CIVICUS' United Nations Universal Periodic Review (UPR) Submissions on Civil Society Space

CIVICUS and its partners have submitted joint and stand-alone UN Universal Periodic Review (UPR) submissions on 4 countries in advance of the 39th UPR session in October 2021. The submissions examine the state of civil society in each country, including the promotion and protection of the rights to freedom of association, assembly and expression and the environment for human rights defenders. We further provide an assessment of the States’ domestic implementation of civic space recommendations received during the 2nd UPR cycle over 4 years ago and provide a number of targeted follow-up recommendations.

 

Outcomes and reflections from the UN Human Rights Council

The 46th Session of the UN Human Rights Council sat from 22 February - 24 March, 2021 and there were a number of critical human rights resolutions up for debate and for the 47 Council members to address. An overview of outcomes and civil society participation in our joint end of session statement with 14 other organisations:

Civil society participation

We welcome some important advances such as the possibility for NGOs to make video statements, which should be maintained and expanded after the pandemic for all discussions, including in general debates. We object to the removal of access details for online informal negotiations from Sched without explanation or justification, effectively restricting CSO access to negotiations and favoring CSOs based in Geneva or with existing contacts with diplomats. In addition, the lack of webcast archives in all UN languages, and the lack of accessibility measures such as closed captions and sign language interpretation for most HRC discussions all impede participation, accountability for States’ positions and commitments, and ultimately for the Council’s work. We are concerned by the renewal for another year of the ‘efficiency’ measures piloted in 2020, despite their negative impact on civil society participation in a year also impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. We urge States to reinstate general debates in the June sessions, to preserve their open-ended nature, and maintain the option of video intervention also in general debates.

Environmental justice

It’s high time the Council responds to calls by States and civil society to recognize the right of all to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment, and establish a new mandate for a Special Rapporteur on human rights and climate change.

We welcome the joint statement calling for the recognition of the right of all to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment that was delivered by the Maldives, on behalf of Costa Rica, Morocco, Slovenia and Switzerland and supported by 55 States. We call on all States to seize this historic opportunity to support the core-group as they continue to work towards UN recognition so that everyone in the world, wherever they live, and without discrimination, has the right to live in a safe, clean and sustainable environment.

We welcome the joint statement that was delivered by Bangladesh, on behalf of 55 States, calling the Council to create a new Special Rapporteur on human rights and climate change. We believe this new mandate would be essential to supporting a stronger human rights-based approach to climate change, engaging in country visits, normative work and capacity-building, and further addressing the human rights impacts of climate responses, in order to support the most vulnerable. This mandate should be established without further delay.

Racial Justice

Over 150 States jointly welcomed that the implementation of HRC Resolution 43/1 will center victims and their families. We urge the Council to respond to the High Commissioner’s call to address root causes of racism including the “legacies of enslavement, the transatlantic trade in enslaved Africans, and its context of colonialism”. The Council must answer to the demands of victims’ families and civil society’s, and establish - at its next session - an independent inquiry to investigate systemic racism in law enforcement in the United States and a thematic commission of inquiry to investigate systemic racism in law enforcement globally, especially where it is related to legacies of colonialism and transatlantic slavery.

Right to health

The resolution on ensuring equitable, affordable, timely, and universal access by all countries to vaccines in response to the COVID-19 pandemic is a welcome move in highlighting the need for States not to have export and other restrictions on access to safe diagnostics, therapeutics, medicines, and vaccines, and essential health technologies, and their components, as well as equipment and encouraged States to use all flexibilities within TRIPs. However, a revised version of the resolution tabled was further weakened by the deletion of one paragraph on stockpiling of vaccines and the reference to ‘unequal allocation and distribution among countries”. The specific deletion highlights the collusion between rich States and big pharmaceuticals, their investment in furthering monopolistic intellectual property regimes resulting in grave human rights violations. The reluctance of States, predominantly WEOG States who continue to defend intellectual property regimes and States’ refusal to hold business enterprises accountable to human rights standards is very concerning during this Global crisis.

Attempts to undermine HRC mandate

We regret that once again this Council has adopted a resolution, purportedly advancing ‘mutual beneficial cooperation’ which seeks to undermine and reinterpret both the principle of universality and its mandate. Technical assistance, dialogue and cooperation must be pursued with the goal of promoting and protecting human rights, not as an end in itself or as a means of facilitating inter-State relations. We reiterate our call on all States, and especially Council members, to consider country situations in an independent manner, based on objective human rights criteria supported by credible UN and civil society information. This is an essential part of the Council’s work; reliance on cooperation alone hobbles the Council’s ability to act to support the defenders and communities that look to it for justice.

Country-specific resolutions

We welcome the new mandate for the High Commissioner focused on the human rights situation in Belarus in the context of the 2020 Presidential election. It is now essential for States to support the High Commissioner’s office, ensuring the resources and expertise are made available so that the mandate can be operationalised as quickly as possible. We welcome the renewal of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Iran, and we urge Council to consider further action to hold Iranian authorities accountable, in view of the systematic impunity and lack of transparency surrounding violations of human rights in the country.

We welcome the call for additional resources for the Special Rapporteur on Myanmar, increased reporting by OHCHR as well as the work of the IIMM. Lack of international monitoring on, the imposition of martial law in Myanmar to prosecute civilians, including protesters, before military courts, the dangerous escalation of violence by the Tatmadaw and the widespread human rights violations amounting to crimes against humanity demand more efforts to ensure accountability.

We welcome the renewal and strengthening of the OHCHR’s monitoring and reporting mandate on Nicaragua, in a context of steady human rights deterioration marked by the Government’s refusal to cooperate constructively with the Office, over two years after its expulsion from the country. The adopted resolution lays out steps that Nicaragua should take to resume good faith cooperation and improve the situation ahead of this year’s national elections. It is also vital that this Council and its members continue to closely follow the situation in Nicaragua, and live up to the resolution’s commitments, by considering all available measures should the situation deteriorate by next year.

We welcome the increased monitoring and reporting on the situation of human rights in Sri Lanka. However, in light of the High Commissioner’s report on the rapidly deteriorating human rights situation and Sri Lanka’s incapacity and unwillingness to pursue accountability for crimes under international law, the Council should have urged States to seek other avenues to advance accountability, including through extraterritorial or universal jurisdiction.

While we welcome the extension of the mandate of the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan (CHRSS), we regret the adoption of a competing resolution under the inadequate agenda item 10. This resolution sends a wrong signal as myriads of local-level conflicts and ongoing SGBV and other violations of fundamental rights continue to threaten the country’s stability. We urge South Sudan  to continue cooperating with the CHRSS and to demonstrate concrete progress on key benchmarks and indicators. On Syria, We welcome the report by the Commission of Inquiry on Syria on arbitrary imprisonment and detention and reiterate the recommendation to establish an independent mechanism “to locate the missing or their remains”, and call on States to ensure the meaningful participation of victims and adopt a victim-centered approach, including by taking into consideration the Truth and Justice Charter of Syrian associations of survivors and families of disappeared when addressing arbitrary detention and enforced disappearance.

Country-specific State statements

We welcome States’ leadership and statements on human rights situations that merit the HRC’s attention.

We welcome the joint statement on the situation in Ethiopia's Tigray region and urge all actors, including the Ethiopian Federal Government, to protect civilians and ensure unhindered humanitarian access. Those responsible for crimes under international law, including Ethiopian soldiers, members of armed militias and non-State groups, and Eritrean soldiers involved in Tigray, must be held criminally accountable. The HRC should mandate an independent investigation and reporting by the High Commissioner.

For the first time in seven years, States at the HRC have united to condemn the widespread human rights violations by Egypt and its misuse of coutner-terrorism measures to imprison human rights defenders, LGBTI persons, journalists, politicians and lawyers and peaceful critics. We welcome the cross-regional joint statement by 32 States and we reiterate our call supported by over 100 NGOs from across the world on the HRC to establish a monitoring and reporting mechanism on the situation.

We welcome the joint statement by 45 States focused on the human rights situation in Russia, including the imprisonment of Alexi Navalny and the large number of arbitrary arrests of protestors across Russia. The statement rightly expresses concern for shrinking civil society space in Russia through recent legislative amendments and Russia using its “tools of State” to attack independent media and civil society. In the context of mounting international recognition that Israel imposes an apartheid regime over the Palestinian people, we welcome Namibia’s call for the "restoration of the UN Special Committee on Apartheid in order to ensure the implementation of the Apartheid Convention to the Palestinian situation."

Human rights situations that merits the HRC’s attention

The next session will receive a report on pushbacks from the Special Rapporteur on human rights of migrants. The Council must respond to the severity and scale of pushbacks and other human rights violations faced by migrants and refugees in transit and at borders and the ongoing suppression of solidarity, including by answering the High Commissioner’s call for independent monitoring. The Council’s silence feeds impunity, it must build on the momentum of the joint statement of over 90 States reaffirming their commitment to protection of the human rights of all migrants regardless of status. While the OHCHR expressed deep concern about the deteriorating human rights situation and the ongoing crackdown on civil society in Algeria, and called for the immediate and unconditional release of arbitrarily detained individuals, the Council has remained largely silent. As authorities are increasingly arbitrarily and violently arresting protesters - at least 1,500 since the resumption of the Hirak pro-democracy movement on 13 February, we call on the Council to address the criminalisation of public freedoms, to protect peaceful protestors, activists and the media.

Cameroon is one of the human rights crises the Council has failed to address for too long. We condemn the acts of intimidation and reprisal exercised by the Cameroonian government in response to NGOs raising concerns, including DefendDefenders. This is unacceptable behavior by a Council member. The Council should consider collective action to address the gross human rights violations and abuses occurring in the country.

We echo the calls of many governments for the Council to step up its meaningful action to ensure that concerns raised by civil society, the UN Special Procedures and the OHCHR about the human rights situation in China be properly addressed, including through an independent international investigation. We also regret that a number of States have taken an unprincipled approach of voicing support to actions, such as those by the Chinese government, including in Xinjiang and Hong Kong, through their national and other joint statements.

We call for the Council’s attention on the rapid deterioration of human rights in India. Violent crackdowns on recent farmers’ protests, internet shutdowns in protest areas, sedition and criminal charges against journalists reporting on these protests, and criminalisation of human rights defenders signal an ongoing dangerous trend in restrictions of fundamental freedoms in India. We call on India to ensure fundamental freedoms and allow journalists, HRDs and civil society to continue their legitimate work without intimidation and fear of reprisals.

We once again regret the lack of Council’s attention on the human rights crisis in Kashmir. Fundamental freedoms in the Indian-administered Kashmir remains severely curtailed since the revocation of the constitutional autonomy in August 2019. Raids in October and November 2020 on residences and offices of human rights defenders and civil society organisations by India’s anti-terrorism authorities in a clear attempt at intimidation have further exacerbated the ongoing crisis. Also on India and Pakistan, we call on the OHCHR to continue to monitor and regularly report to the Council on the situation in both Indian and Pakistani administered Kashmir, and on Indian and Pakistani authorities to give the OHCHR and independent observers unfettered access to the region.

Nearly six months since its adoption, the Council Resolution 45/33 on technical assistance to the Philippines has proven utterly insufficient to address the widespread human rights violations and persistent impunity. Killings in the war on drugs continue, and attacks on human rights defenders and activists have escalated. The killing of nine unarmed activists on 7 March 2021 clearly demonstrates that no amount of technical assistance will end the killings as long as the President and senior officials continue to incite violence and killings as official State policy. It is imperative that the Council sets up an international accountability mechanism to end the cycle of violence and impunity in the Philippines.


The statement is endorsed by: International Service for Human Rights; Franciscans International; Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR); International Commission of Jurists (ICJ); International Movement Against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism (IMADR); Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA); African Centre For Democracy And Human Rights Studies; International Federation for Human Rights Leagues (FIDH); MENA Rights Group; International Lesbian and Gay Association; Impact Iran; Ensemble contre la Peine de Mort (ECPM); Siamak Pourzand Foundation; Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS); ARTICLE 19; CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation.


Current council members:

Argentina, Armenia, Austria, Bahamas, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Bolivia, BrazilBulgaria, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, China, Côte d'Ivoire, CubaCzech Republic, Denmark, Eritrea, Fiji, FranceIndia, Gabon, GermanyIndonesia, Italy, JapanLibya, MalawiMarshall Islands, Mauritania, Mexico, Namibia, Nepal, Netherlands,  PakistanPhilippinesPolandRepublic of Korea, RussiaSenegal, SomaliaSudan, Togo, UkraineUnited KingdomUruguay, UzbekistanVenezuela

Civic space ratings from the CIVICUS Monitor

OPEN NARROWED OBSTRUCTED  REPRESSED CLOSED

 

 

 

Nicaragua: Resolution adopted at Human Rights Council

Resolution on Nicaragua adopted at the 46th Session of the UN Human Rights Council

 

UN Human Rights Council adopts resolution on Myanmar

Resolution on Myanmar adopted at the 46th Session of the UN Human Rights Council

This resolution, adopted by consensus, represents an important step towards achieving accountability and justice in Myanmar

 

Civil Society Organisations call for the immediate operationalisation of the HRC’s new mandate on Belarus

Resolution on Belarus adopted at the 46th Session of the UN Human Rights Council

 

Sri Lanka: Resolution adopted at UN Human Rights Council

Resolution on Sri Lanka adopted at the 46th Session of the UN Human Rights Council

The UN Human Rights Council maintains scrutiny but impunity concerns remain

CIVICUS welcomes renewed scrutiny on Sri Lanka by the Human Rights Council, and calls for the Council to take further measures towards an accountability mechanism should the situation continue to deteriorate.

In a strong report delivered to the Human Rights Council at this Session, the High Commissioner for Human Rights said that this moment represented a ‘key juncture for the Council’s engagement with Sri Lanka.’ The report concluded that domestic initiatives for accountability and reconciliation have repeatedly failed to produce results.

Sri Lankan civil society who document, monitor and report on past and current rights violations continue to face surveillance, harassment and attacks. They need the strongest possible support from the international community. We therefore welcome that the resolution strengthens the capacity of the Office of the High Commissioner to ‘collect, consolidate, analyse and preserve information and evidence and to develop possible strategies for future accountability processes.’ However, although the resolution adopted at this session maintains much-needed scrutiny on Sri Lanka, it represents a missed opportunity to mandate an international accountability mechanism in the absence of functional domestic processes.

One year ago, the Sri Lanka administration announced its withdrawal from a UN resolution to promote reconciliation, accountability and human rights, which it had previously co-sponsored. As civic space has been simultaneously squeezed tighter under the Rajapaksa government, human rights lawyers, activists and journalists have been targeted with arrests, intimidation or threats for speaking up. Independent NGOs are increasingly being silenced and even peaceful protests seeking accountability by victims of the civil war have been targeted. We welcome that the resolution raises serious concerns at these trends, describing them as a ‘clear early warning sign of a deteriorating situation of human rights’.

We call on the Council to take heed of these strong warning signs provided by the High Commissioner, as well as by human rights defenders, by journalists, and Special Rapporteurs, and to take future further measures towards furthering truth and accountability processes if proved necessary.


Civic space in Sri Lanka is rated as Obstructed by the CIVICUS Monitor

 

Philippines: UN accountability mechanism needed to end cycle of violence and impunity

Statement at the 46 Session of the UN Human Rights Council

Item 10: General Debate on technical cooperation and capacity building

Oral statement delivered by Cecile Gaa, Forum Asia


Madam President,

Nearly six months since its adoption, Human Rights Council resolution 45/33 offering technical assistance to the Philippines has proven to be utterly insufficient to address the systematic human rights violations and persistent impunity documented in the High Commissioner’s report. The Philippine Government’s policies and actions since the Resolution’s adoption have been completely at odds with the commitments outlined in it.

