Algeria: European Parliament calls for action on human rights and expresses solidarity with demonstrators

Arabic

The European Parliament’s second urgency resolution on Algeria in a year is an important step and should be followed by stronger public action from the international community

 

India: Human rights body must raise concerns over crackdown

To: Hon’ble Justice (Retd.) H.L. Dattu
Chairperson
National Human Rights Commission of India
New Delhi Email:

Re: Request to raise serious concerns over the ongoing crackdown on human rights defenders in India

Dear Justice (Retd.) Dattu,

We, the undersigned international and regional non-governmental organisations, are concerned by the ongoing crackdown by the State agencies on human rights defenders in India. It is in this context that we are writing to request you to raise these concerns and take the necessary measures within your mandate.

On October 28 and 29, 2020, the houses and offices of several human rights defenders, human rights groups and journalists in Srinagar and Bandipora (Jammu and Kashmir), Bengaluru (Karnataka), and Delhi were raided by National Investigation Agency (NIA) officials. These raids were said to be undertaken to investigate the use of funding for “carrying out secessionist and separatist activities” in Kashmir. The raided premises included the houses and offices of several well-known human rights defenders, including: Ms. Parveena Ahangar, Chairperson of the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP) and 2017 laureate of the Rafto Prize; Mr. Khurram Parvez, Coordinator of the Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS) and Chairperson of the Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances (AFAD); other JKCCS members; and the independent daily newspaper Greater Kashmir. The raids were also conducted in Bengaluru at the residence of Ms. Swati Sheshadri, and in Delhi at the residence of Mr. Zafarul Islam Khan, Chairperson of the NGO Charity Alliance and former Chairperson of the Delhi Minorities Commission. Documents and electronic devices, including hard disks containing sensitive information such as victims' personal data and testimonies, were seized during these raids. The individuals and groups affected by these actions have been at the forefront of the human rights movement in the country for decades, and these raids appear to be an attempt to silence them and to hamper their important human rights work. We are extremely concerned regarding the blatant misuse of the counterterrorism law, the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), against these defenders.

On October 8, 2020, Mr. Stan Swamy, an 83-year-old Jesuit priest and prominent Adivasi rights activist based in Ranchi (Jharkhand), was arrested without any warrant by NIA officials from his residence. On October 9, 2020, he was transported to Mumbai (Maharashtra), where he was remanded in Taloja jail. His age and the fact that he is suffering from advanced Parkinson’s disease is putting him at an increased vulnerability of contracting COVID-19. Mr. Swamy was arrested for his alleged involvement in the “Bhima Koregaon case”, in connection with caste-based violence that broke out during the Elgar Parishad at Bhima Koregaon (Maharashtra), on January 1, 2018.

As many as 15 other prominent human rights defenders across the country, known for their human rights and civil liberties work on behalf of the most marginalized communities in India, have been detained in the Bhima Koregaon case under the UAPA. Some of them have been detained since June 2018. The 15 are: Mr. Varavara Rao, Ms. Sudha Bharadwaj, Mr. Vernon Gonsalves, Mr. Gautam Navlakha, Mr. Arun Ferreira, Mr. Sudhir Dhawale, Mr. Rona Wilson, Ms. Shoma Sen, Mr. Anand Teltumbde, Mr. Mahesh Raut,

Mr. Surendra Gadling, Mr. Hany Babu, Mr. Sagar Gorkhe, Mr. Ramesh Gaichor, and Ms. Jyoti Jagtap. Their bail applications have systematically been rejected.

Since December 2019, the police have also arrested human rights defenders who peacefully protested against the discriminatory Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), and filed charges of sedition, murder, and terrorism. Those arrested and currently imprisoned include Ms. Devangana Kalita, Ms. Natasha Narwal, Mr. Umar Khalid, Ms. Gulfisha Fatima, Mr. Meeran Haider, Mr. Shifa-ur-Rehman, Mr. Sharjeel Imam, Mr. Asif Iqbal, Ms. Ishrat Jehan, Mr. Khalid Saifi, and Mr. Akhil Gogoi. Charges also remain pending against anti-CAA activists, Ms. Safoora Zargar and Dr. Kafeel Khan, who were granted bail recently. We also remain concerned over pending legal proceedings against anti-CAA activists in Uttar Pradesh and several prominent human rights defenders in Delhi who have been repeatedly questioned.

As human rights defenders in India are being targeted for their legitimate human rights activities, our organisations urge the National Human Rights Commission of India to intervene immediately.

We respectfully call upon the National Human Rights Commission of India to carry out independent and impartial investigations into the above-mentioned cases through the provisions of the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993, in conformity with its mandate to protect human rights, including freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly, and association.

Most of these human rights defenders remain detained, some of them in serious health conditions. We therefore urge the National Human Rights Commission of India to intervene with the concerned courts and the Government of India and demand their immediate release.

We also call upon the National Human Rights Commission of India to undertake trial observations in the above-mentioned cases.

We thank you for your attention to this important matter.

Respectfully,

Signatories:
Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)
CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
FIDH, in the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
Front Line Defenders
Human Rights Watch (HRW)
International Commission of Jurists (ICJ)
International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)
Minority Rights Group (MRG)
South Asians for Human Rights (SAHR)
World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), in the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders

Cc
Mr. C. S. Mawri
Assistant Registrar and Focal Point on Human Rights Defenders
National Human Rights Commission of India
New Delhi Email:

Cc
Ms. Katharina Rose
Geneva Representative
Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions (GANHRI) Email:

Mr. Kieren Fitzpatrick
Director
Asia Pacific Forum of National Human Rights Institutions Email:

 

16 Rights Groups Raise Bahrain Human Rights Concerns with Formula One

Rights watchdogs tell F1 leaders to use their leverage to compensate victims of abuse & ensure right to protest ahead of two Grand Prix races in Bahrain

 

Thailand: Government must respect and protect the rights of demonstrators

GettyImages 1229088941 Thailand Oct 2020

We, the undersigned organizations, condemn the Thai police’s unnecessary and excessive use of force against peaceful protesters marching to the national parliament in Bangkok on November 17, 2020. We are concerned that authorities could employ similar measures when facing protesters who have declared they will march to the Siam Commercial Bank headquarters on November 25.

 

Morocco: End intimidation and harassment campaign against rights defender Maati Monjib

The undersigned civil society organisations call on the Moroccan authorities to immediately end their intimidation and harassment campaign against academic and human rights defender Maati Monjib and drop all baseless charges leveled against him.

 

Sri Lanka: A year after Presidential elections, civic freedoms under increasing assault

A year on from the election of Gotabaya Rajapaksa as President of Sri Lanka, global civil society alliance CIVICUS is extremely concerned about the country’s regression in civic freedoms. Research undertaken by the CIVICUS Monitor – which rates civic space in Sri Lanka as ‘obstructed’ – shows a worrying pattern of increasing restrictions on freedom of expression, assembly and association, often with impunity. Human rights defenders, journalists and critics who speak out are facing increasing levels of surveillance, judicial harassment and threats. At the same time, the Rajapaska administration has reneged on both domestic and international human rights commitments, leaving the country on a precipice of a human rights downward spiral.

A crackdown on fundamental freedoms

As civic space has been squeezed tighter under the Rajapaksa administration, human rights lawyers, activists and academics have been targeted with arrests, intimidation and threats for speaking up. Prominent human rights lawyer Hejaaz Hizbullah has been held in detention for more than seven months under the country’s repressive Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) without charge or any credible evidence being put before a court. His trial has been postponed to February 2021. In May 2020, lawyer Achala Seneviratne, who is representing the families in a case where 11 youth disappeared in which Navy officers are implicated, received death threats on social media. In June 2020, lawyer Swasthika Arulingam was arrested and detained for several hours in Colombo for attempting to enquire about the detention of Black Lives Matter protestors. 

In September 2020, the United Nations Secretary General António Guterres raised concerns over the Sri Lankan government’s intimidation of human rights activists in his annual report on reprisals. The report stated that the UN had “received continued allegations of surveillance of civil society organisations, human rights defenders and families of victims of violations, including repeated visits by police and intelligence services, questioning organisations about their staff and activities related to the UN”.

Amidst other such warning signs of a rapidly deteriorating human rights situation are increasing acts of intimidation against journalists. In the first few months after the elections, unidentified people physically attacked journalists several times, and issued death threats against reporters perceived as critical of the government. Security officials have also searched media offices. Many have resorted to self-censorship and fear covering sensitive issues – a virtually all-encompassing brief, including the army, human rights violations, missing peoples, land-grabbing, political corruption, and the Rajapaksa family themselves. In a number of cases, authorities have openly surveilled journalists, using official vehicles for maximum intimidation. 

Protesters, too, have been intimidated and subject to surveillance. Even families of the disappeared, participating in rallies in the northern and north-eastern districts to obtain answers about the fate of their loved ones in the final stages of the civil war in 2009 and its aftermath, have been  interrogated by military personnel, often at odd and intrusive times. Surveillance of such families was noted by the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association in his May 2020 report.

Increasing state control over civil society 

Numerous civilian institutions, including the NGO Secretariat, which regulates non-governmental groups, have been placed under the control of the Defence Ministry. Independent NGOs are increasingly under threat as the administration have sought to restrict them. A number of NGOs, particularly those in the war-affected Northern and Eastern provinces of the country, reported visits from intelligence officers who sought details of staff, programmes and funding. The UN has reported on concerns from civil society organisations, especially in the north and east of the country, of being denied the right to for groups working on politically sensitive issues, such as LGBTQI+ rights, disappearances, land rights and transitional justice. These refusals typically come in verbal form, without any documentation, reasons or avenue for appeal.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has reneged on the Sri Lanka government’s  commitment to repeal the repressive Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) with legislation that respects its international human rights obligations. The PTA has been used to arbitrarily detain suspects for months and often years without charge or trial. In 2017, the UN special rapporteur on human rights and counterterrorism found that the law “has fostered the endemic and systematic use of torture. 

Sri Lanka’s international commitments

In February 2020, Sri Lanka announced that it was withdrawing from its commitments to the UN Human Rights Council. The country had cosponsored a landmark resolution in 2015 to promote reconciliation, accountability and human rights, renewing these commitments in further UNHRC resolutions in 2017 and 2019. There are real risks that ongoing failure to date to secure any accountability or justice for victims of human rights abuses and violations during the decades-long conflict will continue. Coupled with violations of civic space and democratic freedoms ratcheting up in the country, now would be a disastrous time for international attention to fall from Sri Lanka. 

A resolution on the human rights Council’s role in preventing human rights crises, adopted in October this year, reaffirmed that CSOs and human rights defenders have a role to play in preventing human rights emergencies, by providing information on early warning signs and on patterns of human rights violations. Attacks against such actors serve as early warning signs in and of themselves, underscoring the need for ongoing Council scrutiny at a time when all the human rights patterns documented by civil society groups and the UN itself point to hard-fought democratic gains being progressively rolled back. 

We therefore urge the government of Sri Lanka to undertake the following as a matter of urgency: 

  • Put an end the harassment, stigmatisation, intimidation, unlawful surveillance and arrest of human rights defenders, journalists and groups seeking truth and justice for victims of the civil war and ensure that they can freely express their opinions and dissent without fear of reprisals.
  • Ensure that journalists may work freely and without fear of retribution for expressing critical opinions or covering topics that the government may find sensitive.
  • Release human rights lawyer Hejaaz Hizbullah, repeal the Prevention of Terrorism Act and replace it with counterterrorism legislation that respects international legal standards.
  • Ensure a safe and enabling environment for activists in which they can organize, assemble, receive and share information.

We further urge the international community to ensure a robust response to Sri Lanka’s human rights violations and its attempts to undermine UN mechanisms, including at the Human Rights Council. We call on the Council to establish an international accountability mechanism which would deliver truth and justice to victims of the conflict, and to take steps to protect those human rights defenders and activists on the ground, including those documented above, who face attacks and threats for speaking out. The attempted silencing of these voices could prove the early warning ahead of an impending human rights emergency.

 

Algeria: Free Amazigh and Hirak activist in prison for exercising his freedom of opinion

بالعربية

On 11 November, the court of Khenchela (eastern Algeria) is expected to hear activist Yacine Mebarki's appeal, following his sentencing on 8 October to 10 years in prison and a heavy fine of 10 million dinars (about 77,611.55 USD) – the most severe sentence ever handed to an activist for his online speech. 

Algerian authorities should release Yacine Mebarki and drop unfounded charges related to his online publications and other charges that stem from the legitimate exercise of his freedom of speech and conscience, said the undersigned organisations. Authorities should put an end to criminal investigations and prosecutions against individuals for peacefully expressing their views, including views which may be critical of religious teachings and state officials. 

Yacine Mebarki is a farmer from the town of Khenchela, known for his participation in the Hirak popular protest movement demanding radical political change in Algeria, and his engagement in the defense of Amazigh rights. 

Police in Khenchela arrested Yacine Mebarki on 30 September, after a search of his home during which they discovered an old Quran belonging to Mebarki’s grand-father, which had a torn page, as well as two empty bullets. According to the activist’s lawyer, the bullets are the remains of old traditional celebrations involving gun-firing, prevalent in the Khenchela region and which are now used for decorative purposes. 

The prosecutor of the Khenchela First Instance Court prosecuted Mebarki on the basis of social media publications, including a Facebook post from 17 February in which he appears to criticize Egyptian Salafi scholar Abu Ishaq al-Heweny for calling for “jihad” against countries to take their “money, their children and their women”, as well as for the torn Quran and the bullets found in his house. During the trial, the judge also mentioned a Facebook post from 12 September in which Mebarki appeared to mock Algerian Minister of Justice Belkacem Zeghmati.

