UN must address crises in Afghanistan and Cambodia, and commit to strengthening equal participation

Statement at the 48th Session of the UN Human Rights Council

Delivered by Lisa Majumdar

Thank you, Madame President.

We welcome that the High Commissioner raised the appalling situation for environmental human rights defenders and we call on the Council to address violations against all human rights defenders across the globe. Participation of civil society without fear of reprisal is vital to working collaboratively towards solutions to all human rights concerns.

We further call on the Council this Session to strengthen equal participation by addressing repression of civic space and the rollback of democratic freedoms in response to the COVID pandemic. This includes particularly violations of access to information and freedoms of expression and assembly through internet shutdowns, and in the context of elections.

We welcome the High Commissioner’s update on Afghanistan and reiterate a call for the Council to create a gender-sensitive, independent investigative mechanism. The courage of those calling for justice on the ground, at grave personal risk, cannot be overstated and it is vital that their efforts be supported by the international community.

In Nicaragua, we call for the immediate release of arbitrarily detained political opposition leaders, human rights defenders and journalists, and for overdue electoral reforms. We welcome the High Commissioner’s update on Sri Lanka; ongoing shrinking civic space in the country undermines claims of reconciliation and accountability efforts.

On Cambodia, in the midst of a dramatically worsening human rights situation including persisting restrictions on civic space and the repression of dissent, and ahead of elections scheduled for 2022 and 2023, it is imperative that the Council this session takes action to adequately address violations through mandating monitoring and reporting by the High Commissioner.

We thank you.


Civic space in Afghanistan, Cambodia and Nicaragua is rated as repressed by the CIVICUS Monitor.

 

Cambodia Human Rights Crisis: The UN Human Rights Council Should Act Now

To Members and Observer States of the United Nations Human Rights Council

The undersigned civil society organizations are writing to draw your attention to the ongoing human rights crisis in Cambodia and to call for your support at the upcoming 48th session of the UN Human Rights Council (the “Council”) to ensure that the resolution on Cambodia effectively reflects the significant deterioration of the human rights situation in the country and enhances the monitoring and reporting by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).

The human rights situation in Cambodia has continuously worsened since 2017, as the government-controlled courts dissolved the main opposition party, the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), and barred its co-founders, Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha and more than a hundred CNRP politicians from politics, while replacing over 5,000 locally elected officials with members of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP).

The situation has further deteriorated since the last Human Rights Council resolution on Cambodia was adopted in September 2019. Judicial harassment against opposition members has sharply increased, including through the conduct of mass trials against them in more recent months. Human rights defenders, activists, independent media and media workers, and trade unionists have continued to be relentlessly persecuted through judicial harassment and legal action. Environmental human rights defenders and youth activists have specifically been targeted: recently, six members1 of Mother Nature - a grassroots environmental group - were detained under serious charges including “plotting” to overthrow the government and face up to 10 years in prison. A highly politicized judicial system renders the prospect of fair trials for those deemed a threat to the interests of the government virtually non-existent.

The government has used the Covid-19 pandemic as an excuse to significantly expand its powers through an over-broad and vague state of emergency law2 ; a similarly broad Covid-19 law that allows for up to 20-year prison sentences for violations of Covid-19 measures; and the selective prosecution of political opponents who criticized the government’s Covid-19 efforts. The government also failed to protect human rights in its Covid-19 response. The government’s lockdowns were imposed without ensuring access to adequate food, medical, and other humanitarian assistance, and authorities took insufficient steps to prevent major Covid-19 outbreaks among the prison population in a penal system plagued by chronic overcrowding.

Laws are routinely misused in Cambodia to restrict human rights, undermine and weaken civil society, and criminalize individuals for exercising their rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association. The authorities continue to adopt repressive legislation, with complete lack of oversight. In the past year, the government has taken drastic measures to further increase online surveillance, clamp down on freedom of expression online and erode privacy rights. In February 2021, the authorities adopted the “Sub-decree on the Establishment of a National Internet Gateway” which aims at forcing all web traffic and internet connections through government controlled and monitored gateways by February 2022. The pending “Draft Law on Cybercrime” and the “Draft Law on Public Order” would provide further tools to criminalize freedom of expression or behaviors in the digital, print, and public spaces, in addition to legislation already denounced by the Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Cambodia and other UN Special Procedures3.

Noting the announcement of Commune Council elections to be on June 5, 2022, we are deeply concerned that there has been no meaningful progress to restore human rights.

The Council has a critical role to play in addressing the ongoing human rights crisis in Cambodia. It is imperative that the Council takes robust action with regard to the government’s escalating repression by sending a strong signal at its 48th session - the last opportunity within the context of the biennial Human Rights Council resolution to address the human rights crisis in Cambodia before the Commune Council elections in 2022 and the National Assembly elections in 2023. For this reason, our organizations urge the Human Rights Council to:

  • Renew the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Cambodia, so as to allow the mandate to continue to work on long-term issues.

  • Request the OHCHR to monitor and report on the situation of human rights in Cambodia, and in particular in the context of the electoral process, and to present to the Human Rights Council an oral update with recommendations at the 49th session, to be followed by an interactive dialogue, and to present a written report at the 51st session in an enhanced interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on Cambodia.

  • Highlight escalating repression and restrictions on human rights, including persecution of human rights defenders, media workers and trade unionists, and misuse of legislation to restrict human rights.

We further urge your government, during the 48th session of the Human Rights Council, to speak out clearly against ongoing violations in Cambodia.

We remain at your disposal for any further information.

Sincerely,

1. Amnesty International
2. ARTICLE 19
3. Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)
4. CIVICUS – World Alliance for Citizen Participation
5. Human Rights Watch
6. International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
7. World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)


1In May 2021, the authorities convicted and sentenced three Mother Nature activists to 18 and 20 months in prison. Two others were convicted in absentia.
In June 2021, the authorities arrested four Mother Nature activists, released one, and maintained the other three in pre-trial detention.
2The Law on the Management of the Nation in State of Emergency (April 2020)
3See, for example, Law on Associations and Non-Governmental Organizations (LANGO), Law on Trade Unions, Law on Political Parties

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

 

Ethiopia: Serious human rights violations and possible war crimes continue in Tigray

Statement at the 48th Session of the UN Human Rights Council

Enhanced Interactive Dialogue on the situation of human rights in the Tigray region of Ethiopia

Delivered by Paul Mulindwa

Thank you, Madame, President, and thank you High Commissioner for this timely update which indicates serious violations of international law, possibly amounting to war crimes and crimes against humanity. 

CIVICUS is particularly concerned about continued reports of extrajudicial killings, widespread serious sexual violence, as well as destruction of crops and refugee camps, attacks on civilian infrastructure, including factories, schools, and hospitals, underscored by obstruction of humanitarian assistance. 

Civil society organisations, including Norwegian Refugee Council, Médecins Sans Frontières, and Al Maktoum Foundation have been suspended for doing their legitimate work. These suspensions hinder the accessibility of humanitarian relief by the famine-stricken populations and represent a clear attempt to silence the public communication of humanitarian organizations operating in the region. Reported telecommunications restrictions in order to control communication channels have left people unable to access key information and made it harder for victims and witnesses of violations to share their testimony.

While we welcome commitments made by the Government of Ethiopia to hold accountable those responsible for such abuses, the findings presented by the High Commissioner show the urgent need for the Human Rights Council to mandate an independent, transparent, and impartial investigation into the crimes reported to further such measures and ensure that those responsible for these human rights abuses are held to account regardless of rank or affiliation.

We thank you. 


Civic space in Ethiopia is rated "repressed" by the CIVICUS Monitor.

 

Myanmar: Urgent need to ensure accountability and justice for crimes against humanity

Statement at the 48th Session of the UN Human Rights Council

Interactive Dialogue on report of the Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar

Delivered by Lisa Majumdar

Thank you, Madame President.

We thank the Mechanism for their report. In a year which has seen a coup perpetrated by a military junta which has been implicated in crimes against humanity, the work carried out by this mandate to facilitate justice and accountability for past serious crimes and contribute to the deterrence of further atrocities has never been more critical.

Indeed, the report concludes that the Myanmar junta has committed serious international crimes since seizing power on 1 February 2021, continuing a cycle of impunity, violence and deaths. Among the serious crimes noted has been the use of lethal force, including the use of live ammunition, against protesters in multiple locations.

The Mechanism itself highlights that its work to collect, consolidate, preserve and analyse evidence is a contribution towards what must be a wider effort towards criminal accountability and justice. We call on Member States to take measures to ensure that such an accountability process takes place, including by referring Myanmar to the International Criminal Court or an independent tribunal. Failing to do so would be a grave abdication of responsibility to the victims of grave human rights violations, their families and communities, who have deserved accountability and justice for so long.

The work of the mechanism would not be possible without participation from witnesses and victims of violations and civil society activists. The courage of those who do cannot be overstated. We therefore further call on Member States to facilitate the protection of witnesses and prevent any reprisals for cooperation with the Mechanism.

We ask the Mechanism what steps it is taking to systematize engagement with civil society, and what steps it is taking to ensure sustainability in the event of budget restrictions?


Civic space in Myanmar is rated as repressed by the CIVUCUS Monitor

 

Open appeal to UN Member States to ensure the adoption of a resolution creating an investigative mechanism on Afghanistan at the 48th session of the UN Human Rights Council

We, the undersigned organisations, write to urge UN Member States to ensure the adoption of a robust resolution to establish a Fact-Finding Mission or similar independent investigative mechanism on Afghanistan as a matter of priority at the upcoming 48th regular session of the UN Human Rights Council (HRC).

We express our profound regret at the failure of the recent HRC special session on Afghanistan to deliver a credible response to the escalating human rights crisis gripping the country. The adopted resolution falls far short of the consistent calls of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC), the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Special Procedures and civil society organisations, and does not live up to the mandate of the HRC to effectively address situations of violations of human rights, including gross and systematic violations. 

A Fact-Finding Mission, or similar independent investigative mechanism, with a gender-responsive and multi-year mandate and resources to monitor and regularly report on, and to collect evidence of, human rights violations and abuses committed across the country by all parties is a critical component of the broader international response urgently needed to address the escalating human rights and humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan. Such a mechanism is crucial to ensure UN member states are fully informed of the situation on the ground as they take important decisions on how to respond to the crisis, how to help protect the rights and lives of the people of Afghanistan, and how to prevent further crimes. It is crucial to support the brave activists and human rights defenders, particularly women human rights defenders, who have continued their work at significant personal risk and have requested support and solidarity from the international community. It is also crucial as a means of taking one small step to addressing the accountability gap that fuels grave violations and abuses across the country, and to complement and support international and national work on accountability for crimes under international law. 

The urgent need for such a mechanism could not have been made clearer throughout the negotiations, and at the opening of the special session. The AIHRC, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Special Procedures, the Ambassador of Afghanistan to the United Nations in Geneva, and a broad constellation of national, regional and international civil society organisations, have all made this call clearly and consistently. The High Commissioner for Human Rights stressed that while her Office was ready and willing to update the HRC regularly on the situation, it was critical for the HRC to take “bold and vigorous action, commensurate with the gravity of this crisis, by establishing a dedicated mechanism to closely monitor the evolving human rights situation in Afghanistan, including – in particular – the Taliban's implementation of its promises, with a focus on prevention.” To ignore these consistent appeals, and sit idly by and wait for further crimes to occur to take meaningful action, is an abdication of responsibility by the HRC. The people of Afghanistan are entitled to much better than this. 

At the special session, UN Special Procedures recalled that the last 18 months “have been the deadliest civilian casualties recorded in Afghanistan in late history” and also reminded the Council of the fifth report of the UN Secretary General on Children and Armed Conflict in Afghanistan (S/2021/662 16 July 2021) documenting “that child casualties for the first half of 2021 constituted the highest number of children killed and maimed for this period ever recorded by the UN in Afghanistan, a situation compounded in the last few weeks.”   

At this crucial moment for the people of Afghanistan, we are convinced that an independent investigative mechanism is the only credible means to address the human rights crisis in the country, advance accountability and deter further abuses. Although some states proposed the creation of a Special Rapporteur as a compromise during the special session, this would not be an adequate or appropriate response to a crisis of this magnitude for a number of reasons, including the lack of resources, limited capacity, and correspondingly narrower scope of such a mandate. We note that the special session resolution itself “stresses the need for transparent and prompt investigation into reports of all violations and abuses of human rights and violations of international humanitarian law, committed by all parties to the conflict, and to hold those responsible to account.” Clearly, the only credible way to give effect to this commitment is to create such a “transparent and prompt investigation.”