Extrajudicial killings in the so-called ‘war on drugs’ have continued. To date, the Government has made no tangible progress towards accountability against those most responsible for such killings. In December 2020, the Office of the Prosecutor of the ICC found that there is “reasonable basis to believe that the crimes against humanity” of murder, torture, the infliction of serious physical injury and mental harm, and other inhumane acts were committed between at least 1 July 2016 and 16 March 2019.

Human rights defenders pursuing legitimate work, especially those who advocate for international accountability, including lawyers, continue to be attacked and accused of belonging to terrorist groups. Rights defenders continue to be arrested and jailed. The draconian Anti-terrorism Act, passed last year, exacerbates risks to defenders. The killing of nine human rights defenders and activists on 7 March, two days after President Duterte ordered the police and military to “finish off” and “kill” those purported to be “communist rebels”, illustrates clearly the persistent killings and attacks faced by activists and defenders. It is very clear that no amount of technical assistance or capacity building will end the killings as the President and top government officials continue to incite murder and violence as official policy.

In this context, it is imperative that the Council set up an international accountability mechanism to end the cycle of violence and impunity in the Philippines.

Thank you.

Endorsed by:

  • Amnesty International
  • Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)
  • CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
  • Human Rigths Watch
  • International Commission of Jurists (ICJ)
  • International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
  • Philippines Alliance of Human Rights Advocates (PAHRA)
  • World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)

 Civic space in the Philippines is rated as Repressed by the CIVICUS Monitor

 

DRC: The press and the right to protest remain unprotected

Statement at the 46 Session of the UN Human Rights Council

Interactive Dialogue with the High Commissioner on the Democratic Republic of Congo

Thank you, Madame President, and thank you High Commissioner for your update. We share your concerns on the deteriorating human rights situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, including ongoing restrictions on civic freedoms.

Despite some positive developments and measures taken in 2019, human rights violations have increased in 2020. Journalists and HRDs continue to face threats, harassment, intimidation and arbitrary arrests, while several protests have been repressed by security forces. 

In the past year, several journalists have been detained or summoned - often on accusations of contempt of officials, insulting authorities or criminal defamation. Christophe Yoka Nkumu of community radio station Radio Liberté Bikoro was arrested on 22 February 2021 after reporting that a parliamentary representative had used a vehicle earmarked for public health officials fighting Ebola. 

Protests are too often met with excessive force on the part of security forces, while activists have been arbitrarily arrested for their participation in peaceful protests. In December 2020 and January 2021, ten LUCHA activists were arrested during protests in Beni. Eight activists, detained in the course of a protest criticising the UN peacekeeping mission 's (MONUSCO) ability to protect civilians in eastern DRC, were brought before a military court on charges of ‘sabotage and violence against state security guards’ – facing 10 years in prison – before they were acquitted. On 12 January 2021, police officers beat and physically assaulted several journalists while they were covering a student protest in Bukavu. 

We call on the Tshisekedi administration to ensure that fundamental freedoms are respected, including by reviewing all restrictive legislation, decriminalising press offences as a matter of urgency, and ensuring the protection of human rights defenders and journalists. 

To ensure sustained improvements, ending impunity for rights violations, including those against civil society, must be a priority, and we call on the government to ensure that those responsible for such violations be held to account. We ask the High Commissioner how members and observers of this Council can best support those on the ground in order to prevent further backsliding on human rights, and what steps the Council should take should the deterioration continue?


Civic space in the DRC is rated as Repressed by the CIVICUS Monitor

 

UN Member States must protect the independence of the special procedures

Amnesty International delivers this statement on behalf of 15 NGOs.

We are deeply concerned by continued attacks on the Special Procedures and efforts to undermine their independence. We urge all states to affirm their commitment to human rights and the effectiveness of the international human rights system, by rejecting and condemning these efforts.

We welcome the continued efforts of the Coordination Committee to address objective non-compliance of mandate holders under the Internal Advisory Procedure, including in response to the failure of the Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy to submit his reports to the Council in time for their consideration at this session. We urge all states to support the Coordination Committee in their efforts to respond to concerns related to the working methods of the Special Procedures, as well as complaints against individual mandate holders.

At the same time, we deplore the efforts of some states to use this process as a cover to undermine the independence and effectiveness of the Special Procedures for political reasons. As on numerous previous occasions, certain states repeatedly accuse the Special Procedures of politicization but fail to substantively address the human rights concerns they raise.

We particularly regret the Russian Federation’s efforts, on 5 March, to suspend the HRC session altogether and their continued attempts, together with other states, to introduce unwarranted state oversight on the Special Procedures.

We were also alarmed to witness personal attacks on the Special Procedures, most worryingly against the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, by the Chinese delegation, who during the interactive dialogue accused the mandate holder of ‘spread[ing] false information’ and ‘lack[ing] minimum professional ethics.” Such ad hominem attacks are unacceptable, and the Council must respond in the strongest terms to condemn such incidents. They also reveal a broader rejection of dialogue on human rights challenges – despite repeated statements urging the Council to privilege ‘dialogue and cooperation’ - and a lack of willingness on the part of the state concerned to take action to protect human rights.

It is time for states at this Council to take a strong proactive stand for its independent mechanisms, ensuring that they have the support and resources needed to fulfil their mandates and to hold states accountable when they commit human rights violations.

Amnesty International
ARTICLE 19
Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)
Center for Reproductive Rights
CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
DefendDefenders (East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project)
Forum Menschenrechte e.V.
Human Rights House Foundation
Human Rights Watch
International Commission of Jurists
International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
International Movement Against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism (IMADR)
International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)
Privacy International
Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom

 

 

Honduras: Adoption of Universal Periodic Review on Human Rights

Statement at the 46th Session of the UN Human Rights Council

Universal Periodic Review on Human Rights -- Outcome Adoption for Honduras


Thank you, Mr President.

The Association of Non-Governmental Organisations, CIVICUS and RedLad welcome the government of Honduras’ engagement with the UPR process. However, our joint UPR submission documents that since its previous review Honduras has not implemented 19 of the 30 recommendations it received relating to space for civil society, and has only partially implemented eight.

As detailed in our submission, Honduran legislation restricts workers’ freedom of association. Additionally, the enjoyment of this freedom by activists working on politically sensitive issues is limited in practice, often as a result of the intervention of non-state actors. There was positive change in the legal framework for civil society, but the work of CSOs continued to be undermined by extra-legal factors. Action by indigenous people’s rights, environmental and land rights defenders, as well as students and LGBTQI+ HRDs, is also hampered through criminalisation, criminal prosecution, harassment and surveillance. Although Honduras established a protection mechanism for HRDs and journalists, it failed to ensure its effectiveness. Persistently high levels of violence make Honduras one of the most dangerous countries in the world for HRDs and journalists.

As also documented in our submission, the 2019 Criminal Code maintained the crimes of slander and insult, which continued to be used against journalists, and the right to access information enshrined by law continued to be restricted by the so-called Law of Official Secrets.

The exercise of freedom of peaceful assembly remained subjected to de facto and legal barriers. Peaceful demonstrations, particularly by student, indigenous, peasant and environmental movements, were often arbitrarily dissolved with excessive force, typically leading to people being arrested or injured, and occasionally resulting in fatalities. A legal vacuum persists regarding the accountability of the security forces for abuses committed against peaceful protesters.

We welcome recommendations made to Honduras in this cycle to address these concerns and we call on the Government of Honduras to take proactive measures to implement these recommendations to create and maintain, in law and in practice, an enabling environment for civil society. We further call on the States who made such recommendations to ensure follow-up on their implementation.

We thank you.


 Civic space in Honduras is rated as Repressed by the CIVICUS Monitor

 

A joint call to the UN to Address human rights situation in the Russian Federation

This statement is made on behalf of 8 organisations, who together call on the Human Rights Council to address the human rights situation in the Russian Federation.

 

The Maldives: Adoption of Universal Periodic Review on Human Rights

Statement at the 46th Session of the UN Human Rights Council

Universal Periodic Review on Human Rights -- Outcome Adoption for Maldives


 

Malawi's adoption of Universal Periodic Review on Human Rights

Statement at 46th Session of the UN Human Rights Council

Universal Periodic Review on Human Rights -- Outcome Adoption for Malawi

 

We welcome Malawi’s engagement in the UPR process.

In our report submitted to the review, CIVICUS, the Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR) and the Centre for the Development of People (CEDEP) set out the challenges facing Malawi in realization of fundamental freedoms.

Authorities have routinely restricted freedoms of assembly, association and expression by violently dispersing peaceful protests, arresting human rights defenders and targeting independent media outlets.  In the aftermath of the May 2019 elections, human rights defenders were subjected to smear campaigns, judicial persecution and detention by the authorities. 
 
Restrictive provisions in the Penal Code and the Cyber Security Law adopted in 2016 were used to limit freedom of expression and target journalists, bloggers and media houses.

Malawi has so much more to do to protect journalists and human rights defenders. Indeed, During its last cycle Malawi agreed to fully investigate all cases of harassment and intimidation of journalists and human rights defenders with a view to bringing the perpetrators to justice and to ensure the protection of human rights defenders. These pledges have not been implemented. For example, in the run-up to the fresh election held in June 2020, there was an increase in acts of violence and intimidation of journalists by officials of the then ruling party, the Police and other government institutions. In August 2020, journalists from the independent Mibawa Television Station, Times Media Group and others, were subjected to threats, harassment and smear campaigns for comments made about the Covid-19 pandemic.
  
For Malawi to enact meaningful and sustainable human rights progress, it must not only put rule of law and fundamental freedoms at the center of government actions and policies. It must also ensure that there is space for human rights defenders, journalists and all members of civil society to criticize, to speak out, to peacefully assemble. Creating an enabling environment is key to the implementation of all the recommendations Malawi received this cycle. States who made such recommendations now have a responsibility to those on the ground to ensure Malawi’s promises are kept.


Civic space in Malawi is rated as obstructed by the CIVICUS Monitor

 

Extend the mandate of the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan

Statement at the 46th Session of the UN Human Rights Council

Delivered by Paul Mulindwa

CIVICUS and our CSO partners in South Sudan thank the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan for their comprehensive report. We welcome this crucial scrutiny, currently the only way in which human rights in South Sudan can be examined.

While we welcome the formation of the Unity Government provided for in the Revitalised Peace Agreement, we are seriously concerned that key areas of this agreement have stalled, particularly around governance and security sector reform, posing severe threats to the peace process. The country continues to face major governance, security, and humanitarian issues. Violence continues in regions across the country, destabilising safety and livelihoods.

The human rights situation in South Sudan remains dire and continues to worsen. Civic space is closed, with restrictions on freedom of speech, expression, peaceful assembly, and association. Independent and critical voices are targeted with arbitrary arrest and detention, sexual violence, torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. With pervasive surveillance of journalists, activists, and human rights defenders by security operatives, these amount to attempts to deliberately and systematically terrorise such voices into ceasing their work.

We urge the Council to ensure the continuation of the mandate of the UN Commission on South Sudan and extend the Commission’s mandate further and in full. We call on the government of South Sudan to fully implement Revitalised Peace Agreement.

To the Commission, we ask which human rights reform benchmarks you suggest as the highest priorities for monitoring progress in the country?


 Civic space in South Sudan is rated as Closed by the CIVICUS Monitor

 

 

5 countries on CIVICUS Monitor watchlist presented to UN Human Rights Council

Statement at the 46th Session of the UN Human Rights Council

This Council has identified restrictions on fundamental freedoms as a warning sign of an impending human rights crisis. Five countries were highlighted in the latest CIVICUS Monitor Watchlist, which puts a spotlight on a group of countries where there has been a rapid decline in respect for civic space. 

These include Myanmar, where a military coup has led to deaths of at least 50 protesters, and the arbitrary detention of more than a thousand activists, protesters and politicians, while journalists are targeted daily. 

In Nicaragua, there has been systematic repression of demonstrations. Human rights defenders, journalists and perceived political opponents face criminalisation and harassment, and a recent onslaught of repressive laws hinders civic space still further.

In Poland, months of ongoing protests sparked by a near-total ban on abortion have been met with excessive force by authorities and far-right groups. Laws and reforms which undermine judicial independence and the rule of law have been passed since 2015 and media freedom is under threat. 

In Russia, there have been large scale attacks on peaceful assembly and journalists during the massive nationwide peaceful protests. Over 10,000 protesters have been detained.

In Togo, where civic space has been backsliding since 2017, the detention of a journalist and trade unionists and the suspension of a newspaper are recent examples highlighting the deterioration in the respect of civic freedoms.

The Council cannot fulfill its protection or prevention mandates unless it is prepared to take meaningful action in situations which show such warning signs. We call for stronger scrutiny on Myanmar and Nicaragua to be brought by the Council this session, and for due attention on Poland, Russia and Togo to prevent deteriorating situations on the ground. 

Civic space ratings by CIVICUS Monitor
Open Narrowed Obstructed  Repressed Closed

 

 

Burundi: Progress since 2020 elections, but rights abuses persist

Statement at the 46th Session of the UN Human Rights Council 
Delivered by Cyriaque Nibitegeka

CIVICUS and independent Burundian civil society organisations welcome the important work of the Commission of Inquiry and thank the Commission for its update. 

We welcome the Presidential pardon of four journalists of Iwacu media group, who were prosecuted for investigating rebel activities in the country in October 2019. We also welcome the return of about 3,000 refugees from Rwanda, having previously been forced to flee the country. 

But serious human rights violations and abuses have continued since the 2020 elections, often with a view to deprive the main opposition party of opportunities to re-organise. These are mainly committed by members of the Imbonerakure youth league of the ruling party and by local officials who continue to enjoy nearly total impunity, often with participation from or tacit support of security officers.

Several recent returnees are reported missing, and the extrajudicial killings, arrests and arbitrary detentions of opposition members are far from ending. In February alone, there were at least 17 cases of extrajudicial execution, 170 cases of arbitrary detention and five cases of torture. Germain Rukuki, a human rights activist sentenced to 32 years in prison in April 2018, remains deprived of his liberty.

We call on the government to unconditionally release all politically motivated detainees including activists and human rights defenders.

The new administration in Burundi still has an opportunity to reset Burundi’s relationship with UN human rights mechanisms. We ask the commission to elaborate on opportunities for renewed engagement with the government for the implementation of its findings and recommendations, particularly towards accountability and long-term reform. 


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

 

Myanmar: International action needed to restore democracy and protect rights

Statement at the 46th Session of the UN Human Rights Council

 

Venezuela: Extrajudicial killings continue, evidence presented to the UN

Statement at the 46th Session of the UN Human Rights Council 

We thank the Fact-Finding Mission for this timely update, which ensures that the human rights situation in Venezuela continues to be promptly documented. We welcome more frequent spaces for dialogue to ensure ongoing independent monitoring of the implementation of previous recommendations. 

Despite repeated condemnation by international organizations and institutions, extrajudicial executions continue in Venezuela. We are deeply concerned by the recent events in Las Vegas, Caracas, where at least 650 agents of Venezuelan security forces were deployed due to alleged clashes between gangs and police. At least 14 people were killed during the operation. Human rights organizations strongly refute that the deaths were the result of the confrontation. Evidence and witness testimony shows that they were mostly extrajudicial executions. 

In addition, the civic space situation continues to deteriorate. Amid the pandemic, protests did not stop. Local organisations documented 412 incidents in which protesters were repressed by public security forces and paramilitary groups in 2020. At least 415 people were detained and 150 wounded. This reinforces the pattern of repression and excessive use of force against those who take to the streets to demand their rights. 

Criminalizacion of human rights defenders continue. We are deeply concerned about the detention of activists from Azul Positivo, a humanitarian organisation that has been providing humanitarian aid to vulnerable communities in Zulia, particularly people living with HIV/AIDS. 

