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 / - For CIVICUS : Clémentine de Montjoye, / +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 /


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
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)
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 ( 
Susan Wilding, CIVICUS (
Vanja Skoric, ECNL ( 
Nicholas Miller, ICNL ( 
Troy Johnson, World Movement for Democracy ( 


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.


  • 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.


  • 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.


  • 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.


  • 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

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.


  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)
  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
59. World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)
60. Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum
61. Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights


Joint Letter: Improving cooperation with the United Nations

UN Human Rights Council: 36th Session 
Letter to Member States of the UN Human Rights Council
Re: Support resolution on cooperation with the United Nations, its representatives and mechanisms in the field of human rights

The undersigned 48 civil society organisations, coming from all regions, urge your delegation to support the adoption of the resolution on cooperation with the United Nations, its representatives and mechanisms in the field of human rights as tabled. We urge you to resist efforts to undermine and weaken this resolution. The balanced resolution entitled ‘Cooperation with the United Nations, its representatives and mechanisms in the field of human rights (A/HRC/36/L.26), developed through open and transparent informal negotiations, is being considered by the 36st session of the Human Rights Council. The core group comprising Ghana, Hungary, Ireland, Fiji and Uruguay will present the resolution for adoption on 28 or 29 September.

The Secretary-General's most recent report on cooperation presented at this session of the Human Rights Council reveals a worsening incidence of intimidation and reprisals, including a ‘broader’ range of actions, by increasingly ‘blunt’ means. It reports that people engaging with the United Nations experience threats, intimidation, harassment, derogatory media campaigns, travel bans, arbitrary arrests and detention, enforced disappearances, torture and ill-treatment, disbarment, and dismissal from posts.

Beyond the grave impact on the life of persons concerned and their relatives, intimidation and reprisals also constitute anattack on human rights, the rule of law, and the international and regional mechanisms themselves.

The report identifies a number of positive developments, including a strong resolution adopted by the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights and the establishment of a mandate by that body to combat reprisals. It is imperative that the Human Rights Council adopts a similarly strong and substantive resolution at this session.

Despite the importance of the resolution – so tragically illustrated by the number of cases included in the Secretary General's report – a small group of States, led by the Russian Federation, China, Egypt and Cuba are seeking to seriously undermine the text. A number of amendments being promoted by these States, in addition to questioning consensus language and terminology from past resolutions, challenge key elements in the resolution, including:

  • The right of all people to safe and unhindered access to and communication with international human rights bodies, which is firmly established in international law;
  • The commitment made by Member States, in particular Council Members, to cooperate with the Council and its mechanisms, and the acknowledgment that a failure to take steps to prevent, investigate and ensure accountability for such acts may be inconsistent with that commitment;
  • The call on States to take measures to prevent the occurrence of intimidation and reprisals;
  • The responsibility of the Human Rights Council President and his Bureau to address and follow up on allegations of acts of intimidation and reprisal;
  • The recognition of developments on the issue of reprisals in United Nations mechanisms, including the special procedures and the treaty bodies;
  • The welcoming of the designation of the Assistant Secretary General on human rights, and acknowledgment of his work regarding reprisals associated with the mandate assigned to him by the Secretary General; and
  • The devotion of ‘sufficient time to discuss the report of the Secretary General’ at the Human Rights Council.

These amendments would seriously undermine the ability of the United Nations system to address the needs on the ground. For the United Nations to effectively promote and protect human rights and achieve sustainable development, the right of all people to communicate with and provide information to the United Nations needs to be protected. The proposals to weaken the resolution should be seen in the context of ongoing, systematic efforts in a number of States to restrict civil society space, the right to communicate with the United Nations and its effectiveness and legitimacy. Indeed, several of the proposing States are the subject of allegations of intimidation or reprisals in both the Secretary- General’s report and the joint communications report of Special Procedures.

We urge you not to associate with such positions. Instead, we respectfully urge your delegation to co-sponsor resolution L.26 as tabled, vote against the amendments presented, and vote in favour of the resolution as drafted.

Civil society and human rights defenders around the world look to the Human Rights Council and its Member States for support and protection, and we hope your delegation will stand with us.
Yours sincerely,

1. African Centre for Democracy and Human Rights Studies 
2. Akahata A.C.
3. Alkarama Foundation
4. Article 19
5. Asian Legal Resource Centre
6. Association for Advancement of Legal Rights
7. Association for Progressive Communications 
8. Bir Duino-Kyrgyzstan
9. Both ENDS
10. Business and Human Rights Resource Centre
11. Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
12. Canada Tibet Committee
13. Centro de Derechos Humanos de las Mujeres
14. Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales
15. Christian Development Alternative
17. Collectif des Organisations de Défense des Droits de l'Homme et de la Démocratie
18. Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative
19. Conectas Direitos Humanos
20. DefendDefenders (the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project)
21. Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights
22. Euro-Mediterranean Foundation of Support to Human Rights Defenders
23. EuroMed Rights Paris
24. FORUM-ASIA (Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development)
25. Global Human Rights Clinic
26. Help & Shelter
27. Human Rights Watch
28. International Commission of Jurists
29. Insan Haklari Dernegi/Human Rights Association
30. Instituto Venezolano de Estudios Sociales y Politicos
31. International Centre for Ethnic Studies
32. International Service for Human Rights
33. Labour, Health and Human Rights Development Centre
34. Ligue pour la Défense de la Justice et de la Liberté / Burkina Faso Coalition of Human Rights
35. Organisation Mondiale Contre la Torture
36. Partnership for Justice
38. Proyecto de Derechos Económicos, Sociales y Culturales (ProDESC)
39. Réseau International des Droits Humains RIDH
40. Réseau Ouest Africain des défenseurs des Droits Humains
41. Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights
42. Southern African Human Rights Defenders Network
43. Union Internationale des Avocats
44. Unión Nacional de Instituciones para el Trabajo de Acción Social
45. Urgent Action Fund for Women's Human Rights
46. Women's Global Network for Reproductive Rights
47. Yemen Organization for Defending Rights & Democratic Freedoms
48. Zo Indigenous Forum



Joint statement on human rights in the Philippines

36th Session of the UN Human Rights Council

ISHR and CIVICUS welcome the Philippine Government’s engagement in the UPR process. However, despite claims of the State party during the May 2017 review, Filipino human rights defenders continue to have serious concerns about the environment for human rights defenders (HRDs) in the country.
Mr. President, the systematic and targeted killings of HRDs, under the cover of ‘counterinsurgency programs’, have long been a problem. On average, our partners documented 40 killings per year from 2001 to 2016.  In the past year, however, this number has risen to 50 HRDs, many who were leaders of peasant and indigenous communities. This is largely due to President Duterte’s ‘war on drugs’, which has also resulted in thousands more casualties of regular Filipino citizens.
Since the May review, human rights activists have seen no reprieve in the harassment and threats by State security forces. This includes the Secretary General of people’s organisation Karapatan, Cristina Palabay.

Duterte’s pronouncements endanger the lives of HRDs who speak out against his repressive policies, including the drug war and martial law declarations, as well as for respect of rights, such as to a safe and healthy environment. The filing of trumped-up charges to criminalize HRDs has been normalized by the government, hampering us from doing our work and violating our freedom of association.

Most recently, the ominous signs of a nationwide martial law under Pres. Duterte hover like a sword of Damocles over HRDs and the Filipino people. Our history shows that such a decision will worsen the current state of human rights in the country. 

We therefore urge the Council to ensure that the Philippine government respect its pledges and commitments, as stated in the UPR outcome report. We call for a halt to all forms of attacks on human rights defenders, the enactment of a law for their protection, and the acceptance of a full, independent visit to the Philippines by UN Special Rapporteurs, including on the situation of HRDs. 


Statement on human rights recommendations for Poland

36th Session of the UN Human Rights Council

CIVICUS welcomes Poland’s commitment to engage with the UPR process and its acceptance of recommendations related to the freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly and association, in its recent response to the Report of the Working Group.

As outlined in our joint submission to this review, CIVICUS and the Committee for the Defense of Democracy (KOD) remain seriously concerned by the government’s control over state institutions and the media through weakened rule of law and undermined respect for fundamental freedoms.

With particular reference to media freedom, we welcome the Government of Poland’s commitment to ensure that national legislation is made consistent with European Union Law. We remain concerned however at the Government’s assertion that laws enacted in 2015 “do not restrict media freedom and pluralism”. CIVICUS and KOD believe there is still an urgent need to revisit changes made to the Broadcasting Act in January 2016, to prevent the kind of political interference which saw the dismissal of dozens of journalists from the public broadcaster.

We also welcome Poland’s acceptance of the recommendation to guarantee the freedom of assembly, but urge the Government to reconsider its rejection of the recommendation to “Repeal the restrictive amendments on the Law on Assemblies”. These amendments are inconsistent with Poland’s international obligations, because they give undue priority to public authorities, and seriously undermine the protest rights of all Polish citizens, including those that oppose the government. 

