Country recommendations on civic space for UN´s Universal Periodic Review

CIVICUS makes six joint UN Universal Periodic Review submissions on civil society space: Cote d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Nicaragua and Qatar

CIVICUS and its partners have made joint UN Universal Periodic Review (UPR) submissions on 6 countries in advance of the 33rd UPR session (April-May 2019). 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.  

Cote d’Ivoire: CIVICUS and the Coalition Ivoirienne des Défenseurs des droits Humains (CIDDH) examine the steps taken by the government of Cote d’Ivoire to address restrictions on civic space.  We highlight the promulgation of the law on Human Rights Defenders and the subsequent Resolution passed to ensure implementation of the law. However, we note ongoing restrictions on freedom of expression, the targeting of journalists and bloggers by the authorities, attempts to undermine freedom of association and the tendency to use excessive force to disperse peaceful protests.  

Democratic Republic of Congo (FR): CIVICUS and Ligue des Droits de la personne dans la région des Grands Lacs (LDGL) analyse the multiple unwarranted restrictions on civic space in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Authorities have systematically banned protests, in particular protests organised by civil society, social movements and opposition, while security forces have used excessive force against peaceful protesters, leading to hundreds of deaths. Additionally, HRDs and activists are subject to arbitrary arrests and judicial harassment, aimed at preventing them from exercising their democratic and civic rights. These unwarranted restrictions have intensified since the start of the political and security crisis in 2015, precipitated by President Kabila’s attempts to remain in power despite a constitutional two-term limit. 

Equatorial Guinea: CIVICUS, the Committee Protect Journalists (CPJ), Centro de Estudios e Iniciativas para el Desarrollo (CEID), ONG – Cooperación y Desarrollo and EG Justice examine ongoing restrictions on freedom of association, attacks and intimidation of journalists and bloggers and the general disenabling environment for freedom of expression and independent media agencies.  We further discuss threats faced by human rights defenders and the frequent violent repression of peaceful assemblies.

Ethiopia: CIVICUS, the Association for Human Rights in Ethiopia (AHRE), the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), DefendDefenders, PEN International, Article 19, the Consortium of Ethiopian Rights Organizations (CERO), and Access Now examine the Government of Ethiopia’s fulfilment of the rights to the freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression, and unwarranted restrictions on HRDs since its previous UPR examination in 2014. While the government recently committed to addressing a range of restrictive legislation, alongside releasing large numbers of political prisoners, at the time of writing, the restrictive legal framework remains in place. Acute implementation gaps were found regarding recommendations relating to civic space including the rights to the freedoms of association and peaceful assembly.

Nicaragua (ES): CIVICUS and the Nicaraguan Network for Democracy and Local Development Federation (Red Local) address concerns about the violent repression of protests and the criminalisation of protest leaders and demonstrators, particularly of the student and peasant movements, as well as the intensification of the persecution and intimidation suffered by CSOs supporting social movements in Nicaragua. Along with the growing restrictions on freedom of expression that stem from media concentration in government hands and pressures against journalists and independent media covering issues such as corruption, elections and infrastructure or extractive projects, the submission further examines the alarming increase of unwarranted restrictions on the press linked to the coverage of protests and their violent suppression and related human rights violations.

Qatar: CIVICUS and the Gulf Centre for Human Rights highlight the continued restrictions on freedom of association and expression in Qatar, which include unwarranted arrests on foreign journalists and confiscation of equipment, and restrictions on online content under the Cybercrime Prevention Law. The authorities in Qatar also continue to restrict the formation of independent civil society organisations committed to the advancement of human rights, and there have been severe and undue limitations to freedoms of assembly resulting in almost no protests in Qatar despite serious human rights violations.

 

Outcomes & Reflections from 39th Session of UN Human Rights Council

This session, the Council adopted landmark resolutions on several country situations, further enhancing its contribution to the protection of human rights. 

On Myanmar, we welcome the creation of the independent investigative mechanism, which is an important step towards accountability for the horrific crimes committed in Myanmar, as elaborated in the Fact Finding Mission’s report to this session. The overwhelming support for the resolution, notwithstanding China’s shameful blocking of consensus, was a clear message to victims and survivors that the international community stands with them in their fight for justice. 

On Yemen, the Council demonstrated that principled action is possible, and has sent a strong message to victims of human rights violations in Yemen that accountability is a priority for the international community, by voting in favor of renewing the mandate of the Group of Eminent Experts to continue international investigations into violations committed by all parties to the conflict. 

Furthermore, we welcome the leadership by a group of States on the landmark resolution on Venezuela, and consider it as an important step for the Council applying objective criteria to address country situations that warrant its attention. The resolution, adopted with support from all regions, sends a strong message of support to the Venezuelan people. By opening up a space for dialogue at the Council, the resolution brings scrutiny to the tragic human rights and humanitarian crisis unfolding in the country.  

While we welcome the renewal of the mandate of the Commission of Inquiry (CoI) on Burundi, to continue its critical investigation and work towards accountability, we regret, however, that the Council failed to respond more strongly to Burundi's record of non-cooperation and attacks against the UN human rights system. 

We also welcome the Council’s adoption of the resolution on Syria, which among other things condemns all violations and abuses of international human rights law and all violations of international humanitarian law committed by all parties to the conflict.

However, on other country situations including China, Sudan, Cambodia and the Philippines, the Council failed to take appropriate action. 

On Sudan, we are deeply concerned about the weak resolution that envisions an end to the Independent Expert’s mandate once an OHCHR office is set up; a "deal" Sudan has already indicated it does not feel bound by, and which is an abdication of the Council’s responsibility to human rights victims in Sudan while grave violations are ongoing. At a minimum, States should ensure the planned country office monitors and publicly reports on the human rights situation across Sudan, and that the High Commissioner is mandated to report to the Council on the Office’s findings.  

We also regret the lack of concerted Council action on the Philippines, in spite of the need to establish independent international and national investigations into extrajudicial killings in the government's 'war on drugs', and to monitor and respond to the government's moves toward authoritarianism. 

In addition, we regret the Council’s weak response to the deepening human rights and the rule of law crisis in Cambodia, failing to change its approach even when faced with clear findings by the Special Rapporteur demonstrating that the exclusive focus on technical assistance and capacity building in the country, is failing.

We share the concerns that many raised during the session, including the High Commissioner, about China’s human rights record, specifically noting serious violations of the rights of Uyghurs and other predominantly Muslim minorities in Xinjiang province. It is regrettable that States did not make a concrete and collective call for action by China to cease the internment of estimates ranging up to 1 million individuals from these communities. 

On thematic resolutions, we welcome the adoption of the resolution on equal participation in political and public affairs but would have preferred a stronger endorsement and implementation of the guidelines.

The resolution on safety of journalists, adopted by consensus, sets out a clear roadmap of practical actions to end impunity for attacks. Journalism is not a crime - yet too many States in this room simply imprison those that criticize them. This must end, starting with the implementation of this resolution. 

We welcome the adoption by consensus of the resolution on preventable maternal mortality and morbidity and human rights in humanitarian settings. Women and girls affected by conflict have been denied accountability for too long. The implementation of this resolution will ensure that their rights, including their sexual and reproductive health and rights, are respected, protected and fulfilled. 

Finally, the Council’s first interactive dialogue on acts of reprisals and intimidation was an important step to ensure accountability for this shameful practice, and we urge more States to have the courage and conviction to stand up for human rights defenders and call out countries that attack and intimidate them.

Signatories:
The African Centre for Democracy and Human Rights Studies (ACDHRS)
Amnesty International 
Article 19
Center for Reproductive Rights
CIVICUS
DefendDefenders
FIDH
Forum Asia 
Human Rights House Foundation (HRHF)
Human Rights Watch 
International Commission of Jurists
International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)

 

Yemen: Urgent need to address humanitarian crisis

39th Session of the UN Human Rights Council
Joint statement during Interactive Dialogue on High Commissioner's Report on Yemen

Urgent need to address the humanitarian crisis in Yemen and its impact on the most vulnerable populations: A call for renewal and strengthening of the mandate for the Group of Eminent Experts

This statement is made on behalf of Save the Children and 15 civil society organisations, including organisations with current operations in Yemen.

Fighting around Hodeidah city has increased since early September and throughout the country, the welfare of at least 8.4 million people on the brink of starvation, including at least 4.2 million children, is at stake. This year alone we expect some 400,000 children under five to suffer from severe acute malnutrition.

Humanitarian access remains extremely challenging with more than 1.4 million people in need of assistance living in districts with high access constraints [1]. Parties to the conflict continue to deny or delay basic humanitarian services, access to essential supplies into and within the country.

We have repeated on many occasions that the humanitarian situation has escalated to an unacceptable level of widespread violations and abuses of international human rights law and international humanitarian law. Since June, at least 425 attacks on and military use of schools and hospitals have been documented and verified [2]. 450 civilians have lost their lives in the first nine days of August alone [3].

We call on Member States to take immediate action to hold all parties to the conflict to account for violations of international law. In particular, we urge Member States to:

  • Call on all parties to the conflict to comply with their obligations under international law, and take immediate measures to prevent and end violations against civilians, notably children, including by supporting all authorities in Yemen to implement the Safe Schools Declaration and associated Guidelines for Protecting Schools and University from Military Use during Armed Conflict;
  • Urgently renew and strengthen the mandate of the Group of Eminent Experts on Yemen;
  • Suspend the sale or transfer of arms, munitions and related materials to all parties to the conflict; and
  • Engage all parties to the conflict to find an inclusive peaceful, sustainable and implementable political solution that involves women, youth, children, minority groups and civil society.

Adventist Development and Relief Agency
Action contre La Faim
Danish Refugee Council
Defence for Children International
CARE International
CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
INTERSOS
The International Rescue Committee
Islamic Relief
Médecins du Monde
Mercy Corps
Oxfam International
Relief International
War Child UK
ZOA


[1] https://www.humanitarianresponse.info/sites/www.humanitarianresponse.info/files/documents/files/20180806_humanitarian_update_final.pdf
[2] https://www.unicef.org/yemen/YEM_sitreps_Jun2018.pdf
[3] http://www.unhcr.org/news/briefing/2018/8/5b8503637/unhcr-calls-protection-civilians-fleeing-yemens-al-hudaydah.html

 

Uzbekistan at UN Human Rights Council: Adoption of Universal Periodic Review Report

The Association for Human Rights in Central Asia, International Partnership for Human Rights and CIVICUS welcome the government of Uzbekistan’s engagement with the UPR process, including its decision to accept over 200 recommendations on a range of human rights issue. 

While we note the release from detention of 28 activists, political opponents and journalists in the last two yars, as well as the authorities’ steps to allow for greater  independent dissent, we regret that freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly and association remain willfully suppressed by the State limited. Of the 28 people released in the last two years, many remain under surveillance. According to human rights monitors, at least five people remain behind bars for exercising their right to freedom of expression. We are concerned that since 25 August 2018 at least twelve bloggers have also been detained in connection with posts they made on social media. 

We regret that national legal mechanisms remain partial and subject to political interference. Courts continue to place arbitrary restrictions on protests, including  rulings that unwarrantedly limit people’s support for demonstrations off and online under the guise of    incitement to public disorder. During detention, torture is frequently used and procedural rights for detainees are often disregarded. Those who submit written complaints to the President or speak to the press are sometimes added to the “black list” of people deemed “undesirable” and are denied freedom of movement.

We regret that tight state controls on CSO  registration, funding and activities, coupled with ongoing restrictions on freedom of expression, prevent independent media outlets and human rights CSOs s from operating unencumbered .  

Although some activists have been allowed to travel abroad in recent months, restrictions on international travel remain in place for other human rights defenders. 

Mr President, we call on Uzbekistan to implement recommendations it accepted on promoting the right to freedom of association and participation in public affairs to lift prohibitive registration requirements of CSOs, to ensure CSOs and journalists can fully exercise their freedom of expression and peaceful assembly and to create a safe environment for human rights defenders, including for women human rights defenders.
 

 

Djibouti at UN Human Rights Council: Adoption of Universal Periodic Review Report

CIVICUS, DefendDefenders, and FIDH welcome the government of Djibouti's engagement with the UPR process. We also welcome the government’s commitment during its 3rd cycle review to ensure that no restrictions will be imposed on visits by Special Rapporteurs and to guarantee fundamental freedoms.

However, in our joint UPR Submission, we documented that since its last review, Djibouti has not implemented any of the recommendations it received relating to civic space. 

We regret that anti-terrorism measures continue to be used as a smokescreen for severe restrictions on civic space. Indeed, a November 2015 decree effectively banned all public meetings and gatherings and heavily restricted the political opposition’s activities ahead of the 2016 presidential elections. 

During its 3rd cycle review, the government claimed that ‘to date, no human rights defender has been detained or even prosecuted.’ Yet in our joint submission, we documented numerous arrests and detentions of human rights defenders, journalists and political opposition members Authorities rarely followed due process and at times subjected prisoners to ill-treatment and torture.

On 15 April 2018, just two days after returning home from Djibouti’s UPR Pre-session in Geneva, security agents briefly detained HRD Mr. Kadar Abdi Ibrahim, confiscated his passport and raided his home. Since then, he has been unable to leave the country.

Finally, we deplore the lack of transparent and credible investigations into security forces’ killing of at least 27 people and injuring of 150 others at a religious festival in Balbala on 21 December 2015. The government has accepted recommendations to ensure the respect for and protection of the right to freedom of peaceful assembly, and we urge the government to rapidly and thoroughly investigate and bring to justice any violators.

Mr. President, CIVICUS, DefendDefenders and FIDH call on the Government of Djibouti 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.

 

Burkina Faso at UN Human Rights Council: Adoption of Universal Periodic Review Report

Coalition Burkinabé des Défenseurs des Droits Humains, the West Africa Human Rights Defenders Network and CIVICUS welcome the government of Burkina Faso's engagement with the UPR process. We also welcome passing of a new law on the protection of human rights defenders in June 2017, making Burkina Faso only the second African country to do so.

However, in our joint UPR Submission, we documented that since its last review, Burkina Faso only partially implemented the one civic space recommendation received during its 2nd Cycle review. Despite several positive developments since the popular uprising of 2014, such as the decriminalisation of defamation and the adoption of a law on the protection of human right defenders, restrictions on the freedom of expression including suspensions of media outlets by the national media regulator and attacks and threats against journalists continue.

A new law on freedom of association, passed in 2015, allows authorities to delay the granting of legal personality in order to conduct a “morality” test on the applicant if deemed necessary. Civil society in Burkina Faso are further concerned about article 56 of the law which establishes a mediation commission, the members of which are not guaranteed to be independent of government.

Despite the new HRD law, in recent years journalists and civil society activists, in particular those critical of the government, have continued to experience threats, intimidation and physical attacks. Freedom of expression has been undermined in recent years, including through the forced closure of some media outlets. 

Serious violations of the right to freedom of peaceful assembly, including the killing of at least 14 unarmed protestors, took place during a coup d’etat in September 2015.

Mr President, we call on the Government of Burkina Faso 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.

 

Turkmenistan at UN Human Rights Council: Adoption of Universal Periodic Review Report

CIVICUS welcomes the government of Turkmenistan's engagement with the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process. We welcome the release of journalist Saparmamed Nepeskuliev but note with concern that his health deteriorated while serving a three-year prison term on spurious drug-charges that the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention found to be arbitrary. 