Accountability and an end to impunity is key to protecting those on the ground. We ask the FFM: what should be the priorities of member states of this Council in combatting impunity?


Civic space in Venezuela is rated as Repressed by the CIVICUS Monitor

 

To achieve the SDGs, civil society must be supported and protected

Statement at the 46th Session of the UN Human Rights Council

Thank you, Madame President.

CIVICUS welcomes the report on the intersessional meeting for dialogue and cooperation on human rights and the 2030 Agenda. We strongly concur with the report’s consensual conclusions that inclusive collaborative recovery strategies require effective involvement of civil society, and that access to information, transparent communication, solidarity, shared responsibility and mutual accountability are crucial. 

While this was true before the COVID 19 Pandemic; it is now even more critical that these laudable aims are met. We welcome continued commitment of States to the realisation of Agenda 2030. However, none of the SDGs can be realized while civic space is restricted and human rights defenders are attacked. 

The CIVICUS Monitor continues to track restrictions in civic space across the globe and shows that only 3% of the world’s population is able to effectively speak out, assemble and take action. How can civil society partner with government to implement sustainable development? How can communities engage and implement these goals at a local level when they are being stifled and their very existence threatened? Misuse of increasing anti-terrorism laws, health emergency laws and cyber-security laws continue to stifle the freedoms of expression, association, and peaceful assembly. For us to achieve the sustainable development goals in their entirety, civil society must be supported, promoted and protected. Communities must be empowered and those standing up for their rights must be protected. 

 

Human Rights Council: Restrictions on civil society will curtail any chance of building back better

Statement at the 46th Session of the UN Human Rights Council

Thank you, Madame President; High Commissioner.

We welcome your update and strongly agree that recovering better requires ensuring participation for all. In this very difficult year, we are encouraged that civic activism has continued as people have mobilised to demand their rights.

But across the world, civil society has been impeded in its work.  The CIVICUS Monitor shows that in the context of COVID-19 measures, protest rights have been violated and restrictions on freedom of expression continue as states enact overly broad emergency legislation that limits human rights.

We reiterate that restrictions on civil society will curtail any chance of building back better. States should indeed be investing in protecting and promoting a free and independent civil society at this crucial time.

The Council has the opportunity to act immediately on a number of situations where civic space is being threatened. In Sri Lanka, attacks against civil society are compounding grave failures of accountability. In Nicaragua, where ahead of elections, restrictions on civic space and expressions of dissent are likely to escalate. Myanmar, where we are inspired by the courage of people who risk lives and freedom every day to protest the coup, who continue to fear violent crackdown on dissenting voices. In India, where the government has continued its persecution of human rights defenders, student leaders, journalists and other critics, including through restrictive laws, prolonged pre-trial detention and excessive force perpetrated against protesters. 

We call on the Council this Session to take measures to support civil society by acting now, on the situations brought before it. Situations which require immediate action.

 

 

Nicaragua: UN must take action as over 100 activists remain in prison

Statement at the 46th Session of the UN Human Rights Council delivered by Amaru Ruiz, Fundación del Río

The crisis in Nicaragua persists and systematic repression of demonstrations has effectively suppressed mobilisations. As a result, the CIVICUS monitor has included Nicaragua on its Watchlist of countries. Human rights defenders, journalists, and political opponents face criminalisation and harassment from security agents and pro-government civilian groups. At the end of 2020, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights reported that there were still more than 100 political prisoners in Nicaragua.

While hundreds of political prisoners were released in 2019 and 2020, many are still subjected to surveillance, retaliation and re-imprisonment. In recent months there has been an increase in the use of common criminal charges, such as possession of drugs and weapons, to convict those perceived as opponents of the government while denying their status as political prisoners.

The Nicaraguan authorities have tried to silence the independent press, including by arresting journalists and seeking to curtail their activities. Since late 2020, pro-government lawmakers have stepped up attacks on civil society, enacting a series of laws designed to reduce the space for freedoms of association, assembly and expression. Such laws include the Foreign Agents Law, the Special Law on Cyber ​​Crimes, and an amendment to the country's Penal Code that allows preventive detention without charges for up to 90 days.

A recent report on freedom of association by Fundación del Rio and Fundación Popolna revealed the process of systematic deterioration of an enabling environment for social organisations, with patterns of lack of access to justice and due process. This situation is leading to the eventual forced closure of several Nicaraguan civil organisations and the departure from the country of international organisations unwilling to submit to the legal framework of criminalisation that has been institutionalised.

With elections set for later this year, we are seriously concerned that repression will escalate, putting human rights defenders and broader civil society at even greater risk.

The member states of the Human Rights Council should support a strong resolution calling for greater monitoring by the High Commissioner to promote accountability processes and prevent the situation from deteriorating further as Nicaragua heads toward elections.


 Nicaragua is rated as 'Repressed' by the CIVICUS Monitor

 

Sri Lanka: Warning signs of a deteriorating human rights situation

Statement at the 46th Session of the UN Human Rights Council

We welcome the report of the High Commissioner, which concludes that domestic initiatives for accountability have repeatedly failed to produce results.

Reneging on its international commitments has put any prospect of justice, truth and reparations in Sri Lanka at grave risk. This has been compounded by an escalation of attacks against civil society over the last months, particularly against groups and people working to further human rights. 

As civic space has been squeezed tighter under the Rajapaksa administration, human rights lawyers, activists and academics have been targeted with arrests, intimidation or threats for speaking up. Independent NGOs are increasingly being silenced as the administration has sought to restrict them. With NGOs who document, monitor and report on past and current rights violations raided and attacked, it is abundantly clear that much-publicized national accountability processes are as such in name only.

The Human Rights Council once again has opportunity not only to secure justice and accountability for past crimes, but to protect those on the ground who are being subjected to human rights violations now, and those at risk – a risk increased by ongoing impunity – of further violations in the future. Warnings of a deteriorating human rights situation have been given by human rights defenders, by journalists, by Special Rapporteurs, by the High Commissioner. The Council must take action to ensure heightened scrutiny on Sri Lanka, including adopting a resolution mandating enhanced monitoring and other necessary steps towards furthering accountability.


Sri Lanka is rated as 'Obstructed' by the CIVICUS Monitor

 

 

Advocacy priorities at 46th Session of UN Human Rights Council

The 46th Session of the UN Human Rights Council will sit from 22 February - 23 March, 2021 and there are a number of critical human rights resolutions up for debate and for the 47 Council members to address. Stay up to date by following @civicusalliance and #HRC46


The 46th Session of the Human Rights Council presents challenges and opportunities for civil society engagement. We encourage States to continue to raise the importance of civil society participation, which makes the Human Rights Council stronger, more informed and more effective. 

We look forward to engaging on a range of issues in line with our civic space mandate, set out below. In terms of country-specific situations on the agenda of the Council, CIVICUS will be engaging on resolutions on Nicaragua, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, and South Sudan. Other countries of serious concern as we approach the 46th Session include Zimbabwe, Tanzania and Russia.

With relation to thematic issues, CIVICUS will be engaging on the High Commissioner’s report on COVID and human rights, the Special Rapporteur’s report on human rights defenders, and the Special Rapporteur’s report on human rights and counter-terrorism

Civil society Participation in times of COVID19
Like last session, civil society participation has been significantly impacted by COVID-19. Travel restrictions and distancing guidelines means that in-person participation is conspicuously limited, particularly for organisations from the Global South. Opportunities for remote participation via video messaging are providing a welcome alternative - because of this change, people and groups affected by issues being discussed will, to some extent, be able to address the Council without being limited by their ability to travel to Geneva, as is usually the case. But being able to meet with and hear directly from human rights defenders in the room and in-person, whether through side events or statements, has long been a strength of the Council. The human rights defenders who attend Council sessions strengthen resolutions by providing first-hand information and serve to hold states to account, and their participation reinforces valuable partnerships. Like last session, opportunities to do so in-person will be very much missed.

see individual member country ratings - ...

Country-specific situations

Nicaragua (Civic space rating: Repressed)

Nicaragua is rated as repressed by the CIVICUS Monitor. Ahead of elections in the country scheduled for this year, increasing restrictions on civic space and expressions of dissent remain a major concern, and likely to escalate. 

A raft of repressive laws has been enacted that could seriously undermine freedom of association and free speech. In October 2020, Nicaragua’s lawmakers approved the “Foreign Agents Law” which expands government powers to control and muzzle civil society. The legislation requires civil society organisations that receive funding from abroad to register as “foreign agents” and bars them from intervening in “matters of internal politics.” In December 2020, Nicaragua's National Assembly approved a law that could prevent opposition candidates from participating in the upcoming presidential elections. This law prohibits "traitors to the fatherland" ("Traidores a la Patria") from running for public office, defining such people in general terms. In January 2021, lawmakers passed a constitutional amendment permitting life sentences for “hate crimes”. Human rights defenders and journalists continue to be targets of death threats, intimidation, online defamation campaigns, harassment, surveillance, and assault. According to data collected by the press organisation Periodistas y Comunicadores Independientes de Nicaragua (Independent Journalists and Communicators of Nicaragua - PCIN), police, paramilitary groups and government supporters continue to be the most frequent perpetrators. 

Attacks against civil society organisations, journalists and human rights defenders are early warning signs of an impending human rights crisis. The Human Rights Council must operationalise its prevention mandate by responding robustly to the upcoming High Commissioner’s report, including by enhancing monitoring and reporting on human rights violations, particularly in the context of the elections. Specifically, a resolution should:

  • Renew the enhanced OHCHR mandate to monitor and report on the human rights situation in Nicaragua, and ensuring it is adequately resourced.
  • Mandate the High Commissioner to report regularly to the HRC on the situation in Nicaragua the context of interactive dialogues, including by intersessional briefings ahead of the elections in November.
  • Establish clear benchmarks for cooperation for Nicaragua to meet in order to prevent further Council action, including the repeal of repressive laws.
  • Express explicit support for human rights defenders and the role of civil society, including journalists.

Myanmar (Civic space rating: Repressed)

Myanmar is rated as repressed by the CIVICUS Monitor. The Special Session on Myanmar this week is testament to the gravity of the situation in-country. A military coup d’état has left fundamental freedoms at grave risk; in a statement on 2 February, High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet highlighted that the presence of militarised forces on the streets are giving rise to ‘deep fears of a violent crackdown on dissenting voices’. 

As the military regime attempted to clamp down on information, pro-democracy activists launched a protest campaign dubbed the "Civil Disobedience Movement" in the capital Naypyidaw. They demanded the release of Aung San Suu Kyi and other detained leaders and called on the military to respect the results of the country’s November 2020 election. Journalists in Myanmar have reported credible threats of an imminent, broader-sweeping crackdown on media workers, and several have told Human Rights Watch that they fear for their safety. Some local journalists had reportedly gone into hiding. According to the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), journalists are reporting increased surveillance of news reporting and journalists admitting to self-censorship since the coup.

The elections last November 2020 were not only affected by the COVID-19 pandemic but censorship and discrimination. The discriminatory 1982 Citizenship Law and the Election Law have been used to disenfranchise Rohingya and other opposition candidates to prevent them from running for office. 

The CIVICUS Monitor has documented a sustained attack on civic freedoms in the country over the last few years. A repressive legal framework has been used to criminalise individuals for speaking out, reporting or protesting again human rights violations, including independent journalists and human rights defenders. The situation requires strong response from the Human Rights Council.

We urge states to:

  • Support the renewal and strengthening of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Myanmar, ensuring that the Special Rapporteur has sufficient resources, including human resources, to continue robust and ongoing monitoring of the situation including, given the gravity of the situation, resources for holding intersessional briefings to the Council.
  • Ensure inclusion in preambular and operative paragraphs in both resolutions of language around ending internet shutdowns, cessation of excessive use of force against peaceful protester, and protecting human rights defenders, and the need for accountability for violations perpetrated by state forces.
  • Highlight the crucial role of civil society, including human rights defenders.

Sri Lanka (Civic space rating: Obstructed)

Sri Lanka is rated as obstructed by the CIVICUS Monitor. Civic freedom violations have persisted in Sri Lanka as President Rajapaksa’s party expands its powers. In October 2020, Parliament adopted amendments to the Sri Lankan Constitution, which serve to expand the powers of the President, while encroaching on the powers of Parliament and the courts. In recent months, there have been targeted arrests, intimidation and threats against the lives and physical security of lawyers, activists, human rights defenders and journalists. Groups seeking transitional justice for crimes during the country’s 26-year civil war held protests seeking answers especially on the disappeared but face harassment from the authorities.

The UN has 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. Numerous civilian institutions, including the NGO Secretariat, have come under the control of the Ministry of Defence.

The current administration’s reneging on its international commitments has put accountability and reconciliation processes under grave risk. This is being compounded by an escalation of attacks against civil society, particularly against groups and people working to further human rights. With NGOs who document, monitor and report on historic and current rights violations being raided and attacked, it is clear that much-publicized national accountability processes are in name only. It is crucial that the international community maintains a strong position on Sri Lanka, through a non-consensual resolution if necessary. States should support a strong resolution which emphasises accountability and implements the recommendations in the High Commissioner’s report, with particular calls for the furthering of accountability processes and protection of civil society. Failure to do so would impact significantly the Council’s credibility. 

Specifically, the resolution should:

  • Request OHCHR to enhance its monitoring of the human rights situation in Sri Lanka, including progress towards accountability and reconciliation, and report regularly to the Human Rights Council;
  • Establish an independent international mechanism or process to investigate allegations of serious human rights abuses, war crimes and crimes against humanity, secure evidence, and identify perpetrators for future prosecution.
  • Explicitly recognize civil society including human rights defenders for the role they play in documenting and monitoring.

Zimbabwe (Civic space rating: Repressed)

Zimbabwe is rated as repressed by the CIVICUS Monitor. As the country’s economy continues to decline, workers and civil servants have sustained protest actions to call for better wages to cushion them from the resulting economic shocks. Protests have been met with forcefully dispersed, with police citing the ongoing curfew restrictions in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and arresting at least 20 protesters. The country’s situation has become a multi-layered crisis characterised by economic collapse, deepening poverty, corruption and human rights abuses. 

Soldiers and police officers routinely forcefully dispersed the peaceful protest citing the ongoing curfew restrictions in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and arresting at least 20 protesters. It is commonplace for those arrested to be charged with inciting public violence. In 2020, the High Commissioner for Human Rights raised alarm at the situation when investigative journalist Hopewell Chin’ono was arrested on 20 July and charged with inciting public violence, after he tweeted his support for nationwide protests against government corruption and worsening economic conditions. He has since been released and re-arrested. Jacob Ngarivhume, an opposition leader who has been calling for the protests on 31 July, was also detained and similarly charged. These are warning signs of an escalating crisis. In the interests of furthering the Council’s prevention mandate, we call on states to raise Zimbabwe through statements, jointly or in their national capacity, offering support to civil society on the ground. 

Such statements could include specifically:

  • Concerns about the worsening crackdown in Zimbabwe, particularly in the context of the debate on the High Commissioner’s report on COVID and human rights. 
  • Urging Zimbabwe to engage with civil society and other stakeholders to find sustainable solutions to grievances while ensuring that people’s rights and freedoms are protected in accordance with Zimbabwe’s human rights obligations.

South Sudan (Civic space rating: Closed)

South Sudan is rated as closed by the CIVICUS Monitor. In South Sudan, violence and harassment of human rights defenders and journalists continues as the UN extends the arms embargo and its sanctions regime. Despite hopes of peace following the formation of the transitional government of national unity formed by former warring factions on February 2020, fighting continues in several areas of the country, and dozens of people continue to die due to inter-communal fighting. The United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) reported that at least 5,000 civilians had been displaced by heavy fighting in Jonglei State. On 4 August 2020, at least 23 people were reported killed and 20 others wounded in an attack on a religious compound, where unidentified gunmen killed the deacon of the church and at least 14 women and children seeking refuge in the compound. 