Finally, we welcome the Government of Poland’s acceptance of recommendations related to the freedom of association. We however urge the Government to ensure that these guarantees are applied equally to all, including groups promoting the rights of LGBTI people. We also urge the Government to ensure that Poland’s new counter-terrorism legislation is not used as a pretext for the erosion of the rights of minority groups, particularly those promoting the rights of Muslims.  


Joint statement on human rights violations in Vietnam

UN Human Rights Council: 36th Session 
Interactive dialogue on human rights in Vietnam

CIVICUS presents this statement together with VOICE

We are gravely concerned by the crackdown on human rights defenders and pro-democracy activists in Vietnam. Despite its international treaty obligations and recommendations accepted at the UPR to respect freedom of expression and civil society space, the Government of Vietnam is doing the exact opposite.

In the first eight months of this year, at least 16 activists have been detained, arrested or sentenced under the country’s draconian Penal Code, including 6 members of the group, Brotherhood for Democracy, who remain in pre-trial detention and could face the maximum sentence of death for their peaceful human rights work. Two female activists, Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh and Tran Thi Nga, have been sentenced to 10 years and 9 years in prison, for peacefully criticizing the government and have been subjected to dire prison conditions. I am also here with Ms. Le Thi Minh Ha, wife of Anh Ba Sam who was sentenced to 5 years for simply blogging against the Government.

There are, in fact, hundreds of prisoners of conscience in Vietnam right now, yet Vietnam fails to acknowledge their existence.  

Mr. President, we call on the Vietnamese government to implement in good faith the UPR recommendations it accepted in 2014 as well as those made by Special Procedures and Treaty Bodies. We call on the Council members and observers to urge Vietnam to free all prisoners of conscience. 


Joint statement on the rights of indigenous peoples

UN Human Rights Council: 36th Session 
Panel discussion on the rights of indigenous peoples

Disponible en Espanol

I read this statement on behalf of 39 human rights defenders and civil society organisations working on indigenous, land and environmental rights from 29 countries who met in Johannesburg, South Africa from 7-9 August 2017 to discuss strategies to advance the protection of indigenous, land and environmental rights activists.

Mr. President, 2016 surpassed 2015 as the deadliest year on record for those stood up against land grabbing, natural resource exploitation and environmental destruction. Worryingly, the number of killed has risen to 200 from 185 in 2016 and spread to several countries across the world.

In the current global climate, where repression of the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly is becoming the norm rather than the exception, environmental and land defenders are particularly vulnerable.

When we express concerns over the collusion between States and corporate actors, we face opposition - dissent is stifled and criminalised, and our lives are threatened. Often our work is discredited and we are labelled ‘anti-national’ and ‘anti-development’.

When we protest peacefully against this attack on our resources and livelihoods, we face violence from state authorities, private security groups and state-sponsored vigilante groups. When we stand up to defend the rights of our communities, we face unfounded criminal charges, unlawful arrests, custodial torture, threats to life and liberty, surveillance, judicial harassment and administrative hurdles, among other actions.

Mr. President, our families are threatened into silence and many of us have had to make the difficult decision to flee our homes and go into exile, retreating from a fight that has become too dangerous.

We need global action to counter the threats we face.

We ask the panellists to urge the Council to emphasise the need for all states to ensure that affected communities are adequately consulted, including securing their full consent prior to the development of infrastructure and extractive industries projects.  

More information:


Joint statement on human rights violations in Burundi

UN Human Rights Council: 36th Session
Oral Intervention at Interactive Dialogue with the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi

Thank you, Mr. President.  CIVICUS and DefendDefenders on behalf of 30 African organisations would like to thank the CoI for their report and reiterate their concerns that there are reasons to believe that crimes against humanity have been committed with impunity by state perpetrators including the National Intelligence Service, National Police, the Burundian Amy and the Imbonerakure in Burundi since the outset of the crisis in April 2015.

The killings, abductions, mass disappearances, torture and detentions of citizens have created a climate of fear and intimidation firmly entrenched in all sectors of Burundian society. A civil society law passed in January 2017 gives the authorities broad powers to control the activities and resources of civil society organisations. Almost all human rights defenders and journalists are in exile and still live in fear. The government has issued international warrants against some of them.

Most of the private radio stations remain closed, and while most journalists and HRDs are in exile, some of those who remained, such as Jean Bigirimana and Germain Rukuki, are still missing or detained.

Mr. President in a context like Burundi’s where the judiciary is not independent and all voices critical of the government are brutally attacked, there are no avenues present to hold perpetrators of crimes against humanity accountable.

Mr. President, we call on the Council to:

  1. Renew the mandate of the COI
  2. Urge the International Criminal Court to open an official investigation into human rights violations in Burundi
  3. Initiate action for Burundi’s suspension from the UN HRC

Thank you Mr. President


  1. Action des Chrétiens pour l’Abolition de la Torture - Burundi (ACAT-Burundi)
  2. African Center for Democracy and Human Rights Studies (ACDHRS), The Gambia
  3. Association pour la Protection des Droits Humains et des Personnes Détenues (APRODH), Burundi
  4. Association for Human Rights in Ethiopia (AHRE), Ethiopia
  6. Coalition Burundaise pour la Cour Pénale Internationale (CB-CPI)
  7. Community Empowerment for Progress Organisation, South Sudan (CEPO)
  8. DefendDefenders (the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project)
  9. Citizens for Democratic Rights in Eritrea, Eritrea
  10. ONG Ezaka ho Fampandrosoana any Ambanivohitra (ONG EFA), Madagascar
  11. Eritrean Movement for Democracy and Human Rights (EMDHR), Eritrea
  12. Forum pour la Conscience et le Développement (FOCODE), Burundi
  13. Forum pour le Renforcement de la Société Civile au Burundi (FORSC), Burundi
  14. Human Rights Concern - Eritrea  (HRCE)
  15. Human Rights Institute of South Africa (HURISA), South Africa
  16. International Youth For Africa, South Sudan
  17. La Nouvelle Société Civile Congolaise, DRC
  18. Ligue Iteka, Burundi
  19. National Coalition of Human Rights Defenders – Uganda
  20. Réseau des Citoyens Probes, Burundi
  21. Réseau des Droits de l’Homme d’Afrique Centrale (REDHAC)
  22. SOS-Torture, Burundi
  23. South Sudan Human Rights Defenders Network, South Sudan
  24. Union Burundaise des Journalistes, Burundi
  25. Zambia Council for Social Development, Zambia
  26. Mauritius Council of Social Services, Mauritius
  27. Pan Africa Human Rights Defenders Network
  28. Tanzania Human Rights Defenders Coalition
  29. National Coalition of Human Rights Defenders – Kenya
  30. Mouvement des Femmes et des Filles pour la Paix et la Sécurité


Joint statement on human rights crisis in South Sudan

Human Rights Council: 36th Session
Oral Intervention at Interactive Dialogue with the UN Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan

The East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project and CIVICUS, on behalf of 20 African civil society organisations, thank the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan for their worrying update.

Mr. President, we welcome this opportunity to raise concerns about the devastating situation in South Sudan with national and regional interlocutors. While we welcome some of the steps made towards establishing the Hybrid Court on South Sudan, we urge all regional and international actors to work together to ensure that justice is secured for the victims of grave violations of human rights and humanitarian law in South Sudan.

Today, civilians, journalists and humanitarian workers continue to be deliberately and targeted through horrific and violent attacks by both state and non-state actors. International civil society groups have documented ethnically charged sexual violence of unimaginable brutality on a massive scale, which shows no signs of abating.

Today, many South Sudanese civil society organisations and media workers are forced to work from exile, making the documentation and reporting of violations in the country particularly challenging. Given the situation, the Commission’s mandate to collect evidence, document violations and advise on accountability mechanisms is of the utmost importance and should be given full support by members of this Council.

Under the new High Level Revitalisation Forum, it is critical for the Government of South Sudan to take significant steps to show its commitment to the implementation of the Peace Agreement, including Chapter V, and to cooperate in a meaningful way with the African Union for the speedy establishment of the Court.

We urge Member States of the Council to support the Commission’s work and to urge the Government of South Sudan to respect its responsibility to protect its citizens and to put an end to the senseless violence the country has been experiencing for the past four years.