Mebarki was sentenced on 8 October to ten years in prison for "offense against the precepts of Islam" (Article 144bis 2 of the Penal Code); “profanation of the Sacred Book” (Article 160 of the Penal Code); “inciting to discrimination” (Article 295bis); “inciting a Muslim to convert to another religion” and “distribution of documents intended to undermine the faith of a Muslim” (Article 11 par. 1 and 2 of ordinance 06-03 setting the conditions and rules for the exercise of religions other than Islam). In addition, he was sentenced for “possession of war material without authorization” (Article 31 of ordinance 97-06 relating to war material, arms and ammunition), based on the discovery of the two bullets. 

The above charges related to the activist’s freedom of speech and conscience are in violation of Algeria’s Constitution (article 42) and international human rights law, notably Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) ratified by Algeria. In an authoritative interpretation of the ICCPR from 2011, the United Nations Human Rights Committee noted that “the prohibition of displays of disrespect for a religion or any other belief system, including anti-blasphemy laws, is not compatible with the Covenant”. In October 2017, UN Experts also urged States “that still have blasphemy laws to repeal them because of their stifling impact on the enjoyment of the right to freedom of religion or belief, and on the ability to engage in a healthy dialogue about religion”. 

This development is especially worrying as in recent months, in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, authorities have accelerated the arbitrary prosecution of peaceful activists for expressing their opinion and journalists. As of 9 November and according to the National Committee for the Release of Detainees (CNLD), a local group monitoring Hirak trials, there are 87 prisoners of conscience in Algeria. 

Signatories

  • Algerian League for the Defense of Human Rights
  • Amnesty International
  • Article 19
  • Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
  • CGATA (General Autonomous Confederation of Workers in Algeria)
  • CIVICUS
  • SNAPAP (Autonomous Union of Public Administration Personnel)

 

Cambodia’s Government should stop silencing journalists, media outlets

Free Arbitrarily Detained Media Workers, Restore Media Licenses

 

Upcoming UN review critical moment for Maldives to address civic freedom gaps

CIVICUS and the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) call on UN member states to urge the Government of the Maldives to protect civic freedoms as its human rights record is examined by the UN on 4 November 2020 as part of the 36th session of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR).

 

Appointment of UAE Ministry of Interior Official to the Presidency of INTERPOL

العربية

Dear Secretary General,

We, the undersigned, are writing to express our deep concern over recent reports announcing the candidacy of Major General Ahmed Nasser Al Raisi, the General Inspector of the United Arab Emirates’ (UAE) Ministry of Interior, for the presidency of the International Criminal Police Organisation (INTERPOL). The elections will be held during the General Assembly on December 7-8 in Abu Dhabi, UAE.

We believe that the appointment of Mr Al Raisi would both undermine the mission and reputation of INTERPOL and severely impact the ability of the organisation to carry out its mission effectively and in good faith. We are additionally concerned over the lack of transparency and oversight in the election process: information on the candidates running for president have not been made public, nor were the candidates subjected to vetting procedures by state parties and civil society actors.

While we understand that the Secretary General is responsible for the operations of INTERPOL, the president must embody its values and mission. Article two of INTERPOL’s Constitution states that the aim of the organisation is “to ensure and promote the widest possible mutual assistance between all criminal police authorities within the limits of the laws existing in the different countries and in the spirit of the ‘Universal Declaration of Human Rights.’” 

Given the UAE’s poor human rights record, including the systematic use of torture and ill-treatment in state security facilities, Mr Al Raisi’s appointment as president would damage INTERPOL’s reputation and stand in great contradiction to the spirit of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the organisation’s mission. In this regard, we would like to recall previous reports of the UAE’s misuse of INTERPOL red notices.

As the current Inspector General at the Ministry of Interior, Mr Al Raisi’s responsibilities include overseeing the organisation and management of the security and police forces in the UAE, conducting periodic inspections into various ministry departments, and investigating complaints against the police and security forces and their members. Mr Al Raisi reports directly to the deputy prime minister and the minister of interior. 

As a state representative of the UAE, Mr Al Raisi is part of a security apparatus that continues to systematically target peaceful critics, rendering civic space virtually non-existent in the country. Lawyers, journalists, political activists and human rights defenders in the UAE have been subjected to harsh reprisals, intimidation tactics, enforced disappearances, torture, and arbitrary detention as a result of peacefully expressing their opinions, including on trumped-up “terrorism” charges. In a recent Opinion, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) expressed concern over the “systemic problem with arbitrary detention in the United Arab Emirates,” adding that systematic deprivations of liberty in violation of international law “may constitute crimes against humanity.”

Furthermore, the UAE is responsible for grave violations of human rights and humanitarian law beyond the country’s borders. Despite announcing the withdrawal of most of its ground troops from Yemen in 2019, the UAE remains part of the Saudi-led military operations, continues to maintain a presence in Aden and southern governorates, and continues to provide support for certain Yemeni forces who have committed grave abuses over the past several years.

Lastly, the election of the UAE’s security chief as president of INTERPOL would undermine the agency’s credibility in combating cybercrime. We recall that as part of its mission, INTERPOL “helps member countries to identify, triage and coordinate the response to cyber threats […] [and] assist[s] countries in developing prevention and disruption strategies.” Yet, the Emirati authorities have long resorted to state-sponsored spyware to target dissidents, journalists, and civil society activists. 

A 2019 Reuters investigation exposed a clandestine team of former US intelligence operatives, known as Project Raven, which the UAE National Electronic Security Authority recruited to help the UAE engage in surveillance of other governments, foreign journalists, and human rights activists. Emirati human rights defender Ahmed Mansoor, who was disappeared by Emirati security forces in 2017 after he was subjected to several cyberattacks, was one such target of Project Raven. He is currently serving a 10-year prison sentence on charges related to his human rights activism. Loujain al-Hathloul, a prominent Saudi women’s rights defender, was also subjected to cyberattacks by the UAE authorities who hacked into her email before arresting and forcibly transferring her to Saudi Arabia in 2018. She remains in prison today in reprisal for her activism.

In light of the above, we believe that it is antithetical to the mission and aims of INTERPOL that the organisation be represented by an individual and a state that have been repeatedly responsible for grave human rights violations. We additionally believe that candidates for the presidency of INTERPOL should have their suitability for the role scrutinised through proper vetting processes that seek to uphold INTERPOL’s commitment to international human rights standards. The United Arab Emirates, in the person of Mr Ahmad Al Raisi, should therefore not be in a position to head the International Criminal Police Organisation.

In light of the above, we urge you to share the aforementioned concerns with INTERPOL’s member countries ahead of the appointment of the organisation’s next president. 

We thank you for your consideration and remain available should you wish to discuss this matter.

Sincerely,

List of Signatories:

  • L'Action des Chrétiens Pour l'Abolition de la Torture – France
  • AlQST for Human Rights
  • Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain
  • Association for Victims of Torture in UAE
  • CIVICUS
  • Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN)
  • European Centre for Democracy and Human Rights
  • The Freedom Initiative
  • Gulf Centre for Human Rights
  • Human Rights First
  • Human Rights Watch
  • International Campaign for Freedom in the UAE
  • International Centre for Justice and Human Rights
  • International Service for Human Rights
  • MENA Rights Group
  • L'Organisation Mondiale Contre la Torture (OMCT)
  • Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED)
  • SAM Organization for Rights and Liberties
  • UnidOSC, Mexico

 

Judicial harassment of human rights defender Muhammad Ismail

CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation, Front Line Defenders, FIDH, in the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, the World Organisation Against Torture(OMCT), and the International Service for Human Rights strongly condemn the deliberate targeting of human rights defender Muhammed Ismail and his wife Uzlifat Ismail, the parents of woman human rights defender Gulalai Ismail. The authorities must halt the ongoing judicial harassment against Gulalai Ismail and her family, which is a direct reprisal due to her human rights work. Gulalai has multiple criminal complaints filed against her, including under regressive anti-terror laws. Since she was forced to leave Pakistan due to concerns for her safety, her parents have been targeted under the Penal Code, anti-terrorism laws and cyber security legislation. In the most recent incident, Pakistan authorities approached the Anti Terrorism Court in Peshawar, and filed a new case with charges that include sedition and terrorism. On 30 September 2020, the court charged the three defenders.

 

Honduras: killings and harassment of environmental defenders must stop

Honduran authorities must act to protect environmental defenders in the community of Guapinol and investigate threats and harassment against them, according to global civil society alliance CIVICUS. On 14 October 2020 Arnold Joaquín Morazán Erazo, one of 32 people criminalised for protesting a mining project in the area, was killed by unknown gunmen in his house in Guapinol.

The murder of Arnold Joaquín Morazán Erazo occurred as new judicial hearings in the Guapinol case are about to begin and takes place against a backdrop of extreme violence against the community and the defenders. The Comité Municipal de Defensa de los Bienes Comunes y Públicos de Tocoa (CMDBCP), an organisation that has been working for the protection of the Guapinol river, says these events are part of a campaign to destabilise the community and provoke fear in the hope of ending resistance to the mining project in Carlos Escaleras National Park. 

Although Arnold Joaquín was not a member of the CMDBCP he had actively participated in the protests against the mining project in 2018. Days before the murder of Arnold Joaquín Morazán Erazo, the CMDBCP denounced an increase in surveillance and intimidation by the army and police in Guapinol; this pattern of harassment has persisted following his murder.

CMDBCP has also denounced online harassment and threats made against the committee and human rights defenders from the area. Such defamation campaigns have been reported to the Human Rights Prosecutor's Office which has so far failed to launch an investigation. 

“The Guapinol Water Defenders continuously suffer stigmatisation and harassment because of their work defending human rights and the environment. The Honduran authorities should guarantee an immediate and thorough investigation into threats made against environmental defenders, and do more to protect their lives,” said Natalia Gomez, CIVICUS Advocacy and Campaigns Officer covering Latin America.

On October 15 the legal team of the #GuapinolWaterDefenders presented a new request for a hearing to review the detention of 8 incarcerated defenders. CIVICUS calls on the Honduran authorities to set them free, and to guarantee the right to peaceful protest and association.


Background

On 7 September 2018, dozens of armed security guards from the Los Pinares mining company came to intimidate a peaceful camp in the community of Guapinol that had been set up to demonstrate against an iron oxide mine operating illegally in the Carlos Escaleras National Park. 

Following the peaceful protest, 13 defenders from Guapinol were charged with arson and unlawful deprivation of liberty. On September 1 2019, a judge ordered pre-trial detention for 8 defenders; they have been in jail for over a year despite the fact their charges - aggravated arson and unjust deprivation of liberty - do not usually result in imprisonment.

The case of the #GuapinolWaterDefenders is part of CIVICUS’s #StandAsMyWitness campaign, which calls for the immediate release of human rights defenders, and an end to their persecution. It also calls on states, authorities and multinational corporations to guarantee peaceful human rights activities - without fear of reprisals and intimidation.

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


ABOUT CIVICUS

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

The CIVICUS Monitor is an online participatory platform that monitors civic freedoms, including freedoms of expression, association and assembly, in 196 countries around the world.

 

Open letter: The Covid-19 ‘recovery’ must supercharge the fight against inequality

The Covid-19 ‘recovery’ must supercharge the fight against inequality

 

Algeria: Critically-ill activist Abdallah Benaoum must be immediately released

بالعربية

The Algerian authorities have accelerated the arbitrary detention and prosecution of activists and journalists amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, most recently refusing requests to provisionally release and provide adequate medical care for Algerian activist Abdallah Benaoum, imprisoned solely for his critical views of the authorities' crackdown on Hirak protests, ten national, regional and international groups said today, ahead of his trial scheduled on 27 October. Lawyers and family members fear for Benaoum’s life. 

Abdallah Benaoum has been in pre-trial detention for eleven months for Facebook posts he published criticizing the authorities and opposing the holding of presidential elections. He is in urgent need of a heart surgery that authorities are denying by his continuous unlawful detention and their refusal to grant him access to the medical care he requires. 

On 28 May 2019, human rights defender Kamel Eddine Fekhar died in custody at the age of 55 after a 50-day hunger strike to protest his unlawful detention for expressing views critical of the government and his prison conditions. On 11 December 2016, British-Algerian freelance journalist Mohamed Tamalt, 41, died in custody in a hospital in Algiers, following a hunger strike to protest his ill-treatment during his imprisonment for Facebook posts "offending" then-President Abdelaziz Bouteflika.

To avoid a similar fate for Abdullah Benaoum, the undersigned organisations call on Algeria to abide by its commitments under international human rights law, release Benaoum immediately and unconditionally, and allow him to undergo his heart surgery in accordance with his wishes. 

Police in Oued Rhiou, a town in Relizane province, arrested Benaoum and another activist, Khaldi Ali, on 9 December 2019, three days before contentious presidential elections. A prosecutor in the Relizane First Instance Tribunal charged both men with "insulting state institutions," "undermining the integrity of the national territory," "harming national interest," “undermining army morale,” “attempting to pressure judges on pending cases” and "incitement to an unarmed gathering" under Articles 146, 79, 97, 75, 147 and 100 of the Penal Code. 

None of these charges are legitimate offences under international human rights law since they impose undue restrictions to the right to freedom of expression. The case file indicates that the prosecutor presented as evidence videos and publications found on Benaoum's personal Facebook account, in which he called for the boycott of presidential elections, writing "no to military elections," "Hirak students in all governorates are faced with the harshest repression." In the posts he also criticized the light sentencing of a police officer for the killing of a young man in Oued Rhiou. The prosecutor submitted this as evidence that Benaoum was inciting disobedience and undermining state security.