We urge all UN Member States, to take urgent action to correct the HRC’s course, by ensuring a robust independent investigative mechanism is put in place when it meets for its 48th regular session in September. As noted by the Chairperson of the AIHRC in her opening address to the HRC, “Afghan activists on the ground, my colleagues on the ground, who face direct threats to their lives and the lives of their families, demand better, while they have everything to lose by putting this ask forward […] Many I speak to in Afghanistan already fear that they may not have a tomorrow. In our worst moment, we call on you to do better.” 

LIST OF SIGNATORIES:

  1. Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission 
  2. Amnesty International
  3. ARTICLE 19
  4. Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)
  5. Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (ASRC)
  6. Australian Centre for International Justice
  7. Australian Human Rights Institute
  8. AWID (Association for Women's Rights in Development)
  9. Cairo Institute For Human Rights Studies
  10. Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL)
  11. Centro de Documentación en Derechos Humanos “Segundo Montes Mozo S.J.” (CSMM)
  12. CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
  13. Comisión Mexicana de Defensa y Promocion de Derechos Humanos (CMDPDH)  
  14. Committee to Protect Journalists 
  15. Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI)
  16. DefendDefenders (East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project)
  17. DEMAS – Association for Democracy Assistance and Human Rights
  18. Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR)
  19. FOKUS Forum for women and development
  20. Forum Menschenrechte
  21. Free Press Unlimited
  22. FRI - Foreningen for kjønns- og seksualitetsmangfold
  23. Front Line Defenders 
  24. Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect 
  25. HelpAge International
  26. Human Rights Now
  27. Human Rights Watch
  28. Humanists International
  29. International Bar Association's Human Rights Institute
  30. International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ)
  31. International Commission of Jurists
  32. International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
  33. International Federation on Ageing
  34. International Fellowship of Reconciliation (IFOR)
  35. International Movement Against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism (IMADR)
  36. International Service for Human Rights
  37. Jacob Blaustein Institute for the Advancement of Human Rights
  38. La Strada International
  39. Medical Association for Prevention of War (Australia)
  40. Minority Rights Group International
  41. No Peace Without Justice
  42. Norwegian Helsinki Committee
  43. Norwegian Humanist Association
  44. Rafto Foundation for Human Rights
  45. Right Livelihood
  46. Scholars at Risk
  47. The International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims (IRCT)
  48. The Norwegian Human Rights Fund
  49. Tokyo University of Foreign Studies
  50. VOICE Australia
  51. WO=MEN Dutch Gender Platform
  52. Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF)
  53. Women's Refugee Commission
  54. World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)

 

Advocacy priorities at the 48th Session of UN Human Rights Council

The 48th Session of the UN Human Rights Council will sit from 13 September - 08 October, 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 #HRC48


During the 48th Session of the Human Rights Council, CIVICUS 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 in more detail below. In terms of country-specific situations on the agenda of the Council, CIVICUS will be engaging on resolutions on Cambodia and Burundi and debates on the Philippines, Myanmar, Venezuela and Tigray, as well as calling for formal Council action on Cameroon and for the for the urgent establishment of an investigative mechanism on Afghanistan.

On thematic issues, CIVICUS will be engaging on the resolution on equal participation in public and political affairs and the resolution on cooperation with the United Nations, its representatives and mechanisms in the field of human rights.

CIVICUS will also engage in the panel discussion on the promotion and protection of human rights in the context of peaceful protests; the debate with the Working Group on arbitrary detentions; and the debate with the Working Group on enforced disappearances.

Country-specific situations

Cambodia

Since the last resolution on Cambodia was negotiated and adopted at the Human Rights Council’s 42nd Session in September 2019, the human rights situation in the country has drastically worsened. Research undertaken by the CIVICUS Monitor shows that laws are routinely misused in Cambodia to restrict civic freedoms, undermine and weaken civil society, and criminalize individual’s exercise of their right to freedom of expression. Human rights defenders, civil society activists and journalists are often subject to judicial harassment and legal action.

These concerns have escalated over the past two years. COVID-19 and the government’s repressive response has only exacerbated restrictions on fundamental freedoms. Engagement by Cambodia with the Council to date has been minimal at best, with no tangible human rights progress to be seen, and weaponized by Cambodia at worst.

Should the resolution continue its current cycle, the next opportunity for renegotiation on a Cambodia resolution would be September 2023: that is, after both commune elections set for July 2022 and national elections set for July 2023. The last round of elections in the country took place under, essentially, a one-party state. They were neither free nor fair. The next round of elections are likely to be even less so. The government has shuttered almost all independent media outlets and totally controls national TV and radio stations. Repressive laws – including the amendments to the Law on Political Parties, the Law on Non-Governmental Organizations, and the Law on Trade Unions – have resulted in severe restrictions on the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association. It is imperative that the Council takes action with regards to these developments ahead of the next round of elections, and puts into place a robust monitoring mechanism to assess and address further election-related violations.

The gravity of the situation, along with the current dire trajectory of human rights in Cambodia, merits action under Item 2 or indeed Item 4. We call on States to ensure that, at the minimum, an Item 10 resolution which adequately addresses the situation would include additional monitoring from the High Commissioner, particularly in the context of the lead-up to elections. A resolution should similarly highlight the deteriorating situation, raising particularly persisting restrictions on civic space and the repression of dissent; arbitrary arrests and detentions; acts of intimidation or reprisal; violations of the right to peaceful and public demonstrations; and repressive laws or decrees that unduly restrict the rights to the freedoms of expression and association.

Cambodia is rated as repressed on the CIVICUS Monitor.


 Philippines

The UN joint programme on human rights, developed to implement Human Rights Council resolution 45/33 and focusing on specific areas for capacity-building and technical cooperation, was signed into existence earlier this year. However, the Joint Programme does not further any steps towards accountability for the thousands of murders under the auspices of the ‘war on drugs’ over the past five years, nor does it address their root causes. National efforts towards accountability have remain in name only; worryingly, they also serve to establish a false perception of sufficient action while atrocities continue as routine.

The situation urgently requires direct accountability action by the Council. That the ICC Prosecutor, after a four-year process, has called for a full investigation into the Philippines confirms the severe gravity of the situation. The ICC only has jurisdiction on Philippine cases dating before the country’s official withdrawal for the Rome Statute in March 2019. It is therefore incumbent on the Council to investigate the violations that have continued past this date.

During the Council’s 48th Session, we urge States to raise the Philippines in the Item 10 General Debate, drawing attention to the ongoing lack of tangible action towards accountability. We further call on States to consider a more robust response to the High Commissioner’s report with a Council-mandated independent investigative mechanism to address the ongoing systemic human rights violations perpetrated with impunity. This is clearly warranted by the situation set out in the 2020 OHCHR report as well as the demonstrable lack of adequate domestic investigative mechanisms.

The Philippines is rated as repressed on the CIVICUS Monitor.


 Afghanistan

CIVICUS is deeply concerned about the safety of human rights defenders, journalists and staff of civil society organisations in Afghanistan following the collapse of President Ashraf Ghani’s government and the takeover by the Taliban. The resolution adopted by the UN Human Rights Council during its Special Session in August 2021 in response to the ongoing crisis in Afghanistan failed to effectively address grave human rights violations in the country. The Council now has a further opportunity to respond affectively to the crisis by establishing an independent investigative mechanism.

The Taliban have a track record of attacking civilians and engaging in reprisals against those who criticise them. Some have been abducted and killed. Following the takeover of Afghanistan’s capital, Kabul, human rights defenders have reported that lists of names of representatives of civil society have been revealed by the Taliban and raids have been carried out in their homes. Women human rights defenders and journalists are particularly at risk. Demonstrations, often led by women, have been violently dispersed. The courage of those calling for justice on the ground, at grave personal risk, cannot be overstated and it is vital that their efforts be supported by the international community.

The failure of the Human Rights Council to address the human rights concerns of the people of Afghanistan and hold the Taliban accountable for its human rights violations was a missed opportunity. It must now take action to establish an urgent investigative mechanism to investigate all crimes under international law and human rights violations and abuses with a view to furthering accountability and justice – as called for by civil society, the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, a number of Special Procedure mechanisms, and the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Afghanistan is rated as repressed on the CIVICUS Monitor.


 Burundi

Despite some improvements over the past year, the human rights situation in Burundi has not changed in a substantial or sustainable way. All the structural issues the CoI and other human rights actors have identified since 2015 remain in place. In recent months, there has been an increase in arbitrary arrests of political opponents or those perceived as such, as well as cases of torture, enforced disappearances and targeted killings, apparently reversing initial progress after the 2020 elections. Serious violations, some of which may amount to crimes against humanity, continue. Impunity remains widespread, particularly relating to the grave crimes committed in 2015 and 2016. Even if some human rights defenders have been released, national and international human rights organisations are still unable to operate in the country.

In the absence of structural improvements, and in view of the recent increase in human rights violations against persons perceived as government opponents, there is no basis, nor measurable progress, that would warrant a failure to renew the mandate of the CoI.

We call on States to ensure continued scrutiny on Burundi through a resolution which continues documentation, monitoring, reporting, and debates on Burundi’s human rights situation, with a focus on justice and accountability.

Burundi is rated as closed on the CIVICUS Monitor.


 Cameroon

In the English-speaking North-West and South-West regions, abuses by armed separatists and Government forces continue to claim lives and affect people’s safety, human rights, and livelihoods. The grievances that gave rise to the “Anglophone crisis” remain unaddressed. In the Far North, the armed group Boko Haram continues to commit abuses against the civilian population. Security forces have also committed serious human rights violations when responding to security threats. In the rest of the country, Cameroonian authorities have intensified their crackdown on political opposition members and supporters, demonstrators, media professionals, and independent civil society actors, including through harassment, threats, arbitrary arrests, and detentions.

We call on States to consider raising these concerns. A joint oral statement could include benchmarks for pro­gress, which, if fulfilled, will cons­ti­tute a path for Came­roon to improve its situation. If these bench­marks remain unfulfilled, then the sta­te­ment will pave the way for more formal Council action, inclu­ding, but not limited to, a reso­lution esta­bli­shing an in­vestigative and accoun­tability mechanism.

Cameroon is rated as repressed on the CIVICUS Monitor.


 Myanmar

Since the military coup of 1 February, over 800 people have been unlawfully killed, most during protests and with impunity. More than four thousand activists, protesters, journalists and politicians have been arbitrarily detained and some activists are facing trumped-up charges, including of treason. There have also been credible first-hand reports of torture or other ill-treatment of political prisoners by the military. Despite the intimidation and violence by the security forces, the anti-coup protests continue, but the military has amended laws to impose restrictions on civic space and imposed internet blackouts.

A strong resolution adopted in the Council’s 46th Session in response to the military coup in Myanmar mandated reports of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the UN Special Rapporteur on Myanmar. We strongly encourage States to engage in the interactive debates following the updates of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the progress report of the UN Special Rapporteur on Myanmar.

Myanmar’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) is due to be adopted at this Session after being posponded from the Council’s 47th Session. CIVCIUS and other national and international organisations strongly urges the Council to postpone again the adoption of the outcomes of Myanmar’s UPR Council amid the military coup. We further call on the Member and Observer States of the Human Rights Council to reject the representative of the Myanmar military junta to the UN Offices in Geneva and recognize the National Unity Government formed on the basis of the outcomes of the November 2020 elections as the legitimate government of the people of Myanmar.

Myanmar is rated as repressed on the CIVICUS Monitor.


 Ethiopia

The resolution adopted during the Council’s 47th Session, which ensures Council scrutiny on the Tigray region of Ethiopia, was a vital step towards preventing further human rights violations and abuses in Tigray and furthering accountability.

Since Prime Minister Ahmed Abiy came to power in April 2018, his initially much-lauded domestic reforms have been severely undermined by ethnic and religious conflicts that have left thousands dead. Conflict broke out in the Tigray region in November 2020 between the Ethiopian army and the leading party in the Tigray region, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). Since then, an overwhelming number of reports have emerged of abuses and violations of international humanitarian and human rights law, including a surge in sexual violence and assault, massacres of civilians, and reports of ethnic cleansing. There have been widespread arrests of and attacks against journalists covering the conflict.

We encourage States to engage in the enhanced ID on the High Commissioner’s update on the situation of human rights in the Tigray region of Ethiopia, and particularly on questions relating to ensuring accountability for crimes perpetrated.

Ethiopia is rated as repressed in the CIVICUS Monitor.


 Nicaragua

Since 2018, President Ortega’s administration has precipitated a socio-political and human rights crisis in Nicaragua. Human rights defenders, journalists and members of the political opposition have been subjected to acts of intimidation, arrests and detentions by security agents. In March 2021, the United Nations Human Rights Council adopted a resolution in response to human rights violations which renews and strengthens scrutiny on Nicaragua. In March 2021, Nicaragua was placed on the CIVICUS Monitor Watch List, due to concerns about the country’s rapidly declining civic space.