  1. African Center for Democracy and Human Rights Studies, The Gambia
  2. Assistance Mission for Africa, South Sudan
  3. Association for human rights in Ethiopia
  4. Central Africa Human Rights Defenders Network (REDHAC), Cameroon
  5. Center for Peace and Justice, South Sudan
  6. CIVICUS, South Africa
  7. Community Empowerment for Progress Organisation, South Sudan
  8. Concertation Nationale de la Société Civile du Togo, Togo
  9. DefendDefenders (the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project), Uganda
  10. Eritrean Movement for Democracy and Human Rights (EMDHR), Eritrea
  11. EVE Organisation, South Sudan
  12. Human Rights Concern - Eritrea (HRCE) 
  13. International Youth for Africa, South Sudan
  14. La Nouvelle Société Civile Congolaise, DRC
  15. Mauritius Council of Social Services, Mauritius
  16. ONG Ezaka ho Fampandrosoana any Ambanivohitra (ONG EFA), Madagascar
  17. Réseau Ouest Africain des Défenseurs des Droits Humains/ West Africa Human Rights Defenders Network,
  18. South Sudan Human Rights Defenders Network, South Sudan
  19. Women Monthly Forum
  20. Zambia Council for Social Development, Zambia
  21. Pan Africa Human Rights Defenders Network



Open Letter to UN member states: Urgent action needed on Myanmar

To: Member and Observer states of the UN Human Rights Council
Subject: Urgent action needed on Myanmar

Dear Excellencies

We write to you regarding the deeply concerning situation in Myanmar, particularly in Rakhine State. Reports estimate that more than 270,000 Rohingyas have fled to Bangladesh following the outbreak of violence two weeks ago, and this figure is expected to significantly increase. Thousands of non-Muslim residents have also been internally displaced. Reports have also emerged of entire villages being burnt and hundreds killed. On 31 August, three UN Special Rapporteurs expressed concern citing credible reports of death to villagers resulting from security force attacks, and the use of helicopters and rocket propelled grenades on the population. On 5 September, speaking to reporters, the UN Secretary General warned of a risk of ethnic cleansing. Access to northern Rakhine State has been denied to independent observers and humanitarian aid agencies while media has been tightly controlled – leaving the territory under a virtual information blackout and exacerbating a humanitarian catastrophe. We call on the UN Human Rights Council to urgently act – by passing a resolution on Myanmar calling for an end to abuses against the population and ensuring immediate humanitarian access.

The UN Human Rights Council established a Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar (FFM) at its 34th session in March this year, following reports of alarming human rights violations in Rakhine State beginning in October last year. In February 2017, a report by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and statements by the UN Special Rapporteur on Myanmar referred to reports of egregious violations targeting the Rohingya minority at the end of 2016 and the beginning of 2017 – including the deliberate killing of children, the burning of homes with people inside them, rape, and sexual violence. The OHCHR report concluded that reports indicate the very likely commission of crimes against humanity. Military operations conducted during this period bear a close semblance to current operations which involve mass exodus of Rohingya fleeing violence, multiple reports of civilian deaths, and egregious violations under an information blackout, without independent access to observers or journalists.

The current bout of violence began following reports of coordinated attacks on police posts by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), an armed militant organisation, on 25 August – after which the Myanmar military launched a massive response. Weeks before the current outbreak of violence, on 11 August, the UN Special Rapporteur on Myanmar expressed concern on increasing military build-up in Rakhine State. The violence broke out immediately following the release of a report by an international commission headed by the former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, which called for reforms to address wide-ranging forms of discrimination faced by the Rohingya community. On 29 August, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights cautioned all sides on fuelling further violence and called on the government leadership to condemn the inflammatory rhetoric and incitement to hatred that is proliferating. He further expressed concerns on unsupported government allegations that international aid organizations were complicit in or supporting attacks, as this places aid workers in danger and may make it impossible for them to deliver essential aid.

Myanmar has so far failed to restore full humanitarian access following the preceding period of violence that began in October 2016. The Myanmar government has hitherto been reluctant to cooperate with the FFM and has denied allegations relating to violations of international human rights law and humanitarian law. The government has also refused to reform discriminatory laws that affect the Rohingya community and deny them full citizenship rights, leaving the community in a vulnerable situation.

It is imperative for the UN Human Rights Council to urgently address the escalating situation in Myanmar through a resolution at the upcoming 36th session of the UN Human Rights Council. The establishment of the FFM was considerably delayed for technical reasons. The lack of access to the country by independent investigators as well as the current outbreak of violence have further increased the magnitude of the body's work ahead of its March 2018 reporting deadline. In this context, the Council should pass a resolution on Myanmar which:

  1. Extends the time available for the FFM beyond March;
  2. Makes provision for the FFM to provide a preliminary report to the UN General Assembly in September 2017 and a final report to the UN Human Rights Council and the General Assembly in 2018;
  3. Calls on Myanmar to urgently grant full access to the FFM;
  4. Emphasises the responsibility of Myanmar to prevent and seek accountability for any retaliation or reprisal against individuals for engaging with the FFM;
  5. Expresses grave concern over recent allegations of violations and calls for an immediate end to attacks on the civilian population; and
  6. Urges full access for humanitarian aid and independent observers.

Please accept the assurance of our highest consideration.

  1. ALTSEAN-Burma (Alternative ASEAN Network on Burma)
  2. ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR)
  3. Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)
  4. Asian Legal Resource Center (ALRC)
  5. Awaz Foundation Pakistan - Centre for Development Services (AwazCDS-Pakistan)
  6. Burma Campaign UK
  7. Bytes for All, Pakistan (B4A)
  8. Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
  9. Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria
  10. Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW)
  11. CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
  12. Civil Rights Defenders
  13. Commission for the Disappeared and Victims of Violence (kontraS)
  14. Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative
  15. Conectas Direitos Humanos
  16. Defend Defenders (the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project)
  17. Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights
  18. FIDH - International Federation for Human Rights
  19. Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect
  20. Human Rights Watch
  21. Human Rights Working Group (HRWG)
  22. INFORM Human Rights Documentation Centre
  23. Informal Sector Service Center (INSEC)
  24. International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)
  25. Judicial System Monitoring Program (JSMP)
  26. Korean House for International Solidarity (KHIS)
  27. Madaripur Legal Aid Association
  28. National Commission for Justice and Peace, Pakistan
  29. Odhikar
  30. Partnership for Justice
  31. People's Empowerment Foundation, Thailand
  32. People's Vigilance Committee on Human Rights (PVCHR)
  33. PILIPINA Legal Resources Center (PLRC)
  34. Pusat KOMAS
  35. Refugee and Migratory Movements Research Unit
  36. Safeguard Defenders
  37. South India Cell for Human Rights Education and Monitoring (SICHREM)
  38. Suara Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM)
  39. Think Centre
  40. Unitarian Universalist Service Committee


UN Human Rights Council: Response to High Commissioner´s update

CIVICUS deeply appreciates High Commissioner’s update, regretfully on an ever darker and more dangerous world.

We are shocked by the report of the man-made disaster in YemenIn addition, according to the CIVICUS Monitor journalists and human rights defenders continue work in risky conditions caused by the ongoing conflict that has forced three million people to flee their homes.  The conflict has left more than seven million at risk of famine and there are currently 500,000 suspected cases of cholera - a third of these are children. NGOs have called for an independent international Inquiry into human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law, and we strongly reiterate this call and urge members of the Council to vote for a resolution with such a mandate.

We equally share the HC’s concern about Venezuela. Findings from CIVICUS Watch show that there are serious violations of the rights to freedom of association, peaceful assembly and expression. Freedom of expression is severely constrained; Radio and Television channels have been closed and, according to Espacia Publica 49 radio stations removed from the air.  800 attacks against freedom of expression documented. Due to new regulations on peaceful assembly more than 5000 were detained during anti -government protest since April 2017 with more than 1,300 persons still in detention. Detainees were often subjected to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment and, in several cases documented, the ill-treatment amounted to torture. We call on members of the Council to address the situation in Venezuela as a matter of urgency.  The government should be made aware of the fact that those responsible for these human rights abuses will be brought to justice once judicial independence is restored. In addition we call on the Maduro government to:

  • End the repression and release all political prisoners
  • Set a date for free and fair elections with proper independent oversight
  • Restore judicial independence and the power of the National Assembly, and
  • Immediately allow sufficient international aid into the country


Civil society calls on UN Human Rights Council to resolve human rights crisis in Cambodia

Civil society calls on the UN Human Rights Council to address Cambodia’s human rights crisis

The undersigned civil society organizations, representing groups working within and outside Cambodia to advance human rights, rule of law, and democracy, are writing to alert your government to an unfolding human rights crisis in Cambodia.

As detailed below, there has been a marked deterioration in the civil and political rights environment over the last two years, culminating in recent weeks in the closure of several independent media outlets and the arrest of Kem Sokha, the leader of Cambodia’s main political opposition party, the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP). (Another key opposition leader, Sam Rainsy, is in exile because of a spurious legal case against him, and would be arrested if he were to return.) 

As you may know, national elections in Cambodia have been scheduled for July 29, 2018. During the upcoming 36th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, a new resolution on Cambodia will be under consideration.

We call on you to support a resolution that directly addresses the human rights crisis in Cambodia, urges the Cambodian government to curb its rights violations, and take steps to create a more enabling environment for free and fair elections.