On the day of his trial on 16 July, Benaoum was unable to stand on his feet and talk, according to his lawyer. The judge eventually agreed to call a doctor three hours after the opening of the trial. The doctor concluded that Benaoum was unfit to stand trial. However, despite this, the judge refused his lawyer's request for provisional release. On 2 September, the judge again rejected another petition for his provisional release. The hearing is now scheduled for 27 October. 

Benaoum suffers from a heart condition – atherosclerosis - which can lead to a heart attack and requires urgent medical intervention. He underwent a first heart surgery in 2018, but his health condition started to deteriorate after an incarceration later that year and deteriorated further after his latest arrest in December 2019. Doctors established that he needed a second surgery. 

In a hand-written letter submitted to his lawyers on 4 September 2020, the activist complained of poor medical care and ill-treatment in detention.

The authorities have denied multiple requests for provisional release on the motive that the allegations against him constitute serious crimes.  Authorities have been transferring Benaoum back and forth between a prison in Relizane near his hometown and two prisons in the Oran province, at 160 km from his place of residence, which has further deteriorated his health. He is currently detained in the Oran central prison.

Denying a prisoner much-needed medical care violates the rights to health and to life and may amount to torture and other ill-treatment in certain circumstances. The United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, known as the Mandela Rules, require states to ensure that people in detention can enjoy the same standards of health care that are available in the community. According to the UN Human Rights Committee, adequate or appropriate and timely medical care must be provided to all detainees as part of state duties. Similarly, according to Algerian law, “the right to medical care is guaranteed for all categories of detainees. Medical services are provided to inmates, in the establishment's infirmary or, if necessary, in any other health structures.”

Pre-trial detention must be an exceptional measure and based on an individualised determination that it is reasonable and necessary, specified in law and without vague and expansive standards. The Algerian authorities have failed to justify the need for the imposition of this measure, notably against a prisoner of conscience whose health and life are at risk. The decision to hold Benaoum in pre-trial detention despite the circumstances contravenes article 123 of the Algerian Code of Criminal Procedure as well as Algeria’s obligations under international human rights law

The National Union of Magistrates has denounced the pervasive and abusive recourse to pre-trial detention as well as the lack of independence of the justice system from executive authorities, in a country where members of the judiciary have been sanctioned professionally for working independently or calling for judicial independence. 

The authorities’ refusal to release him also runs counter to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights’ recommendation to release detainees to contain the spread of COVID-19, notably those who have underlying medical conditions and those held simply for expressing dissenting views. The  recent death of two detainees and the infection of at least eight others illustrates the heightened risk of contracting COVID-19 in in Algeria’s prisons. 

Benaoum’s lawyers and his mother were not able to visit him on 1st and 2nd October 2020. Prison authorities claimed to his family that Benaoum himself had refused visits and claim he is refusing medical care. According to his lawyers, however, this is inconsistent with Benaoum’s request not to stop visiting him, which he wrote in a hand-written letter on 4 September, and the activist only requested for his doctor, who did his first surgery in 2018, to be able to supervise the second surgery. In July, in another letter, Benaoum complained of isolation from the outside world and difficult prison conditions. The activist had not been able to receive any family visits from March to September 2020 due to restrictions related to COVID-19. 

Benaoum had only been free for five months before his new arrest in December 2019. The activist was incarcerated between April 2018 and June 2019 on charges of "offending the President of the republic" and "reviving the wounds of the national tragedy" under article 46 of the Law on Peace and National Reconciliation of 2006, which prohibits publications about the Algerian civil war. He was conditionally released following a request from his lawyers, 10 months before the end of his sentence. In 2013, Benaoum had also been the subject of two communications from UN Special Procedures in relation to arbitrary arrests and excessive use of force.  

Signatories

  • Amnesty International
  • Article 19 
  • Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS)
  • CGATA (General Autonomous Confederation of Workers in Algeria)
  • CIVICUS
  • International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
  • Riposte Internationale
  • SNAPAP (Autonomous Union of Public Administration Personnel)
  • SESS (Solidarity Union of Higher Education Teachers)
  • World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders

 

85 CSOs concerned as Cuba is granted a new seat on UN Human Rights Council

In response to Cuba’s election to a fifth term on the Human Rights Council, 85 Cuban and international human rights and freedom-of-expression organizations, in conjunction with independent media outlets, released the following statement: 

We are deeply concerned about the decision to grant Cuba a new opportunity to have a seat on the Human Rights Council. This not only rewards Cuba’s poor human rights record, but it also undermines the integrity of the Council to hold abusive governments accountable for their actions in the region and across the globe.

Nations with the honor of being part of the Council must be committed to international human rights law. The members of the Council should ensure that Cuba does not avoid responsibility for its own conduct or use its seat to weaken international human rights norms. As organizations dedicated to the protection and advancement of human rights, we will be vigilant, monitoring Cuba’s actions within the Council, certifying that human rights and fundamental freedoms are being respected and protected.  

Background 

On October 13, 2020, at the UN General Assembly, the international community granted a new seat on the Human Rights Council to Cuba. Since its founding in 2006, Cuba has already held one of the eight Human Rights Council seats distributed to Latin America and the Caribbean for four mandates. In Cuba’s 12 years on the Council, the country has only supported 66 of the 205 resolutions passed in response to serious human rights violations around the world.

In all three cycles of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), Cuba has received severe warnings about violations of freedom of association and expression, political persecution, arbitrary detentions, prohibitions on free domestic and international travel, absence of judicial independence, censorship, control of the internet, and the scarcity of media plurality. In July 2020, these violations even played out publicly at the Human Rights Council, with the Cuban representative and his allies censoring Cuban human rights defender Ariel Ruiz Urquiola through constant interruptions, as he discussed the crimes done to him and his sister by the Cuban government.

At the global level, Cuba has not ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, or the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. Furthermore, the Cuban government has not provided an invitation to the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which visits those imprisoned for crimes of a political nature, has been unsuccessful in accessing the island since 1989. Cuba is also the only country in the Americas that Amnesty International has been unable to visit since 1990.  

In Freedom House’s Freedom in the World 2020 report, Cuba obtained a score of 14 points out of a possible 100 with respect to civil and political liberties, the lowest in Latin America. In 2019, International IDEA’s The Global State of Democracy 2019 report stated that Cuba ranked within the world’s bottom 25 percent for civil society participation, and is the only country in the region that has not taken significant steps towards a democratic transition in the last four decades. Classified as an authoritarian regime and ranked 143rd out of the 167 countries and territories featured in the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index 2019, Cuba has also earned multiple low rankings by a number of human rights and freedom-of-expression organizations. For example, in its most recent report, Human Rights Watch (HRW) highlighted the Cuban government’s continued repression and punishment of dissent and public criticism through beatings, public denigration, travel restrictions, and arbitrary firings.

In 2019, The Special Rapporteur for the Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) concluded that “the grave neglect of elements essential to the freedom of expression, representative democracy and its institutions persists” in Cuba. Likewise, in its 2020 report on the human rights situation in Cuba, the IACHR identified a common pattern in the use of arbitrary detention as a method of harassment employed by the police and state security agents. According to organizations including Prisoners Defenders and Observatorio Cubano de Derechos Humanos, there are anywhere from 125 to 138 political prisoners in Cuba as of October 2020.

The country continues to be, year after year, ranked among the worst in Latin America for press freedom, and is ranked 171st out of the 180 countries analyzed in Reporters Without Borders’ (RSF) 2020 World Press Freedom index. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) includes Cuba on a list of 10 countries with the greatest level of censorship on the planet.

Signatories:

  1. 14yMedio
  2. AC Consorcio, Desarrollo, Justicia
  3. ADNCuba
  4. Alas Tensas
  5. Alianza Democrática Oriental
  6. Alianza Regional por la Libre Expresión e Información
  7. Árbol Invertido
  8. Artículo 19 Oficina para México y Centroamérica
  9. Asociación Cubana de Pequeños Emprendedores (ACPE)
  10. Asociación Cubana para la Divulgación del Islam
  11. Asociación Pro Libertad de Prensa (APLP)
  12. Asociación Sindical Independiente de Cuba (ASIC)
  13. CADAL
  14. Centro Cubano de Derechos Humanos
  15. Centro de Justicia y Paz - Cepaz 
  16. Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW)
  17. CIVICUS
  18. Civil Rights Defenders
  19. Club de Escritores y Artistas de Cuba
  20. Colegio de Pedagogos Independientes de Cuba (CPIC)
  21. Comité Cubano Pro Derechos Humanos (CCPDH)
  22. Comité de Ciudadanos por la Integración Racial 
  23. Comunidad Judía Sefardita Bnei Anusim de Cuba
  24. Confederación Obrera Nacional Independiente de Cuba
  25. Corriente Agramontista (agrupación de abogados independientes cubanos)
  26. CubaLex
  27. CubaNet 
  28. Cultura Democrática
  29. Delibera Organización
  30. Demo Amlat 
  31. Demóngeles
  32. Diario de Cuba
  33. Editorial Hypermedia
  34. Espacio Público (Venezuela)
  35. Federación de Estudiantes de Derecho de Venezuela 
  36. Federación Venezolana de Estudiantes de Ciencias Políticas
  37. Foro Penal 
  38. Forum 2000 Foundation
  39. Freedom House
  40. Frente Democrático Estudiantil 
  41. Fundación Ciudadanía y Desarrollo (Ecuador).
  42. Fundación Nacional de Estudios Jurídico, Políticos y Sociales  
  43. Hearts on Venezuela
  44. Instar
  45. Instituto Cubano por la Libertad de Expresión y Prensa (ICLEP)
  46. Instituto La Rosa Blanca
  47. Instituto Patmos
  48. Instituto Político para la Libertad (IPL)
  49. Inventario
  50. Justicia, Encuentro y Perdón 
  51. Juventud Activa Cuba Unida
  52. La Hora de Cuba
  53. Libertad Cuba Lab
  54. Mesa de Diálogo de la Juventud Cubana (MDJC)
  55. Ministerio Internacional Apostólico y Profético “Viento Recio”
  56. Ministerio Mujer a Mujer
  57. Movimiento para la Libertad de Expresión (MOLE) 
  58. Movimiento San Isidro
  59. Museo de la Disidencia en Cuba 
  60. Observatorio Cubano de Derechos Humanos
  61. Observatorio de Libertad Académica (OLA)  
  62. OtroLunes - Revista Hispanoamericana de Cultura
  63. Outreach Aid to the Americas, Inc. (OAA)
  64. Palabra Abierta
  65. PEN America
  66. PEN Argentina
  67. PEN Club de Escritores Cubanos en el Exilio
  68. PEN Internacional
  69. PEN Nicaragua
  70. People in Need (PIN)
  71. People in Need Slovakia
  72. Prisoners Defenders
  73. Programa Cuba 
  74. Programa Venezolano de Educación Acción en Derechos Humanos (Provea)
  75. Puente a la Vista 
  76. Red Apostólica Internacional Fuego y Dinámica RAIFD
  77. Red de Cultura Inclusiva
  78. Red Defensora de la Mujer (REDAMU)
  79. Red Femenina de Cuba 
  80. Red Latinoamericana y del Caribe por la Democracia (REDLAD)
  81. Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights
  82. Solidaridad de Trabajadores Cubanos (STC)
  83. Tremenda Nota
  84. Un Mundo Sin Mordaza
  85. Yucabyte

 

Saudi Arabia: C20 attendees must call on government to free jailed activists

In January 2020, over 220 Civil Society Organisations endorsed a statement issued by Amnesty International, CIVICUS and Transparency International announcing that they will not be participating in the sham Civil20 process hosted by Saudi Arabia, due to the Kingdom’s horrific human rights record. Ahead of the Civil20 Summit on 6-10 October, we address this letter to all the NGOs and CSOs attending the Summit.

 

Singapore: Drop police report against independent media outlet New Naratif

We, the undersigned civil society organisations, urge the government of Singapore to order the Elections Department (ELD) to immediately withdraw its police report against New Naratif, and to cease abusing the law to harass critical voices and independent journalists.

 

India: Amnesty International Forced to Halt Work

Government Increasingly Targeting Rights Groups

Today, CIVICUS joined fourteen other human rights organizations in condemning the Indian government’s actions against Amnesty India and pledged to continue support for local human rights defenders and organizations against the recent crackdown.

Amnesty International India announced that it is halting its work in the country after the Indian government froze its bank accounts in an act of reprisal for the organization’s human rights work. Fifteen international human rights organizations condemned the Indian government’s actions against Amnesty India and pledged to continue support for local human rights defenders and organizations against the recent crackdown.

The Indian government’s actions against Amnesty India are part of increasingly repressive tactics to shut down critical voices and groups working to promote, protect, and uphold fundamental rights, said the Association for Progressive Communications, Global Indian Progressive Alliance, International Commission of Jurists, CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation, Front Line Defenders, FORUM-ASIA, Foundation the London Story, Hindus for Human Rights, Human Rights Watch, International Service for Human Rights, Minority Rights Group, Odhikar, South Asians for Human Rights (SAHR), International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) in the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders.

The Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government has accused Amnesty India of violating laws on foreign funding, a charge the group says is politically motivated and constitutes evidence “that the overbroad legal framework is maliciously activated when human rights defenders and groups challenge the government’s grave inactions and excesses.”

The BJP government has increasingly cracked down on civil society, harassing and bringing politically motivated cases against human rights defenders, academics, student activists, journalists, and others critical of the government under sedition, terrorism, and other repressive laws.

These actions increasingly mimic that of authoritarian regimes, which do not tolerate any criticism and shamelessly target those who dare to speak out. With growing criticism of the government’s discriminatory policies and attacks on the rule of law, the authorities seem more interested in shooting the messenger than addressing the grievances. Women’s rights activists and indigenous and minority human rights defenders have been especially vulnerable. The recent action against Amnesty India highlights the stepped-up pressure and violence felt by local defenders on the ground, regardless of their profile.