In our UPR Submission, we documented that since its last review, Turkmenistan has not implemented any of the 27 recommendations made relating to civic space, including the 24 recommendations that were accepted. 

Furthermore, there are 112 individuals forcibly disappeared, who have been targeted for political opposition or their work in civil society.  We echo the recommendation made in the 3rd Cycle Review that Turkmenistan welcome a visit by the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention and the Working Group on Enforced Disappearances.

We are further concerned by state interference in the media. In April 2018, the President dismissed Kaybov Myratdurdy, the editor of Edebiýat we Sungat newspaper and replaced him with his own candidate. The state has also forcibly dismantled private satellite dishes which allow citizens to access foreign TV and radio stations. 

Mr. President, we are deeply concerned by ongoing violations of freedom of assembly. The government of Turkmenistan regularly and coercively mobilises residents for public events and frequently implements subbotnik (or forced labour) days. Mr. President, this practice runs contrary to the right to freedom of assembly, a basic element of which is voluntary participation in assemblies. 

Due to numerous obstacles in the 2014 Law on Public Associations, no independent human rights organisations exist in Turkmenistan. We urge the government to implement the recommendations made during the 3rd Cycle Review to simplify the legal and procedural requirements for the registration of civil society.

Mr. President, CIVICUS calls on the Government of Turkmenistan 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.

 

Statement on alarming trends of reprisals and killings -- 38 UN member states implicated

Human Rights Council 39th session 
Joint statement: ISHR & CIVICUS

Interactive Dialogue with Assistant Secretary-General on the Secretary-General's report on cooperation with the United Nations, it's representatives and Mechanisms in the field of human rights

Human rights defenders must be able to access and communicate with the UN freely and safely so it can do its crucial work of monitor countries’ compliance with human rights obligations and protect victims from abuse.

Cases of reprisal are direct barriers to this, and to effective and meaningful civil society participation with the UN. Yet the SG’s reprisals report points to ‘alarming trends’ of reprisals, including killing, torture, arbitrary arrests and detention, travel bans, surveillance, criminalisation, freezing of assets, and stigmatization. 

This years’ report including an increased number of cases – 45. Including follow up, 38 countries are implicated. This is to say that, In this year alone, 20% of States who by joining the UN—“reaffirmed their faith in fundamental human rights, and dignity and worth of the human person”—attacked or intimidated persons or organisations knocking on the UN’ doors seeking change and a better world.

The report again documents cases by Council members and candidates, including Bahrain, Burundi, Cameroon, China, Cuba, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Egypt, Hungary, India, Iraq, Japan, Kyrgyzstan, Mexico, Pakistan, Philippines, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Venezuela. We urge GA members to consider this before voting in Council elections.

Missing from this year’s report are Chinese defenders WANG Qiaoling and LI Wenzu, the wives of two detained lawyers who have been intimidated and harassed; CAO Shunli, who was detained in September 2013 prior to boarding a flight for Geneva, where she was going to participate in China-related U.N. training sessions, and who died in detention after authorities denied her adequate medical care; and Dolkun Isa, a Uyghur activist, who was denied entry into the meeting of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues in New York in April 2018.

We welcome the Report’s recommendation that the UN do more to ensure the experiences of LGBTI persons facing reprisals for their advocacy are documented, disaggregated, and properly analyzed, seeking to minimize additional risk.

In practice, the Council’s discussion of cases in the Report and follow-up to those cases has not been systematic. What we see now is defenders dissuaded from engaging because the cost is too high. What we need is for States to turn away from repression and attacks, because the cost to them is too high. 

We welcome the statement made today by Germany on Egyptian defender Ebrahim Metwally and we urge more States to stand up for the critical voices of human rights defenders and seize the opportunity to take up cases in the report during future interactive dialogues.

The SG concludes in his report that the UN is seeing evidence of self-censorship with regard to engagement, including people too afraid to speak to the UN, both in the field and at headquarters in New York and Geneva. What more can be done by the UN and others to effectively and proactively address this situation to minimize risk to those engaging and ensure that the UN can effectively fulfill its mandate?
 

 

Countries that require the attention of the UN Human Rights Council

39th Session of the Human Rights Council
Oral Statement  

Members of the CIVICUS Alliance in Zimbabwe have expressed grave concern for the authorities’ heavy-handed response to protests in Harare one day after presidential elections were held. Military personnel deployed in response to the protests shot live bullets at protesters, killing at least 6 and injuring many others. We call on the government of Zimbabwe to conduct a prompt, credible and impartial investigation in the excessive and lethal use of force during the course of these demonstrations.

In Bahrain, SALAM for Democracy & Human Rights, a member of the CIVICUS Alliance, has documented cases of arbitrary arrests, detentions, torture and ill-treatment of human rights defenders. All major opposition parties have now been dissolved and stripped of their assets. We are equally concerned that security personnel continue to wilfully arrest, physically assault and even kill demonstrators for exercising their legitimate right to public dissent. We urge the Council going to hold the government of Bahrain fully accountable for any violations of its international obligations.

Finally, Mr. President, in Bangladesh, over the past year, authorities have used a rage of repressive laws to target and harass journalists and human rights defenders, restrict freedom of assembly and carry out enforced disappearances of opposition supporters ahead of national elections scheduled for late 2018. We call on the government of Bangladesh to drop all unwarranted charges and end the persecution of individuals and groups for exercising their fundamental rights.

 

Civic Space Initiative statement on public participation guidelines

39th Session of the Human Rights Council
General Debate

Civic Space Initiative, including Article 19, CIVICUS, European Center for Not-for-profit Law, International Center for Not-for-profit Law and World Movement for Democracy, welcomes the draft guidelines on effective implementation of the right to participate in public affairs prepared by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. 

We emphasise the critical importance of equal and meaningful participation in the realisation of human rights and fundamental freedoms, as already laid out in Article 25 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Equally, we recognise the centrality of participation in building democratic societies, social inclusion, gender equality and in advancing economic development and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

We welcome the transparent, open, and inclusive manner in which the OHCHR developed the draft guidelines, including consultations our organizations participated in all parts of the world.

We underscore all practical recommendations at national and international level which will help UN member States to create an environment necessary for the public to have their say. We highlight in particular the right of access to information and States’ obligations to encourage and support civil society to do its work and refrain from any harassment and reprisal of rights-holders.

Therefore, we strongly encourage the Council to endorse the guidelines on effective implementation of the right to participate in public affairs, and call on all UN Member States, local authorities, relevant United Nations bodies, specialized agencies, funds and programmes to promote the use and implementation of the guidelines within their work and public outreach.    

We look forward to working with OHCHR, as well as States at the international and national level to enhance the right to public participation.

 

CIVICUS Addresses the New UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

39th Session of the Human Rights Council  
Opening Statement to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
 

High Commissioner Bachelet, CIVICUS warmly welcomes you to the Council and congratulates your appointment as 7th UN High Commissioner. You take up this position at a time when human rights and the institutions to uphold them are under attack, and we look to you to be the voice of the thousands of human rights defenders working on the front lines, risking their lives on a daily basis. 

We also welcome your call for new strategies and stronger tools for prevention, early intervention and also accountability so that the power of justice can deter and prevent even the worst violations and crimes. 

The CIVICUS Monitor, a platform that tracks and rates civic space globally, has developed a Watch List of countries where on which individual activists and civil society organisations are experiencing a severe infringement of their civic freedoms as protected by international law, and urgent action is needed to reverse the trend. The Monitor  recently placed Bangladesh, Cameroon, the DRC, Guatemala, Maldives and Nicaragua on its Watch List

These violations include brutal attacks by police on peaceful protests in Nicaragua and Bangladesh; the killing of 18 human rights defenders since January 2018 in Guatemala; flagrant disregard for the rule of law in Maldives ahead of elections scheduled this month; killing of protesters, targeted campaigns of harassment and arbitrary detention of activists and political opposition in the DRC; and the prosecution of human rights defenders and journalists on trumped-up charges in Cameroon amidst an escalating civil conflict and humanitarian crisis. 

We call on you, High Commissioner and on all delegations to address these attacks and restrictions as a bellwether for further violations to come, and act now to reverse these worrying trends.

 

750+ organizations highlight the vital role of the UN High Commissioner in calling out violators

Joint NGO letter to the new UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet 5 September 2018

As local, national, regional, and international civil society organizations from every corner of the world, we offer warm congratulations on your appointment as United Nations (UN) High Commissioner for Human Rights. 

We are committed to a world in which every person enjoys human rights and dignity and in which our communities are fair, just and sustainable. We consider that a strong High Commissioner, working in strategic partnership with independent civil society, can contribute significantly to the realization of this vision. 

You take up office at a time when human rights are under attack and when we risk the reversal of many of the achievements of the modern human rights movement. We look to you in these troubled times to be an unwavering voice in the defence of human rights, and of victims, rights-holders and human rights defenders around the world. 

On every continent, the rights of individuals, communities and peoples are being violated and abused by governments and non-state actors, often with complete impunity. Civil society, peaceful dissidents, and the media are often brutally silenced. The role of your Office in ensuring robust monitoring of, and reporting on, such situations is essential for curbing violations and deterring further abuse, as well as for ensuring justice and accountability. Technical-assistance and capacity building by the OHCHR is also critical and, to be effective, should be approached holistically alongside a rigorous assessment of the rights challenges in the country, including through key indicators to measure progress and assess the degree of engagement and cooperation by the State.

As High Commissioner, you have a unique role to play in bringing country situations of concern to the attention of the UN Human Rights Council and other UN bodies, particularly situations that may not be on their agenda or which receive limited attention, often because of political pressure. This role should extend to providing briefings to the Security Council on situations either on its agenda or that, if left unattended, could represent a threat to international peace and security. Monitoring missions and inter-sessional briefings to the HRC can be initiated at the High Commissioner’s prerogative, on the basis of your Office’s universal mandate, bringing attention to neglected country situations and contributing towards the achievement of the Council’s mandate to prevent human rights violations. 

We are aware that the position of High Commissioner comes with its own challenges. Many States will insist you avoid “naming and shaming” and push you to engage in “quiet diplomacy” and to respect national sovereignty. Often, those most intolerant of criticism and most forceful in suppressing dissent will speak the loudest in seeking to mute your voice. Survivors, victims and defenders on the front line in countries where their rights are being violated will rely on you as a human rights champion, to have the courage and conviction to call out violators clearly and publicly, even when it’s challenging or unpopular with governments. 

Globally, the rights essential to civic space are being systematically undermined. Civil society and human rights defenders face severe daily risks in their struggle to defend human rights on the ground, including imprisonment, asset-freezes, defamatory campaigns, torture, enforced disappearance, and even death. Risks are also present in the UN context, where individuals frequently face intimidation, harassment or reprisals for their engagement with the UN. We urge you to be a staunch defender of the rights of defenders both on the ground and at the UN, to publicly call out violators, and to undertake or push for investigations into attacks and reprisals. We also encourage you to take full advantage of the distinct, often innovative complementary role of civil society to the work of the OHCHR, and ensure the Office works closely with civil society as a strategic partner at the national, regional, and international levels. 

Currently, the human rights framework itself is under unparalleled attack. Authoritarian populists are attacking the universality of human rights, disproportionately and unlawfully restricting rights in the purported interests of “national security,” often tacitly or openly encouraging attacks by their followers or vigilantes on rights defenders as well as the vulnerable and poor, while selectively interpreting human rights and seeking to co-opt or subvert human rights mechanisms to suit their political agendas. Safeguarding and strengthening universal human rights norms and mechanisms should be a core responsibility of the High Commissioner. 

The current climate highlights the need for a strong public advocacy role for your mandate in the defence of international human rights law and the international human rights system, as well as a strong role internally within the UN to mainstream respect for human rights throughout the work of UN organs and agencies, and within the Sustainable Development Agenda.

Once again, we congratulate you on your new role, and stand ready to support you and your Office in the fulfilment of your vital mandate. 

 

Human rights monitoring needed in Democratic Republic of Congo

Letter sent to UN Member State Missions
Re: Creating a dedicated country-wide human rights monitoring and reporting mechanism on the Democratic Republic of Congo at the UN Human Rights Council

Your excellency,

We, the undersigned Congolese, regional, and international organizations, write to urge your delegation to support the creation of a country-wide human rights monitoring and reporting mechanism on the Democratic Republic of Congo at the upcoming 39th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council.

The ongoing human rights violations committed by Congolese security forces and armed groups throughout the country – coupled with a pattern of impunity and the potential for renewed outbreak of large-scale violence in the coming months, amidst a crackdown on human rights in the context of the uncertain electoral process – necessitate increased and dedicated human rights monitoring and public reporting to help prevent further abuses and achieve the goals of accountability.

Congo is facing a human rights crisis, as the authorities clamp down on the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly of critics who insist that President Joseph Kabila has stayed in power beyond his constitutionally mandated two-term limit by delaying elections and suppressing dissent. The elections are now scheduled to be held on 23 December 2018. Civil society and the political opposition in Congo have expressed serious concerns about the credibility, fairness, and inclusivity of the electoral process, and risks of further delays. There is a real risk of more crackdowns and potential political violence as the election deadline nears, with possible consequences throughout the volatile region.

From August 1 to 7, Congolese security forces fired teargas and live ammunition to disperse political opposition supporters, killing at least two people – including a child – and injuring at least seven others with gunshot wounds, during the candidate registration period for presidential elections. Authorities also restricted the movement of opposition leaders, arrested dozens of opposition supporters, and prevented one presidential aspirant, Moïse Katumbi, from entering the country to file his candidacy.

Since 2015, Congolese security forces have killed nearly 300 people during largely peaceful protests. Congolese authorities have banned meetings and demonstrations by the opposition and civil society groups. Hundreds of opposition supporters and democracy activists have been jailed. Many have been held in secret detention facilities without charge or access to family members or lawyers. Others have been tried and convicted on trumped-up charges. The government has also shut down Congolese media outlets, expelled international journalists and researchers, and periodically curtailed access to the internet and text messaging.

The human rights crisis has been linked to political tensions and violence in Congo, which could worsen as the election approaches. Armed groups and security forces have attacked civilians in many parts of the country, including the Kasaïs, the Kivus, Ituri, and Tanganyika. Today, some 4.5 million Congolese are displaced from their homes. More than 100,000 Congolese have fled abroad since January 2018, raising the risk of increased regional instability.

At the Human Rights Council in June, the team of international experts on the Kasai region presented their final report, expressing shock at the magnitude of the violence and the dire human rights situation that has persisted since 2016. An estimated 5,000 people, and possibly many more, have been in killed, and more than 1.4 million people displaced from their homes. No one has been held to

account for the murders in March 2017 of UN investigators Michael Sharp and Zaida Catalán and the disappearance of the four Congolese who accompanied them, and only a few low-level suspected perpetrators have been prosecuted for the violence against Congolese in the region. In July 2018, the Council requested the High Commissioner for Human Rights to dispatch a team of two international human rights experts to monitor and report on the implementation by Congolese authorities of the Kasai investigation’s recommendations.

Since early this year, violence intensified in various parts of northeastern Congo’s Ituri province, with terrifying incidents of massacres, rapes, and decapitation. Armed groups launched deadly attacks on villages, killing scores of civilians, torching hundreds of homes, and displacing an estimated 350,000 people.

Armed groups and security forces in the Kivu provinces also continue to attack civilians. According to the Kivu Security Tracker, assailants, including state security forces, killed more than 580 civilians and abducted at least 940 others in North and South Kivu since January 2018.