A new resolution at the Human Rights Council, when tabled, is expected to renew the mandate of the UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Cambodia for two years. Given the gravity of the situation, we are recommending that the resolution request a report by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights that will, in consultation with the Special Rapporteur, assess the civil and political rights situation in Cambodia in the pre-election period, and identify concrete actions that the Cambodian government and international community need to take to ensure that the conditions in which the election takes place accord with international human rights standards. We have included specific draft language in an appendix below.

Since the last Council resolution, adopted on October 2, 2015, the environment for civil and political rights in Cambodia has worsened significantly. Developments include:

  • The severe beating of two opposition parliamentarians on October 26, 2015, which human rights groups and later court hearings demonstrated was carried out by forces in Prime Minister Hun Sen’s bodyguard unit. The attack took place after Cambodian diaspora in France held anti-government protests during a visit to Paris by Prime Minister Hun Sen, after which Hun Sen warned of retaliatory violence.  Only three of several identified perpetrators ever stood trial for the attack, all of whom received partially suspended sentences and were later promoted to more senior positions upon release from prison.
  • The resurrection of an arrest warrant for opposition leader Sam Rainsy, connected to an old, politically motivated criminal case against him. The arrest warrant led to Rainsy’s decision in 2015 to remain outside of Cambodia, and was followed by additional convictions on spurious legal charges. If he returns to Cambodia, Sam Rainsy will face immediate arrest and imprisonment for these trumped-up charges. In addition, the government in 2017 passed two amendments to the 1997 Law on Political Parties that  were clearly motivated by partisan interests against the opposition (see sections below), and that have compelled Rainsy to step down as CNRP leader.
  • The government’s arrest on September 3 of CNRP’s other leader, Kem Sokha, on charges of treason. Kem Sokha, who had taken sole leadership of the party after Sam Rainsy’s exile and resignation, had already faced de facto house arrest and an in absentia criminal conviction in 2016 that was accompanied by a prison sentence of five months, for “refusing to appear as a witness” following his non-compliance with a subpoena in a politically motivated criminal investigation. Kem Sokha faced threat of arrest for much of 2016 and for many months was unable to leave his office at CNRP’s headquarters, which on several occasions was surrounded by armed forces, including military helicopters and convoys of bodyguard unit troops.
  • The earlier politically motivated prosecutions of several other elected opposition leaders, including MP Um Sam An, Senator Hong Sok Hour, Senator Thak Lany, Commune Councilor Seang Chet, as well as other opposition party organizers and activists. These cases appear to be part of an unprecedented surge in the detention of opposition supporters and civil society activists, with at least 35 documented cases since July 2015. At least 19 remain in detention as of this writing, 14 of whom were convicted of insurrection offenses following their peaceful participation in an opposition-led demonstration in 2014 that turned violent following state-instigated crackdowns.
  • Cambodian authorities’ use in August and September of Cambodia’s General Department of Taxation to intimidate—and shut down—civil society groups and independent media outlets, including the independent Cambodia Daily newspaper, which was forced to cease its operations on September 4, 2017.
  • The authorities’ campaign against independent radio, including August orders to close and revoke the license of Mohanokor Radio and its affiliates, which broadcast Voice of America (VOA) and Radio Free Asia (RFA), and the closing of the independent radio station Voice of Democracy (VOD). Several other radio stations broadcasting programming from VOA or RFA have come under pressure from the government, and stopped broadcasting this month. Almost all domestically-broadcast media in Cambodia is now under government control, with an already entirely government controlled television media and now near elimination of independent radio.  
  • The detention, prosecution, and harassment of four senior staff members of the Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC) in 2016 and 2017: Ny Sokha, Nay Vanda, Yi Soksan and Lim Mony, as well as a former ADHOC staff member who is now the Deputy Secretary-General of the National Election Committee (NEC), Ny Chakrya. This group of human rights defenders, commonly referred to as the “ADHOC Five,” were held in pre-trial detention  for 427 days until released on bail, in the wake of sustained international pressure, on June 29. While their release on bail was a welcome step (especially considering some of detainees’ seriously deteriorating health conditions in prison), authorities are proceeding with their prosecution and the five still face 5 to  10 years in prison, and their freedom of movement and ability to carry out human rights work remains hindered.
  • The continuing imprisonment of Boeung Kak Lake activist and women’s rights defender Tep Vanny, who has spent over one year in prison. Tep Vanny was arrested on August 15, 2016 during a “Black Monday” protest, a non-violent campaign that called for the release of the ADHOC Five. She and a fellow community member, Bov Sophea, were convicted and sentenced to six days’ imprisonment; while Bov Sophea was released upon having served her sentence in pre-trial detention, authorities transferred Tep Vanny back to prison and reactivated a case against her stemming from 2013, when she engaged in a protest calling for the release of another human rights activist, and continue to prosecute several other spurious legal cases against her.
  • The assassination of prominent political commentator Dr. Kem Ley on July 10, 2016, a killing that came five days after a senior Cambodian general publicly called on Cambodian armed forces to “eliminate and dispose of” anyone “fomenting social turmoil” in Cambodia. Kem Ley had been a frequent critic of Hun Sen and in the weeks before his killing had given several media interviews about a groundbreaking report by Global Witness outlining the vast wealth of Hun Sen’s family, fueling concerns that the killing was ordered by higher authorities. A deeply flawed investigation saw merely the identification of one suspect, Oeuth Ang, also known as “Chuob Samlab” (“Meet to Kill”). In March 2017, Oeuth Ang was tried and sentenced to life imprisonment in proceedings that ignored improbabilities and inconsistencies in his confession and shortcomings in the investigation. A month before the Oeuth Ang trial, Hun Sen brought a civil charge of defamation against a political commentator, Kim Sok, who had suggested publicly that the Cambodia People’s Party was behind the killing, and authorities also filed a criminal charge of incitement against him. In August, Kim Sok was sentenced to a year and a half in prison and ordered to pay Hun Sen US$200,000 in the civil case. Opposition Senator Thak Lany has also been convicted in absentia for similar offenses after commenting on this case.
  • Government para-police attacks on protesters and human rights observers during an October 10, 2016 peaceful celebration of World Habitat Day. Two human rights defender victims of this attack, Chan Puthisak and Am Sam Ath, were subject to spurious criminal investigations.
  • The government’s passage in 2017 of two rounds of repressive amendments to Cambodia’s Law on Political Parties, which allow authorities to dissolve political parties and ban party leaders from political activity without holding hearings and without an appeal process. The amendments contain numerous restrictions that are tailored to create stumbling blocks for opposition parties, most notably provisions that compel political parties to distance themselves from members who have been convicted of a criminal charge. This impacts opposition leaders Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha, effectively allowing the government to dissolve the main opposition party at any time they choose. Many observers suspect that the government will allow the opposition to contest the 2018 elections but has crafted these provisions to weaken the opposition or to use them to dissolve the parties outright in the event that they pose a more significant threat to the ruling party’s hold on power.
  • Prime Minister Hun Sen’s July orders to the Ministry of Interior to investigate two members of a group of civil society organizations coordinating efforts of election monitoring on an ad hoc basis under the head of the so-called “Situation Room.” The government alleges that the ad hoc group violated the vague and undefined concept of “political neutrality” enshrined in Cambodia’s widely criticized Law on Associations and Non-Government Organizations (LANGO), which allows for the dissolution or denial of registration of NGOs, as well as for failing to register under LANGO.
  • Questionable legal investigations into trade unions conducted under Cambodia’s Trade Union Law, which has prevented some unions from legally registering and excluded them from collective bargaining and formally advocating for rights and improved working conditions.
  • Increasingly threatening political rhetoric, including repeated threats of violence and other forms of intimidation by government officials directed at dissidents and civil society, including in the lead-up to this year’s flawed commune elections and afterwards. Both Prime Minister Hun Sen and several senior military leaders have repeated claims that any election victory by the political opposition would lead to “civil war,” while making clear threats to use violence against any individuals who “protest” or seek a “color revolution,” a term which authorities disingenuously employ to portray peaceful dissent as an attempted violent overthrow of the state. Before his baseless accusations in September of Kem Sokha’s “treason” and “conspiracy,” Hun Sen made a number of statements that appear to equate peaceful political opposition and exercise of freedoms of speech and assembly as unlawful acts of violent rebellion. In May 2017, Hun Sen, during campaigning for the country’s 2017 commune elections, stated he would be “willing to eliminate 100 to 200 people” to protect “national security,” for the opposition to “prepare their coffins”, or against anyone who, and later repeated this claim and made a transparent reference to Sam Rainsy suggesting that Rainsy knew he would be targeted for violence. On August 2, Minister of Social Affairs Vong Sauth said that protesters who dispute the outcome of the scheduled 2018 elections will be “hit with the bottom end of bamboo poles”—a reference to a technique used during the Khmer Rouge regime—and threatened civil servants in his ministry with termination if they do not support the ruling CPP. 
  • An August 23 Ministry of Foreign Affairs statement ordering the closure of the US non-governmental organization the National Democratic Institute (NDI), and expulsion of its non-Cambodian staff “within seven days.” The statement cites LANGO and the 1997 Tax Law, both of which the government has cited in other threats against civil society groups mentioned above.

