arrested including protest leaders.[3] Five of the protest leaders - Arnon Nampa, Parit “Penguin” Chiwarak, Prasit Khrutharot, Panusaya “Rung” Sithijirawattanakul and Nathchanon Pairoj were charged with “sedition” (Article 116 of the Thai Criminal Code).[4] The rest were charged under the newly promulgated Emergency Decree. We are seriously concerned about reports that the police had prevented their lawyers from meeting with the arrested activists. Some have also been denied bail.
  • Activists Ekachai Hongkangwan and Boonkueanoon Paothong were also arrested on 16 October. They had reportedly shouted and held up the defiant three-finger salute when the Queen’s motorcade drove past protesters on 14 October. They have been charged under Section 110 of the Criminal Code and could face life imprisonment.[5]
  • On 16 October, police closed roads and established barricades with multiple rows of barbed wire in order to prevent people from peacefully gathering peacefully. Subsequently, police repeatedly used water cannons with chemical irritants and dye in attempts to disperse the crowd, estimated to be in the thousands.[6] Police also charged in with batons and shields to disperse the protesters.[7] 12 protesters were reportedly arrested.[8] Among those arrested include Kitti Pantapak, a journalist with Prachathai news outlet. His equipment was also confiscated.[9]
  • On 17 October, despite peaceful protests at least seven activists were reportedly arrested including student leader Panupong Chadnok.[10] On the same day, Chatchai Kaewkhampod a protest leader from Ubon Ratchathani province was also arrested.

We are also concerned about the introduction of a new emergency decree that severely restricts peaceful assembly and expression. The decree bans gatherings of five persons or more, and broadly prohibits the publication of news and information “which may instigate fear amongst the people” or that “affect national security or peace and order”.

Under the decree, authorities can arrest and detain people without charge for up to 30 days on grounds as vague as “supporting” or “concealing information” about the protests. The decree also allows those arrested to be detain them in informal places of detention and does not require access to legal counsel or visits by family members. Officials carrying out the duties under the decree enjoy legal immunity.

During the announcement of the measure, the authorities cited the need to “maintain peace and order” and that protesters had “instigated chaos and public unrest”.[11] We believe this to be a clear misrepresentation of the actions of the protesters.

The latest crackdown follows months of acts to suppress dissent, including the widespread use of judicial harassment against activists and human rights defenders. Authorities have arbitrarily arrested activists and filed charges against them under an array of repressive laws.

These actions are inconsistent with Thailand’s international obligations, including those under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) which Thailand ratified in 1996. These include obligations to respect and protect fundamental freedoms which are also guaranteed in Thailand’s Constitution.

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

  • Immediately and unconditionally release all pro-democracy protesters detained, drop all charges against them and lift all restrictions on the exercise of their human rights;
  • Pending their release, ensure that they are protected from torture and other ill-treatment and have regular access to lawyers of their choice, their family members and to medical care;
  • Revoke emergency measures imposing restrictions on the rights to freedom of assembly and expression
  • Investigate all allegations of excessive force or cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment by the police while dispersing protests and halt the use of water cannons water cannon unless there are situations of serious public disorder as provided by the 2020 United Nations guidance on less-lethal weapons in law enforcement
  • Create a safe and enabling environment for activists, human rights defenders and other members of Thailand’s civil society to peacefully exercise their rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly without intimidation, harassment, arrest or prosecution

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

Yours sincerely,

David Kode
Advocacy & Campaigns Lead.
CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation


Civic space in Thailand is rated Repressed by the CIVICUS Monitor

1 ‘Arrest Statistics’, Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, 18 October 2020, https://www.tlhr2014.com/?p=22156

2 Thailand: Over 20 Democracy Activists Arrested, Human Rights Watch, 13 October 2020, https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/10/13/thailand-over-20-democracy-activists-arrested

 3 Two more rally leaders arrested, Bangkok Post, 15 October 2020, https://www.bangkokpost.com/thailand/general/2002671/two-more-rally-leaders-arrested and Thailand bans mass gatherings under emergency decree, Al Jazeera, 15 October, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/10/15/thailand-imposes-emergency-amid-protests-leaders-detained 

4 ‘Thailand: End crackdown on peaceful pro-democracy activists, lift emergency decree ‘ FIDH, 16 October, https://www.fidh.org/en/region/asia/thailand/thailand-end-crackdown-on-peaceful-pro-democracy-activists-lift 5 Article 110 of the Criminal Code bans any act of violence against the Queen or Her Majesty’s liberty. See ‘Two arrested on motorcade charges’, Bangkok Post, 16 October 2020, https://www.bangkokpost.com/thailand/politics/2003267/two-arrested-on-motorcade-charges

5 Article 110 of the Criminal Code bans any act of violence against the Queen or Her Majesty’s liberty. See ‘Two arrested on motorcade charges’, Bangkok Post, 16 October 2020,  https://www.bangkokpost.com/thailand/politics/2003267/two-arrested-on-motorcade-charges 

6 ‘Thailand: Water cannons mark deeply alarming escalation in policing’, Amnesty protests’, 17 October 2020, https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2020/10/thailand-water-cannons-deeply-alarming-escalation/ 

7 Thailand: Water Cannon Used Against Peaceful Activists Human Rights Watch, 17 October 2020, https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/10/17/thailand-water-cannon-used-against-peaceful-activists 

8 Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, 17 October 2020, https://twitter.com/TLHR2014/status/1317170040169377792 

9 Prachatai's reporter, 24, arrested while covering police crackdown, Prachatai, 16 October 2020 https://prachatai.com/english/node/8848 

10 Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, 17 October 2020,  https://twitter.com/TLHR2014/status/1317482849772077061 

11 Thailand’s emergency decree ‘an excuse’ to end pro-democracy protests, MPs say’, ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights, 15 October 2020, http://aseanmp.org/2020/10/15/thailand-emergency-decree-excuse/ 

 

Pakistani authorities must prevent further attacks on transgender people

The shooting of a transgender activist one month ago, and a recent wave of attacks against the transgender community in Pakistan, are extremely concerning, according to global civil society alliance CIVICUS. We urge the authorities in Pakistan to organise prompt and impartial investigations into the attacks, and make sure the perpetrators are brought to justice without delay. 

 

Niger: CIVICUS welcomes release of human rights defenders

Global civil society alliance CIVICUS welcomes the decision by Nigerien authorities to release three human rights defenders after six months in detention. We now call on the Nigerien authorities to drop all charges against them. Moudi Moussa, Halidou Mounkaila and Maïkoul Zodi were among civil society members who gathered peacefully in Niamey, on 15 March 2020, to protest about corruption in the Ministry of Defence.

 

India: Report highlights ongoing misuse of restrictive laws during pandemic to keep activists behind bars

  • Report highlights judicial harassment of activists, targeting of journalists and crackdown on protesters 
  • Modi government has continued to use state resources to sustain its persecution of activists and critics during COVID-19 pandemic 
  • CIVICUS calls for the immediate release of arbitrarily detained human rights defenders

The Indian government is using a variety of restrictive laws - including national security and counter-terrorism legislation - to arrest and imprison human rights defenders, peaceful protesters and critics, the global civil society alliance CIVICUS said today in a new report.

More than a year into  Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s second term in office, the CIVICUS report, Punished for speaking up: The ongoing use of restrictive laws to silence dissent in India,” shows an increasingly repressive environment for civic freedoms, such as the freedoms of expression, association and assembly.  The report highlights the arrest, detention and prosecution of activists, the targeting of journalists, and the unprecedented and brutal crackdown on protests against the discriminatory Citizenship (Amendment) Act. CIVICUS is also concerned about increasing violations in Indian-administered Jammu Kashmir.

Further, India’s slide towards authoritarianism has led to the conflation of dissent with anti-nationalism, often with disastrous results for human rights defenders and activists who have been subjected to damaging smear campaigns.

The activists profiled in the report represent a small fraction of the arbitrary arrests, prosecutions and imprisonments taking place across India, providing a snapshot of the challenges facing the country’s human rights defenders.

The report also highlights a series of vaguely worded and overly broad laws being used by the Indian authorities to deprive activists of bail and keep them in ongoing detention. These include the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, (UAPA), which is India’s primary counter-terrorism law; section 124A on ‘sedition’ of the Indian Penal Code, a colonial-era relic; and administrative detention laws such as the National Security Act (NSA) and the Public Safety Act (PSA), which applies only in Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir

“The Indian government must stop using restrictive national security and counter-terrorism laws against human rights defenders and critics. The authorities must also drop the baseless and politically-motivated criminal charges against activists and release them immediately and unconditionally,” said Josef Benedict, CIVICUS Asia-Pacific Civic Space Researcher.

“The laws are incompatible with India’s international human rights obligations as well as India’s Constitution. Not only are the laws themselves inherently flawed, but their implementation makes it clear that they have become tools for judicial harassment, rather than for preventing or addressing criminality.”

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Modi government has continued to use state resources to sustain its persecution of human rights defenders and critics, many of whom have underlying medical conditions or are at risk of contracting COVID-19 in overcrowded and unsanitary prisons. CIVICUS is also concerned about the judicial harassment of individuals and journalists who criticise the authorities’ handling of the pandemic. 

“It is appalling that human rights defenders are locked up in overcrowded prisons and continuously denied bail despite calls by the UN to decongest prisons and release political prisoners during the pandemic. Holding them at this time puts them at serious risk of contracting COVID-19 and adds another layer of punishment for these activists, who have been detained just for speaking up for human rights,” said Benedict.

Despite the hostile environment, human rights defenders and civil society organisations in  India are pushing back against oppression. The benefits of a vibrant civil society, and of human rights defenders who are free to do their work, are tangible. This has been evident in civil society’s crucial response to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, in providing vital help to communities in need, defending rights, and holding governments accountable.

“As India’s political and economic influence increases, developments in the country are being closely followed by the global community. India’s quest to play a critical role on the international stage would be better served by committing to upholding democratic values and recognising the validity of people’s struggles,” said Benedict.

In the report, CIVICUS makes a number of recommendations to the Indian authorities, including:

  • Drop all charges against human rights defenders, activists and protesters, and immediately and unconditionally release all those detained;
  • Review and amend India’s criminal laws to conform to international standards for the protection of fundamental freedoms;
  • Take steps to ensure that all human rights defenders in India are able to carry out their legitimate activities without any hindrance or fear of reprisals.

More information

The space for civil society in India was downgraded in December 2019 from ‘obstructed’ to ‘repressed’ by the CIVICUS Monitor, an online platform that tracks civic space in every country. A repressed rating for civic space means that democratic freedoms – such as the freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly and association – are significantly constrained in India.


Interviews

To arrange interviews, please contact Josef Benedict, CIVICUS Asia-Pacific Civic Space Researcher  and 

 

CIVICUS calls on the Cameroonian authorities to show restraint ahead of planned protests

Global civil society alliance CIVICUS calls on the Cameroonian authorities to avoid using violence to curb anti-government protests planned by members of the political opposition for 22 September 2020.  The protests have been called by the political opposition led by the Movement pour la Renaissance du Cameron (MRC) and some civil society groups.  In anticipation of the protests the authorities have deployed the military in the capital city Yaoundé and are searching vehicles at major entry points.  

On 17 September 2020, security forces surrounded the premises of the civil society group ‘Stand Up for Cameroon’ in the economic capital Douala and arrested four members.  The authorities have threatened protesters with more arrests and indicated they will be charged with attempting to destabilise Cameroon.  The authorities have warned protesters they will face lengthy jail terms and charges of insurrection if they join the demonstrations.

“The Cameroonian authorities have closed most of the formal channels through which the political opposition and civil society can engage with the government on issues considered sensitive by the state. The right to participate in public assemblies is guaranteed in the constitution but the current response by the authorities to planned protests demonstrates that even this right is being taken away,” said Paul Mulindwa, CIVICUS Advocacy and Campaigns Officer


Background

Opposition leaders are demanding that long-serving President Paul Biya step down, and are protesting plans by the authorities to hold regional elections in December, saying the government must first  resolve conflict in the anglophone regions.  The MRC denounced the 2018 ballot and its leader Maurice Kamto and several supporters were arrested in January 2019 after calling for a re-organisation of the elections.  Kamto was charged with rebellion and insurrection and was jailed for nine months before he was released.  At the time, the authorities violently repressed anti-government protests and imposed bans on rallies.  

For more information on civic space violations, visit the Cameroon country page on the CIVICUS Monitor.

 

Cambodia: CIVICUS calls on government to release activists after wave of arrests

Protest Cambodia Rong Chhun

Global civil society alliance CIVICUS is extremely concerned by an ongoing crackdown on activists in Cambodia over the last month. A chilling wave of arrests marks an escalation of attempts by the authorities to intimidate activists and silence all forms of dissent and highlights the rapid deterioration of human rights in Cambodia. 

On 31 July 2020, the authorities arrested prominent unionist Rong Chhun for ‘incitement’  after he advocated for the land rights of villagers living near the Cambodia-Vietnam border. Since then, over a dozen activists have been arrested and detained for protesting his arrest On 10 August, activists Chhou Pheng, Chum Puthy and Sar Kanika, were charged with ‘incitement’ under Article 495 of the Criminal Code. 

On 13 August, two activists,  Hun Vannak and Chhouen Daravy, from youth group Khmer Thavrak were also arrested after calling for Rong Chhun’s release. Other members of the youth group have been targeted by the authorities for planned protests; On 6 and 7 September, Buddhist monk Koet Saray and Tha Lavy were arrested while activist Eng Malai was picked up by authorities after leaving the office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Cambodia, where she had raised security concerns. All three were charged with ‘incitement’.

The police also arrested Vice-President of the Khmer Student Intelligent League Association (KSILA), Mean Prommony, on 6 September for planning a protest while another member of KLSIA, Muong Sopheak was detained on 11 September.

“The authorities have become so fearful of losing control that anyone who dares to speak out about human rights violations in Cambodia today, including those who question wrongful and arbitrary detentions, could face arrest,” said Josef Benedict, Asia-Pacific researcher for CIVICUS.

Despite the risk of arrest and criminalisation, civil society activists have not backed down and continue to play a brave role in speaking up and exposing abuses by state and non-state actors.

On 3 September, Thun Ratha, Long Kunthea, and Phoung Keorasmey, activists with environmental group Mother Nature Cambodia, were arbitrarily detained while planning a peaceful march to call attention to the filling in of a Phnom Penh lake. They were charged with ‘incitement’ on 6 September.

Rapper Kea Sokun was arrested in Siem Reap on 10 September and charged with incitement under Articles 494 and 495 of the Cambodian Criminal Code. Sokun is understood to have been targeted as the result of a song he released in April called ‘Dey Khmer’ (‘Khmer Land’) which is about the politically sensitive topic of the Cambodian-Vietnamese border. 

CIVICUS calls on the Cambodian government to cease the judicial harassment of its critics and release these activists immediately and unconditionally.

We are also concerned that the Ministry of Interior is attempting to smear civil society groups Khmer Thavrak and Mother Nature Cambodia as unauthorised organisations. The Law on Associations and Non-Governmental Organizations, passed in July 2015, has been widely criticised by grassroots groups, unions, NGOs and the United Nations as inconsistent with international human rights law. It criminalises all unregistered groups and makes registration dependent on an unclear and complex bureaucratic process.

