Media Statement: Human rights defenders and civil society organisations face increasing threats

All over the world, human rights defenders and civil society organisations are facing increasing challenges with both state and non-state actors seeking to silence them.

Within the past year, we have seen rising challenges for human rights defenders, including intimidation through threats, vilification, arbitrary detention, politically motivated prosecutions, physical attacks and assassinations. Civil society organisations are facing severe restrictions on their basic rights, day to day operations and ability to raise funds through repressive laws, raids on their offices and other forms of bureaucratic harassment. For these reasons, this year, CIVICUS dedicates Human Rights Day to those who tirelessly defend human rights.

Earlier this year, CIVICUS reported that core civil society freedoms of expression, association and peaceful assembly were violated to a significant degree in 96 countries in 2014. Sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) regions accounted for more than half of the 96 countries. The regions of North America, Asia, Europe and South America also had several countries with significant civil society freedom violations. Half of the countries in South America were also placed in this worrying category.

From CIVICUS’ reporting over the course of 2015, there has been no let-up in attacks on human rights defenders despite the issue being highlighted by the United Nations in an upcoming resolution to be adopted by the UN General Assembly in December 2015 and a clear recognition of ‘public access to information and fundamental freedoms’ and ‘civil society partnerships’ in the Sustainable Development Goals.

In Burundi, we have seen a severe escalation of violence on all actors who oppose President Pierre Nkurunziza’s government. More than 200 people have been killed and 200,000 have fled Burundi. More than 3,000 individuals have been arbitrarily detained and denied fair trials. Targeted extra-judicial killings, torture and arrests have become so common that most human rights defenders and leaders of CSO have had to leave the country.

In Egypt, human rights defenders have faced an increase in public defamation, travel bans and detentions, while several civil society organisations are under official investigation by the authorities. Under the draconian anti-protest and other anti-terrorist laws, many have been sentenced to years in prison due to unfair trials.

In Russia, a law on “undesirable organisations” was brought into force to prevent civil society organisations from operating in the country on national security grounds. Several national civil society groups have been forced to either close down or register as “foreign agents”.

In several parts of Latin America, including Bolivia and Peru, state and private agencies have sought to criminalise protests related to environmental and land rights issues while victimising civil society leaders leading them. In Brazil, several assassinations of activists and journalists engaged on the above issues have been reported.

In China, new legislation was proposed to constrain civil society activities and peaceful dissent. Human rights activists, lawyers and their supporters are facing serious challenges. In India several writers and intellectuals have returned national awards against growing intolerance for dissenting voices, including those of civil society organisations.

In Angola, fifteen youth activists are facing criminal charges for discussing non-violent civil disobedience. There are credible reports of them being tortured in detention while civil society activities in the country have been further controlled and limited through a presidential decree passed in March 2015.

CIVICUS urges the international community to dedicate this human rights day to the protection and promotion of human rights defenders and civil society organisations. No one should be persecuted for standing up for the rights of others.