Sri Lanka: Release poet and drop spurious charges against him

Joint Statement from CIVICUS and Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC)

The arrest and ongoing detention of award-winning author and poet Shakthika Sathkumara on spurious charges are a clear violation of his right to freedom of expression, CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance and the Asian Human Right Commission (AHRC), said today ahead of his next court hearing on 18 June.

Shakthika Sathkumara was arrested on 1 April 2019 by the Polgahawela Police in response to a complaint alleging that Sathkumara’s short story ‘Ardha’ (Half) was derogatory and defamatory to Buddhism. The story is allegedly about homosexuality and child abuse in a Buddhist temple in Sri Lanka, and there is no evidence that the content contains anything that amounts to hate speech or defamation. He was initially remanded by the Polgahawela Magistrate’s Court until 9 April and has remained detained since his arrest. The Attorney General has twice rejected his bail request.

Sathkumara faces charges under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) Act of 2007, which criminalises the advocacy of “national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence”. If convicted, he faces a maximum of up to ten years’ imprisonment. No credible evidence has been presented to substantiate any of these charges.

This is a clear misuse of the law, which was enacted to protect human rights recognised by the international community including fundamental freedoms such as freedom of speech.

Shakthika Sathkumar’s arrest and ongoing detention are inconsistent with Sri Lanka’s constitutional and international human rights obligations, as well as the country’s ICCPR Act. The right to freedom of expression which includes artistic expression and creativity is guaranteed under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Sri Lanka is a party, as well as Article 14(1)(a) of the Constitution of Sri Lanka.  Sri Lanka is also bound by international human rights law to protect artists and all persons participating in artistic activities.

Further, under the law he can only be granted bail by a high court judge. Systemic delays inherent in the Sri Lankan justice system means that it could be months before he even appears before a high court. That he has been remanded only on the basis of a police report, without a magistrate ruling that there is basis for detention, is also a violation of fair trial rights and has worrying implications for due process rights in the country. The Inspector General of Police and the Attorney General of Sri Lanka must investigate these concerns immediately.

CIVICUS and AHRC calls on the authorities to release Shakthika Sathkumara immediately and unconditionally, and to drop the spurious charges brought against him.  We also call on the authorities to ensure that writers and artists may work freely and without fear of retribution for expression critical opinions or covering topics that the government or others may find sensitive or offensive.

Shakthika Sathkumar’s arrest comes in the context of attacks on civic space more broadly in the country. Over the last year, CIVICUS has documented multiple attacks, threats and intimidation against journalists and human rights activists in Sri Lanka and the failure to bring the perpetrators of these abuses to account.

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

For more information, please contact:

Josef Benedict at josef.benedict{AT}civicus.org (CIVICUS) or
Mohammad Ashrafuzzaman at zaman{AT}ahrc.asia (AHRC)

 

Pakistan: Human Rights Defender Gulalai Ismail at risk

Pakistani authorities must end their judicial persecution of human rights defender Gulalai Ismail, global civil society alliance CIVICUS said today. She is being investigated for defamation and sedition, and other charges under Pakistan’s Anti-Terrorism Act, for a speech she made condemning authorities’ inaction in a case of rape and murder of a 10-year-old girl, and has been forced into hiding.

The accusation came after she delivered a speech condemning the state and its institutions, calling the murder “one among many” incidences of violence by the state and its security agencies. According to a news report, a First Information Request lodged against Ismail accuses her of ‘delivering hate speech, inciting ethnic sentiments against the state and Pakistan Army, and causing a sense of fear and terror among people’. At least one medical official has been sacked for criminal negligence over their handling of the case, and Prime Minister Imran Khan has ordered action against negligence officials involved in the case.

CIVICUS calls on the Pakistan government to drop these baseless charges against Gulalai Ismail and end the judicial persecution against her. These charges highlight the hostile environment for human rights defenders, journalists and others in Pakistan in the exercise of their freedom of expression, particularly with regards to criticism of the state.

This was not the first time Gulalai Ismail has been persecuted by authorities. In 2017 and 2018 she was targeted by both non-state and state actors for the work of her CSO - Aware Girls to empower women and girls. She has also been targeted for her a support of the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement which has mobilised nationwide against human rights violations against Pashtun people.

CIVICUS has documented systematic attacks against the PTM with scores of peaceful protesters arbitrarily arrested, detained and prosecuted on spurious charges, while protests by the PTM have been obstructed by security forces. The Pakistan authorities have blocked media coverage around the protests and harass activists and human rights defenders who have spoken out on the rights of Pashtun people. At least one of the PTM’s leaders has been allegedly killed.

In August 2018, Gulalai Ismail was accused, along with 19 other people, of making anti-state comments and using inflammatory language at a PTM rally in Swabi, Khyber Paktunkhwa province. In October 2018, she was briefly detained at Islamabad airport as she re-entered the country from the UK and her name is on the Exit Control List, which imposes a ban on travelling outside the country, or why. In February 2019, Ismail was briefly detained arrested as she and about 80 other PTM supporters gathered to protest the death in custody of PTM leader Arman Loni.

The Pakistani authorities must take serious measures to foster a safe, respectful, enabling environment for civil society by removing barriers that unwarrantedly limit freedom of association and expression. It must also ensure that human rights defenders like Gulalai Ismail are able to carry out their legitimate activities without fear or undue hindrance, obstruction or legal and administrative harassment.

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

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

 

CSOs express concern over judicial harassment of former Cambodia National Rescue Party members

We, the undersigned civil society groups, express serious concern regarding the recent and ongoing judicial harassment of former Cambodia National Rescue Party (“CNRP”) elected officials and members through baseless arrests, summonses, and detentions across multiple provinces. We urge the Royal Government of Cambodia to immediately cease the harassment of members of the political opposition and instead take concrete measures to restore civic space and enable all individuals to exercise their rights to free expression, association, assembly and political participation.

 

BANGLADESH: HRD tortured while in arbitrary detention must be released and charges be dropped

 

AHRC logo

CIVICUS logo colour on transparency lowres

 

 

 

 

 

Bangladesh authorities must immediately release human rights defender Mohammad Abdul Kaium, who has been allegedly tortured in custody during his arbitrary detention. The fabricated case filed against him under the Digital Security Act (DSA)-2018 and other penal laws should be dropped immediately.

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has verified information that Mohammad Abdul Kaium, a human rights defender associated with Odhikar, an independent rights organisation working on key issues of civil and political rights, is facing state-orchestrated persecution from the Sheikh Hasina regime in Bangladesh.

Kaium edits online news portal www.mymensinghlive.com and is a journalist with www.bdpress24.com. He is also a web developer. In 2018, Kaium signed an agreement to provide web-development service for Idris Ali Khan, a close relative of a Member of Parliament of the ruling party, whom Kaium had criticised in the past. The agreement was worth BDT 120,000 (USD 1,394).

On 11 May 2019, Idris Khan summoned Abdul Kaium to his office to receive his payment. Upon Kaium's arrival Idris Khan offered USD 200, significantly lower than the agreed amount. Kaium refused to take the lower payment. As he left Idris Khan's office in Kristopur, Mymensingh district town – an area which is under the Kotwoali police station's jurisdiction – two plain-clothed officers of the Detective Branch (DB) Police arrested him. The police officers also seized a cell phone from Kaium.

The DB police ordered Abdul Kaium to give them ‘the USD 200' and searched him. Failing to find the money, the police tortured him and ordered Kaium to confess that he extorted money from Idris Khan. While he was in detention, a team of plain-clothes detectives raided Kaium's house in the Bhatiashor area of Mymensing town without a search warrant. The police seized the files and other items, including the signed web development agreement between Kaium's company and Idris Khan, as well as the key to Kaium's room. However, the police have not yet submitted a list of seized items to the court.

Kaium has told AHRC's Human Rights Fact-Finding Team that on the evening of 11 May, from his cell, he overheard Idris Khan bribing the police officers to torture him. Kaium also saw from his cell DB police Sub Inspector (SI) Akram placing money in the drawer of his office desk.

Later the same evening, DB Officer-in-Charge (OC) Shah Kamal, SI Akram, SI Monju, SI Jewel and SI Porimol ordered Kaium to confess to receiving US dollars from Idris Khan.   Kaium refused, and asked the police officers why he was being kept in detention without a court appearance. Kaium reports that the DB officers became angry and threatened to kill him under the pretext of 'crossfire' unless he provided a confessional statement on his alleged involvement in an illegal currency-exchange business. As Kaium continued to refuse, he was subjected to a prolonged physical attack by all officers present, including being slapped, punched, hit with his belt and struck with a wooden chair. The police also seized Kaium's National Identity Card and forced him to divulge the passwords of his social media and email accounts, and the login details of his online news portal.

On 12 May, a case was brought against Kaium by police in response to a complaint filed with Trishal Police Station by Idris Ali Khan on the same day.

It includes the following charges under the repressive Digital Security Act of 2018:

  • Section 23 – digital or electronic fraud; punishable by five years’ imprisonment and a BDT 500,000 (USD 5,809) fine; or seven years’ imprisonment and BDT 1 million (USD 11,619) fine;
  • Section 25 – publishing, sending of offensive, false or fear inducing data-information punishable by imprisonment of three to five years and a BDT 300,000 to one million fine;
  • Section 29 – publishing, broadcasting, etc., defamatory information, punishable by imprisonment of three to five years and a BDT 500,000 to 1 million fine.

The police also accused Kaium of offences under the Penal Code of 1860:

  • Sections 385 – putting a person in fear of injury in order to commit extortion punishable by five to 14 years' imprisonment with fines; and,
  • Section 386 – extortion by putting a person in fear of death or grievous hurt, punishable by 10 years' imprisonment with fine.

On 13 May, Kaium was brought before the Chief Judicial Magistrate's Court in Mymensingh. The police requested he remain in police remand for five days while Kaium's lawyer sought bail. On 14 May, the Magistrate rejected both petitions for remand and bail and ordered that Kaium be detained in prison. On 23 May, the Sessions Judge's Court rejected Kaium's bail petition.

The factual information in relation to Kaium's detention establishes that the police illegally arrested and detained him a day before the case was fabricated against him. Although according to the First Information Report the alleged incident occurred in the jurisdiction of the Kotowali police, the complaint was registered in a different jurisdiction. The police arbitrarily detained Kaium for over 36 hours following his arrest in violation of Article 33 (2) of the Constitution of Bangladesh and Section 61 of the Code of Criminal Procedure-1898.

The Court failed to protect Kaium's right to liberty and also ignored the fact that the police officers tortured Kaium in custody. It indicates that the Court's complicity in maintaining the culture of impunity in Bangladesh.

Bangladesh authorities must halt the practice of fabricating cases against independent human rights defenders and journalists.

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

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

Josef Benedict, Civic Space Researcher,


CIVICUS on Facebook
CIVICUS on Twitter
CIVICUS Monitor on Twitter

 

Pakistan: Joint letter on civic space violations against Pashtuns

Dr Shireen M Mazari
Federal Minister for Human Rights
Ministry of Human Rights
9th Floor, New Pak Secretariat (Kohsar Block)
Sector F-5, Islamabad, Pakistan

Concerns regarding civic space violations against the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM)

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 members in more than 170 countries.

The Pakistan NGO Forum (PNF) is an umbrella body composed of five networks of civil society organisations (CSOs) in Pakistan. Collectively, the networks have about 5,000 community-based organisations and CSOs as members. PNF’s primary mission is to create a conducive working environment for CSOs in Pakistan

We are writing to you with regards to our concerns on civic space violations against the ethnic Pashtun people and in particular the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM). The PTM mobilised nationwide against human rights violations against Pashtun people, sparked by the killing of a young Pashtun man, Naqeebullah Mehsud, by the police in January 2018.

As well as seeking justice for Naqeebullah’s killing, the movement mobilised around wider calls. Protesters have demanded the formation of a truth and reconciliation commission to examine human rights violations committed by the state and non-state actors in Pashtun areas, including enforced disappearances allegedly perpetrated by the Pakistan army, and extrajudicial killings. Protesters also continue to call for equal rights for Pashtun people, as guaranteed by the constitution, and the restoration of peace in Pashtun areas and the region in general.[1]

The CIVICUS Monitor, which tracks civic freedoms on a global scale, has documented a series of violations by the authorities and other actors, as set out below.

The disruption of protests and arrest of protesters

Scores of protesters have been detained or charged since the beginning of the protests, some under terrorism charges. In most cases, many of those detained were released without charge after weeks in prison. 

  • In March 2018, criminal cases were filed against Manzoor Pashteen and four other PTM leaders. The men were investigated for ‘provoking with intent to cause riot’ and ‘promoting enmity between different groups’ under sections 153 and 153a of Pakistan’s criminal code. According to human rights groups, the accusations were fabricated in “an attempt to smear the PTM and punish its leaders for exercising their rights to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly.”[2]
  • In March 2018, Manzoor Pashteen reported that PTM supporters had received threats that they would be implicated in terrorism offences.[3] In December 2018, he was banned from entering Balochistan province on the grounds of “incitement of unrest in the province through his hate speech and incendiary statement against the state and its institutions.” The ban remains in place.[4]
  • In April 2018, at least 30 activists were arrested in the run-up to the Lahore rally. Police gave no reasons for the arrests; according to reports, “some bystanders kept asking the police as to why were they being picked up and where were they being taken to, but they gave no answer nor produced any arrest warrants as they whisked them away in their police van.”[5]
  • In May 2018, police lodged cases against more than 150 PTM supporters for holding rallies across Karachi. The 150 were accused of crimes ranging from sedition and rioting to terror offences. PTM leader and member of parliament (MP) Mohsin Dawar told news outlet Dawni that the cases were a “tactic” to sabotage PTM’s main Karachi rally, planned to be held on 13 May 2018.[6]
  • In June 2018, 37 PTM activists were arrested at a rally at the National Press Club in Islamabad. According to reports, they were made to sit in a prison van for three hours while the temperature was at almost 40 degrees Celsius before they were taken to Adiala jail. The 37 activists, who included several students, were subsequently charged with sedition.[7] Their cases were referred to an anti-terrorism court, and all were denied bail until 24 September 2018, when the Islamabad district commissioner withdrew anti-terrorism charges.[8]
  • In October 2018, authorities filed a police report (FIR) against activists who had organised a peaceful protest in Bannu, in southern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the previous day.[9]
  • In January 2019, scores of protesters and PTM leaders were arrested during a rally on the outskirts of Karachi. Between 250 and 300 people were accused of various crimes under Pakistan’s Penal Code and Anti-Terrorism Act.[10] Among those arrested was Alamzeb Mehsud, a prominent PTM activist who had been profiling missing persons and other war victims. Footage of his arrest showed his vehicle being intercepted by the police on a busy road, and armed police officers forcing him to disembark before he was taken into custody. He was subsequently charged with inciting a riot, defamation, ‘promoting enmity between different groups’, and ‘statements conducing to public mischief’ read with Section 7 of Pakistan’s Anti-Terrorism Act. The court ordered him to be kept in custody for four days. Ali Wazir, a PTM leader and MP, was also charged, along with 15 other people.[11]

According to reports, police routinely put pressure on local people to stay away from PTM protests in various cities in Pakistan. Local printing presses refused to print campaign posters while authorities pressured businesses to refuse to provide chairs and tents for protests. Ahead of an April 2018 rally in Swat, lawyer and PTM leader Iqbal Khan reported that officials in the Swat region made announcements from mosques to warn people against participating in the gathering.[12]

Unlawful killing

Our organisations are also concerned about the allegations of unlawful killing of a PTM leader Arman Loni, died in police custody on 2 February 2019.[13] He had been arrested earlier that day in the southwestern district of Loralai in Baluchistan after participating in a sit-in outside Loralai Press Club in protest against a recent terror attack. Several police officers reportedly physically assaulted him in public with rifle butts, and he suffered blows to the head and neck. A few hours later, he died in hospital.[14] To date, we are not aware of any credible investigation into the killing or any attempt to bring the perpetrators to justice. Arman’s death was only registered by the police after two months.[15] Our organisations are also seriously concerned about reports that witnesses to his killing have been tortured or otherwise ill-treated by security forces.[16]

Three days after the murder, more than 80 PTM protesters were detained by police after they gathered outside the National Press Club in Islamabad to protest about Aman’s death.[17] At least 17 PTM members were subsequently charged under the West Pakistan Maintenance of Public Order Act of 1960 and moved to Adiala prison.

Judicial harassment and threats against activists

Activists have also faced harassment and threats for supporting the PTM. In August 2018, woman human rights defender Gulalai Ismail was accused, along with 19 other people, of making anti-state comments and using inflammatory language at a PTM rally in Swabi, Khyber Paktunkhwa province.[18] The 19 PTM activists faced charges of ‘unlawful assembly’, ‘punishment for rioting’ and ‘punishment for wrongful restraint’. In October 2018, Gulalai was briefly detained at Islamabad airport as she re-entered the country from the UK. Officials kept her passport but could not tell her which government department had put her name on the Exit Control List (ECL), which imposes a ban on travelling outside the country, or why.[19] In May 2019, the Peshawar High Court quashed[20] the charges against the PTM activists but Gulalai and other activists remain on the ECL.

Hayat Preghal, a social media activist and supporter of the PTM, was released on bail on 3 October 2018 after more than two months in jail for social media posts that were deemed critical of the Pakistani authorities.[21] He had initially been detained in July 2018 while visiting his family and charged under sections 9 and 10 of Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act, 2016 for ‘anti-state activity through social media’, and sections 500 and 109 of the Pakistan Penal Code.

Restrictions on media coverage

We are also concerned that the authorities have attempted to suppress the PTM by silencing media coverage of the movement. In December 2018, internet service providers blocked the website of Voice of America's (VOA) Urdu language service. Its audience was primarily Pashto-speaking communities. Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry claimed the sites were blocked for “false and prejudiced reporting.” An intelligence source reported that the decision to block the website was triggered by VOA's coverage of PTM.[22] An article by Manzoor Pashteen in the New York Times on 12 February 2019, entitled ‘"The Military Says Pashtuns Are Traitors. We Just Want Our Rights" was censored by its local publisher in Pakistan.[23]

Journalists covering protests have been targeted in a similar manner to participants. Sailaab Mehsud of Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty's Mashaal radio and Zafar Wazir of a local TV channel were accused in December 2018 by police of “raising slogans against state institutions and inciting the public to violence, along with nearly 30 other people.” Authorities raised the allegations following the journalists’ presence at a rally in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. Sailaab said he and Zafar were covering the rally as journalists.[24] In February 2019, the authorities halted the broadcasting of an interview with Manzoor Pashteen on a local Pashtu channel AVT Khyber.[25]

International obligations

These violations are inconsistent with Pakistan’s international obligations, including those under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) which it ratified in 2008. These include obligations to respect and protect civil society’s fundamental rights to the freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression. These fundamental freedoms are also guaranteed in Pakistan’s Constitution. Further, during Pakistan’s Universal Periodic Review at the United Nations Human Rights Council in 2017, the government supported recommendations to safeguard freedom of expression, protect the right to life and freedom of expression of journalists and human rights defenders (HRDs), and to investigate all reports of attacks against them and bring perpetrators to justice. It also committed to combat all forms of discrimination, particularly against ethnic minorities.[26]

We therefore make the following recommendations to the government of Pakistan:

  • Put an end the harassment, stigmatisation, intimidation, unlawful surveillance, travel restrictions and arrest of peaceful PTM activists and ensure that they can freely express their opinions and dissent without fear of reprisals;
  • Conduct a swift, thorough, independent and impartial investigation into the death in custody of activist Arman Loni, and ensure that those responsible for his death are brought to justice;
  • Conduct impartial, thorough and effective investigations into all cases of attacks, harassment and intimidation against HRDs and journalists and bring the perpetrators of such offences to justice;
  • Drop all charges against protesters, community activists and HRDs for exercising their right to the freedom of peaceful assembly and instruct the police that it is their duty to facilitate peaceful assemblies, rather than hinder them;
  • Take immediate steps to ensure press freedom and halt all media restrictions against coverage of the PTM;
  • Ensure that HRDs are able to carry out their legitimate activities without fear or undue hindrance, obstruction or legal and administrative harassment such as travel restrictions under the Exit Control List (ECL);
  • Take steps to make enforced disappearances and torture a criminal offence and ensure that all allegations of such acts are thoroughly investigated and those responsible brought to justice.

We express our sincere hope that you will take these steps as a matter of priority and we hope to hear from you regarding our inquiries as soon as possible. We would be pleased to discuss these matters with you or other appropriate officials at any time.

Sincerely,      

David E. Kode
CIVICUS Advocacy & Campaigns Lead

Professor Mohamed Ismail
Pakistan NGO Forum

Cc:
Diplomatic missions in Pakistan

 

[1] ‘In Pakistan, long-suffering Pahtuns find their voice’, The New York Times, 6 February 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/06/world/asia/pakistan-pashtun-long-march.html.


