Thailand: States must urge the government to address the deterioration of fundamental freedoms

As Thailand’s human rights record is examined at the Human Rights Council on 11 November 2021, CIVICUS and the Asia Democracy Network (ADN) call on UN member states to raise serious concerns about Thailand’s civic freedoms.

In the previous UPR cycle in 2016, Thailand committed to guarantee and respect the right to freedom of expression, assembly, and association; put an end to all forms of harassment and intimidation of human rights defenders; and ensure that all legislation comply with international human rights standards protecting fundamental freedoms. It received 35 recommendations related to civic space, accepting 10 and noting 25.

Thailand has not upheld these commitments. A joint submission by CIVICUS and ADN to the Human Rights Council in March 2021 highlighted Thailand’s ongoing use of repressive laws against human rights defenders, activists and journalists as well as harassment, physical attacks and allegations of enforced disappearances of activists. Our organizations also raised concerns about the crackdown on peaceful protests, the arrests and criminalization of protesters and the use of excessive force by the police.

Over the last four years, criminal defamation laws such as section 116 of the Penal Code on sedition have been used to quash dissent by the authorities. More recently, sedition charges have been brought against human rights defenders involved in protests calling for democratic reforms. Although rarely used since 2018, there has been an escalation of investigations and arrests for lèse majesté (section 112 of the Penal Code) since November 2020 against the leaders of the pro-democracy movement.

Other concerns related to freedom of expression include the Computer-Related Crime Act (CCA), which allows the authorities to conduct surveillance on online content and prosecute individuals under broadly defined offences and the cybersecurity law passed in 2019 that gives the government sweeping access to people's personal information. Outspoken media outlets and reporters have also often face intimidation and punishment for commentaries critical of the authorities.

“In the upcoming session at the Human Rights Council, states must use the opportunity to call out Thailand for its systematic repression of pro-democracy activists, human rights defenders and journalists. These actions are inconsistent with Thailand’s international obligations,” said Cornelius Hanung, Advocacy and Campaigns Officer for Asia from CIVICUS.

The Thai authorities have also imposed restrictions on peaceful protests in recent years and arbitrarily arrested peaceful protesters. In 2020, at least 90 people joining peaceful protests were arrested between 13 and 21 October 2020 by the police. The use of excessive force by the police to disperse protesters have been widely reported. On 17 November 2020, during a protest outside parliament, police used water cannon laced with purple dye and an apparent teargas chemical, as well as teargas and pepper spray grenades, to forcibly disperse thousands of protesters, including students, some of whom were children.

“No one should be detained merely for exercising the right to peaceful assemble. The authorities must immediately end its harassment of protest leaders and participants and release all those detained. There should also be prompt, effective and independent investigations into any violations during protests and perpetrators held accountable,” said Ichal Supriadi, Secretary General at Asia Democracy Network.

Civil society organizations, pro-democracy groups, student networks and labor groups in Thailand have been subjected to restrictions and multiple forms of intimidation for carrying out their work. More recently, the Thailand Government is considering a revised NGO law that contains arbitrary and vague-defined powers that could be used to muzzle civil society groups and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). It includes excessive punishments, places discriminatory restrictions on organizations that receive foreign funding and allows for intrusive surveillance and searches without judicial oversight.

Key recommendations that States should make include:

• Ensure that processes to draft any new laws to oversee the formation and operation of CSOs include meaningful consultation with CSOs and HRDs and are consistent with international law and standards related to the freedom of association.
• Provide HRDs, civil society members and journalists with a safe and secure environment in which they can carry out their work. Conduct impartial, thorough and effective investigations into all cases of attacks, harassment and intimidation against them and bring the perpetrators of such offences to justice.
• Specifically, repeal or review article 112 (lèse-majesté) and article 116 (sedition) of the Penal Code to bring it in line with the ICCPR, UN Human Rights Committee General Comment No. 34 and the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders
• Specifically, review and amend the Computer Crime Act and Cybersecurity law to ensure that these laws are in line with best practices and international standards in the area of the freedom of expression.
• Ensure that journalists can work freely and without fear of criminalization or reprisals for expressing critical opinions or covering topics that the government may deem sensitive.
• Unconditionally and immediately release all protesters detained for exercising their right to the freedom of peaceful assembly and drop all charges against them.
• Review and, if necessary, update existing human rights training for police and security forces, with the assistance of independent CSOs, to foster the more consistent application of international human rights standards, including the UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms

The examination of Thailand will take place during the 39th Session of the UPR on 10 November 2021. The UPR is a process, in operation since 2008, which examines the human rights records of all 193 UN Member States every four and a half years. The review is an interactive dialogue between the State delegation and members of the Council and addresses a broad range of human rights topics. Following the review, a report and recommendations are prepared, which is discussed and adopted at the following session of the Human Rights Council.

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

 

Sudan: The Human Rights Council must take urgent robust action

UN Human Rights Council – 32nd Special Session on Sudan

Delivered by Abdel-Rahman El Mahdi

We welcome this Special Session on Sudan. It is imperative that this scrutiny continues.  

The military coup which took place last week threatens to reverse fragile gains made over the last three years towards democracy in Sudan. The Sudanese military has arrested and detained members of the Sovereign Council, government officials and politicians. 

At least 12 people have been killed and around 300 injured as a result of excessive force used by the military to quell peaceful protests calling for the transitional administration to be respected. The military has disrupted telecommunications and internet connectivity, restricting access to information. Journalists, human rights defenders, and other critics of the government have been arrested and held incommunicado. We call for the immediate release of detained human rights defenders, journalists, protesters, and politicians as a matter of urgency, and for the immediate cessation of violence against protesters.

The situation risks deteriorating still further and the international community has an important role in preventing this. To this end we fully support the creation of a Special Rapporteur mandate on Sudan which would complement existing regional efforts, both to address the current crisis and to better ensure protection of civic space henceforth. The gravity of the situation, highlighted by Sudan’s suspension from the African Union, justifies an even stronger mechanism. 

Special Procedures and the High Commissioner for Human Rights have echoed the calls of protesters for robust action from the Council. Today the Council has an opportunity to heed the voices of those most affected by the decisions it makes, and to take such action. We urge you to do so.

Thank you.

 

Call to action to protect the democratic transition and human rights in Sudan

A military coup targeting the civilian government in Sudan took place on Monday 25 October 2021. The African Union suspended Sudan’s membership. The Chairperson of the African Union Commission, Mr. Moussa Faki Mahamat made a statement noting that the deeply concerning events occurring in Sudan have resulted in the arrest of the Prime Minister Abdallah Hamdock, who was released on October 26, and other civilian officials. The total number of arrests made during the coup in unknown, but it is believed all cabinet ministers have been arrested and are being subjected to torture or at severe risk of torture. Mr. Moussa Faki Mahamat calls for “the immediate resumption of consultations between civilians and [the] military” and “the release of all arrested political leaders”.

At the international level, the United Nations Special Envoy for the Sudan and South Sudan and United Nations Security Council must take urgent action to protect Sudan’s transition to democracy and the human rights situation in the country following the second military coup in so many months which targeted the civilian government today.

The UN High Commissioner strongly condemned the military coup in Sudan and the declaration of a nationwide state of emergency, the suspension of key articles of the Constitutional Document and the governing bodies, deplored the reported arrest of the Prime Minister, several Ministers, leaders of the Forces of the Freedom and Change and other civil society representatives, and call for their immediate release, and reminded the military and security forces to refrain from unnecessary and disproportionate use of force, to respect people’s freedom of expression, as well as the right of peaceful assembly.

It is crucial that women’s rights and the situation of women human rights defenders (WHRDs) is addressed in the international community’s response to the coup as their position is particularly worrisome and today’s events have only exacerbated their already vulnerable position. This comes as militarisation of the State and violence against protestors remain some of the biggest threats to women’s rights in Sudan.

Civil and political rights were once again violated as peaceful protesters were met with violence including live ammunition, resulting in at least five confirmed deaths and hundreds being injured. Rapid Security Forces (RSF) stormed medical centers that were providing medical care to the injured. A number of activists and protesters were arrested in several cities. Residential areas were also attacked by weapons. Further the majority of means of communication in the country have been cut off including phone lines and internet connection. Blanket internet shutdowns contravene international law. On October 26, Internet and mobile services were briefly restored for a few hours, they must be immediately restored

We call on all States at the Human Rights Council to consider urgent action, such as convening a Special Session, to ensure respect for human rights and the rule of law. In addition, the upcoming Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Sudan on 3 November presents one opportunity for States to bring to the fore these issues and call on the required urgent action. We urge all States to make statements during Sudan’s UPR condemning the coup and supporting the civilian-led democratic transition, and make recommendations relating to[1]:

  • reform of the military and security forces
  • accountability for violence against protesters
  • access to justice for women
  • legal reforms combatting violence and discrimination against women
  • ensuring gender equality
  • ratification of international and regional instruments
  • women, peace and security
  • guaranteeing freedom of expression and assembly
  • the protection of women human rights defenders.