The authorities have repeatedly used foreign funding regulations under the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA), a law broadly condemned for violating international human rights law and standards, to target outspoken groups. United Nations experts on human rights defenders, on freedom of expression, and on freedom of association have urged the government to repeal the law, saying it is “being used more and more to silence organisations involved in advocating civil, political, economic, social, environmental or cultural priorities, which may differ from those backed by the Government.”

Yet, the Indian parliament amended the FCRA this month, adding further onerous governmental oversight, additional regulations and certification processes, and operational requirements that would adversely affect civil society groups and effectively restrict access to foreign funding for small nongovernmental organizations.

A robust, independent, and vocal civil society is indispensable in any democracy to ensure a check on government and to hold it accountable, pushing it to do better. Instead of treating human rights groups as its enemies, the government should work with them to protect the rights of all people and ensure accountability at all levels of government.


Civic space in India is currently rated as Repressed by the CIVICUS Monitor

New report: Punished for speaking up: The ongoing use of restrictive laws to silence dissent in India


For more information please contact:

Head of Advocacy & Campaigns, David Kode

 

CIVICUS calls on Nicaraguan authorities to withdraw new bill threatening freedom of association

A new bill introduced in Congress by lawmakers from Nicaragua’s governing party would severely restrict freedoms of association and expression if passed into law, global civil society alliance CIVICUS said today. Introduced on 22 September, The Foreign Agents Law (“Ley de Regulación de Agentes Extranjeros”) would require individuals and organisations that receive overseas funding  to register as “foreign agents”. Those registered as such would be banned from participating in activities relating to domestic politics.

This legislation would give government ample discretionary powers to control and muzzle civil society, including the power to freeze assets of organisations and people classified as “foreign agents” who fail to register within 60 days. It would also ban anonymous donations, require individuals and organisations to submit detailed monthly reports on funding and use of resources, and allow the government to cancel the registration of organisations not meeting requirements.

Similar legislation implemented in other countries, including Russia, has had a chilling effect on civic space, leading to the closure of many organisations and the discrediting of civil society activists. CIVICUS calls on the Nicaraguan Congress to reject the proposed bill and guarantee an enabling environment for civil society organisations and human rights defenders.

“This law would significantly obstruct the operation of civil society organisations in Nicaragua and contribute to the stigmatisation of activists and human rights defenders. Nicaraguan authorities have repressed peaceful protests, sought to silence critical voices and are now attempting to take away people’s right to freely associate,” said Natalia Gomez, CIVICUS Advocacy and Campaigns Officer.


Background

In April 2018, widespread protests for social rights set off a crisis in Nicaragua which persists to date. Violations during this crisis have left over 300 protesters dead and more than 100,000 people forcibly displaced. While mass mobilisations have abated, the persecution and criminalisation of political dissidence has continued. Opposition politicians, independent journalists and human rights defenders have faced systematic harassment from security agents and from civilian pro-regime groups. 

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


ABOUT CIVICUS

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

The CIVICUS Monitor is an online participatory platform that monitors civic freedoms, including the freedoms of expression, association and assembly, in 196 countries across the world.

 

Indonesia: Academic at risk of imprisonment for online criticism of university hiring procedures

Joint NGO Statement by CIVICUS, Article 19, KontraS Aceh, LBH Banda Aceh, KontraS and YLBHI

Saiful Mahdi

 

Civil Society Organisations Call for the Draft Law on Public Order to be Immediately Discarded

CambodiaRightsGroups

Phnom Penh, 13 August 2020We, the undersigned national and international organisations and communities, call on the Royal Government of Cambodia (“RGC”) to immediately discard the repressive draft Law on Public Order and uphold its obligations under international human rights law. The draft law contains an extensive array of provisions that effectively criminalise the legitimate everyday activities of many within the Kingdom of Cambodia (“Cambodia”), in violation of their rights to freedom of expression, association, assembly and other protected human rights. If enacted, the draft law will become yet another piece of repressive legislation in a legal framework that severely undermines human rights.

 

Young leaders breaking down the Agenda 2030 to the National level

agna young leaders breaking down the Agenda 2030

Virtual Global Exchange on Zoom: Young Sustainable Development advocates will break down the 2030 Agenda from Global to Local accountability mechanisms for civil society.

August is a month to commemorate the great effort millions of young people around the world are doing to support the well benign of their communities, defending human rights and protecting democracies all over the world. This Virtual Global Exchange session will highlight the experiences of young leaders holding decision-makers accountable to their Sustainable Development promises.

Under the framework of the ongoing series of webinars for civil society around Legitimacy, Transparency and Accountability, join this interactive virtual exchange and tell us: how is civil society participating in your country or region to advance, monitor and adapt the Sustainable Development Goals to local contexts? What have been the greatest learnings from this experience? What are your recommendations for organisations starting these efforts during COVID-19?

 

Looking forward to seeing you there!

Virtual Global Exchange on Zoom: Breaking down the 2030 Agenda

When: Wednesday 19 August 2020
Time: 9:00 México / 16:00 South Africa
Where: Zoom
Registrations here

The event will be held in Spanish with simultaneous translation to English and French.

Guest speakers: Rosario Garavito, The Millenials Movement; Marcia Alarcón, TECHO Paraguay; Roberto Baeza, The Hunger Project Mexico
Moderator: Roberto Zárraga, Red Global de Acción Juvenil
Read more:Believe Better” A working paper on young people’s inclusion in national follow up, review and accountability process of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

What is the Agenda 2030?

The Agenda is a commitment to eradicate poverty and achieve sustainable development by 2030 world-wide, ensuring that no one is left behind. The adoption of the 2030 Agenda was a landmark achievement, providing for a shared global vision towards sustainable development for all.

Approaches to Accountability

 

Urgent Appeal: Civil Society Call for Moroccan Authorities to Cease Intimidation of Journalist Omar Radi

Arabic

The undersigned civil society organisations call for an immediate and unconditional end to the intimidation and harassment of independent Moroccan journalist, Omar Radi, who has been summoned by police to appear for interrogation seven times over the past several weeks. Radi has been targeted by the authorities for his critical investigations and reporting, as one of the few journalists in Morocco who covers the corruption and business relations of the monarchy and its networks. Radi had been subjected to a sophisticated spyware attack, whereby his private communications were intercepted by a third party as documented in a public report by Amnesty International. Since the release of the report, the Moroccan government has undertaken an intimidation and harassment campaign, and has accused Radi of working with Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service, among other unsubstantiated allegations.

 

Sri Lanka: Human Rights Under Attack

Lawyers, Human Rights Defenders and Journalists Arrested, Threatened, Intimidated

SriLankaCourts

 

An Urgent Call to Release Human Rights Defenders in Honour of Nelson Mandela Day

Twitter Facebook Free HRDs campaign 2

Dear World Leaders,

On Nelson Mandela Day, civil society organisations across the globe call on you to release imprisoned human rights defenders and prisoners of conscience.

Like Nelson Mandela who spent 27 years in prison for his opposition to apartheid, there are thousands of human rights defenders and prisoners of conscience wrongfully accused and in jail around the world. They have been imprisoned for seeking gender, social, political, economic and environmental justice, for defending excluded people, and for promoting democratic values. 

Many of these human rights defenders and prisoners of conscience are serving sentences for crimes they never committed, after being convicted in unfair trials. Our organisations have for several years documented the unlawful jail terms handed down to human rights defenders in several countries.

We are particularly concerned that the authorities in many countries continue to detain human rights defenders and prisoners of conscience during the COVID-19 pandemic. We recognise the governments of Iran, Ethiopia, Turkey, Bahrain and Cameroon for releasing prisoners as part of their response to this unprecedented health crisis. However, not many human rights defenders and prisoners of conscience were included, and it is now more urgent than ever to release them.  

There are also hundreds of human rights defenders who remain in pretrial detention who have not been charged or tried. Overcrowding and poor sanitation in jails increase the risk of COVID-19 infection and should be strong factors for the reduction of prison populations.

We also urge you to stop the arbitrary arrest and detention of journalists in jail solely for reporting on human rights violations during the pandemic. Although COVID-19 restrictions are being lifted in some parts of the world, some countries have used the pandemic as a pretext to restrict civic freedoms. Journalists and human rights defenders have been physically assaulted and subjected to arbitrary detention and judicial persecution for reporting on the virus. 

We need human rights defenders now more than ever. It is their duty to hold governments to account, to ensure states respect international human rights laws during the pandemic, and to tackle environmental degradation and inequalities that have accelerated the impact of COVID-19.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, recently said:

“Governments are facing huge demands on resources in this crisis and are having to take difficult decisions. But I urge them not to forget those behind bars, or those confined in places such as closed mental health facilities, nursing homes and orphanages, because the consequences of neglecting them are potentially catastrophic.”

Sadly, some imprisoned human rights defenders have died under suspicious circumstances in various countries during the pandemic.

As we commemorate Nelson Mandela Day on 18 July, we remember that Mr. Mandela urged all of us to take on the burden of leadership in addressing social injustices. We call on you to give millions of families, friends and colleagues of human rights defenders and prisoners of conscience around the world a reason to renew their hope for a better future during these unprecedented times.

We urge you to:

  • Immediately and unconditionally release all human rights defenders and prisoners of conscience in jail solely for their peaceful human rights activities, and stop all judicial persecution against them.
  • Prioritise and release detainees who have not been charged, and those held in pretrial detention.
  • Stop carrying out new arrests and detentions, particularly on journalists and activists reporting on the COVID-19 pandemic, and those accused of breaking lockdown regulations.

 

Endorsed by:

 