In the southeastern province of Tanganyika, more than 200 people were killed, 250,000 others displaced, and numerous villages and displacement camps burned since intercommunal violence broke out in mid-2016. Nobody has been held to account to date, and the situation remains volatile.

Considering the scale and complexity of the human rights challenges in Congo, and the many regions in the country requiring scrutiny, a dedicated mechanism is needed with the mandate to cover the country as a whole which can conduct the needed monitoring and reporting to the Human Rights Council and make recommendations to the government of Congo and the international community with a view to preventing further human rights violations and abuses and achieving accountability. The Council should create such a mechanism in September to complement the work of the UN joint human rights office in Congo and ensure adequate scrutiny and reporting of human rights violations and abuses in the electoral context.

We urge your delegation to support the creation of such a mandate.

With assurances of our highest consideration,

11.11.11
Action pour la Restauration de la Paix et la Justice (ARPJ)
Agir Ensemble pour les Droits de l’Homme (AEDH)
Agir pour des Élections Transparentes et Apaisées (AETA)
Amnesty International
Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)
Association Africaine de Défense des Droits de l’Homme (ASADHO)
Association Congolaise pour l’Accès à la Justice (ACAJ)
Association des Femmes Juristes Congolaises (AFEJUCO)
Carrefour pour la Justice, le Développement et les Droits Humains (CJHD-RDC)
CCFD – Terre Solidaire
Centre d’Observation des Droits de l’Homme et d’Assistance Sociale (CODHAS)
Centre d’Études et de Formation Populaire pour les Droits de l’Homme (CEFOP/DH)
Cercle National de Réflexion sur la Jeunesse en RDC (CNRJ-RDC)
CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
Commission Justice et Paix Belgique
Ecumenical Network Central Africa (OENZ)
European Network for Central Africa (EurAc)
Fastenopfer/Action de Carême
Femmes et Enfants en Détresses/Uvira et Fizi (SOS FED)
Forum réfugiés Cosi
Franciscans International
Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect
Groupe d’Associations de Défense des Droits de l’Homme et de la Paix (GADHOP)
Groupe Lotus
Human Rights Watch
International Commission of Jurists
International Federation for Human Rights Leagues (FIDH)
International Refugee Rights Initiative (IRRI)
Justicia Asbl
La Voix des Sans Voix pour les Droits de l’Homme (VSV)
Ligue des Électeurs (LE)
Never Again Coalition
Nouvelles Dynamiques pour le Développement Rural Intégral (NODRI)
Œil des Victimes des Violations des Droits de l’Homme (OVVDH)
Pax Christi International
PMU
Protection International
Réseau des Femmes pour les Droits des Enfants et des Femmes (REFEDEF)
Réseau des Victimes de l’Insécurité au Congo (REVI Asbl)
Réseau pour la Réforme du Secteur de Sécurité et Justice (RRSSJ)
SAPI
Secours Catholique – Caritas France
The African Centre for Democracy and Human Rights Studies (ACDHRS)
The Enough Project
Tournons la Page
World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)

 

Burundi: Continued UN investigation of human rights violations needed

Frances

To Permanent Representatives of Member and Observer States of the United Nations Human Rights Council, Geneva, Switzerland
Burundi: Call to renew the mandate of the Commission of Inquiry

Excellencies,

Ahead of the 39th session of the UN Human Rights Council (“HRC” or “the Council”), we, the undersigned national, regional and international civil society organisations, write to urge your delegation to support a resolution renewing the mandate of the UN Commission of Inquiry (CoI) on Burundi. [1] Such a resolution should also ensure continuity for the work of the CoI through continued adequate resourcing of its secretariat, including its crucial investigative and evidence-gathering work.

The renewal of the CoI’s mandate is critically important to improve the human rights situation in Bu-rundi, and it offers the Council a number of practical and effective advantages. Among other things, it would allow the Council to:

  • Avoid a monitoring gap, which is all the more important given the Burundian Government’s ongoing refusal to cooperate with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and to sign a new Memorandum of Understanding regarding its presence in the coun-try; [2
  • Ensure the continued documentation of human rights violations and abuses ahead of the upcoming elections of 2020, through testimonies of victims, witnesses, human rights defenders, and other actors operating in and outside of the country;
  • Ensure ongoing public reporting and debates — while the African Union’s observers continue to monitor the human rights situation in Burundi despite a number of limitations imposed by the authorities, their findings are not publicly reported. Interactive dialogues at the Council provide the only regular space for public reporting and debates on human rights developments in the country; and
  • Enable the CoI to continue to highlight under-addressed aspects of the crisis — for instance, the Commission has stressed the importance of dedicating more attention to violations of economic, social and cultural rights.

At the Council's 36th session (September 2017), the CoI informed the HRC that there were “reasonable grounds to believe that serious human rights violations and abuses have been committed in Burundi since 2015,” and that some of the violations may constitute “crimes against humanity.” At the 37th and 38th sessions of the Council (March and June-July 2018), the CoI described a political, security, econ-omic, social and human rights situation that has not improved since September 2016. In March 2018, the Commission’s Chairperson, Mr. Doudou Diène, stressed that the situation in the country continued to deserve the Council’s “utmost attention.” In October 2017, the International Criminal Court (ICC) authorised an investigation into crimes committed in Burundi since April 2015. A preliminary exam-ination of the situation had been opened in April 2016.

The constitutional referendum that was held on 17 May 2018 was marred with violence and repression, with arbitrary arrests, beatings and intimidation of citizens campaigning for a “no” vote. [3] The BBC and VOA, two of the country’s main international radio stations, have been suspended for 6 months at the start of the official campaign, illustrating the climate of fear in which journalists and medias were pre-vented from a proper coverage of the event. [4]  In the Commission’s words, as of June 2018 “human rights violations, among which extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearances, acts of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment […], facilitated by a continuing environment of threats and intimidation,” continue unabated. The CoI added: “The fact that several missing people have not been found and that unidentified bodies continue to be discovered in various parts of the country gives reason to fear the continuation of practices consisting of getting rid of the bodies of people arrested sometimes by individuals in police uniform or identified as agents of the National Intelligence Service (SNR) or the Imbonerakure.” [5

Since it became a member of the Council, on 1st January 2016, Burundi has delivered multiple state-ments that have made clear its refusal to cooperate with human rights monitoring and investigation bodies and mechanisms. The Government has repeatedly launched attacks, which have sometimes des-cended to a personal level, against the High Commissioner, UN officials, and independent experts. With no basis or evidence, it has publicly questioned the independence, competence, professionalism, inte-grity and legitimacy of High Commissioner Zeid and his Office, and has threatened, stigmatised, and exercised reprisals against human rights defenders and civil society organisations. [6] Burundians who have sought protection outside of Burundi have been subjected to harassment and persecution, including by members of the National Intelligence Service (SNR) and Imbonerakure.

Members of the CoI continue to be denied access to Burundi. Furthermore, at the time of writing, the Burundian authorities have withdrawn visas from the team of experts mandated by HRC resolution 36/2, despite the fact that the latter was adopted at Burundi’s own initiative, with its support and the support of members of Burundi’s own regional group. Burundi’s action in this regard clearly violates its Council membership obligations.

Recalling the letter a group of civil society organisations wrote in September 2017,7 we urge the Council, consistent with its mandate to address situations of violations of human rights, including gross and systematic violations, to pave the way for accountability by renewing the mandate of the CoI to enable it to continue monitoring human rights developments in the country, documen-ting violations and abuses, and publicly reporting on the situation.

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

Sincerely,

Action des Chrétiens pour l’Abolition de la Torture – Burundi (ACAT-Burundi) African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies (ACJPS)
Amnesty International
Association Burundaise pour la Protection des Droits Humains et des Personnes Détenues (APRODH)
Association for Human Rights in Ethiopia (AHRE)
Centre for Civil and Political Rights (CCPR)
CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
Coalition Burundaise pour la Cour Pénale Internationale (CB-CPI)
Collectif des Avocats pour la Défense des Victimes de Crimes de Droit International Commis au Burundi (CAVIB)
Community Empowerment for Progress Organisation South Sudan (CEPO)
DefendDefenders (the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project)
East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Network (EHAHRD-N)
Eritrean Law Society (ELS)
Eritrean Movement for Democracy and Human Rights (EMDHR)
Forum pour la Conscience et le Développement (FOCODE)
Forum pour le Renforcement de la Société Civile au Burundi (FORSC)
Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect (GCR2P)
Human Rights Concern – Eritrea
Human Rights Watch
International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
International Federation of Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture (FIACAT)
International Movement Against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism (IMADR)
International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)
Ligue Iteka
Mouvement Citoyen pour l’Avenir du Burundi (MCA)
Mouvement des Femmes et des Filles pour la Paix et la Sécurité (MFFPS)
National Coalition of Human Rights Defenders – Burundi (CBDDH)
Observatoire de la Lutte contre la Corruption et les Malversations Économiques (OLUCOME)
Organisation pour la Transparence et la Gouvernance (OTRAG)
Pan-African Human Rights Defenders Network
Reporters Without Borders (RSF)
Réseau des Citoyens Probes (RCP)
SOS-Torture/Burundi
TRIAL International
Union Burundaise des Journalistes (UBJ)
World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)


1. See its webpage: www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/HRC/CoIBurundi/Pages/CoIBurundi.aspx
2. See the UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights’ statement at the Council’s 37th session (OHCHR, “Introduction to country reports/briefings/updates of the Secretary-General and the High Commissioner under item 2,” 21-22 March 2018, www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=22875&LangID=E, accessed 20 July 2018).
3. FIDH and Ligue Iteka, “A forced march to a Constitutional Referendum,” May 2018, www.fidh.org/IMG/pdf/report_burundi_may2018_referendum_on_constitution.pdf (accessed 27 July 2018). 
4. Reporters Without Borders, “Harassment of Burundi’s media intensifies for referendum,” 16 May 2018, www.rsf.org/en/news/harassment-burundis-media-intensifies-referendum# (accessed 7 August 2018). 
5. OHCHR, “Oral briefing by the members of the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi to the Human Rights Council,” 27 June 2018, www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=23274&LangID=E (accessed 20 July 2018). 
6. See DefendDefenders, “Headlong Rush: Burundi’s behaviour as a member of the UN Human Rights Council,” 25 July 2018, www.defenddefenders.org/publication/headlong-rush-burundis-behaviour-as-a-member-of-the-un-human-rights-council/ (accessed 25 July 2018). 
7. “Renewing the Mandate of the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi and Ensuring Accountability for Serious Crimes,” 19 September 2017, www.defenddefenders.org/press_release/hrc36-renewing-the-mandate-of-the-commission-of-inquiry-on-burundi-and-ensuring-accountability-for-serious-crimes/ (accessed 30 July 2018).
 

 

CIVICUS Joint UN Universal Periodic Review submissions on civil society space

Submissions on civil society space– Afghanistan, Chile, Eritrea, Macedonia, Vietnam & Yemen

CIVICUS and its partners have submitted joint UN Universal Periodic Review (UPR) submissions on six countries in advance of the 32nd UPR session in January 2019. 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.  

Afghanistan: CIVICUS, Afghanistan Human Rights Organization (AHRO), Civil Society and Human Rights Network and People’s Action for Change Organization explore the continued insecurity in Afghanistan, which has resulted in the closure of space for civil society, including through targeted attacks on humanitarian workers, protesters and journalists. We further discuss violence against women and the desperate situation faced by women HRDs in Afghanistan who are subjected to a heightened level of persecution because of their gender and their human rights activism.

Chile: CIVICUS and Pro Acceso Foundation (Fundación Pro Acceso) highlight serious concerns regarding the persistent misuse of the Anti-Terrorism Law to silence members of the Mapuche indigenous community advocating for land rights. We are also concerned by the lack of government commitment to amend legislation regulating the right to peaceful assembly and by the violent suppression of social protests, especially those led by the student movement and indigenous communities. 

Eritrea: CIVICUS, EMDHR and Eritrea Focus highlight the complete closure of the space for civil society in Eritrea to assemble, associate and express themselves. We note that there are no independent civil society organisations and private media in the country. We further discuss how the government selectively engages with international human rights mechanisms including UN Special Procedures. 

Macedonia: CIVICUS, the Balkan Civil Society Development Network and the Macedonian Centre for International Cooperation outline serious concerns over the institutional harassment of NGOs in receipt of foreign funding since 2016. Despite a recent improvement in respect for civic freedoms, the submission discusses several restrictions on investigative journalists and media outlets. We also remain alarmed over smear campaigns against human rights defenders and critics of the government orchestrated by nationalist groups. 

Vietnam: CIVICUS, Civil Society Forum, Human Rights Foundation (HRF), VOICE and VOICE Vietnam examine systematic attempts in Vietnam to silence HRDs and bloggers, including through vague national security laws, physical attacks, restrictions on their freedom of movement and torture and ill-treatment in detention. The submission also explores strict controls on the media in law and in practice, online censorship and the brutal suppression of peaceful protests by the authorities.

Yemen: CIVICUS, Gulf Centre for Human Rights and Front Line Defenders discuss the ongoing extreme violence against and HRDs and journalists including regular abductions, kidnappings and detention in undisclosed location. We further examine restrictions on freedom of association including raids on CSOs causing many to reduce their activities drastically and even closed entirely. 

See full library of previous UPR country submissions from CIVICUS and partners. For the latest news on civic space in all UN Member States, see country pages on the CIVICUS Monitor

 

Outcomes & reflections from UN Human Rights Council

38th Session of the Human Rights Council
End of Session Joint Civil Society Statement

Our organisations welcome the adoption of the resolutions on civil society space, peaceful protest, on violence against women and girls and on discrimination against women and girls and the Council’s rejection of attempts to impede progress on protecting civil society space, peaceful protest and the rights to sexual and reproductive health.

On civil society space, the resolution recognizes the essential contribution that civil society makes to international and regional organisations and provides guidance to States and organisations on improving their engagement with civil society.  On peaceful protest, it sets out in greater detail how international law and standards protect rights related to protests. 

On violence against women and on discrimination against women, we consider that ensuring sexual and reproductive health and rights are vital in efforts to combat violence and discrimination against women, online and offline, as well as to ensure targeted and specific remedies to victims. We appreciate that the work of women human rights defenders towards this is recognised. 

We consider the adoption of the resolution on the contribution of the Council to the prevention of human rights violations as an important opportunity to advance substantive consideration on strengthening the Council’s ability to deliver on its prevention mandate.

Following challenging negotiations, we welcome the adoption by consensus of the resolution on human rights and the Internet, reaffirming that the same rights that people have offline must also be protected online, and calling on States to tackle digital divides between and within countries, emphasising the importance of tools for anonymity and encryption for the enjoyment of human rights online, in particular for journalists, and condemning once more all measures that prevent or disrupt access to information online.

We welcome continued Council attention to Eritrea's abysmal human rights record. This year's resolution, while streamlined, extends expert monitoring of, and reporting on, the country and outlines a way forward for both engagement and human rights reform. We urge Eritrea to engage in long-overdue meaningful cooperation. 

We welcome the renewal of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Belarus under item 4 with an increased vote - as it is still the only independent international mechanism to effectively monitor human rights violations in Belarus - while remaining concerned over a narrative to shift the mandate to item 10 in the absence of any systemic change in Belarus. 