“The authorities have for years sought a variety of ways to weaken and dismantle the human rights movement in Cambodia by using a combination of restrictive laws, blatant judicial harassment and at times outright violence. The international community currently convening at the Human Rights Council must take this opportunity to stand side by side with Cambodia civil society and speak up,” said Benedict

Research undertaken by the CIVICUS Monitor shows that laws are routinely misused in Cambodia to restrict civic freedoms, undermine civil society, and criminalize individual’s exercise of their right to freedom of expression. Human rights defenders, civil society activists and journalists are often subject to judicial harassment and legal action. In April 2020, 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.

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

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

and  

 

Austria's civic space rating upgraded

Available in German

Political gains made by the Green party and increasing dialogue between government and civil society, has led to an improvement in civic space in Austria, prompting a ratings upgrade from narrowed to open. Only 3% of the world’s population lives in countries with open civic space, where citizens are free to form associations, peacefully demonstrate in public spaces and practice freedom of expression. This ratings decision by the CIVICUS Monitor was taken following a thorough assessment of conditions in the country for the free exercise of civic freedoms, as protected by international law.

In 2018 under the ÖVP-FPÖ (Peoples Party -Freedom Party Austria) coalition government, Austria was downgraded to narrow following a deterioration in civic space. During this period, the government refused to engage with civil society organisations (CSOs) but instead pursued smear campaigns against them. In addition, funding to NGOs in many sectors was also drastically reduced. More specifically, NGOs working with migrant and refugee rights were labelled as ‘human traffickers’ by Chancellor Sebastian Kurz. Freedom of expression came under threat as government officials attempted to prevent independent media from reporting on certain briefings and subjected them to online attacks.  

However, the September 2019 election outcome has resulted in a positive change, as the far-right FPÖ party was replaced in the coalition by the Green party. The Green party has been more open to dialogue with CSOs which presents the sector with the unique opportunity to make themselves heard again. CSOs demands are now being taken into consideration in governments current work programs.  

The financial support allocated during the COVID-19 pandemic through a 700 million Euro support fund, exclusively for Not- for Profit Organisation’s (NPOs), after consultation with the sector, is a welcome development. In an unprecedented move, on 13 May 2020, a law (20. Covid-19 Gesetz) which was passed by parliament to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic, made mention - for the first time in Austrian history - of "NPOs". This signals that the sector is being recognised. Throughout this process, CSOs report that they were thoroughly involved and regularly consulted, marking a significant shift in government’s approach.

“The inclusion of CSOs in various consultation processes, including during the COVID-19 pandemic, by the Austrian government is an example of good practice which other states in the region should follow,” said Aarti Narsee, civic space researcher for the region.  

However, the hard-line of the government on migration-related issues persists in Austria. In a recent example, the ÖVP Foreign Minister remarked that the country will not assist with the dramatic migrant situation in the Lesbos Moria Camp in Greece after it had been set on fire, because it “does not want to send wrong signals to the migrants”.

“While we welcome these positive developments in civic space in Austria, we also want to urge the leading ÖVP party to refrain from its anti-migrant rhetoric- a tactic which has not ceased with the new governing coalition,” said Narsee.  

Austria is now rated open on the CIVICUS Monitor. Visit Austria’s homepage for more information and for the latest updates.

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

Aarti Narsee, Civic Space researcher, CIVICUS

or  

 

Niger: human rights defenders still unjustly detained for more than six months

niger stopcorruption

On 15 September 2020 it will be six months since three human rights defenders were jailed in Niger simply for participating in peaceful protests calling for an investigation into allegations of the misuse of funds by the Ministry of Defence. 

CIVICUS, Amnesty International, Publish What You Pay (PWYP), Oxfam Niger, Tournons la Page International (TLP), and Front Line Defenders call for the immediate and unconditional release of Moudi Moussa, Halidou Mounkaila, and Maikoul Zodi. They were arrested with four other activists between  15-17 March 2020 after security forces violently dispersed peaceful anti-corruption protests in the capital Niamey.  Authorities had placed a blanket ban on all demonstrations on 13 March, as a preventive measure against the COVID-19 pandemic. At least three people were killed as a result of the violence and several properties were damaged. The trumped-up charges against them include “organizing an unauthorized gathering”, arson, damage to public property and manslaughter.

At least 15 activists were arrested, with six of them being remanded in detention.  Three of the detainees were provisionally released in May but Moudi, Halidou and Maikoul are still arbitrarily detained despite being granted bail of 5 million Francs (approximately US$9200) on 6 August.  The prosecutor successfully appealed the decision and they are now being held in three separate prisons.  

Moudi Moussa is a journalist and trade unionist, Halidou Mounkaila is leader of the teacher’s union SYNACEB and Maikoul Zodi is the National Coordinator of the Tournons La Page global movement. All three human rights defenders are members of the PWYP coalition. They are also profiled in the CIVICUS campaign #StandAsMyWitness, which raises awareness of arbitrarily detained human rights defenders around the world and calls for their release.

Amnesty International considers them prisoners of conscience and calls for their immediate and unconditional release.

There is a growing crackdown on human rights in Niger, and civic space violations are increasing. In June, the country was added to the CIVICUS Monitor Watch List. This list highlights countries where there has been a recent rapid decline in human rights, including the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association.

The organisations are concerned about the harassment, intimidation and attacks on human rights activists and defenders, particularly those who call for transparency and accountability in the public and private sectors. Journalists have also been arrested for reporting on allegations of corruption.  

On 10 June 2020 journalist and blogger Samira Sabou was arrested in Niamey and charged with defamation in connection with a social media post highlighting corruption. According to fellow human rights defenders, her arrest is linked to a post on social media on 26 May 2020, in which she referred to an audit of the Ministry of Defence regarding overcharging and embezzlement during the purchase of military equipment for the army. One of the comments below the post criticised the President’s son in relation to the audit, although Samira Sabou did not mention the son in her post. On 28 July, she was discharged by the High Court of Niamey on the grounds of ‘unconstituted offences’ and released the same day.

On 12 July, journalist Ali Soumana was summoned by the police, interrogated, and accused of false information for comments made about alleged corruption. Some journalists have also been arrested and detained for reporting on the authorities’ response to COVID-19. In May, the National Assembly enacted a new law that allows the authorities to intercept telephone conversations as part of the state’s response to combat terrorism and transnational crime without the appropriate human rights safeguards, including the rights to freedom of expression and privacy.

“Over the last eight months, we have seen a surge in human rights violations by the Nigerien authorities including intimidation and harassment of human rights activists, defenders, and journalists. It is a travesty that Moudi Moussa, Halidou Mounkaila, and Maikoul Zodi are still in jail simply for protesting against alleged misuse of defence funds. They should all be released immediately and unconditionally,” said David Kode, Advocacy and Campaigns Lead, CIVICUS.

“We believe charges against the activists related to complicity in damaging public property, arson, and manslaughter, are fabricated to undermine the peaceful exercise of their human rights and demands for transparency and accountability”, said Samira Daoud, Regional Director, Amnesty International West and Central Africa Office.

The organisations are concerned about the prolonged detention of human rights defenders on baseless charges. We call on the government of Niger to immediately release Moudi Moussa, Halidou Mounkaila, and Maikoul Zodi and to stop persecuting members of civil society.  

Niger is listed ‘obstructed’ by the CIVICUS Monitor, an online tool that tracks civic space conditions across the world 

INTERVIEWS

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

and   Phone/Whatsapp: +27(0)785013500

ABOUT THE SIGNATORIES

CIVICUS is a global alliance of civil society organisations dedicated to strengthening citizen action and civil society around the world. CIVICUS has more than 10,000 members worldwide.

Amnesty International is a global movement of more than 7 million people who take injustice personally. We are campaigning for a world where human rights are enjoyed by all.

Front Line Defenders was founded in Dublin in 2001 with the specific aim of protecting human rights defenders at risk (HRDs), people who work, non-violently, for any or all of the rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). Front Line Defenders addresses the protection needs identified by HRDs themselves.

Publish What You Pay (PWYP) is a global movement of more than 1000 civil society organisations campaigning to ensure that revenues from oil, gas and mining help improve people’s lives. 

Tournons La Page is an international movement made up of 250 organizations active in 10 African countries and in Europe to promote democratic change.

 

Rights organisation calls for release of activist Sudha Bharadwaj on 2nd anniversary of her arrest

SudhaBharadwaj

  • CIVICUS urges authorities to drop baseless charges against Sudha Bharadwaj 
  • There are concerns for Bharadwaj’s health in prison during COVID-19 pandemic
  • Bharadwaj is featured in international campaign #StandAsMyWitness calling for release of human rights defenders 

August 28 2020 marks two years since the arrest and detention of Indian activist and human rights lawyer Sudha Bharadwaj. Ahead of this second anniversary, global civil society organisation CIVICUS calls on the Indian government to immediately release Bharadwaj and drop all charges against her. 

Bharadwaj has been in pre-trial detention since August 2018, when she was arrested under the draconian Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) and accused of having links with Maoist terrorist organisations. It is also alleged that she and ten other human rights defenders were conspiring to incite Dalits, a marginalised group, at a public meeting which led to violence in Bhima Koregaon village in the Pune district of Maharashtra in January 2018.

Sudha Bharadwaj was initially held under house arrest until October 2018, when she was then moved to Byculla Women’s Prison in Mumbai. There are concerns that the 59 year old, who suffers from diabetes and hypertension, will be susceptible to COVID-19 in the cramped prison, where an inmate has already tested positive for the virus. A July medical report found that she is also now suffering from Ischemic heart disease.

Despite her underlying health issues, last week Bharadwaj’s plea for bail to the Bombay High Court was opposed by the National Investigation Agency which claimed her condition is not serious. The treatment of Bharadwaj highlights the increasingly repressive measures used by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government to clamp down on dissent and silence human rights defenders.

UN experts have expressed concerns about the terrorism charges laid against Sudha and about the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act’s vague definition of ‘unlawful activities’ and ‘membership of terrorist organisations’ which have been routinely used by the government to stifle dissent:

“Sudha is a lawyer and activist who has spent her life defending Indigenous people in India and protecting workers’ rights. However, her human rights activities have put her in the firing line of the Modi regime, which is abusing the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) and using it to round-up activists and human rights defenders on trumped-up charges,” said Josef Benedict, Asia-Pacific civic space researcher for CIVICUS.

Sudha Bharadwaj is one of a group of leading human rights defenders who feature in CIVICUS’ global campaign #StandAsMyWitness. The campaign urges people to call for an end to the imprisonment and harassment of human rights defenders across the world. People are also encouraged to share the defenders’ individual stories on social media using the hashtag #StandAsMyWitness.

ABOUT CIVICUS

CIVICUS is a global alliance of civil society organisations dedicated to strengthening citizen action and civil society around the world. CIVICUS has 10,000 members worldwide.

CIVICUS Monitor is an online platform that tracks the fundamental rights of freedom of assembly, association and expression in countries across the world. India’s civic space rating was downgraded from ‘obstructed’ to ‘repressed’ last year owing to its increased restriction of space for dissent and particularly following Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s re-election in May 2019.

INTERVIEWS

For interviews with CIVICUS please contact:

and   Phone/Whatsapp: +6010-4376376 

 

Killing of another human rights activist highlights climate of impunity in the Philippines

CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance, denounces the tragic killing of human rights activist Zara Alvarez. Her murder highlights a wider pattern of attacks against human rights defenders, journalists and critics that has increased under the Duterte administration, and the need for an international investigation into the crimes.

 

As reprisals continue in Zimbabwe, CIVICUS calls on international bodies to intervene

(Johannesburg 7 August 2020) CIVICUS calls on the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and African Union (AU) to denounce ongoing human rights violations in Zimbabwe and act decisively against the government of President Emmerson Mnangagwa. Increasing human rights abuses in Zimbabwe, together with the silence of the international community, have prompted an online campaign #ZimbabweanLivesMatter. There have been more than 700,000 tweets in the last few days as people from across the world express their solidarity with the people of Zimbabwe.

 

Hungary: CIVICUS calls on the Orbán government to stop interference within independent media

CIVICUS calls on Hungary to respect media freedom and to stop interfering in independent news site, Index.hu.

 

Mandela Day: Nearly 200 rights organisations call for release of activists as part of #StandAsMyWitness campaign

  • 197 human rights organisations sign letter calling on states to end the imprisonment and harassment of human rights defenders
  • States urged to stop new arrests and detentions of defenders, noting heightened risk during COVID-19
  • #StandAsMyWitness campaign launches on Nelson Mandela Day 18 July, featuring human rights defenders from around the world

 

Rights organisations call for release of Teresita Naul ahead of court case & global campaign launch

 TeresitaNaul2

  • Human rights organisations call for release of Teresita Naul ahead of court case 17 July
  • Naul’s family concerned about her deteriorating health in prison
  • #StandAsMyWitness campaign featuring Naul and calling for release of activists in prison launches on Nelson Mandela Day 18 July

CIVICUS, World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), Karapatan and other human rights organisations in the Philippines call for the release of Teresita Naul, a human rights defender from the Philippines, ahead of her court case on 17 July, and the launch of a global campaign featuring Naul and other imprisoned human rights defenders. 

 

Ethiopia: Stop violence against protesters and lift internet restrictions

(Johannesburg 2 July 2020) CIVICUS calls on the authorities in Ethiopia to stop using violence to disperse ongoing protests and to lift internet restrictions that have been imposed across the country.

At least 80 people have been killed since protesters started demonstrating against the brutal assassination of prominent musician Hachalu Hundessa on 29 June 2020. Hachalu, whose songs reflected the challenges of the Oromia people during anti-government protests from 2014 to 2018, was killed by unidentified gunmen in Addis Ababa.

“The Ethiopian authorities have a long history of using brutal force to quell protests, and the ongoing repression of protesters has once again opened divisions and provoked violence among the different ethnic groups. The shutting down of the internet and arrest of prominent political figures bring back memories of the human rights violations perpetrated by previous governments. The authorities should lift restrictions on the internet and implement UN guidelines on managing protests to avoid a further escalation of violence,” said Paul Mulindwa, Advocacy and Campaigns Officer, CIVICUS.

Background

More than 80 people have been killed as protesters condemn the killing of popular musician Hachalu Hundessa. The Ethiopian government has failed to provide assurances that those responsible have been identified and will be brought to justice. The number of deaths may be higher as internet restrictions imposed by the authorities in cities affected by the violence make it impossible to obtain credible information on the extent of the unrest. Prominent political figures, including former political prisoner and journalist Eskinder Nega, have also been arrested. CIVICUS is concerned that the government’s violent response may intensify this volatile situation.

For more information on civic space violations, visit the Ethiopia country page on the CIVICUS Monitor.

To arrange an interview with CIVICUS or activists in Ethiopia please contact:

 |  

 

Law enforcement agencies and decision makers must respect the right to protest in the US 

  • ​​​​​​CIVICUS expresses solidarity with US protesters in their struggle for justice
  • We defend the right to peaceful assembly and condemn violent police force
  • National and global protests highlight the need to address institutionalized racism, and police impunity and militarisation

Global civil society alliance, CIVICUS, condemns violence against protesters by law enforcement officials over the past few days, and stands in solidarity with those protesting against deep-rooted racism and injustice.