The situation continues to deteriorate; just months before the November elections, the authorities have increased their attacks against members of the political opposition, human rights defenders and journalists. Nicaraguan human rights defender Medardo Mairena Sequeira was detained a month ago as part of a wave of arrests targeting activists and people who expressed their desire to stand for the Presidency ahead of Presidential elections scheduled for November 2021. In addition to Medardo, those detained include labour leaders Freddy Navas Lopes, Pablo Morales and Pedro Joaquin Mena. Many of those arrested are accused of complicity in the kidnapping and killing of police officers in 2018 during large scale protests that swept through Nicaragua that year. The authorities have stated that they are investigating those arrested for inciting foreign interference and violating national sovereignty.

The government has not adopted any electoral reforms – a key ask of the resolution adopted in March 2021. On the contrary, for several months, leaders and members of Unamos have been subjected to arbitrary arrests and detentions. The authorities have also imposed travel bans on other members of the political opposition and civil society, and froze their bank accounts.

At a critical time for Nicaragua, we call on States to take the opportunity to call for the immediate and unconditional release of political opposition, human rights defenders and journalists who have been arbitrarily detained, as well as for Nicaragua to implement crucial electoral reforms as a matter of urgency.

Nicaragua is rated as repressed on the CIVICUS Monitor.


 Venezuela

The Fact-Finding Mission (FFM) will present is second report to the Council during the 48th Session. With local elections due for November 2021, the ongoing scrutiny of the FFM is vital. Parliamentary elections held in December 2020 were neither free nor fair, and the environment for enjoyment of fundamental democratic freedoms has deteriorated still further since then.

A raft of repressive laws and ordinances introduced this year risks restricting the work of CSOs in the country, and highlights a growing trend identified by the FFM in March: that of the targeting of individuals and non-governmental organizations engaged in humanitarian and human rights work. Such laws would have a devastating impact on organisations working to provide much needed humanitarian assistance in the country.

Restrictions on freedom of expression continue; recent attacks against media outlets include the raid and seizure of newspaper El Nacional, and acts of arson of the offices of media outlet CNP in Sucre. 153 media outlets were affected by digital censorship in Venezuela in 2020. As people continue to take to the streets in the context of a dire socioeconomic situation, security forces continue to use excessive force against protesters. Local organisations reported that during the first four months of 2021, 23 demonstrations were repressed, and one person killed.

Venezuela has shown some indications of engagement with regional actors; however, it continues to refuse to engage with the FFM and its ongoing processes. We urge States to engage with the dialogue of the FFM and to ensure its adequate funding, and, in line with an emphasis on accountability, to consider investigating and prosecuting those identified by the FFM to be suspected of committing crimes under international law. We further call on States to support the Office of the Prosecutor of the ICC in using FFM findings to determine whether to open a formal investigation into Venezuela.

Venezuela is rated as repressed on the CIVICUS Monitor.


 Thematic situations

Resolution on equal participation in political and public affairs

Equal participation in political and public affairs relies on access to information and the protection and promotion of the freedom of expression, freedom of association and freedom of peaceful assembly. In the last two years, these preconditions have been put under severe strain by the COVID-19 pandemic and its responses. In particular, participation has been impeded by rollbacks in democratic freedoms engendered by governmental response to the pandemic; the growing phenomenon of internet shutdowns; the impact of a growing digital divide; and elections postponed on grounds of both genuine public health concerns but also overreach of emergency powers.

During 2020 and into 2021, the CIVICUS Monitor documented a range of restrictions on rights introduced by governments under the pretext of protecting people’s health and lives which had a significant impact on democratic rights. This includes the use of restrictive legislation to silence critical voices, including through the proposal, enactment and amendment of laws on the basis of curbing disinformation.

According to a report published by Clement Voule, the Special Rapporteur on freedom of association and peaceful assembly, in June 2021, Internet shutdowns continue to be “a growing global phenomenon.” These measures have the ultimate aim of stifling dissent, stopping the free flow of information, and concealing grave human rights violations. More broadly, online forms of participation expedited owing to the pandemic have shown starkly the impact of unequal access to the internet - the digital divide - on equal participation. At times of crisis, it is even more critical that people have a voice, and a platform where they can hold their governments to account.

This is particularly the case as a number of governments postponed elections as a result of the health crisis, with corresponding impact on the right to participation. From 21 February 2020 until 21 August 2021, at least 79 countries and territories across the globe decided to postpone national and subnational elections. The postponement of elections can be a legal and legitimate response to emergencies, to avoid diverting resources from more urgent life-saving work. In this context, however, there was a real risk that the pandemic was used for political purposes. This was particularly prevalent in States with a narrowed, repressed or closed civic space, and often in line with the establishment of restrictive emergency laws which similarly curtailed freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly and association.

We encourage States to support a resolution which highlights and seeks to address these barriers to equal participation which have been engendered or exacerbated by COVID-19, in order to strengthen such participation.

Peaceful Protests

In a report presented to the Human Rights Council at its 47th Session, Special Rapporteur Clement Voule described Internet shutdowns as “a growing global phenomenon.” Authorities in Myanmar, Iran, India, Chad, Belarus and Cuba, among others, have particularly turned to shutdowns in response to, or to pre-empt protest. The number of governments imposing internet shutdowns during mass demonstrations continues to grow, and shutdowns have increased in length, scale and sophistication.

HRC res. 44/20, adopted by the Council in 2020, mandated a panel discussion on the promotion and protection of human rights in the context of peaceful protests, with a particular focus on achievements and contemporary challenges, to be held during the Council’s 48th Session. It also mandated a report by the Special Rapporteur on the protection of human rights in the context of peaceful protests during crisis situations.

Crises take interrelated forms which have socio-political impacts. In response to such crises, governments across the world have increasingly imposed internet shutdowns, which have a serious impact on the rights to assembly and other civic-space related rights. Shutdowns have been used as pre-emptive tools against peaceful assemblies, and have been especially deployed to target marginalized and at-risk populations. Such shutdowns, often implemented hand in hand with other repressive tactics against protesters, facilitate abuses and gross human rights violations committed in the context of peaceful protests.

We call on States to engage with the panel discussion on peaceful protests and raise the increasing issue of internet shutdowns.

Resolution on cooperation with the United Nations, its representatives and mechanisms in the field of human rights

UN action is only possible with strong engagement from civil society on the ground, who not only provide information and analysis, but are on the front line of ensuring that human rights standards are respected by their own governments, and that violations are held to account. Reprisals have a significant impact on citizen participation at every level of the international human rights infrastructure and are another example of civic space being squeezed.

At the moment, there is no political cost to States engaging in reprisals. There are a number of emerging trends in types of reprisals leveled against individuals and civil society – false narratives driven on social media and the engagement of non-state actors being just two such escalating tends.

Until such a political cost is established, the only deterrent to States engaging in this practice remains to publicly name them. We recommend that States use the Interactive Dialogue with the Assistant Secretary General to raise specific cases of reprisals – cases of reprisals in Egypt, Bahrain, Viet Nam and China are particularly prevalent.

CIVICUS also recommends that reprisals taking place within the UN itself are highlighted – such as that perpetrated by the delegate of Cambodia against prominent Cambodian human rights defender and monk, Venerable Luon Sovath, during a debate held in the Human Rights Council’s 45th Session.

Current council members:

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

Civic space ratings from the CIVICUS Monitor

OPEN NARROWED OBSTRUCTED  REPRESSED CLOSED

 

 

 

Burundi: The Human Rights Council should continue its scrutiny and pursue its work towards justice and accountability

To Permanent Representatives of Member and Observer States of the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council, Geneva, Switzerland

Excellencies,
 
At the 45th session of the UN Human Rights Council (the Council) in October 2020, the Council renewed the mandate of the Commission of Inquiry (CoI) on Burundi for a further year. This allowed the only independent mechanism mandated to document human rights violations and abuses, monitor, and publicly report on the situation in Burundi to continue its work. By adopting resolution 45/19, the Council recognised that changing political circumstances do not equate to human rights change, and maintained its responsibility to support victims and survivors of violations and continue working to improve the situation in the country.
 
Ahead of the Council’s 48th session (13 September-8 October 2021), we are writing to urge your delegation to support efforts to ensure that the Council continues its scrutiny and pursues its work towards justice and accountability in Burundi. In the absence of structural improvements, and in view of the recent increase in human rights violations against persons perceived as government opponents, we consider that there is no basis, nor measurable progress, that would warrant a departure from the current approach or a failure to renew the mandate of the CoI. At the upcoming session, at minimum, the Council should adopt a resolution that reflects realities on the ground, including the following elements.
 
First, the resolution should acknowledge that despite some improvements over the past year, the human rights situation in Burundi has not changed in a substantial or sustainable way. All the structural issues the CoI and other human rights actors have identified since 2015 remain in place. In recent months, there has been an increase in arbitrary arrests of political opponents or those perceived as such, as well as cases of torture, enforced disappearances and targeted killings, apparently reversing initial progress after the 2020 elections. Serious violations, some of which may amount to crimes against humanity, continue. Impunity remains widespread, particularly relating to the grave crimes committed in 2015 and 2016.1 Even if some human rights defenders have been released, national and international human rights organisations are still unable to operate in the country.
 
The resolution should acknowledge that any substantive change to the Council’s consideration of Burundi’s situation is dependent on demonstrable and sustainable progress on key human rights issues of concern. The Council’s approach should rely on benchmarks designed to measure tangible progress and based on key indicators identified by the CoI.2 The Burundian Government should acknowledge existing human rights challenges explicitly and grant access to and cooperate with independent human rights mechanisms. It should also design a clear implementation plan and timeframe.
 
Second, the Council’s approach should focus on the following core functions:
 
(i) Continued independent documentation of violations and abuses, monitoring of, and public reporting on, the human rights situation in Burundi, with adequate resources. 
These functions remain essential, espe­cial­ly in the absence of a strong human rights movement and independent institutions in Burundi. This work should be conducted by the CoI, or a similarly inde­pendent mechanism or team of experts, who are solely focused on Burundi and use professio­nal me­tho­dologies to collect detailed information. The mechanism or team should be mandated to esta­blish responsibilities and identify all those suspected of criminal responsibility. To follow up on the CoI’s previous work, including on links between human rights violations and economic networks and corruption, it should en­ga­ge in thorough analysis of political, social, and economic dynamics in Burundi. To do so, it requires an adequate level of expertise, resources, and staffing.
(ii) Follow up to the work and recommendations of the CoI, in particular on justice and accountability.
The reports and recommendations of the CoI since 2017 form a road map for reform, particularly in the area of justice and accountability. The Burundian Government has not taken meaningful steps to resume cooperation with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) or to cooperate with regional human rights mechanisms.3 The national human rights institution, the Commission Nationale Indépendante des Droits de l’Homme du Burundi (CNIDH), lacks independence, demonstrated by its failure to investigate and report on politically motivated human rights violations, and therefore cannot be a substitute for the CoI, despite its renewed A status. Therefore, an independent mechanism or team that is also mandated to conduct substantive work on justice and accountability remains essential. In addition to documenting violations and identifying all those suspected of criminal responsibility, its work should also include recommendations on ending impunity.
The CoI, which is due to present a written report to the Council at its upcoming 48th session, continues to provide critical oversight of the human rights situation in Burundi. Like its predecessor, the UN Independent Investigation on Burundi (UNIIB), it has documented gross, widespread and systematic human rights violations and abuses. The thoroughness and visibility of its work has put those suspected of criminal responsibility on notice that their conduct is being monitored and documented. 
 
Concrete and long-term improvements in the human rights situation in Burundi will not come as a result of the Council relaxing its scrutiny. Rather, continued international scrutiny and substantive work towards justice and accountability constitutes the best chance to achieve meaningful change in the country.
 
At its 48th session, the Council should avoid sending the Burundian Government signals that would disincentivise domestic human rights reforms. The Council should ensure continued documentation, monitoring, public reporting, and public debates on Burundi’s human rights situation, with a focus on justice and accountability. It should urge the Burundian authorities to make concrete commitments to implement human rights reforms within a clear time-frame, which should be measured against specific benchmarks.
 
We thank you for your attention to these pressing issues and stand ready to provide your delegation with further information as required.
 