Read also here a statement by the MENA Women Human Rights Defenders Coalition.

 

Signatories

Organisations:

  • Sudan Women’s Rights Action
  • Regional Coalition for Women Human Rights Defenders in the Middle East and North Africa
  • International Service for Human Rights
  • Global Fund for Women
  • Inter Pares, Canada
  • Canada for Africa Group
  • Rights for Peace Foundation
  • Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan
  • Vital Voices, USA
  • Equality Fund, Canada
  • Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS)
  • CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation

Individuals

  • Susan Bazilli, Director of International Women’s Rights Project
  • Karen Breeck MD
  • Carole Doucet, Gender/ Women, Peace and Security Expert Adviser
  • Georgina Bencsik, Advisor, Consultant and Strategist
  • Monique Cuillerier (WPSN-C)

 

Civic space in Sudan in rated as repressed by the CIVICUS Monitor 

[1] In March 2021 Sudan Women Rights Action, Nora Centre for Combating Sexual Violence, ISHR and the Regional Coalition for Women Human Rights Defenders in the Middle East and North Africa made a joint submission to the UPR of Sudan. Read here a summary of the recommendations to Sudan on women’s rights and women human rights defenders and the full joint submission to the UPR of Sudan.

 

Sudan: The UN Human Rights Council should act urgently and hold a special session

Following the 25 October 2021 military coup in Sudan, CIVICUS and partners have released a call on the UN Human Rights Council to convene a special session to address the crisis in the country. 


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

Excellencies,

As violence is increasing in Sudan following the military coup of 25 October 2021 and decisive action is needed to protect the transition, Sudan’s constitutional order, and the human rights of people in Sudan, the UN Human Rights Council has a res­ponsi­bility to act urgently.

The Council should fulfil its mandate to prevent violations and respond promptly to human rights emer­gen­cies by convening a special session and adopting a resolution requesting the UN High Com­mis­sio­ner for Human Rights to set up a fact-finding mission to monitor, verify and report on the situ­ation in Sudan with a view to preventing further human rights violations and abuses, iden­ti­fying per­pe­trators, and ensuring ac­coun­tability for these violations and abuses.

Ahead of the 48th session of the Human Rights Council (13 September-11 October 2021), 37 civil so­ciety organisations (CSOs) highlighted[1] the need for the Coun­cil to extend its support to, and scrutiny of, Sudan. The CSOs highlighted that Su­dan’s political transition re­mained incomplete, mentioned on­going challenges and risks, and urged States to maintain the moni­tor­ing and public reporting ca­pacity of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). They wrote: “[T]he Human Rights Coun­cil has a respon­sibi­lity to keep Sudan high on its list of priorities and to contribute to mea­ningful pro­gress in the country.”

Their call remained unanswered as the Council failed to adopt any Sudan-focused resolution.

Two weeks after the session ended, on 25 October 2021, Sudan’s military forces arrested Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok and several civilian figures, including members of the Transitional Government and Transitional Sove­reign Council (SC), who were placed under house arrest or taken to unknown loca­tions. At the time of writing, several of them remain held incommunicado or under house arrest. Military elements took con­trol of the national television and key centres of information. They imposed a partial in­ternet shutdown in the country and closed roads, bridges, and the airport in Khartoum.

This military coup occurred one month before the head of the former Transitional Military Council (TMC), Ge­neral Abdel-Fattah al-Burhan, who had since August 2019 been heading the SC, was due to hand over the presidency of the SC to civilian representatives, as per the power-sharing agreement and Constitutional Document of 2019.[2]

General al-Burhan announced a nation-wide state of emer­gen­cy and the dissolution of the SC and the civilian-led Transitional Government.

He unilaterally announced the suspension of Articles 11, 12, 15, 16, 24-3, 71, and 72 of the Cons­ti­tutional Document. These articles pertain to the SC, the Transitional Council of Ministers and Cabinet, the Transitional Legislative Council (which was to be constituted), and the TMC. The latter’s disso­lution seems to have been annulled, paving the way for military rule.[3]

The coup and military takeover also threaten the implementation of the Juba Peace Agreement for Sudan, which was signed on 3 October 2020 between the Transitional Government and parties to the peace process, including armed groups that were involved in the conflicts that have affected several of Sudan’s regional States in the last three decades.

General al-Burhan sought to justify the illegal takeover by blaming “political infighting” within civilian bodies and groups, including the Transitional Government and the Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC), the coalition that brings together the Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA), civic groups, and political parties that signed the Declaration on Freedom and Change of January 2019 and led the peaceful popular revo­lution of 2018-2019 that led to the ouster of former President Omar al-Bashir, in April 2019, and the political transition. General al-Burhan even asserted that the army had ousted the gov­ern­ment to avoid a “civil war.”[4]

* * * * * * * * *

Immediately after the coup was reported, and despite restrictions on communications, protesters pea­ce­fully took to the streets to denounce the military’s illegal actions and demand the reinstatement of the gov­ern­ment and a transition to civilian rule. The SPA called for strikes and civil disobedience. Pro­testers erected barricades in the streets. Soldiers opened fire on crowds and reportedly killed at least ten people and injured dozens. Arrests have been reported.[5]

These acts demonstrate the armed and security forces’ lack of commitment to a democratic tran­sition to civilian rule and their determination to consolidate control, including by using violence. The 25 October 2021 military coup fol­lowed a reported coup attempt on 21 September 2021, which “the mili­tary blamed on a cadre of Bashir-allied Islamists but which several diplomats described […] as a trial balloon,” as tensions were growing within the SC.[6]

Fears of a full-fledged, bloody crackdown are mounting. These fears are made credible by the illegal actions of the reconstituted TMC, the history of violence and abuse that characterises Sudan’s armed and security forces, including the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), and the current context, including restrictions on communications, which are remi­nis­cent of the shutdown that was imposed following the atrocities committed on 3 June 2019 (known as the “Khartoum massacre”[7]).

While the total number of arrests made is unknown, it is likely to increase after the release of the present letter. Human rights defenders (HRDs), protest organisers, journalists, and independent voices, in par­ticular women human rights defenders (WHRDs), women journalists, and women and girls protesting the coup, are at a heightened risk of being subjected to violations and abuses. These include arbitrary arrests, the use of unwarranted and lethal force, beatings, ill-treatment and torture, and sexual and gen­der-based violence, as was the case during the Khartoum massacre.[8]

* * * * * * * * *

The coup has drawn condemnation. States, including partners of Sudan, condemned it as a betrayal of the transition, demanded the release of political leaders, and urged full observance for the Constitutional Document and the reinstatement of transitional institutions.[9]

The Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), of which Sudan is a Member, issued a sta­te­ment in which its Executive Secretary, Dr. Workneh Gebeyehu, said he was “alarmed by the current political developments.” He “strongly condemn[ed] any attempt to undermine the transitional govern­ment” and called for the “im­mediate release” of all arrested political leaders.[10]

The Arab League expressed “deep concern” about the military coup. The organisation’s Secretary-Ge­ne­ral urged all parties to “fully abide” by the Constitutional Declaration signed in August 2019.[11]

The Chairperson of the AU Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat, who learned “with deep dismay of the serious development of the current situation in Sudan,” called “for the immediate resumption of consultations between civilians and military” and reaffirmed that “dialogue and consensus is the only relevant path to save the country and its democratic transition.” He further called “for the release of all arrested political leaders and the necessary strict respect of human rights.”[12] However, despite the Lomé Declaration on Unconstitutional Changes of Government,[13] he did not con­vey a “clear and unequivocal warning to the perpetrators of the unconstitutional change that, under no circumstances, will their illegal action be tolerated or recognized by the [AU].”

The AU Peace and Security Council (PSC) met on 26 October 2021. The following day, it released a communiqué[14] in which it “strongly condemn[ed] the seizure of power by the Sudanese military on 25 October 2021 and the dissolution of the Transitional Government, and totally reject[ed] the uncons­ti­tutional change of government, as unacceptable and an affront to the shared values and democratic norms of the AU.” It decided to “suspend, with immediate effect, the participation of the Repu­blic of Sudan in all AU activities until the effective restoration of the civilian-led Transitional Authority.”

While this is a positive step, more needs to be done to stop military rule and protect the transition, Sudan’s constitutional order, and the human rights of people in Sudan. As repression increases, AU me­diation efforts and Human Rights Council action are not mutually exclusive but complementary.