1. A Common Future
2. A.C. Reforma Judicial
3. Abraham's Children Foundation
4. ACPDH
5. ACSIS
6. Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture
7. Action D'urgence pour Toute Détresse
8. Action for Humanity and Social Progress
9. Action pour la Lutte Contre l'Injustice Sociale
10. Action pour le Développement
11. Action To Heal Foundation Sierra Leone
12. Actions pour la Protection des Femmes
13. Active  Vision
14. Admiral development organization
15. Adolescents Initiatives Support Organization
16. Afghanistan Democracy and Development Organization
17. Africa Intercultural Development Support Trust
18. Africa Rise Foundation
19. African Center for Solidarity and mutual Aid between the Communities  CASEC - ACSAC
20. AFRICAN FOUNDATION FOR ENVIRONMENT AND DEVELOPMENT - AFED
21. African Holocaust
22. African Observatory Of Civic Freedoms And Fundamental Rights OCFFR-AFRICA
23. AJBDEM DURABLE
24. ALUCHOTO
25. Amis des Étrangers au Togo
26. Amnesty International
27. Asia Pacific Forum on Families International
28. Association des blogueurs pour une citoyennetà active
29. Association Femmes et Enfants
30. Association for Advocacy and Legal Initiatives Trust
31. Association for Health, Safety and Environmental Awareness International
32. Association pour les droits de l'Homme et l'Univers Carcéral
33. Association pour les victimes du monde
34. Association pour l'Integration et le Developpement Durable Durable au Burundi, AIDB
35. ASUTIC Senegal
36. Avenir Jeune de l'Ouest
37. AWHES
38. Bangladesh Institute of Human Rights
39. Banjul Youth in Community Services
40. Banlieues Du Monde Mauritanie
41. Bareedo Platform Somalia
42. Bella Foundation for Child and Maternal Care
43. Bousla Organisation
44. BRIGHTER FUTURE FOUNDATION
45. Burundi Child Rights Coalion
46. CAHURAST-Nepal
  Campaign Against Ignorance and Illiteracy
48. Capellanes conacce
49. CAPTE - Uruguay Silvia FLORES MOSQUERA
50. CareMe E-clinic
51. CEAMUJER
52. Center for the Development of Civil Society
53. Centre d'Initiatives et d'Actions pour le Développement durable au Burundi
54. Centre for Human Rights and Social Advancement CEFSAN
55. Centre Oecuméniquepour la Promotion du Monde Rural
56. Centro para la Acción Noviolenta y Cultura de Paz en CentroamÃrica
57. CESPHA
58. ChildHelp Sierra Leone
59. Circles of Hope Community Support Group for PLHIVAIDS
60. CIVICUS
61. Commonwealth Society of Nigeria
62. Cooperation for Peace and Development
63. Corporacion Regional Yariguies GEAM
64. COSAD BENIN
65. Differentabilities
66. DISCOURAGE YOUTHS FROM POVERTY
67. Domestic workers Union
68. DreamBoat Theatre for Development Foundation
69. Droits de l'homme sans frontières 
70. Edmund Rice International
71. Edo Civil society organisations
72. EIP
73. Fater Bibi Technologies
74. FCPEEP
75. FEDERATION DES FEMMES POUR LE DEVELOPPEMENT INTEGRAL AU CONGO
76. FINESTE
77. Formidable Initiatives for Women and Girls
78. Foundation for Democracy and Accountable Governance
79. Fraternity Foundation for Human Rights-Birati
80. Free political prisoners
81. FUNDACION SIMAS
82. Fundación T.E.A. Trabajo - Educación - Ambiente
83. FUTURE LEADERS SOCIETY
84. Global Witness
85. Give Hope Uganda
86. Governance and Forest Initiatives
87. GreenLight Initiative
88. Hadejia youth movement for social cohesion
89. Health NGO's Network
90. Healthy Choices Ic.,
91. Human Rights Committee
92. Humanitarian Care for Displaced Persons
93. IFAN
94. INSPIRIT Creatives UG NGO
95. Institute for Public Policy Analysis and Implementation
96. Integrated Agricultural Association-I,A,A
97. International Dalit Solidarity Network
98. International Falcon Movement - Socialist Educational International
99. International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
100. Iraqi journalists right deafenc association
101. International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)
102. Justice Acess Point
103. JusticeMakers Bangladesh
104. Key Populations Alliance of Zambia
105. Khpal Kore Organization
106. Kibera Joy Initiative
107. Kumakomo Community Radio
108. Le Réseau Nigérien des Défenseurs des Droits Humains
109. Leadership initiative network for the Advancement of women and youth
110. Local  Community Development Association
111. Lumiere Synergie Developpement
112. Maecenata Foundation
113. MAMAS FOR BURUNDI ASSOCIATION
114. Manna Development AGency
115. Marketplace 247
116. MFFPS
117. Millennium Sistahs Trinidad and Tobago Inc
118. Missing Link Uganda
119. Mouvement des Femmes et Filles pour la Paix et la Sécurité au Burundi
120. Mouvement Populaire pour la Santé au Gay
121. Movement for Social Justice MSJ-4
122. National Coalition of Human Rights Defenders Uganda
123. Network of Civil Society Organisations for Election Observation and Monitoring - ROSE
124. Network of NGOs of Trinidad and Tobago  for the Advancement of Women
125. New Owerri Youth Organisation
126. NGO Collective for Food Security and Rural Development - COSADER
127. NGO CONSTRUISONS ENSEMBLE LE MONDE
128. NGO Defensoria Ambiental
129. NGOs Council ASDGC Kenya
130. Nipe Fagio
131. Nouveaux Droits de l'homme Congo Brazzaville
132. ONG ASSAUVET
133. ONG BAL'LAME
134. ONG Programa sociocultural CRP
135. Palestinian Non Governmental Organizations Network
136. PAMOJATWASIMAMA
137. Partenariat pour la Protection Integree
138. PAYNCOP
139. Peace and Life Enhancement Initiative International
140. PHY ORG
141. Plan international
142. Princegnf
143. Prisma European Network
144. Psychologues du Monde Afrique
145. Reacción Climática 
146. Real Agenda For Youth Transformation Trust
147. REDHNNA-Red por los Derechos Humanos de los niños, niñas y adolescentes
148. REPONGAC
149. Research and Advocacy Unit
150. Root Change
151. Ruheso Tanzania
152. RUKIGA FORUM FOR DEVELOPMENT
153. Safety and Risk Mitigation Organization
154. Save Our Continent, Save Nigeria.
155. Save the Climat
156. Secours de la Femme Rurale au Developpement, Safrd
157. SHAKHI 'Friends of Women'
158. Shanduko Yeupenyu Child Care
159. She's  Writes
160. Sierra Leone School Green Clubs
161. Social Justice Forum
162. Social Mission Catalysts LLC
163. Solidarity health Foundation
164. Solidarity Youth Voluntary Organisation
165. SOS Jeunesse et Enfance en Détresse - SOS JED
166. South Sudan Civil Society Forum
167. Sustainable Develipment and Peace Building Initiatives
168. Tanzania Development Trust
169. Tanzania Peace Legal Aid and Justice Center  PLAJC
170. Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai
171. the  Wuhan election campaign
172. The Angelic Ladies Society
173. Transitional Justice Working Group
174. Tsoro-o-tso San Dev Trust
175. Ugonma Foundation
176. Ukana West 2 Community Based Health Initiative
177. Unión Nacional de Instituciones para el Trabajo de Acción Social- UNITAS
178. Unique Foundation The Gambia
179. Vijana Corps
180. Wacare Organization
181. Welfare Association for Development Alternative -WADA
182. Women Against Violence and Expediency Handling Initiative
183. Women Friendly
184. Women Working for Social Progress
185. World Federalist Movement Canada
186. World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)
187. WORLDLITE
188. Young Professional Development Society Nepal
189. Your Health Your Responsibility
190. Youth Alliance for Rural Development in Liberia Inc.
191. YOUTH AND ENVIRONMENT VISION
192. Youth Arm Organization
193. Youth For The Mission
194. Youth Harvest Foundation Ghana
195. YOUTHAID-LIBERIA
196. Zambian Governance Foundation
197. Zimbabwe We Want  Poetry Campaign

 

 

Serbia: CIVICUS calls on Serbian authorities to stop attacks against peaceful protesters

CIVICUS urges Serbian authorities to stop using force to disperse protesters demonstrating against the government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. CIVICUS calls for an independent investigation into violent attacks on protesters by police and condemns police violence against journalists covering the protests.

 

Malaysia: End harassment and intimidation of media workers and critics

Joint Statement with Amnesty International and the International Commission of Jurists

The Malaysian authorities must immediately put an end to their increasing attacks on freedom of expression, especially the media, international non-governmental organisations Amnesty International, CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation and the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) said today. Laws incompatible with international human rights law and standards, including the Sedition Act 1948 and Section 233 of the Communications and Multimedia Act (CMA) 1998, are being used to limit free speech and press freedom and should be repealed by the legislature.

In the latest move in the ongoing clampdown on criticism and other expression, authorities have targeted those involved in making the documentary “Locked Up in Malaysia’s Lockdown,” by news broadcaster Al Jazeera and its 101 East series – which reported on the authorities’ arrests of migrant workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. Al-Jazeera is being investigated for sedition and defamation, and has also been accused of breaching the Communications and Multimedia Act by the Malaysian authorities.

On 3 July 2020, Al Jazeera on its 101 East Stream published a documentary that investigated the arrests, detention, and ill-treatment of refugees and undocumented migrant workers during the outbreak of COVID-19 in Malaysia. The documentary highlighted raids conducted by authorities; the inhumane conditions of detention; and the situation of migrant workers who fear arrest. Those detained were found to be held in cramped facilities, while migrant workers at risk of detention suffered from a severe lack of adequate food. The documentary also highlighted the chilling effect the government crackdown has had on the migrant worker community, who fear for their lives and safety.

Rather than addressing the concerns raised in the documentary, the government has instead sought to question the reporters involved, and pursue migrant workers who spoke with Al Jazeera. By initiating a public campaign against migrants and refugees and publishing personal details of the migrant workers who were featured in the report, the authorities have also placed the lives and safety of those interviewed in jeopardy.

The government’s subsequent threats to revoke the visas of foreign workers appears intended to intimidate other migrant workers from speaking up about human rights violations, including mistreatment. These actions have contributed to a worrying rise in intolerance towards freedom of expression, including critical views.

Amnesty International, CIVICUS World Alliance for Citizen Participation, and the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) consider these actions as forms of harassment and intimidation of the media, migrant workers, and others exercising their right to freedom of expression, including criticism or dissent.

The use of the Sedition Act 1948, Section 233 of the Communications and Multimedia Act, and criminal investigations against the media set a dangerous precedent and are incompatible with international law and standards. These laws place restrictions on the exercise of freedom of expression that are overly broad, unnecessary and disproportionate, and inconsistent with rule of law and human rights principles.

We reiterate their our previous calls on the Government of Malaysia to abolish both laws, which have historically been used to silence voices of those challenging government policy.

Background

Since the COVID-19 pandemic emerged earlier this year, the Malaysian government has launched a crackdown on refugees, asylum-seekers and migrant workers, carrying out a series of raids on settlements in Kuala Lumpur and Selangor. Most notably, raids were carried out as Labour Day operations on 1 May 2020, but also continued afterwards.

In response to these raids, the Office of the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights (OHCHR) denounced the crackdowns on migrant workers and journalists on 21 May. Migrant workers fear for their safety and there have been reports of suicide amongst them.

Amid growing concerns about the crackdown, the government has increasingly sought to silence criticism.

On 7 July, refugee aid worker Heidy Quah was questioned by police for posting a statement on the raids and the treatment of migrant and refugee children on social media. Her lawyer confirmed that she is being investigated under the Penal Code for criminal defamation and the Communications and Multimedia Act for the ‘improper use of network facilities or network service’.

Since the Perikatan Nasional government assumed power, numerous investigations have been launched against individuals who have criticized government actions. Since February 2020, a journalist has been investigated by police for reporting on immigration raids; a member of parliament was investigated for criticising the May parliamentary session for not permitting debates; and a large number of ordinary Malaysians have been convicted for a variety of social media postings, including for criticising the enforcement of quarantine orders under the Movement Control Order (MCO).

In another recent attack on media freedom, on 2 July 2020, contempt of court charges were filed against Steven Gan, editor-in-chief of online news outlet Malaysiakini, over comments that were posted by readers that were allegedly critical of the judiciary. The Federal Court will next hear the case on 13 July. If convicted, Gan faces an unlimited prison sentence or fine.


Civic space in Malaysia is rated as Obstructed by the CIVICUS Monitor

 

Joint letter on Colombia: COVID-19 cannot be a smokescreen to target social leaders

Joint Letter: Colombia must implement the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) recommendations regarding social leaders, even during the pandemic

In its recent report, IACHR crucially underscores the importance of recognizing the right to defend rights and the fundamental role of social leaders in Colombia, especially in the current context of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The report Human Rights Defenders and Social Leaders in Colombia, recently presented by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) after their visit to the country in November 2018 repeatedly highlights that the work of human rights defenders and social leaders is essential for the full assurance of the Rule of Law and constitutes an indispensable pillar for the strengthening and consolidation of democracy. When the defense of human rights is impeded, it is not only a particular individual or community that is affected; attacks against social leaders affect the cohesion and continuity of social organization on a larger scale.

Social leaders play a fundamental role in maintaining the social fabric in their communities, often under precarious security conditions. In the current context of the COVID-19 pandemic, the recommendations in the report are even more important to safeguard their work. As Erlendy Cuero, social leader and Vice President of the National Association of Displaced Afro-Colombians (AFRODES), stated in a recent series by Dejusticia on pandemic and inequality, #DelMiedoALaAcción [From Fear to Action], during the pandemic, "homicides, threats and persecution have increased because we find ourselves in a situation where the support for some leaders with protection measures has been reduced and those who do not have security measures are left unprotected.” The latter is compounded by the fact that leaders, who have to stay at home because of the coronavirus, are at greater risk because they are more easily located.

Leaders in areas far from urban centers are more vulnerable, meaning the Colombian government’s adoption of the IACHR’s recommendations in those areas is even more essential. 

Key recommendations made by the Commission include that Colombia: 

  • “Redouble its efforts to implement the Peace Agreement so that the right conditions are in place all around the country for people to be able to defend human rights and defend communities”.
  • “Involve social organizations in any efforts to develop a comprehensive public policy on prevention and on protection of human rights defenders and social leaders, reactivating platforms for dialogue such as the National Roundtable on Guarantees and the National Commission on Security Guarantees, in which agreements have already been worked out”
  • “Properly implement any precautionary measures granted by the InterAmerican Commission and keep protection arrangements in place for beneficiaries as long as the measures are in force”
  • “Take all necessary measures to ensure that authorities or third parties do not manipulate the punitive power of the State and its institutions of justice to harass human rights defenders and harm their work. Ensure that the proper punishment is applied if this occurs”
  • “Adopt measures to investigate with due diligence and confront impunity regarding crimes committed against human rights defenders and social leaders in the country, establishing the perpetrators and masterminds of the crimes”
  • "Improve coordination between national and local so that protection measures can be adapted to safeguard the rights of human rights defenders and social leaders and ensure that measures are effective in remote rural areas" 
  • "Agree on protection measures to address the level of risk, listening to and consulting with the human rights defenders in order to develop a timely, specialized intervention that is proportionate to the potential risk and has a differentiated approach.”
  • "Improve coordination with international human rights organizations" with which the Commission ends its report.

The signatory organizations place special emphasis on the Inter-American Commission’s recognition of the right to defend rights and its call to comply with the provisions contained in the Final Peace Agreement, in line with the constitutional judges in the recent tutela [protection] action judgments confirming #TheRighttoDefendRights presented by various social leaders and organizations in the country, at the end of 2019.

Sincerely,

ARTICLE 19
Asociación Interamericana para la Defensa del Ambiente (AIDA)
Asociación Minga
Amnesty International
Business & Human Rights Resource Centre 
CIVICUS
Colectivo de Abogados José Alvear Restrepo - Cajar
Comisión Colombiana de Juristas (CCJ)
Dejusticia 
Espacio Público
Front Line Defenders (FLD)
Fundación Comité de Solidaridad con los Presos Políticos (FCSPP)
International Land Coalition - LAC (ILC LAC)
International Service for Human RIghts (ISHR)
International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA)
Latin America Working Group (LAWG)
Not1More (N1M)
Presbyterian Peace Fellowship
Red Latinoamericana y del Caribe por la Democracia (REDLAD)
Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights 
Unión Nacional de Instituciones para el Trabajo de Acción Social (UNITAS)
Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA)

 

Increased targeting of members of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission

Front Line Defenders, CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation, FIDH - International Federation for Human Rights, in the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), in the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders and the International Service for Human Rights, condemn the killing of two employees of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC), Fatima Khalil and Ahmad Jawed Folad, on 27 June 2020. The AIHRC staff were killed by an improvised explosive device while on their way to work in the organisation’s official vehicle in Kabul. We believe the killing is a direct reprisal for their human rights work.

 

Singapore: Open letter to parliamentary candidates and political party leaders to prioritise fundamental freedoms

As Singaporeans prepare to go to the polls in parliamentary elections on 10 July 2020, the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA), CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation and the International Commission of Jurists urge all parliamentary candidates and political party leaders to commit to respecting and protecting human rights, particularly fundamental freedoms, as part of their mandate.