We welcome the consensus resolution on the Democratic Republic of Congo, putting in place continued monitoring and follow up on the expert’s recommendations on the Kasais. However, given violations and abuses throughout several regions in the country, occurring against the backdrop of an ongoing political crisis, delayed elections, and the brutal quashing of dissent, we urge the Council to promptly move towards putting in place a country-wide mechanism that can respond to events on the ground as they emerge.

We welcome the strong resolution on Syria, which condemns violations and abuses by all parties, and appropriately addresses concerns raised by the COI about the use of chemical weapons, sexual and gender-based violence, and the need to address situations of detainees and disappearances. The Council cannot stay silent in the face of continued atrocities as the conflict continues unabated into its seventh year.

We welcome the joint statements delivered this session on Cambodia, the Philippines, and Venezuela. We urge Council members and observes to work towards increased collective action to urgently address the dire human rights situations in these countries.  

On the Philippines, we emphasise that the Council should establish an independent international investigation into extrajudicial killings in the ‘war on drugs’ and mandate the OHCHR to report on the human rights situation and on moves toward authoritarianism.  

The joint statement on Cambodia represents a glimmer of hope after the Council's failure to take meaningful action against clear sabotage of democratic space ahead of elections. Close scrutiny of the human rights situation before, during and after the elections is paramount and the Council must take immediate action on current and future human rights violations in this regard.

We welcome the joint statement delivered by Luxembourg  calling on the HRC President to provide short oral updates on cases of alleged intimidation or reprisal, including actions taken, at the start of the Item 5 general debate of each Council session and also provide States concerned with the opportunity to respond.

Finally, the new Council member to replace the United States should demonstrate a principled commitment to human rights, to multilateralism and to addressing country situations of concern by applying objective criteria. 

Joint Statement by Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA), the Association for Progressive Communications, the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR), CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation, DefendDefenders (the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project), Human Rights House Foundation (HRHF), International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA), the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) 

 

Wanted: Strong UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

38th Session Human Rights Council
Joint Statement*

We want to highlight key features for the next High Commissioner – one of the world’s premier human rights defender – whose mandate includes providing technical assistance and capacity building to States, as well as standing up for universal human rights and those who defend them. 

The work of the next High Commissioner, and of human rights defenders more broadly, is essential to justice, fairness and dignity for all. Defenders contribute to sustainable and inclusive development. They combat corruption and the misuse of power. They promote good government, transparency and accountability. They seek to ensure that no-one gets left behind. 

Despite this, around the world, defenders face mounting attacks and criminalisation for standing up to power, privilege, prejudice and profit. Their work has never been more important, nor more imperiled. 

Mr President, it is in this context we say that the next UN High Commissioner needs to be a dedicated human rights defender. S/he need to be committed to working with and for human rights defenders; consulting and partnering with them, supporting their causes, and speaking out and protecting them when they are threatened or attacked.

The next High Commissioner needs to build strategic alliances with States, civil society, academics and business enterprises with a shared interest in human rights and the rule of law. S/he need to be fiercely independent, but also collaborative and capable of building influential partnerships and coalitions. 

With the promotion, protection and realisation of human rights being linked to the attainment of peace, security and sustainable development, the next High Commissioner needs to be strongly supported by the UN Secretary-General and key UN agencies. Mr President, while the High Commissioner may be the UN’s premier human rights defender, it is time for the entire organisation to put human rights defenders up front.

*International Service for Human Rights, Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, Human Rights House Foundation, The International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA), CIVICUS, Peace Brigades International Switzerland, International Federation for Human Rights Leagues, Conectas Direitos Humanos, Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA), West African Human Rights Networks

 

Burundi at UN Human Rights Council: Adoption of Universal Periodic Review Report

38th Session of UN Human Rights Council
Adoption of the UPR report of Burundi 

Mr. President, DefendDefenders and CIVICUS take note of the government’s engagement with the UPR process and welcome its decision to ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel Inhumane or Degrading Treatment or punishment.  However, we regret the fact that the provisions of the Optional Protocol have not been implemented.  In fact torture and the inhumane treatment of citizens have become commonplace in Burundi since its last review.  

Burundi has not fully implemented any of the recommendations it accepted relating to civic space. Instead the authorities have selectively used restrictive legislation like the Law on Assemblies and Public Demonstrations (2013) to pre-empt and prevent peaceful demonstrations by citizens.  

Since April 2015, the Burundian authorities have used violence against peaceful protesters and are responsible for the numerous killings, abductions, acts of torture, disappearances and arbitrary arrests of real or perceived opponents of the regime.  These acts have largely been carried out by security forces, intelligence services and the youth wing of the ruling party – the Imbonerakure.  Some of these crimes amount to crimes against humanity and they have been carried out with utmost impunity.  

Legal restrictions adopted by the national assembly that increase government control of the activities and funding of national and international NGOs and the ban imposed on some civil society organisations have stifled freedom of association. The violence against representatives of civil society has forced many human rights organisations to close down and most of them now operate from abroad. 

Mr. President, DefendDefenders and CIVICUS call on the Government of Burundi 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.


 

 

Serbia at UN Human Rights Council: Adoption of Universal Periodic Review Report

38th Session of UN Human Rights Council
Adoption of the UPR report of the Republic of Serbia
  

The Human Rights House Belgrade (Lawyer’s Committee for Human Rights, Belgrade Center for Human Rights, Civic Initiatives, Helsinki Committee for Human Rights and Policy Center), the Human Rights House Foundation and CIVICUS welcome the Government of Serbia's engagement with the UPR process. We also welcome the agreement signed between the Prosecutor’s office, the State Secretary of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and journalists’ and media associations in December 2016 on cooperation and measures to improve the security of journalists. 

However, in our joint UPR Submission, we also documented that since its last review, the Republic of Serbia has only fully implemented one recommendation of a total of 18 recommendations relating to civic space. 

We are particularly alarmed by the intimidation, attacks and harassment of human rights defenders and journalists who report on sensitive issues, such as transitional justice, corruption or government accountability. According to a national media watchdog group, there were at least 231 assaults (physical attacks, attacks on property, threats, pressure and verbal attacks) on journalists since 2013, with at least 42 recorded physical attacks. 

We are furthermore concerned about the vilification of and smear campaigns against human right defenders, CSOs, and independent media outlets, which has undermined their work. 

Mr President, the Human Rights House, the Human Rights House Foundation and CIVICUS call on the Government of Serbia 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.

 

Israel at UN Human Rights Council: Adoption of Universal Periodic Review Report

38th Session of UN Human Rights Council
Adoption of the UPR report of Israel

Mr. President, this is a joint statement by the Palestinian NGO Network (PNGO), the Arab NGO Network for Development (ANND) and CIVICUS. Israeli authorities continue to commit systematic and gross human rights violations against Palestinians. They have failed to implement human rights obligations as a state party to ICCPR and ICESCR and continue to disregard recommendations from UN Special Rapporteurs that call for an immediate end to the occupation.

In our joint UPR report, we documented undue restrictions on the right to freedom of assembly and recommended that Israeli authorities stop using excessive and lethal force during protests. Recently in the Gaza Strip, Israeli occupation forces used snipers, plastic coated steel bullets, explosive bullets and gas grenades fired from drones in a calculated attempt to kill, maim and inflict serious bodily harm on Palestinians. Since March 20th, 2018, Israeli forces have killed 127 Palestinians and injured an estimated 14,000. Earlier this month, Razan al-Najar, a 21-year old nurse wearing a medical vest was killed by Israeli sniper fire while tending to injured protesters.

Systematic violations also include the detention of Palestinian human rights defenders. Legislation enacted in 2016 granted Israeli authorities the power to indefinitely detain individuals without trial. These provisions are routinely used to detain human rights defenders. In May 2017, there were over 6,000 political prisoners with 490 imprisoned without trial. 

We also express concern over Israel’s muzzling of social media. New legislation enacted in 2017 grants Israeli authorities power to arbitrarily block web content and arrest individuals for social media posts. 

Mr.  President, PNGO, ANND and CIVICUS urge Council members to call on the Israeli government to respect its obligations under international law, by ending the occupation and recognising Palestinian self-determination. 

 

United Arab Emirates at UN Human Rights Council: Adoption of Universal Periodic Review Report

38th Session of UN Human Rights Council
Adoption of the UPR report of the United Arab Emirates 

The Gulf Centre for Human Rights, the International Service for Human Rights and CIVICUS welcome the chance to engage in the process of the UAE’s UPR. However, we are deeply dismayed that having gone through the UPR process for the third time, the conditions under which civil society operate are worsening, despite it being clearly an issue of concern in the last review.

Since its last review, the UAE has not implemented any of the 17 recommendations relating to civic space. We regret that no recommendations pertaining to the full protection of the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly were accepted by the government.

Mr. President, the UAE continues to use Federal Law 6 of 1974 Concerning Public Utility Associations to interfere in the operations of civil society organisations. The law goes as far as allowing the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs to send representatives to monitor meetings of CSOs.

The UAE continues to use anti-terror laws to punish human rights defenders. The “’UAE94” - a group of political activists, human rights defenders, lawyers, academics, teachers and students – are still serving heavy sentences handed down in 2013, on spurious charges of attempting to overthrow the government.

Journalists and researchers are still arrested, deported and jailed for carrying out their work. Ahmed Mansoor, who was jailed in 2017 for making posts on social media, was sentenced to 10 years in prison last month. Academic Nasser Bin Ghaith is also serving a 10-year prison sentence after he was arrested in 2015 for making posts on social media and continues to be denied access to medical treatment. Both men are believed to be held in solitary confinement.

We call on the Government of the UAE to cease persecuting human rights defenders, reverse these draconian laws and create an enabling environment for civil society.

 

France at UN Human Rights Council: Adoption of Universal Periodic Review Report

In our Universal Periodic Review submission, we documented that since its last review, France only partially implemented one of the two recommendations it received relating to civic space. We regret that the recommendations pertaining to the ban on full face veils in public places were not accepted by the government, despite being criticised as a violation of the rights to freedom of expression and religious freedom.

Mr. President, we are deeply concerned by the recent introduction of a new national security and counter terrorism law which effectively makes permanent extraordinary powers given to French security forces since the November 2015 state of emergency was implemented. Through this now-permanent legal regime, French police have expanded powers of arrest, detention and surveillance without adequate judicial oversight or due regard for the proportionality of measures taken to restrict fundamental freedoms.

CIVICUS also notes with concern the police’s use of disproportionate force against protestors including during labour protests in 2016; anti-racism demonstrations in 2013; and, most seriously, in October 2014 when ecologist Rémi Fraisse was killed after police threw a flash grenade into a crowd of demonstrators opposing the construction of a dam in Sivens. Mr. President, just two months ago, French police again used disproportionate force, firing thousands of tear gas canisters as part of an operation to forcibly remove a peaceful anti-capitalist community in Notre-Dame-des-Landes.

Finally, in its submission, CIVICUS set out a range of concerns that risk eroding the right to freedom of expression in France, including the use of legal proceedings to compel media to release their sources. In France, losing a libel case against a public official can result in a fine of up to four times the fine for losing a case against a private citizen; this has been criticised for creating a “chilling effect” on the media’s scrutiny of government.

Mr. President, CIVICUS calls on the Government of France 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 in all circumstances.

 

UN Human Rights Council: Civic space in Eritrea

38th Session of UN Human Rights Council
Dialogue with UN Special Rapporteur on Eritrea

On behalf of CIVICUS, Reporters without Borders, the Eritrean Movement for Democracy and Human Rights, the Eritrean Law society, Eritrea Focus, Network of Eritrean Women, Amnesty International, and the Horn of Africa Civil Society Forum, I would first like to express our deepfelt gratitude and appreciation to the Special Rapporteur for her unwavering support to Eritrean victims of human rights violations.

Today, her work is all the more important. The latest reports emerging from the country indicate that the human rights situation is not improving. Following the imprisonment and death in detention of respected Muslim elder Haji Musa in March 2018, Eritrean authorities have conducted mass arrests and disappearances of youth.

We are also concerned by the Special Rapporteur’s reports that individuals who dare to exercise their right to freedom of expression have been targeted with arrest and detention, while peaceful demonstrations in October 2017 following the arrest of Haji Musa were met with scores of arrests and night house raids without search or arrest warrants.

Since the publication of the UN Commission of Inquiry’s (COI) report, government officials have continued to torture, imprison, and arbitrarily detain people without notifying them of the reason for their arrest.

Mr President, since the publication of the CoI report, not a single individual has been held accountable for the human rights violations, including crimes against humanity, committed in Eritrea. Civil society remains forced to work outside the country and independent press is still not permitted to operate inside the country. Eritrea remains the largest jailer of journalists in sub-Saharan Africa.

The Eritrean government has repeatedly ignored the Special Rapporteur’s requests for access to conduct investigations.

Mr President, we urge the UN Human Rights Council to renew the Special Rapporteur’s mandate and maintain attention on some of the most egregious human rights violations in sub-Saharan Africa. The Human Rights Council has a responsibility to follow up on the CoI’s serious findings and ensure that accountability for crimes against humanity committed in Eritrea remains a priority.

 

UN Human Rights Council: Civic Space in Egypt, Tanzania and Vietnam

38th Session of the Human Rights Council  
General Debate – civic space in Egypt, Tanzania and Vietnam

CIVICUS is concerned about the situation in Egypt where authorities have arrested, interrogated and detained several activists, bloggers and journalists over the last few weeks, indicating a significant escalation in the crackdown on the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly in the country. While we welcome the release during Aid last Friday of many prisoners, we call for the immediate and unconditional release of all those currently being held for the legitimate exercise of their human rights, and for authorities to investigate and prosecute those responsible for human rights violations and abuses.

CIVICUS is also deeply concerned about the deterioration of the situation in Tanzania. Although it has long been a model for democratic pluralism, the last three years have been marked by a worrying decline in respect for the rights fundamental to civic space. These include unwarranted closure of media outlets, judicial persecution and harassment of independent journalists, the targeted assassination of opposition party members, blanket restrictions on peaceful protests and the introduction and invocation of a raft of laws to undermine freedom of speech online. Mr. President, we call on the Council to urge the authorities to create an enabling environment for civil society and the media to operate in accordance with its international obligations.  

Finally, since 9th June  mass nationwide demonstrations have arisen in several major cities across Vietnam. The protests we have emerged in response to two controversial bills on Special Economic Zones (SEZ), currently before the National Assembly, and on Cyber Security, which was approved this month. Security officials responded to the rare protests with violence and arbitrary arrests, and activists have reported ill-treatment and physical abuse in detention. We call on authorities to allow the peaceful expression of dissent and to release all protestors and investigate and prosecute security personnel responsible for the excessive use of force. 

 

Response to UN High Commissioner for Human Rights update

38th Session of the Human Rights Council  
Update of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights 

CIVICUS welcomes the High Commissioner’s final update and thanks him for his continued support for human rights defenders and for speaking the truth to power in this August room for the last four years. You have been the voice of the silenced and helped to ensure that the grievances of victims of human rights violations are echoed in this chamber.  For that we thank you.

CIVICUS shares the High Commissioner’s concerns about civic space restrictions in Bangladesh, in particular threats and attacks against journalists from government-affiliated groups, security forces and religious extremists and the failure to bring perpetrators to justice.