Hundreds of thousands of people have taken to the streets across the United States (US) to protest the murder of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis on 25 May. Their demands for justice for George Floyd and other Black people unlawfully killed at the hands of police have been met with force. Law enforcement agencies have responded to protests using rubber bullets, concussion grenades and tear gas.  

CIVICUS reaffirms that the right to protest, as enshrined in international law, must be protected. We call for an end to police violence against Black communities.

Earlier this week, as law enforcement agencies suppressed protests in Washington DC, President Trump threatened to deploy the National Guard to crush demonstrations:

“President Donald Trump is stoking violence by threatening to forcibly deploy military units in states and cities to crush the demonstrations and restore order in a constitutionally questionable manner,” said Mandeep Tiwana, Chief of Programmes at CIVICUS. 

There are reports that over 10,000 protesters have been arrested since protests began. CIVICUS is concerned by the arbitrary arrests of thousands of protesters, including 20 members of the press. There are numerous cases of journalists being deliberately targeted by law enforcement agencies and at least 125 press freedom violations have been reported since the start of the protests.

Demonstrations have broken out across the world in solidarity with the US protesters and their demands for justice and accountability. Our recently released State of Civil Society Report 2020 highlights the importance of people’s movements in demanding change. CIVICUS supports the right of protesters around the globe to peacefully and safely assemble during lockdown:

“These protests are a call to action to address systemic racism and unprovoked violence experienced by the Black community in the US and beyond. A systemic reckoning with unaddressed notions of white supremacy is needed,” Tiwana continued.  

As a matter of urgency, CIVICUS calls on authorities to respect the rights of freedom of assembly and expression. We urge systemic reforms to address police impunity, militarisation and institutional racism. The deliberate targeting of journalists must also end, as must the incendiary language used by President Trump and other politicians. 

We also call on law enforcement agencies to stop using violent methods to disperse protesters and call for an investigation into the unwarranted use of force.

About CIVICUS

CIVICUS is a global alliance of civil society organisations and activists dedicated to strengthening citizen action and civil society throughout the world. We have over 9000 members across the globe. The CIVICUS Monitor is our online platform that tracks threats to the freedoms of assembly, association and expression across 196 countries. Civic space in the United States is currently rated as narrowed by the research and ratings platform.

 

Successes of people’s movements shows the way forward for post-pandemic recovery says new report

  •  Pandemic has accelerated major economic, political and social problems
  • Civil society has proven its value by winning key breakthroughs over the last year
  • The fight is now on to build a better post-pandemic world – civil society is in the forefront of this battle

 

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

COALITION TO HOST A WEBINAR ON MAY 15 PROVIDING UPDATES ON PRISONERS, STATE OF WOMEN’S HUMAN RIGHTS IN SAUDI ARABIA AND CAMPAIGN PROGRESS

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

The event will be moderated by:

Uma Mishra-Newbery - Women’s March Global Executive Director 

Webinar panelists include: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Register HERE

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

Website: freesaudiactivists.org

 

CIVICUS: States should put human rights at the centre of all responses to COVID-19

  • During the global COVID-19 pandemic states should not impose emergency law as a pretext to restrict civic rights
  • Human rights defenders and political prisoners should be released to curb the spread
  • Governments should be transparent in responding to threats posed by COVID-19
  • CIVICUS urges states to lift emergency measures as soon as the threat of the virus diminishes

As the global community continues to take measures to halt the spread of COVID-19 and ultimately eradicate it, states should ensure that the protection of human rights are at the centre of all responses.

In March 2020, the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared that the outbreak of the COVID-19 virus reached the level of a global pandemic. WHO in turn requested that all governments take necessary action to stop the spread of the disease.

However, as observed with other emergencies, some governments have used crises to curtail civic freedoms and maintain restrictions - even after health threats that justified governments’ actions subsided. States responding to the spread of the COVID-19 virus must ensure that international human rights laws and standards are central to their responses.

While the focus and attention of the global community over the coming months will be directed towards the virus, states may increase attacks on civil society and impose restrictions. States should take pro-active measures to ensure that civil society organisations and vulnerable groups are adequately protected. In China, activists have been harassed and intimidated for sharing information on the virus while reporting has been censored. In other parts of Asia, repressive laws are being deployed to arrest those supposedly spreading untruths about the virus.

As an infectious disease, the risk of COVID-19 increases in closed spaces like jails, police cells and detention centres. Overcrowding, poor nutrition and lack of access to proper hygiene increase the risk of infection to prisoners. States have an obligation now to release human rights defenders and political prisoners from jail in an effort to curb the spread.

Some prisoners in Iranian jails have contracted the virus. While we commend the Iranian authorities for temporarily releasing 85,000 prisoners, human rights defenders - whose only crime was to defend the rights of women and juveniles - should also be released. Other states with a history of detaining human rights defenders and members of the political opposition, such as Egypt, Vietnam and Cameroon, should follow suit.

Declarations of states of emergency for health and security reasons must be done in conformity with the law: states should not impose emergency law as a pretext to restrict civic rights and target particular groups, minorities and individuals. Emergency laws should not be imposed to silence human rights defenders and they must be lifted as soon as threats posed by the virus diminish. Further, civil society groups should be consulted where possible.

It is compulsory for all those affected, especially marginalised groups and civil society groups working with them, to have access to meaningful information regarding the nature and extent of the threats posed by the virus. They should also have information on ways to curb risks in a timely manner. Internet restrictions and shutdowns in countries like Myanmar, India and Ethiopia are putting thousands at risk.

In this regard, CIVICUS calls on states to:

  • Collaborate with the media and civil society to be transparent in responding to threats posed by COVID-19. Address misinformation at all times without relying on censorship and criminal sanctions
  • Refrain from using responses to COVID-19 as a pretext to impose restrictions of civil society, target human rights defenders and curb online freedoms
  • Release all human rights defenders and political prisoners who were imprisoned for their human rights activities, or for expressing views contrary to those of the state
  • Lift emergency laws and relax measures imposed to curb the spread of the virus as soon as the threats diminish
  • Maintain reliable and unfettered access to the internet and end all deliberate interference with the right to access and share information

ENDS

 

Contact:

Nina Teggarty, CIVICUS Communications Officer, Campaigns & Advocacy

Email:

Phone: +27 (0)785013500

CIVICUS media team:

 

Guinea placed on human rights watchlist ahead of referendum

  •  Guinea placed on CIVICUS Monitor watchlist ahead of referendum
  • Escalating rights violations include use of excessive force on protesters
  • CIVICUS calls for release of human rights defenders and urges President Condé to step down

Guinea has been placed on the CIVICUS Monitor human rights watchlist ahead of the proposed referendum on 22nd March. This list draws attention to countries where there has been a rapid decline in civic and democratic freedoms in recent months.

Guinea was placed on the Monitor’s watchlist in October after deadly crackdowns and arbitrary arrests of protesters. It remains on the watchlist because the CIVICUS Monitor is concerned that if the government pushes ahead with the controversial referendum later this week, then further violence and unrest will follow.

Guinea is rated ‘obstructed’ by the CIVICUS Monitor, which is the third worst rating a country can receive by the global index, in the same category as Mali, Sierra Leone and Liberia. In obstructed countries, civic space is often monopolised by those in power and excessive force is commonly used by law enforcement agencies.

Since October 2019, more than 30 people have been killed and dozens injured in widespread protests that have engulfed Guinea, as protesters call on the government to respect the provisions of the current constitution. The current constitution limits presidential tenures to two five-year terms and can only be changed via a referendum. If changed, it could pave the way for President Alpha Condé to remain in power.

Le Front national de la défense de la Constitution, or the National Front for the Defence of the Constitution (FNDC), a movement composed of civil society and the political opposition, have been leading calls against a potential third term bid for President Condé.

The leaders of the FNDC, human rights defenders Ibrahima Diallo and Sekou Koundouno, were arrested by masked men from the BRI (Investigation and Intervention Brigade) on 6 March and taken to an unknown destination. They were arrested immediately after expressing concerns over the ongoing arbitrary arrests of activists during a press conference. On 12th March they were released on bail and placed under judicial control.

In October 2019 thirteen FNDC leaders were arrested ahead of planned protests in Conakry and accused of organizing banned protests and inciting civil disobedience. Five of them were sentenced to jail terms ranging from six months to one year. Journalists have also been physically assaulted for covering the protests and their equipment seized to prevent them from broadcasting images of the protests.

The arrest and detention of human rights defenders highlights how the Guinean authorities are trying to silence pro-democracy voices and pave the way for President Condé to extend his term in office:

“By arresting human rights defenders, the Guinean authorities aim to silence the voices of those who are against a new constitution. It is time for President Condé and his administration to respect the wishes of Guinean people and allow a political transition which will usher in a new era in Guinea’s nascent democracy,” said David Kode, head of advocacy and campaigns at CIVICUS.

CIVICUS calls on the government of Guinea to immediately release all human rights defenders in detention.

CIVICUS also calls on the African Union to ensure that the government of Guinea respects provisions of the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance: it urges President Condé to respect the current constitution and step aside when his mandate ends to allow for a peaceful political transition.

ENDS

 

Contact:

Nina Teggarty, CIVICUS Communications Officer, Campaigns & Advocacy

Email:

Phone: +27 (0)785013500

CIVICUS media team:

 

Malawi: Leading civil society organisations call for immediate release of human rights defenders

CIVICUSthe global alliance of civil society organisations, together with the Malawian Human Rights Defenders Network (HRDN) and the Centre for Human rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR), call for the immediate release of human rights defenders in Malawi ahead of their bail hearing today.

Gift Trapence, a human rights defender and Deputy Chair of the Human Rights Defenders Network (HRDN), and MacDonald Sembereka were arrested on 8 March in Lilongwe and detained at Area 3 Police Station before they were taken to Blantyre.

Another human rights defender, Timothy Mtambo, head of the Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHHR) and Chair of HRDN, handed himself into police on 10 March.

They have not been charged and the Malawi Police Service accuse all three of violating Section 124 of the Penal Code by planning to hold protests outside State House on 25 March.

The arrests were made after the HRDC announced that it was planning to hold peaceful protests and “shut down” State House on 25 March 2020 to force President Peter Mutharika to sign electoral reform bills which were passed by Parliament in February 2020. In response to calls for protests on 25 March, President Mutharika threatened human rights defenders during a rally of his Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) party and called on the security forces to use all means necessary against the protesters.

Since Presidential elections were held in May 2019, the Malawian authorities have used violence, intimidation, arbitrary arrests, threats and harassment to curb civil society organisations -particularly those calling for reforms of the electoral commission and those who are critical of the actions of President Mutharika and his DPP party. In July 2019 Gift Trapence and MacDonald Sembereka were arrested and detained on accusations of operating an illegal NGO, despite the fact that their NGO is registered under Malawi’s Companies Act.

The arrests of these three human rights defenders is part of ongoing efforts by the Malawian authorities to silence human rights defenders and erode civil freedoms:

“The recent arbitrary arrests of human rights defenders follow vile threats made by senior members of the DPP party. Since the May 2019 elections civil society groups and human rights defenders have been calling for a more transparent and accountable government. The authorities have often responded by using violence to target peaceful assemblies and arresting human rights defenders,” said CHRR’s Michael Simon Kaiyatsa.

Over the last ten months civil society groups and members of the political opposition have been holding peaceful protests calling for democratic reforms. The authorities have responded with violence and death threats against human rights defenders. In August 2019, the home and car of human rights defender Timothy Mtambo were set alight and he was threatened with death by a member of the DPP. Another human rights defender and coordinator of the HRDN, Moir Walita Mkandawire, was physically assaulted and hospitalized for injuries sustained in his eyes.

CIVICUS, CHRR and HRDN call for the immediate release of Gift Trapence, MacDonald Sembereka and Timothy Mtambo. We also ask the authorities to stop intimidating representatives of civil society and respect the rights of all Malawians to protest peacefully and raise concerns over issues affecting them.

Malawi is rated as Obstructed by the CIVICUS Monitor, an online tool that tracks the state of civic space around the world.

ENDS

Contact:

Nina Teggarty, CIVICUS Communications Officer, Campaigns & Advocacy

Email:

Phone: +27 (0)785013500

CIVICUS media team:

 

Michael Kaiyatsa, CHRR Programmes Manager

Email:

Phone: +265(0)998895699

 

Philippines: Raids on NGO offices, arbitrary arrests of activists and freezing of accounts

CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance, is extremely concerned about a crackdown against activists and progressive groups in the region of Eastern Visayas by the Philippines government. These moves highlight the hostile environment for civil society to operate and the risks activists continue to face under the Duterte government.

In two simultaneous raids in Tacloban City on 7 February 2020, by police and the army, five activists were arbitrarily arrested including Marielle Domequil, a staff member of the Rural Missionaries Philippines-Eastern Visayas; Mira Legion, a staff member of Bayan Muna; Alexander Abinguna, secretary general of Katungod-Sinirangan Bisayas and Karapatan national council member for Eastern Visayas; Marissa Cabaljao of People’s Surge Network; and Frenchie Mae Cumpio, a journalist and executive director of independent news outfit Eastern Vista and Altermidya Network correspondent. Cabaljao was arrested together with her one-year-old baby. 

Police claimed they found firearms and ammunition during the raids. They also claimed that they had raided “identified Communist Terrorist Group safe houses”.

Human rights group Karapatan said that the search warrants were shown to the activists only after they were arrested and claimed that the weapons had been planted by the authorities. Currently, the five, with Marissa’s baby, are detained at the Palo PNP Municipal Police Station.

Days before the simultaneous arrests, Cumpio was reportedly tailed by men riding motorcycles, whom she believes were military personnel. Unidentified men were also seen patrolling Eastern Vista’s office in Tacloban. On 31 January, an unidentified person visited Eastern Vista’s office and was reportedly carrying a photo of Cumpio.

“The authorities must halt its harassment and criminalisation of activists critical of the state and release the five immediately and unconditionally. Accusing them of being fronts to armed groups are clearly efforts to attack and smear these groups and undermine the credibility of their demands”, said Josef Benedict, CIVICUS civic space researcher.

Prior to these raids, Jennefer Aguhob, a member of Karapatan, was arrested on trumped up  charges of murder in her residence in Oroquieta City, Misamis Occidental by the police and military on 5 February 2020. She has been accused of having links to the New People's Army (NPA), the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines. 

On 7 February 2020, the government froze several bank accounts of the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines (RMP), a Catholic church group, on suspicions of “terrorism financing.” The RMP, who work with the rural poor, has been previously tagged as a "communist front" because of their activism and their criticism of the Duterte government.

“These latest attacks show how far the authorities are willing to go to silence and shut down critical NGOs and human rights defenders under the pretext of fighting terrorism. Instead of using such appalling smear tactics, the authorities should be taking steps to protect them in accordance with their international human rights obligations,” said Benedict

The CIVICUS Monitor has documented how the Duterte government has been striving to halt or undermine the work of activists, media outlets and NGOs in the Philippines through various means. Some have been tagged as “terrorists” or “communist fronts” and vilified, particularly those who have been critical of the deadly “war on drugs” that has killed thousands. Others face judicial harassment or have been forced to disclose more information about their work and funding under the guise of fighting terrorism, or of countering corruption and money laundering.