Despite hopes of peace following the formation of the transitional government of national unity formed by former warring factions on February 2020, fighting continues in several areas of the country, and dozens of people continue to die due to inter-communal fighting. As the Council recognised in June 2020, the mandate of the CHRSS should continue until such a point as demonstrable progress has been made against human rights benchmarks, and based on an assessment of risk factors of further violations. Necessary progress has not yet been made to consider a change of approach in this regard. As the only mechanism currently collecting and preserving evidence of violations of international humanitarian and human rights law with a view to accountability and addressing human rights and transitional justice issues in South Sudan from a holistic perspective, the CHRSS remains vital.

A resolution extending the mandate of the CHRSS must:

  • Extend the mandate of the CHRSS in full under the same agenda item.
  • Call on the CHRSS to articulate clear human rights reform benchmarks or indicators against which any progress can be measured.
  • Call on the CHRSS to enhance its engagement with civil society and human rights defenders on deliverance of its mandate, giving due attention to the increasing restrictions, threats, and attacks civil society and media actors face. 

Tanzania (Civic space rating: Repressed)

Tanzania is rated as repressed by the CIVICUS Monitor. In Tanzania, the increasing repression of democracy and civic space has deeply deteriorated environment for human rights. Several opposition parties have reported widespread irregularities in the process for enrolling candidates for the Presidential election on 28th October 2020. 17 opposition party members and critics of the government were arrested, with the increased oppression of opposition, suspension of human rights groups and the limiting of international media coverage of the elections being directly linked to the current government. In addition, the Tanzanian government continues to silence media coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic, most recently through the enactment of new online content regulations in early August 2020. Repression of what journalists can report on the pandemic is feared to stifle access to public health information.

In the interests of furthering the Council’s prevention mandate, we call on states to raise Tanzania through statements, jointly or in their national capacity, offering support to civil society on the ground. 

Such statements could include specifically:

  • Concerns about the worsening crackdown in Tanzania, particularly in the context of the debate on the High Commissioner’s report on COVID and human rights.

Russia (Civic space rating: Repressed)

Russia is rated as repressed by the CIVICUS Monitor. The recent crackdown by the Russian authorities on independent civil society and dissenting voices in the country. Russian authorities are systematically using the tools of the state to arbitrarily deprive citizens of liberty and curtail the exercise of the freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly, and association. The alarming trends the international community has observed in Russia for more than a decade have been drastically increasing since the end of 2020 and require urgent international action.

At the beginning of 2021, Russia took a seat on the UN Human Rights Council. As a member of the international body charged with the promotion and protection of human rights around the globe, Russia’s active efforts to attack human rights domestically is particularly cynical. Members of the Council must use the 46th Session - Russia’s first session under its current membership - to strongly denounce these actions to use the tools of the state to attack independent civil society, severely limit civic space and silence dissenting voices.

CIVICUS is among 85 local and international organisations which endorsed a letter sent to members of the Human Rights Council calling for immediate action to protect and promote human rights and strongly condemn the actions of the Russian authorities. Attacks by Council member states on independent civil society, civic space, and dissenting voices must not go unaddressed.

Other countries of concern

Poland and Togo, have been placed on the CIVICUS Monitor's Watchlist, along with Myanmar and Nicaragua, to reflect their sharp decline in civic freedoms. 

In Poland, concerns about the deterioration of the rule of law and fundamental rights in Poland are long-standing and serious. Recently, a set of mass demonstrations against the near-total ban on abortion took place in Poland - a country whose abortion laws were already considered some of the most restrictive in Europe. There have been multiple reports of police brutality against protesters. The excessive use of force by police, disproportionate charges used against protesters, and speeches from public officials have encouraged further violence toward them. LGBTI rights remain under attack while public officials and opinion makers promote an atmosphere of hate and intolerance vis-à-vis LGBTI people in the country.

In Togo, civic space has been backsliding since the crackdown on anti-government opposition protests in 2017-2018 to demand a return to the provisions in the 1992 constitution that included a two-term limit on presidents. The detention of journalist Carlos Ketohou on 29th December 2020, the suspension of newspaper l’Indépendant Express in January 2021 and the detention of trade unionists are recent examples of civic space violations, highlighting the deterioration in the respect of civic freedoms in the country. Other violations since 2017 include the killing of protesters, the arrest and prosecution of human rights defenders, journalists and pro-democracy activists, banning of civil society and opposition protests, the suspension of media outlets, regular disruption of and shutting down of access to the internet and social media, the adoption of restrictive legislation such as the 2018 Cybersecurity Law and the 2019 modification of the law on conditions and exercise of peaceful meetings and protests.

Thematic situations

Human rights defenders

A chilling report will be presented to the Human Rights Council on human rights defenders who have been killed by state and non-state actors. The report highlights the warning signs which precede such killings, as well as accountability and justice – or lack thereof – which follows them. 

The work and protection of human rights defenders is integral to the mission of the Human Rights Council. Environmental human rights defenders are working to ensure we continue to live in an inhabitable planet; those whistleblowing government violations are critical for maintaining a society built on rule of law and respect for rights. 

We call on states to respond robustly to the report of the Special Rapporteur, including by naming specific human rights defenders who are detained or at risk, which we and our partners offers material protection to human rights defenders.

COVID and human rights 

The last months have demonstrated that more than ever civil society is needed in crisis response: in building and maintaining trust in the health system; identifying solutions that respond to the most urgent needs; and ensuring targeted and candid feedback on COVID-19 measures to improve responses. The report of the High Commissioner on the impact of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic on the enjoyment of human rights around the world reflects this: ‘A vibrant civil society is essential to “building back better”, and the free flow of information and broad-based participation by civil society actors can help to ensure that the recovery responds to real needs and leaves no one behind.’

Since the declaration of the pandemic, however, CIVICUS has documented a number of trends in governmental response which restrict civic space, including:

  • Unjustified restrictions on access to information and censorship;
  • Detentions of activists for disseminating critical information;
  • Crackdowns on human rights defenders and media outlets;
  • Violations of the right to privacy and overly broad emergency powers.

We call on states to raise these concerns and recommendations in their response to the High Commissioner’s report on COVID and human rights, in the interests of a collaborative, participatory and effective approach to “building back better”. 

Counter-terrorism and human rights

According to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Counter Terrorism and Human Rights, two-thirds of all communications sent to the mandate as part of monitoring human rights abuses are related to States’ use of counter terrorism, or broadly defined security measures to restrict civil society. A recent report states that, this extraordinarily high figure “underscores the abuse of counter-terror measures against civil society and human rights defenders since 2005.

Human rights defenders from the Philippines, Pakistan and India, to name a few, have been targeted under misused counter-terror laws. We urge states to raise concerns about attacks and reprisals against human rights defenders in the name of countering terror and in driving a narrative of human rights defenders and civil society more broadly as antagonists rather than partners in counter-terrorism.


Current council members:

Argentina, Armenia, Austria, Bahamas, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Bolivia, BrazilBulgaria, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, China, Côte d'Ivoire, CubaCzech Republic, Denmark, Eritrea, Fiji, FranceIndia, Gabon, GermanyIndonesia, Italy, JapanLibya, MalawiMarshall Islands, Mauritania, Mexico, Namibia, Nepal, Netherlands,  PakistanPhilippinesPolandRepublic of Korea, RussiaSenegal, SomaliaSudan, Togo, UkraineUnited KingdomUruguay, UzbekistanVenezuela

Civic space ratings from the CIVICUS Monitor

OPEN NARROWED OBSTRUCTED  REPRESSED CLOSED

 

 

 

Russia: Human Rights Council must respond to crackdown on civil society

Joint statement ahead of the 46th Session of the Human Rights Council, condemning Russia (a new member of the body) for recent attacks against protestors (over 12,000 detained since late January).


 

Myanmar: A return to military dictatorship must be prevented

Special session of the Human Rights Council on the human rights implications of the crisis in Myanmar

CIVICUS thanks the UK and EU for your leadership in calling for this Special Session. The situation in Myanmar for our partners and members is grave, critical and moving fast; the risk of increasingly severe violations to fundamental freedoms and a rapidly deteriorating human rights situation cannot be overstated. We welcome that the Council, led by the UK and the EU, is willing and able to respond to this emergency with speed. 

The people of Myanmar have spoken, and continue to speak out, at grave personal risk. The High Commissioner for Human Rights has already raised deep fears of a violent crackdown on dissenting voices. We see the beginning of this crackdown already. Activists have been detained; peaceful protesters suppressed with excessive force. Journalists have been threatened. Internet was briefly shut down, plunging the country into a communication blackout and there are plans to introduce new restrictive cyber laws. 

The warning signs are ominous: Myanmar risks returning to the days of mass incarceration of human rights defenders and pro-democracy activists, violent crackdowns on mass protests, and isolation both inside and outside.  

Steps taken towards democracy, however tentative and fragile and imperfect, must be protected and a return to military dictatorship prevented.  

The most valuable role for the Human Rights Council at this critical point would be to put into place measures of enhanced monitoring and reporting which protects those on the ground subject to human rights violations, contributes to further action if necessary, and forwards accountability for such violations. It is essential that a strong resolution is adopted by the Council to achieve this. 

The opportunity for the Council to take strong action to this end is right in front of it. 


Civic space in the Myanmar is rated as Repressed by the CIVICUS Monitor

 

 

Joint call for Human Rights Council Special Session on Myanmar

Joint statement by human rights organisations calling UN Human Rights Council to convene a Special Session on Myanmar.

We, the undersigned human rights organisations, are deeply concerned by the human rights situation in Myanmar after the military seized power and immediately cracked down on the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly and urge the United Nations Human Rights Council to take immediate action.

 

Video Statement Guide: Human Rights Council

The COVID-19 pandemic has posed significant challenges for NGOs to deliver in-person statements to the Human Rights Council at the Palais de Nations in Geneva. The HRC Secretariat has opened some opportunities for remote participation for civil society, including through delivering video statements for general debates, interactive dialogues, panel discussions, and UPR outcomes (pending further decisions from the Council when the 46th Session of the Human Rights Council opens). 

The Secretariat has provided guidelines in its Information Note for registering and uploading video statements, which must be strictly followed. Please see the HRC NGO participation page for the latest version of the Note. This guide can be read in conjunction with the Information Note to help format and edit statements accordingly and avoid any technicalities preventing the statements from being delivered. 

Once your organization has registered for an Oral Statement, there are four further steps to take: 

  • Speaker registration on Indico; 
  • Recording the statement; 
  • Editing the statement;
  • Creating subtitles; and 
  • Uploading the statement.

1. Accreditation through Indico

Everyone who delivers a statement via video must be registered on Indico. To register, you will require either a UN grounds pass or an accreditation letter from the organization who registered for the Oral Statement slot to upload on Indico as part of your registration. Registration takes a few days to process so register as early as possible, as the video statement will not be played if the speaker is not registered.

2. Recording the video statement

The video file must keep strictly to official time limits: 

  • General Debates: 1 min 30 sec 
  • Interactive Dialogues: 1 min 30 sec
  • Universal Periodic Review Outcomes: 2 mins
  • Panel Discussions: 2 mins

Before recording your statement, please keep in mind that: 

  • The video statement must be a single shot of one individual delivering a statement, seated against a neutral, monochrome background 
  • No symbols, flags, banners or other images are permitted in the shot, either in the background or on the clothing of the person delivering the statement
  • The camera should be focused on the speaker’s face and should not move during the shot. Make sure your camera is positioned landscape (horizontally).
  • Ensure your statement is within the time limit, preferably a second below.
  • Online statements stand and fall with the quality of the audio recording. If your budget allows, buying a microphone can greatly enhance your video statement. 

3. Editing the video statement

Once the video has been recorded, check that it aligns with the technical specifications outlined in the Information Note (and below). If not, you can edit the video to fit these specifications. If you have a Mac, iMovie has inbuilt functionality for checking and editing for specifications. If not, we suggest downloading and using two free tools for this: VCL Media Player and DaVinci Resolve 16

To check the format (MOV, MP4, AVI/WMV), the video encoding, the audio encoding (sample rate), the video resolution and the frame rate: upload your video to VCL Media Player by clicking on Media --> Open File, select your file and click on Open. Click on Tools --> Codec Information (Windows) or Window --> Media Information (Mac). 

On iMovie for Mac, choose Share --> Export Using QuickTime; choose the file format you want to export to, and click Options to see the default settings. You can change these settings in the export process.

MP4
Video encoding/codec: H.264
Audio encoding/sample rate: min. 44100Hz
Video resolution: min. 640x480 max. 1920x1080
Frame rate 24, 30 fps 

MOV
video encoding/codec: H.264
Audio encoding/sample rate: min. 44100Hz 
Video resolution: min. 640x480, max. 1920x1080
Frame rate 24, 30 fps

AVI/WMV
Video encoding/codec: WMV3 (Windows Media Video 9)
Audio encoding/sample rate: min. 44100Hz 
Video resolution: min. 640x480, max. 1920x1080
Frame rate 24, 30 fps

Formatting the video statement

If the properties do not match the Secretariat specifications, or if you want to adjust the colour or sound, DaVinci Resolve is a free video editing tool and can be downloaded to allow you to edit your video, adjust sound, resolution and colours. On iMovie, you can change settings when exporting: check this article for more details. 

If using VLC/DaVinci Resolve:

  • To change the format of your video or video encoding, stay in VCL Media Player, click on Media --> Convert / Save --> Convert / Save. Then, select the profile to which you want to convert your video to and save the new file accordingly. 
  • To change your audio encoding, upload your video to DaVinci Resolve. For this, click on File --> Import File --> Import Media, select your file ---> Open. Your audio will automatically be upboosted to at least 44100 Hz as required by the Secretariat.
  • To change the video resolution, upload your video to DaVinci Resolve. On the bottom right corner of the application, find the project settings. Click on the little wheel. Under Master Settings, you will now be able to change the timeline resolution to fit the Secretariat’s requirements.
  • To change the frame rate, upload your video to DaVinci Resolve and open Master Settings as above. Here, you will be able to change the timeline frame rate and the playback frame rate to fit the Secretariat requirements.
  • To edit the length of your video to be within the allotted time, upload your video to DaVinci Resolve. Focus on the highlighted area of the screen. You can select your starting and end point of the video by clicking on the timeline. Select your starting point on the timeline and click on the toggle highlighted in the screen shot. To select the end point of your video, select the moment on the timeline and click on the second toggle highlighted in the screen shot.  The Secretariat does not allow you to cut your video throughout your statement, you can only edit the end and starting point. 
  • To export your file: Click on Deliver (the little rocket on the bottom of your screen) and follow the steps in this online guide

​​​​​​​4. Creating subtitles for your video statement

Captioning of the video is strongly encouraged by the Secretariat in order to ensure accessibility of persons with disabilities. Here are practical guidelines to create video captions on YouTube, which can be exported as an .srt file and uploaded separately. iMovie for Mac also has inbuilt subtitle functionality.

If you export your subtitles as a separate file as in the guidelines, you can upload them separately on the registration system. 

5. Uploading your video statement 

If the properties of your video statement align with the Secretariat guidelines and these technical requirements, and you are happy with how it looks and sounds, congratulations, you are now ready to upload your video directly through the online registration system. 

Here, you will need to upload:

  1. The transcript of the statement;
  2. A scan of the passport of the speaker;
  3. The accreditation letter of the speaker;
  4. The video file.
  5. If you have exported subtitles separately, you can also upload them as a separate file. 

The deadline to upload the video-message is at 6PM on the day prior to the debate (or 6PM on Friday, if the debate is scheduled for the following Monday).