Sincerely,
 
1. Action des Chrétiens pour l’Abolition de la Torture – Burundi (ACAT-Burundi)
2. African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies (ACJPS)
3. AfricanDefenders (Pan-African Human Rights Defenders Network)
4. Amnesty International
5. Article 20 Network
6. Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)
7. Association Burundaise pour la Protection des Droits Humains et des Personnes Détenues (APRODH)
8. Association des Journalistes Burundais en Exil (AJBE)
9. The Burundi Human Rights Initiative (BHRI)
10. Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS)
11. Center for Constitutional Governance (CCG)
12. Centre for Civil and Political Rights (CCPR-Centre)
13. CIVICUS
14. Civil Society Coalition for Monitoring the Elections (COSOME)
15. Coalition Burundaise pour la Cour Pénale Internationale (CB-CPI)
16. Collectif des Avocats pour la Défense des Victimes de Crimes de Droit International Commis au Burundi (CAVIB)
17. DefendDefenders (East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project)
18. Eritrean Movement for Democracy and Human Rights (EMDHR)
19. Ethiopian Human Rights Defenders Center
20. European Network for Central Africa (EurAc)
21. Forum pour la Conscience et le Développement (FOCODE)
22. Geneva for Human Rights / Genève pour les Droits de l’Homme
23. Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect (GCR2P)
24. Human Rights Watch
25. INAMAHORO Movement, Women and Girls for Peace and Security
26. International Commission of Jurists (ICJ)
27. International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
28. International Federation of ACAT (FIACAT)
29. International Movement Against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism (IMADR)
30. Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada
31. Light For All
32. Ligue Iteka
33. National Coalition of Human Rights Defenders – Burundi (CBDDH)
34. Observatoire de la Lutte contre la Corruption et les Malversations Économiques (OLUCOME)
35. Odhikar
36. Organisation pour la Transparence et la Gouvernance (OTRAG)
37. Protection International Africa
38. Reporters Without Borders
39. Réseau des Citoyens Probes (RCP)
40. SOS-Torture/Burundi
41. Tournons La Page
42. TRIAL International
43. World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)
 
Civic space in Burundi is rated as closed by the CIVICUS Monitor
 

1 In its latest oral briefing to the Council, assessing the human rights situation against specific action points identified in their September 2020 report, the CoI concluded that “the current situation in Burundi is too complex and uncertain to be referred to as genuine improvement” (Oral briefing of the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi, Human Rights Council 46th session, 11 March 2021, available here
2 See the 2020 civil society letter, available at: DefendDefenders et al., “Burundi: Vital role of the Commission of Inquiry in prompting meaningful human rights progress,” 20 August 2020 (accessed on 22 July 2021). The latest CoI report is available here
3 The African Union (AU) human rights observers were never fully deployed and faced a number of serious limitations to their work. Their mission ended on 31 May 2021. Burundi never cooperated with the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) to implement its resolutions.

 

Afghanistan: Disappointing Human Rights Council Resolution a major blow for human rights

Statement after the special session on Afghanistan at the UN Human Rights Council

The Resolution adopted by the UN Human Rights Council during its Special Session on 24 August 2021 in response to the ongoing crisis in Afghanistan fails to effectively address grave human rights violations in the country. 

“The resolution is the weakest possible response to the crisis as it ignored urgent requests from civil society to establish an international monitoring and accountability mechanism in response to rights abuses and to prevent a looming humanitarian crisis,” said Susan Wildling, Head of Geneva Office for CIVICUS.

The resolution, which fails to explicitly mention the “Taliban” by name calls on the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to present a report at the Council’s 49th Session in March 2022.  It calls for an interactive dialogue to accompany the report which could potentially limit the number of civil society voices able to report on the atrocities on the ground.

The Special Session was called by Pakistan on behalf of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation  (OIC) and was co-sponsored by Afghanistan and a number of UN Member States could have created an independent international investigative mechanism to gather evidence of abuses as a step towards ensuring  accountability of perpetrators of human rights violations. While many member and observer States voiced their support for an independent investigative mechanism, the Resolution  fell far short of this bare minimum request.

“At a time when the people of Afghanistan urgently need a concerted response from the international community, the Human Rights Council failed to show leadership by ignoring calls from civil society for a gender-sensitive investigative mechanism to record violations of international human rights and humanitarian law,”  said Susan Wilding.

The Taliban have a track record of attacking civilians and engaging in reprisals against those who criticise them. Some have been abducted and killed.  Following the takeover of Afghanistan’s capital, Kabul, human rights defenders have reported that lists of names of representatives of civil society have been revealed by the Taliban and raids have been carried out in their homes.  Women human rights defenders and journalists are particularly at risk.  Others trying to flee Afghanistan have been prevented from boarding airplanes as foreign missions have prioritized evacuating their own nationals and staff.  Several have gone into hiding for fear for their lives.  The Taliban has also cracked down on peaceful protests in several cities.

The failure of the Human Rights Council to address the human rights concerns of the people of Afghanistan and hold the Taliban accountable for its human rights violations is a missed opportunity.  CIVICUS believes the Human Rights Council must use its September Session to develop an adequate response to the crisis.

Presently, CIVICUS urges UN agencies and multilateral institutions to retain their presence in Afghanistan with a view to actively safeguarding human rights & gender justice gains. The presence of UN agencies is crucial to a coordinated response to protect those at risk  of persecution. UN Member States should support the UN to play a lead role in responding to the crisis on the ground. 

Further, CIVICUS urges the urgent inclusion of Civil Society in any national and international initiatives on Afghanistan. 


Civic space in Afghanistan is rated as Repressed by the CIVICUS Monitor.

 

 

Joint Universal Periodic Review Submissions on Human Rights

CIVICUS makes joint UN Universal Periodic Review (UPR) submissions on civil society space in Timor-Leste, Togo, Uganda, and Venezuela

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 (UPR) submissions on four countries in advance of the 40th UPR session in February 2022. 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. 

Timor-Leste - This submission by CIVICUS, The Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA), Judicial System Monitoring Program (JSMP) and Timor-Leste Institute for Development Monitoring and Analysis (La'o Hamutuk) highlights our concerns around attempts by the government to introduce draft laws related to criminal defamation and the failure to bring the Media Law in line with international law and standards. It also documents reports of restrictions on the right to peaceful assembly and the arbitrary arrests of protesters.

Togo FR/EN- In its joint submission, CIVICUS, Coalition Togolaise des Défenseurs des Droits Humains (CTDDH) and Réseau Ouest Africain des Défenseurs des Droits Humains (WAHRDN/ROADDH) highlight civic space violations in Togo since its previous UPR examination, which include the killing of protesters, the arrest and prosecution of HRDs, journalists and pro-democracy activists, the banning of civil society and opposition protests, the suspension of media outlets, regular disruption of access to the internet and social media and the adoption of restrictive legislation.

Uganda - CIVICUS and the Foundation for Human Rights Initiative (FHRI), Justice Access Point (JAP) and African Institute for Investigative Journalism (AIIJ) highlight the promulgation of restrictive laws that severely constrain the freedom of expression and impede the work of independent media houses. We further examine the harassment, judicial persecution and intimidation of HRDs because of the work they do. We discuss acts of intimidation and attacks on citizens, HRDs, CSOs and journalists in the period leading up to, during and after the presidential and parliamentary elections on 14 January 2021.

Venezuela SP/EN - CIVICUS, Espacio Público and REDLAD examine Venezuela’s use of legal and extra-legal measures to restrict the exercise of fundamental freedoms which has led to worsening working conditions for civil society. Human rights defenders face judicial persecution, stigmatisation and threats to their lives and integrity. In this joint submission, we assess the systematic repression of the right to peaceful assembly, including through mass arbitrary detention of protesters and excessive use of force.


Civic space in Timor-Leste is rated as Obstructed and Togo, Uganda and Venezuela are rated Repressed by the CIVICUS Monitor.

 

Philippines: Nearly 300,000 drug suspects have been jailed in 'war on drugs'

Statement at the 47th Session of the UN Human Rights Council

Interactive dialogue ID with Working Group on arbitrary detention on its study on drug policies

CIVICUS, Karapatan and FORUM-ASIA welcome the study of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention on human rights violations related to drug policies.

This study resonates with our experience in the Philippines, where cases of torture, cruel and degrading treatment of those facing drug charges have been reported and where proposed amendments to drug control legislation provide for the revival of the death penalty and the presumption of guilt of suspects. Inhumane conditions in detention centers, wherein nearly 300,000 drug suspects have been jailed in the course of the government’s drug war, persist. Meanwhile, defenders and lawyers who provide assistance to victims of such violations face attacks, threats and harassment.

We welcome the Working Group’s recommendations which are important guides for States, especially the Philippines where the drug war has claimed lives and affected liberties. We urge the Philippine government to heed these important recommendations. We urge the Council, in the light of the International Criminal Court Prosecutor’s request for a full investigation in the Philippines, to conduct an independent investigation on violations in the context of the “war on drugs,” including extrajudicial killings, and possible arbitrary arrests and detention in the country.

 

Outcomes from the UN Human Rights Council

The 47th Session of the UN Human Rights Council sat from 21 June - 13 July, 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 16 other organisations:

Civil society participation:

We deplore the systemic underfunding of the UN human rights system and the drive for so-called efficiency, including the cancellation of general debates in June, which are a vital part of the agenda by which NGOs can address the Council without restrictions. We call for the reinstatement of general debates at all sessions, with the option of civil society participation through video statements.  We welcome the focus of the civil society space resolution on the critical role played by civil society in the COVID-19 response, and the existential threats to civil society engendered or exacerbated by the pandemic. For the resolution to fulfil its goal, States must now take action to address these threats; while we welcome the broad support indicated by a consensus text, this cannot come at the cost of initiatives that will protect and support civil society.

Human rights online:

We welcome a resolution on the promotion, protection and enjoyment of human rights on the Internet and its thematic focus on bridging digital divides, an issue which has become ever-important during the COVID-19 pandemic. We urge all States to implement the resolution by taking concrete measures to enhance Internet accessibility and affordability and by ceasing Internet shutdowns and other disruptions, such as website blocking and filtering and network throttling. In future iterations of the text, we encourage the core group to go further in mentioning concrete examples that could be explored by States in adopting alternative models for expanding accessibility, such as the sharing of infrastructure and community networks.  We welcome the resolution on new and emerging digital technologies and human rights, which aims to promote a greater role for human rights in technical standard-setting processes for new and emerging digital technologies, and in the policies of States and businesses. While aspects of the resolution risk perpetuating “technology solutionism”, we welcome that it places a stronger focus on the human rights impacts of new and emerging digital technologies since the previous version of the resolution, such as introducing new language reiterating the importance of respecting and promoting human rights in the conception, design, use, development, further deployment and impact assessments of such technologies.

Gender equality and non-discrimination: 

We are concerned by the increasing number of amendments and attempts to weaken the texts. We are particularly concerned by the continued resistance of many States to previously adopted texts and States’ willful misinterpretation of key concepts related in resolutions on human rights in the context of HIV and AIDS, accelerating efforts to eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls: preventing and responding to all forms of violence against women and girls with disabilities and preventable maternal mortality and morbidity and human rights on maternal morbidities. We deplore the instrumentalising of women's rights and sexual and reproductive health and rights. We encourage States to center the rights of people most affected and adopt strong texts on these resolutions. We welcome the resolution on menstrual hygiene management, human rights and gender equality as the first step in addressing deep-rooted stigma and discrimination. We urge all States to address the root causes for the discrimination and stigma on menstruation and its impact

Racial Justice and Equality:

The High Commissioner’s report highlighted the long-overdue need to confront legacies of slavery, the transatlantic trade in enslaved Africans and colonialism and to seek reparatory justice. We welcome the historic consensus decision, led by the Africa Group, to adopt a resolution mandating an independent international expert mechanism to address systemic racism and promote racial justice and equality for Africans and people of African descent. The adoption of this resolution is testament to the resilience, bravery and commitment of victims, their families, their representatives and anti-racism defenders globally. We deplore efforts by some Western States, particularly former colonial powers, to weaken the text and urge them to now cooperate fully with the mechanism to dismantle systemic racism, ensure accountability and reparations for past and present gross human rights violations against Black people, end impunity for racialized State violence and address the root causes, especially the legacies of enslavement, colonialism, and the transatlantic trade in enslaved Africans.

Migrants rights:

Whilst we welcome the return of a resolution on human rights of migrants, we deplore the continued failure of the Council to respond meaningfully to the severity and global scale of human rights violations at international borders including connected to pushbacks. International borders are not and must not be treated as places outside of international human rights law. Migrants are not and must not be treated as people outside of international human rights law. Expressions of deep concern in interactive dialogues must be translated into action on independent monitoring and accountability.

Arms transfers and human rights:

We welcome the resolution on the impact of arms transfers on human rights and its focus on children and youth. However, we note with concern the resistance of the Council to meaningfully focus on legal arms transfers beyond those diverted, unregulated or illicitly transferred. The Council should be concerned with all negative human rights impacts of arms transfers, without focusing only on those stemming from diversion and unregulated or illicit trade.