 

Rebuilding for Good

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Rebuildingforgood

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Actions needed from governments to support & sustain civil society

The COVID-19 pandemic has had extraordinary economic, social and political impacts. We need recovery plans to expand rights, make economies fairer, level up inequalities, reverse the climate crisis and build workable international institutions. Civil society – which includes the full spectrum of civic groups including NGOs, charities, voluntary groups, trusts, foundations and associations, trade unions, social enterprises, care providers and welfare agencies - must be seen as a vital force in bringing the world out of the crisis in a way that marks a break from the economic, political and social policies that were already failing so many. This is the time when governments need to act on international obligations and invest in a sustained civic effort for reconstruction. 

This document serves as a practical guide for actions that governments can and should be taking to sustain and strengthen civil society as part of COVID-19 recovery and rebuilding efforts. It draws on evidence of initiatives that have been introduced across the world and offers further suggestions to bolster these efforts based on insights provided by civil society networks in 80+ countries, including assessments undertaken by the Affinity Group of National Associations (AGNA), the Charities Aid Foundation (CAF) and CIVICUS. For policy makers and government agencies, we trust that this resource will serve as an invitation to review and enhance measures for civil society. For civil society groups, we anticipate that this will strengthen efforts to secure the supportive measures we need across countries.

We recommend the following measures to support and strengthen civil society as part of COVID-19 response and recovery plans: 

  • Remove restrictions; amplify the value of and contributions from civil society 
  • Support civil society to meet and reduce operating costs
  • Provide flexibility in regulatory requirements
  • Include civil society in COVID-19 stimulus funds and subsidies
  • Develop the infrastructure needed to upscale civil society efforts
  • Empower civil society to develop sustainable alternatives
1. Remove restrictions; amplify the value of and contributions from civil society

 

Civil society has been at the forefront of the global response to the pandemic. They have provided life-saving services, shared information and coordinated the actions needed to reinforce accountability and pursue responsive policy outcomes. And yet across countries the pandemic has been used to legitimise a wide range of unjustified restrictions on civic freedoms and/or deliberately keep civil society out of planning and implementation efforts. This includes unprecedented levels of censorship, attacks on journalists and human rights defenders, the use of state-sponsored violence to curb criticism and sweeping violations of the right to privacy. 

It is important for governments to acknowledge that a diverse, vibrant and resilient civil society is needed more than ever before to ensure emergency measures stand the test of proportionality and necessity. Even where an official proclamation of emergency has been made, fundamental rights such as the right to life and freedom from torture and degrading treatment must be upheld, as is the right to express democratic dissent. In this context, governments can and must do more to underscore the role that civil society has in response and recovery efforts. Working with civil society enables governments and businesses to understand ground realities better, and develop interventions that respond meaningfully to drivers of inequality and social unrest.  In Ecuador, for instance, an official website provides information about the efforts being undertaken by civil society across the country and similar platforms have also been set up in Italy, France and Ukraine. Initiatives to broadcast civil society efforts through television has also been reported in Ethiopia. 

Local governments can be especially effective in inviting civil society to share their work through available platforms and providing ways for other sections of society to support and expand these efforts. This includes removing restrictions on local media and enabling them to work with other civil society groups to strengthen public trust and engagement. Limited understanding of civil society organisations directly affects local ownership of causes and limits the sector in being strategic and sustainable.

2. Support civil society to meet and reduce operating costs

Support to operating expenses is a direct way to strengthen civil society, particularly groups working on the frontlines. Flexible and unrestricted support to operating costs enables organisations to invest in the infrastructure and functions that will help scale impact and sustainability. The availability of operational support also allows them to adapt and respond quickly during crisis situations. 

In Lithuania, for example, associations and foundations that lease their property from the municipality or municipality-controlled entities have been entitled to a waiver of or reduction in rent payments and penalties imposed on delayed payments. Similar measures have been reported in Latvia and Lebanon. In Zimbabwe, government regulations instructed landlords and banks to give a lockdown calibrated grace period on the payments of rentals and mortgages, and a waiver on COVID-19 related imports such as PPEs, test kits. The provision of essential supplies and physical assets has also been reported in Malawi and Namibia. The availability of such measures however needs to be accompanied by timely and transparent information on such initiatives. Creating relief measures but failing to communicate them effectively prevents groups that are most in need from learning about and accessing these benefits.

This is also an important time for governments to go further and develop new and innovative financial mechanisms to support civil society at this time. Reviewing VAT regimes, providing tax waivers and improving tax incentives for giving - not just specific to crisis related interventions, but across causes - are initiatives that need to be better supported at this time. Repurposing levies, funds and investment vehicles to support civil society interventions are further options. The allocation of indirect taxes such as the use of VAT payments on personal protective equipment towards efforts to support frontline health workers in the UK is an example of such a move. In the Middle East, some governments are reported to have offered loans rather than direct assistance to civil society. Across locations, a toolbox of funding, both financial and non-financial, that is be demand-driven and helps civil society increase their financial resilience is essential. 

3. Provide flexibility in regulatory requirements

Measures to provide registered associations and foundations increased flexibility in administrative procedures, including changes in relation to procurement, spending, reporting, grant-making and contracting, have been reported in a range of countries. The adjustment of project and administrative reporting requirements, for instance, can be a quick but effective way to provide respite to civil society groups. Examples include steps to update project financing, cooperation and delegation arrangements in Malawi and Mexico. 

Provisions to enable flexibility in accounting and tax requirements have also been effected in some countries. Germany, for instance, has provided flexibility in the management of donations as well as in the accounting of losses and capital decreases. In other locations, partial exemptions on taxes payable by NGOs have been implemented.

4. Include civil society in COVID-19 stimulus funds and subsidies

Civil society is painfully absent from measures designed to systematically support social and economic recovery from the pandemic. In most contexts, such measures appear to have been developed solely with businesses in mind, although civil society across every country is in urgent need for tailored fiscal support, including income support measures and subsidies. Existing measures aimed at business recovery must be extended to include civil society, and accompanied by interventions that respond to the special needs of small and large, formal and informal groups that exist across the wider spectrum of civil society.

Available examples of recovery measures for civil society are limited to the UK government’s GBP 750m stimulus package and the EUR 700m support package for civil society, arts and the cultural sector in Austria.  At a smaller scale, a Stability Fund of EUR 35m to support urgent funding needs has been introduced in Ireland and a Presidential Grants Fund in Russia includes 3bn rubles (approx. EUR 39m) for NGOs. In addition to this, wage subsidy and credit access schemes have been introduced in Argentina, Australia, France and the Netherlands. Special allocations for services to vulnerable groups such as women and seniors have been made in Canada, while Ireland has initiated a fund for social innovation in recovery projects. 

Reports from South Africa indicate a range of measures to support civil society initiated by the government, private foundations and businesses. Agencies such as CAF Southern Africa, the Mergon Group and the Western Cape Province (Department of Social Development) have launched funds for NGOs that include opportunities for the public to support funding objectives. The National Lotteries Commission (NLC) released R150 million as a relief measure for NGOs, while the President’s Solidarity Fund is expected to assist NGOs that are implementing services aligned with the fund’s objectives of prevent, detect, care and support. Overall, a wider range of actions aimed at encouraging businesses, philanthropic institutions and the public at large to support civil society efforts are both possible and necessary.

5. Develop the infrastructure needed to upscale civil society efforts

This is precisely the time when governments must create broader mechanisms to sustain and strengthen civil society, including medium to long term funding for networks or umbrella organisations and the development of platforms to share knowledge, strategies and resources in ways that promote cohesion and collaboration, rather than competition. Trans-national companies can support civil society efforts through giving platforms and payroll contributions, just as philanthropic institutions can (and are) leveraging assets and endowments to create new streams of core and flexible resourcing for civil society. 

To this effect, in Portugal and Italy, national volunteer and youth services have been leveraged to harness support to civil society efforts. In Belgium, a COVID-19 Solidarity Fund enables EU employees to contribute to civil society organisations. In several countries, including Latvia and the Netherlands, tax exemptions on donations made to civil society have been introduced. In Sierra Leone, a government-led platform enabled civil society to interact with the President and relevant ministers COVID-19 efforts, allowing civil society representatives direct access to and coordination with Ministries of Health, Finance and the Emergency Response Team on COVID-19. In Malawi, the national taskforce on COVID-19 has included representatives from NGOs, academia, government and religious bodies, among others, thereby harnessing the expertise and networks that different parts of civil society can bring to the effort. 

Across more countries, we need governments to develop stronger incentives for societies to invest in civil society. Governments must be an active partner in building public engagement with civil society by championing the impact it is achieving and sharing information on how public funds are being allocated and utilised. More broadly, we need this to be a catalytic moment for cross-sectoral partnerships and campaigns aimed at developing local generosity movements within and across countries.

6. Empower civil society to develop sustainable alternatives 

Civil society is critical to people-centered approaches to reconstruction that satisfy the demand for positive change. Genuine partnerships between government and civil society allow better coordinated responses in critical times, allowing both actors to work together to assess and mitigate the risks of a crisis on different populations. For this to happen, we need civil society to be an integral part of the multi-stakeholder consultations and decision making spaces that are designing social and economic alternatives for a post-COVID world. An enabled, networked and properly resourced civil society must be celebrated as a force for good.

Rebalancing power and building solidarity will be key to the structural reforms that we need to achieve in the global economy. This includes a systematic push to de-emphasise GDP growth as a key indicator of performance and instead prioritise well-being as an essential metric. Long-awaited transformative changes, such as ending the net outflows of finances and other resources from Global South to Global North countries so that the former can have more aggregate resources to realize the right to sustainable development of their peoples, requires a groundswell of public and political support. The strengthening of civil society and expansion of civic freedoms must be part of the comprehensive global recovery that we need coming out of the pandemic. 

CAF AGNA CIVICUS


For more information:

AGNA: https://www.civicus.org/index.php/what-we-do/strengthen/agna
Charities Aid Foundation: https://www.cafonline.org
CIVICUS: https://www.civicus.org

 

 

Malaysia: Drop contempt proceedings against online news outlet Malaysiakini

Joint statement by Article 19 and CIVICUS

 

Fiji: Stop harassing peaceful protesters at the University of the South Pacific

Joint Statement by Amnesty International and CIVICUS

The Fiji authorities must respect the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly for university staff and students and immediately cease intimidation tactics.

 

International support for petition to declare Cuba’s Decree-Law 370 unconstitutional

The undersigned organizations and media outlets support the petition presented on June 8 in Cuba before the National Assembly, the State Council, the Supreme Court, the Office of the Attorney General, and the President of the Republic declaring 2019’s Decree-Law 370 unconstitutional (1). The 64 people who signed the petition did so on behalf of the more than 500 Cuban residents and 3,100 Cuban expats and nationals of 83 other countries who signed the “Declaración contra el Decreto Ley 370: Ley Azote,” published on the Avaaz platform (2).

 

India: Two more women activists arrested as crackdown on protesters continue

Human Rights Defenders Alert – India and global civil society alliance CIVICUS call for the immediate release of two women activists who were arrested last week for their involvement in mass protests against the discriminatory citizenship law. These arrests highlight the escalating crackdown on dissent by the Indian authorities.

 

Judicial harassment of human rights defender Muhammed Ismail persists amid pandemic

The Pakistan authorities must halt their judicial harassment of human rights defender Muhammed Ismail and his wife Uzlifat Ismail and drop all charges against them, said CIVICUS, FIDH, the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and Front Line Defenders. The human rights defender faces charges under the Anti-Terrorism Act and the Pakistan Electronic Crimes Act and is currently on conditional bail, which Pakistan’s Federal Investigative Agency has sought to revoke. His next hearing to determine bail is scheduled for 18 May 2020 before the Peshawar High Court.

 

Bangladesh: Stifling expression using Digital Security Act must not be the norm to address COVID-19 pandemic

 
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A Joint Statement by the Asian Human Rights Commission and CIVICUS

The Bangladesh government has resorted once again to its notorious Digital Security Act-2018 to muzzle freedom of expression, arresting 11 individuals following criticism of the governments’ handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Four people have been detained since 5 May 2020 under the draconian digital law, including cartoonist Ahmed Kabir Kishore, writer Mushtaq Ahmed, IT specialist Md. Didarul Islam Bhuyan, and Dhaka Stock Exchange Director Minhaz Mannan Emon. A further seven people have been charged. 

All four detainees were forcibly disappeared for hours after they were picked up by the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) from different locations in Dhaka on 5 May 2020. Following a social media outcry, the RAB officially handed them over to the Metropolitan police on 6 May at around 7:45 PM, and a case under the Digital Security Act was filed against them by Abu Bakar Siddique, the Deputy Assistant Director of RAB. They remain in detention.

The seven other individuals accused in the same case are Tasneem Khalil, Editor-in-Chief of Netra News, which the government has blocked in Bangladesh since it was launched last year from Sweden; Saer Zulkarnain; Shahed Alam; Ashik Imran; Shapan Wahed; Philip Schuhmacher; and Asif Mohiuddin, a blogger of Bangladeshi origin living in Germany.

All 11 have been charged under various provisions of the Digital Security Act including ‘propaganda or campaign against liberation war’ and ‘publishing, sending of offensive, false or fear inducing data-information’. Authorities have confirmed that the charges relate to allegedly ‘spreading rumours’ over the coronavirus pandemic on social media. If convicted, they could each face up to seven years in jail. 

The Digital Security Act, passed in October 2018 to replace the often-misused Information and Communication Technology Act, included harsher provisions that have been used to penalize criticism of the government. The law gives the power to security agencies to hold individuals indefinitely in pretrial detention. And, it has created a chilling effect among activists and journalists. Despite repeated calls to bring the law in line with Bangladesh’s international commitments to protect freedom of expression, the government has refused to revise the law.