[2] ‘Peaceful Pashtun activists face criminal cases’, Amnesty International, 19 March 2018, https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/asa33/8079/2018/en.

[3] ‘New Pashtun dissent meets old coercion tactics in Pakistan’, Gandhara, 26 March 2018, https://gandhara.rferl.org/a/Pakistan-pashtun-tahafuz-movement-coercion-tactics/29125095.html.

[4] ‘Balochistan extends ban on Pashteen’s entry,’ Dawn, 3 April 2019, https://www.dawn.com/news/1473567.

[5] ‘Civil Society condemns arrests of young activists’, The Daily Times, 27 April 2018, https://dailytimes.com.pk/232878/civil-society-condemns-arrests-of-young-activists.

[6] ‘Over 150 PTM activists booked for sedition, terrorism’, Dawn, 11 May 2018, https://www.dawn.com/news/1406903.

[7] ‘Islamabad police round up PTM supporters for holding anti-Taliban protest’, Pakistan Today, 9 June 2018, https://www.pakistantoday.com.pk/2018/06/09/islamabad-police-round-up-ptm-supporters-for-holding-anti-taliban-protest.

[8] ‘ATC case against 37 PTM activists withdrawn’, The Express Tribune, 24 September 2018, https://tribune.com.pk/story/1810320/1-atc-case-37-ptm-activists-withdrawn.

[9] ‘…meanwhile, FIR registered against PTM Bannu rally organisers’, Pakistan Today, 2 November 2018, https://www.pakistantoday.com.pk/2018/11/02/meanwhile-fir-registered-against-ptm-bannu-rally-organisers/

[10] ‘Scores held under anti-terrorism laws in Pashtun rights rally in Pakistan’, News 18, 22 January 2019, https://www.news18.com/news/world/scores-held-under-anti-terrorism-laws-in-pashtun-rights-rally-in-pakistan-2009657.html.

[11] ‘Pashtun rights activist Alamzeb Mehsud arrested in Pakistan’, Al Jazeera, 22 January 2019, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/01/prominent-pashtun-rights-activist-arrested-pakistan-190122121631198.html and ‘PTM leaders booked under anti-terror law, one held’, Dawn, 22 January 2019, https://www.dawn.com/news/1459029

[12] ‘Pashtun campaigners complain of hurdles,’ Gandhara, 26 April 2018, https://gandhara.rferl.org/a/pashtun-campaigners-complain-of-hurdles-ahead-of-protest-in-pakistan/29194419.html.

[13] ‘Rights group condemns arbitrary detention of protesters in Pakistan and the police killing of activist’, CIVICUS, 8 February 2019, https://www.civicus.org/index.php/media-resources/media-releases/3720-global-rights-group-condemns-arbitrary-detention-of-pashtun-protesters-in-pakistan-and-the-police-killing-of-a-leading-activist.

[14] ‘Killing of Mr. Ibrahim Arman Loni & arbitrary detention of Ms. Gulalai Ismail and several PTM members’, Worldwide Movement for Human Rights, 14 February 2019, https://www.fidh.org/en/issues/human-rights-defenders/pakistan-killing-of-mr-ibrahim-arman-loni-arbitrary-detention-of-ms.

[15] ‘Case registered against Loralai police officer for Arman Loni’s death’, Dawn, 2 April 2019, https://www.dawn.com/news/1473444.

[16] See Mohsin Dawar, 17 May 2019, https://twitter.com/mjdawar/status/1129489961378635776

[17] ‘Abdullah Nangyal, Gulalai Ismail among dozens of PTM workers held in capital’, Pakistan Today, 5 February 2019, https://www.pakistantoday.com.pk/2019/02/05/abdullah-nangyal-gulalai-ismail-among-dozens-of-ptm-workers-held-in-capital.

[18] ‘Prominent human rights activist briefly held by Pakistan authorities’, Voice of America, 14 October 2018, https://www.voanews.com/a/prominent-human-rights-activist-briefly-held-by-pakistan-authorities/4612861.html.

[19] ‘Release Pashtun human rights defenders immediately and unconditionally’, Amnesty International, 12 October 2018, https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2018/10/pakistan-release-pashtun-human-rights-defender-immediately-and-unconditionally.

[20] ‘PHC orders quashing of FIR against PTM leaders’, Dawn, 10 May 2019, https://www.dawn.com/news/1481340.

[21] ‘Immediately and unconditionally release Muhammad Hayat Khan Preghal’, Amnesty International, 24 September 2018, https://www.amnesty.org/download/Documents/ASA3391512018ENGLISH.pdf.

[22] ‘Pakistan Tightens Coverage of Pashtun Rights Movement’, Voice of America, 11 December 2018, https://www.voanews.com/a/pakistan-tightens-coverage-of-pashtun-nationalist-movement/4696344.html.

[23] ‘Pakistan censors New York Times article by activist critical of military’, Straits Times, 12 February 2019, https://www.straitstimes.com/asia/south-asia/pakistan-censors-new-york-times-article-by-activist-critical-of-military.

[24] ‘Two journalists from D.I. Khan booked for covering protest rally’, Pakistan Press Foundation, 12 December 2018, https://www.pakistanpressfoundation.org/two-journalists-from-d-i-khan-booked-for-covering-protest-rally.

[25] See Tabinda M. Khan, 20 February 2019, https://twitter.com/tabinda_m/status/1098251413312876544

[26] Recommendations 152.170 (Cyprus), 152.176 (Greece), 152.175 (Norway) and 152.83 (Cote d'Ivoire) in ‘Report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review: Pakistan’, United Nations Human Rights Council, 29 December 2017, https://www.ohchr.org/en/hrbodies/upr/pages/pkindex.aspx.

 

Philippines: Stop the Attacks against Human Rights Defenders and Protect Civic Space

 

Joint Statement:
We, the undersigned organisations, strongly denounce the recent death threats addressed to Karapatan Secretary General, Cristina Palabay in the Philippines. These threats and the wider attacks against human rights defenders, journalists and civil society representatives signify the further constricting of civic space and the silencing of dissent in the country. We collectively urge the Government of the Philippines to respond to the threats against human rights defenders by taking genuine and effective measures for their protection.

On 22 April 2019, Palabay received threatening messages from someone using an unknown phone number saying that she and other human rights defenders will be killed this year. These threats highlight the risks faced by human rights defenders, which have significantly increased since President Duterte took office in June 2016. Duterte has consistently spoken out against human rights and human rights defenders. He has previously threatened to behead human rights advocates [1],  and blamed them for the increase in the number of drug users in the country [2].  While the Office of the President has been quick to assert that these statements were merely made in jest, such statements have translated into real-life repercussions for human rights defenders, who face violence and threats from both state and non-state actors. 

In 2018, the Department of Justice filed a petition placing UN Special Rapporteur Vicki Tauli-Corpuz and other human rights defenders on a list of individuals who supposedly had terrorist connections. Being publicly accused of such connections greatly endangers their security [3].  A month later, Duterte told people to ‘kill those useless bishops’, [4]  referring, among others, to Bishop Pablo Salud, who is known for speaking out against the Government’s ‘war on drugs’. This too resulted in anonymous death threats. 

On the same day that Palabay received the latest threats against her life, human rights worker Bernardino Patigas was killed [5].  Another human rights defender, Archad Ayao was killed just days later [6].  Of the human rights defenders cases monitored by FORUM-ASIA in Asia in 2017-2018, the biggest percentage of killings - 48 per cent totalling 29 cases – took place in the Philippines [7]. 

Attacks and reprisals against human rights defenders continue as the Government wages a systematic campaign to attack the independence of democratic institutions and to constrict civic space in the country.  Individuals within the legislative and judiciary branches have faced reprisals for dissenting against Duterte’s policies, while journalists have been targeted for their critical reporting. This campaign has included efforts ranging from: a general failure to investigate attacks against human rights defenders; to the use of repressive laws to judicially harass critics; to outright violence.

We condemn these attacks, and express deep concern for the government policies and practices that restrict and repress civil society and human rights defenders in the Philippines. We call on the Government of the Philippines to ensure thorough and impartial investigations of the attacks against human rights defenders, and to ensure a safe and enabling environment for them to conduct their work. We also urge the House of Representatives to enact and implement the Human Rights Defenders Protection Bill that will provide legal recognition to and safeguards for human rights defenders, in accordance with the UN Declaration on the Rights of Human Rights Defenders.

We call on stakeholders in the international community to continue to closely monitor the situation in the Philippines, and to use their interactions with the Government, including in the area of trade and business, to emphasise the importance of reversing restrictive policies and building an enabling environment for the respect and protection of human rights. Specifically, we urge the UN Human Rights Council to advance accountability for human rights violations in the country by adopting a resolution establishing an independent international investigation into extrajudicial killings in the government's 'war on drugs', and to call for a halt to the  attacks on human rights defenders, independent media, and democratic institutions.

Signed,
Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)
CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
Front Line Defenders
FIDH (International Federation for Human Rights), within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)
World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders


1 Duterte threatens to behead human rights advocates.
https://www.gmanetwork.com/news/news/nation/611343/duterte‐threatens‐to‐behead‐human‐rights‐ advocates/story/
2 Duterte threats alarm rights groups https://www.rappler.com/nation/154110‐duterte‐threats‐alarm‐rights‐ groups
3 Palace: ‘Terrorist’ tag on UN special rapporteur based on intel. https://globalnation.inquirer.net/164881/victoria‐ tauli‐corpus‐un‐special‐rapporteur‐terrorist‐cpp‐npa
4 Philippines' Duterte: 'Kill those useless bishops' https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2018/12/philippines‐duterte‐ kill‐useless‐catholic‐bishops‐181205132220894.html
5 Negros Occidental city councilor shot dead. https://www.rappler.com/nation/228768‐negros‐occidental‐city‐ councilor‐shot‐dead‐april‐22‐2019
6 BARMM human rights worker shot dead in Cotabato City. https://www.rappler.com/nation/229468‐barmm‐ human‐rights‐worker‐archad‐ayao‐shot‐dead‐cotabato‐city‐may‐2019
7 Since 2010, FORUM‐ASIA has been using an integrated database documenting system, to document violations and abuses against HRDs in Asia. The data can be accessed at https://asianhrds.forum‐asia.org/.

 

The Belgrade Call to Action

French

A Civil Society Call to Stand Together to

Defend Peoples’ Voices for a Just and Sustainable World

Reverse the Closing and Shrinking Space for Civil Society

Stop the Increasing Attacks on Human Rights Defenders and the Undermining of Democratic Participation

Renew the Prospects for an Inclusive Agenda 2030 and the Full Realization of the SDGs

Launched in Belgrade, April 8, 2019

We, leaders from Global Civil Society, coming from civil society organizations, activists and campaigners from all parts of the World, on this day in Belgrade call on international and national civil society to stand together and declare aloud: Enough is enough! Stop the relentless attacks on civil society, social leaders and human rights defenders!

The global community is currently moving down a path that will leave hundreds of millions of people behind; real and transformative progress towards achieving the systemic changes for people and planet promised by Agenda 2030 will not be possible without a fully engaged civil society and people’s genuine participation through their organizations and communities.

It is deeply troubling that more than eighty percent (80%) of the world’s population - 6 billion people living in 111 countries - face a situation where either the conditions are closed for civil society (23 countries), or where civil society is highly repressed (35 countries), or where civil society faces substantial legal and political obstacles (53 countries). [CIVICUS Civil Society Monitor] In these countries there is little chance for a fully engaged and mobilized civil society, which is an essential foundation for democracy, human rights safeguards, and progress on the SDGs and for a transformative Agenda 2030.

We urge all Member States of the United Nations to take concrete urgent action to reverse these trends.

Despite rhetorical promises of action by many Member States to “reverse the trend of shrinking civic space wherever it is taking place,” attacks on CSOs, social leaders and human rights defenders continue unabated. [Nairobi Outcome Document, Global Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation]

Civic actors across many sectors are being threatened, persecuted and killed – including those supporting and representing rural communities, Indigenous peoples, journalists, trade unions, women’s rights activists, LGBTQ* activists, youth, people living with disabilities and environmentalists. They are being harassed through arbitrary arrest, detention, the targeted use of legal and regulatory measures and restrictions on CSO finances. Others are deliberately discredited as criminals or “foreign agents.” Civic leaders are being physically harmed, with women’s human rights defenders facing sexual harassment and abuse. All because they seek to protect peoples’ human rights, while promoting democratic participation on issues that affect their lives.

Real and transformative progress, leaving no one behind, in achieving core SDGs – including eradicating poverty (SDG1), eliminating hunger (SDG2), addressing gender and all forms of inequality (SDG5), reducing inequalities (SDG10), promoting decent work and sustainable livelihoods for all (SDG8), and taking action for climate justice and a just transition (SDG13) – will not be possible without a fully engaged civil society and population. The strengths of civil society are its diversity, its rootedness in communities and territories, its direct development experience, and its capacities for public engagement.

SDG 16, for peace, justice and effective institutions, is well beyond reach, in places where civic space is closed and repressed, where civil society cannot freely act with poor and marginalized populations to contribute to and safeguard accountable and inclusive institutions.

The time for rhetoric and noble international statements and declarations is over. The agenda is urgent, and the time to act is now. Practical action is possible. We cannot wait until there is little space for CSOs and their leaders, for human rights activists and for peoples’ voices and actions!

This Belgrade Call to Action is calling for specific commitments and actions, appropriate to each country, with an overarching reference in the Political Declaration of the 2019 High Level Political Forum, and with a timetable by which Member States can be held accountable.

We call on all Member States, meeting in September 2019:

  1. To take concrete steps to protect and enable space for civil society, including enabling laws and regulations, democratic accountability based on human rights norms and human rights standards, and the full protection of civil society under attack – such as social leaders, human rights defenders and gender equality activists.
  2. To embed inclusion and meaningful accountability to people in development practices.
  3. To implement and respect democratic country ownership of national development plans and implement transparency and accountability for inclusive SDG delivery.
  4. To lead by example with concerted action to challenge major human rights violations, including deteriorating conditions facing peoples’ organizations, trade unions, women’s rights organizations, indigenous peoples, and community-based environmentalists, among many others.
  5. To recognise the importance of the inter-connected themes in achieving Agenda 2030 -- civil society voice, eradicating poverty, women’s empowerment, fighting inequality, decent work, climate action and environmental justice. 

Implementing an Action Agenda based on these commitments will require robust, pro-active and collaborative political leadership on the part of all Member States, Development Stakeholders and Civil Society Organizations.  

Civil Society is fully committed to the achievement of the SDGs. But our efforts will be in vain, if we cannot count on new measures and actions at the local, national, regional and global level to reverse the debilitating trends that are shrinking and closing civic space.

We commit to raise these urgent concerns and demand action at all inter-governmental and preparatory meetings as the international community reviews progress in Agenda 2030 in the coming months and years.

This Call to Action, with an accompanying Action Agenda, is being launched simultaneously in countries around the world to draw attention to its urgency.

Belgrade

April 8, 2019

________________________________

[1] Nairobi Outcome Document, Global Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation.

 

 

UAE: Ahmed Mansoor remains on hunger strike in poor conditions as eyesight deteriorates

Imprisoned human rights defender and blogger Ahmed Mansoor has been on hunger strike since 17 March 2019 in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and is in very poor condition. He started the hunger strike to protest poor prison conditions and his unfair trial which led to a ten-year prison sentence for his human rights activities. We call on the UAE to immediately and unconditionally release Mansoor, and other unlawfully detained human rights defenders.

 

Five CIVICUS members join the Youth Action Team

Meet the new YAT

This April, five new members joined the CIVICUS Youth Action Team (YAT). They were elected by CIVICUS youth voting members and will serve a renewable 18-month term until September 2020. Their role will be to mainstream youth and youth issues into CIVICUS’ programmes and activities and to champion youth engagement and civic space.

 

Singapore: Anti-fake news bill another tool to suppress criticism and dissent

laptop keypad

The Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) and CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance, are extremely concerned by a new bill that has been proposed by the Singaporean authorities to counter false news. Our organisations believe that the stated aim of the bill - to deal with online misinformation - is merely a smokescreen to increase curbs on the freedom of expression, and to further silence dissent in this already tightly controlled State. We urge the authorities to discard the bill immediately.

 

CIVICUS alliance new board members

Global civil society alliance CIVICUS was pleased to announce the new elected CIVICUS board during the International Civil Society Week - ICSW in Serbia, 8 -12 April 2019. Two new Board members were appointed. They will join our current board from June 2019 in helping to steer and govern the CIVICUS Alliance from July 2019 to December 2020.

 

CSOs call for action for inclusive Sustainable Development process at Civil Society Summit in Belgrade

Belgrade, Serbia – Civil society organisation (CSO) representatives, development workers, activists, and campaigners from all over the world are gathering in Belgrade, Serbia on April 8, 2019 for the Civil Society Summit as part of International Civil Society Week. The Civil Society Summit 2019 aims to leverage the energy and commitment of civic leaders representing thousands of CSOs, and human rights and climate activists around the world to demand that governments, parliamentarians, businesses, inter-governmental bodies, and citizens take action in promoting people’s participation in building a sustainable world.

 

Global civil society condemns the criminalisation of human rights defenders in Guatemala

 

Joint letter condemns the criminalisation of human rights defenders Claudia Samayoa and José Martínez in Guatemala

We the undersigned organizations are gravelly alarmed by the ongoing, targeted criminalization of human rights defenders in Guatemala including the recent judicial harassment of defenders Mrs. Claudia Virginia Samayoa Pineda and Mr. José Manuel Martínez Cabrera. The targeted judicial harassment of Ms. Samayoa Pineda and Mr. Martinez Cabrera is illustrative of the authorities’ growing intolerance of independent dissent, including defenders working on land and environmental defense.

Mrs. Samayoa Pineda is President of the Board of Directors of UDEFEGUA, an organization which works to support human rights defenders in Central America, and member of the OMCT Executive Committee; while Mr. José Manuel Martínez Cabrera is a member of the Justicia Ya Collective, a citizen movement which opposes corruption and impunity. Both human rights defenders are being subjected to a criminal complaint by Mr. Nester Mauricio Vásquez Pimentel, in his capacity as President of the Supreme Court of Justice (CSJ) and representing the CSJ, on spurious charges of illegally obtaining a court document and influence peddling. It is broadly acknowledged that civil society groups, including UDEFEGUA and the Justicia Ya collective, have been instrumental in the fight against impunity and public corruption in the country.

The criminal case against both defenders is a direct response to a complaint the defenders filed on January 17, 2019 requesting the withdrawal of the privilege of immunity from 11 judges of the CSJ. The complaint contends that the 11 judges breached the Constitution of Guatemala and committed judicial prevarication by allowing criminal proceedings against three judges from the Constitutional Court (CC). Along with the complaint presented to CSJ on January 17, 2019, Ms. Samayoa Pineda and Mr. Martínez Cabrera annexed a copy of the CSJ decision which allows the criminal proceedings against the CC judges to continue. Despite the fact that this document had been widely circulated in the national press and on social media, the President of the CSJ is accusing these two human rights defenders of illegally obtaining it.

The criminalization of both defenders is yet another example of the targeted reprisals leveled against civil society organisations and human rights defenders that have mobilised against a series of attacks on Guatemala's democratic institutional framework. Among other worrying attempts to undermine democratic norms and the rule of law in Guatemala, the authorities have sought to delegitimize the judges of the Constitutional Court and unilaterally cancel an agreement with the UN ending the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG). 

In the framework of our commitment to justice and human rights, we make a public call to the Guatemalan Government to:

  1. End all acts of harassment, misuse of criminal law and criminalization against individuals and communities that defend human rights in Guatemala, including Ms. Claudia Virginia Samayoa Pineda and Mr. José Manuel Martínez Cabrera. In particular, we ask the Public Ministry to dismiss the criminal complaint against both human rights defenders.
  2. Adopt the most appropriate measures to guarantee the safety and physical and psychological integrity of Ms. Claudia Virginia Samayoa Pineda and Mr. José Manuel Martínez Cabrera and of all human rights defenders in Guatemala.
  3. Protect, respect and guarantee the realization of human rights and fundamental freedoms in all regions of Guatemala, as well as the validity of a democratic State.