The UN Secretary-General, Mr. António Guterres, “strongly condemn[ed] the ongoing military coup d’état in Khartoum and all actions that could jeopardize Sudan’s political transition and stability.” He called for the immediate reconstitution of the governing arrangements provided for under the Consti­tutional Document.” He referred to the “unlawful detention” of the Prime Minister, government officials and politicians as “un­ac­ceptable” and called for the immediate release of those detained arbitrarily. He added: “Any at­tempts to undermine this transition process puts at risk Sudan’s security, stability and development.”[15]

The Special Representative for Sudan and Head of the UN Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in Sudan (UNITAMS), Mr. Volker Perthes, said he was “deeply concerned about reports of an ongoing coup and attempts to undermine Sudan’s political transition.” He “called on the security forces to imme­diately release those who have been unlawfully detained or placed under house arrest” and urged an “[immediate] return to dialogue and [engagement] in good faith to restore the constitutional order.”[16]

For her part, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms. Michelle Bachelet, “strongly con­dem­n[ed] [the] military coup in Sudan and the declaration of a nationwide state of emergency, the sus­pen­sion of key articles of the Cons­titu­tional Document and the governing bodies.” She reminded “military and security forces to refrain from unnecessary and disproportionate use of force, to respect people’s freedom of expression, as well as the right of peaceful assembly.” She added: “It would be disastrous if Sudan goes backwards after finally bringing an end to decades of repressive dictatorship.”[17]

On 26 October, the UN Security Council met behind closed doors to discuss the crisis. It failed to adopt a resolution to unequivocally condemn the military coup, or even to release a statement.

* * * * * * * * *

In this context, the Human Rights Council cannot afford to stay silent or wait for its next regular session, which is due to open on 25 February 2022, to act.

It should make clear that the TMC cannot be considered a legitimate partner; strongly condemn the mi­li­tary coup; urge full respect for the Constitutional Document and the reinstatement of transitional institutions; call for an im­mediate stop to the violence against protesters; demand a release of all poli­tical prisoners; and demand accountability for the human rights violations and abuses committed.

The Human Rights Council should fulfil its mandate to prevent violations and respond promptly to human rights emer­gen­cies, convene a special session, and request the UN High Com­mis­sio­ner for Human Rights to set up a fact-finding mission to monitor, verify and report on the situation in Sudan with a view to preventing further human rights violations and abuses, iden­ti­fying per­petrators, and ensuring ac­coun­tability for these violations and abuses.

The report of the fact-finding mission should be shared with the UN Security Council. The Hu­man Rights Council should further ensure that the High Commissioner publicly and regularly reports on the human rights situation in Sudan, relying on both in-house expertise and the work of the OHCHR country office in Sudan, and it should hold interactive dialogues on the human rights situation in Sudan twice a year.

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

Sincerely,

  1. African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies (ACJPS)
  2. AfricanDefenders (Pan-African Human Rights Defenders Network)
  3. African Initiative for Peacebuilding, Advocacy and Advancement (AfriPeace)
  4. Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS)
  5. Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation (CSVR)
  6. CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
  7. CSW (Christian Solidarity Worldwide)
  8. Darfur and Beyond
  9. DefendDefenders (East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project)
  10. Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect
  11. Global Rights
  12. Human Rights and Peace Centre (HURIPEC)
  13. International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
  14. International Refugee Rights Initiative (IRRI)
  15. International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)
  16. Justice Center for Advocacy and Legal Consultations
  17. Kamma Organization for Development Initiatives (KODI)
  18. Kenya Human Rights Commission
  19. Kongamano La Mapinduzi
  20. Lawyers for Justice Sudan
  21. Mouvement Inamahoro
  22. Never Again Coalition
  23. PAX
  24. Physicians for Human Rights
  25. REDRESS
  26. Regional Centre for Training and Development of Civil Society (RCDCS)
  27. The Sentry
  28. Skills for Nuba Mountains
  29. Sudan Archives
  30. Sudan Human Rights Hub
  31. Sudan Unlimited
  32. Victims Advocates International
  33. Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights

 

[1] DefendDefenders et al., “The Human Rights Council should extend its support to, and scrutiny of, Sudan,” 10 September 2021 (accessed on 26 October 2021).

[2] For background, see DefendDefenders et al., “Sudan: ensuring a credible response by the UN Human Rights Council,” 3 September 2019, (and Annex) (accessed on 26 October 2021).

[3] Al Jazeera, “Sudan coup: Which constitutional articles have been suspended?” 26 October 2021,  (accessed on 26 October 2021).

[4] France 24, “Sudan’s Burhan says army ousted government to avoid civil war,” 26 October 2021,  (accessed on 27 October 2021).

[5] Al Jazeera, “‘No to army rule’: Pro-democracy protesters take to Sudan streets,” 27 October 2021; BBC News, “Sudan coup: Why the army is gambling with the future,” 27 October 2021, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-59050473 (both accessed on 27 October 2021).

[6] International Crisis Group, “Reversing Sudan’s Dangerous Coup,” 26 October 2021. See also BBC News, “Killings of Peaceful Sudanese Democracy Protesters Demand Accountability: Urgent International Action Needed to Prevent Further Violence,” 21 September 2021, (both accessed on 27 October 2021).

[7] See previous civil society letters on Sudan, in particular International Refugee Rights Initiative et al., “Killings of Peaceful Sudanese Democracy Protesters Demand Accountability: Urgent International Action Needed to Prevent Further Violence,” 6 June 2019, ; DefendDefenders et al., “Sudan: ensuring a credible response by the UN Human Rights Council,” 3 September 2019, (and Annex); DefendDefenders et al., “The Human Rights Council should support human rights reforms in Sudan,” 9 September 2020,  (all accessed on 26 October 2021).

[8] Human Rights Watch, “‘They Were Shouting ‘Kill Them’: Sudan’s Violent Crackdown on Protesters in Khartoum,” 17 November 2019, (accessed on 26 October 2021).

[9] For a comprehensive list of responses by Governments and intergovernmental organizations to the military coup, see Sudan Unlimited, “World Unites with the People of Sudan and Against #SudanCoup,” (accessed on 26 October 2021).

[10]IGAD Statement On The Current Political Development In Sudan,” 25 October 2021,  (accessed on 26 October 2021).

[11] Asharq al-Awsat, “Arab League Expresses ‘Deep Concern’ over Sudan,” 25 October 2021,  (accessed on 26 October 2021).

[12]Statement of the Chairperson of the African Union Commission on the situation in Sudan,” 25 October 2021,  (accessed on 26 October 2021).

[13] AU PSC, “Declaration on the Framework for an OAU Response to Unconstitutional Changes of Government” (AHG/Decl.5 (XXXVI)), 10-12 July 2000, (accessed on 25 October 2021).

[14]Communiqué of the 1041st meeting of the Peace and Security Council of the African Union held on 26 October 2021 on the Situation in Sudan,” 27 October 2021, (accessed on 27 October 2021).

[15]Statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General - on Sudan,” 25 October 2021, (accessed on 26 October 2021).

[16]SRSG Statement about Reports of an Ongoing Coup and Attempts to Undermine Sudan’s Political Transition,” 25 October 2021,  (accessed on 26 October 2021).

[17]Statement by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet on the coup d’état in Sudan,” 25 October 2021, (accessed on 26 October 2021).


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

 

Outcomes from the UN Human Rights Council's 48th session: Progress & Shortcomings

Joint statement from the end of the United Nations' 48th Session of the UN Human Rights Council1


13 organisations share reflections on the key outcomes of the 48th session of the UN Human Rights Council, as well as the missed opportunities to address key issues and situations.

Thematic issues and resolutions

To commemorate the International Safe Abortion Day, 372 organisations demanded free, safe and accessible abortion for everyone.

We welcome the adoption of the resolution on the establishment of the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and climate change, who will focus on the interdependence between human rights, a healthy environment, and combating climate change and we welcome the Council’s historic recognition of the human right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment. These are vital steps towards addressing the climate crisis and achieving environmental justice.

Ensuring a safe and enabling environment for civil society participation at the national and international levels is essential.

We welcome the adoption by consensus of the resolution on cooperation with the UN in the field of human rights, in particular the invitation to the Secretary-General to submit his annual reprisals report to the General Assembly, which will ensure greater attention to the issue and contribute to a more coherent system-wide response across the UN.

We express concern over the reclassification of NGO written statements submitted to the 48th session of the HRC from Agenda Item 4 to Agenda Item 3 without informing or consulting with the submitting organizations, and without transparency for the reasons or scope of this reclassification.

We welcome that the resolution on equal participation in political and public affairs puts an important focus on the context of elections and on the impact of COVID-19, underscoring the importance of protecting civil society participation at every level as part of an effective response to the pandemic, in post-pandemic recovery and as a vital component of democratic electoral processes. We regret that, in this and other resolutions, there has been systematic pushbacks against the inclusion of references to children’s right to participate in public affairs, in particular girls, in contravention of international human rights standards.