In times of crisis, people’s health depends at minimum on access to information both off and online. Silencing journalists and activists and blocking websites, is not an effective public health strategy. We urge the authorities to end its use of restrictive laws to silence critics and amid the pandemic ensure the right to seek, receive, and share information relevant to the COVID-19 outbreak.

We further call on the government of Bangladesh to immediately release the detained critics and drop the charges brought against them and seven other individuals under repressive legislation. The COVID-19 pandemic is not an excuse to use state forces to stifle freedom of expression.

 

Background:

The pandemic has exposed failings by the government in addressing a public health emergency. Patients with symptoms of COVID-19 were denied access to public and private hospitals and died without treatment. The country’s healthcare system failed to provide adequate protective equipment and necessary infrastructures in hospitals to treat the pandemic. Within weeks, hundreds of doctors and nurses were infected with COVID-19, according to the Bangladesh Medical Association. 

Persistent suppression of freedom of expression and censorship under the government of Sheikh Hasina has continued amid the pandemic. The authorities have blocked international news outlet Al-Jazeera and numerous other news portals and websites critical of the state. A monitoring body established by the Ministry of Information to monitor if private television channels were “running any propaganda or rumours about the novel coronavirus outbreak” was scrapped after public outcry.

Due to the muzzling of the press by the authorities, social media has become the preferred platform for those critical of the regime. In response, the police and the RAB have started picking up people for their Facebook posts. On 10th of April 2020, it was reported that at least 50 people were arrested in the country for allegedly spreading rumors. The government has also blocked dozens of websites and Facebook profiles as of late March after the government officially acknowledged the COVID-19 outbreak. Healthcare workers, who spoke out about the problems they have been facing, have been barred from talking to media

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.

 

 

Cuba: Statement against the application of Decree Law 370 and Limits On Freedom of Expression

A total of 47 human rights organisations and independent press media denounce the violation of fundamental human rights caused by the application in Cuba of Decree Law 370.

 

Anti-corruption and the role of civil society in monitoring IMF emergency funding

99 civil society organizations have urged the IMF to consistently and formally include anti-corruption measures in its COVID-19 pandemic-related emergency funding and take concrete steps to help protect and empower civil society groups to monitor these funds.

Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva International Monetary Fund
700 19th Street NW Washington, DC 20431

Re: Anti-corruption and the role of civil society in monitoring IMF emergency funding

Dear IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva:

We are 99 civil society organizations located around the world and we are writing to request that the International Monetary Fund consistently and formally include anti-corruption measures in its Covid-19 pandemic-related emergency funding and take concrete steps to help protect and empower civil society groups to monitor these funds.

We are profoundly aware of the devastating scale of the global economic crisis due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and the urgency of providing governments the funds they need to effectively respond. As organizations that closely monitor corruption and its impacts, we also know that transparency and accountability are key to making sure the money the IMF is disbursing actually goes to protecting lives and livelihoods.

Recognizing this, you urged governments during the Spring 2020 Meetings to “spend what you   can but make sure to keep the receipts. We don’t want transparency and accountability to take the back seat in this crisis.” However, most IMF loan agreements include few or no government commitments to mitigate the risk of corruption. Instead, the Fund appears to be taking a largely retroactive approach that relies on the good faith of governments and the close eye of independent monitoring groups.

We appreciate that the urgent need for immediate funding and the nature of the Rapid Credit Facility (RCF) and Rapid Financing Instrument (RFI) – the primary instruments for disbursing emergency funding – constrain the Fund’s ability to implement robust anti-corruption measures. However, some governments that have received funds through these mechanisms, such as Gabon,1 have committed to transparency and anti-corruption measures, including:

  • Receiving all emergency funds in a single account with the Treasury and creating a new budget line for coronavirus-related
  • Publishing a procurement plan that includes the names and beneficial ownership information of companies awarded
  • Agreeing to an independent audit within six months of receiving the

The inclusion of these measures in some cases suggests that it is possible to do so without undue delay. The Fund should apply such measures consistently to all emergency funding.

Moreover, as the Fund has acknowledged, even these measures would be insufficient to adequately ensure accountability because emergency funding is provided in lump-sum payments. In our communications with the Fund, both staff and board members have emphasized that they intend for civil society groups to play a vital role in filling that gap by closely monitoring government spending and communicating their concerns to the IMF.

We are grateful that the Fund recognizes the crucial role civil society organizations play in holding their governments accountable, but this is a stopgap measure in the absence of more robust anti- corruption monitoring efforts by the IMF. It would also be imprudent for the Fund to rely on our oversight role without taking concrete steps to protect and strengthen our ability to effectively monitor these funds. Many of our groups work in countries where government spending is opaque, auditors do not exist or are not independent, and authorities do not tolerate criticism. Even where they can operate safely, many groups lack the technical capacity and resources to effectively monitor the billions of dollars in funding that the IMF is disbursing.

To protect and strengthen civil society monitoring of emergency funding, we urge the Fund to take the following measures:

  1. Require transparency. Monitoring groups are neither law enforcement nor the government’s lender, both of which have authority to investigate and control the funds. The Fund should consistently apply transparency and anti-corruption measures to all loans, such as requiring governments to conduct independent audits and publish procurement plans, including the names and beneficial owners of all companies awarded
  1. Protect groups’ ability to operate. Numerous countries have laws that limit freedom of association and expression in ways that undermine the ability of civil society groups to safely operate or effectively monitor IMF funds. For example, Sri Lanka has ordered police to arrest those who criticize government officials involved in the coronavirus response.2 In other cases, there is no law or formal order explicitly prohibiting criticism of government policies, but officials nevertheless retaliate against those who criticize them. The Fund should require governments to commit to respecting the rights of civil society groups and repeal or amend laws that prevent groups from safely monitoring government spending.
  1. Formally recognize the role of monitoring groups. Monitoring groups can provide the Fund with valuable information regarding government spending, but they need a safe and effective channel to do The IMF should formally recognize independent monitoring organizations as stakeholders in loan agreements and establish a channel for them to report allegations of wrongdoing. It should consider engaging select groups as independent monitoring organizations in contexts where corruption risks are especially high.
  1. Strengthen groups’ capacities. The IMF’s unprecedented levels of spending, and the importance of the funding in light of the pandemic’s economic impact, has made monitoring government spending of IMF funds a new priority for many of our organizations. At the same time, the economic crisis means that many of our groups have even fewer resources than usual to The Fund should conduct virtual trainings to help build organizational capacity to monitor funds and consider providing willing groups with necessary resources, especially in countries where there are few well-resourced groups monitoring government spending.

You opened this year’s Spring Meetings by noting that extraordinary times call for extraordinary action. The Fund should apply the same creativity and sense of urgency it has shown to support governments to help civil society groups ensure IMF funds go to the people who need it most.

We would be happy to meet with you to discuss these issues in more detail and would appreciate learning what steps you have taken in this regard.

Sincerely,

4As/MWPC/UCSI
Abibiman Foundation
AbibiNsroma Foundation (ANF)
2 Human Rights Watch, “Sri Lanka Uses Pandemic to Curtail Free Expression,” April 3, 2020, https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/04/03/sri-lanka-uses-pandemic-curtail-free-expression.

Accountability Lab
Actions for Development and Empowerment
Africa Development Interchange Network (ADIN)
Africa Network for Environment and Economic Justice (ANEEJ)
AHAM Humanitarian Resource Center
Alliance Sud
ALTSEAN-Burma
Alyansa Tigil Mina (Alliance to Stop Mining)
American Jewish World Service
Arab Watch Coalition
ARCI
ARTICLE 19
Asamblea Permanente de Derechos Humanos de Bolivia
Ayiti Nou Vle A
BudgIT Foundation
Buliisa Initiative for Rural Development Organisation (BIRUDO)
Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS)
Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL)
Center for Social Awareness, Advocacy and Ethics
Center for Democratic Education
Centre for Environmental Justice
Centre for Human Rights and Development
CIVICUS
Conectas
Connected Development
Consumer Unity and Trust Society Zambia
Corporación Acción Ciudadana Colombia - AC-Colombia
CurbingCorruption
Development Alliance NGO
Eastern Social Development Foundation
Ensemble Contre la Corruption-ECC
Environics Trust
Etika Asbl, Luxemburg
Facing Finance
FIDH (International Federation for Human Rights)
First Peoples Worldwide
FORES - Argentina
Foundation for the Conservation of the Earth (FOCONE)
Freedom House

Fundación Ambiente y Recursos Naturales
Gambia Participates
Global Legal Action Network
Global Network for Sustainable Development
Global Witness
Green Advocates International
Heartland Initiative
Human Rights Online Philippines (HRonlinePH)
Human Rights Watch
IFEX
Indian Social Action Forum
Integrity Initiatives International
Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility
International Accountability Project (IAP)
International Campaign for the Rohingya
Jamaa Resource Initiatives
Liberia CSO Anti-Corruption Coalition - LCACC
Living Laudato Si' Philippines
зөвшөөрсөн
Mongolian Women's Employment Supporting Federation
NGO Forum on ADB
Nigeria Network and Campaign for Peace Education
North East Coordinating Committee
Oil Workers' Rights Protection Organization Public Union
OpenCorporates
Oxfam
Oyu Tolgoi Watch
PEFA Forum
Phenix Center for Economic Studies
Philippine Misereor Partnership Inc.
Photo Circle
Positivo Malawi
Project Blueprint
RAID
Rchard Matey
Recourse
Réseau Camerounais des Organisations des droits de l'homme
Rights CoLab
Rivers without Boundaries Mongolia

Sano Paila (A Little Step)
Sanskriti
Sayanaa Wellbeing Association
Shadow World Investigations (formerly Corruption Watch UK)
Sibuyan Against Mining / Bayay Sibuyanon Inc.
Slums Information Development and Resource Centers (SIDAREC)
Task Force Detainees of the Philippines
The Future We Need
Umeedenoo
Universal Rights and Development NGO
Urgewald
Witness Radio Organization – Uganda
Women’s Action Network
WoMin African Alliance
YES Project Initiative
Youth Empowerment & Leadership Foundation
Youth Group on Protection of Environment
Zambia National Education Coalition


1 IMF, Gabon: Request for a Purchase Under the Rapid Financing Instrument, April 16, 2020, https://www.imf.org/en/Publications/CR/Issues/2020/04/16/Gabon-Request-for-a-Purchase- Under-the-Rapid-Financing-Instrument-Press-Release-Staff-Report-49336.

2 Human Rights Watch, “Sri Lanka Uses Pandemic to Curtail Free Expression,” April 3, 2020, https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/04/03/sri-lanka-uses-pandemic-curtail-free-expression.

 

 

 

 

Yemen: Over 150 NGOs appeal for death sentences of four journalists to be overturned

Arabic

Organisations which support human rights, press freedom and journalists are calling on United Nations mechanisms and member states to help save the lives of four Yemeni journalists who were sentenced to death in April 2020 in the capital Sana’a on charges of “spying” and “spreading false news.” Of the six other journalists in the same case whom the judge ordered to be freed, after five years in detention, only one has been released so far. The de facto authorities in Sana’a, the Houthis, must immediately overturn the death sentences and free the other nine journalists who have been convicted in violation of their right to freedom of expression.

 

#FreeAlaa: Egyptian activist Alaa Abdel Fattah on hunger strike protesting his continued illegal detention

We, the undersigned civil society organizations, lawyers, journalists, and activists, urge the Egyptian authorities to immediately and unconditionally release Alaa Abdel Fattah, our courageous friend, human rights activist, and blogger.

 

Open letter to donors: 'Accelerate your commitments' during COVID-19

This is an open letter from representatives of NEAR, Civicus, and the Global Fund for Community Foundations

Dear international donors,

It is time to join up global solidarity with swift and effective local action. At the risk of calling the evolving tragedy of a global pandemic an opportunity, we believe that there is a way for you to accelerate your commitments and ensure we have a lasting and stronger local civil society in the global south, both during the COVID-19 emergency response and for many years to come.

Read on Devex

 

Civil Society Calls for Urgent Release of Palestinian Prisoners and Detainees in Israeli Prisons

Arabic

As we mark Palestinian Prisoners’ Day this year, Palestinian prisoners and detainees face the additional threat of a coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak in Israeli prisons and detention centers. While governments around the world are being called on to release prisoners and those detained in violation of international law, the Israeli occupying authorities have taken no steps to release Palestinian prisoners and detainees or to adequately mitigate and prevent a COVID-19 outbreak in prisons. Instead, mass arbitrary detentions and arrests, a staple of Israel’s prolonged military occupation and widespread and systematic human rights violations against the Palestinian people, have continued during the pandemic.[i]

 

We are in this together, don’t violate human rights while responding to COVID-19

As governments are undertaking extraordinary measures to curb the spread of COVID-19, we recognise and commend the efforts states are making to manage the well-being of their populations and protect human rights, such as the rights to life and health. However, we urge states to implement these measures in the context of the rule of law: all responses to COVID-19 must be evidence-based, legal, necessary to protect public health, non-discriminatory, time-bound and proportionate.

 

Urgent call to release 19 detained members of the LGBTI community in Uganda

CIVICUS calls on the Ugandan authorities to release 19 members of the LGBTI community who have been arrested on trumped up charges, under the pretext of curbing the spread of COVID-19.

All 19 have been charged with, “committing a negligent act likely to spread the infection of disease,” and, “disobedience of lawful orders.” However, the Ugandan authorities have a history of targeting members of the LGBTI community:

“The Ugandan authorities have a track record of targeting LGBTI activists and subjecting them to arbitrary arrest and detention. The arrests have nothing to do with violating COVID-19 social distancing rules, but are based on the state’s prejudice against the LGBTI community – this has been the case even before the COVID-19 pandemic. There is no justification for these arrests and the activists should be released immediately,” says Mawethu Nkosana, LGBTI Advocacy & Campaigns Lead, CIVICUS.