Organizaciones signatures:

350.org
Action Aid, Guatemala
African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies (ACJPS), Sudan
Alianza Frente a la Criminalización (AFC), Guatemala
Asamblea socioambiental de General Roca . Argentina
Asian Legal Resource Centre (ALRC)
Asociación Ambiente y Sociedad - Colombia
Asociación COMUNICARTE, Guatemala
Asociación de Mujeres de Guatemala AMG, España
Asociación de Trabajadoras del Hogar a Domicilio y de Maquila ATRAHDOM
Asociación Interamericana para la Defensa del Ambiente (AIDA), Colombia
Asociación para una Ciudadanía Participativa (ACI PARTICIPA) – Honduras
Association for Human Rights in Ethiopia (AHRE), Ethiopia
AWID (Association for Women’s Rights  in Development)
Banglar Manabadhikar Suraksha Mancha (MASUM), India
Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR), Cambodia
Carea e.V., Alemania
Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL)
Central General de Trabajadores de Guatemala
Centro de Incidencia Ambiental de Panamá (CIAM)
CIVICUS
Civil Society Organizations Network for Development (RESOCIDE), Burkina Faso
Colectivo CADEHO, Alemania
Collectif Guatemala, Francia,
Comité de Familiares de las Víctimas de los Sucesos de Febrero-Marzo de 1989 (COFAVIC) – Venezuela
Comité de Solidaridad con los Presos Políticos (CSPP) – Colombia
Comite Noruego de solidaridad con America Latina, Noruega
Committee Against Torture, Russian Federation
Comunidades en Resistencia Pacífica de La Puya, Guatemala
Confederación Unitaria de Trabajadores de Honduras
Congregation of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd, US Provinces
Consorcio para el diálogo parlamentario y la equidad Oaxaca A.C .- México
Coordinadora Civil-Nicaragua
Coordinadora Nacional de Derechos Humanos (CNDDHH) - Perú
CUTH
Derecho Ambiente y Recursos Naturales DAR (Perú)
Dienst fuer  Mission, Oekumene und Entwicklung der Evangelischen Landeskirche Stuttgart, Alemania
DKA Austria
Federación Guatemalteca de Escuelas Radiofónicas (FGER), Guatemala
Festivales Solidarios, Guatemala
Foro de Organizaciones No Gubernamentales Internacionales en Guatemala (FONGI)
Front Line Defenders
Fundación Ambiente y Recursos Naturales (FARN)
Fundación Ciudadanía Inteligente
Fundación de Estudios para la Aplicación del Derecho (FESPAD)
Fundación Karmel Juyup’, Guatemala
Fundación para el Debido Proceso (DPLF)
German Zepeda, Solidarity Center
Global Witness
Guatemala-Netz Zürich
HondurasDelegation, Alemania
Human Rights Defenders Network- SL
Iglesia Luterana ILUGUA de Guatemala, Guatemala
Impunity Watch, Países Bajos
International Commission of Jurists (ICJ)-Kenya, Kenya
International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF)
International Land Coalition (ILC) - América Latina y el Caribe
International Land Coalition (ILC) - Secretariat
JASS (Just Associates)
Karapatan Alliance for the Advancement of People's Rights, Philippines
Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and the Rule of Law (KIBHRL), Kazakhstan
KM207 Guatemala-Suisse
Latin America Working Group
Ligue Burundaise des droits de l’homme Iteka, Burundi
Maryknoll Affiliates
Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns
Metro Center, Journalists Rights & Advocacy
Movimiento por la Paz (MPDL)
Mugen Gainetik, del País Vasco, España
Oekumenische Initiative Mittelamerika e.V., Alemania
Organización Mundial Contra la Tortura (OMCT) – Internacional
OXFAM
Oxfam America
Peace Watch Switzerland (PWS), Suiza
People in Need
Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates (PAHRA), Philippines
Plataforma Internacional contra la Impunidad
Presbyterian Church (USA)
Presbyterian Peace Fellowship
Programme Against Custodial Torture & Impunity (PACTI), India
Project on Organizing, Development, Education and Research (PODER)
Protection International Mesoamérica
Public Association “Spravedlivost” Jalal-Abad Human Rights Organization, Kyrgyzstan
Public Verdict Foundation, Russian Federation
Reacción Climática, Bolivia
Red Latinoamericana y del Caribe por la Democracia
Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights
Seguridad en Democracia (SEDEM)
Sindicato de trabajadoras domésticas de maquila, nexas y conexas SITRADOM
Sisters of Mercy of the Americas - Institute Justice Team
Solidaridad con Guatemala de Austria (Guatemala Solidarität Österreich)
SOS-Torture/Burundi, Burundi
The Fund for Global Human Rights
UDEFEGUA, Guatemala
UNSITRAGUA HISTÓRICA
Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), United States
West African Human Rights Defenders Network
World Movement for Democracy
ZEB / Zentrum fuer entwicklungspolitische Bildung der Evangelischen Landeskirche Stuttgart, Alemania
Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum


Individual signatures:

Ana Lucía Ixchíu Hernández, Guatemala
David O., ciudadano de los E.E.U.U.
Dra. Lisette Aguilar Prado, Guatemala
Esther Gut de Zurich, Suiza
Eve Chayes Lyman
Iduvina Hernández Batres, Guatemala
Karla AVELAR activista trans refugiada
Maya Alvarado Chávez, Guatemala
Mirna Ramírez, Guatemala
Padre Cirilo Santamaria Sáez, Guatemala
Samwel Mohochi, Executive Director, ICJ Kenya
Tony Smith, ciudadano de los E.E.U.U.
Victoria Sanford, PhD, Director, Center for Human Rights & Peace Studies, Lehman College, City University of New York, United States

 

Emirati Women continue to face Systemic Oppression by Authorities

Women in the United Arab Emirates continue to face incredible barriers to their rights to civic freedoms by state and non-state actors. Living under the male guardianship system, that grants control over their movement, finances and interactions, these women can face detainment for merely reporting sexual violence in authorities. Because of this already patriarchal system, women human rights defenders face additional barriers in campaigning for their rights – they are frequently targeted and shamed by state and non-state actors (including family, communities and society at large). While imprisoned, women are also subject to torture and violence – but largely erased from the public sphere because of entrenched patriarchy. During CSW63, we highlight the great challenges facing WHRDs in the UAE and ask you to stand with them – calling for greater protections for Emirati women by state actors. The United Arab Emirates is rated ‘closed’ on the CIVICUS Monitor.

UAE Infographic

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See full CIVICUS Monitor Watchlist Summary


For more information and to speak with regional and country specific contacts, please message:

Marianna Belalba Barreto, CIVICUS Civic Space Research Lead

 

Attacks on women’s day march in Malaysia inconsistent with the government’s commitment to fundamental freedoms

Amnesty International, Article 19 and CIVICUS strongly condemn the government backlash against the International Women’s Day march held in Malaysia on 9 March 2019. A few days after the event, the country’s Home Minister announced that police were investigating the organisers of the march for allegedly conducting an illegal assembly, while the Minister in charge of Religious Affairs criticized the march as “a misuse of democratic space.” On 14 March 2019, the organisers were also informed that they were being investigated under the Sedition Act. These actions undermine the rights to freedom of expression and assembly and are inconsistent with human rights commitments made by the Pakatan Harapan government in its election manifesto and at the UN Human Rights Council.

 

Demanding gender equality is not terrorism! Saudi Arabia must drop all charges against detained WHRDs

Last week 36 member states condemned the human rights violations of Saudi Arabia, calling for the release of Women Human Rights Defenders (WHRDs), including Loujain Al Houthal. This is a developing campaign, read more on the call for accountability among civil society standing in solidarity with Saudi WHRDs here.

Dozens of women’s rights activists continue to be detained solely for demanding an end to the discriminatory male guardianship system and the right to drive. Loujain Al-Hathloul, a prominent Saudi woman human rights defender and one of the leaders of the right to drive campaign, is scheduled to appear on March 13th before the Specialized Criminal Court (SCC), which deals with terrorism cases.[1] Other women human rights defenders may also appear in court tomorrow, however there has been a lack of information provided by authorities as to who they are. This will be the first time women human rights defenders who were arrested in mid-May 2018 will be brought to court since their arrest.[2] They have been tortured, sexually harassed, intimidated, and targeted by smearing campaigns. The Saudi Crown Prince has claimed he is leading reforms to improve the situation of Saudi women, while at the same time the authorities are detaining and torturing women who have called for the same reforms for Saudi women, including the right to drive.

The trial against Loujain Al-Hathloul, and possibly other women human rights defenders, before the anti-terrorism court clearly demonstrates that the Saudi authorities view the demands of gender equality as a criminal and “terrorist” activity.[3] Women’s rights activists are equated to fundamentalist terrorists. The Saudi authorities have a zero-tolerance policy for any form of peaceful activism, including those calling for equality and advancing women’s rights in the country.

Despite claims by the Saudi Public Prosecution[4] that all women detainees have their legal rights upheld, Loujain Al-Hathloul and her colleagues[5] were not informed about the arrest warrant. Some were detained incommunicado with no access to their families or lawyers during the first three months of their detention. They were also not allowed the right to access an attorney to represent them during the investigation, which ended in early March.

For the first time ever, 36 States, including all members of the European Union, called on Saudi Arabia at the UN Human Rights Council in March 2019 to immediately and unconditionally release women human rights defenders who are being detained for exercising their fundamental rights. States also condemned the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and demanded that those responsible be held accountable.

We call on the Saudi authorities to:

  • Immediately and unconditionally release Loujain Al-Hathloul and all other detained women human rights defenders, and to drop all charges against them
  • Ensure their rights to physical and psychological integrity
  • Ensure their right to appropriate legal representation
  • Ensure their right to fair and transparent trials in accordance with international standards of fair trials
  • Ensure access to the trials by independent international monitors

We call on the international community to:

  • Urge the Saudi authorities to implement the above recommendations
  • Monitor the trial of the women human rights defenders and report publicly on its adherence with international standards

Since the arrest of the Saudi defenders, a coalition of civil society organizations have been campaigning for their immediate and unconditional release and calling for greater solidarity across the international community.

[1] As reported by her brother on his twitter account

[2] Al Hathloul was arrested on 17 May 2018.

[3] In 2016 the Committee Against Torture in its second periodic report of Saudi Arabia expressed concern at the application of terrorism legislation, through Specialised Criminal Courts, which enables the criminalisation of acts of peaceful expression considered as ‘endangering national unity’ or ‘undermining the reputation or position of the State’. These courts, which have been used to try human rights defenders, violate international standards for the right to a fair trial and allow authorities to detain individuals without providing them with access to justice, including access to family members or legal representation.

[4] On March 1, the Public Prosecution issued statement announcing the end of investigations and that they will be referred to trial

[5] Detained women’s rights defenders include Aziza al-Yousef, Eman al-Nafjan, Nouf Abdelaziz, Dr. Hatoon al-Fassi, Samar Badawi, Nassima al-Sadah, Mohammed Al-Bajadi, Amal Al-Harbi, and Shadan al-Anezi.

 

Singapore: Joint Statement on the Sentencing of Human Rights Defender Jolovan Wham

We, the undersigned human rights organisations, strongly condemn the politically-motivated prosecution of Singaporean human rights defender Jolovan Wham. After convicting Wham in January 2019 of ‘organising a public assembly without a permit,’ the State Court sentenced him, on 21 February, to a fine of S$3,200 (US$2,367), or by default, 16 days in prison. 

 

CIVICUS calls for urgent investigation into death of woman human rights defender in Kenya

Global civil society alliance CIVICUS, has called on authorities in Kenya to urgently investigate the death of a woman rights defender.

The body of activist Caroline Mwatha Ochieng was discovered almost a week after she had been reported missing on 6 February 2019.

 

Global civil society condemns violent repression of anti-government protests in Venezuela

  • 40 people killed and more than 800 detained since public protests began on January 23
  • Journalists covering demonstrations have been attacked
  • The UN has called for an independent investigation into the state’s alleged used of force against protesters
  • The government of President Nicolás Maduro has often used violence against protesters since coming to power in 2013.
  • Global civil society groups have urged authorities to release all detainees and uphold citizens’ rights and the rule of law

     

Global Statement on the 20th Anniversary of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders

French l Portuguese l Spanish

The 9th of December 2018 marked 20 years since global leaders adopted the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders. This was a major victory for the human rights movement as the international community finally gave due recognition to those brave individuals who devote their lives to fighting for all of our rights. The Declaration is an inspirational text that upholds the rights of all human rights defenders (HRDs) to promote, protect and defend human rights, from individual to global spheres. It affirms that states have a responsibility and duty to protect defenders against violence, threats, retaliation and arbitrary actions resulting from the exercise of the fundamental rights of defenders. The Declaration notes that when these rights are violated, victims have the right to file a complaint and such complaints should be reviewed promptly by independent, impartial and competent judicial authorities and that redress is made to the victims.

Unfortunately, twenty years after its adoption, our assessment shows huge gaps in the implementation of the Declaration. Evidence of this is the persistent attacks on HRDs and their organisations that continue unabated, 20 years after the Declaration was adopted. In all types of political systems, democratic and otherwise across the world, the settings in which human rights defenders work is becoming more contested and volatile. Very few states have promulgated laws on HRDS or developed policies that seek to recognise and protect them. Some of those who have are; Burkina Faso, Brazil, Cote d’Ivoire, Colombia, Mexico and Mali. Even in some of these states HRDs are at risk.

The undersigned civil society organisations express our deepest concerns over the challenges of HRDs. Our monitoring of the situation facing HRDs shows that those at the forefront defending, promoting and protecting human rights are prime targets of attacks perpetrated by state and non-state actors. The CIVICUS Monitor, a tool used to track the state of civic space in countries around the world reveals that the arbitrary and unlawful detention of HRDs is the number one tactic of repression used by states. Between June 2016 and March 2017, 160 reports related to the detention of HRDs was published by the Monitor. Most HRDs are detained under restrictive legislation and are prosecuted under trumped up charges ranging from “terrorism,” “secession,” “drug trafficking,” “treason,” to attempting to destabilise the state and national security. These charges often carry heavy penalties including the death penalty and life imprisonment and in some cases judicial processes are flawed and HRDs are tried in military courts.

Statistics on HRDs who have paid the ultimate price for defending human rights are alarming and should be a source of concern to all of us. Global human rights organisation Frontline Defenders reported that in 2017 alone 312 HRDs were killed in 27 countries. Even though in almost all cases, the brutal killings of these HRDs are preceded by threats which are often reported to the authorities, pleas for help and protection are routinely ignored. Amnesty International sheds light on an estimated 3,500 HRDs killed over the last twenty years. In a majority of these cases the perpetrators have not been held accountable and they continue to attack others as they enjoy high levels of impunity.

HRDs are often victims of physical assaults, unlawful surveillance and are threatened by state and non-state actors. The offices and homes of some have been attacked to intimidate them and the movements of others are monitored by state agents. Others are handed travel bans particularly when they plan to travel abroad to attend meetings or conferences that focus on human rights. Many have been abducted or kidnapped by members of security forces or unidentified persons and some have been found dead. Many more have simply disappeared and have not been heard from again. Senior government officials subject HRDs to smear campaigns to discredit them and the work they do and this makes them vulnerable to attacks in their communities. In many societies attacks on Women Human Rights Defenders (WHRDs), youth activists and those working on LGBTQI issues have increased. Amidst this onslaught, HRDs have had to self-censor and others have fled their home and countries.

States have the primary duty, under international law, to guarantee that HRDs can carry out their activism safely. However, many HRDs face specific and heightened risks because they challenge business interests. International law – interpreted via the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights – obliges business to respect the right of citizens to express their views and protest. Companies and investors must therefore guarantee that they and their clients refrain from harming HRDs or impeding their rights. They should heed the Guiding Principles’ recommendation to engage with all stakeholders, as well as international law on participation, consultation and consent - thus preventing conflicts at the outset.

We are extremely concerned that, in most countries, the lack of effective police and judicial response to these killings, attacks, threats, harassment and intimidation suffered by human rights defenders creates a climate of impunity and encourages and perpetuates these violations. The inclusion of Goal 16 in the Agenda 2030 is a recognition by states that development and human rights cannot be separated. Goal 16 calls on states to protect fundamental freedoms in accordance with national legislation and international agreements. The human costs associated with these attacks on HRDs cannot be easily quantified but if states don’t take requisite actions to halt this onslaught, key targets of Agenda 2030 will be missed.

This is our collective call to states, government representatives, international organisations and non-state actors to recognise HRDs as important actors in nation building processes, respect their rights, support their work and protect them at all times.

Recommendations

To governments

The undersigned groups urge governments to create an enabling environment for HRDs to operate in line with regional and international human rights obligations and standards. At a minimum, the following conditions for HRDs working across all sectors should be ensured; freedom of association, expression and assembly, the right to operate from unwarranted state interference and the states duty to protect. In light of this we make the following recommendations.

Develop and implement a law that recognises the activities of HRDs, protects them and makes provisions for those who target them to be held accountable. Ensure that there are clear policies, guidelines or resolutions for the implementation of the law.

Create protective mechanisms that respond to the specific needs of HRDs. These mechanisms should be able to monitor and report on the situation of HRDs and make recommendations to repeal or amend laws and policies that are inconsistent with the rights of HRDs or place them at risk.

Carry out prompt, independent and impartial investigations into all cases in which HRDs have been killed, threatened, attacked, abducted, intimidated and harassed and ensure that those found guilty are held accountable and victims provided reparations.

Repeal or amend all restrictive laws and policies that are unjustly used to restrict the activities of HRDs so that they comply with regional and international human rights law and standards and prevent the harassment of HRDs.

To Businesses

Guarantee that no business project goes ahead without the free, prior and informed consent of affected communities at every stage of the project cycle.

Implement specific policies for the recognition, support and protection of human rights defenders, and guarantee the human and financial resources necessary for their effective implementation.

Desist from threats and attacks, including legal attacks, against defenders, and seek means by which to legitimise and support their work.

Where threats and attacks against defenders occur, speaking out – publically or privately – and advocate for both protection to be provided and justice to be done.

Suspend those specific business projects where defenders have been threatened, until robust measures are taken to prevent further threats against those at risk.

Carry out due diligence to assess whether defenders can operate safely in specific industry sectors and countries and – where this is not the case – cease to promote, implement or back projects, until guarantees of defenders’ safety have been made.

To financial institutions

Refuse funding for projects that violate the rights of peoples to free, prior and informed consent before engaging in operations that may lead to displacement of communities and/or impacts on their traditional cultures or sources of livelihood.

To multilateral Institutions

Prioritise civil society participation in decision making processes and open spaces for the participation of HRDs in their activities.

Work with civil society to make a case for people-centred multilateralism that reinforces the primacy of internationally agreed norms and human rights.

Multilateral institutions and states should ensure policy coherence in implementing diplomatic initiatives on the protection of human rights defenders. 

Speak boldly when HRDs are threatened, attacked, targeted or intimidated and condemn such actions.

Annex 1: HRDS killed in the past three years for defending human rights

Annex 2: HRDs currently in jail or facing judicial persecution for promoting human rights

This statement was endorsed by the organisations listed here

Use this statement as an advocacy tool to inform specific governments and businesses about the current state of human rights defenders.

 

Thousands of Bangladesh garment workers fired for demanding better wages

  • Almost 5,000 workers producing clothes for international brands were sacked for participating in protests and strikes for improved pay
  • At least one person was killed, and hundreds injured after police used excessive force against protesters
  • Almost 100 have reportedly been arrested and charged for participating in labour actions

The firing of almost 5,000 low-paid garment workers in Bangladesh in reprisal for participating in protests and strikes for higher wages is a clear violation of fundamental freedoms, global civil society alliance CIVICUS said today.

Condemning the reported dismissals by factory bosses as disturbing, CIVICUS has called for the sacked workers to be reinstated immediately and for the charges against those arrested to be dropped.

Last September, the government promised garment workers an increase in their minimum monthly wage from 8,000 taka (US$100). Workers walked out in protest on January 6 and held demonstrations demanding decent wages after rejecting this offer. During the protests, Bangladeshi police used excessive force including firing rubber bullets and tear gas, which left one worker dead and at least a hundred others injured. There have also been reports of widespread arrests.

In an attempt to contain widespread anger over police violence as well as calls for further protests, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina appointed a tri-partite committee consisting of Bangladesh Garment Manufacturing and Exporters Association (BGMEA) representatives, trade union leaders and government ministers, address the issues. Although workers rejected the committee’s findings proposing minimal increases, on January 13 they returned to work in the face of union demands to end the strike and under threat of lockouts and further police repression.

Although the tri-partite committee agreed that no action would be taken against the workers, many learned they were sacked after arriving at work to see notices bearing their names and images attached to factory gates.

“These actions are clearly a retaliation by the companies against those speaking up and is an attempt to silence their voices,” said Josef Benedict, a CIVICUS Civic Space researcher.

“The Bangladesh authorities must put to a stop to this, in accordance with their international human rights obligations and hold these companies accountable for their actions,” Benedict said. 