We also welcome the resolution on privacy in the digital age. Among other issues, the resolution responds to recent Pegasus revelations and includes new commitments on the use of privately-developed surveillance tools against journalists and human rights defenders. It is now essential that the Council goes further and champions the call made by various UN human rights experts to implement a global moratorium on the sale, export, transfer, and use of private surveillance technology without proper human rights safeguards. We also welcome new language in the text on privacy violations and abuses arising from new and emerging technologies, including biometric identification and recognition technologies. In future iterations of the text, we encourage the core group to go further in calling for a ban on technologies that cannot be operated in compliance with international human rights obligations.

With the withdrawal of the resolution on the realisation of a ‘better life’, we are glad to see that the Council’s mandate and resources will not be diverted to efforts that would distract from its core work or dilute human rights standards.

We regret that it was not possible to schedule the briefing by the Peacebuilding Commission (PBC) as per resolution 45/31 – and look forward to future opportunities for exchanges between the HRC and the PBC to learn from one another in efforts to address common contemporary challenges.

Human rights situations on the Council’s agenda

We deplore the abandonment of the Yemeni people by the HRC member States who did not support the renewal of the Group of Eminent Experts on Yemen. This failure of the HRC gives the green light to all parties to the conflict to continue their campaign of death and destruction in Yemen. We demand an international criminal investigative mechanism. Anything less is unacceptable.

We regret that the HRC has not responded to the calls of civil society and the evidence of widespread violations in countries including China, Egypt and Saudi Arabia where the situations manifestly warrant the establishment of international investigation and accountability mechanisms.

The establishment of a Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Afghanistan supported by additional and dedicated expertise in OHCHR should bring much needed scrutiny. While we are disappointed that the Council did not establish the full-fledged investigative and monitoring mechanism that the situation warrants, we hope this decision represents a first step towards a stronger response to ensure accountability for human rights violations and crimes under international law in Afghanistan.

While the extension of international scrutiny in Burundi, including through ongoing documentation of violations, is welcome, we regret the absence of a clear strategy post-Commission of Inquiry. As the Burundian government continues to reject cooperation with the Council and its mechanisms and to deny violations, and given that the newly-created Special Rapporteur will not have access to the country for the foreseeable future, it is vital for the Council to rely on benchmarks to design the next steps of its action on, and engagement with, Burundi. We thank the COI for its important work since 2016. It has set the bar high for investigative mechanisms.

We welcome the extension of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia with a mandate to provide an additional oral update to the Council. However, the resolution falls short of the minimum action required to credibly address the increasing regression in democratic space and civil and political rights and to put in place necessary measures to create an environment conducive for free, fair and inclusive elections in 2022 and 2023, including mandating enhanced monitoring and reporting by the High Commissioner.

More than four years after the beginning of the conflict in the North-West and South-West regions in Cameroon, we deeply regret States’ failure, once again, to collectively address the country’s human rights crisis. As other international and regional bodies remain silent, the Council has a responsibility to act, including through the creation of an investigative and accountability mechanism.

We welcome the renewal of the mandate of the Fact-Finding Mission (FFM) on Libya but regret that the mandate has only been extended for a 9-month period. The severity of ongoing and past violations and abuses in Libya, including war crimes, requires an FFM with a sustained and properly resourced mandate.

We welcome a second joint statement on Nicaragua, and urge concerned States to step up collective action in light of increasing repression ahead of the November 7 elections. Should the Government not revert course, it is fundamental that the Council takes stock and provides an adequate, strong response, including the establishment of an international mechanism at its 49th session.

We welcome the High Commissioner's oral updates on the Philippines. While the UN Joint Program on Human Rights (UNJP) might provide a framework for improvements, we remain concerned that the UN Joint Programme on Human Rights is instrumentalized by the Government only to please the international community. The national accountability mechanism fails to show meaningful progress. We continue to urge the Council to consider establishing a Commission of Inquiry on the Philippines, to eventually start the long-overdue independent and transparent investigation into the human rights violation in the country.

We welcome the robust resolution that extends the mandate of the Independent Expert on Somalia for a further year.

While human rights advancements since 2019 in Sudan should be recognized, Sudan still faces significant human rights challenges including threats of the militarization of the State which is also the most challenging peril for women’s rights and WHRDs in Sudan. The transition is not complete, and political uncertainty remains. Against this backdrop, the Council’s decision to discontinue its formal monitoring of and reporting on Sudan is premature as the military establishment continues to pose a threat to democracy and stability in Sudan. We urge the Sudanese authorities to fully cooperate with the UN human rights system to address ongoing violations including sexual and gender based violence and the legacy of 30 years of dictatorship, including impunity for crimes under international law.


1   Signatories :

  1. International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)
  2. Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
  3. DefendDefenders (East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project)
  4. Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI)
  5. FIDH
  6. ARTICLE 19
  7. International Commission of Jurists
  8. FORUM ASIA
  9. International Bar Association
  10. Franciscans International
  11. CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
  12. Association of Progressive Communications - APC
  13. Child rights connect

 

UN Human Rights Council falls short of action needed on Cambodia’s human rights crisis

Resolution on Cambodia adopted at the 48th Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council

The Human Rights Council has renewed the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Cambodia, but the resolution adopted by the Council today does not reflect nor adequately address the escalating political and human rights crisis in the country.

With Cambodia’s main opposition party dissolved in 2017 and its politicians barred from politics, the fragile veneer of democracy engendered by the Paris Peace Accords has disintegrated, leaving the country a de facto one-party state. 

The resolution mandates one additional update by the Special Rapporteur to the Council in March 2022, which will allow for further scrutiny of the country ahead of the communal election, set for June 2022. A second additional update, set for March 2023 ahead of the national elections in June that same year, was removed from the draft resolution shortly before its adoption.

‘It is disappointing that the resolution does not reach the bare minimum needed to address the ongoing deterioration of human rights in Cambodia,’ said Cornelius Hanung, Asia Advocacy Officer for CIVICUS. ‘The human rights situation in the country has drastically deteriorated since the last time this resolution was negotiated in 2019, and conditions for free and fair elections are fundamentally and conspicuously absent. There is no sign of domestic or international political will to address this.’

Calls from civil society for enhanced monitoring and reporting by the High Commissioner were not considered.

‘Free and fair elections depend not only on the ability of political parties to participate, but also on press freedom, the ability to dissent without fear of harassment and reprisals, and on civil society being able to organize and assemble,’ said Cornelius Hanung. ‘But we consistently see repressive laws and judicial harassment used in Cambodia to restrict civic freedoms, undermine and weaken civil society, and criminalize individuals for exercising their rights to freedom of expression, freedom of association, and freedom of peaceful assembly.’

Cambodia has consistently cited its constructive engagement with the Human Rights Council to pre-empt stronger action, such as additional monitoring, to address its human rights crisis. 

‘Attacks against the Special Rapporteur and his mandate by Cambodia during the Interactive Dialogue to his report represented just the latest example of ‘constructive engagement,’ which to date has been minimal at best and weaponized by Cambodia at worst,’ said Cornelius Hanung. ‘Human rights defenders and those calling for democratic reform on the ground can no longer afford for the Council to seek consensus resolutions at the expense of their protection.’

The adoption of the resolution under the Council’s technical cooperation and capacity-building Item ensures that Cambodia stays on the Council’s agenda for a further two years. CIVICUS maintains its call for the Council to establish a robust monitoring mechanism to adequately assess and address the human rights crisis and further election-related violations.


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

 

Resolution on cooperation with the United Nations, its representatives and mechanisms adopted

UN Human Rights Council adopts resolution on cooperation with the United Nations, its representatives and mechanisms in the field of human rights 

 

UN Human Rights Council adopts resolution on equal participation in political and public affairs

 

CIVICUS welcomes the adoption by consensus of a resolution on equal participation in political and public affairs by the UN Human Rights Council.

 

The crisis of accountability persists in the Philippines

Statement at 48th Session of the UN Human Rights Council

Delivered by Roneo Clamor, Karapatan

CIVICUS and Karapatan welcome the High Commissioner’s update.

In June 2020, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said that violations of human rights, including the widespread and systematic killing of thousands of alleged drug suspects, attacks on human rights activists and the vilification of dissent, were pervasive in the country, and accountability for these actions are virtually non-existent. We have seen no human rights progress on the ground, and the crisis of accountability persists.

The UN national joint programme for human rights adopted in July 2021 has minimal prospects to improve the situation on the ground, particularly given the obvious lack of political will to do so.

Those who protect human rights and call for justice continue to be targeted and attacked. Activists have been killed over the year both by the security forces and unknown individuals. In many instances this occurred following reports of them being red-tagged. In virtually none of the cases has anyone been held accountable.