Climate change:

We are disappointed that the resolution on human rights and climate change fails to establish a new Special Rapporteur. However, we welcome the increasing cross regional support for a new mandate. It is a matter of urgent priority for the Council to establish it this year.

Country-specific resolutions

Algeria: While special procedures, the OHCHR and multiple States have recognized the intensifying Algerian authorities’ crackdown on freedom of association and expression, the Council failed to act to protect Algerians striving to advance human rights and democracy.

Belarus: We welcome the renewal of the mandate of the UN Special Rapporteur on Belarus. Given the ongoing human rights crisis in Belarus, the mandate complements the OHCHR Examination in ensuring continuous monitoring of the situation, and the mandate remains an accessible and safe channel for Belarusian civil society to deliver diverse and up-to-date information from within the country.

China: The Council has once again failed to respond meaningfully to grave human rights violations committed by Chinese authorities. We reiterate our call on the High Commissioner and member States to take decisive action toward accountability.

Colombia: We are disappointed that few States made mention of the use of excessive force against protestors in a context of serious human rights violations, including systemic racism, and urge greater resolve in support of the right to freedom of peaceful assembly in the country and globally.

Ethiopia: The resolution on Ethiopia’s Tigray region, albeit modest in its scope and language, ensures much-needed international scrutiny and public discussions on one of Africa’s worst human rights crises. We urge the Ethiopian government to engage ahead of HRC48.

Eritrea: We welcome the extension of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Eritrea, as scrutiny for violations committed at home and in Tigray is vital.  

Nicaragua: We warmly welcome the joint statement delivered by Canada on behalf of 59 States, on harassment and detention of journalists, human rights defenders, and presidential pre-candidates, urging Nicaragua to engage with the international community and take meaningful steps for free and fair elections. States should closely monitor the implementation of resolution 46/2, and send a strong collective message to Nicaragua at the 48th session of the Council, as the Council should ‘urgently consider all measures within its power’ to strengthen human rights protection in the country.

Palestine: We welcome the Special Rapporteur’s report that “Israeli settlements are the engine of this forever occupation, and amount to a war crime,” emphasizing that settler colonialism infringes on “the right of the indigenous population [...] to be free from racial and ethnic discrimination and apartheid." We also reiterate his recommendation to the High Commissioner “to regularly update the database of businesses involved in settlements, in accordance with Human Rights Council resolution 31/36."

The Philippines: While acknowledging the signing of the Joint Human Rights Programme with the UN OHCHR, the Government of the Philippines fails to address the long-standing issues on law enforcement and accountability institutions, including in the context of war on drugs. We continue to urge the Council to launch the long-overdue independent and transparent investigation on the on-going human rights violations.

Syria: We welcome mounting recognition for the need to establish a mechanism to reveal the fate and whereabouts of the missing in Syria, including by UN member states during the interactive dialogue on Syria, and the adoption of the resolution on Syria addressing the issue of the missing and emphasizing the centrality of victim participation, building on the momentum created by the Syrian Charter for Truth and Justice.

VenezuelaIn the context of the recent arbitrary detention of 3 defenders from NGO Fundaredes, we welcome the denunciation by several States of persistent restrictions on civil society and again for visits of Special Rapporteurs to be accepted and accelerated.


The statement is endorsed by: American Civil Liberties Union, Association for Progressive Communications, Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, Center for Reproductive Rights, Child Rights Connect, CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation, Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, Conectas Direitos Humanos, Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, FIDH, Franciscans International, Human Rights House Foundation, International Bar Association's Human Rights Institute, International Commission of Jurists, International Lesbian and Gay Association, International Service for Human Rights, US Human Rights Network


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

 

 

 

Rwanda's Adoption of Universal Periodic Review on Human Rights

Statement at 47th Session of the UN Human Rights Council

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

CIVICUS and its partners welcome the government of Rwanda’s engagement with the UPR process and particularly for accepting 160 out 284 UPR recommendations. We also welcome the revision of the Penal Code and decriminalization of all press-related offences, including defamation; enshrining the freedoms of opinion, expression, the press, association and peaceful assembly in the Constitution; as well as expanding media space, resulting in an increase in the number of radio and television stations and of registered print and online media organizations in Rwanda.

Notwithstanding some positive legislative developments, we are concerned about ongoing civic space restrictions, and the vast and growing disconnect between law and practice in freedom of expression and media freedoms, which remain severely and unwarrantedly restricted. We also note with concern that institutional and legal impediments for protection of human rights remain; authorities continue to target and attack HRDs despite commitments made during the second UPR cycle to strengthen policies aimed to protect them. Investigation and accountability for perpetrators of human rights abuses, are still challenges for the new administration.

We are concerned by restrictions, both by public authorities and legal frameworks, on freedom of peaceful assembly despite this right being enshrined in the constitution. The continued use of Law No. 68/2018 - Determining Offences and Penalties in General, hinders citizens from exercising their freedom to associate and assembly.

Madame President, CIVICUS and its partners call on the Government of Rwanda to immediately and urgently take proactive measures to implement all UPR recommendations, particularly pertaining to efforts to addressing civic space and human rights.


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

 

Australia's adoption of Universal Periodic Review on Human Rights

Statement at 47th Session of the UN Human Rights Council

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

CIVICUS welcomes Australia's engagement in the UPR process.

In our report submitted to the review, CIVICUS examined a number of unwarranted restrictions which undermine the consolidation of a more enabling environment for civil society in Australia. We further articulated several measures the relevant authorities should take to address these barriers to the realization of a more pluralistic civic space.

In our submission, we raised a number of concerns about the climate for civic space in the country. In particular, we underscored that, climate and environmental movements and defenders are increasingly being vilified and criminalised for peaceful protests. We further raised alarm over unwarranted restrictions on media freedoms due, in large part, to police raids on independent media outlets and recent attempts to silence whistleblowers who reveal government wrongdoing under the Intelligence Services Act. 

As a result of these issues, in December 2019, the CIVICUS Monitor, which rates and tracks respect for fundamental freedoms in 196 countries, downgraded Australia’s civic space rating from open to narrowed.

While we welcome Australia's acceptance of recommendations to “Continue to protect civil and political rights for all persons in Australia as well as freedom of expression” we regret its unwillingness to accept a number of specific and targeted recommendations, including:

  • Amending national security laws that inhibit the speech of journalists, whistle-blowers and lawyers;
  • Repealing laws criminalizing public interest reporting; and
  • Ensuring meaningful participation in political and public life for all persons, especially for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

We urge the government to drop all charges against whistleblowers, halt plans for legal changes to allow for the deregistration of charities for minor offences and consult with civil society in the implementation of the UPR recommendations.


Civic space in Australia is rated as Narrowed  by the CIVICUS Monitor

 

 

United Nations adopts resolution on human rights on the internet

CIVCUS welcomes the adoption by the Human Rights Council of a new resolution on human rights on the internet, particularly the resolution’s focus on internet shutdowns.

The shutdown of internet access or access to social media has become a widespread tactic used by the authorities to quell protests or forms of online dissent. In the last year, the CIVICUS Monitor documented such tactics used in BangladeshChad, Ethiopia, India, Myanmar and Palestine, among other countries. The shutdowns significantly disrupt people’s ability to seek, receive or impart information online; in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, this has prevented people from obtaining essential information and services during the crisis. Such restrictions on access to the internet cannot be justified on public order or national security grounds.

The adopted resolution strongly condemns the use of internet shutdowns to intentionally and arbitrarily prevent or disrupt access to or dissemination of information online. It further mandates the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to study the trend in internet shutdowns and present findings to the Council next year.

Over the last year, as participation has moved online, new tactics of online restriction have subsequently developed. We welcome that the resolution calls upon all States to refrain from and to cease online censorship. Given the increasing use by repressive governments of online attacks against human rights defenders and activists, and online surveillance, we call on States to ensure that measures offline or online for the protection of national security, public order and public health are in full compliance with international law obligations and respect the principles of lawfulness, legitimacy, necessity and proportionality.

Given that the digital divide has proven one of the biggest challenges facing civil society participation over the past year, it is particularly relevant that the resolution calls upon all States to accelerate efforts to bridge digital divides while applying a human rights-based approach.

 

Oman: Adoption of Universal Periodic Review on Human Rights

Statement at the 47th Session of the UN Human Rights Council

CIVICUS, the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) and the Omani Association for Human Rights (OAHR) welcome the participation of Oman in the UPR process. In our UPR submission, we noted that since its last review, Oman has not implemented or taken any concrete steps to implement most of the recommendations relating to civic space since 2015.

The Omani authorities continue to use restrictive legislation, including the Press and Publications Law and the Telecommunications Act to stifle freedom of expression and online freedoms and to target journalists, bloggers and online activists. In addition, the Omani authorities routinely suspend the social media accounts of activists and ban other internet platforms that facilitate communication.

These laws are also used to ban publications and restrict travel for human rights defenders. In addition, the Penal Code (2018) has broad provisions which are used to restrict freedom of expression and criminalize criticism of the Sultan and impose harsh prison terms to those deemed to publish information that may harm the prestige of the state.

Human rights defenders continue to be subjected to arbitrary arrests and judicial persecution for raising concerns over human rights violations or for questioning decisions made by the Sultanate. Environmental rights defenders continue to be targeted for their peaceful advocacy. In March 2021 for example Ahmed Issa Qatan was sentenced to six months in prison for his peaceful campaigns protecting the environment.

Madame President, CIVICUS, GCHR and OAHR call on the Government of Oman to take proactive measures to address these concerns and implement recommendations to create and maintain, in law and in practice, an enabling environment for civil society.


Civic space in Oman is rated is Repressed by the CIVICUS Monitor.

 

Lebanon's Adoption of Universal Periodic Review on Human Rights

Statement at 47th Session of the UN Human Rights Council

Adoption of the Universaly Periodic Review report of the Lebanese Republic


CIVICUS welcomes Lebanon’s participation in the UPR process and for accepting 20 recommendations relating to civic space during this UPR cycle. However, in our joint UPR submission with partners we documented that since its last review, the Lebanese Republic has not implemented or taken any concrete steps to implement 5 of the 6 recommendations relating to civic space made in 2015.

The Lebanese authorities continue to use excessive force against peaceful protesters when ever they demonstrate and attack journalists and representatives of the media who cover the protests. For example, security forces used excessive force and violence against protesters in August 2020 when the demonstrators called for an end to corruption and for accountability and independent investigations into the 4 August 2020 blast in Beirut. We urge Lebanon to implement as a priority recommendations relating to excessive use of force and freedom of peaceful assembly.

Members of the LGBTI community are regularly subjected to harassment and persecution through vague and discriminatory laws.  Events are shut down and activists are summoned for interrogation.  

Freedom of expression and media freedoms continue to deteriorate in Lebanon.   During the October 2019 protests, more than a hundred journalists and media workers were attacked as they covered the demonstrations and many of these attacks were perpetuated by government agents. Many of these attacks were captured on video yet those responsible have not been held accountable. This failure or unwillingness of the government to hold those responsible to account emboldens the perpetrators with a high sense of impunity.

We are also concerned about the killing of Lebanese human rights defender Lokman Slim who was found in his car by the Lebanese police after he was shot dead in February 2021 in the South of Lebanon. He advocated for the rights of Syrian refugees in Lebanon and documented war crimes in Lebanon and Syria.

CIVICUS and partners calls on the Government of Lebanon to take proactive measures to address these concerns and implement recommendations to create and maintain, in law and in practice, an enabling environment for civil society.


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

 

Special Rapporteur's report on Eritrea at UN Human Rights Council

Statement at 47th Session of the UN Human Rights Council

Universal Periodic Review on Human Rights -- Special Rapporteur on Eritrea


CIVICUS and the Eritrean Movement for Democracy and Human Rights welcome the Special Rapporteur’s report and engagement with the mandate.

Eritrea’s government remains one of the world’s most repressive. It has no independent civil society organizations or media outlets, imposing severe restrictions on freedom of expression and opinion, peaceful assembly, association and religion or belief. Eritrean forces have been implicated in violations in Ethiopia’s Tigray region.

Both the High Commissioner and Special Rapporteur report a lack of progress, and still the government remains unwilling to address grave human rights violations and abuses. This is particularly concerning given that Eritrea is a Member of this Council.

Human rights violations continue unabated including arrests and incommunicado detention and enforced disappearances. The indefinite national service continues and involves torture and forced labour.  In late 2020, Eritrean forces indiscriminately attacked civilians in Axum in the Tigray region, killing and injuring many, and destroyed property including healthcare facilities.