DOWNLOAD PDF VERSION

 

Nepal: UN review critical moment to address obstructed civic freedoms

Statement on Nepal ahead of Universal Periodic Review on Human Rights

CIVICUS calls on UN member states to urge the Government of Nepal to double its efforts to protect civic freedoms as its human rights record is examined by the UN Human Rights Council on 21 January 2021 as part of the 37th session of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR).

At the county’s second UPR five years ago, UN member states made three recommendations that directly related to civic space. Nepal subsequently committed to taking concrete measures to create a safe and enabling environment in which journalists, media workers, human rights defenders and civil society can operate freely. The government also agreed to ensure that freedom of assembly is guaranteed, and to ensure the right to freedom of expression including by decriminalizing defamation, and to investigate all cases of threats and attacks against journalists and human rights defenders. In a joint report to this UPR cycle, CIVICUS and Freedom Forum assessed the implementation of these recommendations and compliance with international human rights law and standards over the last five years.

Despite commitments made, repressive laws, including amendments made to Nepal’s criminal code, have been used to limit the work of independent CSOs and suppress freedom of expression. The government has continued to introduce legislation that could restrict the work of CSOs unwarrantedly and that risks undermining freedom of association.

‘We are seriously concerned by the lack of progress made with regards to the implementation of last cycle’s recommendations. This highlights the importance of using the UPR to reiterate to Nepal that its continued shortcomings in policy and practice relating to civic rights are unacceptable,’ said David Kode, Advocacy lead at CIVICUS.

Ongoing attacks against journalists continues to undermine civic space in the country. Since 2015, there have still been a number of physical attacks on human rights defenders and journalists, while others have been subjected to judicial harassment. In particular, the 2006 Electronic Transactions Act has often been misused to prosecute online journalists as well as government critics. There are also concerns about the Media Council and Public Broadcasting bill which could affect press freedom.

‘The UPR process is an opportunity to build on human rights achievements as well as to hold governments to account. A mechanism to protect journalists is welcome and necessary, but is only a first step – authorities must commit to fully investigate all attacks against media workers and to repeal or amend all restrictive laws which undermine freedom of expression,’ said David Kode.

Peaceful protests continue to be met with excessive force and arbitrary arrests. Authorities have limited public space to prevent assemblies from gathering to express dissent against government policies.

In the joint report, CIVICUS and Freedom Forum urged states to make recommendations which if implemented would guarantee the freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression, the right to operate free from unwarranted state interference, the right to communicate and cooperate, the right to seek and secure funding and the state’s duty to protect.

Key recommendations that should be made include:

  • To remove all undue restrictions on the ability of CSOs to receive international and domestic funding
  • To undertake a full consultation with all concerned stakeholders on the proposed law regulating ‘social organisations’, and the proposed National Integrity Policy, and guarantee that when enacted, undue restrictions on the freedom of association are removed
  • To ensure that HRDs are able to carry out their legitimate activities without fear or undue hindrance, obstruction or legal and administrative harassment.
  • To amend the Electronic Transactions Act and the proposed Information Technology bill designed to replace it, to bring it into line with the ICCPR and other international standards
  • To review the criminal code in order to ensure that legislation is in line with best practices and international standards in the area of the freedom of expression, looking particularly at sections 293, 294, 295, 298 and 306.
  • To reform defamation legislation in conformity with article 19 of the ICCPR, in accordance with the recommendation of the taskforce.
  • To immediately and impartially investigate all instances of extrajudicial killing and excessive force committed by security forces while monitoring protests.

The examination of Nepal will take place during the 37th Session of the UPR. The UPR is a process, in operation since 2008, which examines the human rights records of all 193 UN Member States every four and a half years. The review is an interactive dialogue between the State delegation and members of the Council and addresses a broad range of human rights topics. Following the review, a report and recommendations are prepared, which is discussed and adopted at the following session of the Human Rights Council.


Civic space in Nepal is rated as Obstructed by the CIVICUS Monitor, see country page.

 

Myanmar: UN review critical moment to address repressed civic freedoms

Statement on Myanmar ahead of Universal Periodic Review on Human Rights

CIVICUS, Free Expression Myanmar and Asia Democracy Network call on UN member states to urge the Government of Myanmar to protect civic freedoms as its human rights record is examined by the UN Human Rights Council on 25 January 2021 as part of the 37th session of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR). 

At the county’s second UPR five years ago, UN member states made 22 recommendations that directly related to civic space. Myanmar subsequently accepted seven recommendations, committing to taking concrete measures to, among others, “create and maintain a safe and enabling environment for civil society, human rights defenders and journalists” and to “work to ensure that freedom of opinion and expression are protected”.

In a joint submission to this UPR cycle, our organisations assessed implementation of these recommendations and compliance with international human rights law and standards over the last five years. The submission found that since 2015, the authorities have perpetrated serious human rights violations and escalated attacks on democratic freedoms. 

The government has continued to use an array of unwarrantedly restrictive laws to arrest and prosecute human rights defenders, activists, journalists and government critics for the peaceful exercise of their freedoms of association and expression. Artists have also been targeted: members of the Peacock Generation ‘Thangyat’ poetry troupe remain jailed following their arrest in 2019 for allegedly criticising the military in a satirical performance that was livestreamed on Facebook. Since June 2019, the government has imposed an effective internet blackout in parts of Rakhine and Chin States and silenced those critical of the shutdown.

‘States must take the opportunity of Myanmar’s UPR to hold the government to account for violations,’ said David Kode, Advocacy and Campaign Lead at CIVICUS. ‘Myanmar has not adequately delivered on the human rights commitments it made during its last cycle and those on the ground being persecuted for demanding reforms, for reporting on atrocities or simply for expressing dissent, need support from the international community.’

Myanmar further committed in its last UPR to “take concrete steps to promote and protect the right of peaceful assembly.” As our submission shows, however, restrictions on peaceful protests remain in law and practice. Arbitrary arrest and prosecution of protesters has been widespread, and the authorities have used excessive force and firearms to disperse protests against government policies and in land disputes with businesses.

More egregiously, gross human rights violations against the Rohingya in Rakhine State continue. Since 2016, the authorities – both military and civilian – have denied access or imposed restrictions on access for humanitarian CSOs providing aid to Rakhine State, including shelter, food and protection, predominantly to Rohingya people.

‘Myanmar’s elections last year – the second election since the end of military rule in 2011 – highlighted the downward spiral of rights with the censorship of political parties, ongoing internet restrictions in Rakhine and Chin States and the systematic and deliberate disenfranchisement of voters from ethnic minorities. This must be reflected in recommendations made during the country’s UPR,’ said Ichal Supriadi, Secretary-General of the Asia Democracy Network

As highlighted in our joint submission, CIVICUS, Free Expression Myanmar and Asia Democracy Network urge states to make recommendations to Myanmar which if implemented would guarantee the freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression, and the state’s duty to protect.

Key recommendations that should be made include:

  • Provide HRDs, civil society members and journalists with a safe and secure environment in which they can carry out their work and unconditionally and immediately release all HRDs and activists detained for exercising their fundamental rights to the freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression and drop all charges against them.
  • Initiate a consolidated process of repeal or amendment of legalisation that unwarrantedly restricts the legitimate work of HRDs and civil society. Specifically, we call for the  repeal or review of all criminal defamation laws including section 66(d) of the 2013 Telecommunication Law, Section 9(a,b,g), Section 25 and 30 of the News Media Law, Section 46 of the Anti-Corruption Law, Section 34(d) of the Electronic Transaction Law, section 499 to 502 of Penal Code and repeal the Unlawful Associations Act 2014.
  • Lift the effective internet shutdown in Rakhine and Chin State and refrain from measures to prevent or disrupt access to or dissemination of information online intentionally, in violation of international human rights law.
  • Review and amend the News Media Law, the Printing and Publication Enterprise Law, and the Official Secrets Act to ensure that these laws are in line with international standards in the area of the freedom of expression.
  • Ensure that journalists and human rights monitors are provided unfettered access to all areas, particularly conflict-affected regions, and can work freely and without fear of reprisals for expressing critical opinions or covering topics that the government may deem sensitive.
  • Amend the Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Law in order to guarantee fully the right to the freedom of peaceful assembly.  
  • Guarantee to the Rohingya people and other minorities the full enjoyment of their civil and political rights and take material measures to address the serious crimes they have suffered

The examination of Myanmar will take place during the 37th Session of the UPR. The UPR is a process, in operation since 2008, which examines the human rights records of all 193 UN Member States every four and a half years. The review is an interactive dialogue between the State delegation and members of the Council and addresses a broad range of human rights topics. Following the review, a report and recommendations are prepared, which is discussed and adopted at the following session of the Human Rights Council. 


Civic space in Myanmar is rated as Repressed by the CIVICUS Monitor, see country page.

 

Rwanda: UN rights review should shed light on civic space restrictions

Statement on Rwanda ahead of Universal Periodic Review on Human Rights

A United Nations review of Rwanda’s human rights record is an opportunity to shed light on civic space restrictions in the country, DefendDefenders and CIVICUS said ahead of Rwanda’s third Universal Periodic Review (UPR), which will take place on Monday 25 January 2021 in Geneva. These restrictions include attacks on civil society actors and citizens seeking to peacefully exercise their rights to free expression, assembly, and association.

“We are concerned over the vast and growing disconnect between the law and the practice in Rwanda,” said Hassan Shire, Executive Director, DefendDefenders. “The government should use the recommendations offered by states, UN experts, and civil society to take corrective action and ensure that Rwandan citizens are able to exercise their rights.”

Rwanda’s authorities have seriously restricted civic space. Human rights defenders, civil society members, and journalists face threats, intimidation, targeted attacks, smear campaigns, surveillance, reprisals for cooperating with the UN, and the risk of arbitrary arrest, detention, and judicial harassment. Opposition political parties and associations face undue obstacles, including to register and peacefully demonstrate, as well as government infil-tration attempts.

Altogether, the restrictions documented in a report by DefendDefenders and CIVICUS have given rise to a “hostile environment” for freedom of expression, both online and offline, and for the media. Citizens and journalists face risks of arrest and prosecution on “defamation,” “cybercrimes,” and other charges.

“Civil society is a valuable partner in governance, and should not be treated as the enemy,” said Mandeep Tiwana, Chief Programmes Officer, CIVICUS. “Rwandan authorities should stop interfering with civil society activities, duly investigate attacks against civil society actors, and punish perpetrators if they are serious about good governance.”

Ahead of the session, DefendDefenders and CIVICUS submitted a report analysing Rwanda’s implementation of the recommendations it received during its second UPR, in 2015, and developments regarding civic space. The report formulates recommendations which UN member states can take up during Rwanda’s review in order to push the Rwandan government to end violations and improve the situation.

The UPR is a process set up by the Human Rights Council, the UN’s principal human rights body. Every four-and-a-half to five years, every UN member state goes through a review of its human rights record in a process in which it receives recommendations from other states, which it can accept or reject. Civil society can participate in the process by submitting “alternative reports” and engaging in advocacy at the national and UN levels.


For more information, please contact:

Hassan Shire
Executive Director, DefendDefenders or +256 772 753 753 (English and Somali)

Nicolas Agostini
Representative to the United Nations, DefendDefenders or +41 79 813 49 91 (English and French)

David Kode
Advocacy and Campaigns Manager, CIVICUS or +27 73 775 8649 (English)

Susan Wilding
Head of Geneva Office, CIVICUS or +41 79 605 46 94 (English)


Civic space in Rwanda is rated as Repressed by the CIVICUS Monitor, see country page.

 

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

CIVICUS, the Latin American and Caribbean Network for Democracy (REDLAD) and the Association of Non-Governmental Organisations (ASONOG) call on UN member states to urge the Government of Honduras to protect civic freedoms as its human rights record is examined by the UN on 5 November 2020 as part of the 36th session of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR).

At the county’s second UPR five years ago, UN member states made 30 recommendations that directly related to civic space. Honduras subsequently committed to taking concrete measures to guarantee the freedom of expression and the media, to ensure laws, policies and mechanisms that recognise and protect the work of civil society and to create and maintain a safe and enabling environment, in which human rights defenders can operate free from hindrance and insecurity. In a joint submission to this UPR cycle, our organisations assessed the implementation of these recommendations and compliance with international human rights law and standards over the last five years. Although some positive change occurred and a protection mechanism for HRDs and journalists was established, the mechanism remained ineffective, and not enough progress has been made to investigate and punish those responsible for attacks and crimes against HRDs.

The situation of indigenous, environmental and land rights HRDs remain critical, as evidenced by the brutal murder of Berta Cáceres in March 2016 and the several that others that followed; Honduras has remained one of the deadliest countries in the world for environmental activism. In addition to physical violence, HRDs have continued to face arrests on fabricated charges, travel bans and other restrictions of their freedom of movement, defamation lawsuits, smear campaigns, threats and acts of sabotage, illegal searches and illegal surveillance.

Freedom of expression remains restricted by legislation, including through the use of defamation statutes, and by threats and violence against journalists – particularly those who denounce corruption and the impacts of extractive megaprojects.

Although there have been some positive legal changes with regards to freedom of association, organisations and activists working on politically sensitive issues remain limited in practice due to stigmatisation, criminalisation and harassment. Workers continued to face severe obstacles when trying to exercise union freedom and collective bargaining rights.

Current legislation imposes time and place restrictions on demonstrations, criminalises common protest tactics and authorises the police to prohibit demonstrations obstructing free circulation and to dissolve any assembly incurring in a variety of broadly defined crimes against public order. Peaceful demonstrations, particularly by students, indigenous, peasant and environmental movements, are frequently dissolved with excessive force, typically leading to people being arrested or injured, and occasionally resulting in fatalities.

In light of these concerns, UN member states must use the UPR of Honduras to call on the government to protect HRDs and civil society activists and to undertake the necessary legal and policy reforms to guarantee civic freedoms. The UPR will be an opportunity to hold Honduras accountable for the persistently high levels of violence make Honduras one of the most dangerous countries in the world for HRDs and journalists.

The examination of Honduras will take place during the 36th Session of the UPR. The UPR is a process, in operation since 2008, that examines the human rights records of all 193 UN Member States every four and a half years. The review is an interactive dialogue between the State delegation and members of the Council and addresses a broad range of human rights topics. Following the review, a report and recommendations are prepared, which is discussed and adopted at the following session of the Human Rights Council.


Civic space in Honduras is rated as repressed by the CIVICUS Monitor

 

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

CIVICUS, the Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR) and the Centre for the Development of People (CEDEP) call on UN member states to urge the Government of Malawi to double its efforts to protect civic freedoms as its human rights record is examined by the UN Human Rights Council on 3 November 2020 as part of the 36th session of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR). 

At the county’s second UPR five years ago, UN member states made 53 recommendations that directly related to civic space. Malawi subsequently committed to taking concrete measures to protect freedom of assembly by ensuring that relevant constitutional provisions relating to freedom of assembly are allowed to thrive without undue interference.  It also agreed to fully investigate all cases of harassment and intimidation of journalists and human rights defenders with a view to bringing the perpetrators to justice and to ensure the protection of human rights defenders. 

In a joint submission to this UPR cycle, our organisations assessed the implementation of these recommendations and compliance with international human rights law and standards over the last five years. Since Malawi’s second UPR, the authorities routinely restricted freedoms of assembly, association and expression by violently dispersing peaceful protests, arresting human rights defenders and targeting independent media outlets.  These restrictions on fundamental freedoms increased substantively after the controversial elections of May 2019.  In the aftermath of the elections, human rights defenders were subjected to smear campaigns, judicial persecution and detention by the authorities.  

“Human rights defenders are, particularly under threat. Member states should take this opportunity to make recommendations to support them, including by calling on the Government of Malawi to enact a long-overdue specific law for the protection of Human Rights Defenders,” said Gift Trapence, Executive Director, Centre for the Development of People.