The government has used the Information and Communications Technology Act to punish critics and a proposed Digital Security Bill could be used to criminalize online expression and promote self-censorship. The right to freedom of peaceful assembly continues to be restricted including of activists protesting the recent extrajudicial killings.

We are equally worried about the recent violent attacks on civil society and HRDs in Nicaragua. On 30 April, 323 national, regional and international organisations and networks, in a joint statement condemned the violent repression of the demonstrations held in Nicaragua against the social security reforms and demanded respect for the right to peaceful protest.

Since then the repression and use of excessive and indiscriminate force have continued and resulted in a at least 170 deaths. The government should immediately put an end to all violent acts, engage in a genuine dialogue with civil society and accept requests to conduct an impartial investigation into the killings.

We urge all states underscored in the High Commissioner’s report to take immediate measures to address persistent and widespread violations of the rights essential to civic space, including by allowing access to relevant UN Special Procedure mandate holders.

 

UN Human Rights Council: New Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association

38th Session of the Human Rights Council  
Interactive Dialogue with Special Rapporteur on freedom of peaceful assembly and of association and the  Independent Expert on sexual orientation and gender identity

CIVICUS welcomes this occasion to dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on freedom of peaceful assembly and of association and the Independent Expert on sexual orientation and gender identity. 

We note with great appreciation the Special Rapporteur’s prioritisation of consultation and engagement with a range of civil society actors during the first months of his mandate. 

Mr President, the report presented by the Special Rapporteur today exemplifies the endemic threat civil society across the world is facing. In both severity and frequency, the 1156 communications sent to governments by the mandate since 2011 expose the systematic campaigns to silence dissent as well as the resoluteness of civil society to continue protecting and promoting human rights.

CIVICUS’ research comports with the Special Rapporteur’s analysis that state and non- state actors are using a range of unwarranted and pernicious tactics with the explicit intent to stifle fundamental rights.

We remain deeply concerned that many governments in this chamber routinely pay lip service to the need to protect all human rights and at the same time actively persecute defenders and civil society leaders who work tirelessly to defend these very same rights. This hypocrisy and deceit has rarely, if ever, been so acute.

On this, the first day of the 38th Council Session, we call on all states to heed the Special Rapporteur’s recommendation to treat civil society an ally, rather than an adversary.

We further urge all States to pledge their support to the Special Rapporteur including by providing all necessary informational and financial resources to discharge the mandate and to work closely with civil society.

See latest updates from CIVICUS' work at the UN Human Rights Council here. Follow the latest events on Twitter #HRC38

 

CIVICUS at the 38th Session of the Human Rights Council

The 38th session of the UN Human Rights Council, from 18 June to 6 July 2018, will consider core civic space issues of freedom of association, assembly and expression. During this session, CIVICUS will be supporting advocacy missions on the grave human rights situations in Tanaznia, Ethiopia and Eritrea and Nicaragua, while also participating in reviews of citizen rights in Burundi, Cambodia, Democratic Republic of Congo, and the European Union. Additional areas to note:

  • The first week of the session will coincide with World Refugee Day (20 June)
  • Be the first session of the newly appointed Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Association and Assembly, Clement Voule
  • Process to renew and strengthen the Civic Space Resolution

If you are in Geneva, please join us at the following events that CIVICUS is organising with partners:

These events will be livestreamed on our CIVICUS Facebook Page and daily updates provided on Twitter.

 

Gaza: We condemn the killing of Palestinian protesters

Special session of the UN Human Rights Council on the deteriorating human rights situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem
Oral Statement

CIVICUS, the Palestinian NGO Network and the Arab NGO Network for Development condemn the atrocities committed by the Israeli Occupation Forces against peaceful Palestinian protesters in Gaza. On 14 May alone more than 61 Palestinians including 8 children were killed and nearly 3000 wounded as Israeli forces used live ammunition on protesters who were demonstrating against the relocation of the US embassy to Jerusalem.

Since 30 March 2018, when Palestinians embarked on a campaign of peaceful protests against forced evictions and demanding their right to return, more than 110 Palestinians have been systematically killed including at least 11 children, 2 journalists and several people with disabilities. In addition, over 12000 Palestinians have been wounded.

The use of unnecessary, indiscriminate and disproportionate force against protesters is a grave violation of international law. Israel’s occupation forces have used snipers, plastic coated steel bullets, explosive bullets and gas grenades fired from drones in a calculated attempt to kill, maim and inflict serious bodily harm on Palestinians.

Mr. President, the lack of concrete action from the international community and the defence of these atrocious acts by some states emboldens Israel’s occupation forces to maintain a shoot to kill policy, preserve its prolonged occupation and disregard for the rule of law.

We urge Council members to call on the Israeli government to respect all United Nations resolutions and its obligations under international law, giving an immediate end to occupation and recognizing Palestinians right to self-determination. We call on the Council to urgently establish a Commission of Inquiry to facilitate independent international investigations and ensure accountability for perpetrators of violations of international law in occupied Palestine.

For updates on the state of civic space, please see the Palestine and Israel and country pages on the CIVICUS Monitor. 

 

High Level Intersessional celebrating the centenary of Nelson Mandela

CIVICUS welcomes this celebratory discussion of a true icon of our times. For an organization headquartered in Johannesburg, Nelson Mandela has been for us a constant reminder and an inspiration to engage in the fight for justice, to call for the release of prisoners of conscience and to continue to protect the space for a vibrant civil society to operate.

But today this is also my personal witness:

I was privileged to meet and look into the eyes of Nelson Mandela on 9 June 1990 when he had come to pay tribute to the World Council of Churches (WCC) here in Geneva for their long-standing support, shortly after his release from 27 years in prison.   It was a moment I will never forget.

Later, during extensive visits in South Africa, in 1998, I was awed by his prison cell in Robben Island. I met with Commissioners of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and Archbishop Desmond Tutu and was inspired by the institutions Mandela had created to help overcome the hate and mistrust of the long standing racial segregation but also as a mechanism to hold violators of the worst crimes to account.

In the same year, at the 8th World Assembly of the WCC in Harare I saw President Mandela with a broad smile and as Statesman and committed activist dancing,.. spreading joy and love to the whole world.

Where in the world do we have such an Icon today?

Distinguished panelists, how can Mandela’s visionary legacy, his long peaceful march to freedom, to human rights, democracy and social justice be the inspiration and hope for many who are still suppressed and enslaved, but above all how can he be the example for many governments today?

 

Djibouti: Reprisals against human rights defender Kadar Abdi Ibrahim for his advocacy at the UN Human Rights Council

Johannesburg, 17 April 2018 - DefendDefenders, CIVICUS and the Observatory condemn acts of reprisals against human rights defender Mr. Kadar Abdi Ibrahim ahead of Djiboutian Government’s oral exam before the UN Human Rights Council.

On 15 April 2018, just two days after coming back from Geneva, where he carried out advocacy activities ahead of Djibouti’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR), which will take place on 10 May before the UN Human Rights Council, Mr. Kadar Abdi Ibrahim, member and Movement for Democracy and Freedom (MoDEL) Secretary-General, was briefly detained and got his passport confiscated by agents of Djibouti’s Information and Security Service (SDS), who raided his home. SDS agents provided no reason for his arrest and the confiscation of his passport. As a result, Mr. Abdi Ibrahim is de facto unable to leave the country.

“That Djibouti attempts to silence the few voices who denounce human rights violations committed in the country shows how intolerant to criticism Ismaïl Omar Guelleh’s power is,” our organizations say. “The review that is due to take place on 10 May 2018 must shed light on the serious situation that prevails in the country and demand reforms that guarantee the protection and promotion of human rights.”

Mr. Abdi Ibrahim traveled to Geneva (Switzerland) from 9-12 April 2018 to carry out advocacy activities, including through presenting recommendations from a joint Defend-Defenders/CIVICUS/FIDH report and taking part in a “pre-session” organized by the NGO UPR Info on 10 April. During his stay, he also met with representatives of a dozen States and of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).

DefendDefenders, CIVICUS and the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (an FIDH-OMCT partnership) call on the Djiboutian authorities to put an end to all forms of harassment and reprisals against Mr. Kadar Abdi Ibrahim and all human rights defenders in Djibouti, and to give him back his passport.

More generally, our organisations urge the Djiboutian authorities to abide by the provisions of the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted by the UN General Assembly on 9 December 1998, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and regional and international human rights instruments to which Djibouti is a party.

Contact persons:

  • For DefendDefenders: Nicolas Agostini, Representative to the United Nations, +41 79 813 49 91 / genevaATdefenddefenders.org - For CIVICUS : Clémentine de Montjoye, clementine.demontjoyeATcivicus.org / +33 6 58 56 26 50
  • For FIDH: Samuel Hanryon: +33 6 72 28 42 94
  • For the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT): Delphine Reculeau: +41 22 809 49 39 / drATomct.org

 

CIVICUS UN Universal Periodic Review submissions on civil society space

CIVICUS and its partners have submitted joint and stand-alone UN Universal Periodic Review (UPR) submissions on eight countries to the UN Human Rights Council in advance of the 31st UPR session (November 2018). 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 second UPR cycle over 4-years ago and provide a number of targeted follow-up recommendations.

Countries examined: Chad, China, Jordan, Malaysia, Mexico, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia and Senegal

Chad EN or FR - CIVICUS and Réseau Des Défenseurs Droits Humains en Afrique Centrale (REDHAC) examine ongoing attacks on and intimidation, harassment and judicial persecution of HRDs, leaders of citizen movements and CSO representatives. We further discuss restrictions on the freedoms of assembly and association in Chad including through lengthy bans and violent repression of protests and the targeting of unions which protest against austerity measures or the reduction of salaries for workers.

China - CIVICUS and the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) outline serious concerns related to the escalation of repression against human rights defenders, particularly since 2015, which Chinese activists described as one of the worst years in the ongoing crackdown on peaceful activism. The submission also describes unlawful restrictions on the freedom of association, including through the Charity Law and the Law on the Administration of Activities of Overseas Nongovernmental Organizations. CIVICUS and AHRC call on the government of China to immediately release all HRDs arrested as part of the “709 crackdown” and repeal all laws restricting civic space in China.

Jordan - CIVICUS, the Arab NGO Network for Development (ANND) and Phenix Center highlight the lack of implementation of recommendations on the right to freedom of association. Current legislation governing the formation and operation of civil society organisations (CSOs), including trade unions, imposes severe restrictions on the establishment and operation of CSOs. We are also concerned by the restrictive legal framework that regulates the right to freedom of expression and the authorities’ routine use of these laws to silent critical voices.

Malaysia - CIVICUS and Pusat KOMAS highlight a range of restrictive laws used to constrain freedom of association and to investigate and prosecute government critics and peaceful protesters, in their exercise of the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. We also raise concerns about the harassment of and threats against HRDs as well as the increasing use of arbitrary travel bans by the government to deter their freedom of movement.

Mexico (ES) - CIVICUS and the Front for the Freedom of Expression and Social Protest (Frente por la Libertad de Expresión y la Protesta Social - FLEPS) address concerns regarding the threats, attacks and extrajudicial killings of HRDs and journalists for undertaking their legitimate work. The submission further examines the multiple ways in which dissent is stifled through stigmatisation, criminalisation and violent suppression of social protests and restrictions on freedom of expression and independent media.

Nigeria - CIVICUS and the Nigeria Network of NGOs (NNGO) examine the difficult operating environment for journalists who are routinely harassed, beaten and sometime killed for carrying out their journalistic work. CIVICUS and the NNGO are concerned by the actions of some officers of the Department of State Services who are at the forefront of persecuting human rights defenders.

Saudi Arabia - CIVICUS, the European Saudi Organization for Human Rights (ESOHR) and Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB) address Saudi Arabia’s continued targeting and criminalization of civil society and human rights activists, particularly under the auspices of its counter-terror laws, which severely undermine the freedoms of association, expression and assembly.

Senegal - CIVICUS and the Coalition Sénégalaise des Défenseurs des Droits Humains (COSEDDH) document a number of violations of the freedom of expression and restrictions on media outlets. In particular we discuss the continued criminalisation of press offences in the new Press Code, including criminal defamation, among other restrictive provisions. Since its last UPR examination, implementation gaps were found with regard to the rights to the freedom of expression and issues relating to the freedom of peaceful assembly.

 

Enhance the process to select new UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

In a letter to the UN Secretary-General, a coalition of more than 70 civil society organisations has put forward proposals to revitalise and enhance the process to select the new UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Mr. António Guterres, UN Secretary-General

The appointment of the new United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, due to take place later this year, is a vital moment for the United Nations, with implications for the human rights of millions of people around the world.

The new High Commissioner faces a world in which universal human rights norms are under threat or even in retreat, including in established democracies. The person appointed will have to confront global human rights challenges in the context of historic and on-going underfunding for the United Nation’s human rights pillar – now dubbed by many as “the forgotten pillar”. Against this backdrop, the need for global leadership and international cooperation in the area of human rights is greater than ever.

It is therefore crucial that the most highly qualified candidate is selected who will be able to rise to the challenges of this demanding and important post. Under General Assembly resolution 48/141, the High Commissioner is expected to, inter alia: 

  • Monitor and speak out about human rights violations – ‘preventing the continuation of human rights violations throughout the world’;
  • Act as the secretariat to the ‘competent bodies of the United Nations system in the field of human rights and making recommendations to them;’
  • Provide capacity-building, advisory services and technical assistance, at the request of the State concerned, ‘with a view to supporting actions and programs in the field of human rights’;
  • Engage in human rights diplomacy (‘dialogue’) with governments and ‘enhance international cooperation,’ in order to promote the implementation of international human rights obligations and commitments, and respect for human rights;
  • Coordinate human rights mainstreaming across the UN system; and
  • Make recommendations and driving efforts to ‘rationalize, adapt, strengthen and streamline the United Nations machinery in the field of human rights with a view to improving its efficiency and effectiveness.’

Additionally, given the pressure that civil society is under in many parts of the world, it is increasingly important that the High Commissioner be civil society’s champion. The High Commissioner is in a unique position to guarantee civil society space, not just through words but also through actions (e.g. by meeting marginalised or at-risk groups and human rights defenders while on country missions). 

In recent years, international organisations, including the UN, have made major improvements and reforms to recruitment processes to enhance the transparency and accountability of high-level appointments. Of course, your own appointment as UN Secretary-General benefited greatly from a fairer, more open and more inclusive process. For the credibility of the United Nations as well as the standing and authority of the next High Commissioner, it is imperative that a rigorous selection process is undertaken which meets the high standards now expected by governments, civil society and the general public – standards which are also enshrined as part of universal human rights norms.

In the opinion of the undersigned, a group of civil society organisations strongly committed to upholding the UN Charter and its values, the procedure adopted by the General Assembly in 1993 to appoint the High Commissioner can be enhanced – to make it more transparent, inclusive, meritocratic, and engaging for civil society and the general public. We believe this can be achieved in a manner consistent with existing UN documents, while avoiding politicisation and keeping the final decision in your independent hands.

Specific proposals for consideration should include: publishing a formal set of selection criteria; improving the global visibility of the formal call for candidatures; publishing a clear timetable for the selection process that enables adequate assessment of candidates; publishing an official list of candidates; and requiring all candidates to produce vision statements.  We also believe, in the interests of transparency, inclusivity and public engagement, that the selection process should include wide consultation with all stakeholders, including civil society. 

Such a process would, we believe, improve the authority, independence and credibility of the new High Commissioner, contribute to the existing reform agenda with regards to the revitalisation of the UN and, more broadly, improve the Organisation’s global legitimacy.