In June 2019, 11 UN human rights experts raised concerns about the “sharp deterioration in the situation of human rights across the country, including sustained attacks on people and institutions defending human rights”. They called for an independent investigation into human rights violations in the Philippines.

The Philippines is rated as obstructed by the CIVICUS Monitor, an online tool that tracks threats to civic society in all countries across the globe.

 

Report: Groups attacking human rights becoming more prevalent, prominent and powerful

against the wave report cover

  • New report reveals that groups attacking hard-fought human rights are on the rise globally.
  • Groups threatening progressive rights worldwide are growing in number, are more confident, visible and better resourced, and are achieving unprecedented levels of influence and impact.
  • Excluded groups, including women, LGBTQI people and religious, Indigenous and racial minorities, and the organisations that defend them, bear the brunt of these attacks. 
  • Report outlines 10 ways that civil society organisations are fighting back, including greater international collaboration and solidarity, creative communications, reclaiming human rights language and exposing anti-rights groups.

Groups that claim to be part of civil society but attack fundamental freedoms are on the rise globally. 

From the United States to India and from Brazil to Italy, these groups are achieving unprecedented levels of influence and impact in their campaigns against the rights of marginalised and minority groups, as well as the civil society organisations (CSOs) defending them. 

This was one of the findings of a new report, released today, on a rising tide of ‘anti-rights’ groups worldwide and the efforts of progressive civil society to challenge them. 

The report, ‘Action Against the Anti-Rights Wave: Civil Society Responses’ was released by global civil society alliance, CIVICUS. The findings are drawn from a year-long research initiative that included interviews and consultations with over a thousand civil society activists, leaders and organisations in more than 50 countries. 

“Anti-rights groups are now a key part of the repression of civil society space – civic space – seen in many countries across the globe,” said Lysa John, CIVICUS Secretary-General.

Excluded groups including women, LGBTQI people and religious, Indigenous and racial minorities are bearing the brunt of these attacks. CSOs that defend their rights are also being targeted. 

“This wave of conservative and often extremist organisations that are seeking to roll back fundamental rights comes as part of a backlash to the success that civil society has won in past decades,” said John. 

Indeed, researchers noted the steady rise in the prevalence, prominence and power of such groups as the world commemorated the 70th anniversary of the historic signing of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights last year.

According to the report, civil society has been fighting back - and needs to continue those efforts - by building connections between CSOs working on different issues; bolstering collaboration and solidarity across borders; improving creative communications; reclaiming human rights language and exposing regressive campaigns.   

Who Are These ‘Anti-Rights’ Groups?

The organisations behind attacks on excluded groups and human rights are sometimes set up as proxies of state interests and sometimes are genuine non-state groups, but often stand somewhere in between, working hand in hand with powerful political figures and repressive states.

“In some contexts, civil society reports that their main threat comes not from arms of the state but from anti-rights groups,” said Ines Pousadela, one of the report’s co-authors.

“They have been around for a while now but what is new, is that they are growing in strength, confidence, visibility, support, resources and are gaining ground in international spaces as well,” said Pousadela.

These groups are shaping public narratives, including through disinformation and manipulation, and are sowing hatred and division as well as encouraging violence. 

Movements attacking fundamental freedoms differ in membership, histories and outlooks but together are part of a growing threat to civil society and share remarkably similar tactics in attacking civil society. Examples cited in the report include ultra-conservative faith groups conspiring to block women’s access to abortion in Argentina, nationalists stoking violence against ethnic and religious minorities in India and neo-fascist activists smearing civil society and the political opposition in Serbia.

“Against a backdrop of the unprecedented rise of right-wing populism and nationalism globally, these groups seem to be reawakening, stretching their wings and becoming more powerful,” said Pousadela. 

ENDS. 

For more information or to arrange interviews on the report, please contact: 

Click here for the full report and its executive summary

About CIVICUS

CIVICUS is a global alliance of civil society organisations and individuals dedicated to strengthening citizen action and civil society for a more just, inclusive and sustainable world.  The alliance works to protect the fundamental rights that allow us to speak out, organise and take action. We do this by defending civic freedoms and democratic values; strengthening the power of people; and empowering a more accountable, effective and innovative civil society.  We strive to promote excluded voices, especially from the global south, and have a growing alliance of more than ,members in over 175 countries. 

 

Egypt: international community must take a stand and demand an end to human rights violations

  • More than 2000 people arrested after peaceful protests
  • Widespread arrests include people not related to the protests but perceived by the authorities to have taken part in any demonstrations dating back to 2011
  • Global civil society alliance condemns the harsh repression of protests in Egypt and calls for international pressure

The ongoing crackdown on people in Egypt, large scale arrests and heightened security in Cairo and other major cities signal another low moment for human rights in Egypt, global civil society alliance CIVICUS said today. The Egyptian authorities have arrested more than 2000 people in a massive sweep that followed peaceful protests calling for an end to widespread corruption and condemning the actions of the government of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. On 26 September 2019, the Egyptian authorities deployed hundreds of military personnel across the country to pre-empt any planned anti-government protest, intimidate the population and force many to self-censor to avoid reprisals from the state. Many of those who have been arrested include representatives of civil society, academics, former politicians and others.  

The recent crackdown and militarisation of cities across the country began during a rare protest on the weekend of 20 September when protesters expressed concerns over the government of President Sisi and condemned high levels of corruption. In response, security forces physically assaulted some protesters and used tear gas to disperse others, arrested thousands and detained them in different locations. The protests have been followed by a widespread crackdown on human rights defenders, members of the political opposition, activists and journalists—many of whom had not taken part in the protests at all and were instead arrested in raids on their homes. The Egyptian authorities embarked on a punitive campaign by using this protest to arrest many including those perceived to have been connected to protests in 2011.

Many of those arrested have been ordered into pretrial detention and informed that they were under investigation for using social media to spread false news, aiding a terrorist group to achieve its objectives and for participating in unauthorised protests. Others remain forcibly disappeared today. Among those arrested is human rights defender and lawyer Mahienour el-Masry who was detained on 22 September 2019 as she exited the headquarters of the State Security Prosecution in Cairo where she represented some of the detained protesters. She was then interrogated by the Supreme State Security Prosecution (SSSP) on false allegations of spreading false news and aiding a terrorist group to achieve its objectives.

More than five journalists have been arrested for sharing information and videos about the protests and the violent response by the police online. Families of those speaking from abroad to condemn the Sisi government have faced harassment and intimidation; for example, in the wake of videos recorded by Egyptian activist Wael Ghonim in which he criticised Sisi, Ghonim’s dentist brother Hazem was arrested and ordered into pretrial detention in retaliation.

To pre-empt any further protests, some government officials threatened to decisively confront any attempts to “destabilise Egypt” and riot police, plain clothes security officials and other security personnel were deployed in major cities across Egypt.

Over the last few years, President Sisi’s government has promulgated and amended laws that restrict the activities of civil society organisations and their ability to access funding, detained scores of human rights defenders and journalists and imposed travel bans on many. In its March 2019 submission to the UN Human Rights Council, CIVICUS and partners found that Egypt had not implemented any of the recommendations related to civic space. Instead, civic space in Egypt continues to deteriorate exponentially.

Many civil society organisations have been forced to close down amidst this systemic crackdown on fundamental freedoms as the government has also imposed some of the worst restrictions on internet freedoms.

“Amidst the ongoing human rights violations in Egypt exemplified by the forceful dispersal of peaceful protests and arrests of nearly 2,000 people, Egypt’s international partners and the United Nations Secretary General should call on him to put an end to all forms of restrictions on fundamental rights in Egypt,” said Dr. Nancy Okail, Executive Director of the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy.

CIVICUS calls on the international community to exert pressure on President Sisi to call on his security forces to immediately release all those detained in relation to the recent protests, respect the rights of Egyptians to assemble and express themselves in a peaceful manner.

-----

Egypt is rated as closed by the CIVICUS Monitor, a participatory platform that rates and measures the state of civic freedoms in 196 countries. Earlier this month, CIVICUS and 15 human rights organisations wrote a letter to the United Nations Human Rights Council with a call to use the Universal Periodic Review of Egypt to address the unprecedented levels of repression.

For more information, please contact:

Masana Ndinga-Kanga

MENA Advocacy Lead, CIVICUS

Email: :

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FOR MEDIA ENQUIRIES PLEASE CONTACT:

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

 

Global campaign sparks conversations that can change everything

  • Global SPEAK! campaign counters growing social and political divisions with a call to “speak with” those we don’t normally
  • Campaign will comprise almost 150 events in 50 countries, with most being held during 24 hours of global action from 5pm Friday 20th - 5pm Saturday 21st September
  • Campaign timed to coincide with United Nations Summits in New York and global climate mobilisation

 

Latin American civil society receives little funding and support for its vital work of political and social change

  •  New study reveals that Latin American Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) receive little funding for their essential work of political advocacy, activism and the promotion and protection of human rights
  • An analysis of over 6,500 requests for funding proposals shows CSOs have more access to funding for education-related work
  • Latin American CSOs must compete for essential resources on disadvantageous terms 

3 September 2019 – In Guatemala, a politician known for his attacks on civil society is the new president-elect. Mexico’s leader recently announced he would cut state funding to all CSOs. In Brazil, the head of state is attempting to blame CSOs for the fires that rage in the Amazon.

Across Latin America, CSOs are leading the charge to challenge repressive public policy, hold governments accountable and bring about real, positive social change. And for their work, they are being increasingly targeted by repressive governments that oppose these goals. 

Yet the donors who provide funding to Latin American CSOs are not supporting the essential work of civil society, a new study has found.

The report, "Access to Resources for Civil Society Organisations in Latin America: Facts and Challenges", presents a review of over 6,500 calls  for proposals, for a total amount of almost US$5.9 billion, offered between 2014-2017 by 2,000 donors to individuals, CSOs, the private sector and other actors in the region. It was conducted by the global civil society alliance, CIVICUS, and the Colombian social impact startup, Innpactia.

The analysis found that only 12 per cent of the tracked resources were offered exclusively to CSOs, including international CSOs, to work in the region. For Latin American CSOs only, the exclusive resources tracked corresponded to less than 3 per cent of the funds.

“Standing up for and resourcing an independent, diverse and sustainable civil society in the region has become more important than ever. But this shortage of exclusive funds for civil society shown in our analysis is an indication of the lack of recognition of the unique and irreplaceable roles of civil society,” said Clara Bosco, CIVICUS resourcing lead. “How can CSOs play their critical roles with such little investment from the main development donors?” added Bosco.

Funding and support from bilateral, multilateral and private donors has historically been a key source of income for CSOs in Latin America. However, as well as showing the scarcity of resources exclusively offered to CSOs in recent years, the data also highlight that the types of funding provided, the activities supported and the way calls for proposals are designed by donors are not necessarily aligned with most urgent needs of Latin American civil society and may put CSOs at a particular disadvantage.

For example, donors have made very little investment in crucial issues such as human rights, political advocacy and activism. A mere 6 per cent of the funding made available to CSOs in the region supported this work despite the rising political polarisation, growing right-wing nationalism, attacks on democracy and rights repression experienced in many Latin American countries. In contrast, projects related to education received the single largest amount of funding accessible to CSOs (25 per cent).

Donors are not investing enough either in strengthening the resilience and sustainability of CSOs. Under 3 per cent of resources accessible to them were intended to fund core operations, institutional strengthening and organisational sustainability. All other funding was offered to project implementation, usually for the provision of basic services. A lack of core funding restricts the ability of CSOs to develop their capacity, grow and become more sustainable, as well as to innovate and work with autonomy, self-determination and flexibility.  

The report highlights that Latin American CSOs face unequal and unfair access to funding. In responding to calls for proposals, they compete mostly with international CSOs, private sector organisations and state entities.   

It was also found that major donors tended to launch fewer calls for proposals and concentrate larger amounts of funding in each call, a practice that could hamper access by small and local CSOs and favour larger competitors like international CSOs or intergovernmental bodies.

“These findings are a call to all donors, governments and international organisations to rethink their role in supporting civil society and the ways funding is being allocated,” said Juan Lozano, Innpactia’s CEO and Founder. “Civil society in Latin America has long been eager to take a leading role in the development of the region and in advancing and protecting our democracies, human rights and the environment, but they need more democratic access to social impact funding,” emphasised Lozano.   

This report seeks to bridge significant knowledge gaps about the quantity and quality of resources available to civil society in Latin America and the impact that current resources and funding practices have on the configuration of CSOs and their scope of action, autonomy and sustainability. 

ENDS

For more information, or to arrange interviews, please contact: Clara Bosco, , Yessenia Soto, , or

About CIVICUS

CIVICUS  is a global alliance of civil society organisations and activists dedicated to strengthening citizen action and civil society around the world.  Founded in 1993, CIVICUS strives to promote marginalised voices, especially from the global south and has members in more than 175 countries throughout the world.

About Innpactia

Innpactia is a social impact startup that facilitates access to funds for over 20,000 organisations and social entrepreneurs in Latin America.  Innpactia’s web application facilitates access to hundreds of funding calls and provides training and mentoring to make funding more democratic. To date, the platform has given access to more than 9 billion dollars in calls, monitors more than 2,500 donors, and has facilitated funding for over US$5 million for organisations and entrepreneurs in Latin America.

 

Zimbabwe government must respect the right to protest and investigate abduction and torture of activists

The government of Zimbabwe must respect the right of its citizens to peacefully protest and must allow demonstrations, planned for Friday, August 16, to go ahead without violence from security forces.

Global civil society alliance, CIVICUS, has called on Zimbabwean authorities to uphold fundamental freedoms, including the right to protest. The government has banned public rallies called to protest its handling of the country’s economic crisis.

CIVICUS has also strongly condemned the abduction and torture of human rights defenders, including Tatenda Mombeyarara, earlier this week.

Mombeyara was one of at least six rights activists who were abducted by suspected state agents on August 13 and 14 from his home this week, brutally assaulted, tortured and left for dead at a stone quarry in the capital, Harare. The unidentified men accused him of being involved in organizing today’s planned protest marches. Mombeyara, who is recovering from injuries including broken bones, damaged kidneys and chemical burns, is one of seven activists arrested in May on their return from peacebuilding workshops in the Maldives and charged with plotting to overthrow the government of President Emmerson Mnangagwa.

“We are also deeply concerned about a continued repression of fundamental freedoms in Zimbabwe and what appears to be a culture of impunity and a general lack of investigations into human rights violations,”, said Paul Mulindwa, Advocacy and Campaigns Officer at CIVICUS.

“The abduction and torture of activists comes amid an ongoing military operation and restrictive environment for human rights defenders in the country,” Mulindwa said.