The June 2020 elections and the coming to power of a new government presents an opportunity for Malawi to reset its human rights record and place the respect for the rule of law and fundamental freedoms at the centre of government actions and policies. In our joint UPR submission, we expressed concerns over the use of the NGO Act (2000), the Penal Code and the use of other legislation which limit the operations of CSOs.  The increase in registration fees for CSOs provided for in the Non-Governmental Organizations (Fees) Regulation and the requirement for CSOs to submit a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with relevant government ministries and departments increase the administrative burdens on CSOs and restrict their abilities to respond to the needs of communities in an agile manner. 

Restrictive provisions in the Penal Code and the Cyber Security Law adopted in 2016 were used to limit freedom of expression and target journalists, bloggers and media houses.  The Penal Code provided for prison sentences to those found guilty of “insulting” the Head of State while the Cyber Crimes law allows for the imprisonment of those who simply post “offensive” content. In addition, there were several instances where journalists were subjected to judicial persecution while others were attacked by state and non-state actors. 

The Malawian authorities must do more to protect journalists from state and non-state actors and create an enabling environment for journalists and independent media outlets to report on issues affecting citizens without fear of intimidation or harassment.  In August 2020 for example, two journalists from the independent Mibawa Television Station were subjected to threats, harassment and smear campaigns following utterances they made on-air about the Covid-19 pandemic.  Other journalists were threatened under similar circumstances for comments made about the pandemic. 

The Operationalization of the Access to Information (ATI) law is a move in the right direction and will ensure that journalists and citizens will have access to information from state actors.  The operationalization of the ATI should be followed by an annulment of restrictive provisions in the Penal Code and the Cyber Crimes Law to enhance freedom of expression and media freedoms. 

“We are concerned that all of the recommendations Malawi accepted during the previous UPR review relating to journalists and human rights defenders have not been implemented. This highlights the need to reiterate to Malawi that its continued disregard of the rights of journalists and human rights defenders remains unacceptable.  It also highlights the need keep a close eye on the human rights situation in Malawi after the outcome of the review has been adopted to ensure compliance with the recommendations,” said Michael Kaiyatsa, Acting Executive Director of the Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation.  

The examination of Malawi will take place during the 36th Session of the UPR. The UPR is a process, in operation since 2008, which examines the human rights records of all 193 UN Member States every four and a half years. The review is an interactive dialogue between the State delegation and members of the Council and addresses a broad range of human rights topics. Following the review, a report and recommendations are prepared, which is discussed and adopted at the following session of the Human Rights Council. 


Civic space in Malawi is rated as ‘obstructed’ by the CIVICUS Monitor

 

Country recommendations on civic space for Universal Periodic Review

CIVICUS makes joint UN Universal Periodic Review (UPR) submissions on civil society space in Mozambique, Niger, Paraguay and Singapore

The United Nations Human Rights Council's Universal Periodic Review is a unique process which involves a review of the human rights records of all 193 UN Member States once every 4.5 years.


CIVICUS and its partners have submitted joint UN Universal Periodic Review submissions on four countries to the UN Human Rights Council in advance of the 38th UPR session (April-May 2021). The submissions examine the state of civil society in each country, including the promotion and protection of the rights to freedom of association, peaceful assembly and expression and the environment for human rights defenders. We further provide an assessment of the States’ domestic implementation of civic space recommendations received during the second UPR cycle over 4-years ago and provide a number of targeted follow-up recommendations.

Mozambique - CIVICUS and JOINT – Liga das ONG em Moçambique examine and raise concerns on the deteriorating environment in which journalists and civil society activists operate. Physical attacks, intimidation, arbitrary arrests and threats have become increasingly common, especially for civil society activists and journalists working or reporting on sensitive issues such as the Cabo election monitoring, transparency and accountability, election monitoring, transparency and accountability and corruption.

Niger (French) - CIVICUS, the West African Human Rights Defenders Network and the Nigerien Network of Human Rights Defenders highlight the level of implementation of the recommendations of received by Niger during its previous review in 2016. Despite constitutional guarantees on freedom of peaceful assembly, expression and association, the Nigerien government has targeted human rights defenders and subjected them to arbitrary arrests and judicial persecution. Peaceful assemblies are repressed and bans are imposed on planned protests while journalists are detained for reporting on issues affecting the state. Restrictive legislation like the 2019 Cyber Crimes Law are used to prosecute representatives of civil society.

Paraguay (Spanish) - CIVICUS and Semillas para la Democracia address concerns regarding the growing hostility, stigmatisation and criminalisation faced by HRDs, and particularly by the members of peasant, Indigenous, trade union and student movements, as well as by journalists reporting on protests, organised crime, corruption and human rights abuses. Along with the restrictions on the freedom of expression that result from the use of criminal defamation statutes and economic pressures from both private and public actors, the submission further examines the multiple ways in which dissent is stifled in the streets, as protests are prevented through the application of legislation imposing undue time and place restrictions and authorisation requirements, protesters are criminalised under the Penal Code, and demonstrations are violently suppressed by the security forces.

CIVICUS y Semillas para la Democracia abordan sus preocupaciones relativas a las crecientes hostilidad, estigmatización y criminalización que enfrentan las personas defensoras de derechos humanos, y en particular las que integran los movimientos campesino, indígena, sindical y estudiantil, así como los periodistas que reportan acerca de protestas, crimen organizado, corrupción y violaciones de derechos humanos. Además de las restricciones de la libertad de expresión derivadas de la aplicación de estatutos de difamación penal y de presiones económicas de actores tanto privados como públicos, el documento examina las múltiples formas en que el disenso es ahogado en las calles, en la medida en que las protestas son impedidas mediante la aplicación de legislación que impone restricciones indebidas de tiempo y lugar y requisitos de autorización, los manifestantes son criminalizados bajo el Código Penal, y las manifestaciones son violentamente suprimidas por las fuerzas de seguridad.

Singapore - CIVICUS and The Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) highlight ongoing use of restrictive laws, including defamation laws, to criminalise criticism of the authorities by HRDs and critics and the draconian restrictions on peaceful assembly. It also documents new laws that have been deployed to restrict media freedom and freedom of expression online and to harass the political opposition, journalists and civil society.


Civic space in Mozambique, Niger, Paraguay, and Singapore are rated as Obstructed by the CIVICUS Monitor.

See all of our UPR submissions here.

 

Outcomes from the UN Human Rights Council: Progress & Shortcomings

Joint statement from the end of the United Nations' 45th Session of the UN Human Rights Council


14 organisations share reflections on the key outcomes of the 45th session of the UN Human Rights Council, as well as the missed opportunities to address key issues and situations including on deadly migration routes at EU and US borders, and the human rights situations in Algeria, Bolivia, China, Egypt, and India. A shortened version was delivered at the Council, which can be watched in the following video:

 

Full written version below, which also highlights countries in question with the country's civic space rating according to the CIVICUS Monitor: open narrowed obstructed repressed closed -see footnotes for full description

Thematic issues and resolutions

We welcome the adoption of the resolution on the protection, promotion and respect of women’s and girls’ rights in humanitarian situations, and particularly command the core group for this new initiative that seeks to bridge accountability gaps faced by women and girls in humanitarian situations. Adoption by consensus of this resolution emphasizes the timeliness and importance of this new initiative and paves the way for greater accountability for women and girls in these settings and for approaches that centers their agency and meaningful participation.

We welcome the resolution on the safety of journalists. With impunity for attacks and reprisals against journalists as high as 90% worldwide, this resolution is more important than ever. In particular, we welcome new paragraphs addressing extraterritorial threats, strategic lawsuits against public participation, access to information, and overbroad and vague laws criminalising journalism, as well as strengthened language on gender throughout the resolution. We now urge all States to implement these commitments at the national level – commitments on paper are not enough.

We welcome that several States called for accountability for individual victims of reprisals in Egypt, Burundi, Laos, Venezuela and China. We urge all States to stand up for the critical voices of human rights defenders and seize the opportunity to take up specific cases in the report during future interactive dialogues.

We welcome the adoption of the resolution on the contribution of the Council to prevention of human rights violations, which contributes to strengthening the Council’s prevention mandate, mainstreaming prevention throughout the work of the Council, and bringing Geneva and New York, and the three pillars of the UN closer. We urge all States to implement the thematic elements contained in the resolution by applying them to country-specific contexts. In this regard, they should rely on objective criteria, including restrictions on civic space and attacks on HRDs, which often constitute early warning signs of human rights crises.

We welcome the High Commissioner’s update on police violence against people of African Descent. We also welcome that the High Commissioner will center the voices of victims of people of African descent, their families and communities in the preparation of the report on systemic racism and police violence against Africans and People of African Descent, and government responses to antiracism protests. We urge the Council to continue its scrutiny so that racial justice is achieved in the United States and around the world.

We welcome the adoption of a resolution on the 20th anniversary of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action (DDPA) and urge all States to heed to the calls made by the Working Group on People of African Descent to implement the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action, embrace the International Decade of People of African Descent and operationalise the Permanent Forum on People of African Descent.

We welcome the leadership of GRULAC and the EU to ensure that the resolution on the rights of the child maintained its intended focus to ensure that children’s rights are protected from environmental harm, urging States to consider recognising a right to a healthy environment and to create inclusive and meaningful spaces for children to contribute to decision-making. However, we are concerned by the amendments put forward to weaken the text on child participation, setting a bad precedent. Furthermore, the Council lost an opportunity to reinforce States’ heightened obligations as reflected in the Framework Principles; promote gender inclusive language; strengthen follow-up to the resolution; and go beyond Council’s resolution 40/11 in recognising the role of child human rights defenders.

We welcome the statement made by Costa Rica on behalf of the Core Group on Human Rights and the Environment acknowledging that a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment is “integral to the full enjoyment of a wide range of human rights, including the rights to life, health, food, water and sanitation”. The Covid-19 pandemic and the climate crisis evidence the urgent need for global recognition of the right to a healthy environment. In the joint appeal “The Time is Now”, more than 950 organizations representing civil society and indigenous peoples from across the world call for the Council to recognize the right to a healthy environment without further delay. We therefore urge all States to rise to the existential challenge that climate change and environmental degradation pose to present and future generations and join us in voicing support for global recognition of the right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment.

We welcome High Commissioner’s report on the impact of arms transfers and the resolution adopted on human rights impact of civilian acquisition, possession and use of firearms which, moving forward, need to ensure enhanced focus on preventative and inclusive approaches, and highlight the application of the business and human rights framework to the arms industry to not only address the impact of diverted firearms but also the impact of irresponsible legal transfers or acquisitions.

Human rights situations on the Council’s agenda

We welcome the urgent debate on Belarus and the resolution mandating the High Commissioner to monitor and report on the situation in the near future. We condemn the authorities’ continued crackdown on peaceful protesters and regret their rejection of any dialogue with opposition leaders and civil society actors. We reiterate our call on Belarus to put an end to all human rights violations and abuses against dissenting voices.

Recognized as a crime against humanity, apartheid gives rise to individual criminal responsibility and State responsibility to bring the illegal situation to an end. We urge the Council to take action to uphold the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people, including self-determination and return, by adopting effective measures to overcome *Israeli apartheid over the *Palestinian people as a whole. 

We welcome that the Council has renewed and strengthened the mandate of the fact-finding mission on Venezuela (with an increased majority on the 2019 resolution) to allow for its enquiries to further bolster efforts to hold perpetrators to account.

We welcome the renewal and strengthening of the mandate of the Group of Eminent Experts on Yemen, including to collect, consolidate and analyse information related to, and clarify responsibility for, the most serious crimes under international law and tasking the GEE to explore and report on recommended approaches and practical steps to help ensure justice and redress for Yemen. We look forward to States building on this important progress as part of a holistic strategy towards achieving accountability and redress for victims in Yemen.

We are gravely concerned over the dramatic deterioration of the human rights situation in Cambodia over the past five years. Civic space has continued to shrink due to the adoption of restrictive legislations on Associations and NGOs, on Trade Unions, on the State of Emergency, and surely to be adopted draft Law on Public Order. Lack of independence of the judiciary and executive interference in legal and judicial bodies further enable rampant abuse of laws to target and harass individuals. Since the main opposition party was dissolved, its members have been mass criminalised and harassed. Independent media has been decimated, and HRDs are systematically targeted, even at the UN  during the Interactive Dialogue on Cambodia. We urge States to take meaningful action at the Council to address the escalating violations and ongoing abuses of human rights in Cambodia.

Thousands of victims of killings and other violations and their families continue to be deprived of justice in the Philippines. The adopted resolution is a collective failure by the States at this Council to ensure the needed international investigation. It fails to reflect the gravity of the situation and the findings in the OHCHR report mandated by this Council. At the same time, the resolution keeps the Philippines on the agenda of the Council for the next two years. The Council can and should live up to its responsibility to ensure an international investigation if the killings and the crackdown on civil society does not immediately end and prosecution of perpetrators are not pursued.

In the absence of concrete progress in Burundi and given the government’s refusal to engage, a further extension of the mandate of the Commission of Inquiry is the most sensible way forward. The Burundian government should now change course by resuming its cooperation with the UN human rights system, including with the Office of the High Commissioner with a view to re-opening the country office, as a first step towards broader engagement with UN and African mechanisms.

The resolution on Sudan is a welcome step as it ensures that the country’s human rights situation will continue to be publicly discussed while the Transitional Government attempts to strengthen gains of the Revolution and prevent setbacks. Sudan’s political transition remains fragile, and we urge the Council to maintain a high level of support to, and scrutiny of, the country until at least the end of the transition, in 2022-2023.

We welcome the renewal of the mandate of the Independent Expert on Somalia, as continued attention to, and monitoring of, the country’s human rights situation is direly needed ahead of the elections planned for 2021.

We welcome the joint statement delivered by Denmark on behalf of 33 States raising their concerns over the human rights situation in Saudi Arabia, including calling for the immediate release of Saudi women human rights defenders. We urge the Council to continue its scrutiny and to establish a monitoring and reporting mechanism over the situation.

We also welcome the joint statement delivered by Germany on behalf of 48 States on Iran calling for the release of all political prisoners and those arbitrarily detained, and for perpetrators to be held accountable.

Human rights situations which should be on the Council’s agenda

Lethal disregard for the human rights of migrants and refugees continues unabated. This session opened with the High Commissioner calling for independent monitoring of pushbacks and collective expulsions at the land and sea borders of EU States. This session closes with this call unanswered. Silence from the Council tells migrants and refugees that their lives are disposable. Last week, a caravan of more than 2000 migrants left Honduras to the United States. Mexico and Guatemala expressly threatened them by implementing policies that discriminate, criminalise, fail to assess protection needs and put at risk the lives of the migrants. Silence from the Council tells States that the rights of migrants and refugees can be violated with impunity. The Council must act on the High Commissioner’s call and demonstrate that it can respond to human rights violations wherever they take place by establishing a monitoring mechanism for this and other deadly migration routes.

This session, hundreds of NGOs from more than 60 countries, from Azerbaijan to Zambia, joined the call by 50 UN Special Procedures and dozens of States for international monitoring and reporting of China's sweeping rights violations. The High Commissioner for Human Rights should fulfil her independent mandate to publicly report on China’s mass violations, and the Council should act urgently to create a monitoring mechanism. No State should be above the law. 

The Council should urge Algeria to "halt the arrest and detention of political activists, lawyers, journalists, and human rights defenders, as well as any person who expresses dissent or criticism of the government" and cease their arbitrary prosecution as highlighted by a joint statement from UN special procedures.

The Council should also urge Egypt to immediately release all those detained for exercising their rights, affirming the repeated calls made by Special Procedures and States over the past several years.

Weeks before the elections, no attention was paid to the increasingly violent situation in Bolivia, governed since November 2019 by an unelected government that has persecuted protesters, indigenous and union leaders and more than 150 members of the MAS party.