Finally, we believe thought should be given to changing the mandate of the High Commissioner to a single non-renewable term of five years. This would help any new High Commissioner avoid political pressure and would strengthen her or his independence. We recognise that this would require bringing changes to the relevant General Assembly resolution, and should thus be carefully explored by the relevant actors.

As the United Nations celebrates the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights this year, we hope that you will seize this historic opportunity to bring the procedure for the selection of the High Commissioner more squarely into line with the high principles set down in that inspiring document, including by giving due consideration to the proposals outlined above. This will help ensure that the best and most qualified candidate is selected to become the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Yours sincerely,

Asian Human Rights Commission
Association for the Prevention of Torture
Association of Ukrainian Human Rights Monitors (UMDPL)
Avaaz Bond · Society Building (United Kingdom)
Canadian Council for International Co-operation
Cecade (El Salvador)
Centre for Civil Liberties (Ukraine)
Child Rights International Network
CIVICUS
Coordinación de ONG y Cooperativas de Guatemala
Deca Equipo Pueblo (Mexico)
European Centre for Non-for-Profit Law
Fundación para la Paz y la Democracia
Freedom House
Geneva Infant Feeding Association
Fundacion Multitudes (Chile)
Helsinki Citizens' Assembly-Vanadzor (Armenia)
Human Rights Information Centre (Ukraine)
Index on Censorship (United Kingdom)
Institute of Social Sciences (India)
International Centre for Non-for-Profit Law
International Planned Parenthood Federation
Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group (Ukraine)
National Forum for Voluntary Organizations (Sweden)
Network of Democrats in the Arab World
Open Estonia Foundation
Open Lithuania foundation
Quê Me: Vietnam Committee for Human Rights
Riksförbundet för Sexuell Upplysning - RFSU / The Swedish Association for Sexuality Education
Sexual Rights Initiative
Small Planet Institute
Solidarity Center (United States)
Survival
Tenaganita
The Right Livelihood Award Foundation
Transparency International Portugal
United Nations Association – UK (UNA-UK)
Universal Rights Group
World Movement for Democracy
Human Rights House Tbilisi on behalf of:
Article 42 of the Constitution
Georgian Centre for Psychosocial and Medical Rehabilitation of Torture Victims
Human Rights Centre
Media Institute
Union Sapari – Family without violence
Human Rights House Azerbaijan (on behalf of the following NGOs):

  • Election Monitoring and Democracy Studies Center
  • Legal Education Society
  • Women’s Association for Rational Development

Human Rights House Belgrade (on behalf of the following NGOs):

  • Belgrade Centre for Human Rights
  • Civic Initiatives
  • Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia
  • Lawyers Committe for Human Rights
  • Policy Centre

The Barys Zvozskau Belarusian Human Rights House (on behalf of the following NGOs):

  • Belarusian Association of journalists
  • Belarusian Helsinki Committee
  • Belarusian Language Society
  • Belarusian PEN Centre
  • Human Rights Centre Viasna
  • Legal Initiative

Human Rights House Oslo (on behalf of the following NGOs):

  • Health and Human Rights Info
  • Human Rights House Foundation
  • The Norwegian Tibet Committee

Human Rights House Yerevan (on behalf of the following NGOs):

  • PINK Armenia
  • Socioscope
  • Human Rights House Zagreb (on behalf of the following NGOs):
  • B.a.B.e. Be active. Be emancipated.
  • Center for Peace Studies
  • Croatian Platform for International Citizen Solidarity – CROSOL
  • Documenta - Center for Dealing with the Past

 

New UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of assembly and association

The Civic Space Initiative welcomes Mr. Nyaletsossi Clément Voule as the new UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of assembly and association, and congratulates him on his appointment.  The Civic Space Initiative (CSI) is a collaborative project of ARTICLE 19, CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation, the European Center for Not-for-Profit Law (ECNL), the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law (ICNL), and the World Movement for Democracy.

Since its creation in September 2010, the mandate of the UN Special Rapporteur has been critical in providing practical guidance to States on how they should implement their human rights obligations as they relate to association and assembly, and has consistently stood up for those whose rights were violated. The CSI expresses its appreciation to the two previous mandate holders, Mr. Maina Kiai and  Dr. Annalisa Ciampi.

Mr. Voule takes on this mandate at a time where the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association are under increasing pressure globally and the gap between states’ international commitments and national realities is growing ever wider.  The Civic Space Initiative regards the mandate of UN Special Rapporteur as critical in bridging that gap.  Mr. Voule will build on 20 years of experience in addressing this challenge, including coordinating the recent African Commission on Human and People's Rights Study Group on the laws governing freedom of association and assembly in the region, which produced guidelines to assist states in the implementation of these rights.

Having supported similar initiatives on a global, regional and country level since 2012, the Civic Space Initiative aims to influence policy actors to protect civic space; empower civil society actors to advance civic space freedoms; and increase the awareness and engagement of the public in supporting civic space. The CSI stands ready to support Mr. Voule in his capacity as Special Rapporteur, and urges all States to respect the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association and be responsive to the mandate. 

For more information, please contact:
Andrew Smith, ARTICLE 19 (andrewATarticle19.org) 
Susan Wilding, CIVICUS (susan.wildingATcivicus.org)
Vanja Skoric, ECNL (vanjaATecnl.org) 
Nicholas Miller, ICNL (nmillerATicnl.org) 
Troy Johnson, World Movement for Democracy (troyJATned.org) 

 

The deterioration of civic space in Colombia, Guatemala and Honduras

37th Session of the UN Human Rights Council
Statement during the High Commissioner's country briefings

CIVICUS is extremely concerned about the spate of attacks against HRDs journalists and peaceful protestors that has taken place across Colombia, Guatemala and Honduras. 

We remain gravely alarmed by the striking inattention given to the disturbing increase of killings of HRDs since the signing of the Peace Agreement by the Colombian government and the FARC guerrilla group. Local partners report that 106 defenders were killed and 310 attacks on media workers and journalists took place during 2017. In addition, arbitrary detentions, attacks and judicial harassment are also on the rise.

Moreover, CIVICUS is concerned about the situation in Honduras.  Honduras has been placed   on the CIVICUS Monitor Watch List because of the violence surrounding the November 2017 contested presidential elections. Protests were met with excessive police force and more than 20 protesters were killed, with many others injured or detained. Additionally, reports show increasing attacks against HRDs who denounce the repression of protests.  There has also been an increase in violations of the right to freedom of expression, including smear campaigns, threats, harassment and physical attacks against media workers and activists expressing dissent on the media.

Finally, Mr President, CIVICUS is extremely concerned by the continuing violence against local communities involved in land rights struggles in Guatemala. These violations are perpetrated by state security forces or by private security working under the orders of private corporations. The authorities have not taken any action to protect these communities. During one such event in late November 2017, a Maya community that had been evicted from their land and were camping on the side of a road was attacked by security guards that opened fire, killing one community member and injuring another.

In all three cases, CIVICUS calls on the authorities to stop the use of violence against activists, media workers and peaceful demonstrators, to conduct investigations on threats and attacks, and ensure perpetrators of unlawful killings are brought to justice without further delays.

 

Joint statement on critical topics from 37th Session of the UN Human Rights Council

Our organisations welcome the adoption of the resolution on the promotion and protection of human rights and the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, particularly in reaffirming that all approaches to development must comply with the State’s international human rights obligations.

We agree that “cooperation and dialogue” are important for the promotion and protection of human rights, and that States should fully cooperate with the Council and its mechanisms, and ensure that all stakeholders are able to cooperate and engage with them without fear of reprisals. 

However, we must now be vigilant to ensure that the resolution on Mutually Beneficial Cooperation, lacking in balance, does not undermine other important parts of the Council’s mandate: to address human rights violations and respond promptly to human rights emergencies in specific countries. 

The Council has failed to take meaningful action to address the alarming situation on the ground in Cambodia. We welcome and echo the joint statement on Cambodia by over 40 states calling for further action if the situation does not improve in the lead up to the elections and for a briefing by the High Commissioner before the next Council session. We are concerned by Cambodia’s attempt to shut down criticism under item 10 debate on the worsening human rights situation in the country, as they are doing domestically.

We are disappointed by the weak outcome on Libya. Given the gravity of the human rights situation on the ground and the lack of accountability for crimes under international law, the Council cannot justify the lack of a dedicated monitoring and reporting mechanism. 

We welcome the co-sponsorship of the Myanmar resolution by groups of States from all regions, making a joint commitment to address the continuing human rights violations and crimes against humanity in the country and support for the Special Rapporteur and Fact-Finding Mission to fulfil its mandate to establish truth and ensure accountability for perpetrators. 

We also welcome the renewal of the mandate of the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan allowing it to continue its vital investigations and identification of perpetrators. These developments acknowledge the importance of accountability for serious human rights violations and crimes under international law, which cannot be understated.

We welcome the adoption of the resolution on drugs and human rights as the OHCHR report will provide human rights indicators related to the drug issue that would help in future policies.

We welcome the resolution on Eastern Ghouta adopted after an urgent debate, demonstrating how this Council can respond in an agile manner to crises.

Having long supported the resolution on “protection of human rights while countering terrorism", we appreciate the efforts that led to the end of the separate and deeply flawed initiative on "effects of terrorism on the enjoyment of human rights". Future versions of the resolution must address the relevant issues exclusively and comprehensively from the perspective of the effective protection of human rights. 

We welcome the Dutch-led joint statement on strengthening the Council, emphasising the importance of substantive civil society participation in any initiative or process and that the Council must be accessible, effective and protective for human rights defenders and rights holders on the ground.

Finally, we call on the Bureau co-facilitators on improving the efficiency and strengthening the Council to closely engage with all Members and Observers of the Council, human rights defenders and civil society organisations not based in Geneva. 

Delivered by: The International Service for Human Rights (ISHR), The East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project (DefendDefenders), The Global Initiative for Economic, Social & Cultural Rights, CIVICUS, International Commission of Jurists, International Federation for Human Rights Leagues, Conectas Direitos Humanos, Human Rights House Foundation, Amnesty International, International Lesbian and Gay Association, Human Rights Watch, Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)

 

Letter to UN Member States: Civic space restrictions in Cambodia

To Missions of UN Member States
(delivered by email on 22 March)

We are writing to you with regards to the human rights situation in Cambodia. Since the 2013 general elections, civic space in Cambodia has become increasingly repressed. The authorities have systematically misused the criminal justice system to silence government critics and civil society organisations (CSOs).

In the run-up to Cambodia’s 2018 general elections, the Supreme Court in Cambodia ruled to dissolve the Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP) effectively ending the main political opposition to Prime Minister Hun Sen. The move, which transforms Cambodia into a single party state, has drawn widespread condemnation from across the globe.

Human rights defenders have been harassed and prosecuted for their peaceful human rights work. Further, the controversial and vaguely worded ‘Law on Associations and Non-Government Organisations’ has imposed sweeping restrictions on CSOs in Cambodia. Independent media outlets are struggling to stay afloat amidst the harsh treatment of critical and dissenting voices by the authorities. In September 2017, the English-language Cambodia Daily was forced to shut down its operations after the authorities gave its publishers 30 days to pay a USD 6.3 million tax bill, a move widely viewed as arbitrary. The same month, Radio Free Asia ceased operations in Cambodia, citing the restrictive media environment. 

The 37th session of the UN Human Rights Council offers an opportunity for states to raise these concerns with the Cambodian government. We understand that a joint statement has been drafted by New Zealand under Item 2. As a member of the UN Human Rights Council, a champion of civic space, and a key democratic voice in the Asia Pacific region, we would like to urge the South Korean government to support this statement and to send a strong message to Cambodia that plurality and diversity in voices, political groups, civil society and the media should be encouraged and protected, particularly during politically charged periods such as elections.
 

 

Statement at UN Human Rights Council: Citizen rights in South Korea

37th Session of the UN Human Rights Council
Statement on the adoption of South Korea´s Universal Periodic Review

CIVICUS applauds the government of the Republic of Korea for its continued support and engagement in the Universal Periodic Revew (UPR) on human rights process. While recognising the new administration’s commitment to ensuring participation in political and public affairs, we remain concerned that such principles are not fully endorsed in its UPR adoption today.

We deeply regret the government’s decision not to accept a number of recommendations to promote and protect the rights essential to civic space. Specifically, the state’s refusal to accept recommendations to replace criminal defamation and libel laws with civil ones or amend the National Security Law to ensure that it is not used arbitrarily to harass and restrict the rights to freedom of expression, reflect a willful denial of the incongruity of these laws with international standards.

As explored in our UPR submission, the authorities have discriminatorily applied restrictive legislation, including the National Security Law to silence dissenting voices and critics of the government. The law’s overbroad provisions, which proscribe “Praising or propagating an anti-state organization,” or “Circulating false facts that threaten confusion of social order while a member of an anti–state organization” have frequently been used to stamp out online and offline expression perceived to be sympathetic to North Korea. Recently, on 5 January 2017, Lee Jin-young, owner of Labor Books, an online library, was arrested for violating the National Security Law after disseminating publications that purportedly support “anti-government organizations.”

We urge the government to consult with civil society in the implementation of the UPR recommendations to ensure that that the National Security Law is in line with the best practices and international standards in the area of freedom of expression. 

 

Statement at UN Human Rights Council: Zambia not implementing recommendations on civic space

37th Session of the UN Human Rights Council
Joint Statement on the adoption of Zambia's Universal Periodic Review

The Zambia Council for Social Development (ZCSD) and CIVICUS welcome the government of Zambia's engagement with the Universal Periodic Review on human rights process. We also welcome the government's presentation of the Access to Information Bill to Parliament, recognising that it has yet to be enacted.

However, in our joint Universal Periodic Review submission, we documented that since its last review, Zambia has not implemented 3 of the 4 recommendations relating to civic space. The existing legal frameworks that impedes and restricts civic space, including the Public Order Act and the Non-Governmental Organisations Act remain in place and have not been amended or repealed since Zambia’s last UPR examination.

The NGO Act unduly restricts the participation of civil society through punitive sanctions for non-compliance and excessive discretion of the State to dictate the activities of CSOs. Similarly, we are concerned with the continued use of the Public Order Act to unwarrantedly limit the exercise of the right to freedom of peaceful assembly.

Civic space came under serious threat during the State of Emergency declared by the government in July 2017. Six activists are currently before the courts after being arrested in September 2017 following a peaceful protest held outside of parliament demanding accountability for government expenditure.

Several journalists have also been arraigned before the courts to answer charges related to publication of official secrets, defamation and being in possession of seditious materials. After the 2016 general elections three private Broadcasting stations had their licences suspended due to perceived support for the opposition.

CIVICUS and ZCSD call on the Government of Zambia 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.

 

Statement at the UN Human Rights Council: Attacks on civic space in Burundi

Interactive Dialogue with the UN Commission of Inquiry on on Burundi
Oral Statement

We remain extremely concerned by the grave human rights violations taking place in Burundi, which show no sign of abating.

In January, at least 60 people were arrested after publicly advocating that citizens reject the proposed constitutional amendment, which would extend President Pierre Nkurunziza’s term in office beyond 2020, when his current term will end. A May 2018 referendum will determine whether the amendment - which would allow Nkurunziza to serve another two seven-year terms after 2020 - will be adopted. 