Others, like 64-year-old human rights worker Teresita Naul, have been arrested on trumped up criminal charges without due process. Senator Leila de Lima remains in prison for politically motivated charges because of her actions to investigate killings in the drug war.

The draconian Anti-Terror Act, adopted in 2020, appears to be aimed at further criminalising dissent.

Justice is about holding perpetrators of human rights violations accountable, reparations for the victims, and the non-repetition of the crimes and atrocities committed. None of these will be forthcoming under the current administration, or the current resolution. We urgently call on the Human Rights Council to establish an overdue independent investigation in the Philippines.

Thank you.

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

 

Cambodia: the Council must address human rights and political crisis

Statement at 48th Session of the UN Human Rights Council

Item 10: Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on Cambodia

Delivered by Lisa Majumdar

Thank you, Madame President, and thank you Special Rapporteur. The shrinking civic space and political monopolisation raised in the report has entrenched Cambodia into a de facto one-party state.

Repressive laws are routinely misused to restrict civic freedoms, undermine and weaken civil society, and criminalize individuals for exercising their rights to freedom of expression, freedom of association and freedom of peaceful assembly. Human rights defenders, trade unionists, youth activists and journalists and other critical voices are routinely subject to judicial harassment and increasing online surveillance. Environmental activists from Mother Nature Cambodia, along with political activists, have been particularly targeted. Highly politicized courts mean that those arbitrarily detained and charged are often held for prolonged periods in pre-trial detention and have no chance of getting a fair trial.

These concerns have escalated over the past two years. The COVID-19 pandemic and the government’s repressive response have exacerbated restrictions on fundamental freedoms.

The main opposition party was dissolved in 2017 and its politicians remain barred from politics. Communal and national elections, set for 2022 and 2023 respectively, are likely to take place under a political climate severely unconducive to being free or fair.

The fragile veneer of democracy engendered by the Paris Peace Accords has disintegrated past the point of no return in recent years. Those calling for human rights on the ground can no longer afford for the Council to treat the situation as business-as-usual. The Council must take meaningful action now to address the ongoing human rights and political crisis in Cambodia.

Special Rapporteur, given that the Cambodian government has indicated no political will towards democratic or human rights reform, what action must the Council and member states take to protect civic space and contribute to concrete human rights progress on the ground?

We thank you.


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

 

DRC: Ongoing restrictions on civic freedoms must be addressed and accountability ensured

Statement at 48th Session of the UN Human Rights Council

Item 10: Enhanced Interactive Dialogoue on the High Commissioner's report on the Democratic Republic of Congo

Delivered by Lisa Majumdar

Thank you, Madame President, and thank you High Commissioner for your report. We share your concerns on ongoing restrictions on civic freedoms. Journalists and HRDs continue to face threats, harassment, intimidation and arbitrary arrests, while protests have been at times met with disproportionate force.

In the past few months, under the state of emergency laws in the provinces of Ituri and North Kivu, three journalists - Joël Musavuli, Héritier Magayane and Barthelemy Kubanabandu Changamuka – were killed, and numerous others have received threats. Actualite.cd journalist Sosthène Kambidi was arrested by military officers last month on accusations of “criminal conspiracy, rebellion and terrorism” for being in possession of a video of the murder of two UN monitors in 2017. Kambidi was involved in a media investigation on the circumstances of those murders.

Protests are too often met with disproportionate force on the part of security forces. An opposition protest to demand the depoliticization of the national electoral commission in September 2021 was violently repressed by police officers in Kinshasa, who also beat and assaulted journalists who were covering the protest, including RFI correspondent Patient Ligodi.

Human rights defenders have been subjected to arbitrary detention and judicial harassment for their peaceful activism. LUCHA activists Elisée Lwatumba Kasonia and Eric Muhindo Muvumbu were arrested in April while calling for a strike to protest increasing insecurity. They were charged with “civil disobedience” and “threatening an attack” and released under stringent bail conditions in July. Other LUCHA activists, Parfait Muhani and Ghislain Muhiwa, have been charged with defamation, among other charges, and await trial before the Military Court.

We call on the Tshisekedi administration to ensure that fundamental freedoms are respected, including by reviewing all restrictive legislation, decriminalising press offences, and as a matter of urgency 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. To this end, we call on the Council to maintain critical ongoing efforts towards accountability, including that of the team of international experts on Kasai. We further ask the High Commissioner how members and observers of this Council can best support those on the ground to prevent further civic space violations.

We thank you.


Civic space in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is rated as "repressed" by the CIVICUS Monitor

 

Mozambique's Adoption of Universal Periodic Review on Human Rights

Statement at 48th Session of the UN Human Rights Council

Universal Periodic Review outcome adoption of Mozambique

Delivered by Lisa Majumdar

Thank you, Madame President.

We welcome Mozambique’s engagement with the UPR process, and its acceptance of 24 recommendations relating to civic space.

However, during its last UPR cycle, while Mozambique received 13 civic space recommendations, nine of these were not implemented. CIVICUS and JOINT – Liga das ONG em Moçambique are deeply concerned by the unwarranted restrictions on the freedom of expression and the deteriorating environment in which journalists and civil society activists operate. Physical attacks, intimidation and harassment are becoming increasingly common.

In August 2020, the headquarters of media outlet Canal de Moçambique was broken into and set on fire with petrol bombs. The media outlet had previously investigated and reported on corruption and the armed conflict in Cabo Delgado.

Physical attacks, intimidation and harassment of journalists and civil society activists have become increasingly common. Community radio journalist Ibraimo Abu Mbaruco’s whereabouts are still unknown since his disappearance in April 2020 in Palma, Cabo Delgado. In his last text message, he reportedly said he was “surrounded by the military”. In October 2019, Anastácio Matavel, civil society activist and founder and director of FONGA-Gaza NGO Forum, was shot and killed in Xai-Xai, Gaza Province, after attending a training session on election monitoring.

We regret that Mozambique did not accept recommendations related to access to conflict zones by civil society and the media and the registration of LGBTIQ associations. Authorities have denied CSOs and journalists access to work in and report from areas affected by the armed insurgency in Cabo Delgado and neighbouring provinces where there is a heightened presence of internally displaced people.

The Associação Moçambicana para a Defesa das Minorias Sexuais, LAMBDA, an organisation working on sexual minority rights, has been denied a certificate of registration by the Minister of Justice since 2008, despite a ruling by the Constitutional Court in October 2017 stipulating that the clause invoked to deny its registration is unconstitutional.

We call on Mozambique to further engage constructively with the UPR process by implementing the recommendations it has accepted, and we call on member states to hold Mozambique accountable for upholding its commitments.

We thank you.


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

 

Paraguay's Adoption of the Universal Periodic Review on Human Rights

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

Delivered by Inés M. Pousadela

Thank you, Madame President.

Semillas para la Democracia and CIVICUS welcome the government of Paraguay’s acceptance of UPR recommendations pertaining the space for civil society. However, our joint UPR submission documents that Paraguay did not implement 13 of the 19 such recommendations it received during its previous review, and only partially implemented six.

As detailed in our submission, both state and non-state actors frequently attack, intimidate and judicially harass human rights defenders and journalists, particularly when reporting on protests, organised crime, corruption and human rights abuses; the hostile environment for journalists is fuelled from the highest political levels. Defenders of Indigenous and peasant communities and land rights activists are targeted in attacks often linked to agribusiness corporations; women’s and LGBTQI+ rights defenders face attacks perpetrated mostly by fundamentalist anti-rights groups. Examples abound of land rights defenders who suffered attempts on their lives, and some have been killed. Most aggressions remain unpunished.

Workers face strong legal obstacles to exercise their freedom of association, as well as de facto obstacles and direct attacks from non-state actors, notably private companies that threaten to fire them if they try to organise. The law does not adequately protect this freedom.

Our submission also shows that the freedom of expression is threatened by the systematic use of criminal defamation statutes by public figures to intimidate and silence critical journalists, especially when they investigate allegations of corruption. The deficient implementation of the Access to Information Law has restricted access to information that should be public, and instances of censorship as well as self-censorship have been recorded.

The exercise of freedom of peaceful assembly remains obstructed. Peaceful demonstrations, particularly by the peasant and Indigenous movement and communities mobilising for land rights, are frequently broken up with excessive force, typically leading to people being arrested or injured, and occasionally resulting in fatalities.

We call on the Government of Paraguay 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.

We thank you.


Civic space in Paraguay is rated as obstructed by the CIVICUS Monitor.

 

Niger's Adoption of Universal Periodic Review on Human Rights

Niger must take opportunity to consolidate its democracy and lift restrictions on civic space

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

Delivered by David Kode

Thank you, Mr President.