We urge the Council to adopt a resolution renewing the mandate of the Special Rapporteur, and to mandate reporting on the role played by Eritrean forces in Ethiopia’s Tigray region since November 2020. We ask the Special Rapporteur: in the continued absence of cooperation by Eritrea, what other avenues for international pressure could be leveraged to engender progress?


 Civic space in Eritrea is rated as 'Closed' by the CIVICUS Monitor

 

Human Rights Council adopts resolution to ensure scrutiny on Tigray

CIVICUS welcomes a new Human Rights Council resolution which ensures Council scrutiny on the Tigray region of Ethiopia. This resolution is a vital step towards preventing further human rights violations and abuses in Tigray and furthering accountability.

Since Prime Minister Ahmed Abiy came to power in April 2018, his initially much-lauded domestic reforms have been severely undermined by ethnic and religious conflicts that have left thousands dead. Conflict broke out in the Tigray region in November 2020 between the Ethiopian army and the leading party in the Tigray region, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). Since then, an overwhelming number of reports have emerged of abuses and violations of international humanitarian and human rights law, including a surge in sexual violence and assault, massacres of civilians, and reports of ethnic cleansing. There have been widespread arrests of and attacks against journalists covering the conflict. Ethiopia is currently on the CIVICUS Monitor's Watchlist.

On 25 March 2021, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) announced a joint investigation into violations and abuses. The resolution adopted today ensures that the High Commissioner can update the Council on the situation of human rights in the Tigray region and on progress made in the context of the joint investigation during debates to be held in its next two sessions.

 

UN Human Rights Council adopts resolution on civil society space

Today, the United Nations Human Rights council adopted a new resolution recognising the role of civil society during the pandemic and in the recovery efforts.

 

Venezuela: Continued deterioration of human rights

Statement at the 47th Session of the UN Human Rights Council

CIVICUS thanks the High Commissioner for her report, which shows the continued deterioration of the human rights situation in Venezuela and lack of effective implementation of the recommendations made in the last report.

We are deeply concerned about recent legislation that unduly restricts the right to association in Venezuela. A new ordinance of May 2021 introduces concerning elements which may be used to criminalise civil society work. A new draft law introduced in the National Assembly would limit international funding to civil society. This legislation would continue to restrict the operation of CSOs in the country, and would particularly have a devastating impact on those organisations working to provide much needed humanitarian assistance in the country.

Restrictions on freedom of expression continue in Venezuela, with recent examples of attacks against media outlets like the raid and seizure of newspaper El Nacional and the case of CNP in Sucre whose office was set on fire. Digitals attacks continue to increase in the country with 153 media outlets affected by digital censorship in Venezuela in 2020.

As people continue to take to the streets in the context of a terrible socioeconomic situation, security forces continue to use excessive force against protesters. Local organisations reported that during the first trimester of 2021, 23 demonstrations were repressed, andone person killed.

We echo the High Commissioner’s remarks in her March statement that ‘shrinking civic space has ‘a paralysing effect on all those engaged on legitimate and essential activities’. We ask the High Commissioner in the context of her ongoing reporting to set out concrete ways in which the international community can support those on the ground.


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

 

Myanmar: Situation remains a human rights catastrophe

 Statement at 47th Session of the UN Human Rights Council


 Delivered by Lisa Majumdar

Thank you, Madame President,

We welcome the High Commissioner’s oral update, and that this critical opportunity to address the ongoing crisis in Myanmar was not lost.

It is over five months since the military junta deposed Myanmar’s elected government, and the situation remains a human rights catastrophe.

Efforts towards regional diplomacy have not borne results. The five-point plan adopted by ASEAN in April is yet to be implemented and has not resulted in any efforts towards de-escalation, or lessening of loss to life. Instead, armed conflict and other violence are intensifying, with violence particularly intense in areas with significant ethnic and religious minority groups. We urge the Council to ensure that any measures it takes this Session to address intersecting crises in Myanmar takes into account this full context.

Sweeping arrests of activists, journalists and opponents of the regime have continued across the country. Thousands have been arbitrarily arrested and detained and some have been tortured or ill-treated. They include human rights defenders, trade unionists, student activists, poets, writers, filmmakers and monks. Activists face baseless charges including ‘treason’ which is punishable by up to 20 years in prison or ‘incitement’ which is punishable by up to three years in prison.

At least 88 journalists have been arrested since the coup, as well as lawyers defending political prisoners. Dozens have fled the country or have sought refuge in territories controlled by ethnic armed organisations. The internet shutdowns, which began following the coup, have now reached a new level of severity.

The people of Myanmar cannot afford to wait and see if regional diplomacy efforts will take effect. We call on States to call for the release of political prisoners and ensure an end to a free-flowing supply of weapons to a military which shows no intention of ending its campaign of bloodshed. We welcome that several States have imposed targeted sanctions on key individuals of the military and call on other States to do the same. It is the responsibility of States to ensure that perpetrating human rights atrocities bears a cost.

We thank you.


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

 

Philippines: UN must investigate lethal war on drugs

 

Statement at the 47th Session of the UN Human Rights Council


Delivered by Karapatan Deputy Secretary General, Roneo Clamor

I speak on behalf of 19 national and international organisations focused on the Philippines. The lethal war on drugs continues with the number of victims rising again in the past six months.

 

Colombia: Government must end violence against protesters

 

Statement at the 47th Session of the UN Human Rights Council


 Delivered by Óscar Eduardo Ramírez, Campaña Defender la Libertad

As emphasised in the outgoing Rapporteur's report, the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated social and economic inequalities and, if urgent action is not taken, we will face an epidemic of police killings on an unprecedented scale. 

 

Cameroon: UN action is needed to address human rights crisis

Joint letter

To Permanent Representatives of Member and Observer States of the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council (Geneva, Switzerland)

Multilateral action is needed to address the human rights crisis in Cameroon


Excellencies,

We, the undersigned civil society organisations, are deeply concerned over ongoing grave human rights violations and abuses in Cameroon. Ahead of the Human Rights Council’s (“HRC” or “Council”) 47th session (21 June-15 July 2021), we urge your delegation to support multilateral action to address Cameroon’s human rights crisis in the form of a joint statement to the Council. This statement should include benchmarks for progress, which, if fulfilled, will constitute a path for Cameroon to improve its situation. If these benchmarks remain unfulfilled, then the joint statement will pave the way for more formal Council action, including, but not limited to, a resolution establishing an investigative and accountability mechanism.

Over the last four years, civil society organisations have called on the Government of Cameroon, armed separatists, and other non-state actors to bring violations and abuses to an end. Given Cameroonian institutions’ failure to deliver justice and accountability, civil society has also called on African and international human rights bodies and mechanisms to investigate, monitor, and publicly report on Cameroon’s situation.

Enhanced attention to Cameroon, on the one hand, and dialogue and cooperation, on the other, are not mutually exclusive but rather mutually reinforcing. They serve the same objective: helping the Cameroonian Government to bring violations to an end, ensure justice and accountability, and fulfil its human rights obligations. In this regard, the establishment of cooperation between the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the Government of Cameroon, following High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet’s May 2019 visit to Yaoundé, and building on the capacity of the OHCHR Regional Office for Central Africa (CARO), is a step forward.

However, since a group of 39 States delivered a joint oral statement to the HRC during its 40th session (March 2019), and despite the High Commissioner’s visit, the holding of a national dialogue, and OHCHR’s field presence, violations have continued unabated. Some of the violations and abuses committed by Government forces and non-state armed groups may amount to crimes under international law. Impunity remains the norm.

In the English-speaking North-West and South-West regions, abuses by armed separatists and Government forces continue to claim lives and affect people’s safety, human rights, and livelihoods. The grievances that gave rise to the “Anglophone crisis” remain unaddressed. In the Far North, the armed group Boko Haram continues to commit abuses against the civilian population. Security forces have also committed serious human rights violations when responding to security threats. In the rest of the country, Cameroonian authorities have intensified their crackdown on political opposition members and supporters, demonstrators, media professionals, and independent civil society actors, including through harassment, threats, arbitrary arrests, and detentions.

Cameroon is among the human rights crises the Human Rights Council has failed to adequately address. Given other bodies’ (including the African Union (AU) and the UN Security Council) inaction, it is all the more vital for the HRC to send a clear message by stepping up its scrutiny and engagement.

We believe that further multilateral action is needed. At the Council’s 47th session, we urge Member and Observer States to, at a minimum, support a joint statement. This statement should make clear that should Cameroon fail to take concrete steps to investigate human rights violations and abuses, ensure accountability, and improve its human rights situation, more formal action will follow in the form of a resolution establishing an investigative and accountability mechanism.

A joint statement should:

  • Address violations and abuses committed by Government forces and non-state armed groups in the North-West, South-West, Far North, and other regions of Cameroon, and urge all parties to immediately bring these violations and abuses to an end;
  • Remind the Cameroonian Government of its primary responsibility to protect its population from crimes and human rights violations;
  • Urge the Cameroonian Government, in cooperation with OHCHR and Cameroonian human rights groups, to design and implement a road map for human rights reforms and accountability with a view to preventing further human rights violations and abuses and ensuring accountability as part of a holistic effort to settle the crisis in the country, in particular in the North-West and South-West regions and the armed conflict in the Far North region;
  • In addition to designing and implementing a road map for reforms and accountability, outline concrete benchmarks to be fulfilled by the Government of Cameroon to ensure demonstrable progress on human rights, including by:
  • putting an immediate end to violations committed against members and supporters of the opposition, media professionals and outlets, demonstrators, and members of civil society, including lawyers, union leaders, teachers, and human rights defenders and organisations;
  • releasing prisoners of conscience;
  • fully respecting all Cameroonian citizens’ human rights, including their rights to freedoms of opinion and expression, peaceful assembly, and association, as well as the right to life, liberty and security of person;
  • fully cooperating with OHCHR, including granting it unhindered access to the North-West and South-West regions to conduct human rights investigations, monitoring, and reporting;
  • fully cooperating with the Council and its mechanisms, including granting access to special procedure mandate-holders, in line with Cameroon’s Council membership obligations;
  • granting unrestricted access to humanitarian aid and human rights organisations and workers, including restoring access for international non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to report on the human rights situation in the country; and
  • engaging with regional bodies and mechanisms, including the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR); 
  • Encourage the High Commissioner for Human Rights to make the findings of the OHCHR 2019 investigations in the Anglophone regions public, and to provide regular updates to the Council, including by holding inter-sessional briefings or informal conversations with Council Members and Observers. These updates should include information about her engagement with Cameroonian authorities, the situation in the country, and OHCHR’s work in the country;
  • Encourage states to enhance their voluntary contributions for OHCHR’s activities, including for the OHCHR Regional Office for Central Africa’s work in Cameroon and Central Africa; and
  • Make clear that should Cameroon fail to take concrete steps to improve its situation and ensure demonstrable progress on human rights by the Council’s 48th session (13 September-1 October 2021), more formal Council action will follow, under the appropriate agenda item.

We thank you for your attention and stand ready to provide your delegation with further information as required.

Sincerely,

1. Africa Call – South Sudan
2. AfricanDefenders (Pan-African Human Rights Defenders Network)
3. Amnesty International
4. Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
5. CDDH – Benin
6. Center for Human Rights Defenders Zimbabwe (CHRDZ)
7. CIVICUS 8. Club Humanitaire sans Frontières (CHF)
9. Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI)
10. Community Empowerment for Progress Organization (CEPO) – South Sudan
11. DefendDefenders (East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project)
12. Defenders Coalition – Kenya
13. Dialogue and Research Institute (DRI) – South Sudan
14. Dignity Association – Sierra Leone
15. Economic Justice Network Sierra Leone
16. Franciscans International
17. Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect
18. HAKI Africa
19. HRDSNET Uganda Ltd – Human Rights Defenders Solidarity Network
20. Human Rights Defenders Network – Sierra Leone
21. Human Rights Watch
22. Initiative for Plataforma das Organizações Lusófonas dos Direitos Humanos (POLDH)
23. International Civil Society Action Network (ICAN)
24. International Refugee Rights Initiative
25. International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)
26. Kenya Human Rights Commission
27. National Alliance of Women Lawyers (NAWL) – South Sudan
28. Network of the Independent Commission for Human rights in North Africa
29. Nouvelle Génération de la Cinématographie Guinéenne (NOGECIG)
30. Oasis Network for Community Transformation
31. Pan African Lawyers Union
32. Partnership for Justice, Lagos – Nigeria
33. Protection International – Kenya (PIK)
34. Raise The Young Foundation
35. REDRESS
36. Réseau des Organisations de la Société Civile pour l’Observation et le Suivi des Élections en Guinée (ROSE)
37. Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network (SAHRDN)
38. South Sudan Human Rights Defenders Network (SSHRDN)
39. Tanzania Human Rights Defenders Coalition (THRDC)
40. The Independent Medico-Legal Unit
41. Togolese Human Rights Defenders Coalition / Coalition Togolaise des Défenseurs des Droits Humains (CTDDH)
42. Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition International (TASSC)
43. West African Human Rights Defenders Network / Réseau Ouest Africain des Défenseurs des Droits Humains (ROADDH/WAHRDN)
44. Watch Democracy Grow
45. Women’s Centre for Guidance and Legal Awareness (WCGLA) – Egypt

62. 17 additional organisations join this letter, which brings the total number of signatories to 62. In light of the security environment they face, their name is kept confidential.