Last week on 9 March 2018, three human rights defenders from Parole et actions pour le réveil des consciences et de l'évolution des mentalités (PARCEM), one of the few remaining civil society organisations operating in Burundi, were sentenced to 10 years in prison. Judges at the court reportedly announced the verdict without representation from the defendants' lawyers.

On 13 February 2018, human rights defender Germain Rukuki, who has been detained since 13 July 2017, appeared before court. Three new charges of “assassination", "destruction of public and private buildings", and "participation in an insurrectionist movement" were added to his two initial charges of “breaching the internal security of the State” and “rebellion”. Another human rights defender Netsor Nibitanga is still being held by the National Intelligence Sercives and his whereabouts remain unknow.

In February alone exiled human rights organisation, Ligue Iteka, recorded 22 killings, 1 disappearance, 15 cases of torture and 145 arbitrary arrests. The rise in arrests and crackdown are believed to be related to the referendum. These reports corroborate UN envoy Michel Kafando’s recent conclusion that the political situation in Burundi remains deeply tenuous and that conditions are unfit for elections.

CIVICUS calls on the government of Burundi to immediately cease its attacks on human rights defenders and as a Member State of the Human Rights Council, to fully cooperate with the Commission of Inquiry and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

 

Statement at UN Human Rights Council: Citizen rights in Eritrea

37th Session of the UN Human Rights Council 
Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on Eritrea
Oral Intervention by CIVICUS and DefendDefenders

The government of Eritrea was requested to strengthen its cooperation with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), to communicate pertinent information regarding detained journalists and opposition members, and to consider establishing an office in Eritrea. Has OHCHR seen any progress on any of these requests?

In November 2017, a rare protest broke out in Eritrea at the Al Dia Islamic School in Asmara after a member of the School’s board was arrested following a speech he made criticizing government interference in the private school’s affairs. In the footage that emerged from the scene, dozens of shots could be heard although it is unclear if there were any casualties. No transparent or credible investigation was conducted, and no information emerged about the crackdown, the number of casualties or number of arrests. Was OHCHR able to conduct an investigation into the circumstances of this protest? 

The Commission of Inquiry on human rights in Eritrea (COIE) called on the Government of Eritrea to ensure accountability for past and persistent human rights violations, amounting to crimes against humanity. So far, civil society has not recorded any significant institutional or legal reforms required before the domestic legal system can hold perpetrators of international crimes to account in a fair and transparent manner.

We wish to underline our support for the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Eritrea, and highlight its necessity until a time where the human rights record in Eritrea sees genuine improvements.

 

CIVICUS at the 37th Session of the UN Human Rights Council

The opening week of the 37th Session of the UN Human Rights Council will commence with the high level segment which will include approximately 99 high level speakers including top political leaders from UN member states as well as UN Secretary General, Mr Antonio Guterres, and the President of the General Assembly amongst others.
 
To note is the oral update given by the High Commissioner for human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, on the 7th March which will address a number of pressing issues on the Councils agenda as well as bringing to light issues that are not being properly addressed by the Council and merit further attention.
 
Of interest to CIVICUS will be reports on the safety of journalists, the report on effectiveness and reform of the Human Rights Council, the report on Human Rights Defenders and People on the move by Michel Forst, SR for Human Rights Defenders. Also of note, the right to privacy and a number of country specific situations. CIVICUS will be following many discussions where civic space is touched upon and will continue to advocate for an enabling environment for civil society.

Thursday, 1 March 14:00 - 15:00 (Room XXVII) | Human Rights & Citizenship in the Gulf Region | Organised by: SALAM for Democracy and Human Rights, Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, Institute on Statelessness and Inclusion, Bahrain Center for Human Rights, CIVICUS, International Federation for Human Rights, and Rencontre Africaine pour la Défense des Droits de l'Homme

Across the Gulf Region, the relationship of citizenship and human rights has become a central issue. This event will examine how the authorities have increasingly sought to strip human rights defenders of their citizenship as a reprisal for their perceived political views and legitimate human rights work. See full invitation.

PANELISTS: 

  • Tor Hodenfield, CIVICUS
  • Tara O'Grady, SALAM for Democracy and Human Rights
  • Mohamed Sultan, Bahrain Center for Human Rights
  • Abdelbagi Jibril, Darfur Relief & Documentation Centre
  • Moderator: Asma Darwish, SALAM for Democracy and Human Rights

Friday, 2 March 11:30 - 13:00 (Room XXIV) | Ethiopia: The role of the international community in ending impunity and ensuring accountability for violations of fundamental rights | Organised by: Defend Defenders, Association for Human Rights in Ethiopia, and CIVICUS

The event will provide an opportunity to examine the state of civic space in Ethiopia and the setbacks in has suffered over the last decade. Civic space has become increasingly controlled and restricted as human rights defenders have faced threats, arrests, and detention while attempting to exercise their rights to assembly, association, and expression. This even will ook at these threats and trends. See full invitation.

PANELISTS: 

  • Yared Hailiemariam, Director, Association for Human Rights in Ethiopia
  • Tsedale Lemma, Editor-In-Chief, Addis Standard Magazine
  • Bayisa Wak-Woya, Director, Global Refugee & Migration Council 
  • Moderator: Hassan Shire, Executive Director, DefendDefenders

Friday, 2 March 15:00-16:30 (Room XI) | Counterterrorism, Emergency Powers, and the Protection of Civic Space | Organised by: Article 19, ECNL, CIVICUS, ICNL, World Movement for Democracy, and International Federation for Human Rights

The use of exceptional national security and emergency powers to combat terrorism has become increasingly common. The event will look at how counterterrorism measures and emergency powers have increasingly resulted in the restrictions of fundamental freedoms, including the rights to assembly, association and expression. See full invitation.

PANELISTS: 

  • Fionnuala Ni Aolain, UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism
  • Kerem Altiparmek, Ankara University, Faculty of Political Science
  • Yared Hailemariam, Director, Association for Human Rights in Ethiopia
  • Lisa Oldring, Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
  • Sonia Tanic, Representative to the UN, International Federation for Human Rights
  • Moderator: Nicholas Miller, International Center for Not-for-Profit Law

Thursday, 15 March 15:00-16:00 (Room XXII) | The Link Between the Deterioration of Human Rights in Egypt and the Massive Violations in the Gulf States | Gulf Center for Human Rights | International Federation for Human Rights | OMCT | International Service for Human Rights | CPJ | ALQST | CIVICUS | CPJ

A look at the middle east governments' coordinated efforts to target human rights defenders and journalists across the region. See full invitation.

PANELISTS:

  • Yahya Al-Assiri, Director of ALQST for Human Rights in Saudi Arabia
  • Justin Shilad, Committee to Protect Journalists
  • Nardine Al-Nemr, Academic & Activists from Egypt
  • Sara Brandt, Advocacy & Campaigns Officer, CIVICUS

 

Statement to the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights: Countries on the civic space watchlist

37th Session of the Human Rights Council
Oral statement at Interactive Dialogue with UN High Commissioner on Human Rights

CIVICUS commends the High Commissioner for his report, and for his commitment to standing alongside victims of the world's most egregious human rights violations by continuously bringing attention of their plight to this Council.

Mr President, CIVICUS shares the High Commissioner's grave concern over growing restrictions on civic space in Cambodia, Cameroon, Poland, Tanzania and Honduras. We note that these five countries have been placed on the CIVICUS Monitor's Watch List, which draws attention to countries where there are serious and ongoing threats to civic space.

In Cameroon, reports of renewed violence against protesters have emerged as the authorities have shut down internet access in Anglophone regions of the country. The government has also taken sharp measures to control and limit freedom of expression by suspending journalists’ activities and radio and television stations’ operations.

In the run-up to Cambodia’s 2018 general elections, the government has attempted to silence the opposition and suppress civic space, shutting down independent media and arresting activists. Repression of dissenting voices makes it highly unlikely that elections will take place in a transparent and democratic manner.

Poland’s current trajectory has caused grave concern as the government seeks to restrict civil and political freedoms and control the judiciary and civil society organisations. Worringly, a new body closely related to the office of the president has been created to control the flow of funding to civil society organisations, which could result in only pro-government groups being funded.

Peaceful protests following Honduras´ recent elections, which were criticised by the opposition and international observers, were met by security forces using excessive force. Several protesters were killed and many others injured and arbitrarily detained.

Tanzania has remained on the Monitor Watch List and CIVICUS echoes the High Commissioner’s concern over the authorities’ unrelenting attacks on the media, civil society and the LGBTI community in particular.

Mr President, restrictions on civic space are often a bellwether for further violations of human rights and allow states to act with impunity. CIVICUS asks the High Commissioner how his office intends to support local civil society fighting for human rights on the ground to respond to this global crackdown.

 

Statement at the UN Human Rights Council: Global trends on civic space

37th Session of the Human Rights Council
Oral statement

Across the globe, CIVICUS has observed a pattern of judicial persecution, smear campaigns, threats, intimidation, physical assaults and killings targeting human rights defenders.

We remain deeply concerned by the relentless and unwarranted restrictions on fundamental freedoms and attacks on civil society leaders, members of unions and members of the political opposition that have expressed criticism of government policies and practices.

These attacks are particularly prevalent before, during and after politically charged periods like elections as recently observed in Gabon, where the movements of members of the political opposition and threats to human rights defenders have continued after the violence that followed the 2016 elections. Sadly, this is a trend we observe in many countries.

We are alarmed by the growing tendency of states to use restrictive legislation and policies to pre-empt peaceful protests by citizens and civil society under the pretext of national security.

Many states deploy armed security forces who use violence and live ammunition to disperse demonstrations. Protesters are killed and some are injured. As observed in Benin, these actions are often followed by arrests and detention of protesters, some of whom have reported being tortured.

We call on states to uphold and protect the rights of citizens to freely assemble and express themselves in line with national and international human rights standards.

 

Statement at Human Rights Council: Threats to civic space

37th Session of the UN Human Rights Council
Oral Statement

Restrictions of civic space and threats to human rights defenders is fast spreading in the Global North as well as the South. From Hungary, Russia, Turkey, Bulgaria to Ethiopia, Rwanda, Uganda, Egypt the threats are similar.

Threats to civic space and human rights defenders

According to the CIVCUS Monitor, in 2017 just only two percent of the world’s population live in a country with ‘open’ civic space. In Africa, only 2 countries are considered to have open civic space, while 52 are rated either as ‘closed’, ‘repressed’, or ‘obstructed’.

  1. Governments are involved in smear campaigns against civil society, seeking to undermine their credibility and legitimacy in the population. The attacks include accusations of being agents of foreign power, interference in political matters, conducting subversive activities and involvement in money laundering.
  2. Access to resources is being restricted in the guise of controlling terror financing and illicit wealth. Under pressure from governments, financial institutions have set intrusive and obstructive requirements for banking by civil society including deposit of donor contracts, work plans among others. In some countries, foreign donations are either banned or limited to percentages that cripple the work of the civil society, that is largely funded by donations.
  3. Regulations are being passed that create burdensome registration requirements, criminalises unregistered and informal forms of organising and giving vague and wide powers to government bodies to deregister civil society groups on such grounds as ‘acting against the interest of the people’. In many cases, these restrictions are intentionally aimed at stifling independent NGOs because they defend minority groups, and allow all sections of society to participate in decision-making.

Reprisal against human rights defenders

Around the continent there are increased reports of reprisal attacks, human rights defenders.

  1. In Uganda, Action Aid International Uganda and three other organisations had their accounts frozen in October 2017 by the government for over three months for leading a campaign against a change in the constitution that would undermine land rights of local communities.

Reliance of civil society and HRDs

The challenges notwithstanding, civil society groups have demonstrated remarkable resilience. As of September 21, 2017, the CIVICUS Monitor had documented 42 reports where this activism led to positive civic space developments.

  1. In Jan of 2018, Mali became the third Africa country after Côte d’Ivoire (June 2014) and Burkina Faso (June 2017) to enact a law on the protection of HRDs.
  2. In South Africa, the High Court, Western Cape Division, Cape Town in case filed by HRD and in which the UN SP FoAA filed an amicus, ruled that the notification provisions of South Africa’s Gatherings Act constitute “illegitimate” restrictions on the right to freedom of peaceful assembly

In light of the above and also in celebrating the unanimous adoption of the GA Resolution on HRDs last November we recommend the Council to:

Recommendation to the Human Rights Council

  • Encourage special procedure mandate holders to support or file cases for litigation in national and regional courts to challenge laws and regulations that threaten civic space and the work of human rights defenders. They can bring their expertise to the assistance of municipal courts.
  • Engage States to grant long term, as opposed to short term mandates, to the UN Human Rights Country offices because they are important in building the capacities of local civil society and the protection of human rights defenders.
  • Document cases of reprisals against human rights defenders and encourage the enactment of HRD laws

 

CIVICUS at UN Human Rights Council: Human rights challenges in the context of countering terrorism

37th Session of the UN Human Rights Council
Oral Statement – Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism

1 March 2018

CIVICUS, on behalf of the Civic Space Initiative, welcomes the Special Rapporteur’s report on the human rights challenge of states of emergency in the context of countering terrorism.

This Council has reaffirmed that the most effective means of countering terrorism is through the respect for human rights, including by addressing conditions conducive to terrorism such as a lack of respect for the rule of law, political exclusion, suppression of dissent.

Worryingly, from the Maldives, to France, to Turkey, to Ethiopia, governments across the world are invoking states of emergency, with the effect, and in some cases the intent, of criminalising dissent and persecuting human rights defenders, protesters and civil society organisations. Rather than pursue legitimate national security objectives, these laws are applied to insulate governments from legitimate criticism. Such measures are contrary to international human rights law and are counter-productive to peace and security.

We urge states to heed the Human Rights Committee’s guidance that the right to freedom of peaceful assembly should not be derogated, and we consider the same to be true for other rights essential to civil society.

All national counter-terrorism laws must be brought into compliance with international human rights law, with the full and effective participation of civil society. We call on States that are currently under States of Emergency to ensure their independent review by the judiciary, and to end them where they are no longer justified by the exigencies of the situation.

We ask the Special Rapporteur how the Human Rights Council can better support the UN Security Council in addressing the shrinking of civic space, to provide accountability for abuses of counter-terrorism measures against persons exercising their rights to freedom of assembly, association and expression.

 

Joint Letter to UN: Strengthen and renew the mandate of the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan

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

RE: Renewing and strengthening the mandate of the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan to ensure accountability for gross violations of human rights and related crimes in South Sudan

Excellencies,
We, the undersigned national, regional and international non-governmental organisations, write to call on your delegation to renew and strengthen the mandate of the UN Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan (the Commission), during the 37th session of the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) in March. It is essential that the Commission continues its vital work to collect and preserve evidence of gross human rights violations, abuses and related crimes, with a view to end impunity and ensure accountability. The HRC should also strengthen the resolution to make explicit that the mandate of the Commission includes the identification of individual perpetrators, with a view to enable future prosecutions.

The civil war in South Sudan broke out on 15 December 2013 in Juba, quickly spreading north. By the end of 2015, conflict had spread throughout the western and southern Equatorias region. Although the parties to the conflict signed a peace agreement in August 2015, major fighting resumed in July 2016 when the Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Army (SPLA) and opposition soldiers clashed in Juba, resulting in the loss of civilian lives, looting of civilian property, and further displacement of civilians.

