Civicus at Human Rights Council: Statement on global state of civil society

35th session of the Human Rights Council
General debate on High Commissioner´s oral update
7 June 2017

Thank you Mr. President,

CIVICUS welcomes the High Commissioner’s oral update. We applaud the prominence given to civic space and we share his concern that civil society faces growing and debilitating threats.

Yesterday, CIVICUS released its annual State of Civil Society report which explores the worrying backsliding on democratic norms across the world. The report underscores that The world is facing a democratic crisis through unprecedented restrictions on the freedoms of expression, association and peaceful assembly which constitute a global emergency. 

The report further highlights that around the world it is becoming increasingly dangerous to challenge power, and to do so risks reprisals. In several countries, right-wing populist and neo-fascist leaders have gained prominence by winning elections or commanding enough support to push their ideas into the mainstream. Their politics and worldview are fundamentally opposed to civil society seeking to promote human rights, social cohesion and progressive internationalism.

This is happening even in countries where we believed the concepts of constitutional, participatory democracy had long been established. And while much of the world’s attention has lately focused on political shifts in the US and Europe, we see populist strongmen increasing their grip in countries such as India and the Philippines, as well as longstanding autocratic states such as Ethiopia, Eritrea, Burundi, Saudi Arabia and others where independent civil society space has long been closed.

However, Mr. President, Civil Society is also fighting back. 

The last 6 months were marked by multiple forms of mass peaceful protests. Around the world, whenever new leaders have come to power on polarizing right-wing populist platforms, they have been met with major demonstrations by those taking a stance against them. The democracy of the street is alive and well.

We call on all member and observer States of Council to understand, articulate and make clear to their governments that the realization of civil society rights is an essential part of the defense of democracy and a healthy society.

We thank you


CIVICUS at Human Rights Council: Civil society helps fulfil human rights commitments

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
7 June 2017

Thank you Mr. President,

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 role in shepherding and realizing scores of 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.

We thank you.


Renewing the mandate of the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea

RE: Renewing the mandate of the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea

Your Excellencies,

We, the undersigned civil society organisations, write to urge your delegation to co-sponsor a resolution renewing the mandate of the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea at the forthcoming 35th Session of the UN Human Rights Council. In view of the ongoing crimes under international law, including torture, enslavement and enforced disappearances, and violations of fundamental freedoms committed in Eritrea, the Special Rapporteur’s mandate remains an indispensable mechanism to advance the protection and promotion of human rights in Eritrea.

The mandate of the Special Rapporteur was established at the 20th UN Human Rights Council Session in 2012 to monitor the human rights situation in Eritrea. From June 2014-June 2016, the mandate was also represented on the Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in Eritrea (CoI). The mandate of the Special Rapporteur was extended in July 2016 to follow-up on the recommendations of the CoI. It has been instrumental in monitoring the dire situation on the ground, highlighting on-going violations and the failure to implement the recommendations of the CoI and in providing a crucial platform to help amplify the voices and concerns of victims.

The findings of the CoI and UN Special Rapporteur reveal that the Eritrean authorities have continued to impose a broad range of unwarranted restrictions on fundamental human rights, precipitating mass migration, including of unaccompanied children. Despite commitments by the State to reduce national service to 18 months, indefinite national service and forced labor persist throughout the country. Persons who attempt to avoid military conscription, take refuge abroad, practice an unsanctioned religion, or who criticise government officials continue to be arrested and imprisoned for lengthy periods.

The absence of an independent judiciary means that victims of these human rights violations have no recourse to justice at home. As a result, in Eritrea impunity persists and those who have been subjected to enforced disappearances remain unaccounted for. 

In light of these concerns, we respectfully request your delegation to co-sponsor a resolution during the 35th UN HRC session that renews the mandate of the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea, provides the mandate holder with all necessary support, and urges the Government of Eritrea to cooperate with the mandate holder including allowing unencumbered access to the country.