The Cambodian government’s actions outlined above should be considered together, as a comprehensive campaign of intimidation, violence, and misuse of legal mechanisms in the lead-up to next year’s national election, meant to weaken or neutralize political opposition and hamper civil society efforts to monitor the election and freedom of speech, association, and assembly. More broadly, the government’s actions are an open-ended assault on the United Nations-backed democratic process in Cambodia that began with the 1991 Paris Peace Accords.

We strongly urge your government to acknowledge the severity of the situation and the risks these conditions pose to the integrity of Cambodia’s 2018 elections. It is crucial that the international community support a UN Human Rights Council resolution that explicitly condemns the Cambodian government’s attacks on democratic and human rights norms and takes steps to address them.

As noted above, the appendix contains draft language recommending that the resolution request the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to prepare a report on the escalating crackdown, and outline actions the government and international community should take to ensure that the conditions in which the elections take place accord with international human right standards. As outlined in the proposed text in the appendix, we also recommend that the High Commissioner should provide an oral update to the Council at its 37th session in March 2018, and present his report at the 38th session in June 2018.

We further recommend that your government, during the September session at the Council, speak out clearly and jointly with other governments against the latest abuses, and put the Cambodian government on notice that the Cambodian government’s failure to fully address these concerns will make it impossible to determine that the 2018 elections were free and fair. 

We also recommend that the Human Rights Council, at those future sessions, hold an Enhanced Interactive Dialogue including stakeholders such as staff from Cambodia’s OHCHR office, the Special Rapporteur on Cambodia, other relevant UN Special Procedures and members of local and international civil society.

We look forward to discussing this matter with you or your staff in more detail.

Thank you for your attention.

Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)
Human Rights Watch
International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
International Commission of Jurists (ICJ)
World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)


UN Human Rights Council: Statement on widespread arbitrary detention

UN Human Rights Council
36th session
12 September 2017

Statement at the UN Human Rights Council during interactive diialogue with the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention
CIVICUS welcomes the annual and mission reports of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.  We applaud the Working Group for its unstinting dedication and invaluable work in exposing the wilful and unwarranted persecution of human rights defenders.

As noted by the Working Group from its annual missions to both Azerbaijan and the United States, politically motivated detention of those who dare to speak out against the government or its policies afflicts both mature and emerging democracies across the world.

It is a matter of deep concern that despite constitutional protections, peaceful demonstrators engaged in legitimate activities continue to face judicial harassment in the US. At least 20 states that have proposed legislation making it harder to protest, creating harsher penalties for protesters who are arrested.

One recent example of the criminalisation of protests is the trial of protesters arrested during the mass demonstration on Inauguration Day in January 2017. Initially, approximately 230 people were arrested and charged with felony rioting. However, on 27th April 2017, additional charges were made against 212 defendants, including three of whom had not previously been charged. 

In Azerbaijan, the authorities have failed to head repeated calls from the Work Group and a range of independent UN experts to end the use of judicial harassment to suppress independent dissent. On 3 March 2017, Journalist and blogger, Mehman Huseynov was sentenced to two years in prison on libel charges.

Weeks earlier on 17 February 2017, another Azeri journalist, Elchin Ismayilli, was arrested. Ismayilli is well-known for his articles detailing acts of corruption and human rights violations in Azerbaijan. The authorities haev since charged him with extortion and abuse of power in a position of influence.

We urge both Azerbaijan and the United States to immediately and unconditionally implement the recommendations made by the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, including releasing all persons detained for exercising their legitimate rights and repeal all laws and policies which criminalise international and national enshrined rights to association, assembly and expression. 


Joint Letter: Human rights violations in Bahrain

We, the undersigned Bahraini, regional and international human rights organizations, remain alarmed at the ongoing human rights crisis in the Kingdom of Bahrain. We are also concerned about the diminished response from states at the Human Rights Council since the situation began to dramatically deteriorate over one year ago. We welcome your country’s commitment to address situations of concern based on the objective criteria laid out in the joint statement delivered by Ireland at the 32nd session of the HRC. This commitment was reiterated in a subsequent joint statement on the improvement of membership standards, signed by 48 states at the 35th session this year. However, we have yet to see this commitment translate into a principled response to the deteriorating situation in Bahrain. As this letter outlines in detail, Bahrain demonstrably meets the criteria that should compel states and the Council to act to address this situation. We therefore call on your delegation to uphold your pledge and renew both individual and collective initiatives at the Council to address the Bahraini Government’s intensifying human rights violations.

The Government of Bahrain has continued to suppress all forms of opposition, criticism, or dissent in 2017. The Government began the year by ending a de facto moratorium on the death penalty when it executed three victims of torture after trials marred by serious due process violations. In January, the Government restored domestic law enforcement powers to Bahrain’s National Security Agency (NSA), an institution implicated in systematic and widespread torture in 2011. In April, the King approved a constitutional amendment allowing civilians to be tried in military courts, further eroding the limited reforms made in line with the recommendations of the 2011 Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) report. Bahrain’s leading Shia cleric, Sheikh Isa Qassim, was convicted of money laundering in May on politically motivated charges, and the Government used lethal force to clear a months-long peaceful sit-in around his home, killing five individuals in the process, injuring hundreds more, and arresting 286 individuals. In May, courts disbanded the Kingdom’s last major opposition political society, Wa’ad, and in June the Government indefinitely suspended operations at the country’s only independent newspaper, Al-Wasat. Meanwhile, the Government continued its relentless suppression of civil society, committing reprisals against activists and their families and convicting Bahrain’s leading human rights defender, Nabeel Rajab, for commenting on continuing human rights abuses during television interviews and on social media, violating his right to freedom of expression.

We recall here the guiding considerations outlined in the June 2016 joint statement, and reaffirmed in the June 2017 joint statement, and their application to the situation in Bahrain:

Whether  there  has  been  a  call  for  action  by  the  UN  Secretary  General,  the  High Commissioner for Human Rights or a relevant UN organ, body or agency:

  • On  13 September 2016, High Commissioner Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein stated: “In Bahrain, I am  concerned  by  harassment  and  arrests  of  human  rights  defenders  and  political activists, and legislation which enables revocation of citizenship without due process. I urge greater attention to this situation. [emphasis added] The past decade has demonstrated repeatedly and with punishing clarity exactly how disastrous the outcomes can be when a Government attempts to smash the voices of its people, instead of serving them.
  • Likewise, during his  Annual Report and Oral Update to the 34th  Session of the Human Rights Council, the High Commissioner said of Bahrain, “I am deeply concerned over the increasing levels of human rights violations in the Kingdom. I call on the Government of Bahrain to undertake concrete confidence building measures, including allowing my Office and Special Procedures mandate holders to swiftly conduct visits.
  • And, on  2 June 2017, the High Commissioner said, “Human rights defenders working in Bahrain reportedly continue to face restrictions, intimidation, interrogations, detentions and travel bans… I urge Bahrain to choose a different path – one of engagement and dialogue, as well as accountability for violence, regardless of the perpetrator. My Office stands ready to offer technical assistance and advice on the promotion and protection of human rights in Bahrain.

Whether  a  group  of  Special  Procedures  have  recommended  that  the  Council  consider action:

  • On  16 June 2017, the Special Procedures on extrajudicial executions, peaceful assembly and association, human rights defenders, freedom of religion or belief, and the working group on arbitrary detention,  issued a statement saying: “We call on the Government of Bahrain  to  immediately  cease  its  campaign  of  persecution  against  human  rights defenders, journalists and anyone else with divergent opinions, and take all measures to guarantee  a  safe  and  enabling  environment  for  all  Bahrainis,  independent  of  their political opinions, beliefs or confession.”
  • On   18  July  2017,  the  Special  Procedures  further  stated:  “We  reiterate  our  serious concerns regarding the wider context of a general crackdown and mounting pressure exerted  on  civil  society  and  dissidents  in  Bahrain,  the  ongoing  prosecution  and punishment of human rights defenders, and especially intimidation and reprisals against people who have cooperated with UN human rights mechanisms.
  • Since 2016, Bahrain has been the subject of at least ten communications from Special Procedures concerning credible allegations of human rights violations including extrajudicial killing, torture and ill-treatment, arbitrary detention, and systematic persecution of religious groups. In many cases, these violations were in response to the exercise of the rights to freedom of expression, and freedom of peaceful assembly and association.

Whether the state concerned has a national human rights institution with A-status [and whether that institution has drawn the attention of the international community to an emerging situation and called for action]:

  • According to the most recent  review in May 2016, Bahrain’s National Institution for Human Rights has not been granted A-status. The Sub-Committee on Accreditations expressed reservations regarding the institution’s independence and its effective application of its mandate.
  • The UN Committee Against Torture’s May 2017  concluding observations on Bahrain’s latest periodic report stated concerns regarding the NIHR  and six other bodies. The Committee said the following: “that they are not independent, that their mandates are unclear and overlap, and that they are not effective given that complaints ultimately pass through the Ministry of the Interior. It is also concerned that their activities have had little or no effect, and that the authorities provided negligible information regarding the outcome of their activities.