The human rights situation in Zimbabwe continues to deteriorate, despite earlier promises from the Mnangagwa administration of an end to Mugabe-era repression tactics. Civic freedoms, including freedoms of association, peaceful assembly, and expression, are routinely and violently repressed by Zimbabwean authorities. The CIVICUS Monitor, an online platform that tracks threats to civil society around the globe, rates civic space – the space for civil society – in Zimbabwe as “repressed”. State authorities continue to harass, and arbitrarily arrest those exercising their rights to assemble and voice dissent. Human rights defenders have been subjected to assaults, arbitrary arrest, and enforced disappearance.

"The occurrences are deeply hurting,” said Nyaradzo Mashayamombe, with Zimbabwean rights NGO, Tag a Life International (TaLI).

“The security forces does not need to beat and dehumanise people but to monitor and guide peaceful activities of citizens.,” said Mashayamombe.

CIVICUS has called on the Zimbabwean security forces to avoid using excessive force against protesters as well as for a quick, fair, and independent investigation into the cases of abduction and torture of Mombeyarara and other activists.

ENDS.

For more information, please contact:

Paul Mulindwa

 

Laos: Government must live up to human rights obligations ahead of UN review

Manushya Foundation, CIVICUS and the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) call on the Government of Lao PDR to remove all unwarranted restrictions on civic space in the country ahead of its human rights review to be held at the United Nations (UN) in January-February 2020. The review will mark five years since UN member states made 33 recommendations to the Lao government that directly relate to barriers to open civic space. As of today, the government has partially implemented only three recommendations.

Following its last review in 2015 , the government of Lao PDR committed to reassess the policy framework and restrictions on domestic and international civil society organisations and facilitate an enabling environment for them; to fully respect and ensure freedom of expression by revising legislation; to ensure freedom of assembly in accordance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR); and to investigate individual cases such as the enforced disappearance of Sombath Somphone. 

In a joint submission to the third Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Laos, our organisations assess the current human rights situation to track compliance with these recommendations and international human rights standards. The submission finds that Lao PDR’s persistent failure to uphold its commitments has resulted in continued unwarranted restrictions to civic space and acute shortcomings with respect to the right to freedom to freedom expression, assembly and association, and in the protection of human rights defenders.

“Using unwarranted defamation, libel, and slander charges, justified by vague claims of ‘national interests’, the government increasingly restricts any speech or actions that would highlight corruption or the violation of rights resulting from development projects and investments, specifically those related to land and sustainable development.” said Emilie Pradichit, Founder & Director of Manushya Foundation. “The Lao government must immediately repeal or amend legislations that do not comply with international standards and obligations through transparent and inclusive mechanisms of public consultation, end the harassment and intimidation against persons who speak up, and provide effective remedy in cases where the rights of individuals have been denied or violated.” 

Manushya, CIVICUS and FORUM-ASIA are seriously concerned about the pervasive control exercised by the government over civil society, and the severe restrictions faced as a result. Extensive surveillance, reprisals and the criminalisation and enforced disappearance of human rights defenders have created an environment in which it is all but impossible to speak out. The right to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association are guaranteed in the Constitution of Lao PDR, and its obligations under the ICPPR. However, the legal framework – including broadly formulated, restrictive and conflicting provisions in the Constitution, the Penal Code, and other laws, as well as government decrees passed without oversight – serves to limit any independent action or information, and criminalise any expression perceived as critical of the government. All actions taken and information shared must undergo a lengthy process of state approval and organisations are forced to maintain close ties with the State, making independent human rights organisations virtually non-existent. 

“The laws, policies and practices of the Lao government restrict any legitimate activities that they believe could threaten the state. Constant monitoring and the detention of activists such as Bounthanh Thammavong, Lodkham Thammavong, Soukane Chaithad, Somphone Phimmasone, and the enforced disappearance of Sombath Somphone, has compounded this chilling effect to the extent that activists and journalists now avoid using ‘human rights’ language in their work,” said Josef Benedict, Civic Space Researcher at CIVICUS. “States must question these actions of the Lao government that allow for impunity for violations of civic freedoms and press the government to create a safe, respectful and enabling environment that is free of undue hindrances, obstruction, legal or administrative harassment.”

Manushya, CIVICUS and FORUM-ASIA also urge the member states of the United Nations (UN) to use the UPR of Laos to ensure increased transparency and accountability through law and practice in order to protect and promote the rights of civil society in Laos, especially those of human rights defenders, civil society activists, and journalists.

“The Universal Periodic Review of Laos is an important opportunity to hold the Lao government accountable for ongoing, serious violations of fundamental freedoms and human rights,” concluded Ahmed Adam of FORUM-Asia. “The international community cannot afford to ignore the permanent closure of civic space and criminalisation of legitimate exercise of freedom of expression, peaceful assembly as well as work of human rights defenders in Lao.  International scrutiny is necessary to improve the human rights situation in Lao, particularly given that the government has done nothing to change a situation that has been ongoing for decades.”

The CIVICUS Monitor, an online platform that tracks threats to civil society in countries across the globe, rates the space for civil society in Laos as closed.


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

(EN) Josef Benedict, Civic Space Researcher, CIVICUS, +6010-4376376,

(EN & Lao) Emilie Pradichit, Founder & Director, Manushya Foundation, +66 (0) 92-901-5345,   

(TH) Suphamat Phonphra, Programme Officer, Manushya Foundation, +66 (0) 83-578-9879,   

(EN) Ahmed Adam, UN Advocacy Programme Manager, Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA), +41 (2) 10-826-4345,

 

There can be no sustainable development without respect for human rights

FRENCH

  • Global civil society calls on governments to put human rights at centre of development
  • States failing to make connections between sustainable development and human rights to restrict civil society is against the spirit of Agenda 2030
  • Governments need to open channels of communications with civil society groups to make them an equitable partner in the implementation of the sustainable development goals.

Civil society groups across the globe make significant contributions to development and the Sustainable Development Goals cannot be fully realised if the onslaught on civil society and human rights defenders continues.

This is the resounding message from representatives of civil society organisations across the world. In May 2019 more than 60 representatives of civil society from 25 countries met in Johannesburg, South Africa to discuss the impact of restrictions on freedom of assembly and association on sustainable development. Reflections from the Johannesburg meeting resonate with those of many others around the world.

Ahead of the High-Level Political Forum (HLPF) – the United Nations’ central platform for follow-up and review of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Sustainable Development Goals – taking place from July 9-18 in New York, the undersigned civil society representatives call on governments to place human rights at the centre of development.

The HLPF 2019 takes place at a time when attacks on civil society representatives have reached alarming proportions. Reports reveal that civil society is under serious attack in 111 countries, including those who will present progress made on the SDGs at the HLPF under the associated Voluntary National Review (VNR) framework. The last decade has experienced a spike in the killing of human rights defenders who exercise their right to assemble and associate peacefully. The issue of disruption of protest action and gatherings and the excessive use of force by the police and law enforcement agents is of major concern to many of the groups who endorse this statement.

 

As representatives of civil society, we note with concern that our governments make a distinction between human rights and development – often viewing campaigners and community leaders who engage in human rights activities as unnecessarily disruptive and being far removed from developmental issues. Indeed, authorities have accused them of having anti-development tendencies despite civil society actors having a stake in societal progress and being full-fledged development partners.

This disconnect often means that governments exercise too much control over the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), collude with non-state actors including private corporations in bringing about their preferred strategy for SDG implementation and often ignore or exclude the voices of civil society when launching development projects. While most human rights defenders are targeted for their campaigning, those advocating for land, environmental and indigenous rights are the most targeted and therefore most likely to be silenced.

Ahead of the HLPF, two human rights defenders – Ryan Hubilla and Nelly Bagasala from the Filipino human rights advocacy group Karapatan – were brutally killed for their work. Before the murders, Karapatan staff had been surveilled by the military and police operatives.

The HLPF will review six of the SDGs, including those promoting inequality reduction within and among countries, action on climate change, inclusive and equitable quality education and access to justice for inclusive and accountable institutions. Sadly, the issues that are up for review are at the heart of ongoing restrictions and reprisals by state and non-state actors.

In 2019 alone, peaceful protests against increases in costs of living and rising inequalities have been violently repressed in Sudan, Zimbabwe, Nicaragua and Venezuela; student protests have been prevented in Liberia; and demonstrations against flawed judicial processes violently repressed in Cameroon have been met with violent repression. In Russia, on 12 June 2019, 530 protesters were arrested and detained after demanding accountability following the arbitrary arrest, detention and release of journalist Ivan Golunov.

In Latin America and the Caribbean, there has been a spike in attacks, harassment and persecution of environmental rights defenders. In Columbia for example, paramilitary forces continue to target activists working on land, environmental and indigenous rights and have killed some like Robinson López. These are just some of the examples of the real political malaise being seen in many parts of the world, one with very serious consequences for the people involved.

States often have a narrow view of development when they regard it as the construction of infrastructure and the exploitation of natural resources. So they particularly target those who express concerns over the lack of community consultation on infrastructural projects or over environmental impact when corporations placed profits over the interests of communities when exploiting natural resources. Governments also fail to make connections between sustainable development and the use of restrictive legislation to undermine the work of civil society in various undemocratic ways.

The HLPF is an opportunity to reverse these trends as it highlights the complementarity of and interconnectedness between development partners. Its 2019 theme “Empowering People and ensuring inclusiveness and equality” reiterates the common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities (CBDR-RC) principle at a time when it is clear governments cannot realise SDGs alone.   Thus, we need to emphasize that there can be no meaningful development without human rights. Civil society groups working on different thematic areas make significant contributions to development and the SDGs cannot be fully realised if the onslaught on civil society and human rights defenders continue with impunity. Lawmakers must realize that human rights defenders are not anti-government but rather support and uphold laws that do not violate human rights.

Seven human rights defenders working on issues ranging from economic development, community development, anti-corruption initiatives and the rights of women and girls are currently living under strict bail conditions in Zimbabwe, after being arrested on their return from the Maldives for participating in a capacity-building workshop.  

In light of these restrictions, we call on states to;

  • Amend, repeal and modify restrictive laws and regulations that target civil society and the freedoms of association and assembly and ensure that these laws are in line with international human rights standards;
  • Sign, ratify or adhere to agreements that protect human rights defenders and guarantee an enabling environment for them to carry out their activities.
  • Stop the practice of targeting human rights defenders, community activists and other representatives of civil society, desist from ascribing false labels to them and ensure that like every other citizen, their rights are respected and protected;
  • Establish channels of communication between the state and civil society in relation to the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals to ensure that civil society is considered an equal partner in the delivery of the Goals and treated as such;
  • Ensure that at all levels, human rights are at the centre of all development initiatives and guarantee peaceful and inclusive societies, access to justice and accountable institutions and reduced inequality.

Signatories:

  • A Common Future
  • Action Foundation Common Initiative Group
  • Action pour le Developpement
  • AgriBiz Home
  • ASSAUVET/NGO
  • Action for Improvement of Food child and Mother (AFICM)
  • Alliance for Community Action
  • Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)
  • AfriYAN
  • Association of citizens PLANT
  • AL-Shafaa Organisation
  • ANSA-EAP
  • Agency for Peoples Empowerment, Sierra Leone, Limited (APEM SL LTD)
  • Act Mara Diocese – Mugumu Safe House
  • Adolescents Initiatives Support Organization (AISO)
  • ADD International
  • Action Aid
  • Action for Rural Aid Empowerment
  • Actions for Democracy and Local Governance (ADLG)
  • Active Women Foundation
  • Agape Aids Control Program
  • Ahadi Forum Tanzania (AFTA)
  • Arusha Non-Governmental Organisation Network (ANGONET)
  • ARUWE
  • Association for Non-Governmental Organisation Zanzibar (ANGOZA)
  • Association of Rare Blood Donor (ARBD)
  • Balkan Civil Society Development Network
  • Business and Human Rights Tanzania (BHRT)
  • Biharamulo Community FM Radio (BCFM)
  • Biharamulo NGOs Network Forum
  • Biharamulo Originating Social Economic Development Association (BOSEDA)
  • Biharamulo Social Economic Development Association (BISEDEA)
  • BINGOS FORUM
  • Civic Initiatives
  • Centre for Peace and Justice
  • Civil Society Development Foundation
  • COSADER- Collectif des ONG pour la Sécurité Alimentaire et le Développent Rural
  • Community Centre for Integrated Development
  • Consortium of Ethiopian Rights Organizations (CERO)
  • CIVICUS, World Alliance for Citizen Participation
  • Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation (CSVR)
  • Centre for Community Regeneration and Development (CCREAD-Cameroon)
  • Centre for Financial Inclusion and Sustainable Development (CenFISD)
  • Children's Assurance Program Sierra Leone (CAP-SL)
  • Centre for Social Policy Development
  • Caricuao Propone
  • Center for Agrarian Reform and Rural Development
  • Concerned Citizens of Abra for Good Government, Inc.(CCAGG)
  • CODE-NGO
  • Centre of Youth Dialogue (CYD)
  • Civic and Legal Aid Organization (CILAO)
  • CSYM HUDUMA*the Christian Spiritual Youth Ministry
  • Collaboration for Development and Humanitarian Action Inc
  • CESOPE
  • CHIFU KIMWELI FOOTBALL CLUB
  • Child Watch
  • Children Dignity Forum
  • Christian Education and Development Organisation (CEDO)
  • Civic and Legal Aid Organisations
  • Community Development Initiatives Support Organisation (COSIDO)
  • Community Focus Tanzania
  • Community for Educators and Legal Assistance
  • Community Support Initiatives-Tanzania
  • Crisis Resolving Centre
  • C-SEMA
  • CWCA
  • Discourage Youths from Encourages Poverty
  • Derecho, Ambiente, y Recursos Naturales
  • David Chanyeghea-New Age Foundation
  • Dawning Hope
  • Dignity Kwanza Community Solutions
  • Door of Hope to Women and Youth in Tanzania
  • DUNGONET (NGO’S NETWORK FOR DODOMA)
  • Economic Empowerment and Human Rights Sierra Leone (EEHRSL)
  • Education and English for You
  • Empower Society, Transform Lives (ESTL)
  • Equality for Growth
  • Fundamental human Rights & Rural Development Association FHRRDA
  • Faidika Aidika Wote Pamoja (FAWOPA)
  • FAWETZ
  • FICOFAWE WOMEN EMPOWERMENT
  • FIDELIS Yunde-Youth Movement for Change
  • Free Mind Foundation
  • Fondation Lucienne SALLA
  • Global Vision
  • GEARS Initiative
  • Gidion Kaino Mandesi Dolased
  • Girls Education Support Initiatives
  • GIYEDO
  • Gospel Communication Network of Tanzania
  • Growth Dimensions Africa
  • Global youth clan Sierra Leone chapter
  • GLOBAL MEDIA FOUNDATION
  • Glow Movement, South Africa
  • Global Vision
  • HURISA
  • HuMENA for Human Rights and Sustainable Development
  • Human rights Center Memorial and OVD-Info
  • HakaConnect.org
  • HAKI CATALYST
  • HAKI ELIMU
  • HAKI MADINI
  • HAKI RASILIMALI
  • HAKI ARDHI
  • Happy Children Tanzania Organisation
  • HILDA S. DADU-PHLI
  • HIMS ARUSHA
  • Human Rights National Association of Educators for World Peace
  • Humanity Aid for Development Organisation
  • HURUMA Organisation
  • Initiative for Good Governance and Transparence in Tanzania (IGT)
  • IHAN (International Humanitarian Activists Network) / JAKI (Jaringan Aktivis Kemanusiaan Internasional)
  • Initiative Africaine Pour le Developpement Durable
  • International Center for Environmental Education and Community Development (ICENECDEV)
  • INTRAC
  • ISDO RWANDA
  • ISRAEL ILUNDE –YPC
  • Just Fair
  • JAMII Media Limited
  • John Seka-Seka and Associates Advocates
  • JUKWAA LA KATIBA TANZANIA
  • JUMA KAPIPI
  • Jumuiya Ya Kuelimisha Athari Za Madawa Ya Kulevya Ukimwi Na Mimba Katika Mdogo (JUKAMKUM)
  • JUMUIYA YA KUELIMISHA ATHARI ZA MADAWA YA KULEVYA UKIMWI NA MIMBA KATIKA UMRI MDOGO (JUKAMKUM)
  • JUMUIYA YA KUENDELEZA UFUGAJI NYUKI NA UHIFADHI MAZINGIRA (JUKUNUM)
  • JUMUIYA YA KULINDA NA KUTETEA HAKI ZA WANAWAKE NA WATOTO MKOANI (JUKUWAM)
  • JUMUIYA YA KUTETEA HAKI ZA WANAWAKE NA WATOTO SHRHIYA YA OLE (JUKUHAWA),
  • JUMUIYA YA MAENDELEO YA ELIMU KWA WATOTO PEMBA (JUMAEWAPE)
  • JUMUIYA YA MAENDELEO YA ELIMU KWA WATOTO PEMBA (JUMAEWAPE),
  • JUMUIYA YA MAENDELEO YA WAVUVI WA KOJANI (KOFDO)
  • JUMUIYA YA MAENDELEO ZIWANI (JUMAJZI)
  • JUMUIYA YA OWEDE
  • JUMUIYA YA TUMAINI JIPYA PEMBA(TUJIPE)
  • JUMUIYA YA TUSISHINDWE DEVELOPMENT ORGANISATION PEMBA (TUDOPE)
  • JUMUIYA YA WASAIDIZI WA SHERIA PEMBA (JUWASPE)
  • KARAPATAN
  • Kagera Human Rights Defenders and Legal Aid Support Organisation
  • Kabataang Gabay sa Positibong Pamumuhay (KGPP) Inc.,
  • Kadesh International
  • Khpal Kore Organization
  • KUTAFITI-The Social Science Centre for African Development
  • KARENY MASASI
  • Kigoma Paralegal Aid Centre (KIPACE)
  • Kigoma Ujiji Non-Governmental Organisation Network (KIUNGONET)
  • Kigoma Women Development
  • KIKUNDI CHA USHINDI
  • KIWOHEDE
  • KOK Foundation
  • Lawyers for Human Rights
  • LARETOK-LE-SHERIA NA HAKI ZA BINADAMU NGORONGORO (LASHEHABINGO)
  • Legal and Human Rights Centre (LHRC)
  • Lindi Regional Press Club (LRPC)
  • Lindi Women Paralegal Aid Centre (LIWOPAC)
  • Liwale FARMERS Association (LIFA)
  • Migrant workers Association of Lesotho (MWA-Ls)
  • Monna ka Khomo (Lesotho Herd boys Ass.)
  • My Future Matters
  • Manyara Early Childhood Development Network
  • Mauritius Council of Social Service (MACOSS)
  • Media Education Centre
  • Magata Primary Cooperative Society
  • Manyara Regional Civil Society Network (MACSNET)
  • Mapambano Centre for Children
  • MAWAZO DANIEL-NYDT
  • Mbeya Hope for Orphans
  • Mbeya Paralegal Aid Centre (MBEPACE)
  • MBEYA WOMEN
  • MCHOMORO AIDS COMBAT GROUP
  • Media Association for Indigenous and Pastoralist Communities
  • Media Support Tanzania
  • MICHAEL REUBEN NTIBIKEMA-ELIMU MWANGAZA TANZANIA
  • MICHEWENI ISLAMIC DEVELOPMENT ENVIRONMENTAL CONSERVATION AND AIDS CONTROL(MIDECAC)
  • MIKONO YETU CENTRE FOR CREATIVITY AND INNOVATION (MIKONO YETU)
  • Morogoro Paralegal Centre (MPLC)        
  • MSICHANA INITIATIVES
  • Mtwara NGOs Network (MTWANGONET)
  • Mtwara Paralegal Centre
  • MTWARA YOUTH ANTI AIDS GROUP
  • MUKEMBA GROUP MAENDELEO
  • MUSSA JUMA-MISA TANZANIA
  • MWANAMKE NA UONGOZI
  • National Council of NGOS (NACONGO)
  • NNATIONAL Union of Mine and Energy Workers of Tanzania (NUMET)
  • NEEMA KITUNDU-FAWETZ
  • NETWO
  • New Family Organisation
  • New Hope Winners Foundation (NHNWF)                                                       
  • NGUVUMALI Community Development of Environment
  • NICAS NIBENGO- BASE FOR EDUCATION DISSEMINATION
  • NOMADIC PASTORALIST DEVELOPMENT ORGANIZATION(NOPADEO)
  • NTABYMA
  • NYAKITONTO YOUTH FOR DEVELOPMENT TANZANIA
  • Nelson Nohashi Ministry
  • New Horizon Global
  • NGO World and Danube
  • ONG Les BA TISSEURS
  • Outreach Social Care Project, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)
  • Open Mind Tanzania
  • Organisation for Rural Self-Help Initiatives (ORSHI)
  • Plant Protection and Regulatory Services Directorate
  • Population and Development Society
  • PEN Kenya
  • PAMOJA DAIMA (PADA)
  • Paralegal Primary Justice (PPJ)
  • Peace Relief Organisation (PRO)
  • PEMBA Association for Civil Society Organisation (PASCO)
  • PEMBA EAST ZONE ENVIROMENT ASSOCIATION (PEZEA)
  • PEMBA ISLAND RELIEF ORGANIZATION (PIRO)
  • PEMCO
  • Peoples Development Forum (PDF)
  • Peoples Health Movement Tanzania (PHM)
  • PINGOS FORUM
  • Policy Curiosity Society
  • Poverty Alleviation in Tanga (POVATA)
  • Promotion and Women Development Association (POWDA)
  • PROSPERUS HEALTH LIFE INITIATIVES
  • PWAAT
  • RAFIKI Social Development Organisation
  • REHEMA JOSPHEPH-CENTA
  • Resource Advocacy Initiative (RAI)
  • RIEFP
  • ROWODO
  • RUANGWA Organisation for Poverty Alleviation (ROPA)
  • Rural Woman Development Initiative (RUWODI)
  • Rainbow Pride Foundation
  • Recycle Up!
  • RESEAU DES JEUNES POUR LE DEVELOPPEMENT ET LE LEADERSHIP AU TCHAD, Chad
  • RESPECT CAMEROON
  • Salum Mbaruok
  • Sikhula Sonke Early Childhood Development
  • SPEDYA-Africa
  • Street Youth Connection Sierra Leone (SYC-SL)
  • Sujag sansar orgnaition
  • Sustainable Social Development Organization (SSDO)
  • SADELINE HEALTH CARE TRUST
  • Safe Space for Children and Youth Women Tanzania (SSCYWT)
  • SAHRiNGON
  • SAKALE Development Foundation
  • SAUTI YA HAKI TANZANIA
  • SAUTI YA WANAWAKE UKELEWE
  • Save the Mother and Children of Central Tanzania (SMCCT)
  • SAWABI BIHARAMULO
  • Service Health and Development for People
  • SHALOM OPHARNAGE CARE CENTER
  • SHAMILA MSHANGAMA
  • SHIMAWAMI
  • SHIRIKA LA BINADAMU NANDANGALA
  • SHIVYAWATA
  • SHUKURU PAUL-HRC
  • SOPHIA KOMBA-CAGBV
  • SORF DODOMA
  • Sports Development Aid Lindi
  • Trade Union Congress of Swaziland (TUCOSWA)
  • The Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy
  • The Maldivian Democracy Network
  • Tai Tanzania
  • Tanzania Agricultural Modernization Association (TAMA)
  • Tanzania Development Trust
  • TEACH
  • The Need Today
  • The Youth Voice Of SA
  • Tim Africa Aid Ghana
  • Transparence_RD Congo
  • Trio Uganda, United Kingdom
  • TUKELAKANG ENTETE FOUNDATION / YAYASAN TUKELAKANG ENTETE
  • Trag Foundation
  • TAMHA Paralegal Aid
  • TANDAHIMBA Women Association
  • TANGA Paralegal Aid
  • TANGIABLE INITIATIVES FOR LOCAL DEVELOPMENT TANZANIA
  • Tanzania Association of NGOs (TANGO)
  • Tanzania Centre for Research for Research and Information on Pastoralism (TCRIP)
  • Tanzania Citizen Information Bureau
  • Tanzania Hone Economic Association (TAHEA) BIHARAMULO
  • Tanzania Human Rights Defenders Coalition (THRDC)
  • Tanzania Legal Knowledge and Aid Centre
  • Tanzania media Woman’s Association (TAMWA)
  • Tanzania Media Women’s Association
  • Tanzania Network for Legal Providers (TANLAP)
  • Tanzania Network of Women Living with HIV and AIDS (TNW+)
  • TANZANIA Pastoralist Community Forum (TPCF)
  • Tanzania Peace Legal Aid and Justice
  • Tanzania Tobacco Control Forum
  • Tanzania Widows Association (TAWIA)
  • Tanzania Women Empowerment in Action (TAWEA)
  • Tanzania Women Teachers Association
  • Tanzania Youth Potential Association
  • TAWASANET
  • TAWEDO
  • TAWLA
  • TECDEN
  • TEN/MET
  • TGNP MTANDAO
  • The African for Civil Society (TACS)
  • The African Institute for Comparative and International Law (AICIL)
  • The Development for Accountability in Tanzania
  • The Foundation of Human Health and Social Development (HUHESO)
  • The Life Hood Children and Development Society (LICHIDE)
  • The Organisation of Journalists Against Drug Abuse and Crimes in Tanzania (OJADACT)
  • The Voice of the Marginalised Community
  • TNRF
  • Tree of Hope
  • TUNDURU PARALEGAL CENTRE (TUPACE)
  • TUPACE
  • TUSHIRIKI
  • TUWAANDAE WATOTO
  • TYVA
  • Union for Promotion / Protection, Human Rights Defense and the Environment-UPDDHE/GL Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)
  • UNODC, Canada
  • UMMY NDERIANANGAB-SHIVYAWATA
  • UMOJA WA VIKUNDI VYA UZALISHAJI MALI NA UELIMISHAJI RIKA MAGU (UVUUMA)    
  • UMOJA WA WAWEZESHAJI KIOO
  • Under the Same Sun (UTSS)
  • UTPC
  • UTTI MWANGA’MBA-CWCA
  • UVINZA NGOS NETWORK (UNON)
  • Volunteer Activists
  • VIJANA ASSEMBLY
  • Vital Projection Limited
  • Voice of the Voiceless
  • Volunteer for Youth in Health and Development (VOYOHEDE)
  • Victoria Quade, New Zealand
  • Women for Social Progress, Mongolia
  • WAHAMAZA
  • WAJIBU Institute of Accountability
  • WALIO KATIKA MAPAMBANO NA AIDS TANZANIA(WAMATA)
  • WASOMI VOICE FOUNDATION
  • WGNRR AFRICA
  • Widows and Orphaned Development Organisation
  • WILDAF
  • WOFATA
  • WOMEN ACTION TOWARDS ENTRP.DEVELOPMENT
  • WOMEN DIGNITY
  • Women Legal Aid Centre (WLAC)
  • Women Life Foundation
  • Women Wake-Up (WOWAP)                    
  • Women’s Promotion Centre (WPC)
  • Women’s Empowerment in Action
  • WOTE INITIATIVES
  • WOTE SAWA YOUTH DOMESTIC WORKERS
  • WOVUCTA
  • Youth Against Aids Poverty
  • Young League Pakistan, Pakistan
  • Youth Africa and Peace Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)
  • YOUTH ASSOCIATION OF SIERRA LEONE, Sierra Leone
  • Youth Harvest Foundation Ghana
  • Youth Partnership for Peace and Development, Sierra Leone
  • YUNA
  • ZAFELA
  • ZAHRA SALEHE-ICCAO
  • ZAITUNI NJIVU- ZAINA FOUNDATION
  • Zanzibar Aids Association and Support for Orphans (ZASO)
  • Zanzibar Association for Children Advancement (ZACA)
  • Zanzibar Children Rights Forum
  • Zanzibar Fighting Against Youth Challenges Organisation (ZAFAYCO)
  • Zanzibar Legal Service Centre 

 

Find out more about our work at the HLPF here. 

 

New report reveals extent of media repression and human rights violations in Equatorial Guinea

 

Malaysia: A year after elections, fundamental freedoms still restricted

 

A year after the electoral victory of the Pakatan Harapan coalition, authorities have failed to reform repressive legislation or expand civic space, and continue to restrict fundamental freedoms and silence dissent, a new briefing from ARTICLE 19 and CIVICUS said today.

The briefing, New Government, Old Tactics: Lack of progress on reform commitments undermines fundamental freedoms and democracy in Malaysia”, concludes that, despite some encouraging early steps by Malaysia’s new political leaders, broader reform processes to protect human rights have ground to a halt. The Pakatan Harapan coalition has not followed through on commitments in its campaign manifesto to reform repressive legislation, including the Sedition Act 1948, Communications and Multimedia Act 1998, Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984, and Peaceful Assembly Act 2012. Instead, authorities have used these laws to harass and prosecute activists, government critics and others exercising fundamental freedoms.

“The Pakatan Harapan government came to power on the back of promises to reform repressive laws and open up public spaces that have long been restricted by the previous regime. Instead, authorities have used the same old laws to silence critics, stifle unpopular opinions and control public discourse. These retrogressive tactics blemish the supposed reformist credentials of Malaysia’s new leaders, and impede the democratic transition that they promised to bring about,” said Nalini Elumalai, ARTICLE 19’s Malaysia Programme Officer.

While welcoming steps to establish a self-governing media council, ARTICLE 19 and CIVICUS are concerned about that the lack of progress in reforming restrictive laws that impede press freedom and the ability of journalists to report without fear of judicial harassment and criminal penalties. Further, there has been a lack of transparency in legislative and institutional reform processes, with limited opportunities for meaningful participation by civil society and other stakeholders. The decision by authorities to place the report of the Institutional Reform Committee under the Official Secrets Act (OSA), preventing its release to the public, underscores these concerns.  

ARTICLE 19 and CIVICUS’s review of the government’s record during its first year in office reveals continued restrictions on the right to peaceful assembly. Those involved in peaceful protests, including students, women’s rights activists and indigenous activists have been arbitrarily detained, threatened or investigated, while the Peaceful Assembly Act has yet to be amended in line with international law and standards. Further, the government has failed to follow through on manifesto promises to create an enabling environment for civil society and to review laws and policies that restrict the registration and operations of NGOs.