The United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights state that businesses must respect internationally recognised human rights, including the right to expression and peaceful assembly which are provided for under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). They should also refrain from reprisals against those exercising their civic freedoms, and protest against the business or its interests.

Bangladesh is home to some 4,500 clothing factories employing 4.1 million workers, who have been fighting for a 16,000 taka (US$200) monthly minimum wage since 2016. Many have suffered unfair dismissals, brutal police violence and fabricated criminal cases for their involvement in protests and strikes. In most cases, there has been a lack of accountability.

In early January 2017, about 20 global brands sourcing clothing manufacturing from Bangladesh, including H&M, Inditex, Gap, C&A, Next, and Primark, wrote to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina supporting a wage review and expressing their concerns that union leaders and workers’ rights activists were being targeted.

Instead of sacking the workers for exercising their civic freedoms and demanding better wages, businesses should instead engage in dialogue with them and their representatives. Global garment brands sourcing from Bangladesh should also press these companies to reinstate these workers,” Benedict said.

It is extremely worrying to hear reports that some workers have been arrested and charged in round ups by the police for their involvement in the protests. The authorities must release these workers immediately and drop all charges against them,” he said.

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

ENDS

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

 

Global youth-led data initiative launched for UN's Sustainable Development Goals

 

New youth-led global data initiative for the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals kicks-off in Tanzania

Selected from over 2,000 applicants, 26 young data innovators from around the world are meeting in Arusha, Tanzania from 21-25 January to launch the Goalkeepers Youth Action Accelerator, a one-year initiative focused on sourcing and using data to drive progress towards the UN’s Global Goals.

  • Participants are from 22 countries (spanning Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East) and will receive technical support from a team of international development professionals and upwards of $30,000 each to deliver their projects.
  • Each grantee (all under the age of 35) will implement their bespoke data projects in their respective countries, tackling challenges related to poverty, hunger, health, education, gender equality and water and sanitation (related to Global Goals 1-6).

The initiative was announced in September at Goalkeepers 2018, an annual event put on by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation during the UN General Assembly. It was was set up with the recognition that young people are the key to success for the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, yet only a small fraction of donor funding goes to young people and youth-led organisations. Even when financial resources are available, the technical support (e.g. mentoring, technology, mass media) is often missing. With this in mind, initiative partners (Gates Foundation, CIVICUS, Restless Development, Action for Sustainable Development, The George W. Bush Institute, and the Obama Foundation) set out to identify youth-led data projects from the global south that are already using innovative forms of data collection and have the potential to be scaled-up to have an even greater impact in their communities.

The ground-breaking data projects include an initiative to curb deforestation by providing rural communities with alternative sources of income; a campaign to strengthen food security by providing farmers with data on land fertility; and a plan to produce low cost drones to deliver medicine and HIV tests for young children and pregnant women living in remote areas. See the full list of projects.

 

Successful project proposals were selected by a global steering group of accomplished youth advocates based on their feasibility, level of innovation, and scalability. The thematic areas of the projects vary, but they all share the objectives to assess local implementation of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and to hold governments accountable for achieving these commitments. The projects fall under two primary workstreams: data sourcing and accountability, and data translation and storytelling.

The Arusha workshop will provide an opportunity for participants to learn from one another, as well as other leaders and experts in their fields. It will be hosted at the MS Training Centre for Development (MS-TCDC), which has been in operation since the 1970’s supporting a wide range of civil society initiatives related to democratic decision making and sustainable development.

Further background information

The Goalkeepers Youth Action Accelerator is a part of Goalkeepers, which is a multi-year campaign dedicated to accelerating progress towards the Global Goals: using powerful stories, data, and partnerships to highlight progress achieved, hold governments accountable and bring together a new generation of leaders to address the world’s major challenges.

To arrange an interview, please contact: Clara Sanchiz (Clara.sanchiz[at]civicus.org)

 

NICARAGUA: Observatory established to monitor human rights crisis

International Organisations Establish International Observatory of the Human Rights Situation in Nicaragua

April 18, 2018 marked a watershed moment in the recent history of Nicaragua, with the outbreak of a political and social crisis that has seriously impacted the respect for and guarantee of human rights of the Nicaraguan people.

Nine months since the start of the human rights crisis, state repression against protesters, leaders, human rights organisations and social movements continues, placing the defence of human rights and social participation difficult to sustain. The government of President Daniel Ortega and Vice President Rosario Murillo has also been denying opportunities for international monitoring, which they had initially invited, such as the Follow-up Mechanism for the Situation in Nicaragua (MESENI) of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, (IACHR) and the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

According to the statement made by the executive secretary of the IACHR, Paulo Abrão, in his last presentation to the Permanent Council of the Organization of American States (OAS), "the characteristics of state violence show that there was a decision by the State to use forces in such a way that involved the commission of multiple criminal acts against demonstrators and political opponents; specifically murder, imprisonment, persecution, rape, torture and, eventually, enforced disappearances."

According to what has been documented by the IACHR, the escalation of violence has resulted in 325 people killed and more than 2000 people injured; 550 people detained and prosecuted; around 300 health professionals dismissed from their jobs; and the expulsion of at least 144 students from the National Autonomous University of Nicaragua (UNAN).

With the possibility of international observation terminated, the blocking of spaces for civil society organisations to monitor and follow up human rights violations, the criminalisation of human rights defenders (HRDs) and their organisations, the closure of civil society organisations and the increasing forced migration of thousands of people due to the political violence, the need to establish an international mechanism to observe the situation in the country is extremely urgent.

It is in this context that a group of international and regional human rights organisations have come together to establish the International Observatory of the Human Rights Situation in Nicaragua, including: Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL), Civicus- World Alliance for Citizen Participation, Urgent Action Fund-Latin America (FAU-AL), Front Line Defenders, Due Process of Law Foundation (DPLF), EU -LAT Network , JASS - Just Associates, Iniciativa Mesoamericana de Mujeres Defensoras de Derechos Humanos (IMD), Brot für die Welt (Bread for the World), Plataforma Internacional contra la Impunidad, Race and Equality, Unidad de protección a defensores y defensoras de Guatemala (UDEFEGUA) and the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA).

The Observatory is constituted by virtue of the crisis in Nicaragua, which makes it imperative that international civil society reinforce its work of documenting and monitoring the human rights situation in a coordinated and proactive manner.


Civic space in Nicaragua is rated as ‘Repressed’ by the CIVICUS Monitor

 

Human rights groups demand Zimbabwe stop violent repression of protesters and respect fundamental freedoms

  • Security forces violently repress protests, killing at least eight and injuring more than a dozen after using live ammunition against demonstrators
  • Hundreds of protesters arrested during a three-day national shutdown called to protest massive fuel price hikes, with reports of security forces assaulting citizens in their homes
  • Leading human rights defender Evan Mawarire among those arrested and charged with public violence
  • Authorities shut down social media sites and the internet, only partially restoring online access after the end of the strike action
  • Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition and Civil Society alliance, CIVICUS call on South Africa and the African Union to act to prevent more violence

Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition and Global civil society alliance, CIVICUS, have called on the authorities in Zimbabwe to exercise restraint and desist from using violence against peaceful protesters who have been demonstrating against a massive increase in fuel prices.

Security forces used brute force against Zimbabweans who took to the streets during a three-day national strike to protest President Emerson Mnangagwa’s decision to raise the fuel price by more than 150%. This astronomical price hike would see the cost of petrol increase from US$ 1.4 per litre to US$ 3.31 per litre and diesel from US$ 1.36 to US$ 3.31 per litre. The national protests come amidst a deterioration in economic conditions, fuel shortages and ever-increasing prices of food and basic necessities.

To protest Mnangagwa’s announcement, the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions and activists called for a national shutdown of businesses, schools and places of work.

In response, security forces used live ammunition on protesting crowds while in the Matabeleland region, in particular, soldiers reportedly invaded protesters’ homes and shot occupants. Yesterday, army and police officers surrounded the home of human rights defender and leader of the #ThisFlag movement, Evan Mawarire, before arresting and detaining him. Mawarire has been charged with inciting public violence through social media and is yet to appear in court.

Reports from the ground indicate that armed police, soldiers and masked men have caused mayhem as they kidnapped, harassed, intimidated and attacked citizens, while the streets remained heavily militarized.

“We are alarmed by incidents of extreme violence being reported, which include shooting at peaceful protestors and forcefully removing people from their homes. This is a gross violation of people’s right to organise and freely express themselves, said Lysa John, Secretary General of CIVICUS.

“Zimbabwean authorities must immediately stop using violence against its citizens and withdraw the military from the streets. We urge the South African government to intervene immediately to contain this crisis. The African Union must act with urgency to ensure that peace returns to Zimbabwe and hold those involved in the killing and harming of civilians accountable for their actions,” John said.

“We are concerned about threats targeting leaders of civil society, specifically Crisis in Zimbabwe Action leaders and its Secretariat who are falsely accused of hosting numerous meetings with a plan to unseat the Mnangagwa administration.” Said Tabani Moyo, Spokesperson for the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition.

“This statement is quite unfortunate as the public space is awash with our position calling for an inclusive national dialogue with all stakeholders.” Moyo continued.

In a move reminiscent of the manner in which the previous government of President Robert Mugabe often operated, authorities shut down social media sites and completely cut off access to internet during the mass action. Online access has now reportedly been partially restored but social networks remains inaccessible.

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 Zimbabwe as “Repressed”. This means civil society is significantly constrained and active individuals and civil society members who criticise power holders risk surveillance, harassment, imprisonment, injury or death.

For more information, please contact:

Teldah Mawarire

Grant Clark

Click here for our Press Centre

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

Twitter: @CIVICUSalliance

 

Government shuts down civil society organisations as part of ongoing campaign of repression in Nicaragua

  •  Parliament has cancelled the legal registration of nine civil society organisations (CSOs)
  • The move comes after some of the CSOs participated in hearings into human rights violations at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights
  • The shutdown of CSOs comes at a time of serious attacks on fundamental freedoms in Nicaragua
  • Global civil society groups express concern that more Nicaraguan CSOs may be targeted

Global civil society alliance, CIVICUS, has condemned the cancellation of the legal registration status of nine civil society organisations in Nicaragua as an affront to the right to freedom of association. The move to shut down the groups is seen to be in retaliation for their participation in hearings on Nicaragua’s deteriorating human rights situation at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

On December 12, Nicaragua’s parliament voted to cancel the legal registration of the human rights organisation, Centro Nicaraguense de Derechos Humanos (CENIDH). The following day they voted again to cancel the registration of five more organisations including Instituto de liderazgo las Segovias (ILLS), Instituto para el Desarrollo de la Democracia (IPADE), Fundación del Rio, Centro de Investigación de la Comunicación (CINCO) and Fundación Popol Na.

Just a week prior, CENIDH has been part of a delegation of rights groups who provided a hearing before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights with information on the social impact of ongoing human rights violations. They called on the government to stop violently repressing peaceful protests and attacking critical voices.

“After using violence to target peaceful protesters, the government of Nicaragua now extends its repression to civil society organisations because of its perception that they have publicly criticized human rights violations committed since the start of protests in April 2018.” said CIVICUS’ Natalia Gomez.

Restrictions on fundamental freedoms in Nicaragua increased substantively in April when the government violently dispersed demonstrations against changes to the country’s social security system. Since then, more than 300 people have been killed and more than 600 remain detained. The government is now targeting CSOs that denounce these human rights violations. Ana Quiroz, the head of one of the organisations and a Costa Rican by birth who had lived and worked in Nicaragua for more than 40 years, was stripped of Nicaraguan nationality and deported.  

Shortly before CENIDH’s registration was cancelled, police rejected their request to conduct a peaceful march in commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. CENIDH cancelled the march and only said, they would go to the judicial authorities to ask for the protection of their rights.

“Freedom of association is guaranteed in the constitution of Nicaragua and must be respected at all times. Instead of targeting civil society groups, the government of Nicaragua should rather create an enabling environment for civil society and seek ways to address the needs of its citizens.” Gomez continued.

CIVICUS has called on the Nicaraguan authorities to reverse the cancellation of the registration of all civil society organisations, to respect the right to freedom of association and assembly and release all those in detention for participating in peaceful protests.

In September, the CIVICUS Monitor, an online platform that tracks threats to civil society in countries across the globe, downgraded its rating of civic space – the space for civil society – in Nicaragua from “narrowed” to “repressed”. Nicaragua is also on the platform’s watchlist of countries that have seen an sudden, alarming spike in restrictions on civil space.

For more information please contact:

Natalia Gomez:

The CIVICUS media team:

To request interviews, you can also contact the CIVICUS Press Centre here.

 

Syria: We remember Razan, Samira, Nazem and Wa’el five years after their kidnapping

On 09 December, people around the world remember Razan Zaitouneh, Samira KhalilNazem Hamadi and Wa’el Hamada, kidnapped in Douma, Syria on this day five years ago. We, the undersigned human rights organisations, call on the United Nations, international and regional actors, and all parties to the Syrian conflict to actively facilitate an investigation into what happened to the four human rights defenders. They are among many Syrians who have been kidnapped, jailed, murdered or exiled for their peaceful human rights activities. We ask all friends and supporters to help remember Zaitouneh and her colleagues by sharing her work.

On 09 December 2013, a group of armed men presumed to be connected to the Army of Islam, a large local rebel faction at the time, broke into the Violations Documentation Centre (VDC) office in Douma city, kidnapped the four human rights defenders and took them to an unknown destination. According to unconfirmed reports, the Army of Islam kept captives, including possibly the VDC staff, at Tawbeh Prison for some time, but it has since been abandoned following the armed group’s departure from Douma in 2017.

Zaitouneh has published dozens of articles and reports on various websites and in newspapers about human rights including freedom of opinion and expression in Syria since 2004. In order to keep her work in the spotlight, her family has now published a website with a collection of her articles, as well as testimonies from people who admire her and worked with her.

Zaitouneh is one of the most prominent human rights defenders in Syria and along with other activists established the VDC, among several human rights NGOs that she helped found. She has played a key role in the promotion and protection of human rights through her brave work as a lawyer, human rights defender and journalist.

She was awarded the 2011 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought and the 2011 Anna Politkovskaya Award of Reach All Women in War (RAW in WAR). In 2013, the then-U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama honoured her as an International Woman of Courage. In February 2016, Zaitouneh was named prisoner of the month for the “Their freedom is their right” campaign by Maharat Foundation, the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) and the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR), with support from IFEX and its regional members. Zaitouneh was also a finalist for the 2016 Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders.

At the beginning of the popular protests that spread across Syria in 2011, Zaitouneh was forced into hiding owing to her media activism and her reporting on what was happening on the ground to various media outlets. Zaitouneh’s home in Damascus was raided in May 2011 by the government’s Air Force Intelligence, which then detained her brother-in-law and her husband Wa’el Hamada for three months. A few months before her abduction in 2013, Zaitouneh wrote about the threats she had been receiving and reported to human rights organisations outside Syria that the threats were from local armed groups in Douma.

“Creating this website was my way of coping with her kidnapping,” said her sister Rana Zaitouneh, who lives in Canada with other family members. “I felt that there were people who did not understand or were not aware of her important work. Razan has done so much for so many people, and yet never felt it was much at all. Her courage and determination are why we have to make her case a priority in these difficult times.”

“Razan and Wael and their friends need to be found and released. I know my sister wants the whole world to know what has been happening in Syria and since she cannot currently tell people herself, I have to. My daughter and I decided to collect her articles and translate them to English so that they can be more widely accessible. It is also very important that the information be available to everyone who wishes to read it,” she said.

Visit: http://www.razanwzaitouneh.com/. Please share her work and help the world remember Razan Zaitouneh, Wa’el Hamada, Samira Khalil and Nazem Hamadi.

In solidarity,

Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI)

CIVICUS

English PEN

Front Line Defenders

Global Fund for Women

Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR)

International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)

Maharat Foundation

Martin Ennals Foundation

PEN International

Reach All Women in War (RAW in WAR)

Reporters Without Borders (RSF)

Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM)

Urgent Action Fund for Women’s Human Rights

Women's March Global 

 

Ethiopia: Dear Prime Minister, act to protect the rights of civil society organisations

Joint civil society letter to the Prime Minister of Ethiopia on the need to revise a draft law that would restrict freedom of association in the country.

 
  • Human rights groups in Ethiopia have suffered from funding constraints and the intrusive powers of a key government agency that oversees the registration of civil society organisations.
  • Since Prime Minister Abiy came to power, a draft law has been developed that still contains some restrictions on the funding and activities of civil society organisations. The draft law is to be considered by Parliament in the coming weeks.
  • CIVICUS and a coalition of rights groups, have written the below letter to Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, to draw attention to civil society's concerns in the draft law

 

To: Prime Minister-, Dr. Abiy Ahmed
Cc: Tagesse Chafo, Speaker of the House of Peoples’ Representative

Your Excellency,
 
The undersigned international, regional and national human rights and development organisations write to urge your government to ensure that the draft Charities and Societies (CSO) Proclamation complies with regional and international human rights norms and standards relating to freedom of association. The tabling of the draft law represents a pivotal moment to address long standing deficits in existing legislation, create a robust and resilient civil society and an enabling environment for human rights defenders in Ethiopia. Authorities should ensure that the new text is in line with the African Commission’s Guidelines on Freedom of Association and Assembly in Africa, the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and international law.

We understand that the draft law developed by the Legal Advisory Council, and currently under consideration by the Office of the Attorney General, is expected to be tabled in Parliament in the coming weeks. The draft addresses long standing concerns over funding constraints, the intrusive powers of the CSO Agency, and the lack of an appeal process over registration; while it is a marked improvement on the current legal framework governing the operations of civil society organisations, we remain concerned that it includes a number of unwarranted restrictions on the activities and independence of international and national civil society organisations.

Of critical concern are vague and unduly cumbersome limitations on the independence and operating environment for national civil society. In particular, the law imposes an authorisation regime compelling all CSOs in Ethiopia to register with the CSO Agency, potentially allowing for organizations to be criminally liable should they be operating informally. Civil society organisations already registered under the previous law would have to re-register. This proposed process, which can take up to four months, is primarily overseen by government-appointed CSO Agency that is endowed with broad discretion to order closures and asset freezes of civil society organisations. 

Moreover, requirements capping the administrative costs of civil society organisations at 20 percent of their income would subvert their ability to independently determine the range of legitimate activities they support and prioritise. Given the diversity of initiatives assumed by civil society organisations in Ethiopia, such inflexible limitations will unreasonably hamper the work of many civil society organisations.

We are further concerned that overly broad provisions would curtail the extent to which international civil society organisations can engage in advocacy and lobbying, and that burdensome registration requirements may be invoked to suppress the activities of international civil society organisations and threaten essential rights-based initiatives.

Such measures erode Ethiopia’s commitment to protect, promote and fulfil the right to freedom of association. On repeated occasions, independent international and regional experts have called on the Ethiopian authorities to amend or repeal the CSO Proclamation by addressing unwarranted restrictions on freedom of association.

The announcement to revise laws that have in the past been used to stifle dissent was one of a series of planned reforms announced by your office that has rightly earned praise from Ethiopians and international actors alike. As such, we the undersigned, have watched closely to see whether the revision of the first of those laws, the CSO Proclamation, would reflect the long-standing concerns that many domestic and international actors have had. Despite the above reservations, we are encouraged by the Legal Advisory Council’s draft and watch with keen interest how the draft proclamation will move through the Attorney General’s office to the Council of Ministers for eventual approval by the House of Representatives. The process by which the CSO Proclamation was revised by the Legal Advisory Council and will eventually be considered for approval by the House of Representatives, the first of the three laws to go through such a process, is an important harbinger of how different organs of the government will show their commitment to revising laws in line with international human rights norms ahead of the 2020 elections.

During this time of critical reform, we urge the government of Ethiopia to consider these recommendations and take the following measures:

  1. Ensure that the majority of CSO Board members are sourced from civil society through a transparent appointment process;
  2. Replace provisions requiring an authorisation regime for registration with one requiring simple notification;
  3. Where applicable, reduce the time frame for decisions on CSO registration applications and appeals and ensure that the CSO Agency and the Board provide detailed written grounds for rejecting registration applications;
  4. Include precise and limited justification for under what conditions the CSO Agency can investigate and freeze the assets of civil society organisations and ensure that they are subject to judicial oversight;
  5. Revise the mandatory cap on administrative costs at 20% of income and replace it with a non-mandatory best practice standard;
  6. Ensure that all foreign and domestic civil society organisations operating in Ethiopia, are able to choose the areas they will work in and permit them to engage in lobbying and advocacy initiatives. 

Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,

  • ARTICLE 19 Eastern Africa
  • Association for Human Rights in Ethiopia (AHRE)
  • CIVICUS
  • Civil Rights Defenders
  • Consortium of Ethiopian Rights Organizations (CERO)
  • DefendDefenders (EHAHRDP)
  • FIDH, within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
  • Front Line Defenders 
  • Human Rights Watch (HRW)
  • PEN International
  • Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights (RFKHR)
  • World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders

 

Six pays sur dix répriment fortement les libertés civiques

Résultats basés sur les données publiées ce jour par le Monitor CIVICUS, un projet de recherche collaboratif international chargé d'évaluer et de surveiller le respect des libertés fondamentales dans 196 pays.

CIVICUS vient de publier aujourd'hui People Power Under Attack 2018. Il s'agit d'un nouveau rapport montrant que près de six pays sur dix restreignent fortement les libertés fondamentales d'association, de réunion pacifique et d'expression. Cette proportion reflète une crise persistante bien connue des organisations de la société civile et des militants du monde entier. Ainsi, l'espace pour l'activisme civique est le plus souvent affaibli par la censure, les attaques contre les journalistes et le harcèlement des défenseurs des droits de l'homme.

Ces données constituent une sonnette d'alarme. Compte tenu de l'ampleur du problème, les dirigeants mondiaux, notamment le G20 qui se réunit cette semaine, doivent prendre beaucoup plus au sérieux la protection des libertés civiques », a déclaré Cathal Gilbert, responsable de la recherche sur l'espace civique chez CIVICUS. « En 2018, la société civile a été témoin des innovations mises en place par les États dans le but d’effacer et de limiter les critiques de ceux qui osent défier le pouvoir. »

Ce rapport, basé sur les données du Monitor CIVICUS – un projet de recherche collaboratif international – montre que la société civile subit de lourdes attaques dans 111 pays sur 196, soit près de six pays sur dix dans le monde. Ce nombre affiche une hausse par rapport aux 109 pays recensés lors de notre dernière mise à jour en mars 2018. En pratique, cela signifie que la répression de l'activisme civique pacifique a des effets délétères sur la société civile dans toutes les régions du monde. Ainsi, seulement 4 % de la population mondiale vit dans des pays où les gouvernements respectent régulièrement les libertés d'association, de réunion pacifique et de expression.

Dans cette dernière mise à jour, les cotes de l'espace civique de neuf pays se sont détériorées, tandis qu'elles se sont améliorées dans sept autres. Sur la pente descendante on trouve l'Autriche, l'Azerbaïdjan, le Gabon, le Koweït, l'Italie, Nauru, la Papouasie-Nouvelle-Guinée, la Tanzanie et le Sénégal, tandis que le Canada, l'Équateur, l'Éthiopie, la Gambie, le Liberia, la Lituanie et la Somalie améliorent leur situation.

Le rapport People Power Under Attack 2018 fournit également une analyse sur les types de violations les plus fréquemment enregistrées sur le Monitor CIVICUS au cours des deux dernières années. À l’échelle internationale, les attaques contre les journalistes et la censure sont les deux violations les plus courantes, ce qui indique que les détenteurs du pouvoir seront prêts à user de tous leurs moyens pour contrôler le récit collectif et pour restreindre la liberté d'expression. Le harcèlement des militants et le recours excessif à la force par les forces de sécurité lors des manifestations sont la troisième et quatrième forme de violation la plus courante enregistrée sur Monitor CIVICUS depuis octobre 2016.

Bien que la prolifération de lois liberticides suscite à juste titre beaucoup d'inquiétude, nos données montrent qu'elles ne sont que la partie visible de l'iceberg. Les mesures extrajudiciaires, telles que les attaques contre des journalistes ou les violences contre les manifestants, sont beaucoup plus courantes », a déclaré Gilbert. « Ces tactiques ont été conçues avec beaucoup de cynisme afin de créer un effet dissuasif et d'éviter que les autres s'expriment ou deviennent des citoyens actifs. »

Les données publiées aujourd'hui par CIVICUS contiennent également de bonnes nouvelles. Dans les sept pays qui ont amélioré leur cote d'espace civique, et ailleurs, nous voyons des preuves évidentes que l'activisme pacifique peut forcer les gouvernements répressifs à prendre une autre voie. En Éthiopie, par exemple, après des années de révoltes et de forte répression de toutes les formes de contestation, 2018 a connu un tournant remarquable. Le nouveau premier ministre, Abiy Ahmed, a libéré des prisonniers politiques, a assoupli les restrictions imposées aux communications électroniques et a fait d'importants progrès dans la réforme de certaines des lois les plus répressives du pays. Les changements de leadership politique en Gambie et en Équateur ont également permis d'améliorer le contexte et de le rendre propice à l'exercice des libertés fondamentales.

Les récentes améliorations en Éthiopie montrent ce qui est possible lorsque il y a de la volonté politique et que les dirigeants prennent des décisions courageuses pour répondre aux appels de la société civile », a déclaré Gilbert. « Cela devrait être un exemple pour les pays répressifs du monde entier. En supprimant les restrictions et en protégeant l'espace civique, les pays peuvent exploiter le véritable potentiel de la société civile et accélérer les progrès sur un large éventail de fronts. »

Plus d'une vingtaine d'organisations collaborent au sein du Monitor CIVICUS pour fournir une base empirique pour l'action visant à améliorer l'espace civique sur tous les continents. Le Monitor CIVICUS a publié plus de 1 400 mises à jour sur l'espace civique au cours des deux dernières années et ces informations sont analysées dans le rapport People Power Under Attack 2018. L'espace civique de 196 pays est classé dans une des cinq catégories disponibles – fermé, réprimé, obstrué, rétréci ou ouvert – selon une méthodologie qui combine plusieurs sources de données sur les libertés d'association, de réunion pacifique et d'expression.

 

New Report: 6 in 10 countries now seriously repressing civic freedoms

Espanol | Francais

Findings based on data released today by the CIVICUS Monitor a global research collaboration which rates and tracks the respect for fundamental freedoms in 196 countries. 

CIVICUS has today released People Power Under Attack 2018, a new report showing that nearly six in ten countries are seriously restricting people’s fundamental freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression. This reflects a continuing crisis facing civil society organisations and activists across the world, with the space for civic activism most commonly undermined through censorship, attacks on journalists and harassment of human rights defenders.

“This data is a wake-up call. Given the scale of the problem, global leaders, including the G20 who are meeting this week, need to take the protection of civic freedoms far more seriously,” said Cathal Gilbert, Civic Space Research Lead at CIVICUS. “For civil society, 2018 was a story of states innovating to suppress and restrict criticism by those who dare to challenge people in power.”

The report, which is based on data from the CIVICUS Monitor - a global research collaboration - shows that civil society is under serious attack in 111 out of 196 countries. This is up from 109 countries at our last update in March 2018. In practice, this means that repression of peaceful civic activism continues to represent a widespread crisis for civil society in all parts of the world, with just 4% of the world’s population living in countries where governments are properly respecting the freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression.

Nine countries’ civic space ratings have worsened in this latest update, while seven countries improved their ratings. Countries on the slide include Austria, Azerbaijan, Gabon, Kuwait, Italy, Nauru, Papua New Guinea, Tanzania and Senegal. Those improving are Canada, Ecuador, Ethiopia, Gambia, Liberia, Lithuania and Somalia.

People Power Under Attack 2018 also provides analysis of the kinds of violations most frequently recorded on the CIVICUS Monitor over the past two years. Globally, attacks on journalists and censorship are the two most common violations, indicating that power holders are going to great lengths to control public narratives and repress freedom of expression. Harassment of activists and the use of excessive force by security forces during protests are the third and fourth most common violations recorded on the CIVICUS Monitor since October 2016.

“While there is rightly a lot of concern about the proliferation of bad laws which stifle civic freedoms, our data shows these are just the tip of the iceberg. Extra-legal measures, such as attacking journalists or beating up protestors, are much more common,” said Gilbert. “These tactics are cynically designed to create a chilling effect and deter others from speaking out or becoming active citizens.”

CIVICUS data released today also contains good news stories. In the seven countries which improved their civic space ratings, and elsewhere, we see clear evidence that peaceful activism can force repressive governments to take a different path. In Ethiopia, for instance, following years of popular unrest and the severe repression of all forms of dissent, 2018 has witnessed a remarkable about-turn. New prime minister Abiy Ahmed has released political prisoners, eased restrictions on electronic communication and made important progress towards reforming some the country's most repressive laws. Changes in political leadership in Gambia and Ecuador have similarly led to an improved environment for the exercise of fundamental freedoms.

“Recent improvements in Ethiopia show what is possible when political will is present and leaders take courageous decisions to respond to the calls of civil society,” said Gilbert. “This should encourage those seeking change in repressive countries everywhere. By removing restrictions and protecting civic space, countries can tap into civil society’s true potential and accelerate progress on a wide range of fronts.”

Over twenty organisations collaborate on the CIVICUS Monitor to provide an evidence base for action to improve civic space on all continents. The Monitor has published more than 1,400 civic space updates in the last two years, data which is analysed in People Power Under Attack 2018. Civic space in 196 countries is categorised as either closed, repressed, obstructed, narrowed or open, based on a methodology which combines several sources of data on the freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression.

Regional press statements:

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

Cathal Gilbert, Civic Space Research Lead, CIVICUS,

 

Open Letter to Drivers, Teams and Performers at the Abu Dhabi F1 Grand Prix 2018

Joint Logos

Dear friends,

As you ready yourselves to hold the limelight on the stages and tracks of the final Formula One race of the season, we the undersigned NGOs, wish to draw your attention to the reality of the human rights situation in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which is a far cry from the glitz and glamour the country intends to project to the world.

Since 2011, the UAE authorities have embarked on a crackdown to silence their critics including human rights defenders, judges, lawyers, academics, students and journalists. They have been harassed, arbitrarily detained, subjected to enforced disappearance, tortured and otherwise ill-treated, and convicted following trials that failed to meet international standards of fairness. Critics and dissidents in the UAE are serving lengthy prison sentences simply for peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression and we consider them to be prisoners of conscience who should be released immediately and unconditionally.

The UAE authorities have tightened and amended their already repressive laws to further suppress human rights and particularly to silence peaceful dissent and other expression on public issues. As a result, human rights defenders and other critics of the government have been sentenced to lengthy prison terms.

The UAE is listed as ‘closed’ on the CIVICUS Monitor which is the lowest and most oppressive category as far as protection of civic freedoms of expression, association and peaceful assembly is concerned.

Today we are launching a campaign to call for the release of prisoners of conscience in the UAE and we urge you to lend us your support.

We call upon you, drivers, teams and performers to be the champions of human rights on the circuit and on stage; to be the voices of those who have been silenced and unfairly detained. We urge you to use your celebrity status to call on the UAE authorities to immediately and unconditionally release all prisoners of conscience who have been detained solely for peacefully criticizing the authorities, or for calling or advocating for the respect and protection of human rights.

Please tweet, post and speak about their stories online and in your media appearances so that these prisoners are not forgotten. You can use the hashtags #AbuDhabiGP #F1 and #Formula1.

These are the stories of some of the hundreds of prisoners of conscience detained for peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression:

Blogger and poet Ahmed Mansoor is a prominent human rights defender, who received the prestigious Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders in 2015. He is a member of the advisory committee of Human Rights Watch’s Middle East and North Africa Division, as well as of the advisory board of the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR). He has documented the human rights situation in the UAE since 2006 and has publicly spoken out in defence of human rights in his blog, social media and in interviews with international media. Up until his arrest on 20 March 2017, Ahmed Mansoor was the last remaining human rights defender in the UAE who had been able to criticize the authorities publicly. On 29 May 2018, Ahmed Mansoor was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment. The trial was held in secret, and there is no public record of the proceedings. It is unclear if he had a lawyer. On 4 October, the European Parliament passed a resolution calling for his release. He is held in solitary confinement at al-Sadr prison in Abu Dhabi.

Dr Mohammed al-Roken is a prominent human rights lawyer from the emirate of Dubai, and former president of the UAE’s Jurists Association. He was arrested on17 July 2012 and for the next three months, he was held in solitary confinement at an undisclosed location. His fate and whereabouts were unknown in what amounted to enforced disappearance. He was sentenced in July 2013 to 10 years’ imprisonment, at the end of the grossly unfair trial of 94 reform advocates which became known as the “UAE 94” trial.

Many of the UAE 94 defendants and others standing trial before the State Security Chamber of the Federal Supreme Court have alleged in court that they were tortured or otherwise ill-treated in pre-trial detention, where they were often held incommunicado for months in secret State Security detention facilities. The State Security Chamber of the Federal Supreme Court has not adequately investigated these allegations, despite mounting evidence that State Security is abusing detainees.

Online activist Osama al-Najjar was arrested on 17 March 2014 and sentenced to three years in prison after sending tweets to the Minister of Interior expressing concern that his father Hussain Ali al-Najjar al-Hammadi had been ill-treated in prison, where he is serving over 11 years. Osama al-Najjar was due for release from al-Razeen Prison in Abu Dhabi in March 2017, having fully served his prison sentence. However, the authorities decided to extend his detention on the pretext that he remained a threat. Following his arrest, Osama al-Najjar was denied access to a lawyer for over six months. After his arrest he was held in solitary confinement for four days at a secret detention facility where he said he was tortured and otherwise ill-treated.

Prominent economist, academic and human rights defender, Dr Nasser bin Ghaith, was arrested in August 2015 and subjected to enforced disappearance for more than seven months. He did not have access to a lawyer until the beginning of his trial in April 2016 and was not allowed to prepare an effective defence. In March 2017, he was sentenced to ten years in prison on charges including “posting false information” about UAE leaders and their policies on Twitter.

Signed:

Americans for Democracy and Human Rights (ADHRB)

Amnesty International

CIVICUS

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

Gulf Center for Human Rights (GCHR)

International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)

Martin Ennals Foundation

Pen International

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

 

 

Austria’s civic space rating downgraded

The downgrade is based on an assessment of conditions for the exercise of the freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression on the CIVICUS Monitor.

CIVICUS has today downgraded Austria’s civic space rating from open to narrowed. This decision was taken following a thorough assessment of conditions in the country for the free exercise of civic freedoms, as protected by international law. The downgrade follows nearly a year of rule by the ÖVP-FPÖ coalition government, during which the space for civil society has worsened. A narrowed rating indicates a situation in which the state mostly allows individuals and civil society organisations to exercise their rights to freedom of association, peaceful assembly and expression, however certain restrictions on these rights take place.

“The Austrian government appears intent on turning its back on the values of the European Union, as it chooses division over dialogue and restrictions over rights,” said Cathal Gilbert, Civic Space Research Lead at CIVICUS. “Austria’s failure to protect fundamental freedoms is borne out by verbal attacks and administrative encroachment on media freedoms, as well as restrictive measures such as an increase in the notice period required for protests from 24 to 48 hours.”

Protests against the new government took place in January 2018, in the face of a heavy police presence, helicopters and water cannon. Since then, the new administration has steadfastly refused to engage in structured dialogue with civil society in a range of sectors. Instead, leaders have made a number of derogatory remarks about non-governmental organisations. This includes Chancellor Sebastian Kurz who accused international humanitarian NGO - Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) of cooperating with people smugglers. More recently, the environment minister introduced amendments which will significantly limit consultation with many NGOs working to protect the environment in Austria. Funding to NGOs in many sectors has also been drastically reduced.

Freedom of expression has also come under attack this year, with government ministers denigrating journalists and the media. One minister even went so far as to expressly instruct officials not to brief certain media outlets which are critical of the government. Earlier in the year, media monitors in Austria reported a spate of attacks, including online hate speech, directed at independent media. Also in 2018, the CIVICUS Monitor reported worrying moves by Vice-Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache to weaken Austria’s public broadcaster, ORF.

Meanwhile, a law passed in 2017 by the former SPÖ-led government coalition is restricting the freedom of peaceful assembly, by increasing the notice period required for protests to 48 hours and designating certain “protection zones”, in which protests are prohibited. 

“CIVICUS calls on the Austrian authorities to discard its policy of exclusion and denigration of civic activists,” said Gilbert. “We call on the government to instead begin a constructive dialogue with CSOs in all sectors, and to review laws and policies which are out of step with Austria’s commitments under international law and as a member of the European Union.” 

These developments are supported in a damning new report published this month by the Chamber of Austrian Lawyers, which sets out a bleak perspective for the protection of fundamental freedoms in Austria in the coming years. 

Austria is now rated narrowed on the CIVICUS Monitor. Visit Austria’s homepage for more information and check back regularly for the latest updates. Next week, on 27th November 2018, CIVICUS will release People Power Under Attack 2018 - a fresh global analysis on civic space. 

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

Cathal Gilbert, Civic Space Research Lead, CIVICUS 

cathal.gilbert[at]civicus.org or media[at]civicus.org

 

Global Statement on the 20th Anniversary of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders

French l Portuguese l Spanish

The 9th of December 2018 marks 20 years since global leaders adopted the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders. This was a major victory for the human rights movement as the international community finally gave due recognition to those brave individuals who devote their lives to fighting for all of our rights. The Declaration is an inspirational text that upholds the rights of all human rights defenders (HRDs) to promote, protect and defend human rights, from individual to global spheres. It affirms that states have a responsibility and duty to protect defenders against violence, threats, retaliation and arbitrary actions resulting from the exercise of the fundamental rights of defenders. The Declaration notes that when these rights are violated, victims have the right to file a complaint and such complaints should be reviewed promptly by independent, impartial and competent judicial authorities and that redress is made to the victims.

Unfortunately, twenty years after its adoption, our assessment shows huge gaps in the implementation of the Declaration. Evidence of this is the persistent attacks on HRDs and their organisations that continue unabated, 20 years after the Declaration was adopted. In all types of political systems, democratic and otherwise across the world, the settings in which human rights defenders work is becoming more contested and volatile. Very few states have promulgated laws on HRDS or developed policies that seek to recognise and protect them. Some of those who have are; Burkina Faso, Brazil, Cote d’Ivoire, Colombia, Mexico and Mali. Even in some of these states HRDs are at risk.

The undersigned civil society organisations express our deepest concerns over the challenges of HRDs. Our monitoring of the situation facing HRDs shows that those at the forefront defending, promoting and protecting human rights are prime targets of attacks perpetrated by state and non-state actors. The CIVICUS Monitor, a tool used to track the state of civic space in countries around the world reveals that the arbitrary and unlawful detention of HRDs is the number one tactic of repression used by states. Between June 2016 and March 2017, 160 reports related to the detention of HRDs was published by the Monitor. Most HRDs are detained under restrictive legislation and are prosecuted under trumped up charges ranging from “terrorism,” “secession,” “drug trafficking,” “treason,” to attempting to destabilise the state and national security. These charges often carry heavy penalties including the death penalty and life imprisonment and in some cases judicial processes are flawed and HRDs are tried in military courts.

Statistics on HRDs who have paid the ultimate price for defending human rights are alarming and should be a source of concern to all of us. Global human rights organisation Frontline Defenders reported that in 2017 alone 312 HRDs were killed in 27 countries. Even though in almost all cases, the brutal killings of these HRDs are preceded by threats which are often reported to the authorities, pleas for help and protection are routinely ignored. Amnesty International sheds light on an estimated 3,500 HRDs killed over the last twenty years. In a majority of these cases the perpetrators have not been held accountable and they continue to attack others as they enjoy high levels of impunity.

HRDs are often victims of physical assaults, unlawful surveillance and are threatened by state and non-state actors. The offices and homes of some have been attacked to intimidate them and the movements of others are monitored by state agents. Others are handed travel bans particularly when they plan to travel abroad to attend meetings or conferences that focus on human rights. Many have been abducted or kidnapped by members of security forces or unidentified persons and some have been found dead. Many more have simply disappeared and have not been heard from again. Senior government officials subject HRDs to smear campaigns to discredit them and the work they do and this makes them vulnerable to attacks in their communities. In many societies attacks on Women Human Rights Defenders (WHRDs), youth activists and those working on LGBTQI issues have increased. Amidst this onslaught, HRDs have had to self-censor and others have fled their home and countries.

States have the primary duty, under international law, to guarantee that HRDs can carry out their activism safely. However, many HRDs face specific and heightened risks because they challenge business interests. International law – interpreted via the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights – obliges business to respect the right of citizens to express their views and protest. Companies and investors must therefore guarantee that they and their clients refrain from harming HRDs or impeding their rights. They should heed the Guiding Principles’ recommendation to engage with all stakeholders, as well as international law on participation, consultation and consent - thus preventing conflicts at the outset.