Whether the State concerned has been willing to recognize that it faces particular human rights challenges and has laid down a set of credible actions, including a timetable and benchmarks to measure progress, to respond to the situation:

  • In 2011, the Bahraini Government accepted 26 recommendations issued by the BICI, a panel of jurists and international human rights experts. The Government claimed it had fully implemented all 26 recommendations in May 2016, citing the chairman of the BICI, Cherif Bassiouni, as  evidence of its progress. However, on 10 May 2016, Bassiouni stated he was  wrongfully quoted and asserted that the Government had only implemented ten of the 26 recommendations and had failed to address “priority” reforms such as those pertaining to accountability and prisoners of conscience. All independent assessments – including those conducted by Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain, the Project on Middle East Democracy, and the United States Government – have similarly found that Bahrain’s authorities have failed to make substantive progress on the majority of reforms.
  • In 2017, the Bahraini government actively contravened BICI recommendations that had previously seen partial or full levels of implementation, including recommendations to restrict the NSA’s arrest authority and to prevent military courts from trying civilians. During Bahrain’s Second Cycle Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in 2012, member and observer states presented 176 recommendations to the Bahraini Government to recognize and address ongoing, widespread human rights violations in the Kingdom. Bahraini authorities partially or fully accepted 158 of those recommendations, promising to bring the national situation in line with international human rights obligations. However, by Bahrain’s Third Cycle UPR in May 2017, the Government had failed to fulfill these recommendations and had regressed in many key sectors identified for reform, as noted by OHCHR, States, and NGO stakeholders.
  • Rather  than  acknowledge  the  scope  of  the  Kingdom’s  human  rights  challenges,  as highlighted  by  the  recommendations  issued  during  both  UPR  cycles,  the  Assistant Foreign Minister, Abdulla bin Faisal bin Jabur Al Doseri,  described the result as “praise” for “Bahrain’s human rights achievements.” In a meeting with Bahrain’s National Institution for Human Rights in July 2017, the King dismissed the country’s human rights challenges outright, stating that the Kingdom “takes pride in its outstanding human rights record” and that “human rights represent a core part of Bahrain’s culture.”

Whether the State concerned is engaging in a meaningful, constructive way with the Human Rights Council on the situation:

  • The Bahraini Government has consistently declined to substantively engage the Council and, as indicated in the following statements, has actively targeted Bahraini civil society actors  for  their  participation  in  Human  Rights  Council  sessions  or  for  otherwise interacting with the UN. As noted, although it nominally participates in the UPR process, the Government has consistently failed to implement accepted recommendations and has submitted  misleading national reports on its progress. Moreover, in June 2016, Bahrain’s Foreign Minister, Khalid Al Khalifa,  explicitly maligned the High Commissioner for urging the Kingdom to undertake human rights reform: “We will not allow the undermining of our security and stability and will not waste our time listening to the words of the High Commissioner who is powerless."
  • The Bahraini Government has used wide-ranging travel bans against civil society and political figures to obstruct their access to UN bodies and mechanisms. These travel bans have been in effect since throughout the 32nd, 33rd, 34th  and 35th  Sessions of the Human Rights Council, and during Bahrain’s 3rd Cycle Universal Periodic Review.
  • Government ordered travel bans and reports of targeted reprisals against civil society for their engagement at the Human Rights Council have prompted statements of concern from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. As noted in a statement by the OHCHR spokesperson on  14 July 2017:The continuing restrictions on civil society and political activists and the targeting of human rights defenders and organisations in Bahrain are deeply worrying. We urge the Government to take the necessary steps to ensure compliance with Bahrain’s obligations under international human rights law, in particular to guarantee the freedoms of expression, opinion and association and the right not to be arbitrarily deprived of liberty.”
  • On  18 July 2017, following reports that Bahraini human rights defender Ebtisam al- Saegh was arrested and tortured by members of the National Security Administration as a reprisal for her human rights work at the Human Rights Council, a group of United Nations experts “expressed deep concern at the alleged arbitrary detention of Bahraini human rights defender Ebtisam Alsaegh amid reports she has been tortured and sexually abused and is now on hunger strike.”

6.   Whether the State concerned is effectively cooperating with Human Rights Council Special Procedures, including by enabling country visits:

  • Bahrain has failed to follow through on repeated calls from the Council to welcome Special Procedures to visit the country and, as noted above, has dismissed the OHCHR as “powerless.”  In  2015,  Bahrain’s  Chief  of  Public  Security,  Major  General  Tariq  al- Hassan, suggested that the Government has denied the Special Procedures access to Bahrain because they are biased against the Kingdom: Hassan specifically  accused then Special  Rapporteur  on torture  Juan  Mendez  of  “prejudice”  and  spreading “uninvestigated” claims of Bahraini Government abuse.
  • Bahrain  has  not allowed  any of  the  Special  Procedures to  visit  since  2006, despite repeated requests by various mandate holders. In recent years, Bahrain has ignored or rejected country visit requests from the following: the Special Rapporteur on torture, the Working Group on arbitrary detention, the Working Group on enforced disappearances, the Special Rapporteur on freedom of peaceful assembly and association, the Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, the Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders, and the Working Group on discrimination against women.

Whether the State concerned is engaging with OHCHR, including in the field of technical assistance and effective engagement with the UN Human Rights Treaty Bodies:

  • Bahrain has failed to successfully conclude multiple rounds of negotiations with the OHCHR to carry out a technical mission to Bahrain, or to establish an OHCHR office in the country.
  • Most recently, in June 2017, renewed efforts to carry out an OHCHR technical mission to Bahrain again stalled and remain indefinitely “postponed,” similar to the indefinite postponement  and   effective  cancellation  of  the  2013  country  visit  by  the  Special Rapporteur on torture.

Whether a relevant regional mechanism or institution has identified a situation as requiring the attention of the international community; or whether the State concerned is cooperating with relevant regional organizations:

  • No competent, independent regional mechanism or institution exists in the region from which Bahrain can seek relevant assistance to positively affect the human rights situation in the country.

Whether  the  State  is  facilitating  or  obstructing  access  and  work  on  the  part  of humanitarian actors, human rights defenders, and the media:

  • Bahraini  authorities  have  consistently  and  increasingly  obstructed  the  work  of  civil society actors in the kingdom, including human rights defenders and the media.
  • As noted above in point 5, the Government of Bahrain has imposed wide-spread travel bans on civil society and political activists to obstruct their access to the Human Rights Council and its mechanisms.
  • On  10 July 2017, Nabeel Rajab, president and co-founder of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights and FIDH Deputy Secretary General, was sentenced to two years in prison solely for exercising his right to freedom of expression by conducting interviews with television media outlets. He faces up to fifteen more years in prison if convicted on additional charges related to tweets.
  • Human rights defender Ebtisam al-Saegh has been repeatedly arrested and subjected to torture and sexual assault in relation to her work, as  noted by Special Procedure mandates on 18 July 2017. She currently faces politically motivated “terrorism” charges related to her human rights work.
  • During the 34th  Session of the Human Rights Council in March 2017, three family members of Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei of the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy were arrested in Bahrain as a reprisal against his human rights activities. Authorities subjected them to torture and ill-treatment to coerce false confessions on charges of “fake bomb making.” They remain in detention and face trial on these fabricated charges.
  • On 4 June 2017, Bahrain  indefinitely suspended the only independent newspaper in the country, Al-Wasat, ultimately forcing their office to close and all staff to be laid off.

It is clear that the Government of Bahrain has failed to uphold its international obligations to safeguard human rights and has repeatedly acted to violate and curtail the fundamental rights of people in the country. Bahrain’s current human rights situation manifestly fulfills the criteria set out in the June 2016 joint statement committing state signatories to engage – strong action is imperative to prevent further instability.

We therefore call on your Government to individually and collectively with others respond to the human rights crisis in Bahrain. Such efforts should include, but are not limited to, national statements and joint statements under Items 4 or 2 of the Council’s agenda, and ultimately a resolution by the Human Rights Council.


Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain
Bahrain Center for Human Rights
Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy
Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
CIVICUS World Alliance for Citizen Participation
European Center for Democracy and Human Rights
Human Rights Watch
International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
International Service for Human Rights
Reporters Without Borders (RSF)


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

CIVICUS and its partners have submitted joint and stand-alone UN Universal Periodic Review (UPR) submissions on 5 countries in advance of the 29th UPR session in January 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: Burundi, France, Israel, Serbia, and the UAE 

Burundi: CIVICUS, APRODH, Ligue ITEKA, DefendDefenders and FIDH examine the failure of the Government of Burundi to implement the vast majority of recommendations it accepted and noted during Burundi’s previous UPR cycle. In the submission, we highlight the restrictions on fundamental freedoms, the targeting of human rights defenders and Burundi’s refusal to cooperate with international human rights institutions and mechanisms. We further examine the high levels of impunity enjoyed by government officials, members of the security forces and the armed wing of the ruling CNDD-FDD party, the Imbonerakure. 