“The government must halt the judicial harassment of demonstrators for exercising their right to the freedom of peaceful assembly and instruct police officers that it is their duty to facilitate peaceful assemblies, rather than hinder them,” said Josef Benedict, CIVICUS Civic Space Researcher. “Immediate steps must also be taken to review the Societies Act to guarantee that undue restrictions on the freedom of association are removed,” Benedict added. 

The Pakatan Harapan government faces tremendous challenges in dismantling the repressive legal and institutional framework built during 61 years of Barisan Nasional rule. ARTICLE 19 and CIVICUS understand that opposition forces are determined to undermine progressive reforms in Malaysia. Nevertheless, we urge the government to follow through on its promises and undertake a comprehensive, transparent and inclusive process of legislative and institutional reform to promote and protect fundamental rights and freedoms. Failure to act with urgency, resolve and principle in this regard will lead to the entrenchment of restrictions on civic space and call into the question the government’s commitments to fundamental freedoms.

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

 

Supreme Court set to rule on Reuters journalists jailed in Myanmar

 

  • Myanmar’s Supreme Court is set to rule on an appeal by two jailed Reuters journalists on 23 April 
  • Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo have been jailed since December 2017, and convicted of violating a state secrets act in September 2018
  • The case highlights the increasing crackdown on press freedom in Myanmar

The Myanmar Supreme Court must order the release of Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, global civil society alliance CIVICUS and the Asia Democracy Network (ADN) said today. The two journalists, who have been jailed since 2017, are set to go before the country’s highest court on 23 April. The court will rule upon their appeal, which was submitted on grounds that lower court rulings involved errors in judicial procedure.

In December 2017, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were handed several documents during a dinner meeting that turned out to be secret government materials relating to Myanmar’s western Rakhine state and security forces.  They were then arrested  and charged under the country’s colonial-era Official Secrets Act and in September 2018, they were convicted and sentenced to seven years in prison for “illegal possession of official documents.”

During the trial, a police captain, admitted in court that a senior officer had ordered his subordinates to “trap” the journalists by handing them the classified documents. He was subsequently sentenced to a one-year prison term.  

At the time of their arrest, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo had been investigating the killing of 10 Rohingya Muslims in Inn Din village in Rakhine during a brutal military crackdown against the Rohingya minority that began in August 2017. 

An appeal by the two journalists to a lower court earlier this year on substantive grounds was rejected on the basis that lawyers failed to prove that the pair were innocent.

“Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo have spent 16 months in prison on spurious charges. The Supreme Court must take this opportunity to address this travesty of justice,” said Josef Benedict, CIVICUS Civic Space Researcher. “No journalist should be in prison for doing their job. Their arrest and conviction have sadly created a chilling effect on the media in Myanmar.”

A UN Human Rights Council Resolution adopted at the Council’s 40th Session called on Myanmar to immediately and unconditionally release Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, as well as other journalists, human rights defenders and activists detained under various restrictive laws.

“This case highlights the bleak situation for freedom of expression and press freedom in Myanmar. Overly broad, vague, and abusive laws have been systematically used to prosecute dozens of activists and journalists for the peaceful activism,” said Ichal Supriadi, Secretary-General from the Asia Democracy Network.

In March 2019, in the UN Special Rapporteur on Myanmar raised concerns about “a decreasing space for the expression of views that are critical” of the government and the “increasing self-censorship by journalists, as well as continued wielding of problematic laws by the government against those who speak out.” 

CIVICUS and ADN call on the Supreme Court to order the immediate release of Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, and reiterate calls for the authorities in Myanmar to take immediate steps to ensure that journalists can do their jobs. 

The CIVICUS Monitor, an online platform that tracks threats to civil society in countries across the globe, rates the space for civil society in Myanmar as repressed.

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

josef.benedict[at]civicus.org

 

International Civil Society Week closes with #FreedomRunner launch

 

Belgrade, Serbia – More than 200 civil society leaders and human rights activists from some 100 countries were seen running through the streets of Serbia today – literally.

The #FreedomRunner event, held at the close of International Civil Society Week (ICSW) 2019, a week-long global civil society gathering, kicked off a global campaign calling on people around the world to run in the name of human rights defenders who are currently jailed, being persecuted, or at risk for their work.

Throughout the ICSW 2019 forum, it was evident that individuals and organisations are increasingly under attack in many countries. Activists, journalists and people who speak out against growing restrictions are often persecuted, and a historic, unprecedented rise of populist leaders continues to erode fundamental freedoms and sow division in many countries.

But brave women and men across the globe are refusing to be silenced.

“In every country, and often in the face of serious risks, people are standing up for their rights. Those of us with the freedom to do so need to stand - or even run - alongside them,” said Lysa John, CIVICUS Secretary General.

The Freedom Runner campaign will be launched together with the Belgrade Marathon, a major annual event on the city’s calendar, on Sunday, April, 14.

“We are dedicating the first run within this global movement to the Marija Lukic, a Serbian survivor of sexual violence, who is still fighting her struggle for her rights on behalf of all of us,” said Maja Stojanovic, Executive Director of ICSW co-host Civic Initiatives, an association of Serbian civil society organisations.

“The connections that will be made among freedom runners all around the world is a powerful tool for creating more just, inclusive societies,” said Stojanovic.

Over the coming year, runners will sign up to an online platform to track their collective runs, until they have run around the world – with some 40,075 km of running logged in the name of freedom - to arrive “back” in Belgrade.

“Running today is our way of showing how powerful we can be when we work together,” said John.

“We hope that people around the world will join us by running in their own cities and countries, so that we keep the spotlight shining on those whose basic freedoms are at risk.”

Co-hosted by the global civil society alliance, CIVICUS and Serbian civil society association, Civic Initiatives, with support of the Balkans Civil Society Development Network, ICSW brought together more than 900 delegates. This was the first time in almost a quarter century of international convening, that CIVICUS hosted its flagship event in the Balkans – a region of 11 countries and 55 million people.

This year’s theme, “The Power of Togetherness”, set out to explore how people and organisations around the world can, and are, working together to enable and defend spaces for civic action in a world where global transformations are reshaping how civil society functions.

Sign up here to become a #FreedomRunner.

ENDS.  

NOTES FOR EDITORS

Based on data from the CIVICUS Monitor - a global research collaboration - just 4% of the world’s population live in countries where governments are properly respecting the freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression.

Find an album of photographs of the #FreedomRunner event here. They are free to publish. However please credit CIVICUS.

CONTACT

For more information, or to arrange interviews, please email: or contact:

Grant Clark, Senior Media Advisor, CIVICUS

Email:

Mobile/Whatsapp: +27 63 567 9719

 

Teodora Zahirovic, PR Manager, Civic Initiatives

Email:

Mobile/Whatsapp: +381 60 3624 001

 

World facing a global compassion deficit finds new CIVICUS report

  • Government attacks on humanitarian organisations on the rise globally
  • Right-wing populists, nationalists and extremist groups being mobilised to attack vulnerable groups such as refugees, migrants, LGBTIQ
  • Civil society organisations fighting back – 2018 saw a spike in protests against economic exclusion, inequality and poverty
  • Report calls for new strategies to argue against right-wing populism while urging progressive civil society to engage citizens towards better, more positive alternatives

Civil society organisations providing humanitarian assistance to migrants and refugees are being targeted as the world faces a crisis of global compassion.

This alarming trend is one of the findings of the State of Civil Society Report 2019, an annual report by global civil society alliance CIVICUS, which looks at events and trends that impacted on civil society in the past year.

In one cited example, the Italian government prevented a boat operated by international medical NGO Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) from docking in Italy, leaving it stranded at sea for a week with more than 700 passengers, including unaccompanied minors. In the USA, organisations were prevented from leaving life-saving water supplies for people making the hazardous journey across the desert from Mexico.

“Civil society, acting on humanitarian impulses, confronts a rising tide of global mean-spiritedness, challenging humanitarian values in a way unparalleled since the Second World War,” said Lysa John, CIVICUS Secretary General.

“We need a new campaign, at both global and domestic levels, to reinforce humanitarian values and the rights of progressive civil society groups to act,” added John.

According to the report, in Europe, the USA and beyond - from Brazil to India - right wing populists, nationalists and extremist groups are mobilising dominant populations to attack the most vulnerable. This has led to an attack on the values behind humanitarian response as people are being encouraged to blame minorities and vulnerable groups for their concerns about insecurity, inequality, economic hardship and isolation from power. This means that civil society organisations that support the rights of excluded populations such as women and LGBTQI people and stand up for labour rights are being attacked.

As narrow notions of national sovereignty are being asserted, the international system is being rewritten by powerful states, such as China, Russia and the USA, that refuse to play by the rules. Borders and walls are being reinforced by rogue leaders who are bringing their styles of personal rule into international affairs by ignoring existing institutions, agreements and norms.

The report also points to a startling spike in protests relating to economic exclusion, inequality and poverty, which are often met with violent repression, and highlights a series of flawed and fake elections held in countries around the world in the last year.

“Democratic values are under strain around the globe from unaccountable strong men attacking civil society and the media in unprecedented - and often brutal - ways,” said Andrew Firmin, CIVICUS’ Editor-in-Chief and the report’s lead author.

2018 was a year in which regressive forces appeared to gain ground. According to the CIVICUS Monitor, an online platform that tracks threats to civil society in all countries around the world, civic space – the space for civil society – is now under serious attack in 111 of the world’s nations – well over half of all countries. Only four per cent of the world’s population live in countries where our fundamental freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression are respected and enabled.

But the past year was also one in which committed civil society activists fought back against the rising repression of rights. From the successes of the global #MeToo women’s rights movement to the March for Our Lives gun reform movement led by high school students in the USA to the growing school strike climate change movement, collective action gained ground to claim breakthroughs.

“Despite the negative trends, active citizens and civil society organisations have been able to achieve change in Armenia, where a new political dispensation is in place, and in Ethiopia, where scores of prisoners of conscience have been released,” said John.

The report makes several recommendations for civil society and citizen action. The report calls for new strategies to argue against right-wing populism while urging progressive civil society to engage citizens towards better, more positive alternatives. These include developing and promoting new ideas on economic democracy for fairer economies that put people and rights at their centre. Notably, the report calls for reinforcing the spirit of internationalism, shared humanity and the central importance of compassion in everything we say and do.

Ends.

For an executive summary of the report, click here.

For the full report, click here.

Further reading:

Access the CIVICUS Monitor here and for more information on the latest CIVICUS Monitor ratings, click here.

About the State of Civil Society Report 2019

Each year the CIVICUS State of Civil Society Report examines the major events that involve and affect civil society around the world. This report looks back at the key stories of 2018 for civil society - the most significant developments that civil society was involved in, responded to and was impacted by.

Our report is of, from and for civil society, putting front and centre the perspectives of a wide range of civil society activists and leaders close to the major stories of the day. In particular, it presents findings from the CIVICUS Monitor, our online platform that tracks threats to civic space in every country.

For further information or to request interviews with CIVICUS staff and contributors to this report, please click here or contact:

 

Proposed new social media law in Nepal threatens freedom of expression

  • A new broad and restrictive law being introduced by the Nepalese government gives the authorities sweeping powers to block social media platforms and remove or criminalise defamatory posts
  • The government has also tabled legislation that restricts civil servants from sharing their views in the media including via social media sites
  • Global and regional human rights groups are concerned that these laws are to be designed to stifle dissent and silence critical voices

Nepal parliamentNew proposed laws relating to social media use in Nepal are intended to stifle dissent and silence critical voices, say global and regional human rights groups.

Global civil society alliance, CIVICUS and the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) say they are seriously concerned that new legislation, which has been tabled in parliament by the Nepalese government, are meant to create a chilling effect on freedom of expression in the country.

On February 20, 2019, Nepal's government tabled the Information Technology bill in parliament, which would impose harsh sanctions for “improper” social media posts. Under the proposed law, the government would have the power to block social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, unless the owners registered their platforms in Nepal. The government can also instruct social network site operators to remove posts. Failure to do so could lead to a three-year jail term and a fine of 30,000 Nepalese rupees (US$ 262). Those responsible for social media posts deemed defamatory or against national sovereignty could be punished with up to five years behind bars and a fine of 1.5 million Nepalese rupees (USD 13,000).

“We are extremely concerned that this bill is overly broad and restrictive and, if passed,  could be used to block or criminalise reporting on government misconduct and the expression of critical opinions by civil society and citizens,” said Josef Benedict, CIVICUS Civic Space Researcher.

“Any efforts to genuinely regulate online content must be approached in a transparent and consultative manner, and avoid criminal restrictions on free speech,” said Benedict. 

“We call on the Nepalese government to ensure that the legislation is in line with international law and standards in particular the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which it has ratified and that vague provisions around protecting national sovereignty should be removed”

CIVICUS and AHRC are also concerned about a new bill, tabled on February 13  2019, that prohibits civil servants from sharing their views through media including their micro-blogging sites, even after their retirement from government service. The law also prohibits speeches and writing that are considered “contrary to the policies of the Government of Nepal or to undermine mutual relationship between the Government of Nepal and the people or the relationship with any foreign country”.

 “It is extremely worrying to see such laws being introduced by the authorities that will further shrink civic space in Nepal,” said Basil Fernando, Director of AHRC.

“Criticism and dissent are essential attributes for an open and democratic society. We urge the authorities to pull the plug on such regressive legislation and instead take steps to create an enabling environment for freedom of expression to flourish,” said Fernando.

Fundamental freedoms in Nepal continue to face serious threats. Journalists have been arrested and charged under the Electronic Transaction Act 2008 for their reports and dozens have been attacked or threatened. Police have also used excessive and lethal force at demonstrations, with impunity and laws have been proposed to curtail the work of NGOs.

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

ENDS

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

Josef Benedict

Insert CIVICUS facebook page link

Insert CIVICUS twitter account (including Monitor twitter account where relevant

 

Rights group condemns arbitrary detention of protesters in Pakistan and the police killing of activist

  • Global rights alliance condemns the prison detention of protesters of the ethnic Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM) in Pakistan and killing of one of their leaders
  • More than 80 PTM activists were arrested on 5 February for protesting the death of Arman Loni in police custody three days earlier.
  • The PTM is a social movement demanding equality for Pakistan’s Pashtun community, which has suffered systemic discrimination and human rights violations

     

World’s civil society to gather in Balkans to strengthen the “Power of Togetherness”

  • International Civil Society Week (ICSW) 2019 brings together over 850 civil society leaders, activists and concerned citizens across sectors, themes, regions in Belgrade, Serbia (8-12 April) to tackle the world's most pressing challenges in the fields of human rights, democracy and international development.
  • For the  first time in almost a quarter century of convening, the event will be held in the Balkans, a region that provides an opportune place to explore the need for  togetherness and the power of collective action.
  • ICSW presents at least 30 key sessions and partner events tackling a range of critical issues from emergency support for NGOs under attack to shrinking media freedoms to greater civil society accountability

Belgrade, Serbia – Across the globe, human rights organisations are increasingly being attacked by governments. Activists, journalists and people who speak out against growing restrictions are persecuted. A historic rise of populist leaders continues to erode fundamental freedoms, heightening political polarisation and sowing division.

We are in the midst of unprecedented global challenges – challenges that civil society and citizens worldwide have begun responding to with renewed determination.