 

Civic space in Cameroon is rated as Repressed by the CIVICUS Monitor.

 

 

 

 

Restrictions on civil liberties curtail efforts to build back better

Statement at the 47th Session of the UN Human Rights Council


Delivered by Lisa Majumdar

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

With sufficient and shared resources, the pandemic can and will be overcome. However, the ramifications of rollbacks in hard-fought gains in civil and political rights – whether willful or unwilful – could last for generations. Continued restrictions will curtail any chance of building back better. Our collective strength to recover risks being undermined by eroding democratic safeguards, attacking human rights defenders, and stifling people’s ability to participate in public life. Our ability to prevent and respond to future crises is made stronger by – and would be impossible without – civil society participation.

The CIVICUS Monitor found that multiple States used their pandemic response to introduce or implement restrictions on civic freedoms, with far-reaching implications. Authorities in China continued their path of repression, censoring numerous articles and social media posts about the pandemic. Emergency bills drafted by Cambodia, Hungary, Serbia and Botswana granted sweeping powers to the executive and restricted human rights. The pandemic was used as a smokescreen for attacks against protesters and to undermine civil society.

Fundamental freedoms and an independent civil society are not only valuable for their own sake, but form the basis of participatory and effective governance which is essential to tackle global emergencies. To this end, we particularly support the recommendation that human rights monitoring capacity be enhanced to warn early on of potential violations, inform policies and protect human rights. The pandemic is far from over and its human rights implications are still emerging; we urge continued monitoring of and action on this issue by the Council.

Thank you.

 

China: Impunity persists for attacks against human rights

 

Statement at 47th session of the UN Human Rights Council


Delivered by Sarah M Brooks, The International Service for Human Rights

Madame High Commissioner,

As you must be aware, the human rights situation in China remains dire. Major research reports published in the last two months independently reach the same conclusion: the Chinese government is committing crimes against humanity against its Turkic Muslim population. The international community, this Council, and your Office cannot remain silent.

We request that you urgently strengthen monitoring and initiate public reporting on the human rights situation across China.

This is essential to providing objective, independent and concrete information to all stakeholders, and to seeking constructive solutions to protect vulnerable populations from further abuse.

In your last update to this Council, you pointed to the curtailment of fundamental rights and freedoms in the name of national security, especially targeting Uyghurs and Tibetans; restrictions on free speech and detentions linked to the Covid-19 response; the investigation of protesters in Hong Kong; and arbitrary arrest, and unfair trials of lawyers, journalists and defenders.  

In the months since, little has changed. More is needed.

We acknowledge your call for unfettered access to ‘all regions of China’. We emphasise that access is not a prerequisite for accountability. Ongoing negotiations should not delay urgently needed action.

Human rights violations across China, Uyghur and Tibetan regions, as well as Hong Kong have become increasingly severe over the last years, even while Chinese authorities have consistently denied meaningful cooperation. We are here as allies, but the victims and communities urgently need you, your Office, and the UN as a whole to respond.  

Thank you.


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

 

Eritrea: Government fails to address grave human rights violations

Statement at the 47th Session of the UN Human Rights Council
Interactive Dialogue on the Report of the UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Eritrea


Delivered by Helen Kidan, Eritrean Movement for Democracy and Human Rights 

CIVICUS and the Eritrean Movement for Democracy and Human Rights welcome the Special Rapporteur’s report and engagement with the mandate.

Eritrea’s government remains one of the world’s most repressive. It has no independent civil society organisations or media outlets, imposing severe restrictions on freedom of expression and opinion, peaceful assembly, association and religion or belief. Eritrean forces have been implicated in violations in Ethiopia’s Tigray region.

Both the High Commissioner and Special Rapporteur report a lack of progress, and still the government remains unwilling to address grave human rights violations and abuses. This is particularly concerning given that Eritrea is a Member of this Council.

Human rights violations continue unabated including arrests and incommunicado detention and enforced disappearances. The indefinite national service continues and involves torture and forced labour. In late 2020, Eritrean forces indiscriminately attacked civilians in Axum in the Tigray region, killing and injuring many, and destroyed property including healthcare facilities.

We urge the Council to adopt a resolution renewing the mandate of the Special Rapporteur, and to mandate reporting on the role played by Eritrean forces in Ethiopia’s Tigray region since November 2020. We ask the Special Rapporteur: in the continued absence of cooperation by Eritrea, what other avenues for international pressure could be leveraged to engender progress?

Thank you.


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

 

Advocacy priorities at 47th Session of UN Human Rights Council

The 47th Session is set to run from 21 June to 15 July, and will cover a number of critical thematic and country issues. Like all Sessions held over the course of the pandemic, it will present challenges and opportunities for civil society engagement. CIVICUS encourages States to continue to raise the importance of civil society participation, which makes the Human Rights Council stronger, more informed and more effective.

 

Special session to address the grave human rights situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories including East Jerusalem

UN Human Rights Council – Special session to address the grave human rights situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories including East Jerusalem 

May 2021

Delivered by Judit Rosell

Thank you, Madame President.

CIVICUS welcomes the due attention given through this special session. The violence we have witnessed over the last weeks is harrowing. 

Among numerous violations, attacks against democratic freedoms have severely escalated. Israeli security forces have violently repressed Palestinian demonstrations inside the Green Line. Since 10 May, thousands of Palestinian citizens of Israel have come out to protest evictions in Sheikh Jarrah, the use of extreme violence on worshippers and protestors by police, and Israeli military attacks in Gaza. Police responded with arbitrary arrests of over 1,000 Palestinians. High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet highlighted “reports of excessive and discriminatory use of force by police against Palestinian citizens of Israel.” 

Israel further violently suppressed demonstrations in other parts of the West Bank calling for an end to oppression, including by shooting live ammunition at demonstrators. 14 Palestinian protesters were killed between 14 and 18 May. Thousands more have been injured. 

We are also seriously alarmed about targeting of media outlets and of Palestinian journalists throughout Israel’s military offensive including bombing the Al-Shorouk Tower and the Al-Jawhara tower, which together host the offices and headquarters of 28 media institutions and NGOs. Media remains an integral contributor of a functioning democracy.

Israel’s presence on the agenda of the Human Rights Council has so far proved insufficient to furthering accountability or to preventing grave violations against Palestinian people. Overall, 242 Palestinians have been killed since 10 May. This escalation over the last weeks more than warrants a commission of inquiry in order to monitor, document and report on all violations of human rights and humanitarian law, including restrictions to civic space in the context of escalating attacks against Palestinians. 

Thank you.

 

Intersessional panel on the responsibility to protect

Delivered by Lisa Majumdar

Thank you, Madame President, and thank you to the panelists for the discussion. 

The Human Rights Council provides a critical space to enable and assist States’ responsibility to protect. As we have heard, civil society, too, is critical throughout numerous aspects of protection. 

Civil society plays a unique role in helping local communities to develop peace building initiatives, to monitor threats to human rights and to organise themselves to use non-violent strategies to prevent violence. 

A vibrant and open civil society, including a free media, with the capability to hold governments to account, is another critical tool in promoting transparency and accountability which is itself a key protection against atrocity crimes. 

The international community can support civil society in playing this role in two ways. Firstly, by supporting and protecting local civil society. As the UN’s Secretary-General set out in his 2019 report on lessons learned in prevention, the first line of defence against atrocities tends to be local and national human rights organisations.

Secondly, recognizing the crucial role played by a vibrant civil society and free media in prevention of atrocities, the international community needs to stand ready to take action when civic space is curtailed. The resolution on the Council’s prevention mandate adopted in its 45th session articulated restrictions to civic space as an early warning sign of a deteriorating situation. Civil society cannot contribute to the prevention of atrocities if it is stifled and repressed.

CIVICUS encourages states to use civic space indicators in a systematic manner at the Human Rights Council in order to both fully operationalize its prevention mandate and to enable civil society to play its own crucial role. This includes raising civic space concerns through individual and joint State statements at the Council, thematic debates, resolutions, and the Universal Periodic Review process. 

The responsibility to protect falls on States but every stakeholder has a critical role in its implementation. Civil society must be enabled, encouraged and supported to do its part.

We thank you.

 

Eritrea: renew vital mandate of UN Special Rapporteur

To: Permanent Representatives of Member and Observer States of the United Nations Human Rights Council (Geneva, Switzerland)

 Excellencies, 

In 2020, the UN Human Rights Council maintained its scrutiny of Eritrea’s human rights situation. Since no progress could be reported in the country, the Council considered that monitoring of and reporting on the situation was still needed. 

As Eritrea completes its first term as a Member of the Council (2019-2021), its Government shows no willingness to address the grave human rights violations and abuses UN bodies and mechanisms have highlighted or to engage in a serious dialogue with the international community, including on the basis of the “benchmarks for progress” identified by the Special Rapporteur in 2019. Furthermore, Eritrean forces are credibly accused of being responsible for grave violations in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, some of which may amount to crimes under international law, since the beginning of the conflict in November 2020. 

Scrutiny of Eritrea remains vital. At the 47th session of the Council (21 June-15 July 2021), we urge your delegation to support the adoption of a resolution extending the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in the country for a further year. In addition to ensuring that Eritrea’s domestic situation remains subject to monitoring and public reporting, the resolution should include a request on the High Commissioner for Human Rights to report on the role played and possible violations committed by Eritrean forces in Ethiopia’s Tigray region since November 2020. 

While welcoming the adoption of resolutions 41/1 and 44/1 under the Council’s agenda item 2, many non-governmental organisations cautioned that any shifts in the Council’s approach should reflect corresponding changes in the human rights situation on the ground. 

Regrettably, the concerns expressed in a joint civil society letter published last year remain valid. Key human rights issues in Eritrea include: 

  • Widespread impunity for past and ongoing human rights violations. Arbitrary arrests and incommunicado detention continue unabated, as do violations of the rights to a fair trial, access to justice and due process, enforced disappearances, and lack of information on disappeared persons. For instance, the fate and whereabouts of Ciham Ali Ahmed, an Eritrean-American citizen who in 2012 was thrown into indefinite detention aged 15 for attempting to flee the country because her father, a government official, defected, remain unknown. 
  • Conscription into the country’s abusive national service system. Secondary school students, some still children, continue to be conscripted in their thousands each year, including amidst the pandemic. Indefinite national service, involving torture, sexual violence against women and girls, and forced labour, continues. Thousands remain in open-ended conscription, despite the 2018 peace accord with Ethiopia. Those who joined the national service in 1994 have not been demobilised, and they are still conscripts 27 years later. 
  • Restrictions on the media and media workers. A free and independent press continues to be absent from the country and 16 journalists remain in detention without trial, many since 2001. 
  • Severe restrictions on civic space. These restrictions result in Eritrean citizens being largely unable to exercise their rights to freedom of opinion and expression, peaceful assembly, association, and religion or belief. 

On 24 February 2021, in his first address to the Council, the Special Rapporteur on Eritrea, Dr. Mohamed Abdelsalam Babiker, indicated that he had seen “no concrete evidence of progress or actual improvement in the human rights situation in the country.” He added that “Eritrea has not yet put in place an institutional and legal framework to uphold minimum human rights standards in a democratic society. The country lacks rule of law, a constitution and an independent judiciary to enforce the protection of and respect for human rights […].” 

On 26 October 2020, his predecessor, Ms. Daniela Kravetz, highlighted that two years after the peace agreement with Ethiopia and the lifting of UN sanctions, she could only note that severe restrictions on civil liberties remained in place and lament a “lack of meaningful and substantive improvement” in relation to the benchmarks for progress she identified. 

On 26 February 2021, High Commissioner Michele Bachelet stressed that she “remained concerned by the lack of tangible progress” in the country and was “disturbed by reported abductions and forcible returns of Eritrean refugees living in Tigray – some reportedly at the hands of Eritrean forces.” 

Since November 2020, these and other independent experts and UN actors have expressed deep concern over the involvement of Eritrean forces in the conflict affecting Ethiopia’s Tigray region. The violations reported include violations of Eritrean refugees’ rights, including possible killings, abductions, and forced return to Eritrea, as well as atrocity crimes against civilians. 