We are extremely concerned that, in most countries, the lack of effective police and judicial response to these killings, attacks, threats, harassment and intimidation suffered by human rights defenders creates a climate of impunity and encourages and perpetuates these violations. The inclusion of Goal 16 in the Agenda 2030 is a recognition by states that development and human rights cannot be separated. Goal 16 calls on states to protect fundamental freedoms in accordance with national legislation and international agreements. The human costs associated with these attacks on HRDs cannot be easily quantified but if states don’t take requisite actions to halt this onslaught, key targets of Agenda 2030 will be missed.

This is our collective call to states, government representatives, international organisations and non-state actors to recognise HRDs as important actors in nation building processes, respect their rights, support their work and protect them at all times.

Recommendations

To governments

The undersigned groups urge governments to create an enabling environment for HRDs to operate in line with regional and international human rights obligations and standards. At a minimum, the following conditions for HRDs working across all sectors should be ensured; freedom of association, expression and assembly, the right to operate from unwarranted state interference and the states duty to protect. In light of this we make the following recommendations.

Develop and implement a law that recognises the activities of HRDs, protects them and makes provisions for those who target them to be held accountable. Ensure that there are clear policies, guidelines or resolutions for the implementation of the law.

Create protective mechanisms that respond to the specific needs of HRDs. These mechanisms should be able to monitor and report on the situation of HRDs and make recommendations to repeal or amend laws and policies that are inconsistent with the rights of HRDs or place them at risk.

Carry out prompt, independent and impartial investigations into all cases in which HRDs have been killed, threatened, attacked, abducted, intimidated and harassed and ensure that those found guilty are held accountable and victims provided reparations.

Repeal or amend all restrictive laws and policies that are unjustly used to restrict the activities of HRDs so that they comply with regional and international human rights law and standards and prevent the harassment of HRDs.

To Businesses

Guarantee that no business project goes ahead without the free, prior and informed consent of affected communities at every stage of the project cycle.

Implement specific policies for the recognition, support and protection of human rights defenders, and guarantee the human and financial resources necessary for their effective implementation.

Desist from threats and attacks, including legal attacks, against defenders, and seek means by which to legitimise and support their work.

Where threats and attacks against defenders occur, speaking out – publically or privately – and advocate for both protection to be provided and justice to be done.

Suspend those specific business projects where defenders have been threatened, until robust measures are taken to prevent further threats against those at risk.

Carry out due diligence to assess whether defenders can operate safely in specific industry sectors and countries and – where this is not the case – cease to promote, implement or back projects, until guarantees of defenders’ safety have been made.

To financial institutions

Refuse funding for projects that violate the rights of peoples to free, prior and informed consent before engaging in operations that may lead to displacement of communities and/or impacts on their traditional cultures or sources of livelihood.

To multilateral Institutions

Prioritise civil society participation in decision making processes and open spaces for the participation of HRDs in their activities.

Work with civil society to make a case for people-centred multilateralism that reinforces the primacy of internationally agreed norms and human rights.

Multilateral institutions and states should ensure policy coherence in implementing diplomatic initiatives on the protection of human rights defenders. 

Speak boldly when HRDs are threatened, attacked, targeted or intimidated and condemn such actions.

Annex 1: HRDS killed in the past three years for defending human rights

Annex 2: HRDs currently in jail or facing judicial persecution for promoting human rights

This statement was endorsed by the organisations listed here

Use this statement as an advocacy tool to inform specific governments and businesses about the current state of human rights defenders.

 

 

Dear African Commission on Human Rights: Don’t provide cover for repressive Egyptian government

Joint letter to Chair of the African Commission on Human and People's Rights: Don’t provide political cover for brutal repression of Egyptian government (below letter sent to Chair Soyota Maiga, while ACHPHR meets in Banjul, Gambia)

Dear Chair Soyota Maiga,

We are writing to urge you to reject the bid to hold the upcoming African Commission on Human Rights and People's Rights (ACPHR) 64th ordinary session in Egypt. This decision, if taken could tantamount to ignoring the current violations taking place in the country. Egypt, under the rule of President Sisi, is in the throes of the most widespread and brutal crackdown on human rights committed by any Egyptian government in its modern history. Reflecting this reality, the United Nations (UN) human rights system, including the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and Special Procedures, has become increasingly vocal and robust in its criticism of the human rights situation in the country. This includes  recent  statements that strongly denounce the recent issuance of mass death sentences for individuals who have participated in protests within the country –and a rare call by experts representing six thematic mandates of the UN Human Rights Council to “urgently respond” to the government’s “appalling” behaviour. The EU’s European External Action Service has made similar criticism.

The Egyptian government’s continuous disregard to constitutional law and international human rights obligations lead to a series of appalling human rights violations (see annex attached to this letter). The judiciary has largely failed to hold to account those responsible for grave violations of international and national law and, in many cases, the courts have served as an instrument of repression for the authorities. Egyptian NGOs have documented 1,520 cases of enforced disappearance in Egypt between July 2013 and August 2018. More than 60,000 political prisoners are currently detained in Egypt, in dreadful conditions. The Egyptian NGO Committee for Justice documented at least 129 cases of death in custody in 2017 alone. Moreover, The UN Committee Against Torture’s 2017 annual report concluded “torture is a systematic practice in Egypt” fed by security forces’ impunity and high-level State acquiescence, and may amount to crimes against humanity.
 
Amid a national milieu distinguished by endemic torture and enforced disappearance and impunity, Egypt is currently in the middle of the most sweeping and repressive crackdown on fundamental freedoms, including dissent and other political expression in its modern history. This systematic repression threatens to wipe out any form of independent journalism and civil society in the coming period and had sweeping effects on the enjoyment of all individuals to their right to freedoms of expression, association and reunion. Indeed, the Egyptian government’s rejection of fundamental democratic processes and human rights principles is represented by its recent presidential elections held in March this year, which were assessed by fourteen regional and international organizations as neither free nor fair. Leading Egyptian human rights organizations previously warned the elections had become a dangerous "charade” likely to “exacerbate violence, terrorism and instability" in the country. Now the authorities are widely expected to soon make concrete moves to amend Egypt’s Constitution to abolish presidential term limits and allow President Sisi to run for a third term in 2022.

In face of this, a free and effective participation of Egyptian and non-Egyptian civil society organizations during the ACHPR sessions is also put into question. Our organizations have serious doubts all conditions would be met to allow NGOs to access the ACHPR, according to its mandate and practices. The security and safety of human rights defenders participating in this session may also not be guaranteed. The ACHPR has a key role to play and should reinforce its engagement with Egyptian national authorities, in order to contribute to upholding respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in the country.

The ACPHR should not turn a blind eye to these atrocities. We fully support the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet’s recent denunciation of the injustice of the Egyptian court. We urge the ACHPR to follow the High Commissioner lead in denouncing these violations in Egypt instead of rewarding it with hosting the 64th ordinary session. The African Commission should not raise its flag over the gravestone of human rights in Egypt.

Thank you for your consideration of our request.

We remain at your service should you require further information.

See Annex for more detailed information on the state of human rights and civic space in Egypt.

With Assurances of our Highest Consideration:

1    Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS);    
2    Committee for Justice (CfJ)
3    Action for Community Transformation (ACT-NOW)
4    Adalah Center for Rights & Freedoms (ACRF)- Egypt
5    African Centre for Democracy and Human Rights Studies (ACDHRS)
6    Afrique arc-en-ciel
7    Afrique Arc-en-Ciel Togo
8    Algerian League for Human Rights (LADDH)
9    Arab Foundation for Civil and Political Rights-Nedal- Egypt
10    Associação Justiça, Paz e Democracia (AJPD) Angola
11    Association for Human Rights in Ethiopia (AHRE)
12    Associazione Ricreativa Culturale Italiana – (ARCI)
13    Belady Island for Humanity
14    Border center for support and consulting- Egypt
15    Center for Civil Liberties-Ukraine
16    CIVICUS
17    CNCD-11.11.11
18    Coalition of African Lesbians
19    Independent Commission for Human Rights in Western Sahara
20    Conectas Direitos Humanos
21    Consortium for Refugees and Migrants in South Africa (CoRMSA)
22    Defend Defenders (the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project)
23    Dignity
24    Egyptian Front for Human Rights
25    EuroMed Rights
26    Great Lakes Initiative for Human Rights and Development (GLIHD)
27    Human Rights and Development in Africa (IHRDA)
28    Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum- Uganda
29    Human Rights Concern - Eritrea (HRCE)
30    Human Rights Defenders Network- Sierra Leone
31    HuMENA for Human Rights and Sustainable Development
32    Initiative For Equal Right- Nigeria
33    Initiative for Equality and Non- Discrimination- Kenya
34    Initiative for Strategic Litigation in Africa (ISLA)
35    International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute
36    International Commission of Jurist (ICJ)
37    International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
38    International Institute for Child Protection
39    International Lawyers (Geneva)
40    International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)
41    Iranti-South Africa
42    Kenya Human Rights Commission 
43    Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation
44    Moroccan Association for Human Rights (AMDH)
45    Moroccan Organization for Human Rights (OMDH)
46    Nadeem Center- Egypt
47    National Coalition for Human Rights Defenders-Uganda
48    National Coalition of Human Rights Defenders - Kenya (NCHRD-K)
49    National Human Rights Defenders Network Sierra Leone
50    National Human Rights Defenders Somalia/ Somaliland
51    Network for Solidarity, Empowerment and Transformation for All – NewSETA
52    Odhikar-Bangladesh
53    Organization for Women and Children (ORWOCH)
54    Queer Youth Uganda
55    Réseau des Défenseurs des Droits Humains en Afrique Centrale (REDHAC)
56    Réseau Doustourna (Tunis)
57    Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network
58    Synergia Initiatives for Human Rights
59    The Freedom Initiative
60    The Regional Center for Rights And liberties
61    Tunisian League for Human Rights (LTDH)
62    Uganda National NGO Forum
63    West African Human Rights Defenders ‘Network (ROADDH/WAHRDN)
64    World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)
65    Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights

 

New Head of UN Human Rights needs to visit Bangladesh

Joint letter to UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michele Bachelet, on the deterorating human rights situation in Bangladesh

Your Excellency:

Congratulations on your new role as United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. As you take up your new mandate, the undersigned organizations urge you to make Bangladesh a focus of your efforts in the coming months and to undertake an official visit to Bangladesh as soon as possible. It is our understanding that your predecessor, Prince Zeid bin Ra’ad Zeid al-Hussein, was in advanced talks with the Government of Bangladesh regarding a visit to the country. We strongly urge you to resume that discussion and schedule a visit without delay.

In your opening remarks to the 39th Session of the UN Human Rights Council on September 10, 2018, you rightly commended Bangladesh for its role hosting Rohingya refugees and for making significant development advancements. But you were also right to make it clear that Bangladesh’s human rights record in recent years has been deeply concerning. In addition to the crackdown on peaceful student protests and the violent anti-drug campaign that you referenced in your remarks—both of which warrant close attention—the Government of Bangladesh has also engaged in attacks against independent media and journalists, human rights defenders, and opposition figures. These abuses are further enabled by the recent passage of the Digital Security Act, [1] which criminalizes the legitimate exercise of the right to freedom of opinion and expression and the right to freedom of association. Enforced disappearances continue to occur at an alarming rate (34 people were reportedly disappeared in September alone), [2] and reports of torture in custody continue to surface despite passage of the Torture and Custodial Death (Prevention) Act 2013. [3]

In addition, the government is cracking down on political dissidents and opposition activists. The opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) reports that, over the past two months, police have registered 3,736 cases, resulting in charges against 313,130 party leaders and activists. The BNP insists that all of these cases and charges are politically motivated; the Awami League Government disputes this characterization. The spree of criminal cases against opposition figures is being conducted in such a fashion that the police have filed several cases against opposition leaders who have died or have been living abroad for years. [4] In trials widely condemned as politically motivated, top opposition leaders have been sentenced to death or lengthy prison sentences prior to the upcoming general election, which is expected to take place in December 2018. [5]

The UN Human Rights Committee noted concerns in its 2017 Concluding Observations regarding:

  • The “reported high rate of extrajudicial killings by police officers, soldiers and Rapid Action Battalion force members and at reports of enforced disappearances, as well as the excessive use of force by State actors”;
  • The absence of “ongoing investigations into cases of torture in the State party…[despite] information that torture and ill-treatment by law enforcement or military personnel is widespread in the State party during interrogations to extract confessions”; and
  • The “limitations on the rights of journalists, bloggers, human rights defenders and civil society organizations in the State party to exercise their right to freedom of opinion, expression and association”.

These concerns were exhaustively raised by members of the UN Human Rights Council earlier this year during Bangladesh’s 3rd cycle Universal Periodic Review. Bangladesh failed to accept a number of key recommendations, including to ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance; to issue a standing invitation to all UN Special Procedures; to amend or repeal laws that do not comply with international standards by restricting legitimate expression or association; and to fight against impunity by committing to investigate alleged human rights abuses by security forces.

Although serious concerns have been raised by non-governmental organizations, as well as by UN bodies and UN Member States, there have been only four visits by UN Special Procedures mandate-holders in the last ten years. These were the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion and Belief (2016); the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women (2013); and a joint visit by the UN Independent Expert on Human Rights and Extreme Poverty and the UN Independent Expert on the Right to Safe Drinking Water and Sanitation (2010). These are welcomed visits, and important mandates and issues for Bangladesh. But at this critical juncture, the Government of Bangladesh must grant broader access to UN Special Procedures.

In addition to undertaking an official visit to Bangladesh yourself, we urge you to press the Government of Bangladesh to accept visit requests from the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders; the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression; the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Assembly and Association; the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture; the UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Executions; the UN Working Group on Enforced Disappearances; and the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention. These are the mandates that can most directly address many of the core issues raised by UN Member States during the UPR, the UN Human Rights Committee, and by you in your opening remarks to the UN Human Rights Council.

Your office has a critical role to play. Bangladesh remains a close partner of the UN and particularly the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. Bangladesh is also one of the largest contributors of military personnel to UN Peacekeeping missions. But it must also be a closer partner of the UN human rights mechanisms. In previous election cycles there has been a marked increase in violence and repression. Attention from your office and other UN human rights bodies can help reverse this trend. We are committed to working with you and your office, as well as with the Government of Bangladesh, to ensure that a visit can take place soon.

Sincerely,

  1. 350.org
  2. Asian Human Rights Commission
  3. Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)
  4. Asian Network for Free Elections (ANFREL)V
  5. Association For Human Rights in Ethiopia (AHRE)
  6. Сenter for Civil Liberties, Ukraine
  7. CIVICUS
  8. Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI), India
  9. Freedom Now
  10. Human Rights Concern, Eritrea
  11. Human Rights Defenders Network, Sierra Leone
  12. International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
  13. Karapatan, The Philippines
  14. Lokataru Foundation, Indonesia
  15. Odhikar, Bangladesh
  16. Phenix Center for Economic Studies, Jordan
  17. Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights
  18. Sudanese Development Initiative (SUDIA), Sudan
  19. The Article 20 Network
  20. Transparency International
  21. World Organisation against Torture (OMCT)
  22. MARUAH, Singapore
  23. Transparent Election Foundation of Afghanistan (TEFA)
  24. Citizen Congress Watch (CCW), Taiwan
  25. Uganda National NGO Forum

1 See, Dhaka Tribune, “Bangladesh signs Digital Security Bill into Law,” October 8, 2018, available at, https://www.dhakatribune.com/bangladesh/2018/10/08/president-signs-digital-security-bill-into-law; see also Forum Asia, Digital Security Act English translation (2016), available at, https://www.forum- asia.org/uploads/wp/2016/08/Digital-Security-Act-English-09.03.2016.pdf.

2 See, Odhikar “Human Rights Monitoring Report of September 2018”; see also, New Age, “Enforced Disappearances Double: Odhikar Report,” October 3, 2018, available at http://www.newagebd.net/article/52199/enforced-disappearance-doubles-odhikar-report.

3 According to data gathered by Odhikar, at least 125 persons were tortured to death by law enforcement agencies from January 2009 to May 2018.

4 See e.g., Prothom Alo, "Police sue another dead man for sabotage," October 9, 2018, available at, https://en.prothomalo.com/bangladesh/news/184686/Police-sue-another-dead-man-for-sabotage.

5 See e.g., NewAge Bangladesh, “Babar, Pintu, 17 others to die, Tarique, Harris, 17 others jailed for life,” October 10, 2018, available at, http://www.newagebd.net/article/52831/aug-21-grenade-attack-19-get- death-penalty-tariqe-among-17-life-term.

 

Joint Statement on Cambodia: End impunity for crimes against journalists and activists

Phnom Penh, 1 November 2018 – On the occasion of the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists, we, the undersigned civil society groups and communities, condemn the ongoing impunity enjoyed by perpetrators of crimes against journalists and human rights defenders in Cambodia, and urge the authorities to take immediate action to ensure the effective, independent, and transparent investigations of all crimes.  

Since 1994, at least 13 journalists have been murdered: Thou Char Mongkol, Nun Chan, Chan Dara, Thun Bun Ly, Chet Duong Daravuth, Pich Em, Dok Sokhan, Ou Saroeun, Chour Chetharith, Khim Sambo, Hang Serei Oudom, Suon Chan and Taing Try. In all these cases, the victims were killed because of their work. Furthermore, at the time of their deaths 12 of the victims were engaged in activities that posed a direct threat to powerful individuals within the Cambodian elite: five worked for media outlets critical of the ruling party, while seven were investigating and reporting on allegations of corruption by high-level individuals in the government and military.

In 11 out of these 13 cases, no one was convicted for the murders;[1] in seven, no suspect was arrested or interrogated.[2] For instance, the killers of Thou Char Mongkol, the editor-in-chief of Antarakum newspaper who was found unconscious with a fractured skull on a road in June 1994 after having published several articles accusing government and military officials of corruption, were never identified by the police. Instead, they claimed he was the victim of a traffic accident. Similarly, even though Dok Sokhan was shot dead by two soldiers in July 1997 after having taken photos of them looting a market, no one has been arrested or charged. Another illustrative example is that of Khim Sambo, a journalist at Moneaseka Khmer, a daily newspaper aligned with the opposition party, who was shot dead by two men on a motorcycle in July 2008. 10 years later, calls for an independent commission of enquiry have been ignored and those responsible have not been brought to justice.

In the two cases where a trial took place, serious concerns remain. Suon Chan was reporting on illegal fishing activities when he was beaten to death by a group of fishermen in January 2014. In his case, only one of the perpetrators was arrested and convicted. Five other suspects were tried in absentia and given a 13-year sentence. They were never arrested. In the other case, that of Taing Try, who was found dead with a bullet in his forehead in October 2014, two of the three perpetrators who initially confessed to the murder were released on bail after the third claimed to have acted alone.

Crimes against journalists carry with them a particular menace. Journalists perform an indispensable duty in the societies in which they work; they are the eyes, the ears, and the voice of the people. Journalists are responsible for reporting events as they happen, writing analysis and commentary to support lively expression and debate. Independent journalism plays an essential role in holding those in power accountable and makes a vital contribution to a just society. When journalists are targeted by violence for what they write or report, freedom of expression is stifled and replaced by self-censorship and fear; the public is denied information; and the powerful cannot be held to account. When the state fails to investigate and punish violence against journalists, it sends the chilling message that attacks on journalists are permissible.

In the last two years, while journalists have not been killed, they have been targeted with judicial harassment, including trumped-up charges, and media outlets perceived as critical have been forced to close.

Impunity in Cambodia is not limited to attacks against journalists. The lack of effective, independent and transparent investigations into the deaths of environmental activist Chut Wutty, trade unionists Chea Vichea and Ros Sovannareth, and political analyst Kem Ley further illustrate the pervasive culture of impunity that prevails in Cambodia. The cases outlined above represent a fraction of the thousands of instances of abuse perpetrated against journalists, human rights defenders, political opponents, trade unionists, activists and individuals that have gone unaddressed by the institutions tasked with protecting the rights of Cambodians.

We condemn the rampant impunity that harms Cambodian people and society and demand justice for all those whose rights have been cast aside. We call upon the authorities to prosecute perpetrators of crimes committed against journalists and human rights defenders by undertaking effective, independent, and transparent investigations and prosecutions in accordance with international human rights standards, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the United Nations Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity and the United Nations Economic and Social Council’s updated set of principles for the protection and promotion of human rights through action to combat impunity, and to restore the integrity of the Cambodian legal system.