We regret the Council’s continued silence on the human rights crisis in Kashmir. More than a year after India revoked the constitutional autonomy of Indian-administered Kashmir, fundamental freedoms remain severely curtailed with ongoing reports of violence by police and security forces including the continued use of pellet guns against protestors, torture and custodial deaths. Human rights violations also continue to take place in *Pakistan-administered Kashmir. We reiterate our calls on India and Pakistan to grant unfettered access to OHCHR and other independent observers to Kashmir, and on the Council to establish an independent international investigation mechanism into past and ongoing violations and abuses in Kashmir.

We regret the Council’s silence on the arbitrary arrests of peaceful protesters, intimidation and use of excessive force by the police in India. The government’s use of overbroad “national security”, “sedition”, and counter terrorism laws to intimidate, detain, torture and silence human rights defenders is a continuation of the erosion of democratic freedoms. The enactment of the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Amendment Act, 2020 in September 2020 seeks to  further restrict human rights advocacy and collaborative work among civil society and diminishes space for dissent.

Signatories:

  1. Article 19
  2. Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)
  3. Association for Progressive Communications
  4. Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
  5. Center for Reproductive Rights
  6. 6.Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales
  7. Child Rights Connect
  8. CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
  9. DefendDefenders (East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project)
  10. Franciscans International
  11. International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
  12. International Movement Against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism (IMADR)
  13. International Service for Human Rights
  14. World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)

The CIVICUS Monitor is a research tool that provides quantitative and qualitative data on the state of civil society and civic freedoms in 196 countries. The data provides the basis for civic space ratings, which are based on up-to-date information and indicators on the state of freedom of association, peaceful assembly and expression. Countries can be rated as: open narrowed obstructed repressed closed

 

Philippines: An international investigation is needed as government continues to deny grave violations

Joint statement at the 45th Session of the UN Human Rights Council -- delivered by the World Organisation Against Torture

 


On behalf of 14 organisations, including colleagues in the Philippines, we are deeply disappointed that the draft Item 10 resolution on the Philippines fails to reflect the gravity of the situation, including as documented in the OHCHR report.

Colleagues from the Philippines have tirelessly advocated for an international investigation, at great personal risk. The thousands of victims of killings and other violations and their families continue to be deprived of justice.

This is a collective failure by the States at this Council. We are shocked by the lack of support for a more robust response.

We acknowledge the rationale presented for constructive engagement with the Government of the Philippines. However, an approach based purely on technical cooperation and capacity-building has no realistic prospect of meaningful impact with a government that denies the true scale and severity of the human rights violations, has publicly endorsed the policy of killings, avoids independent investigations, and continues to crack down on civil society.

Despite the shortcomings of the resolution, it at least keeps the situation on the agenda for the next two years and allows for robust reporting by the OHCHR on the situation – including the implementation, or lack thereof, of OHCHR report recommendations. The Council must follow developments closely and be ready to launch an independent investigation if the killings and the crackdown on civil society do not immediately end and prosecution of perpetrators is not pursued.


Alyansa Tigil Mina (ATM)
Amnesty International
Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)
CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
Ecumenical Voice for Human Rights and Peace in the Philippines (EcuVoice)
Franciscan International
Harm Reduction International
Human Rights Watch
iDefend
International Commission of Jurists (ICJ)
International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)
KARAPATAN
Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocate (PAHRA)
World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)


Civic space in the Philippines rated as  Obstructed by the CIVICUS Monitor

 

DRC: Attacks on activists and journalists persist

Statement at the 45th Session of the UN Human Rights Council -- Enhanced Dialogue on the Democratic Republic of the Congo

 


Thank you, Madame President, and thank you High Commissioner for your report.

We welcomed measures taken by DRC in 2019 under President Tshisekedi to open democratic space but regret ongoing civic space violations in 2020. Journalists and HRDs have been subject to threats, harassment, intimidation and arbitrary arrests – often on accusations of contempt of officials or defamation. Activist Joseph Bayoko Lokondo was sentenced in March 2020 to 13 months in prison for ‘contempt of a member of the government’ and ‘defamatory statements’ for having criticized the provincial governor. He was released in July after an appeal court reduced his sentence. Freddy Kambale, activist for the social movement LUCHA, was killed in May 2020 by live ammunition during a peaceful protest against increasing insecurity in North Kivu.

Several protests in Kinshasa against the appointment of a new president of the national electoral commission (CENI) in July 2020 were banned by authorities on grounds of the health emergency, while protests in several cities were dispersed and in some cases met with excessive and lethal force. Other protesters in Kinshasa, Goma and Kisangani were dispersed, and tens of protesters detained.

We call on the administration to ensure that fundamental freedoms are respected, including by reviewing all restrictive legislation, decriminalising press offences as a matter of urgency, and ensuring the protection of human rights defenders and journalists.

Further sustained progress will prove impossible without the full participation, and protection, of civil society. We ask the High Commissioner how members and observers of this Council can best support our colleagues on the ground?

Finally, we call on the Council to ensure the continuation of this vital mandate in order to maintain and build on the increasingly fragile improvements we have seen since 2019.


Civic space in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is rated as Closed by the CIVICUS Monitor

 

The UN must address the government of the Philippines pattern of reprisals

Joint statement at the 45th Session of the UN Human Rights Council -- CIVICUS and Karapatan, delivered by Roneo Clamor


CIVICUS and its member organisation Karapatan welcome the Secretary General’s report and recommendations on reprisals. It reflects the systemic patterns of reprisals which we see in the Philippines against human rights defenders engaging with the UN.

Karapatan paralegal Zara Alvarez was killed last month. This year alone, human rights defenders Teresita Naul and Alexander Philip Abinguna were arrested and are still detained, while Karapatan colleagues Jay Apiag, Clarizza Singson, Julius Dagatan, Reylan Vergara, Petty Serrano, and myself, routinely receive online and offline attacks on a daily basis, including judicial harassment. Our Secretary-General Christina Palabay has suffered rape and death threats following advocacy at the Council, including to support the adoption of resolution 41/2 on the Philippines last year. The same patterns of reprisals are reported against other NGOs as well.

Karapatan was accused by the Philippines government of being a terrorist organization, prompting an independent audit into longstanding funding from Belgium. The audit found no irregularities. But such baseless allegations before the Council impedes our access to resources for human rights advocacy in the Philippines and within UN institutions.

The Philippines is a member of this Council. That reprisals continue unabated, without accountability, has a direct impact on the worth of the UN as a whole. We urge the Council to address the Philippine government’s patterns of reprisals against human rights defenders. We appeal to the Council to work towards an independent investigation on the human rights situation in the Philippines.


Civic space in Philippines rated as  Obstructed by the CIVICUS Monitor

 

Cambodia's attempts to silence dissent are racheting up

Joint statement at the 45th Session of the UN Human Rights Council -- CIVICUS and the Cambodian Center for Human Rights


The Royal Government of Cambodia’s attempts to silence dissent in the country - by criminalising political opposition, shutting down media outlets, jailing journalists, and targeting human rights defenders and civil society groups who speak out – is ratcheting up. Twenty activists, artists and human rights defenders have been imprisoned since July. CIVICUS and our member organization CCHR are alarmed by this sharp deterioration of human rights, which at the moment shows no sign of abating.

The arrest of union leader Rong Chhun in July precipitated the arrest of 13 further people for calling for the release of political prisoners. In addition, recent weeks have seen environmental activists, rappers, and even a Buddhist monk detained simply for exercising their right to freedom of expression. One youth activist was arrested after leaving the OHCHR offices in Phnom Penh, where she had sought protection from fear of arrest.

Prominent rights groups have been targeted by authorities for their work and this year alone, at least fifteen journalists have been summoned or arrested by police and judicial authorities as a result of their reporting.

Repressive laws are used to curtail civic freedoms. Most recently, in April 2020, the Royal Government of Cambodia used the COVID-19 crisis to adopt a draconian state of emergency law that provides the authorities with broad and unfettered powers to restrict fundamental freedoms. A heavily criticized draft law on public order and a highly concerning draft sub-decree establishing a national internet gateway loom, brimming with potential to facilitate further human rights violations.

We question the Special Rapporteur’s suggestion that the Cambodian authorities have displayed "increased awareness of international human rights norms and standards" during her tenure as Special Rapporteur.

During this period, a systematic crackdown on political opponents, labour activists, independent media, civil society organizations and human rights defenders has transformed Cambodia’s human rights situation for the worse. Such severe, and ongoing, crackdown on all forms of dissent and curtailment of civic space should be clearly condemned.

It is increasingly clear that that the mandate is not sufficient to adequately address the current situation, nor to protect human rights defenders and civil society members in Cambodia who increasingly risk arbitrary detention, physical attacks and threats.

An escalation in human rights violations merits a similar escalation in Council action, and we call for the Council to take such action before Cambodia’s hard-fought democratic freedoms are lost completely.


Civic space in Cambodia rated as Repressed by the CIVICUS Monitor

 

India: The National Human Rights Commission not upholding its mandate or protecting the constitution

Statement at the 45th Session of the UN Human Rights Council 


Over the last two years, we have seen in India an alarming deterioration of civic freedoms. The government is using a variety of restrictive laws - including national security and counter terrorism legislation - to attack, arrest and imprison human rights defenders, peaceful protesters and critics. The Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) – brought in in December 2019 and described by the the High Commissioner as “fundamentally discriminatory in nature” – is in violation of international human rights law.

Despite this, National Human Rights Commission of India (NHRCI) has, to date, taken no concrete steps nor offered more than token rhetoric to safeguard the constitution and publicly condemn the actions of the government to curb fundamental rights.

The NHRC was initially granted an “A” status on the basis of proposed amendments at the time of its accreditation which, since passed, do not fully meet the requirements of the Paris Principles. Of the criteria to which an NHRI must adhere to in order to attain A-status, the NHRCI falls short in several. Its lack of diverse representation is of serious concern. Its appointment process is flawed and opaque. The NHRCI has yet to use its power to review recent restrictive laws, including the FCRA and CCA, and recommend amendments to the government. Despite the appointment of a focal point on HRDs, this appears to be a token gesture rather than a genuine attempt at protecting HRDs, and the position has since been downgraded still further.

The post of Director General of Investigation and staff in its investigation division are drawn solely from the police forces. This is of serious concern when police officers are the alleged perpetrators of numerous rights violations – during the outbreak of violence in the midst of protests in Delhi of January this year, Delhi police abdicated in its duty to endi the violence, and used torture and excessive force against peaceful protesters. After an investigation, the NHRC released a report which partially blamed student protestors and argued that since the students were violent, right to freedom of assembly would not apply to them.

With the amendments to the FCRA, the Indian government appears to be targeting any dissent and oversight of their draconian laws. Amnesty International India’s enforced closure this week means that India has lost one more vital voice in protecting its people from rights violations. More than ever, the NHRC must step up. We call for its immediate reform in order to adequately fulfil its mandate to protect human rights in India. We furthermore call on GANHRI’s Sub-Committee on Accreditation to consider the possibility of a Special Review of the NHRCI with a view to reassessing its A-status.


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

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

 

Civil society facing reprisals for engagement in UN human rights mechanisms

Statement at the 45th Session of the UN Human Rights Council

 

 


Acts of reprisal pose a threat to the functioning of UN human rights mechanisms as a whole. Civil society engagement is fundamentally necessary to ensure adequate reporting to these mechanisms and to promote human rights, in and outside the UN. Reprisals lead to self-censorship, weakened engagement and watered-down reporting, and represent an attack against UN mechanisms themselves.

This week, the Amnesty International India section was forced to stop its ongoing work and let go of its staff after a complete freezing of the organisation’s bank account. India is a member of this Council, and it is particularly egregious that the country has effectively shuttered a critical voice in researching and reporting human rights violations to UN mechanisms.

We are also alarmed that in China, one of the most prolific perpetrators of reprisals, human rights defenders, activists and lawyers reported that they had been targeted for engaging with the United Nations staff or human rights mechanisms. In September 2018, the Permanent Mission of Burundi in Geneva requested that OHCHR withdrew the accreditation of various human rights defenders. In Cambodia, attacks by the government against prominent rights group LICADHO, STT and Mother Nature, among others, risks impeding them from their vital monitoring and reporting work and severely restricts the ability of defenders to engage with human rights mechanisms at a critical time when Cambodia's human rights are in freefall.

We urge Member States to not only refrain from such acts of intimidation and reprisals, but to address them. It is past time to impose a real political cost for the deliberate weakening of our human rights mechanisms.

 

Armenia adoption of Universal Periodic Review on Human Rights

Statement at the 45th Session of the UN Human Rights Council

Universal Periodic Review on Human Rights -- Outcome Adoption for Armenia


Thank you, Madame President.

CIVICUS welcomes the government of Armenia’s engagement in the UPR process. We also acknowledge the steps taken by the government in managing the political transition and addressing some of the human rights concerns that were pervasive under the previous administration. We are, however, concerned about ongoing restrictions on the activities of human rights defenders, the targeting of independent media and smear campaigns by some government officials. There are also instances of violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation.

In our UPR submission, we highlighted ongoing concerns over the targeting of human rights defenders who engage in advocacy on gender rights, environmental rights and the actions of large corporations. Last year, for example, human rights defender Lilit Martirosyan and her family were subjected to acts of intimidation and death threats after she made a speech about issues affecting members of the LGBTI community at the National Assembly. Such attacks are further precipitated by hateful and derogatory statements by some senior government officials. There have also been instances in which social media users have been arrested.

We remain concerned about the restrictions targeting some peaceful assemblies and the arbitrary arrests and judicial persecution of those who take part in such protests.

It is imperative for the Armenian authorities to also carry out independent investigations into past violence and excessive use of force by law enforcement which currently remain limited.

We welcome that Armenia accepted recommendations relating to enjoyment of fundamental freedoms, and we call on Armenia to take steps to implement such recommendations to create and strengthen an enabling environment for civil society.


Civic space in Armenia is currently rated as Obstructed by the  CIVICUS Monitor

 

Kenya's adoption of Universal Periodic Review on Human Rights

Joint Statement at the 45th Session of the UN Human Rights Council

Universal Periodic Review on Human Rights -- Outcome Adoption for Kenya | Delivered by Martin Ray Taban Mavenjina, Kenya Human Rights Commission

 


Thank you, Madame President. This is a statement from the Kenya Human Rights Commission and CIVICUS.

During Kenya’s examination under the 2nd UPR cycle, the government received 29 recommendations relating to civic space. Of these recommendations, 20 were accepted while 9 were noted. Of those accepted, our analysis indicates that the government has partially implemented eight recommendations and has not implemented 12.

We welcome that during this cycle, Kenya accepted several recommendations relating to civic space including to “Take further measures towards ensuring the safety of journalists, as well as towards guaranteeing the freedoms of expression, of the press, of association and of peaceful assembly.”

However, Kenya has continued to severely restrict the right to peaceful assembly and expression by cracking down on peaceful assembly through the use of disproportionate force, arrests and detention of peaceful protesters, human rights defenders and journalists. In November 2019, a video which sparked public outrage emerged of four police officers brutally beating an unarmed student as he lay on the ground, following student protests against rising insecurity at the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology in Juja town 

Kenya has failed to hold to account those responsible for the deaths, injuries and arbitrary arrests of protestors and journalists, and has misapplied the legal framework to further restrict civic space. While the Public Order Act requires those who wish to assemble to notify the police three days prior to an assembly, police have often misinterpreted this provision to deny permission to groups.

Madame President, we urge the Government of Kenya to institute charges and prosecute law enforcement officers found to have acted unlawfully in the course of protests by using disproportionate force and firearms in response to protests, and to ensure that the law is not misapplied by authorities to infringe on human rights.  We call on the Government of Kenya to take proactive measures to address these concerns and implement the recommendations it has accepted to create and maintain, in law and in practice, an enabling environment for human rights defenders, media houses and journalists. We further call on member states to follow up on their recommendations to ensure their implementation.