France: While France has faced serious terrorist threats since its last UPR review, measures taken to protect the public from attacks have had negative consequences for the exercise of the fundamental freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression. In its submission to Frances third UPR review, CIVICUS outlines a series of concerns related to France’s decision to repeatedly extend its state of emergency, which has expanded powers of arrest, detention and surveillance of security forces without adequate judicial oversight and without due regard for the proportionality of measures taken to restrict fundamental freedoms. 

Israel: CIVICUS, PNGO and ANND raise concern over ongoing violations of international human rights and humanitarian law committed in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory since Israel’s previous UPR examination. Worryingly, the authorities continue to subvert the right to freedom of expression through the criminalization of dissent online. Human rights defenders and peaceful protesters also routinely face arbitrary arrest and are held in administrative detention to suppress their legitimate work.

Serbia: CIVICUS, the Human Rights House Belgrade (Belgrade Centre for Human Rights, Civic Initiatives, Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia, Lawyers Committee for Human Rights) and Human Rights House Foundation document the continued intimidation, attacks and harassment of human rights defenders and journalists who report on sensitive issues, such as transitional justice, corruption or government accountability. Additionally, we assess how vilification of and smear campaigns against human right defenders, CSOs, and independent media outlets is undermining the work of civil society.

United Arab Emirates: In its joint UPR submission, CIVICUS, the Gulf Centre for Human Rights and the International Service for Human Rights examine the continued suppression of fundamental democratic freedoms in the United Arab Emirates. This report explores the ongoing systematic campaign to persecute human rights defenders through arbitrary arrests, torture, deportation and the continued use of draconian legislation to restrict freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly.


Statement on freedom of assembly and association, and the right to education

35th session of the  Human Rights Council  
Dialogue with Special Rapporteur on freedom of assembly and of association and the Special Rapporteur on the right to education

CIVICUS welcomes the reports of the Special Rapporteur on freedom of assembly and of association and the Special Rapporteur on the right to education.  We again commend the former Special Rapporteur, Maina Kiai, for his steadfast support for civil society across the world. We also welcome the new Special Rapporteur, Annalisa Ciampi, and remain committed to supporting the mandate to undertake its essential work.

The Special Rapporteur’s report on mapping the achievements of civil society articulates an unassailable case for why civil society should be seen as an ally, rather than an adversary. As expressed by the mandate holder, civil society has played a crucial in shepherding and realizing scores progressive values and rights. The report provides a wealth of examples of these achievements, including through pursuing accountability, supporting participation and empowerment, driving innovation and fostering sustainable development. We urge all states to explicitly acknowledge the integral role that civil society plays in ensuring that states can actualize their domestic and international human rights commitments.

We further reiterate the recommendations raised by the Special Rapporteur in his report on the  United States. National and public security concerns must not be misused to suppress freedom of assembly. The continued use of excessive force by police departments across the United States against peaceful protesters requires a concerted and proactive federal response. We also regret that immigrant workers face the specter of official harassment and deportation for attempting to exercise their right to freedom of association, including joining labor unions.

In the United Kingdom, we remain equally concerned by recent reports that Prime Minister Theresa May is willing to forfeit human rights in the pursuit of countering terrorism. Such a wholesale forfeit of human rights undermines the United Kingdom’s international obligations as well as efforts to address the roots causes of terrorism.

We 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.


Joint statement on attacks against civil society

We first took the initiative of a Council resolution on civil society space in 2013.  We did so in light of what we saw as two equally true but very different realities: 

  • first, the transformative role which civil society can and does play, alone or in partnership with other stakeholders; and 
  • second, that civil society space is all to regularly, and unfortunately increasingly, restricted and threatened. 

These two points are closely related – in many cases, it is exactly that positive potential for change, inherent in ordinary people working together in new and innovative ways, which provokes threats and repression.  But such negative responses are not only contrary to human rights law, they are, as recently termed in the final recent report of Special Rapporteur Kiai, “self-destructive” and “short-sighted” (A/HRC/35/28) -  a vibrant and pluralistic civil society can be of tremendous value in responding to societal challenges and assisting our citizens and societies to thrive. 

Bearing in mind this dual reality of opportunity and challenge, as well as the interlinking and mutually reinforcing nature of the core human rights concerned, we sought to explain and give better visibility to the concept of civil society space as a human rights concern. 

And so this topic concerns civil society at its broadest – not only civil society actors in the field of human rights, but also those working at all levels and with greater or lesser levels of organisation on challenges including health and humanitarian crises, realising development, protecting the environment, countering corruption and building corporate accountability, empowering persons belonging to minorities or espousing minority or dissenting views, combating racism, supporting crime prevention and even conflict prevention and resolution as experience in our States, including in particular the Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet shows.

As we did in the resolutions adopted to date – 24/21, 27/31 and 32/31 – we condemn and reject all threats, attacks, reprisals and acts of intimidation against civil society actors. We again recall that States must ensure that domestic legal and administrative provisions and their application in practice should facilitate and protect an independent, diverse and pluralistic civil society.   And we urge all States to adopt the best practice recommendations set out in resolution 32/31 by, inter alia, taking steps to

  • ensure a supportive legal framework and access to justice;
  • contribute to a public and political environment conducive to civil society; 
  • provide for access to information;
  • provide for the participation of civil society actors in public debate; and
  • provide for a long-term supportive environment for civil society.

As we see daily in this room, the substantive participation of civil society makes this Council’s debates and work, including the UPR, richer and more meaningful.  More needs to be done to recognise civil society as having an equal stake in discussion in other multilateral fora too.  We deeply regret, for example, that civil society voices have been blocked in the NGO Committee twice this year.  We look forward to the OHCHR report scheduled for presentation at HRC38 (June 2018) on procedures, challenges and best practices in respect of civil society involvement with regional and international organisations. We hope that those best practices can feed into a process of reflection, in all fora, on how processes and procedures for participation of civil society may be further improved.

The next resolution on the subject of civil society space will be presented at HRC38 (June 2018).  [Bearing in mind pressure on the Council’s agenda, we encourage other States to consider similarly biennialising their initiatives, where possible.]

In addition to continuing to build on best practice examples, in future we intend to explore in greater detail other aspects, including those identified in the resolutions to date, such as:

  • civil society and the private sector;
  • civil society’s role in advancing the implementation of the 2030 Agenda;
  • civil society and children;
  • funding to civil society;  

We are convinced that work on this topic is more important than ever.  We look forward to working with all delegations, both state and civil society, in taking this initiative forward in an open and constructive way. 


Statement: Investigation needed into human rights violations in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

35th session UN Human Rights Council
Statement on situation of human rights in the Democratic Republic of the Congo 
20 June 2017

CIVICUS shares the concern of the High Commissioner over the widespread human rights violations committed in the Kasai Central and Kasai Oriental provinces of the DRC since August 2016. 

Extrajudicial executions of civilians and other atrocities have been systematically carried out forcing over 30.000 people to flee to neighbouring countries and leaving approximately 1.27 million others internally displaced.

We are concerned by the threats and increased violence targeting journalists including those who covered the massacres in the Kasai region.  We express alarm over the closure of private media outlets deemed critical of the government.

Mr. Vice President, peaceful protests held recently were violently repressed and security forces carried out widespread arrests of people suspected of organising or participating in such protests.  

We are also concerned about the arbitrary arrest and detention of human rights defenders for exposing failures of the national economy, the provision of social services and democratic reform. 

Sadly, some of these human rights defenders are being held in undisclosed locations without access to family members and lawyers. Others have been tortured while in detention.  

We urge the Council to launch an independent  international investigation into the atrocities committed in the Kasai region and for all perpetrators to be held accountable for their actions.


Statement: Civil society rights violations on a global scale

35th session UN Human Rights Council
General Debate
20 June 2017


In Egypt CIVICUS expresses its serious concern over the issuance of Law 70 of 2017 which further restricts space for human rights monitoring, advocacy and reporting. It introduces hefty fines and prison terms for civil society groups who publish a study or report without prior approval by the government, thus shutting out completely the independent voice and action of human rights organizations.  

We urge the Egyptian authorities to repeal this Law, end the ongoing criminal investigation into the work of human rights defenders and create a safe and enabling environment for civil society free from reprisals.

CIVICUS condemns in the strongest terms the recent killings of five peaceful protesters on 23 May in Bahrain and asks for an independent, impartial investigation. We further deplore the escalation in government reprisals against Bahraini civil society, including those living in exile for their cooperation with the United Nations and this Human Rights Council. We urge the Bahraini government to release all political prisoners and human rights defenders from their degrading, torturous detention, including prominent defender Nabeel Rajab. 