We welcome Niger’s participation in the UPR process and Niger’s acceptance of all recommendations related to civic space. We are however concerned about civic space restrictions and the fact that the Niger did not implement the majority of the recommendations it received during the previous cycle.

As detailed in our submission, we are concerned about the targeting of human rights defenders, journalists and bloggers who have raised concerns over corruption in certain government departments. We are also concerned about restrictions to peaceful assemblies and the fact that the authorities are limiting protests to certain days of the week. In 2020, three protesters were killed during protests in Niamey in 2020 and in March of the same year, 15 human rights defenders were arrested for protesting against corruption in the Department of Defence.

Since the adoption of the Press Law in 2010 which eliminates prison terms for media offences, journalists continue to be targeted while covering protests or for raising concerns online over the actions of governments.

The election of President Mohamed Bazoum in Niger’s first ever democratic transition presents an opportunity for Niger to consolidate its democracy, lift restrictions on civic space and implement all recommendations accepted during Niger’s UPR. We urge Niger to do so and for other member states to support it in upholding its human rights commitments.

We thank you.


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

 

Singapore must expand civic space and end undue restrictions on fundamental freedoms: UN Human Rights Council Side Event

Amidst emerging threats to civic space, representatives from civil society called on Singapore’s Government to abide by its international legal obligations and commitments to respect fundamental freedoms in a Human Rights Council side event held on 29 September, a day before the adoption of the outcomes from Singapore’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR).

 

Singapore's Adoption of Universal Periodic Review on Human Rights

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

Delivered by Cornelius Hanung

Thank you, Madame President.

Singapore has fully accepted just four of the 21 recommendations on civic freedoms during this UPR cycle. It has done so on the basis that ‘the right to freedom of speech, expression and assembly is guaranteed under the Singapore Constitution’ and that ‘a balance must be struck between an individual’s freedom of speech and the need to preserve a harmonious society.’

During its last UPR cycle, Singapore accepted eight recommendations on civic space. None were fully implemented; contrary to its claims of upholding the rights guaranteed in its Constitution, Singapore has persistently failed to address unwarranted restrictions to the freedoms of peaceful assembly and expression.

The government has eroded freedom of peaceful assembly by its continuous deployment of the 2009 Public Order Act, which has been regularly used to harass and investigate activists and critics for organising peaceful gatherings, and even towards solo protests.

The government has also continued to use restrictive laws to criminalise 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 to harass the political opposition, activists, journalists and civil society. A Foreign Interference Countermeasures bill recently introduced by the government will potentially narrow civic space even further.

Far from preserving a ‘harmonious society,’ these restrictions serve only to silence legitimate political dissent. We call on Singapore to engage constructively with the UPR process and international human rights mechanisms by implementing the recommendations it has accepted, to ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and to establish a national human rights body, and we call on member states to hold Singapore to account to its commitments.

We thank you.


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

 

 

Reprisals perpetrated with impunity risk weakening our human rights mechanisms

Statement at 48th Session of the UN Human Rights Council

Item 5: Interactive Dialogue on the Secretary-General’s report on reprisals

Delivered by Lisa Majumdar

Thank you, Madame President, and thank you Secretary-General for this important report. Civil society engagement is fundamentally necessary to ensure adequate reporting to these mechanisms and to promote human rights, in and outside the UN, and acts of reprisal threaten to weaken this engagement.

Acts of reprisals by members of this Council are particularly egregious. There are multiple allegations against China of intimidation and reprisals against human rights defenders and civil society organisations that cooperated, or were perceived as cooperating, with the UN, in particular through their arbitrary detention. This must be addressed by this Council.

A particularly disturbing trend highlighted in the report is that of legislation affecting the ability of civil society to engage with the UN, such as Nicaragua’s Law 140 on the Regulation of Foreign Agents, which means that organisations now risk their registration for receiving technical assistance or funding for service provision, research, reporting or advocacy. It is essential that a resolution by the Human Rights Council to address reprisals addresses this concerning pattern.

An act of reprisal perpetrated by Cambodia against prominent Cambodian human rights defender and monk, Venerable Luon Sovath, during a debate held in the Human Rights Council’s 45th Session serves to illustrate the lack of political will of Cambodia to engage meaningfully with the Council. We urge States to ensure that this is reflected in any action taken by the Council on Cambodia.

We further urge Member States to go beyond refraining from such acts of intimidation and reprisals, to addressing them. The time is overdue to impose a real political cost for the deliberate weakening of our collective human rights mechanisms.

We thank you.

 

Countries on CIVICUS Monitor watchlist presented to UN Human Rights Council

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

Delivered by Lisa Majumdar

Thank you, Madame President.

A number of countries have experienced serious and rapid decline in respect for civic freedoms in the last months. We call upon the Council to do everything in their power to immediately end the ongoing civic space crackdowns which are a foreshadowing of worse violations to come.

In Afghanistan, against a backdrop of deepening human rights, humanitarian and economic crisis, activists face systematic intimidation and are at grave risk. The Taliban are carrying out house-to-house searches for activists and journalists, and have responded with excessive force, gunfire and beatings to disperse peaceful protests, leading to deaths and injuries of peaceful protesters. The Council previously failed to take swift action to establish a monitoring and accountability mechanism. We urge it to remedy this missed opportunity now.

In Belarus, attacks on human rights defenders and independent journalists have intensified, against the backdrop of recent draconian changes to the Mass Media Law and to the Law on Mass Events which were adopted in May 2021. We call on the Council to ensure that arbitrarily detained human rights defenders are released, and perpetrators of violations are held to account.

Since the end of May, Nicaragua’s authorities have carried out a further crackdown on civil society and the opposition. Dozens of political leaders and human rights defenders were arrested and prosecuted as the government acted to silence critics and opponents ahead of presidential elections in November, a context which renders free and fair elections impossible. It is essential that the Council escalates its international scrutiny of Nicaragua to further accountability and justice for crimes under international law.

We thank you.

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

 

CSOs call for the Council’s urgent attention to Ghana's anti-gay draft bill

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

General Debate – Item 4

Madam President,

In the spirit of Agenda Item 4, we would like to call the attention of the Council to the Human Rights situation of LGBTI persons in Ghana in light of the recent Anti-LGBTI draft bill being discussed in the country. As expressed jointly by eleven Special Procedures of this Council, the draft legislation is “a recipe for violence”1.

The bill being discussed not only attempts to criminalise same-sex conduct, but also promotes harmful practices such as unnecessary medical interventions on intersex children2 and so-called conversion therapies. This bill also enables the state to prevent human rights defenders from organising themselves to defend LGBTI people, and absolutely prohibits public debates that advance the protection or promotion of the rights of LGBTI persons. Ultimately, this bill legitimises state and societal violence.

The provisions contained in the draft legislation not only criminalise LGBTI persons but anyone who supports their human rights, shows sympathy to them or is even remotely associated with them3.

Human rights defenders or anyone registering, operating or participating in an activity to support an organisation working on LGBTI people’s rights could face up to 10 years of imprisonment. The Bill also criminalises any production and dissemination of so-called LGBTI “propaganda” with imprisonment between 5 to 10 years.4

The discussion of such draft legislation has already significantly and alarmingly promoted a rise in discrimination and violence against LGBTI persons in Ghana.

The adoption of this bill has major implications on the already marginalised and vulnerable LGBTI community. It will exacerbate existing economic, legal, societal and public health inequalities which will make it more difficult for the community to exist safely in society. Adopting such a bill would be a direct infringement to core international human rights as dignity, equality and non-discrimination, the rights to freedom of expression, association and privacy, and the absolute prohibition of torture.

We urge the Ghanaian Government to take all measures to protect LGBTI persons from violence and discrimination and refrain from adopting any legislation that will violate the human rights of this community and those who defend their rights. We also call on this Council, UN Member States, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and all relevant stakeholders to remain seised of this matter.

Thank you.

List of organisations co-sponsoring this statement:

  1. Amnesty International
  2. Article 19
  3. CIVICUS
  4. Human Rights Watch
  5. International Commission of Jurists
  6. International Lesbian and Gay Association
  7. International Service for Human Rights
  8. International Movement Against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism (IMADR)
  9. OutRight Action International

List of organisations supporting this statement:

  1. LGBT+ Rights Ghana
  2. Pan Africa ILGA
  3. Solace Initiative

1OHCHR: Ghana: Anti-LGBTI draft bill a “recipe for violence” – UN experts.
2OHCHR. Communication OL GHA 03/2021.
3OHCHR: Ghana: Anti-LGBTI draft bill a “recipe for violence” – UN experts.
4Amnesty International: Ghana: Anti-LGBTI Bill Stirs Up Hatred, Persecution And Discrimination.