According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), over 4 million South Sudanese have been displaced since 2013, including 1.9 million people who have been internally displaced. In 2017 alone, 700,000 South Sudanese fled as refugees to neighbouring countries. OCHA further reports that 7 million South Sudanese need assistance and protection.

After the Commission’s visit to South Sudan in December 2017, Commissioner Clapham expressed concern at the increased levels of violations and abuses, including sexual violence, committed by the parties against civilians. He noted that the “atrocities and the violations are no longer confined to a few parts of South Sudan but are rather spread across the entire country.”

The Commissioners renewed their call for perpetrators of the widespread human rights violations to be brought to justice. Commissioner Yasmin Sooka emphasised the immediate need to establish the Hybrid Court and the Commission on Truth, Healing and Reconciliation. Although the South Sudan Council of Ministers reportedly approved the Hybrid Court statute and the government’s Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the African Union, the South Sudanese government is yet to take further steps to operationalise the Court.
      
Regional actors have also voiced frustration and concern over the continued violations of human rights and international humanitarian law. In January, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) expressed frustrations with the parties’ failure to comply with the Agreement on Cessation of Hostilities, Protection of Civilians, and Humanitarian Access and their violations of international human rights and humanitarian laws. IGAD’s Council of Ministers resolved “to take all necessary measures including targeted sanctions against individual violators and spoilers of the peace agreement.”

In addition, during the 30th ordinary session of the African Union (AU) summit, Moussa Faki Mahamat, AU Commission Chairperson reiterated the support of the AU to IGAD to impose sanctions on leaders violating the ceasefire agreements. “In South Sudan, how can we not repeat that we cannot understand the insane violence that the belligerents inflict, with indescribable cruelty, on a population that has suffered too much. The time has come to impose sanctions on those who obstruct peace”. On 2 February 2018, the United States of America imposed a unilateral arms embargo on the country.

With the violence ongoing, and in the absence of another international mechanism to monitor and document human rights violations and abuses, and pending the establishment and operationalisation of the Hybrid Court, the Commission’s role is vital. Moreover, the Commission might be needed even when the Court is established. Our organisations urge the UN HRC to take strong and meaningful action during its 37th Session to enhance the Commission’s mandate and enable it to support justice, truth, and reparation for the victims of the grave human rights violations committed in South Sudan.

We call on all Member States to adopt a resolution that:

  • Renews the mandate of the Commission to conduct independent investigations into alleged violations of international human rights and humanitarian law, collect and preserve evidence of gross human rights violations and abuses and related crimes, with a view to ending impunity and ensuring accountability, with a particular focus on sexual and gender-based crimes, and attacks or reprisals against human rights defenders;
  • Strengthens the language on accountability to make explicit that the mandate of the Commission includes the identification of individual perpetrators, with a view to future prosecutions.
  • Urges the Government of South Sudan to allow and facilitate access to all locations and persons of interest to the Commission;
  • Requests that the report of the Commission be transmitted to the AU Commission in order to support and inform future investigations of the Hybrid Court for South Sudan and the UN Security Council for consideration and further action;
  • Encourages the AU to take immediate steps to establish the Hybrid Court for South Sudan as recommended by the AU Commission of Inquiry on South Sudan, and provided for in the 2015 peace agreement;
  • Urges all States to encourage further concrete action to deter and address on-going violations of international human rights and humanitarian law at the UN Security Council.

We thank you for your attention to these pressing issues.

Sincerely,

  1. African Centre for Democracy and Human Rights Studies (The Gambia)
  2. Association for Human Rights in Ethiopia
  3. Burundian Coalition of Human Rights Defenders (CBDDH)
  4. CIVICUS
  5. Community Empowerment for Progress Organisation (South Sudan)
  6. DefendDefenders (East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project)
  7. End Impunity Organisation (South Sudan)
  8. Eritrean Law Society
  9. Eve Organisation for Women Development (South Sudan)
  10. Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect
  11. Global Society Initiative for Peace and Democracy (South Sudan)
  12. Human Rights Centre Somaliland
  13. Human Rights Watch
  14. International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
  15. International Refugee Rights Initiative
  16. International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)
  17. International Youth for Africa (South Sudan)
  18. Pan African Human Rights Defenders Network
  19. South Sudan Christian Community Agency
  20. South Sudan Human Rights Society for Advocacy
  21. South Sudan Law Society
  22. Tanzania Human Rights Defenders Coalition
  23. West African Human Rights Defenders Network (Togo)
  24. Women Monthly Forum (South Sudan)

 

CIVICUS UN Universal Periodic Review submissions on civil society space

CIVICUS and its partners have submitted joint and stand-alone UN Universal Periodic Review (UPR) submissions on 9 countries in advance of the 28th UPR session (November 2017). 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.  

Countries examined: Benin, Gabon, Guatemala, Pakistan, Peru, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Ukraine and Zambia.

 

Country recommendations on civic space for the UN´s Universal Periodic Review

CIVICUS and its partners have submitted joint and stand-alone UN Universal Periodic Review (UPR) submissions on 9 countries in advance of the 30th UPR session (May 2018). 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. Countries examined include: Bangladesh, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Colombia, Cuba, Djibouti, Russia, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan:

Bangladesh (Individual/Joint): In this UPR, CIVICUS draws attention to a range of legislative restrictions which have been strengthened and imposed to curtail the operation of independent civic groups in Bangladesh. Of particular concern, are new restrictions on groups seeking funds from abroad, as well the repeated use of the penal code to arrest HRDs and place blanket bans on meetings and assemblies. We further examine the spate of extrajudicial killings against secular bloggers and LGBTI activists which is illustrative of Bangladesh’s downward spiral with respect to civic freedoms and systemic failure to protect civil society.

Burkina Faso (EN/FR): CIVICUS, the Burkinabé Coalition of Human Rights Defenders and the West African Human Right Defenders Network examine unwarranted limitations on freedom of expression and assembly. Despite several positive developments since the popular uprising of 2014, such as the decriminalisation of defamation and the adoption of a law on the protection of human right defenders, restrictions on the freedom of expression including suspensions of media outlets by the national media regulator and attacks and threats against journalists continue.

Cameroon: CIVICUS, Réseau des Défenseurs Droits Humains en Afrique Centrale (REDHAC) and the Centre for Human Rights and Democracy in Africa (CHRDA) highlight Cameroon’s fulfilment of the right to association, assembly and expression and unwarranted persecution of human rights defenders since its previous UPR examination.  We assess the ongoing judicial persecution and detention of human rights defenders on trumped up charges, the use of anti-terrorism legislation to target journalists and excessive use of force against peaceful protesters.  

Colombia (EN/SP): CIVICUS highlights the hostile environment for human rights defenders, social leaders and unions workers who are routinely subject to physical attacks, targeted assassinations, harassment and intimidation by state and non-state actors. CIVICUS examines the increased number of attacks against journalists as well as the government’s lack of effective implementation of protection mechanisms to safeguard the work of journalists and human rights defenders.

Cuba (EN/SP): CIVICUS and the Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN) highlight the constitutional, legal and de facto obstacles to the exercise of the basic freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression. The submission discusses the situation of CSOs, HRDs, journalists and bloggers, who face harassment, criminalisation, arbitrary arrests, searches of their homes and offices and reprisals for interacting with UN and OAS human rights institutions. The submission further examines the multiple ways in which dissent is stifled both in the streets and in the media, offline and online. 

Djibouti (EN/FR): CIVICUS, Defend Defenders and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) submission describes how the government of Djibouti has patently ignored the 14 recommendations made during the second UPR cycle related to the protection of the rights to freedom of association, peaceful assembly and expression. Instead, in the intervening period, authorities in Djibouti have continued their campaign against dissent, regularly detaining human rights defenders, journalists and trade union activists because of their criticism of the government or human rights activists.  

Russia: CIVICUS and Citizens’ Watch address concerns regarding the adoption and application of several draconian laws that have resulted in the expulsion and closure of numerous CSOs and restrictions on the activities of countless others. The submission also lays out the increasing criminalisation and persecution of dissenting views by means of growing restrictions, in both law and practice, on the exercise of the fundamental freedoms of expression and peaceful assembly. 

Turkmenistan: CIVICUS highlights restrictions to freedom of association in Turkmenistan including recent amendments to the 2014 Law on Public Associations which further limit CSOs’ ability to register, operate independently and receive funding from international sources. Additionally, we assess the use of the arbitrary detention, torture and ill-treatment of human rights defenders as well as unwarranted limitations to online and offline freedom of expression.

Uzbekistan: CIVICUS, The Association for Human Rights in Central Asia and the International Partnership for Human Rights assess the conditions of freedom of association, assembly and expression in Uzbekistan. We highlight the lack of progress made in implementing recommendations received during the 2nd UPR cycle. It particular, we note that although there have been some notable improvements to the environment for civic space, the situation for human rights activists and journalists remains deeply constrained.

 

Joint Letter: Closing of the 36th session of the UN Human Rights Council

Joint letter to President of the UN Human Rights Council on behalf of International Service for Human Rights, Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS), Asian Forum on Human Rights and Development (Forum Asia), Human Rights House Foundation, CIVICUS

We welcome the adoption of the resolution intended to end acts of intimidation or reprisals. However, we regret that a small group of States – most of them regular perpetrators of acts of intimidation or reprisals – have tried to undermine the Council’s efforts to end reprisals. We thank the majority of the Council members for resisting these efforts. 

Mr President, we are concerned that there were attempts to dilute several resolutions at this Council with the insertion of so-called “sovereignty” clauses. While we welcome the fact that they were ultimately defeated, we are concerned that a significant number members seek to use the concept of Sovereignty to shield themselves and other States from international scrutiny.

We also welcome that the resolution on the death penalty urges States to not impose it as a sanction for specific forms of conduct such as apostasy, blasphemy, adultery and consensual same-sex relations.

We applaud the creation by consensus of an international investigative body on Yemen, and the broad State leadership on this issue. It sends a message that the people of Yemen have not been abandoned, and that accountability for international crimes is urgently required. We call on all parties to the conflict to fully cooperate with this mandate.

On Burundi, we welcome the extension of the COI’s mandate. This was the only credible response to the CoI’s concerns that crimes against humanity may have been committed, and the persistent non-cooperation of Burundi with both the COI and the OHCHR presence in the country. We urge Burundi to follow through on its promises to start cooperating with the UN system, in line with duties as HRC member, and – failing that – call on the GA to take appropriate action. 

On Myanmar, while we welcome the extension of the fact-finding mission’s mandate, we are disappointed that the Council did not do more to address the gravity of the situation on the ground, in particular acknowledging the disproportionate campaign of violence by Myanmar’s security forces in Rakhine State, which have forced around half a million Rohingya to flee to Bangladesh since 25 August. We urge States to use the ongoing UNGA session to address what the High Commissioner described to the Council as a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”

On Cambodia, while the Council missed an opportunity for robust scrutiny of the worsening situation, the pre-election reporting in March should put authorities on notice. 

On the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), we welcome the Council’s decision to boost scrutiny of the human rights crisis for another year, which shows how horrific the situation has become. The DRC must now cooperate with all Council mechanisms, and the Council needs to keep its eyes on the country until all actors stop committing violations and abuses, and justice for victims has been obtained. 

Finally, Mr President, we regret the increasing effort spent on procedural tricks and manoeuvers by States in an attempt avoid scrutiny – including by abusing the privilege of being a member to seek to avoid scrutiny of their own situation – instead of spending diplomatic time and capital on ending human rights violations, which is the Council’s core mandate. A renewed commitment to addressing situations based on objective criteria is now more urgent than ever.

 

Joint Letter: UN mandate on enforced or involuntary disappearances

Human Rights Organizations Urge UN Human Rights Council Member States to Reject Amendments to the Draft Resolution Renewing the Mandate of The UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances

In the context of the renewal of the mandate of the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances (WGEID), during the 36th regular session of the Human Rights Council, through draft resolution A/HRC/36/L.10, the undersigned human rights organizations emphasize the essential role of the Working Group and call for the renewal of its mandate so that it can continue its important mission of prevention and protection against enforced disappearances.

For us, the WGEID is a vital mechanism for the protection of people on the ground, providing victims with an efficient mechanism to speedily deal with cases of enforced disappearances, in addition to the cooperation with the homologous Committee and the wide visibility which the Working Group gives to cases of enforced disappearances, reinforcing the international commitment to prevent such atrocities.

At the present session, two amendments to the draft resolution renewing the mandate of the Working Group were submitted (A/HRC/36/L.631 and A/HRC/36/L.642). These amendments compromise the autonomy and independence by which the Working Group discharges its duties. In addition, they interfere with the fine balance between national sovereignty and the competence of international mechanisms, already achieved during the adoption of resolution 5/1 (the “Institutional Building Package”) and Resolution 5/2 (the Code of Conduct). Transposing selectively fragments from that prior global commitment represents a serious distortion on the role and institutional functions of the WGEID. In addition, the amendments set a dangerous precedent, posing a systemic risk for all other special procedures.

Accordingly, the signatory organizations urge the members of the Human Rights Council to approve the renewal of the mandate of the WGEID, at the same time as rejecting the proposed amendments.

1. Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo
2. Acceso a la Justicia
3. Acción Solidaria
4. Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights 5. Adivasi Koordination, Germany
6. African Centre for Democracy and Human Rights Studies
7. Alkarama Foundation
8. Amnesty International
9. Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development
10. Asian Legal Resource Centre
11. Burundi Association for Integration and Sustainable Development (AIDB)
12. Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS)
13. Center for Reproductive Rights
14. Centro de Derechos Humanos de la Universidad Metropolitana.
15. Centro de Derechos Humanos Miguel Agustin Pro Juarez
16. Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales (CELS)
17. CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
18. CIVILIS Derechos Humanos
19. Comision Colombiana de Juristas
20. Comision paraa los Drechos Humanos y la CiudadaniaCODEHCIU
21. Conectas Human Rights
22. Consejeria CAMEX Oxlajuj Ix
23. Convite AC
24. Corporación Humanas – Chile
25. DefendDefenders (the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project) 26. Federation for Women and Family Planning
27. FIAN Belgium
28. FIAN International
29. FIDH (International Federation for Human Rights)
30. Forum Menschenrechte (Germany)
31. Franciscans International
32. Geneva for Human Rights
33. Human Rights House Foundation (HRHF)
34. Human Rights House Foundation (HRHF)
35. Human Rights Watch (HRW)
36. INFORM Human Rights Documentation Centre, Colombo, Sri Lanka
37. Institute on Race, Equality and Human Rights
38. Instituto de Desenvolvimento e Direitos Humanos - IDDH
39. int. association against torture (AICT)
40. International Commission of Jurists
41. International Movement Against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism (IMADR)
42. International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) 43. Lawyers' Rights Watch Canada
44. Minority Rights Group International (MRG) 45. MNDH Brasil
46. Monitor Social AC
47. Organizacion StopVIH
48. Penal Reform International
49. Plataforma Internacional Contra la Impunidad
50. Proiuris (Venezuela)
51. Réseau International des Droits Humains RIDH
52. Sexual Rights Initiative
53. Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network
54. Tamazight Women Movement
55. The ICCA Consortium
56. Una Ventana a la Libertad
57. Unidad de Protección a Defensoras y Defensores de Derechos Humanos - Guatemala (UDEFEGUA)
58. West African Human Rights Defenders' Network/Réseau Ouest Africain des Défenseurs des Droits
Humains
59. World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)
60. Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum
61. Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights

 

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