In Cameroon, the government has imposed gross restriction on the rights to free speech and assembly. Beginning on 17 January 2017, the Government blocked all access to the internet in the sections of the North and Southwest regions in a blatant attempt to suppress widespread protests against government policies marginalizing the English-speaking population.  While the recent precipitous decline in respect for ongoing human rights violations has garnered some international attention, CIVICUS asks the Council for more robust scrutiny to prevent further human rights violations and restore fundamental freedoms of expression and assembly.

Finally, CIVICUS continues to urge the government of Ethiopia to allow access to an international, independent, impartial and transparent investigation into the deaths resulting from excessive use of force by the security forces and other violations of human rights in the context of last year’s protests. 


Statement on Burundi at the UN Human Rights Council

35th session UN Human Rights Council
Oral Statement – Interactive Dialogue with the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi
15 June 2017

CIVICUS remains deeply concerned by the gross human rights violations committed with impunity by the government since the Commission’s previous Council briefing on 13 March 2017. 

The systematic oppression of Burundian’s fundamental rights persists throughout the country, characterised by arbitrary arrests, abductions, detentions and extra-judicial killings. The government continues to targets members of the political opposition, representatives of civil society and other individuals on specious grounds of supporting those who organised a failed coup in May 2015 and of association with armed groups. 

Hundreds of people remain unaccounted for, including human rights activist Marie Claudette Kwizera who disappeared on 10 December 2015. Her whereabouts remain unknown. 

Mr. President, these atrocities are carried out in an environment where freedom of expression, association and assembly are gravely stifled.  

The country’s main human rights organisations have been suspended for an extended period of time and four prominent human rights lawyers have been disbarred.  Independent media outlets remain closed, while most journalists are in exile and only public assemblies organised by supporters of the ruling party are allowed.  

The vast majority of these atrocities are committed by the security forces, the intelligence service and the armed wing of the ruling CNDD-FDD party, who receive paramilitary training and target citizens with hate speech and threats.  

To prevent the monitoring and documentation of human rights violations and encourage impunity by the perpetrators of human rights violations, Burundi has ceased cooperating with OHCHR, withdrew from the International Criminal Court and refused to collaborate with Commission of Inquiry.  

Efforts to find lasting peace through the inter-Burundi dialogue are hampered by the absence of some of the main opposition parties and exclusion of civil society voices by the government. 

We call on the government of Burundi to support the work of the Commission of Inquiry and take the necessary steps end violence and human rights violations in the country. 


Statement on Ethiopia’s noncompliance with UN human rights evaluation

35th session UN Human Rights Council
General Debate – Ethiopia’s noncompliance with UN Special Rapporteurs
16 June 2017

CIVICUS welcomes the Communication report of Special Procedures, which sheds light on the breadth of work undertaken by this unique mechanism of the Human Rights Council.

We refer in this context to the ‘Communications’ report by the Special Rapporteur on the freedom of peaceful assembly and association. We note that there has been an average 50% response rate from governments on alerts and other communications. However, Ethiopia has shown a total no-response to the numerous stand alone or joint alerts they received during the period of reporting. We reiterate our grave concerns voiced also by other independent experts of the United Nations in relation to the violent crackdown on peaceful protests, which reportedly led to the death of over 800 people since November 2015 in Ethiopia. We remain extremely alarmed by numerous reports that those arrested had faced torture and ill-treatment in military detention centers. 

We also reiterate our worry regarding the Proclamation on Anti-Terrorism and Charities and Societies Law adopted in August 2009. The extremely broad and ambiguous provisions of the laws   continue to be used to silence independent voices and civil society groups.

Finally, we urge the government of Ethiopia to head the calls to end the state of emergency declared on 9 October 2016. The state of emergency decree provides for a wide range of repressive measures, undermining the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly, including banning communications with governments and CSOs that may undermine ‘national sovereignty, constitutional order and security’.

We call on the Government as a member of the Council to fully cooperate with the mandates of Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council.


Statement on human rights violations in Eritrea

35th session UN Human Rights Council

14 June 2017
Statement during the interactive dialogue on the report of the Special Rapporteur on situation of human rights in Eritrea

CIVICUS welcomes the report of the Special Rapporteur on Eritrea and applauds her unwavering efforts to ampifly the voices of civil society and victims of human rights violations in Eritrea and in the diaspora.

Mr. President, the Special Rapporteur’s report to the Council is unequivocal that Eritreans continue to be subjected to grave and systematic violations of fundamental freedoms, some of which amount to crimes against humanity. Worryingly the Special Rapporteur has concluded that the human rights situation in Eritrea “has not significantly improved.” 

We remain deeply concerned that the Government has failed to take adequate measures to address the human rights situation in Eritrea as documented by the Commission of Inquiry.

During the reporting period, the Special Rapporteur received information that the government’s military and national service programmes remain arbitrary, protracted and involuntary, which is tantamount to enslavement. 

The Government has further failed to release countless arbitrarily detained prisoners for exercising their fundamental rights and refuses to provide sufficient information about the status of several prominent activists and individuals who have been forcibly disappeared. 

As a result of these and other deprivations of human rights, thousands of Eritreans, including scores of unaccompanied children, are forced to traverse perilous situations to secure refuge abroad every year. 

We support the Special Rapporteur’s decision to devote greater time and resources to address impunity, including by engaging a diversity of actors including victims, survivors, family members, human rights defenders and lawyers to help facilitate access to justice and accountability for human rights violations.

We urge the Government of Eritrea to take proactive measures to implement the specific and time-bound benchmarks developed by the Special Rapporteur to assess substantive change in the country. 

We respectfully request members and observer states of the Council to co-sponsor a resolution renewing the mandate of the UN Special Rapporteur on Eritrea and provide the mandate holder with all necessary support. 


Joint statement on LGBTI rights: More safeguards needed against violence and discrimination

35th session of the Human Rights Council
Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity
12 June, 2017

CIVICUS and 23 civil society groups from 12 countries were deprived from delivering this statement during the SOGI ID but given the high number of signatories, we feel compelled to deliver it. 

Across the world, we are witnessing debilitating restrictions and persecution of LGBTI civil society groups and human rights defenders.  As a movement, LGBTI advocates face compounded restrictions, as they often become the target of government crackdowns. 

Due to intersectionality there is increasing re-victimization of LGBTI children, young people, women, refugees, persons with disabilities and more. In Tunisia, a public defamation campaign against LGBTI groups was carried out in the media and LGBTI defenders have been attacked. In Pakistan, defenders working on transgender rights continue to be subject to attacks including shootings, rape in police stations and torture. In El Salvador, LGBTI activists are facing hate crimes and harassment and since 2015, seven members of the LGBTI organisation, Muñecas de Arcoiris in Honduras, have been murdered. In South Africa, despite a protective legal framework, LGBTIQ+ people and activists, and women in particular, continue to face extreme levels of violence and discrimination, including targeted rape. In Uganda, the civil society organisation, Sexual Minorities Uganda, is denied access to financial resources and legal registration. The introduction of so-called anti-propaganda laws and closures of civil society organisations in Europe and Central Asia have the effect that LGBTI minors cannot access necessary information on sexual orientation, gender identity and sex characteristics. The restrictions and attacks worldwide against LGBTI groups and human rights defenders often happen with impunity for the perpetrators and complicity from police and law enforcement. 

To address these concerns, we urge all states to: 1) ensure an enabling environment for and promote the rights to freedom of assembly, association and expression of LGBTI civil society groups and human rights defenders of all ages and including children, 2) guarantee strong safeguards against reprisals faced by LGBTI groups and defenders and; 3) take all necessary measures to independently investigate all attacks, including killings, of LGBTI human rights defenders. 
We thank you,


1. ACCIONA A.C. (México)
2. ARESTA (South Africa)
3. Asociación Silueta X (Ecuador)
4. Blue Veins (Pakistan)
5. Child Rights Connect (International)
6. CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation (International)
7. Coalición LGBTI en la OEA (Latin America)
8. Congolese Civil Society (South Africa)
9. Corporación Caribe Afirmativo (Colombia)
10. EQUAL GROUND (Sri Lanka)
11. Federación ecuatoriana de organizaciones LGBTI (Ecuador)
12. Fundación Diversencia (Bolivia)
13. Latin American and the Caribbean Network for Democracy (Latin America and the Caribbean)
14. Lawyers for Human Rights (South Africa)
15. GALA (South Africa)
16. Gay and Lesbian Network (South Africa)
17. Mawjoudin (Tunisia)
18. Mulabi/ Espacio Latinoamericano de Sexualidades y Derechos (Costa Rica)
19. Red Latinoamericana GayLatino (Latin America and the Caribbean)
20. Same Love Toti (South Africa)
21. Sexual Minorities Uganda (Uganda)
22. TransAction (Pakistan)
23. Transparencia Electoral (Argentina)
24. Triangle Project (South Africa)




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