This joint statement is endorsed by:

  1. Amnesty International (AI)
  2. Article 19
  3. ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR)
  4. Asian Democracy Network (ADN)
  5. Asian Forum for Human Rights & Development (Forum Asia)
  6. Boeung Chhouk Community
  7. Boeung Kak Community
  8. Boeung Trabek Community
  9. CamASEAN Youth’s Future
  10. Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR)
  11. Cambodian Center for Independent Media (CCIM)
  12. Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC)
  13. Cambodian Independent Teacher Association (CITA)
  14. Cambodian League for the Promotion & Defense of Human Rights (LICADHO)
  15. Chroy Changva Community
  16. CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
  17. Civil Rights Defenders
  18. Coalition for Integrity & Social Accountability (CISA)
  19. Coalition of Cambodian farmer Community (CCFC)
  20. Committee for Free and Fair Election in Cambodia (COMFREL)
  21. Equitable Cambodia (EC)
  22. Gender and Development for Cambodia (GADC)
  23. Human Rights Watch (HRW)
  24. Indradevi Association (IDA)
  25. International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
  26. International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX)
  27. Kuoy Ethnic Community, Prame Village, Preah Vihea province
  28. Land Community, I Village Preah Sihanouk province
  29. Lor Peang Community, Kampong Chhnang Province
  30. Minority Rights Organization (MIRO)
  31. Ninety Two Community
  32. Phnom Bat Community
  33. Ponlok Khmer (PKH)
  34. Railway Station, Tuol Sangkae A Community
  35. Samakum Teang Tnaut (STT)
  36. SILAKA
  37. SOS International Airport Community
  38. Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA)
  39. Star Kampuchea
  40. Strey Klaingsang Community
  41. The Alliance for Conflict Transformation (ACT)
  42. World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders

[1] Thou Char Mongkol, Nun Chan, Chan Dara, Thun Bun Ly, Chet Duong Daravuth, Pich Em, Dok Sokhan, Ou Saroeun, Chour Chetharith, Khim Sambo, Hang Serei Oudom.

[2] Thou Char Mongkol, Thun Bun Ly, Chet Duong Daravuth, Pich Em, Dok Sokhan, Chour Chetharith, Khim Sambo.

 

Saudi Arabia: Over 160 groups call for accountability following murder of journalist and widespread arrest of women’s rights defenders

Francais | Espanol | العربية

Saudi Arabia: Kingdom must be held to account for suppression of dissent, following murder of journalist and widespread arrest of women’s rights defenders

Recognising the fundamental right to express our views, free from repression, we the undersigned civil society organisations call on the international community, including the United Nations, multilateral and regional institutions as well as democratic governments committed to the freedom of expression, to take immediate steps to hold Saudi Arabia accountable for grave human rights violations. The murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Ahmad Khashoggi in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul on 2 October is only one of many gross and systematic violations committed by the Saudi authorities inside and outside the country. As the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists approaches on 2 November, we strongly echo calls for an independent investigation into Khashoggi’s murder, in order to hold those responsible to account.

This case, coupled with the rampant arrests of human rights defenders, including journalists, scholars and women’s rights activists; internal repression; the potential imposition of the death penalty on demonstrators; and the findings of the UN Group of Eminent Experts report which concluded that the Coalition, led by Saudi Arabia, have committed acts that may amount to international crimes in Yemen, all demonstrate Saudi Arabia’s record of gross and systematic human rights violations. Therefore, our organisations further urge the UN General Assembly to suspend Saudi Arabia from the UN Human Rights Council (HRC), in accordance with operative paragraph 8 of the General Assembly resolution 60/251.

Saudi Arabia has never had a reputation for tolerance and respect for human rights, but there were hopes that as Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman rolled out his economic plan (Vision 2030), and finally allowed women to drive, there would be a loosening of restrictions on women’s rights, and freedom of expression and assembly. However, prior to the driving ban being lifted in June, women human rights defenders received phone calls warning them to remain silent. The Saudi authorities then arrested dozens of women’s rights defenders (both female and male) who had been campaigning against the driving ban. The Saudi authorities’ crackdown against all forms of dissent has continued to this day.

Khashoggi criticised the arrests of human rights defenders and the reform plans of the Crown Prince, and was living in self-imposed exile in the US. On 2 October 2018, Khashoggi went to the Consulate in Istanbul with his fiancée to complete some paperwork, but never came out. Turkish officials soon claimed there was evidence that he was murdered in the Consulate, but Saudi officials did not admit he had been murdered until more than two weeks later.

It was not until two days later, on 20 October, that the Saudi public prosecution’s investigation released findings confirming that Khashoggi was deceased. Their reports suggested that he died after a “fist fight” in the Consulate, and that 18 Saudi nationals have been detained. King Salman also issued royal decrees terminating the jobs of high-level officials, including Saud Al-Qahtani, an advisor to the royal court, and Ahmed Assiri, deputy head of the General Intelligence Presidency. The public prosecution continues its investigation, but the body has not been found.

Given the contradictory reports from Saudi authorities, it is essential that an independent international investigation is undertaken.

On 18 October, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and Reporters Without Borders (RSF) called on Turkey to request that UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres establish a UN investigation into the extrajudicial execution of Khashoggi.

On 15 October 2018, David Kaye, the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression, and Dr. Agnès Callamard, the UN Special Rapporteur on summary executions, called for “an independent investigation that could produce credible findings and provide the basis for clear punitive actions, including the possible expulsion of diplomatic personnel, removal from UN bodies (such as the Human Rights Council), travel bans, economic consequences, reparations and the possibility of trials in third states.”

We note that on 27 September, Saudi Arabia joined consensus at the UN HRC as it adopted a new resolution on the safety of journalists (A/HRC/Res/39/6). We note the calls in this resolution for “impartial, thorough, independent and effective investigations into all alleged violence, threats and attacks against journalists and media workers falling within their jurisdiction, to bring perpetrators, including those who command, conspire to commit, aid and abet or cover up such crimes to justice.” It also “[u]rges the immediate and unconditional release of journalists and media workers who have been arbitrarily arrested or arbitrarily detained.”

Khashoggi had contributed to the Washington Post and Al-Watan newspaper, and was editor-in-chief of the short-lived Al-Arab News Channel in 2015. He left Saudi Arabia in 2017 as arrests of journalists, writers, human rights defenders and activists began to escalate. In his last column published in the Washington Post, he criticised the sentencing of journalist Saleh Al-Shehi to five years in prison in February 2018. Al-Shehi is one of more than 15 journalists and bloggers who have been arrested in Saudi Arabia since September 2017, bringing the total of those in prison to 29, according to RSF, while up to 100 human rights defenders and possibly thousands of activists are also in detention according to the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) and Saudi partners including ALQST. Many of those detained in the past year had publicly criticised reform plans related to Vision 2030, noting that women would not achieve economic equality merely by driving.

Another recent target of the crackdown on dissent is prominent economist Essam Al-Zamel, an entrepreneur known for his writing about the need for economic reform. On 1 October 2018, the Specialised Criminal Court (SCC) held a secret session during which the Public Prosecution charged Al-Zamel with violating the Anti Cyber Crime Law by “mobilising his followers on social media.” Al-Zamel criticised Vision 2030 on social media, where he had one million followers. Al-Zamel was arrested on 12 September 2017 at the same time as many other rights defenders and reformists.

The current unprecedented targeting of women human rights defenders started in January 2018 with the arrest of Noha Al-Balawi due to her online activism in support of social media campaigns for women’s rights such as (#Right2Drive) or against the male guardianship system (#IAmMyOwnGuardian). Even before that, on 10 November 2017, the SCC in Riyadh sentenced Naimah Al-Matrod to six years in jail for her online activism.

The wave of arrests continued after the March session of the HRC and the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) published its recommendations on Saudi Arabia. Loujain Al-Hathloul, was abducted in the Emirates and brought to Saudi Arabia against her will on 15 May 2018; followed by the arrest of Dr. Eman Al-Nafjan, founder and author of the Saudiwoman's Weblog, who had previously protested the driving ban; and Aziza Al-Yousef, a prominent campaigner for women’s rights.

Four other women’s human rights defenders who were arrested in May 2018 include Dr. Aisha Al-Manae, Dr. Hessa Al-Sheikh and Dr. Madeha Al-Ajroush, who took part in the first women’s protest movement demanding the right to drive in 1990; and Walaa Al-Shubbar, a young activist well-known for her campaigning against the male guardianship system. They are all academics and professionals who supported women’s rights and provided assistance to survivors of gender-based violence. While they have since been released, all four women are believed to be still facing charges.

On 6 June 2018, journalist, editor, TV producer and woman human rights defender Nouf Abdulaziz was arrested after a raid on her home. Following her arrest, Mayya Al-Zahrani published a letter from Abdulaziz, and was then arrested herself on 9 June 2018, for publishing the letter.

On 27 June 2018, Hatoon Al-Fassi, a renowned scholar, and associate professor of women's history at King Saud University, was arrested. She has long been advocating for the right of women to participate in municipal elections and to drive, and was one of the first women to drive the day the ban was lifted on 24 June 2018.

Twice in June, UN special procedures called for the release of women’s rights defenders. On 27 June 2018, nine independent UN experts stated, “In stark contrast with this celebrated moment of liberation for Saudi women, women's human rights defenders have been arrested and detained on a wide scale across the country, which is truly worrying and perhaps a better indication of the Government's approach to women's human rights.” They emphasised that women human rights defenders “face compounded stigma, not only because of their work as human rights defenders, but also because of discrimination on gender grounds.”

Nevertheless, the arrests of women human rights defenders continued with Samar Badawi and Nassima Al-Sadah on 30 July 2018. They are being held in solitary confinement in a prison that is controlled by the Presidency of State Security, an apparatus established by order of King Salman on 20 July 2017. Badawi’s brother Raif Badawi is currently serving a 10-year prison sentence for his online advocacy, and her former husband Waleed Abu Al-Khair, is serving a 15-year sentence. Abu Al-Khair, Abdullah Al-Hamid, and Mohammad Fahad Al-Qahtani (the latter two are founding members of the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association - ACPRA) were jointly awarded the Right Livelihood Award in September 2018. Yet all of them remain behind bars.

Relatives of other human rights defenders have also been arrested. Amal Al-Harbi, the wife of prominent activist Fowzan Al-Harbi, was arrested by State Security on 30 July 2018 while on the seaside with her children in Jeddah. Her husband is another jailed member of ACPRA. Alarmingly, in October 2018, travel bans were imposed against the families of several women’s rights defenders, such as Aziza Al-Yousef, Loujain Al-Hathloul and Eman Al-Nafjan.

In another alarming development, at a trial before the SCC on 6 August 2018, the Public Prosecutor called for the death penalty for Israa Al-Ghomgam who was arrested with her husband Mousa Al-Hashim on 6 December 2015 after they participated in peaceful protests in Al-Qatif. Al-Ghomgam was charged under Article 6 of the Cybercrime Act of 2007 in connection with social media activity, as well as other charges related to the protests. If sentenced to death, she would be the first woman facing the death penalty on charges related to her activism. The next hearing is scheduled for 28 October 2018.

The SCC, which was set up to try terrorism cases in 2008, has mostly been used to prosecute human rights defenders and critics of the government in order to keep a tight rein on civil society.

On 12 October 2018, UN experts again called for the release of all detained women human rights defenders in Saudi Arabia. They expressed particular concern about Al-Ghomgam’s trial before the SCC, saying, “Measures aimed at countering terrorism should never be used to suppress or curtail human rights work.” It is clear that the Saudi authorities have not acted on the concerns raised by the special procedures – this non-cooperation further brings their membership on the HRC into disrepute.

Many of the human rights defenders arrested this year have been held in incommunicado detention with no access to families or lawyers. Some of them have been labelled traitors and subjected to smear campaigns in the state media, escalating the possibility they will be sentenced to lengthy prison terms. Rather than guaranteeing a safe and enabling environment for human rights defenders at a time of planned economic reform, the Saudi authorities have chosen to escalate their repression against any dissenting voices.

Our organisations reiterate our calls to the international community to hold Saudi Arabia accountable and not allow impunity for human rights violations to prevail.

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

  1. Take action to ensure there is an international, impartial, prompt, thorough, independent and effective investigation into the murder of journalist Jamal Ahmad Khashoggi;
  2. Ensure Saudi Arabia be held accountable for the murder of Khashoggi and for its systematic violations of human rights;
  3. Call a Special Session of the Human Rights Council on the recent wave of arrests and attacks against journalists, human rights defenders and other dissenting voices in Saudi Arabia;
  4. Take action at the UN General Assembly to suspend Saudi Arabia’s membership of the Human Rights Council; and
  5. Urge the government of Saudi Arabia to implement the below recommendations.

We call on the authorities in Saudi Arabia to:

  1. Produce the body of Jamal Ahmad Khashoggi and invite independent international experts to oversee investigations into his murder; cooperate with all UN mechanisms; and ensure that those responsible for his death, including those who hold command responsibility, are brought to justice;
  2. Immediately quash the convictions of all human rights defenders, including women and men advocating for gender equality, and drop all charges against them;
  3. Immediately and unconditionally release all human rights defenders, writers, journalists and prisoners of conscience in Saudi Arabia whose detention is a result of their peaceful and legitimate work in the promotion and protection of human rights including women’s rights;
  4. Institute a moratorium on the death penalty; including as punishment for crimes related to the exercise of rights to freedom of opinion and expression, and peaceful assembly;
  5. Guarantee in all circumstances that all human rights defenders and journalists in Saudi Arabia are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities and public interest reporting without fear of reprisal;
  6. Immediately implement the recommendations made by the UN Group of Eminent Experts on Yemen; and
  7. Ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and bring all national laws limiting the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association into compliance with international human rights standards.

Signed,

Access Now
Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture (ACAT) - France
Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture (ACAT) - Germany
Al-Marsad - Syria
ALQST for Human Rights
ALTSEAN-Burma
Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB)
Amman Center for Human Rights Studies (ACHRS) - Jordan
Amman Forum for Human Rights
Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI)
Armanshahr/OPEN ASIA
ARTICLE 19
Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)
Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC)
Asociación Libre de Abogadas y Abogados (ALA)
Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE)
Association for Human Rights in Ethiopia (AHRE)
Association malienne des droits de l’Homme (AMDH)
Association mauritanienne des droits de l’Homme (AMDH)
Association nigérienne pour la défense des droits de l’Homme (ANDDH)
Association of Tunisian Women for Research on Development
Association for Women's Rights in Development (AWID)
Awan Awareness and Capacity Development Organization
Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD)
Bureau for Human Rights and the Rule of Law - Tajikistan
Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS)
Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (LICADHO)
Canadian Center for International Justice
Caucasus Civil Initiatives Center (CCIC)
Center for Civil Liberties - Ukraine
Center for Prisoners’ Rights
Center for the Protection of Human Rights “Kylym Shamy” - Kazakhstan
Centre oecuménique des droits de l’Homme (CEDH) - Haïti
Centro de Políticas Públicas y Derechos Humanos (EQUIDAD) - Perú
Centro para la Acción Legal en Derechos Humanos (CALDH) - Guatemala
Citizen Center for Press Freedom
Citizens’ Watch - Russia
CIVICUS
Civil Society Institute (CSI) - Armenia
Code Pink
Columbia Law School Human Rights Clinic
Comité de acción jurídica (CAJ) - Argentina
Comisión Ecuménica de Derechos Humanos (CEDHU) - Ecuador
Comisión Nacional de los Derechos Humanos - Dominican Republic
Committee on the Administration of Justice (CAJ) -Northern Ireland
Committee to Protect Journalists
Committee for Respect of Liberties and Human Rights in Tunisia
Damascus Center for Human Rights in Syria
Danish PEN
DITSHWANELO - The Botswana Center for Human Rights
Dutch League for Human Rights (LvRM)
Election Monitoring and Democracy Studies Center - Azerbaijan
English PEN
European Centre for Democracy and Human Rights (ECDHR)
European Saudi Organisation for Human Rights (ESOHR)
FIDH within the framework of the Observatory for the protection of human rights defenders
Finnish League for Human Rights
Freedom Now
Front Line Defenders
Fundación regional de asesoría en derechos humanos (INREDH) - Ecuador
Foundation for Human Rights Initiative (FHRI) - Uganda
Groupe LOTUS (RDC)
Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR)
Hellenic League for Human Rights (HLHR)
Human Rights Association (IHD) - Turkey
Human Rights Center (HRCIDC) - Georgia
Human Rights Center “Viasna” - Belarus
Human Rights Commission of Pakistan
Human Rights Concern (HRCE) - Eritrea
Human Rights in China
Human Rights Movement “Bir Duino Kyrgyzstan”
Human Rights Center Memorial
Human Rights Sentinel
IFEX
Index on Censorship
Initiative for Freedom of Expression (IFoX) - Turkey
Institut Alternatives et Initiatives citoyennes pour la Gouvernance démocratique (I-AICGD) - DR Congo
International Center for Supporting Rights and Freedoms (ICSRF) - Switzerland
Internationale Liga für Menscherechte
International Human Rights Organisation “Fiery Hearts Club” - Uzbekistan
International Legal Initiative (ILI) - Kazakhstan
International Media Support (IMS)
International Partnership for Human Rights (IPHR)
International Press Institute
International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)
Internet Law Reform and Dialogue (iLaw)
Iraqi Association for the Defense of Journalists' Rights
Iraqi Hope Association
Italian Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
Justice for Iran
Karapatan - Philippines
Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and the Rule of Law
Khiam Rehabilitation Center for Victims of Torture
KontraS
Latvian Human Rights Committee
Lao Movement for Human Rights
Lawyers' Rights Watch Canada
League for the Defense of Human Rights in Iran (LDDHI)
Legal Clinic “Adilet” - Kyrgyzstan
Ligue algérienne de défense des droits de l’Homme (LADDH)
Ligue centrafricaine des droits de l’Homme
Ligue des droits de l’Homme (LDH) Belgium
Ligue des Electeurs (LE) - DRC
Ligue ivoirienne des droits de l’Homme (LIDHO)
Ligue sénégalaise des droits humains (LSDH)
Ligue tchadienne des droits de l’Homme (LTDH)
Maison des droits de l’Homme (MDHC) - Cameroon
Maharat Foundation
MARUAH - Singapore
Middle East and North Africa Media Monitoring Observatory
Monitoring Committee on Attacks on Lawyers, International Association of People's Lawyers (IAPL)
Movimento Nacional de Direitos Humanos (MNDH) - Brasil
Muslims for Progressive Values
Mwatana Organization for Human Rights
National Syndicate of Tunisian Journalists
No Peace Without Justice
Norwegian PEN
Odhikar
Open Azerbaijan Initiative
Organisation marocaine des droits humains (OMDH)
People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy (PSPD)
People’s Watch
PEN America
PEN Canada
PEN International
PEN Lebanon
PEN Québec
Promo-LEX - Moldova
Public Foundation - Human Rights Center “Kylym Shamy” - Kyrgyzstan
Rafto Foundation for Human Rights
RAW in WAR (Reach All Women in War)
Reporters Without Borders (RSF)
Right Livelihood Award Foundation
Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights
Sahrawi Media Observatory to document human rights violations
SALAM for Democracy and Human Rights (SALAM DHR)
Scholars at Risk (SAR)
Sham Center for Democratic Studies and Human Rights in Syria
Sisters’ Arab Forum for Human Rights (SAF) - Yemen
Solicitors International Human Rights Group
Syrian Center for Legal Studies and Research
Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM)
Tanmiea - Iraq
Tunisian Association to Defend Academic Values
Tunisian Association to Defend Individual Rights
Tunisian Association of Democratic Women
Tunis Center for Press Freedom
Tunisian Forum for Economic and Social Rights
Tunisian League to Defend Human Rights
Tunisian Organization against Torture
Urgent Action Fund for Women’s Human Rights (UAF)
Urnammu
Vietnam Committee on Human Rights
Vigdis Freedom Foundation
Vigilance for Democracy and the Civic State
Women Human Rights Defenders International Coalition
Women’s Center for Culture & Art - United Kingdom
World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA)
World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) within the framework of the Observatory for the protection of human rights defenders
Yemen Center for Human Rights
Zimbabwe Human Rights Association (ZimRights)
17Shubat For Human Rights

 

Pakistan: Government orders closure of 18 civil society organisations

Global civil society calls on the Government of Pakistan to reverse its order to close 18 human rights and development organisations

25 national, regional and international civil society organisations (CSOs) express their deep concern over the suspension and expulsion of 18 international non-governmental organisations (INGOs) in Pakistan. These organizations serve millions of people in Pakistan and contribute to the country’s economic and social development. We are also concerned that these actions indicate further restrictions to Pakistan’s already repressed civic space and urge the government to reconsider this decision.
 
On 3 October 2018, Pakistan’s Interior Ministry ordered 18 INGOs to wind up their operations within 60 days. The Interior Ministry had rejected their applications for re-registration in November 2017 without providing reasons, and subsequently rejected their appeals of the rejections. The appeals of more than a dozen other INGOs are still under review.
  
These expulsions come three years after the previous government ordered all INGOs operating in Pakistan to re-register with the Interior Ministry in October 2015, under a new INGO policy that effectively impedes 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 Pakistan 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.
 