“Detention centres and jails are congested places where the virus can easily spread. As we work together to curb the impact of COVID-19, we call for the immediate release of the 19 activists – they are at risk of contracting the virus and are not guilty of any crime.”

Background

On 29 March 2020, the Ugandan authorities raided the premises of Children of the Sun Foundation (COSF), an NGO in Kyengera, Wakiso district. This is a shelter for the LGBTI community. The authorities arrested 23 individuals and charged 19 for allegedly violating rules which prevent large gatherings to curb the spread of COVID-19.

Four of those arrested, including a nurse at the shelter, were released on medical grounds. Restrictions on movement imposed by the Ugandan authorities on 30 March to curb the spread of the virus have hindered access to lawyers of the accused. Even when special permission was sought, on some occasions prison authorities prevented lawyers from accessing the detained activists.

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

 

Bahrain: Free Imprisoned Rights Defenders and Activists

Extend Releases to Those at Special Risk of COVID-19

 

Protecting our co-workers during COVID-19: A Social Security Protocol for Civil Society

Arabic

We have a responsibility to act decisively to protect our co-workers from adverse health, social and economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. This six-point protocol, based on the ILO’s policy framework to fight COVID-19, provides a shared template for civil society groups to deliberate context-specific measures and adopt feasible actions in a time-bound and transparent manner.

 

Cambodia and COVID19: State of Emergency draft law will put civic freedoms at further risk

Cambodia and COVID19: State of Emergency draft law will put civic freedoms and human rights defenders further at risk

CIVICUS, FORUM-ASIA, Frontline Defenders and Civil Rights Defenders are seriously concerned about draconian provisions in Cambodia’s draft State of Emergency Law which mandates unfettered power to the executive, undermining fundamental freedoms with no defined endpoint. 

The Cambodian government must immediately revise the draft law to bring it in line with international human rights laws and standards. If not, these emergency powers will be used as yet another weapon in Cambodia’s legal arsenal to quash dissent, stifle critics and silence human rights defenders.

The draft law bestows executive power to ban or restrict meetings and to close public or private spaces. It also allows the government to put in place means to observe all telecommunications systems, and to ban or restrict news or social media deemed to “generate public alarm or fear or generate unrest, or that could bring about damage to national security, or that could bring into being confusion regarding the state of emergency”. Failure to follow these measures could result in severely disproportionate prison sentences of up to five years – rising to ten years if deemed to ‘impact national security’ – and fines of up to 5,000,000 riels (about $1,250 USD). 

The severity of the health crisis presents serious challenges for governments and requires measures to safeguard health and wellbeing. International human rights law gives space for governments to take on exceptional powers at exceptional times. But such measures must be necessary, enshrined in law, proportionate and non-discriminatory. 

The draft State of Emergency Law contains no sunset clause and can only be ended by Royal Decree, which could allow the law to be used well beyond the end of the current pandemic. The potential permanence of these very restrictive measures makes the legislation neither proportionate nor necessary and would severely undermine Cambodia’s international human rights obligations to protect freedom of expression and assembly, as well as the right to privacy, enshrined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and its own Constitution. 

Our organisations are further concerned about provisions relating to restrictions on the media. Independent media in Cambodia has been under attack for several years, and media workers have been attacked, threatened and imprisoned for criticism of the government. The sweeping powers provided in this bill to ban media accused of ‘damaging national security’ will risk further rollbacks of press freedom and freedom of expression. Since January, at least 22 people have been arrested for sharing allegedly ‘false news’ relating to COVID-19. Human rights defenders, including the Acting Director of local human rights rights group LICADHO, have been threatened over comments made about the government’s response to the pandemic.

Vaguely-worded and over-broad measures in the draft law to monitor telecommunications systems combined with existing problematic laws will further increase repressive surveillance of activists and government critics. 

Cambodia has a history of misusing legislation in order to silence critics and human rights defenders, and to entrench power in the hands of the ruling party. Its human rights record over the last years has been increasingly dismal. The dissolution of its political opposition and jailing of opposition members, as well as attacks on the press and against NGOs and unions, have shown that authorities are already willing and able to use and misuse vaguely-worded laws to stifle dissent. This civic space backsliding over the past three years has, furthermore, meant that the law cannot be scrutinized by either an opposition party, or independent civil society. Such scrutiny is crucial for the principle of governing by consent.

The global pandemic means that governments worldwide must take steps to safeguard the right to health of those they serve. However, all human rights are interconnected and interdependent. Laws brought in to protect health must not be given carte blanche to blatantly disregard fundamental rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly.

  • Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)
  • CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
  • Civil Rights Defenders
  • Frontline Defenders

 

COVID-19: Urgent measures must be taken by MENA governments to protect the prison population

Arabic

In light of the global COVID-19 pandemic outbreak—qualified as a Public Health Emergency of International Concern by the World Health Organization (WHO)—we, the undersigned organisations, express grave concern over the situation of detainees and prisoners across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). While certain states in the region have taken some positive steps to protect the general population, the prison population remains particularly vulnerable. 

Several countries in the MENA region have overstretched health systems and infrastructures, some of which have also been considerably weakened by years of armed conflict. In these countries, prisons and detention facilities are often overcrowded, unsanitary, and suffer from a lack of resources; accordingly, detainees are routinely denied proper access to medical care. These challenges are only further exacerbated during a health emergency, subjecting detainees and prisoners to heightened risk and placing weak prison health infrastructures under immense stress. Moreover, individuals in detention regularly interact with prison wardens, police officers, and health professionals who engage with the general population. Failure to protect prisoners and prison staff from COVID-19 may have negative implications for the population more broadly.

Under international human rights law, every individual has the right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health. States have an obligation to guarantee realization of this right. In addition, states have the obligation to ensure that detainees and prisoners are treated humanely and with respect for their dignity and not subject to cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment.  The Nelson Mandela Rules require equivalence in healthcare—meaning that healthcare in prisons must meet the same standards as healthcare outside of them. This does not change during a pandemic.

While restrictions, including on prison visits, may be imposed to curb the spread of infectious diseases like COVID-19, they must abide by the principles of proportionality and transparency. Any measure, including prison releases, must be taken in accordance with clear and transparent criteria, without discrimination. 

In light of the above, 

We call on governments in the MENA region to:

  1. Make known to the public their country-specific, and if relevant, facility-specific policies and guidelines in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in detention centers, prisons, and police stations.
  2. Share their emergency preparedness plans and provide specific training to relevant staff and authorities to ensure sufficient and sustained access to healthcare and hygiene provision.
  3. Conduct a thorough review of the prison population and in turn, reduce their prison populations by ordering the immediate release of:
    1. “Low-risk” detainees and prisoners, including those convicted or held in pretrial detention (remand) for nonviolent offences; administrative detainees; and those whose continued detention is not justified;
    2. Detainees and prisoners particularly vulnerable to the virus, including the elderly, and individuals with serious underlying conditions including lung disease, heart disease, diabetes, and autoimmune diseases.

       4. Allow individuals serving probation and probationary measures to fulfill their probation and probationary measures in their homes.
       5.Guarantee that individuals who remain in detention:

    1. Have their right to health effectively upheld by being granted full access to medical care as required;
    2. Access COVID-19 testing and treatment on a standard equal to that governing the general population;
    3. Are provided with means of communication and opportunities to access the outside world when in-person visits are suspended;
    4. Continue to enjoy their right to due process, including but not limited to the right to challenge the lawfulness of their detention, and their right not to experience delays that would render their detention arbitrary. 

We call on the World Health Organization, International Committee of the Red Cross, and UN Human Rights Council Special Procedures mandate holders to issue public statements and guidance highlighting recommendations and best practices for all governments around detention and imprisonment during a global pandemic. 

Undersigned organisations:

(Listed in alphabetical order)

ACAT - France (Action by Christians Against Torture)

Access Now

Al Mezan Center for Human Rights

ALQST for Human Rights

Arab Network for Knowledge about Human rights (ANKH)

Arab Reform Initiative (ARI)

ARCI (Associazione Ricreativa Culturale Italiana)

Association of Detainees and Missing in Sednaya Prison

Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE)

Bahrain Centre for Human Rights

Bahrain Transparency Society

Bar Human Rights Committee of England and Wales

CIVICUS

Committee for Justice

Democratic Transition and Human Rights support (DAAM Center)

Digital Citizenship Organisation

DIGNITY - Danish Institute Against Torture

Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms

Egyptian Human Rights Forum

El Nadim Center

HaMoked: Center for the Defence of the Individual

Human Rights First

Initiative franco-égyptienne pour les droits les libertés (IFEDL)

International Commission of Jurists

International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)

Kuwaiti Transparency Society

Lebanese Centre For Human Rights

medico international e.V., Germany

MENA Rights Group

Mwatana for Human Rights

Physicians for Human Rights - Israel

Project on Middle East Democracy

Reprieve

Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights

Syrian Center For Legal Studies and Researches

Syrian Network for Human Rights

Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy (TIMEP)

UMAM Documentation & Research (MENA Prison Forum)

Women's March Global

World Organisation Against Torture

 

Outcomes from the UN Human Rights Council...to be continued

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the United Nations Human Rights Council’s 43rd Session, which was scheduled to run from 24 Feb – 20 March, was suspended after three weeks on 13 March until further notice.

CIVICUS fully supports the suspension of the Session on public health grounds, and the precautionary measures taken before the suspension. However, we remain concerned that public participation in the Council risks being disproportionately affected, especially in light of the decision to cut General Debates from the 44th Session (June), which removes a key platform for civil society to engage with governments. The UN depends on information from the ground in order to make evidence-based decisions, and we call on states to take steps to ensure that the participation of civil society is not compromised.

In Nicaragua, a human rights crisis has seen hundreds of thousands flee the country and an ongoing crackdown against human rights organisations, community leaders, and journalists. The situation is compounded by a lack of political will from the government to engage with regional or international mechanisms, or to ensure accountability. CIVICUS welcomes that the draft resolution on Nicaragua tabled during the Session would provide a mandate for enhanced monitoring and reporting by the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights (OHCHR) on the situation at this critical time, and we urge all states to support this resolution when the Session resumes.

We also call on states to support the renewal of the Special Rapporteur on Myanmar. The 43rd session marked the final one for the current Special Rapporteur on Myanmar, Yanghee Lee, and we thank her for her outstanding work during her mandate. Myanmar has undergone significant developments in its human rights framework since the Special Rapporteur began her term – from elections in 2015 which saw a groundswell of hope for positive change, to the dawning realisation of crimes against humanity against the Rohingya in Rakhine state. But the curtailment of fundamental freedoms and total crackdown on any criticism of authorities has remained grimly consistent. Those on the ground, the human rights defenders and activists who are trying to achieve change, need international support from the Human Rights Council.

In late 2019, Iran erupted into a series of protests against the lack of political and democratic freedoms and the deteriorating economic situation. Protesters were met with violent repression through mass arrests and lethal force. When the Session resumes, the Human Rights Council will vote on extending the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Iran. We welcome support shown by states so far for the renewal of the mandate, and we urge adoption of this resolution when the Session continues.

What is a Special Rapporteur?
Special Rapporteur is a title given to an independent expert who works on behalf of the United Nations who has a specific country or thematic mandate from the Human Rights Council. Special Rapporteurs often conduct fact-finding missions to countries to investigate allegations of human rights violations. They can only officially visit countries that have agreed to invite them. Aside from fact-finding missions, Rapporteurs regularly assess and verify complaints from alleged victims of human rights violations. 

The mandates for Special Rapporteurs on freedom of expression and opinion, and on human rights defenders, are set to be renewed when the Session resumes. We encourage all member and observer states to show their full support for these mandates by co-sponsorsing the resolutions.

Just prior to the suspension of the Session, Mary Lawlor was appointed as new Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders. We look forward to working with her as she protects those on the frontline of defending human rights around the world, and we thank Michel Forst, the outgoing mandate holder, for his tireless work.

Towards the beginning of the Session, the High Commissioner’s update on Sri Lanka highlighted ongoing impunity for past grave human rights abuses in the country. The new Sri Lankan government, which came into power in 2019, has said that it intends to renege on Human Rights Council resolution 30/1 which provided commitments to accountability, truth and reconciliation. The human rights space in Sri Lanka has deteriorated sharply under the new administration, and the undermining of this resolution – currently the only route to ensuring transitional justice in Sri Lanka – would not only be fatal to victims and their families, but also a significant setback to the UN itself. We urge states to strongly encourage Sri Lanka to uphold its commitments and reiterate calls for an international accountability mechanism to ensure that accountability remains a possibility.

Although India was not on the official agenda of this Session, the ongoing crackdown on Kashmir, a discriminatory citizenship law and violent suppression of protests proved an ongoing issue throughout the Session.

CIVICUS, FORUM-ASIA, ISHR, FIDH, OMCT and ICJ organized a side event to discuss the current situation and ways in which the international community, including the Council, could contribute to constrictive progress. With key partners, CIVICUS also joined important statements on the situation in Jammu and Kashmir as well as on India’s recent discriminatory citizenship law, and we were encouraged to see several states raise their own concerns about India during debates.


Civic space ratings by CIVICUS Monitor
Open Narrowed Obstructed  Repressed Closed

 

Our joint and stand alone country statements at the 43rd Session of the Human Rights Council
Angola Burundi El Salvador  Eritrea Fiji
India Iraq Iran Jammu & Kashmir Madagascar
Myanmar Nicaragua Sri Lanka See all statements

 

 

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