Civic space in Kenya is currently rated as Obstructed by the  CIVICUS Monitor

 

Laos adoption of Universal Periodic Review on Human Rights

Joint statement with Forum Asia and Manushya at the 45th Session of the UN Human Rights Council

Universal Periodic Review on Human Rights -- Outcome Adoption for Laos

 


Thank you, Mr Vice President.

We note that the government of Lao PDR has accepted the majority of the recommendations it received during this Universal Periodic Review. However, we regret that the government has not accepted several key recommendations related to fundamental freedoms, and protection of human rights defenders. 

Following the second cycle UPR in 2015, Lao PDR committed to reassess the restrictions on [fundamental freedoms] civil society organisations, revise legislation to protect the right to freedom of expression and to ensure freedom of assembly in line with the ICCPR. However, the government’s actions since then stand in stark contrast to these commitments as well as Constitutional guarantees of these rights. 

New amendments to the Media Act of 2008 introduced in 2016 further consolidate the government’s absolute control over the media.

The government continues to criminalise criticism of the government using unwarranted criminal defamation charges on the basis of protecting “national interests,” as well as charges of anti-state propaganda, penalized under article 117 of the criminal code.  For instance, woman human rights defender, Houayheuang Xayabouly, known as Muay, was sentenced in November 2019 to 5-year imprisonment for a Facebook post criticising the slow response of the government in providing assistance  to affected communities displaced by flooding as a result of tropical storm in August 2019. 

The new Decree No. 238 on Associations introduced in November 2017 grants the government broad powers to control or prohibit the formation of associations, monitor and curtail their activities and finances, and to dissolve associations on arbitrary grounds without right of appeal. 

We call on Lao PDR to create and maintain, in law and practice, an enabling environment for CSOs, media, journalists and human rights defenders by repealing or reviewing all repressive legislation in accordance with international standards. In particular, we call on Lao to review the Media Act, Decree No. 238 on Associations, Decree number 327 on Internet-Based Information Control/Management and provisions of the Penal Code, including Article 117 on propaganda against the state, that impose undue restrictions on fundamental freedoms. We call on the Lao government to ensure all Lao people can exercise their fundamental freedom of expression, as enshrined in the ICCPR.

We regret the government’s failure to accept key recommendations to effectively investigate the enforced disappearance of human rights defender Sombath Somphone. Given the government’s protracted failure to disclose any new information about the investigation since June 2013, we call on Lao to establish a new independent and impartial investigative body to determine the fate and whereabouts of Sombath.

We further call on the government to publicly set out a comprehensive, measurable and time-bound action plan for the implementation of UPR recommendations, in full cooperation and consultation with civil society.


Civic space in Laos is currently rated as Closed by the  CIVICUS Monitor

 

States falling short on protecting migrants' rights defenders

Joint statement at the 45th Session of the UN Human Rights Council -- delivered by International Service for Human Rights

General debate on the promotion and protection of all human rights, civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, including the right to development


As the High Commissioner recognised in her opening remarks to this session, States have a responsibility to ensure that migrants' lives are protected and their human rights upheld; she made clear that the dire precarity of migrants in camps on Lesvos, and the risks to life of migrants facing collective pushback and expulsions, underscored ‘the need for solidarity and shared responsibility among EU Member States’. 

Her statement follows on the heels of timely and incisive reporting by the Special Procedures – including of course the report of the SR on Migrants to HRC44, but also those by mandates addressing human rights defenders, freedom of association and assembly, and international solidarity. 

For the human rights of migrants to be fully protected, the right of individuals and organisations to defend migrants’ rights – whether through humanitarian assistance and search-and-rescue, legal aid, policy advocacy, or civil disobedience – must also be fully protected. This should no longer be up for discussion. 

And yet, the concerns – and calls to action – have fallen on deaf ears. 

In Europe, the work of think tanks and NGOs such as the ReSOMA project has led to the documentation of at least 171 individuals in 60 cases of criminalisation of migrant rights defenders over the period 2014-2019. The ‘crimes’ of which they stand accused are based on simple acts of human kindness: giving someone a ride in their car in a mountainous area so that they won’t get hypothermia; saving someone who is drowning at sea; giving someone food or shelter; or lending a cell phone. 

While rarely involving sentencing, the cases show a worrying trend of abuse of short-term detentions (with police often failing to substantiate charges) or, where charges are brought, lengthy and expensive judicial proceedings that put peoples’ lives on hold and their livelihoods at risk. This has a deeper chilling effect on defenders who are themselves migrants, and whose work may put their residence permits, homes and jobs in jeopardy. 

The EU and many Member States at this Council can and do speak out in support of human rights defenders, which is an important contribution, but we must be clear: these practices can and often do constitute judicial harassment. This is not something that happens only ‘abroad’, nor a practice that can be excused if it happens within your borders. 

ISHR and the co-signatories to this statement have grown increasingly concerned about the reluctance of this Council to contribute meaningfully to advancing the protection of the human rights of migrants in multilateral, regional and national spaces. We urge all governments to fully apply the OHCHR Guidelines on Migrants in Vulnerable Situations, including by providing a safe and enabling environment for all migrant rights’ defenders. 

And we urge members and observers of the Human Rights Council to model a rights-based approach for other intergovernmental bodies, by bringing the voices of migrants and their supporters to speak to the serious, often life-altering impacts to which their border policies give rise. 

 

Venezuela: Serious human rights violations continue during COVID-19

Statement at the 45th Session of the UN Human Rights Council -- delivered by Marsyabel Rodriguez from Espacio Público

Interactive Dialogue on the fact-finding Mission on Venezuela. 


From the Venezuelan organisation Espacio Público and on behalf of the victims we support, we would like to thank the work of the Fact-finding Mission in its first report. This work was carried out with important challenges, such as the State's refusal to collaborate and the ban on access to the country and the limitations imposed by the pandemic. 

However, the victims were heard and recognized, which reduces the strength of the mechanisms of impunity, contributes to overcoming collective fear and makes possible paths of justice and reparation.

Many of the documented violations are associated with the exercise of the rights to freedom of expression, participation, association, and peaceful assembly. 

Cases of serious human rights violations continued during the Covid-19 pandemic. The recent pardons do not constitute a structural improvement; there are still illegitimate judicial proceedings, disappearances, torture and ill-treatment, arbitrary detentions and politically motivated persecution in a pre-electoral context. 

The Venezuelan situation demands that the universal system for the protection of human rights contribute to the reversal of impunity in order to increase the defense and protection of the dignity of persons.

We urge the Council to renew the mandate of the Mission; the systematic violation of rights persists in the country. Venezuela needs to hear loud and clear from the universal community of human rights. 


Civic space in Venezuela is rated as Repressed by the CIVICUS Monitor

 

Reaction to the UN High Commissioner report on terrorism and human rights

Statement at the 45th Session of the UN Human Rights Council


Thank you, Madame President,

On behalf of the Civic Space Initiative, we wish to draw attention to the enduring restrictions for civil society and civic freedoms, stemming from security measures to counter-terrorism and violent extremism. Such unwarranted limitations to civic space hamper efforts to counter terrorism, as civil society is essential in addressing the conditions conducive to terrorism.

The High Commissioner’s 2020 report on Terrorism and Human Rights emphasizes the negative and harmful effects of excessive security and counter-terrorism measures on rights and freedoms in general. 

However, the report does not address the detrimental and disproportionate impact of these measures on civil society and civic space. This is particularly relevant, pursuant to the 2019 Report on how the Measures to Address Terrorism and Violent Extremism impact Closing Civic Space, where the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Counter-Terrorism examined restrictive and repressive aspects of the security and counter-terrorism framework:

  • Repressive measures against lawful, non-violent civil society activities and targeting “undesirable” individuals.
  • Regulation restricting freedom of expression and opinion, association, and assembly.
  • Limiting civil society access to financial services.
  • Vaguely labelling civil society as “terrorists,” or “threats to national security”.

These measures create a chilling effect on civic space. Given civil society’s essential role in countering terrorism, measures undermining its ability to operate undercut our collective counter-terrorism response. 

We remind states of their obligation to ensure counter-terrorism measures comply with international human rights law, international refugee law and international humanitarian law, pursuant to HRC resolutions 37/27 and 42/18.  Criminalization and repression of civil society must be urgently addressed as a misuse of law and an abuse of power. Any effective counter-terrorism policy must engage with and strengthen, not weaken, civil society.

 

Burundi: Political activists arrested earlier this month and journalists remain in prison since 2019

Statement at the 45th Session of the UN Human Rights Council

Interactive Dialogue with the UN Commission of Inquiry on Burundi

 


CIVICUS and independent Burundian civil society organisations welcome the important work of the Commission of Inquiry, and thank the Commission for its report. 

We welcome that President Ndayishimiye has invited more than 300,000 refugees to return to Burundi, having previously been forced to flee the country. But despite remarks by President Ndayishimiye during his inauguration speech promising accountability and a more transparent approach to tackling human rights violations, the police, the National Intelligence Service, and members of the armed wing of the ruling CNDD-FDD party – the Imbonerakure – continue to harass and intimidate human rights defenders and activists. Several members of the new government are subject to international individual sanctions for their alleged responsibility in human rights violations in Burundi since 2015. We call for thorough and impartial investigations to end impunity.

Last week, two former military officers, Pontien Baritonda and Prime Niyongabo, were arrested by the NSI. They remain in detention without charge. 29 political activists were arrested earlier this month. Journalists Christine Kamikazi, Agnès Ndirubusa, Égide Harerimana and Térence, of Iwacu media group, remain in prison for investigating rebel activities in October 2019.

We call on the government to unconditionally release all politically motivated detainees including activists, human rights defenders and journalists and to carry out credible investigations into attacks against them. We further call on the government to lift bans on broadcasting outlets, end the use of internet disruptions to control the flow of information, and review repressive legislation.

The political transition in Burundi presents an opportunity to reset Burundi’s relationship with the UN human rights system. We ask the commission to elaborate on opportunities for renewed engagement with the government for the implementation of its findings and recommendations, particularly towards accountability.

 With real opportunities for meaningful human rights progress in Burundi, we further call on the Council to renew this vital mandate at this critical time.


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

 

Belarus: More than 7000 peaceful protesters arrested and hundreds injured

Statement at the 45th Session of the UN Human Rights Council

Urgent debate on Belarus


Madame President,

We have watched with horror as riot police and law enforcement agencies have used brutal means to curtail peaceful protests in Belarus following disputed elections in August. More than 7,000 protesters have been arrested and more than 200 injured as the authorities use flash grenades, rubber bullets and in a few instances live ammunition against the peaceful protesters. Some detainees have reported torture. At least two people have died – one in police custody.

We are deeply concerned that the authorities are also targeting journalists and media outlets to prevent the media from reporting on the protests and the violent response by the authorities. More than fifty journalists have been arrested in the different regions of the country; some have had their accreditation revoked. The authorities continue to censor media outlets. Protesters and human rights defenders have been subjected to smear campaigns.

We are extremely concerned that despite the atrocities committed by the security forces, none have been investigated or held accountable for their actions while journalists and peaceful protesters have been wrongfully accused of attempting to destabilize Belarus. We stand in solidarity with human rights defenders, journalists and all those who seek to hold perpetrators of violence to account in the face of violence and suppression.

In light of this, Madame President, we welcome this urgent debate, and we call on the Council to use its prevention mandate by acting strongly now, before the situation deteriorates still further. We urge the Council to support a strong Resolution that strongly condemns the human rights violations and calls for international scrutiny with a view to furthering accountability.

The people of Belarus have a right to speak out without risking death and torture.


Civic space in Belarus is rated as Repressed by the CIVICUS Monitor

 

COVID-19 has presented opportunities and challenges for civil society

Statement at the 45th Session of the UN Human Rights Council

Interactive Dialogue with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on COVID-19


 

Thank you, Madame President; High Commissioner.

The COVID 19 pandemic has presented opportunities and challenges for civil society. The CIVICUS Monitor, a research tool that provides real-time data on the state of civil society, has identified worrying trends which have undermined civic space, including, inter alia:

  • Unjustified restrictions on access to information and censorship, notably in China and Brazil;
  • Detention of activists for disseminating critical information, for example in Iran and India;
  • Crackdowns on human rights defenders and media outlets in Niger, Honduras and Venezuela; and
  • Violations of the right to privacy and overly broad emergency powers, as in Hungary and Cambodia.

Despite these barriers, we have seen civil society respond as a vital stakeholder in addressing the health and economic crisis precipitated by COVID-19.

Community organisations are distributing food and delivering aid to people unable to work during lockdowns. CSOs are raising money for emergency relief, medical supplies and personal protective equipment for health workers. In India, CSOs have reportedly outperformed state government in providing humanitarian relief to migrant labourers and the poor in 13 states.

Beyond relief efforts, rights groups are holding authorities to account. In Zimbabwe, the advocacy group Lawyers for Human Rights secured an urgent application to stop abuses by the country’s security forces.

We thank the High Commissioner for recognising the fundamental role that an open civic space has in addressing emergencies. We echo her calls for states to refrain from using the crisis as an opportunity to crack down on critics. Indeed, in a time of crisis, participation of civil society is key to building back better. 


Current council members:

Afghanistan, Angola, Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Bahamas, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chile, Czech Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Denmark, Eritrea, Fiji, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Libya, Marshall Islands, Mauritania, Mexico, Namibia, Nepal, Netherlands, Nigeria, Poland, Pakistan, Peru, Philippines, Qatar, Republic of Korea, Senegal, Slovakia, SomaliaSudan, Spain, Togo, Ukraine, Uruguay, Venezuela

Civic space ratings from the CIVICUS Monitor

OPEN NARROWED OBSTRUCTED  REPRESSED CLOSED

 

 

Reaction to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights update

Statement at the 45th Session of the UN Human Rights Council

 

Thank you, High Commissioner for your update, which takes place in a difficult and unprecedented context.

We agree with your assessment that human rights violations result primarily from processes that exclude people's voices, and gaps in protection measures. These are issues which the Council is well-placed to address.

To this end, we hope that the Council will this session continue to address the situation in the Philippines with a strong resolution which reflects the dire human rights situation in the country and pursues accountability. Given that the situation in Burundi continues to be characterised by violations and impunity we urge the Council to renew the vital mandate of the Commission of Inquiry. We further call on the Council to heed calls from civil society and its own Special Procedures to address the escalating violations in China – in Hong Kong, Tibet and in Xinjiang – as well as to address attacks on rights defenders, journalists, and government critics across the country.

High Commissioner, restrictions to civic space are often precursors to a worsening human rights situation. When the Council fails to address these, it misses the opportunity to work constructively to prevent further human rights violations and fails those who will be affected. A resolution on the Council’s prevention mandate should address this gap. Echoing your call, we call for immediate and sustained preventive action on Tanzania before the situation deteriorates further.

Finally, High Commissioner, we welcome efforts to ensure civil society participation despite COVID-19 restrictions. Being able to meet with and hear directly from human rights defenders in the room, and in-person, has long been a strength of this Council. We call on the members and observers of the Council to strengthen collaboration with partners from civil society to further our mutual goals of protecting human rights.


Current council members:

Afghanistan, Angola, Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Bahamas, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chile, Czech Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Denmark, Eritrea, Fiji, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Libya, Marshall Islands, Mauritania, Mexico, Namibia, Nepal, Netherlands, Nigeria, Poland, Pakistan, Peru, Philippines, Qatar, Republic of Korea, Senegal, Slovakia, SomaliaSudan, Spain, Togo, Ukraine, Uruguay, Venezuela

Civic space ratings from the CIVICUS Monitor

OPEN NARROWED OBSTRUCTED  REPRESSED CLOSED

 

 

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