In early 2021, Amnesty International reported that on 28-29 November 2020, Eritrean troops fighting in Tigray systematically killed hundreds of unarmed civilians in the city of Axum, opening fire in the streets and conducting house-to-house raids in a massacre that may amount to a crime against humanity. Human Rights Watch also reported on how Eritrean and Ethiopian forces indiscriminately shelled Axum, killing and wounding civilians, shot civilians, and pillaged and destroyed property, before the Eritrean forces fatally shot and summarily executed several hundred residents, mostly men and boys, over a 24-hour period. 

UN actors, including the Secretary-General, Mr. António Guterres, and the Head of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), Mr. Mark Lowcock, called on Eritrean troops to leave Tigray. Mr. Lowcock added that “countless well-corroborated reports suggest [Eritrean forces’] culpability for atrocities.” The High Commissioner for Refugees, Mr. Filippo Grandi, also publicly expressed concern about the safety of Eritrean refugees in Tigray, considering in particular the infiltration of armed actors in refugee camps. 

In 2018, the Council invited the Special Rapporteur to “assess and report on the situation of human rights and the engagement and cooperation of the Government of Eritrea with the Human Rights Council and its mechanisms, as well as with the Office of the High Commissioner [OHCHR], and, where feasible, to develop benchmarks for progress in improving the situation of human rights and a time-bound plan of action for their implementation.” 

As a Council member, Eritrea has an obligation to “uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights” and to “fully cooperate with the Council.” However, the Eritrean Government refuses to cooperate with the Special Rapporteur, and continues to reject findings of ongoing grave violations and calls for reform.

The Council should ensure adequate follow-up by allowing the Special Rapporteur to pursue his work and OHCHR to deepen its engagement with the Eritrean Government. It should also urge Eritrea to meet its membership obligations before the end of its term (31 December 2021) and to engage with the UN human rights system constructively. At the recent 46th session, Eritrea announced its intention to again seek Council membership for a further three-year term. The Council should not reward non-cooperation, but rather maintain scrutiny of Eritrea and hold it to its membership obligations to engage in good faith with Council-appointed mechanisms and take concrete, measurable steps to address the grave human rights concerns repeatedly identified by successive Special Rapporteurs and the High Commissioner herself.  


At its upcoming 47th session, the Council should adopt a resolution: 

  • Extending the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Eritrea for one year; 
  • Urging Eritrea to cooperate fully with the Special Rapporteur by granting him access to the country, in accordance with its obligations as a Council Member; 
  • Calling on Eritrea to develop an implementation plan to meet the benchmarks for progress, in consultation with the Special Rapporteur and OHCHR; 
  • Requesting the High Commissioner to present an oral update on the human rights situation in Eritrea at the Council’s 49th session; 
  • Requesting the Special Rapporteur to present an oral update at the Council’s 49th session in an interactive dialogue, and to present a report on the implementation of the mandate at the Council’s 50th session and to the General Assembly at its 77th session; and 
  • Requesting the High Commissioner to present an oral report on the role played and possible violations committed by Eritrean forces in Ethiopia’s Tigray region since November 2020, at the Council’s 48th session. 

We thank you for your attention to these pressing issues and stand ready to provide your delegation with further information as needed.

Sincerely,

  1. Africa Monitors 
  2. African Centre for Democracy and Human Rights Studies
  3. AfricanDefenders (Pan-African Human Rights Defenders Network)
  4. Amnesty International 
  5. Article 19 Eastern Africa
  6. Botswana Watch Organization 
  7. Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies 
  8. Center for Civil Liberties (Ukraine) 
  9. Center for Reproductive Rights
  10. Centre for Constitutional Governance (Uganda) 
  11. CIVICUS 
  12. Civil Rights Defenders 
  13. CSW (Christian Solidarity Worldwide)
  14. DefendDefenders (East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project)
  15. Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights 
  16. ERISAT 
  17. Eritrea Focus 
  18. Eritrean Law Society (ELS) 
  19. Eritrean Movement for Democracy and Human Rights (EMDHR) 
  20. Ethiopian Human Rights Center 
  21. Freedom House 
  22. Genève pour les Droits de l’Homme / Geneva for Human Rights 
  23. Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect 
  24. Human Rights Concern - Eritrea (HRCE) 
  25. Human Rights Watch
  26. International Commission of Jurists 
  27. International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) 
  28. International Movement Against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism (IMADR) 
  29. International Service for Human Rights 
  30. Odhikar (Bangladesh)
  31. One Day Seyoum 
  32. Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights 
  33. Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network (SAHRDN) 
  34. West African Human Rights Defenders Network / Réseau Ouest Africain des Défenseurs des Droits Humains (ROADDH/WAHRDN) 
  35. World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) 

 

Hong Kong: The international community must take a principled stand against repression

Joint statement with FORUM Asia and Asia Democracy Network

The international community must take a strong, principled stand against the escalating repression and reprisals against human rights activists and civil society in Hong Kong.

‘Authorities in China and Hong Kong have relentlessly harassed activists and human rights defenders, further shrinking an already repressive civic space. State-led intimidation towards civil society, including through the National Security Law continues to escalate, closing space for dissent,’ said Shamini Darshni Kaliemuthu, Executive Director of FORUM-ASIA.

The year 2021 saw the continued assault on civic space in Hong Kong. In January alone, 53 pro-democracy activists were arrested under the National Security Law, accused of trying to ‘overthrow’ the government. [1]

In April, a Hong Kong court sentenced prominent pro-democracy activists ‒ including media figure Jimmy Lai, barrister Margaret Ng and Democratic Party founding chairperson Martin Lee – to prison for their participation in anti-government protests in 2018 and 2019. [2] Lai was sentenced to 14 months in prison while other activists received suspended sentences or jail terms. On 6 May, activist Joshua Wong was sentenced to an additional ten months in jail for his participation in a vigil last year marking the Tiananmen Square crackdown. [3]

The National People’s Congress Standing Committee recently overhauled Hong Kong’s electoral system, giving Chinese security bodies the authority to investigate political candidates. It also created a committee with the power to bar any election candidate deemed ‘insufficiently loyal’ to the government from running in elections. [4]

‘These changes to the electoral system blatantly obliterate any remaining spaces for democracy. The implementation of these changes will have a devastating impact on the opposition’s capacity to represent opposing views, effectively compromising the ability of the people of Hong Kong to have their voices heard,’ said Josef Benedict, CIVICUS Asia Pacific researcher.

The rights groups are concerned that these changes are another step towards a full-blown China-style authoritarian rule. For years, the pro-democracy movement has raised grave concerns over China’s increasing influence in the city’s governance and democracy. The National Security Law imposed in June 2020 gave Chinese authorities broad powers to stamp out any form of opposition to the ruling party and set up a security apparatus in the city, effectively cementing China’s authoritarian influence.

In April 2021, the legislature, now devoid of opposition, passed an immigration law that critics argue will allow the government to stop people from entering and leaving the city. [5] Set to take effect on 1 August, the law’s vague wording has raised fears it would lead to ‘exit bans’, similar to China’s ban against activists leaving the country.

Activists have been forced to hide or flee in fear of persecution by Chinese and Hong Kong authorities. Since the anti-extradition protests in 2019, authorities have wielded disproportionate and excessive violence against the democracy movement, weaponised repressive laws and used surveillance to intimidate and harass protesters, the media and any other critical voices.

‘China and Hong Kong authorities should not be impenetrable to international scrutiny and action. As a member of the UN Human Rights Council, China must be held accountable for its systematic human rights violations and its assault on fundamental freedoms, which falls grossly short of standards expected of members of the Council.

As the international community begins to grasp the gravity of its violations not just in Hong Kong, it must prove itself capable of taking a stand for human rights and the protection of all,’ said the groups.


The Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) is a regional network of 81 member organisations across 21 Asian countries, with consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council, and consultative relationship with the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights. Founded in 1991, FORUM-ASIA works to strengthen movements for human rights and sustainable development through research, advocacy, capacity-development and solidarity actions in Asia and beyond. It has sub-regional offices in Geneva, Jakarta, and Kathmandu.

The Asia Democracy Network (ADN) works to promote and advance democratisation and democratic governance at all levels of society through effective solidarity and cooperation among civil society organisations and democracy advocates in Asia. ADN is committed to building a just, equitable and sustainable community of democratic societies in Asia, where all human rights of all individuals, groups and peoples are fully respected and realised.


1 https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-55555299 
2 prominent pro-democracy personalities 
3 https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-57005120 
4 https://www.nytimes.com/2021/04/13/world/asia/hong-kong-election-law.html
5 https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/apr/28/hong-kong-passes-law-that-can-stop-people-leaving

 

 

Singapore yet to address civic freedom gaps ahead of UN review

Human rights groups CIVICUS and FORUM-ASIA call on UN member states to urge the government of Singapore to protect civic freedoms as its human rights record is examined by the UN Human Rights Council on 12 May 2021 as part of the 38th session of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR). 

At the country’s second UPR in April 2016, UN member states made 22 recommendations that directly related to civic space. Singapore subsequently accepted eight recommendations, committing to taking concrete measures to, among others, “ensure that freedom of opinion and expression including for individuals and organizations communicating via online public platforms”, “protect freedom of the press” and ensuring “the full enjoyment of the right to freedom of peaceful assembly.”

In a joint submission to the Human Rights Council 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 2016, Singapore has persistently failed to address unwarranted restrictions on civic space, specifically related to the rights to the freedoms of peaceful assembly and expression.

Singapore has yet to ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which imposes obligations on states to respect and protect the freedoms of association, peaceful assembly, and expression. Further, numerous recommendations to establish a national human rights institution have been ignored.

Despite commitments to freedom of expression which are guaranteed in the Constitution, the government has continued to use restrictive laws such as criminal defamation provisions under sections 499 to 502 of the Penal Code to criminalise criticism of the authorities. Civil defamation lawsuits have also been deployed to sue and seek hefty financial compensation in terms of damages from individuals who express dissent.

The 2017 Administration of Justice (Protection) Act, a vaguely worded contempt of court law, has been used to prosecute human rights defenders for criticism of the courts, under the guise of protecting the judicial system. The authorities have also failed to reform laws restricting media freedom and introduced the 2019 Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA) to harass the political opposition, activists, journalists and civil society.

‘States must take the opportunity of Singapore’s human rights review to hold the government to account for violations. The authorities have not only failed to deliver on the human rights commitments it made, but has continued to use the judicial system to silence dissent and introduced additional laws to restrict freedom of expression,’ said David Kode Advocacy & Campaign Lead at CIVICUS

The 2009 Public Order Act (POA), which aims to regulate assemblies and processions in public places, has been systematically used to restrict peaceful assembly in Singapore. It has been used regularly to harass and investigate activists and critics for no other reason than expressing their views and organising peaceful gatherings, and even towards solo protests. The POA law was further amended in 2017 to stipulate that organisers must apply for a permit at least 28 days in advance of an event and also provided the police commissioner with specific authority to reject any permit application for an assembly “directed towards a political end” if any foreigner is found to be involved. Such restrictions are inconsistent with international law and standards. 

‘The right to peacefully protest is an essential part of a democracy, which Singapore claims to be. It is absurd that such acts are consistently disrupted under the guise of public order. This clearly shows the lengths the Singaporean authorities are willing to go to silence dissent and must be reflected in recommendations made during the country’s UPR,’ said Shamini Darshni Kaliemuthu, Executive Director of FORUM-ASIA

As highlighted in our joint submission, CIVICUS and FORUM-ASIA urge states to make recommendations to Singapore 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:

  • Ensure that human rights defenders are able to carry out their legitimate activities without fear or undue hindrance, obstruction, or legal and administrative harassment. 
  • Repeal or amend repressive laws including the POA and the 2017 Administration of Justice (Protection) Act, the Sedition Act, in accordance with the ICCPR and the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders. 
  • Reform defamation provisions in the Penal Code, in conformity with Article 19 of the ICCPR, and refrain from abusing civil defamation provisions to curtail the freedoms protected under Article 19. 
  • Allow unfettered access to online information resources by repealing the POFMA, which criminalises and imposes arbitrary restrictions on the right to the freedom of expression and the right to access information, and adopting a law on accessing information, in line with international human rights standards.
  • Amend the Public Order Act 2009 in order to guarantee fully the right to the freedom of peaceful assembly, in line with the ICCPR and other international human rights standards. 
  • Drop charges or quash convictions against human rights defenders, government critics, journalists and bloggers for exercising their fundamental rights to the freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression, and review their cases to prevent further harassment. 
  • Ratify international human rights treaties in particularly the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and ensure its implementation in law and practice.

The examination of Singapore will take place during the 38th 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. 

 

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

 

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