Civic space in Ghana is rated as narrowed by the CIVICUS Monitor

 

UN Human Rights Council should renew the mandate of the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi

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

Delivered by Paul Mulindwa

Thank you, Madame President.

CIVICUS and independent Burundian civil society organisations welcome the work of the UN Commission of Inquiry (CoI) on Burundi, and its comprehensive report on situation of human rights in the country, which provides critical oversight. We urge the UN Human Rights Council to ensure continued scrutiny of Burundi through the renewal of this mandate.

There has been no improvement in the human rights situation in Burundi since the 2020 change in government. Civic space remains closed, with independent and critical voices, including civil society organisations and human rights defenders targeted. Lawyer Tony Germain Nkina, was sentenced to five years in prison as recently as June 2021. Several media outlets are still unable to operate due to restrictions. Many civil society activists and independent journalists remain in exile, while those in Burundi continue to face intimidation, detention, or trials on trumped up charges.

Armed clashes between members of the security forces, sometimes supported by the Imbnerakure, and members of armed groups, continue with increased attacks on civilians.

In light of this, we reiterate our calls on the Council to renew the CoI’s mandate to ensure continued monitoring and documentation of the human rights situation. We call on the government of Burundi to fully implement the 2020 electoral and presidential promises on improving the human rights situation in the country.

We thank you.


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

 

South Sudan: Widespread rights violations persist

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

Interactive Dialogue with the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan

Delivered by Paul Mulindwa

CIVICUS and its partners in South Sudan thank the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan for their update and this crucial continued scrutiny.

We welcome steps taken to implement recommendations of the Revitalized Peace Agreement. However, its implementation continues to be slow.

Despite renewed commitment towards the formation of the Government of National Unity, there is no improvement in the human rights situation. Dire humanitarian, food security, and economic conditions in the country continue to have an enormously detrimental effect on civilians. Localised violence continues unabated in many parts of the country. We are gravely concerned by reports of extrajudicial executions carried out by government forces in Warrap State in July of at least 42 people. Thirteen people were arbitrarily executed in June at the instruction of state officials in Cueibet and Rumbek East.

Civic space is closed, with independent and critical voices, including human rights defenders particularly targeted. The Commission has highlighted the troubling practice of surveillance of journalists and activists to instil fear. We continue to see restrictions on freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, and association; arbitrary arrest and detention; and sexual violence. The current arrests of activists and crackdown on peaceful protests in South Sudan is particularly concerning.

We call on the South Sudan government to take concrete steps to ensure human security and protection of human rights.

We ask the Commission what are the next steps that the Council and members states do to further accountability, as well as to enhance protection and promotion of human rights and fundamental freedoms?

We thank you. 


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

 

The Council must address arbitrary detention of human rights defenders

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

Delivered by Lisa Majumdar

Thank you, Madame President.

No one should be arbitrarily detained simply for peacefully protecting equality, freedom and justice for all. But worldwide, people are in prison for standing up for their rights and for the rights of their communities.

Teresita Naul is a human rights defender who dedicated her life to protecting the poorest and the most marginalised. She is detained in the Philippines under spurious charges. Teresita’s case is illustrative of how the Philippines has repeatedly criminalised the work of human rights defenders.

Sudha Bharadwaj is a human rights lawyer, and one of many human rights defenders charged and detained in India under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act. This is a clear example of a case in which the use of vague and overly broad national security and anti-terrorism provisions has given authorities wide discretion to criminalise peaceful activities, a tactic highlighted by the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.

María Esperanza Sánchez García is human rights defender detained in Nicaragua, where false charges have been used as a strategy to criminalise activists and defenders to deny them status of political prisoner, and arbitrary detention used as a tactic to dismantle the political opposition.

Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, Co-Founder of the Gulf Centre for Human Rights, has spent a decade arbitrarily detained in Bahrain. This year he turned 60 in prison, separated from family and friends.

Human rights defenders are critical to the functioning of the Council’s mandate. We call on the Council to ensure that States who routinely practice arbitrary detention of human rights defenders are held to account and to ensure that human rights defenders are protected and can continue their vital work.

We thank you.

Civic space in the Philippines, India and Nicaragua is repressed and closed in Bahrain as rated by the CIVICUS Monitor

 

Myanmar: States must ensure that rhetoric at the UN translates to action on the ground

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

 Interactive Dialogue with Special Rapporteur on Myanmar

Delivered by Lisa Majumdar

We thank the Special Rapporteur for his progress report.

More than a thousand civilians have been killed in Myanmar since February’s coup. The junta has continued its terror campaign against human rights defenders. Many have been forced into hiding. Many others, unable to flee, have been arbitrarily arrested, including environmental and labour rights defenders and student activists. Some have been tortured or ill-treated.

Arbitrary amendments of the penal code by the junta, outlawing so-called ‘false news,’ has effectively made independent journalism a crime. The threat of arrest has driven many news organisations to close their offices and forced journalists underground or into exile. Two journalists were arrested just last month at an apartment where they had been hiding in Yangon. Authorities have banned satellite media and imposed rolling restrictions on the internet.

The situation in Myanmar cannot be forgotten and its fragile democratic gains lost to history. Dictatorship must not be allowed to remain in place through inadequacy of the international response.

The Special Rapporteur has already made urgent calls on States:

  • To outlaw the export of arms to the Myanmar military, as called for by the General Assembly;
  • To impose systemic sanctions, targeting military-controlled enterprises;
  • To cordinate investigations of ongoing crimes under universal jurisdiction;
  • To increase humanitarian aid through the National Unity Government, local humanitarian networks and community-based organisations;
  • And to reject any claims of legitimacy that the junta may try to assert.

We call on States to take these steps to ensure that rhetoric at the UN translates to action to provide the support so desperately needed by those on the ground.

Thank you.

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

 

Malaysia: Government should respect human rights as it seeks UN Human Rights Council membership

YAB Dato Sri Ismail Sabri Yaakob
Prime Minister of Malaysia
Pejabat Perdana Menteri, Blok Utama, Bangunan Perdana Putra, Pusat Pentadbiran Kerajaan Persekutuan, 62502 Putrajaya, Malaysia

Dear Prime Minister,

We, the undersigned international human rights organisations—ARTICLE 19 and CIVICUS World Alliance for Citizen Participation—call on the new government of Malaysia to implement a comprehensive program of reform to strengthen human rights in Malaysia, especially the rights to freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly, as a prospective member of the UN Human Rights Council. Malaysia must also sign and ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and demonstrate that it is committed to protect human rights.

During the Human Rights Council pledging session on 8 September 2021, organised by Amnesty International and International Service for Human Rights, H.E. Dr Ahmad Faisal Muhamad expressed Malaysia’s unequivocal commitment to advancing human rights for all, noting the domestic legislation in place to enable citizens to “exercise rights and freedoms responsible and not to suppress them.” However, over the last two years there has been a deterioration in the state of human rights and fundamental freedoms under the former Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin’s government. This has included violations of the rights to freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly, the failure to ratify key international human rights treaties, including the ICCPR, together with the government’s dismal record of cooperating with the UN human rights system.

As the government seeks membership to the UN Human Rights Council and has made public pledges to uphold human rights, it is imperative that the new government takes sincere and concrete action to improve its rights record at home. The new government has a unique opportunity to reverse the rights-violating actions of its predecessors and shift to a new rights-respecting approach. Legal and policy reform are pivotal to attain this and would demonstrate a genuine intention from the new government to meet its international human rights obligations.

Without overhauling the violations and abuse of human rights in its country, Malaysia cannot be a valuable and effective member of the Human Rights Council.

Freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, and association
Several laws in Malaysia unduly fetter the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, and association. In order to fulfil its pledges made to the Human Rights Council, Malaysia must repeal or substantially revise the following laws:

• The Sedition Act 1948 – Despite the former government’s commitment to conduct a study and a review of the security laws, including the Sedition Act, the authorities aggressively applied the law, primarily against government critics. Between January and August 2021, NGOs documented the investigation of 17 cases involving 37 individuals under the Sedition Act. The recent investigation of the #Lawan protest organisers under the Sedition Act is worrying and runs contrary to Malaysia’s international human rights obligations. The new government must follow-through with its pledge to review this archaic colonial law and should ultimately repeal it, noting that it has no place in a rights-respecting democracy.

• The Communications and Multimedia Act 1998 – Under the former government, the Communications and Multimedia Act continued to be used as the primary tool to censor human rights defenders, journalists, artists, political opponents, and ordinary members of the public who have been critical of government officials or Malaysian royalty or shared opinions about issues deemed sensitive, such as race and religion. We are encouraged to hear H.E. Dr Ahmad Faisal Muhamad state during the Human Rights Council pledging session on 8 September 2021 that, “the government is in the midst of amending the Communications and Multimedia Act.” The new government must ensure the Act is adequately reformed in consultation with stakeholders so it can no longer be used by authorities as a weapon to silence expression.