It is within this context that International Civil Society Week 2019 (ICSW) kicks off next week - a global gathering of over 850 civil society leaders, activists and concerned citizens across sectors, regions and themes taking place April 8-12 in Belgrade, Serbia.  Delegates will share ideas and propose common solutions around some of the most pressing challenges in the fields of human rights, democracy and international development, and explore ways to unlock the power of collective action to stand up for democratic freedoms across the world.

Co-hosted by the global civil society alliance, CIVICUS and Serbian civil society association, Civic Initiatives, with support of the Balkans Civil Society Development Network, ICSW will present a programme that includes over 30 sessions on topics ranging from the crackdown on media freedom to emergency assistance for NGOs under attack to greater civil society accountability, with a variety of partner events as well as key addresses by high-profile speakers. From their alliance of more than 7,000 members in 175 countries and regional presence, CIVICUS and Civic Initiatives have engaged more than 30 organisational partners and a number of high-profile, inspirational speakers to share their experiences and learnings with delegates.

In country after country, democracy is under attack, with populist and right-wing movements gaining ground and democratic regression being witnessed even in countries historically considered bastions of democracy.

According to the CIVICUS Monitor, an online platform that tracks threats to civil society in all countries, only 4% of the world’s population live in places where their rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly are properly respected and protected.

“Yet, civil society is fighting back, finding new and innovative way of organising and taking action. We are seeing new alliances being forged and an increasing openness to coalition building - with activists from different causes and communities coming together to fight for common issues,” said Lysa John, CIVICUS Secretary General.

“This year’s event in Serbia comes at a critical and opportune time for civil society and the world’s citizens to realise the power of unified, collective action to challenge a global trend that threatens our fundamental freedoms,” said John.

This year’s theme – ‘The Power of Togetherness’ –  explores how people and organisations around the world can, and are, working together to enable and defend spaces for civic action in a world where global transformations are reshaping how civil society functions.

For the first time in almost a quarter century of international convening, CIVICUS will host its flagship event in the Balkans – a region of 11 countries and 55 million people. The host city, Belgrade, is one of Europe’s oldest, with a 7,000-year history representing a complex Serbian history and regional experience that provides an opportune place to explore the need for togetherness and the power of collective action.

“Throughout its history, Serbia has shifted back and forth between authoritarian regimes  and democracy,” said Civic Initiatives’ Maja Stojanovic.

“During the 1990s, authoritarian regimes produced conflicts, severe human rights violations and genocide. Today, as we approach European Union membership, internal and international independent monitoring mechanisms show shrinking media freedoms, a lack of separation of power and rule of law, and deterioration of freedom of elections,” said Stojanovic.

“This region, and particularly Serbia, demonstrates that changing laws, strategies or governments offers no guarantees – democracy does not exist if it is not built constantly. By hosting this year’s event in Belgrade, we will convene and send messages rooted in local circumstances and, in the same time, fully reflecting global challenges.”

The event will begin with a two-day Youth Assembly in the Serbian city of Novi Sad, which has been  selected as the European Youth Capital for 2019. Bringing together more than 100 young activists
from across the globe, the Assembly will offer delegates the opportunity to engage with international peers, examining and taking action on some of the critical challenges facing youth in civil society today.

ENDS  

NOTES FOR EDITORS

For more information, please contact:

ABOUT THE CONVENERS

The conveners of ICSW 2019 are CIVICUS and Civic Initiatives (CI).

CIVICUS is a global alliance of civil society organisations and activists dedicated to strengthening citizen action and civil society around the world.  Founded in 1993, CIVICUS strives to promote marginalised voices, especially from the Global South, and has members in more than 145 countries throughout the world.

Civic Initiatives (CI) was founded in May 1996 by a group of prominent NGO activists that were involved in the anti-war movement and non-nationalist democratic opposition since 1990. Since then, Civic Initiatives respond to the need to create a civic base that sustains democratic values by supporting citizens' activism and advocating for better legal framework for civic participation.

GET MORE INFO &  UPDATES

More information is available on the  virtual press centre. Find out what’s happening in real-time on the ICSW Live  platform, a hub that links delegates with global civil society, with  audio/ video interviews, and interactive features. You can also join the conversation on social media #ICSW2019, and get daily updates/ live streams of various sessions on CIVICUS and Civic Initiatives social media channels: CIVICUS Facebook and Civic Initiatives Facebook .

FAQs ABOUT ICSW 2019

What is International Civil Society Week 2019?

International Civil Society Week (ICSW), being hosted from April 8-12, 2019, is a key global gathering for civil society and other stakeholders to engage constructively in finding common solutions to global challenges. For the first time in more than 20 years of international convening, CIVICUS in partnership with Civic Initiatives (CI), will hold its flagship event in the Balkans region.

What are our key themes for 2019?

The ICSW 2019 programme will be centred along three interrelated tracks, to enable delegates to work together to:

  • Understand and connect with citizens and people’s movements taking place on the STREETS and around the world
  • Build BRIDGES that strengthen alliances, create solidarity and facilitate collective action across issues
  • Identify the STAIRS needed to build and sustain collective impact, and connect local and global efforts

Who will be attending?

Over 850 delegates from across the world will be part of ICSW 2019. These will include civil society leaders, activists, representatives from intergovernmental bodies,, governments, and the media.

Why Serbia?

Serbia and the Western Balkans have strong legal frameworks which are supposed to guarantee the basic rights of citizens. Yet, since the nineties, dictatorial regimes and shrinking basic rights have made these so called guarantees largely paper based, with conflicts, severe human rights violations and genocide  happening in practice. Today, internal and international independent monitoring mechanisms show shrinking media freedoms, lack of separation of power and rule of law, and deterioration of freedom of elections. By hosting ICSW 2019 in Serbia, we aim to shine a spotlight on the work of the Balkan civil society community to address the ongoing challenges in the region and find ways to collaborate and support their work by building alliances between local and international civil society.

 

Gabon government goes after civil society and opposition members for failed military coup, raising concerns

  • Global rights groups concerned by Gabon government’s targeting of human rights defenders and opposition members for military coup attempt
  • Authorities shut down Internet and suspend broadcasting services following failed coup
  • Gabon under tense security in wake of coup attempt
  • The family of President Ali Bongo has held onto power in Gabon for over half a century

Global civil society groups are concerned at indications by the government of Gabon that it intends to investigate local civil society organisations and members of the political opposition for their involvement in the recent military coup attempt.

A small group of Gabon army soldiers seized control of the country’s national broadcasting station in the capital, Libreville, on January 7 and announced a political takeover and the setting up of a National Restoration Council to oust President Ali Bongo. The coup was thwarted after security forces stormed the building, killing two of the soldiers involved in the operation. Eight plotters have been arrested. A day after the failed coup, the government shut down the internet nationwide and suspended broadcasting services. 

There are concerns that the Gabonese authorities might use the failed coup as a pretext to clampdown on fundamental rights to freedom of assembly, expression and association and tighten its grip on the media. 

Amid heightened political tensions, global civil society alliance, CIVICUS, has expressed serious concern at comments by government spokesperson Guy-Bertrand Mapangou that certain opposition parties and civil society would be investigated for supporting the coup.

 “We urge Gabon not to target individual human rights defenders or civil society but to instead increase the space for fundamental rights to be enjoyed by all Gabonese,” said Teldah Mawarire of CIVICUS.

“What Gabon needs is democratic reform and the respect of the rule of law – virtues which have been absent from the country for half a century,” Mawarire said.  

The Internet shutdown has also sparked concern, as a violation of the freedom of citizens to express themselves freely and to impart and receive information without hinderance. CIVICUS has urged the Gabonese government to ensure that fundamental freedoms are respected, in the wake of the coup attempt.

President of Gabon, Ali Bongo has been away receiving medical attention in Morocco since last October. He succeeded his father Omar Bongo in 2009 in a contested election in which the opposition alleged electoral fraud. The Bongo family has ruled Gabon for 51 years. There has been an increase in restrictions on fundamental freedoms since a contested 2016 elections characterized by a media blackout, the killing of protesters, widespread arrests and intimidation and harassment of journalists.

Last November, the authorities suspended the newspaper L’Aube for three months for publishing an article about the president’s health. The publication’s editor was banned from practicing journalism for six months. The same month, in a move widely criticized by civil society as being unconstitutional, the Constitutional Court amended the constitution to accommodate the absence of President Ali Bongo. Gabonese Civil society groups argued that the mandate of the Constitutional Court was limited to interpreting the constitution and not to change it. 

The CIVICUS Monitor, an online platform that tracks threats to civil society in all countries, has rated civic space – the space for civil society – in Gabon as “Repressed”. This means that civil society organisations there operates under serious restrictions, which impede their ability to speak out on or protest any issue of concern to them.

Following the attempted coup, the African Union (AU) commendably and swiftly condemned the action and urged a return to the rule of law. However, the AU has been encouraged to apply the same urgency to address the longstanding repression of fundamental rights by the Gabonese state.

For more information, please contact:

Teldah Mawarire

Grant Clark

Click here for our Press Centre

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CIVICUS/

Twitter: @CIVICUSalliance

 

Pakistan shuts down and kicks out 18 International NGOs, with 20 others facing expulsion

  •  Pakistan has expelled 18 international non-governmental organisations (INGOs)
  • Another 20 organisations are also at risk of expulsion
  • Pakistan’s policy on INGOs effectively hampers the registration and functioning of international humanitarian and human rights groups

Global human rights groups have expressed grave concern over the expulsion of 18 international non-governmental organisations (INGOs) from Pakistan.

The Pakistani authorities ordered the INGOs to leave the country after rejecting their final appeals to remain. According to reports, all 18 expelled organisations, with the exception of two that are still trying to overturn their ouster in court, have closed their operations in Pakistan. Another 20 groups are reportedly also at risk of expulsion following the authorities’ singling out of a total of 38 international aid groups for closure a few months ago.  

Global civil society alliance, CIVICUS, said this was a regressive move that will have a negative impact on thousands of ordinary Pakistani families that have been assisted by these organisations to claim their rights and build a better life.

“The Pakistani government's closure of international organisations is a clear violation of the fundamental right to freedom of association,” said David Kode, CIVICUS’s Advocacy and Campaigns Lead.

“It shows a disturbing disregard for the well-being of ordinary Pakistanis who rely on and benefit from the assistance and support provided by these groups," said Kode.

On October 3, Pakistan’s Interior Ministry ordered 18 INGOs, including Action Aid, Plan International, International Alert and Safer World, to wind up their operations within 60 days. This followed the Ministry’s rejection of their applications for re-registration, without offering reasons, in November 2017.

Pakistan has the world’s sixth largest population, a fifth of which live in poverty. In 2017 alone, the INGO sector reached an estimated 34 million people with humanitarian relief and development assistance. The INGOs affected by the closure order are engaged in supporting access to healthcare, education and good governance.

These expulsions come three years after the previous government ordered all INGOs operating in Pakistan to re-register with the Interior Ministry, under a new policy that worked to hamper the registration and functioning of international humanitarian and human rights groups.

The new policy and registration process required the submission of detailed accounts of INGOs’ current and past project funding. Even more concerning, all INGOs working in the country are required to sign a new Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), which prohibits any participation in ‘political activity,’ such as campaigning and advocacy activities, as well as distribution of materials deemed to negatively affect social, cultural and religious sentiments. The MoU also prevents INGOs from appealing the government’s decisions in court.

CIVICUS said the removal of these INGOs violates the right to freedom of association enshrined in Article 17 of Pakistan’s Constitution and guaranteed by Article 22 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Pakistan is a party to. Any restriction on the right to freedom of association must be in strict compliance with international human rights law. In particular, any restriction shall be prescribed by law and must have a legitimate aim. Furthermore, the law concerned must be precise, certain and foreseeable. It shall also be adopted through a democratic process that ensures public participation and review. The recent actions fulfill none of these criteria.

“The Pakistani government must reconsider its decision to expel these groups and halt any further plans to shut down other civil society organisations.” Said Kode.

“Instead, as part of its reform agenda, it should take steps to revise its policy on INGOs to avoid contravening the rights to freedom of expression and association and ensure the policy cannot be misused to restrict organisations’ legitimate work.” said Kode.

CIVICUS has urged the government to create an enabling environment for civil society and human rights defenders to operate, in accordance with the rights enshrined in the Constitution of Pakistan, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, among others.

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

ENDS

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

David Kode - email:

CIVICUS Media –

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ENDS.

For more information, please contact:

David Kode

Grant Clark

 

Arrests of hundreds at demonstrations on West Papua highlight relentless suppression of dissent

  • Hundreds of West Papuans were arrested for holding peaceful protests
  • Some protesters were attacked by pro-government groups and suffered injuries
  • There has been a failure by the government to address West Papuan grievances and instead respond with repressive tactics

Mass Arrests IndonesiaIndonesian authorities arbitrarily arrested hundreds of demonstrators across West Papua and other parts of Indonesia on December 1 following peaceful pro-independence protests.

West Papua is a former Dutch colony that was placed under Indonesian rule following a United Nations-supervised referendum in 1969, which many believe to be fraudulent.

The rallies were held to mark the 57th anniversary of the raising of the Morning Star flag - a banned symbol of Papuan independence – to declare independence from the Netherlands.

Global civil rights group, CIVICUS, says the arrest of at least 500 activists highlights the continued repression against peaceful pro-independence activism in West Papua and the ongoing impunity for these violations.

According to reports, peaceful demonstrations took place in several locations in West Papua as well as other cities across the country including the cities of Jakarta, Surabaya, Palu, Kupang, Makassar, Manado and Ambon. Most of the arrested have been released.

In Surabaya city, which saw one of the biggest rallies, protesters were allegedly attacked by pro-government nationalist groups leaving at least 17 injured.

“The weekend arrests of hundreds of West Papuan activists solely for their peaceful political expression is outrageous and another attempt to silence their ongoing demands. Despite continued promises by President Joko Widodo to address the grievances of West Papuans, all they have faced time and time again are repressive actions by the Indonesian security forces” said Josef Benedict, CIVICUS civic space researcher.

There have been long standing demands by West Papuan groups for independence due to the exploitation of land and resources and serious human rights violations in the region. Over the decades, the Indonesian security forces have responded brutally with reports of unlawful killings and unnecessary and excessive use of force and firearms during peaceful pro-independence protests and gatherings.

Political activists and others accused of links to pro-independence groups have been tortured or otherwise ill-treated during arrests. Most recently, in September 2018, at least 67 Papuan student activists were detained by the police for participating in at least three protests in Jayapura..

“The international community, especially countries in the region, cannot continue to stay silent on the abuses in West Papua. It must push for an end to the suppression of fundamental freedoms there and call for a genuine dialogue between the government and West Papuans to resolve the situation in the region.” said Benedict.

CIVICUS has called on the Indonesian government to respect the right to freedom of expression and assembly and take the necessary steps to ensure that all police and military personnel who have been involved in human rights violations in West Papua are held accountable. The government must also take measures to ensure that local human rights defenders and journalists are protected and that international human rights organisations, journalists and the UN are provided unimpeded access to the West Papuan region.

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

ENDS

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

Josef Benedict

 

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