Local and concerned NGOs have called on the Interior Ministry to permit the INGOs to reapply for registration before closing their operations to avoid the extensive disruption that would otherwise occur. Pakistan has the world’s sixth biggest population, but a fifth of the people are still living in poverty. INGOs are helping to deliver the new governments’ 100-day reform agenda. In 2017 alone, the INGO sector reached an estimated 34 million people with humanitarian relief and development assistance. The 18 NGOs affected by the closure order are engaged in supporting access to healthcare, education and good governance.
 
The undersigned groups urge the government of Pakistan 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.
 
We therefore urge the Pakistani authorities to reconsider its decision to suspend these organisations and to allow them to apply again for re-registration. We also call on the government to revise the policy for INGOs so that it does not contravene the rights to freedom of expression and association and cannot be misused to restrict their legitimate work.
 
Sincerely,
 
African Centre for Democracy and Human Rights Studies (ACDHRS)
Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB)
Asia Development Alliance 
Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC)
Association For Human Rights in Ethiopia (AHRE)
Association for Progressive Communications (APC)
Bytes for All ( Pakistan)
Caucasus Civil Initiatives Center (CCIC)
CIVICUS
Сenter for Civil Liberties, Ukraine
Civil Society Organisations Network for Development (RESOCIDE), Burkina Faso
Digital Rights Foundation, Pakistan
Fundacion Ciudadano Inteligente, Chile
Free Expression Myanmar (FEM), Myanmar 
Human Rights Concern - Eritrea (HRCE)
Innovation 4 Change( I4C)  South Asia Hub
Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL)
Karapatan, Philippines 
Kontras, Indonesia
Lokataru Foundation, Indonesia
Metro Center, Iraq
Odhikar, Bangladesh
SUDIA (Sudanese Development Initiative), Sudan
Uganda National NGO Forum, Uganda
West African Human Rights Defenders’ Network (WAHRDN/ROADDH)

 

Myanmar: Drop Charges Against Three Kachin Activists 

Joint Statement by CIVICUS and Amnesty International

Myanmar authorities must immediately drop defamation charges against three Kachin activists who led a peaceful rally in Myitkyina, the capital of Kachin State. The march was to call for humanitarian access to thousands of displaced civilians and for an end to the armed conflicts in northern Myanmar. 

The prosecution of the activists – and other recent cases of politically motivated arrest and imprisonment – represent an alarming return to practices that characterized Myanmar’s decades of direct military rule. 

Myanmar-anti-war-protestsOn 3 September 2018, Lum Zawng (m), Nang Pu (f), and Zau Jet (m) were charged under Section 500 of the Penal Code with defamation of the Myanmar military. The charges relate to statements they made at a peaceful rally on 30 April 2018 and at a press conference the next day, following major escalation in fighting between the Myanmar military and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), an ethnic armed organization in Kachin State. The violence displaced more than 5,000 civilians, 2,000 of whom were trapped for several weeks in a forest near the village of Aung Lawt without access to humanitarian assistance or safe passage from the area. 

In response, on 30 April, thousands of people gathered peacefully in Myitkyina to demand the rescue of trapped civilians, the resumption of humanitarian access and an end to the conflict. Lawyer Lum Zawng was one of the organizers of the rally where protesters called for the military to stop aerial attacks on civilians. The authorities have charged him with defamation. 

The other two activists, Nang Pu, Director of the Htoi Gender and Development Foundation, and Zau Jet, Chairman of the Kachin National Social Development Foundation, are also facing defamation charges for comments they made at a press conference after the rally. The two had spoken about the situation of displaced civilians in the Hpakant area and about reports of threats against and ill-treatment of civilians by Myanmar soldiers. If convicted, they each face up to two years in prison. 

The prosecution of Lum Zawng, Nang Pu and Zau Jet is clearly an attempt by the Myanmar authorities to intimidate, harass and silence community leaders and human rights defenders who speak out about military abuses and the impact on civilian populations. Amnesty International and global civil society alliance, CIVICUS call on the Myanmar authorities to immediately drop the charges against the three activists. 

The rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly are enshrined in Articles 19 and 20 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). Under international human rights law and standards, certain restrictions on the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly may be imposed, but only in narrow, clearly defined circumstances. Such restrictions must be provided by law; be limited to certain specified purposes such as national security, public order or respect of the rights or reputation of others; and be necessary and proportionate to the achievement of one of those permissible purposes. 

Amnesty International and CIVICUS are concerned about a range of laws in Myanmar – including Section 500 of the Penal Code – which are incompatible with the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly and which are used to arrest, prosecute and imprison human rights defenders and other peaceful activists. Both organizations urge the Myanmar authorities – in particular Parliament – to take immediate action to review and repeal or else amend all such laws to bring them into line with international human rights law and standards. 

Human rights defenders play a vital role in the protection and promotion of human rights, and it is crucial that they are able to speak out freely on human rights violations, including those committed by the military against civilians in areas of armed conflict, without fear of repercussions. Under Article 2 of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, each state has a duty to create the conditions necessary to defend human rights within their jurisdictions. Amnesty International and CIVICUS call on the government of Myanmar to ensure an environment in which it is possible to defend human rights without fear of reprisal or intimidation.

Background
The armed conflict between the Myanmar military and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) has been ongoing since June 2011, after a 17-year ceasefire ended. Since the resumption of hostilities, fighting has spread to other parts of northern Myanmar, involving a myriad of armed groups.

The Myanmar military has committed war crimes and other gross human rights violations against civilians, particularly from ethnic minorities, as documented in detail by Amnesty International in a June 2017 report and by the UN Fact-Finding Mission in a report presented to the Human Rights Council in September 2018. These crimes and violations include unlawful killings, enforced disappearances, torture, arbitrary arrest and indiscriminate shelling of civilian areas. Ethnic armed groups have also committed abuses against civilians. Investigations into allegations of human rights violations and crimes under international law are rare and perpetrators seldom, if ever, held to account, contributing to a climate of impunity in the country. 

More than 100,000 people have been internally displaced across the conflict-affected areas of northern Myanmar since 2011, many of them displaced multiple times. The humanitarian situation of internally displaced people (IDPs) remains serious, with ongoing concerns about conditions in IDP camps, including access to food, shelter, clean water and sanitation. In addition, the authorities – both civilian and military – have imposed severe restrictions on humanitarian access, exacerbating the needs of the displaced population.

ENDS

For more information, contact:

Josef Benedict
josef.benedict{AT}civicus.org

 

Letter from Jail: Nicaraguan Farm Leader, Medardo Mairena

Incarcerated farm leader Medardo Mairena writes a letter to media from jail

SOSNicaragua6Medardo Mairena Sequeira,  is the Coordinator of the National Council in Defense of Land, Lake and Sovereignty and member of the Civic Alliance for Justice and Democracy. Medardo is one of the leaders of the movement against the construction of the Canal in Nicaragua. Medardo was detained on July 13 along with campesino leader Pedro Joaquín Mena Amador when they were planning to board a plane to the United States to participate in a solidarity event with Nicaragua. Medardo and two other farm leaders, face false charges ranging from terrorism, murder, kidnappings, aggravated robbery and obstruction of public services.


I am grateful to God and my family, to the Nicaraguan people, to independent media, to national and international human rights commissions, to the Organization of American States, to the UN Security Council for not letting the Nicaraguan people alone.

To all my friends, to all the people, I ask you to remain united praying in these difficult times for everyone, especially for us political prisoners. We are imprisoned only because we think differently. The Ortega regime is a coward. They have imprisoned us just for raising our voices and speaking up for those who can’t and for those who are no longer with us. In the penitentiary system, we are in maximum security jails where the cells are in bad conditions, there is no electricity, restrooms are damaged. Windows that are supposed to allow air to enter are closed. It is like being baked in an oven and we are isolated from everyone else. Us campesino leaders are in the Modelo gallery 300, in the place known as “little hell”. We are 20 prisoners in the same conditions, we are sick, and they don’t allow a doctor to visit us. Thanks to god, I’m feeling better but it is only because of god. Here we have mosquitoes, cockroaches, scorpions. They don’t allow us to get out of the cells even for taking sun. They took my friend Pedro Mena’s Medication, he suffers from diabetes and high blood pressure and he always carries his treatment in his bag because he needs to take a daily pill. They treat us inhumanely.

I invite the people to keep doing peaceful demonstrations,  as we have always done it. Even if you don’t see me, my heart is always with you because we need to demand our freedom, because we are innocent from the accusations. The day the facts happened in Morito, we were in Managua demanding for dialogue be resumed with the government, because we want justice, democratization and a peaceful exit to the crisis. We cannot forget those whose lives have been taken by the regime. At least my family still has hope of seeing me alive, but the mothers that lost their children do not and we cannot forget their injustice.

Sincerely,

Medardo.

Translated originally from Spanish. Read original letter


CIVICUS has called on the authorities in Nicaragua to drop all charges against Medardo Mairena, Pedro Joaquín Mena, and Victor Manuel Diaz, and release them safely. CIVICUS also calls for the release of all the rural leaders, students and activists currently detained for exercising their right to protest.

Nicaragua has been added to a watchlist of countries which are experiencing an alarming escalation in threats to fundamental freedoms. The watchlist is compiled by the CIVICUS Monitor, an online platform that tracks threats to civil society in countries across the globe.   

 

 

Joint Statement: Civil society condemns the wrongful conviction of Cambodian human rights defenders

logo cambodia statement 1 750x90

The Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA), CIVICUS, Freedom House, and Front Line Defenders condemn yesterday’s conviction of four human rights defenders from the Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC) and a National Election Committee (NEC) official, in what we see as a clear attack against their legitimate human rights work.

On 26 September 2018, senior ADHOC staff members – Ny Sokha, Nay Vanda, Lim Mony, and Yi Soksan – were convicted of ‘bribery of a witness’ under Article 548 of the Criminal Code, while a NEC official and former ADHOC staff member Ny Chakrya was found guilty as an accomplice under Articles 29 and 548 of the same Criminal Code. Each has been given a five-year sentence by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court, with 14 months and one day considered served and the rest of the sentence suspended.

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

 

Apply: Goalkeepers Youth Action Accelerator

  • New programme to support youth tackling major social issues through data collection
  • Initiative will amplify activists’ work and hold leaders accountable
  • Selected activists will receive funding, technical assistance and networking support

2019 is kicking off with an exciting, innovative, youth-led and multi-partner programme called the Goalkeepers Youth Action Accelerator! The launch of the Accelerator is a direct response to the challenges young people face in accessing sufficient and appropriate resources to meaningfully engage in development decisions and activities that affect their communities.

The Accelerator will support promising youth advocates who are using data in innovative ways to address Global Goals 1-6 -- local development challenges related to poverty, hunger, health and well-being, education, gender equality and water and sanitation. These youth-led initiatives should relate to:

  • Data sourcing & Accountability: Initiatives that gather community views and experiences and/or crowdsourced data related to the specific development issue you’re working on. For example: Float Beijing Citizen Generated Data Quality
  • Data translation & Storytelling: Initiatives and campaigns that translate existing development data into stories that showcase progress and encourage leaders across sectors to act. For example: Stories for Advocacy

Chosen youth advocates will receive funding, technical and networking support, valued at up to US$30,000.

Apply Now!

Do you want to increase youth representation and influence in development decisions in your community? Do you want to generate and use data to improve accountability for local development?  Do you have a great idea, but need a little extra support to realise its full potential? 

If this sounds like you, check the eligibility criteria and frequently asked questions, and apply before 31st October! 

Still not sure if this is the right opportunity for you, contact the Goalkeepers Youth Action Accelerator coordination team at

Important Dates

  • Applications open: 26 September 2018
  • Applications close: 31 October 2018
  • Finalists announced: 30 November 2018
  • Virtual orientation (mandatory): December 2018
  • Workshop in Arusha, Tanzania (mandatory): 21-25 January 2019 

If you are selected, you will also have the opportunity to engage in additional networking opportunities to increase the visibility of your initiative, build local and global solidarity and mobilise funds.

See press release

 

New digital security law a further blow to media freedom and free expression in Bangladesh

  • The Digital Security Act was passed despite protests from civil society and journalists
  • DSA  incorporates other legislation that has been systematically used to silence dissent
  • New law comes amid a growing, brutal crackdown on peaceful protests and dissent  

     

Global rights group condemns violent repression of peaceful protests in eSwatini (formerly Swaziland)

  • Global civil society alliance condemns ongoing violations of freedom of assembly
  • At least two protesters shot, several injured in police attacks on marches
  • Hundreds of thousands of workers staged three days of protests
  • Violent police action against peaceful protests comes on eve of controversial elections

Global human rights groups have condemned the violent repression of peaceful protests in eSwatini (formerly Swaziland) as part of a long-running pattern of fundamental rights violations in the southern African kingdom.

At least two protesters were shot on Wednesday and several reported injured after police attacked demonstrations by workers, who were protesting the autocracy of King Mswati III, ruler of sub-Saharan Africa’s last remaining absolute monarchy, and calling for improved wages and better working conditions. The workers were among hundreds of thousands of others who responded to a call by the Trade Union Congress of Swaziland (TUCOSWA) to stage three days of peaceful protests, beginning on September 18, in the cities of Manzini, Mbabane, Siteki and Nhlangano.

 The latest incidents in ongoing restrictions on freedom of assembly and expression have come just ahead of today’s highly controversial parliamentary elections. More than 500,000 registered voters are expected to cast ballots for representatives of the legislature – an institution under the firm control of the King. The elections will be held without the participation of political parties, which are banned in Swaziland. 

Global civil society alliance, CIVICUS, said the brutal police action against protesters violated constitutionally-protected rights to freedom of assembly and highlights the continued actions by the authorities to repress fundamental rights in Africa’s last remaining absolute monarchy.

“Swazis are unable to participate in political processes and with the tight controls exerted by the authorities over the media, constitutionally-guaranteed peaceful protests remain the only means through which they can raise concerns about issues affecting them,” said David Kode, CIVICUS Campaigns and Advocacy Lead.

“By using violence against those who exercise this right, the authorities are revealing the true extent of the brutality of the regime,” Kode said.

The current wave of repression of protesters is the latest in a trend observed since the start of the year to curtail the only means available to citizens to inform the government about issues affecting them. On June 29 for example, the police used brute force to disperse protesting workers as they made their way to deliver a petition to the Deputy Prime Minister’s office, calling for an introduction of a minimum wage and an end to the abuse of small-scale sugarcane workers. Four protesters were injured and hospitalised and one was detained and released after a while. 

On September 8, police used force to repress demonstrations led by nurses to  express concerns over healthcare cuts and medicine shortages. The protesting healthcare workers were blocked as they tried to deliver a petition to government officials.  Violence was also used against hundreds of trade union members demonstrating against the King’s misuse of the state pension fund.

King Mswati III unilaterally changed the country’s name from Swaziland to eSwatini in April, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of independence from Britain.

CIVICUS calls on the authorities to respect the rights of citizens to assemble peacefully and hold to account security forces who targeted peaceful protesters. 

The CIVICUS Monitor, an online platform that tracks threats to civil society in countries around the world, rates the space for civil society in Swaziland as ‘repressed’.   

For more information, please contact:

David Kode

 

Attacks on opposition and media continue as elections approach in Maldives

  • State slaps opposition supporters with spurious “terrorism” charges ahead of elections
  • Opposition campaign offices and members’ properties attacked and vandalised
  • New cumbersome visa requirements for foreign journalists adds to media restrictions
  • Global human rights groups call for probe into attacks and an end to media repression

     

Lysa John Announced as new CIVICUS SG

The CIVICUS Board of Directors is pleased to announce that following an extensive international search and selection process, Lysa John will be joining CIVICUS as the new Secretary General (SG) of the alliance.

 

Colombia: Rise for Climate marchers unlawfully obstructed

Peaceful activists and campesinos of the “Movimiento Rios Vivos” were unlawfully obstructed by police in Ituango, Colombia on 8 September 2018 as they participated in the global “Rise for Climate” mobilisation. The action in Ituango was part of a global mobilisation organised by the environmental rights group 350.org, which  brought together tens of thousands of people who took part in 900 actions in 95 countries around the world.  The blocking of the protesters is an example of the ongoing pattern of violations against environmental defenders.

 

Time to Sign: Stand with students & activists in Bangladesh

Bangladesh: Release and drop all charges against all those arbitrarily arrested and investigate police abuse

Global civil society alliance CIVICUS is calling for your support and solidarity to demand the release of students and protesters who were arrested and charged over the last month in Bangladesh. On 15th August, Bangladesh was added to the CIVICUS Monitor’s Watch List, which means that there has been an escalation in serious threats to fundamental freedoms in recent weeks and months.

Add your voice to the campaign to demand that the government reverse this trend, release all those arbitrarily arrested and investigate police abuses by sending the letter below to government authorities, and adding your voice on social media using #BangladeshProtests.

 

Malaysia: Senate’s rejection of bill abolishing fake news law a step backwards for the Pakatan Harapan government

ARTICLE 19 and CIVICUS are extremely disappointed that the Senate (Dewan Negara) has rejected a bill to repeal the repressive Anti-Fake News Act 2018. International and national rights groups, UN experts and Malaysian civil society have raised serious concerns that the law is inconsistent with international standards and may be used to violate the right to freedom of expression. The failure to abolish the law runs contrary to the new government’s commitment to reform the restrictive environment for expression and public discourse established by the previous Barisan Nasional government.

 

Deportation of human rights defender highlights repressive environment in Vietnam

  • Vietnam arbitrarily detains and deports global human rights leader attending regional summit
  • Senior Amnesty International official also denied entry to attend World Economic Forum meeting
  • Barred entry of activists comes amid widespread repression of human rights in Vietnam
  • CIVICUS condemns actions, calls for end to harassment, intimidation, imprisonment of activists

Global human rights groups have condemned Vietnam’s arbitrary detention and deportation of a Malaysian human rights leader who had arrived in the country to attend a regional World Economic Forum (WEF) summit.

Debbie Stothard, Secretary-General of the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH), had arrived in Vietnam on September 9 and was detained overnight at the Hanoi’s Noi Bai International Airport overnigh before being deported to Malaysia the following morning. Stothard, who had been invited to speak at the forum, was denied entry for “national defense, security or social order and safety” reasons. She also serves as coordinator of the Alternative ASEAN Network on Burma (ALTSEAN-Burma). ASEAN is the Association of South East Asian Nations, a regional political and economic bloc.

Global civil society alliance, CIVICUS, has expressed grave concern at Stothard’s arbitrary detention and deportation and said it illustrates the repressive human rights environment in Vietnam. Amnesty International’s Senior Director of Global Operations, Minar Pimple was also barred from entering Vietnam to speak at the WEF meeting.

“By arbitrarily detaining and deporting a representative of a well-respected international human rights organisation, Vietnamese authorities have demonstrated serious disdain for international norms. Such actions weaken Vietnam’s commitment to the sustainable development goals framework which promises respect for fundamental freedoms and support for effective partnerships with civil society,” said Mandeep Tiwana, CIVICUS Chief Programmes Officer.

“The authorities must allow her to participate in the forum without restrictions or reprisals” said Tiwana.

Fundamental freedoms are severely curtailed in Vietnam, with activists, journalists and bloggers routinely arrested and imprisoned under vaguely defined national security laws. Activists also face restrictions on their movement and are subject to surveillance, harassment and violent assaults. Media outlets in Viet Nam are heavily censored and peaceful protesters have faced arbitrary arrests and excessive use of force by the police.

In April 2018, three United Nations experts urged Vietnamese authorities “not to crack down on civil society to muzzle dissenting voices and stifle the people’s rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly and association, in violation of the country’s obligations under international human rights law”.

These restrictions against civil society highlight relentless efforts by the Vietnamese authorities to silence individuals who have critical or dissenting views.

In a tweet after her ordeal, Stothard said “whatever inconvenience I am being subjected to is nothing compared to the attacks on Vietnam #HumanRights defenders & the media”.

CIVICUS calls on the Vietnam government to immediately stop these actions and unconditionally release all human rights defenders imprisoned for exercising their fundamental rights. The authorities must also end all forms of harassment and intimidation against them.

The CIVICUS Monitor, an online platform that tracks threats to civil society in countries across the globe, has rated the space for civil society in Vietnam is rated as closed.

For more information, please contact:

Josef Benedict

 

CONNECT WITH US

DIGITAL CHANNELS

HEADQUARTERS
25  Owl Street, 6th Floor
Johannesburg,
South Africa,
2092
Tel: +27 (0)11 833 5959
Fax: +27 (0)11 833 7997

UN HUB: NEW YORK
205 East 42nd Street, 17th Floor
New York, New York
United States
10017

UN HUB: GENEVA
11 Avenue de la Paix
Geneva
Switzerland
CH-1202
Tel: +41 (0)22 733 3435