• The Peaceful Assembly Act 2012 – In its pledges to the Human Rights Council, the government committed to a review of the problematic Peaceful Assembly Act. It is imperative that this review leads to legislative reform of this law, which authorities have used to target protest organisers and discourage assemblies. The space for peaceful protests shrank considerably under the previous administration, who disrupted gatherings critical of authorities and arbitrarily arrested peaceful protesters under the guise of dealing with the pandemic. We urge the new government to reverse this approach and ensure adequate protection for the right to freedom of peaceful assembly.

• The Societies Act 1966 – Muhyiddin’s government utilised the broad powers of the Societies Act to delay and even reject the formation of new political parties, undermining the right to freedom of association, which is critical in a functioning democracy. While not included in its written pledges, we encourage the government to substantively revise this law, ceasing its use as a barrier to the exercise of the freedom of association.

• Other legislation routinely used to silence dissent includes Sections 504 and 505b of the Penal Code, the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984, the Film Censorship Act 2002, Section 114 of the Evidence Act 1950, and the Official Secrets Act 1972. Wholesale reform of these laws is required to ensure that the right to freedom of expression can be exercised in the country without fear.

The reform or repeal of the aforementioned laws have been repeatedly raised by the Malaysian human rights commission, human rights groups, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, UN Special Rapporteurs, and other States as essential to safeguarding human rights in the country. Encouragingly, during the pledging session, H.E. Dr Ahmad Faisal Muhamad stated that “the government is cognizant of the need to continuously review these acts to make sure that they continue to be efficient, continue to be relevant, and in line with international standards.” To demonstrate that this commitment is sincere, the government must prioritise meaningful legislative reform of all laws impeding on the rights to freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly.

Undermining accountability mechanisms
ARTICLE 19 and CIVICUS are further concerned that domestic accountability mechanisms have been weakened in Malaysia. While the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (SUHAKAM) retains its “A” status as a National Human Rights Institution, SUHAKAM’s yearly reports have been largely ignored by the government. Although SUHAKAM’s 2018 report was debated for the first time in parliament after 19 years under the previous Pakatan Harapan government in December 2019, there was a lack of follow-through by Muhyiddin’s government.

Concerningly, on 8 August 2021 SUHAKAM announced that its commissioners have been called in for police questioning over their attendance as monitors at the #Lawan protest. Two SUHAKAM commissioners, Jerald Joseph and Dato Mah Weng Kai, were investigated on 5 August at the Dang Wangi District Police Headquarters under Section 21A of the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases Act 1988 and the Peaceful Assembly Act.

In presenting its candidacy for membership of the UN Human Rights Council, Malaysia made the voluntary commitment to “[c]ontinue to strengthen human rights institutions and mechanisms in Malaysia.” The government pledged funding support, law review, and more government agency engagement with SUHAKAM. A crucial requirement for fulfilling this pledge is for the government to meaningfully engage with SUHAKAM, viewing them as a key partner in upholding human rights.

Discrimination
In its pledges to the Human Rights Council, the government stated that it would “continue to promote diversity,” and that it “firmly embraces the values of inclusivity, acceptance, and understanding in ensuring harmony and peaceful coexistence.” The government asserted that it will take a “whole-of-society approach in the promotion and protection of human rights in the country.”

Despite legislative protections in Malaysia, namely Article 8(2) of the Malaysian Constitution, which prohibits discrimination on the grounds of religion, race, descent, place of birth or gender, systemic discrimination against minorities persists. ARTICLE 19 and CIVICUS are concerned about homophobic and discriminatory language and actions directed at LGBTQI communities, refugees, migrants, and religious minorities in Malaysia. Any form of national unity must include the rights of minorities, and there is a crucial need for more inclusive and non-discriminatory policies in place.

Police reform
While the government made no reference to police reform in its pledges to the Human Rights Council, ARTICLE 19 and CIVICUS note that it is a pivotal aspect of improving rights protection in Malaysia. Police reform should be prioritised alongside legal reform, as the arbitrary implementation of rights-respecting laws can still lead to human rights violations.

ARTICLE 19 and CIVICUS have recorded dozens of incidents of harassment and intimidation by police against activists, human rights defenders and ordinary citizens because of the exercise of their right to freedom of expression. Without police reform, existing restrictive legal provisions will continue to be used to intimidate vocal critics and to shrink civic space in Malaysia.

The new government must reform the Royal Malaysia Police and establish a dedicated Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC) with a mandate to receive and investigate complaints about police misconduct and abuse. The IPCMC should be given the necessary powers to investigate abuses, compel cooperation from witnesses and government agencies, subpoena documents, and submit cases for prosecution.

Commitments to the UN human rights mechanisms
It is encouraging to hear Malaysia’s pledge to assess, monitor and implement its Universal Periodic Review (UPR) recommendations. The government has committed to work closely with the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the UN in Malaysia to jointly develop a UPR “Monitoring Matrix” to measure the implementation of UPR recommendations that Malaysia has accepted. It has also committed to a “multi-stakeholder biannual consultation” with involvement from civil society and the UN to follow up on UPR recommendations. If adequately acted upon, these commitments could give rise to far-reaching improvements to human rights in Malaysia.

Despite this, the government’s cooperation with mechanisms of the UN Human Rights Council has historically been incredibly poor. Civil society groups working on the UPR process in Malaysia, in their 2021 midterm UPR report, concluded that steps towards ratifying the core human rights instruments, including the ICCPR, have progressed extremely slowly despite commitments made since the first UPR cycle in 2009. ARTICLE 19 and CIVICUS hope the new administration will speed up the process of ratification to illustrate its commitment to human rights as it seeks Human Rights Council membership.

In 2019, the Pakatan Harapan government implemented a policy of standing open invitations for visits by the UN Special Procedures. Malaysia has previously hosted various Special Rapporteurs including on the sale and sexual exploitation of children, on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation, and on extreme poverty and human rights. The new government should uphold this policy of open invitations, and in particular extend invitations to the Special Rapporteurs on the Rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association, on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression, and on Freedom of Religion or Belief. ARTICLE 19 and CIVICUS urge the new government to respond to individual communications from Special Procedures and enter into meaningful dialogues with UN experts rather than deny allegations outright as previous governments have.

Recommendations
To demonstrate its commitment to human rights as a prospective member of the UN Human Rights Council, ARTICLE 19 and CIVICUS make the following recommendations to the Malaysian government:

• Ratify the core human rights instruments and their optional protocols, including the ICCPR, and rescind reservations to existing treaties that are contrary to their objectives and principles;
• Extend a standing invitation to all UN Special Procedures, and act swiftly to facilitate visits by the mandates on freedom of expression and on freedom of peaceful assembly and association;
• Implement all recommendations made by UN Member States during the previous cycle of Malaysia’s UPR, in particular those relating to civic space;
• Repeal the Sedition Act 1948, the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984, Official Secrets Act 1972, and the Film Censorship Act 1998;
• Reform the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998, in particular Section 233(1)(a), to ensure it fully complies with international freedom of expression law and standards;
• Reform the Penal Code, including Sections 504 and 505b, the Peaceful Assembly Act 2012, Section 114 of the Evidence Act, and the Societies Act 1966 in accordance with international law and standards;
• Drop all investigations and charges against those exercising their right to freedom of expression, including social media users;
• Ensure authorities do not harass or instigate arbitrary criminal investigations and proceedings against human rights defenders, protesters, activists, media workers, or opposition political figures;
• Consult with civil society organisations on the shortcomings of Malaysia’s legal framework as they relate to freedom of expression and access to information;
• Establish an IPCMC to investigate police abuses as per the recommendations of the Royal Commission to Enhance the Operation and Management of the Royal Malaysia;
• Should Malaysia be granted membership to the Human Rights Council, ensure it exercises earnest efforts to defend and enhance international human rights standards and ensure accountability for human rights violations and abuses in other countries in Southeast Asia and worldwide.

ARTICLE 19 and CIVICUS express sincere hope that the new government will take these steps to address the human rights concerns highlighted above and stand ready to engage in constructive dialogue to support such efforts. We hope to hear from you regarding this matter as soon as possible.

Yours sincerely,

ARTICLE 19 and CIVICUS.

Cc. Permanent Mission of Malaysia to the United Nations Office and other international organizations in Geneva
International Center Cointrin
Bloc H
Route de Pré-Bois 20
1215 Geneva 15

For more information, contact:

David Diaz-Jogeix, ARTICLE 19 Senior Director of Programmes, , or
Josef Benedict, CIVICUS Civic Space Researcher, .

Civic space in Malaysia is rated as obstructed by the CIVICUS Monitor.

 

 

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

 

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