  1. Africa Monitors
  2. Amnesty International
  3. ARTICLE 19
  4. Citizens for Democratic Rights in Eritrea
  6. Connection e.V
  7. DefendDefenders (East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project)
  8. Eritrean Diaspora in East Africa
  9. Eritrean Lowland League
  10. Ethiopian Law Society
  11. Eritrea Focus
  12. Eritrean Movement for Democracy and Human Rights
  13. Eritreans for Human and Democratic Rights - UK
  14. FIDH (International Federation for Human Rights)
  15. Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect
  16. Human Rights Concern – Eritrea
  17. Human Rights Watch
  18. Information Forum For Eritrea
  19. International Fellowship of Reconciliation 
  20. International Service for Human Rights
  21. Network of Eritrean Women
  22. PEN Eritrea
  23. People for Peace in Africa
  24. Release Eritrea
  25. Reporters Without Borders
  26. Stop Slavery in Eritrea Campaign
  27. War Resisters International


Joint letter to United Nations on human rights crisis in Ethiopia


Permanent Representatives of
Members and Observer States of the
UN Human Rights Council

Geneva, 25 May 2017

RE: Addressing the pervasive human rights crisis in Ethiopia
Your Excellency,

The undersigned civil society organisations write to draw your attention to persistent and grave violations of human rights in Ethiopia and the pressing need to support the establishment of an independent, impartial and international investigation into atrocities committed by security forces to suppress peaceful protests and independent dissent.

As the UN Human Rights Council (UN HRC) prepares to convene for its 35th session from 6 – 23 June 2017, we urge your delegation to prioritise and address through joint statements the ongoing human rights crisis in Ethiopia.

In the wake of unprecedented, mass protests that erupted in November 2015 in Oromia, Amhara, and the Southern Nations Nationalities and Peoples (SNNPR) regional states, Ethiopian authorities routinely responded to legitimate and largely peaceful expressions of dissent with excessive and unnecessary force. As a result, over 800 protesters have been killed, thousands of political activists, human rights defenders, journalists and protesters have been arrested, and in October 2016, the Ethiopian Government declared a six-month nationwide State of Emergency that was extended for an additional four months on 30 March 2017 after some restrictions were lifted.

The State of Emergency directives give sweeping powers to a Command Post, which has been appointed by the House of People’s Representatives to enforce the decree, including the suspension of fundamental and non-derogable rights protected by the Ethiopian Constitution, the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, and other international human rights treaties to which Ethiopia is party. More information on the human rights violations occurring under the current State of Emergency is included in the Annex at the end of this letter.

Lack of independent investigations

Few effective avenues to pursue accountability for abuses exist in Ethiopia, given the lack of independence of the judiciary – the ruling EPRDF coalition and allied parties control all 547 seats in Parliament.

Ethiopia’s National Human Rights Commission, which has a mandate to investigate rights violations,in its June 2016 oral report to Parliament that the lethal force used by security forces in Oromia was proportionate to the risk they faced from the protesters. The written Amharic version of the report was only recently made public, and there are long-standing concerns about the impartiality and research methodology of the Commission. On 18 April 2017, the Commission submitted its second oral report to Parliament on the protests, which found that 669 people were killed, including 63 members of the security forces, and concluded that security forces had taken “proportionate measures in most areas.Both reports are in stark contrast with the findings of other national and international organisations, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. The Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions has rated the Commission as B, meaning the latter has

Refusal to cooperate with regional and international mechanisms

In response to the recent crackdown, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, has access for independent observers to the country to assess the human rights situation recently renewed his call for access to the country during a visit to the capital, Addis Ababa. Ethiopia’s government, however, has the call, citing its own investigation conducted by its Commission. UN Special Procedures have also made similar calls.

In November 2016, the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights adopted a resolution calling for an international, independent, and impartial investigation into allegations of the use of excessive and unnecessary lethal force by security forces to disperse and suppress peaceful protests. Recent European parliament and US Congressional resolutions have also called for independent investigations. The Ethiopian embassy in Belgium dismissed the European Parliament’s resolution citing its own Commission’s investigations into the protests.

As a member of the UN HRC, Ethiopia has an obligation to “uphold the highest standards” of human rights, and “fully cooperate” with the Council and its mechanisms (GA Resolution 60/251, OP 9), yet there are outstanding requests for access from Special Procedures, including from the special rapporteurs on torture, freedom of opinion and expression, and peaceful assembly, among others.


During the upcoming 35th session of the UN HRC, we urge your delegation to make joint and individual statements reinforcing and building upon the expressions of concern by the High Commissioner, UN Special Procedures, and others.

Specifically, the undersigned organisations request your delegation to publicly urge Ethiopia to:

  1. urgently allow access to an international, thorough, independent, impartial and transparent investigation into all of the deaths resulting from alleged excessive use of force by the security forces, and other violations of human rights in the context of the protests;
  2. respond favourably to country visit requests by UN Special Procedures;
  3. immediately and unconditionally release journalists, human rights defenders, political opposition leaders and members as well as protesters arbitrarily detained during and in the aftermath of the protests;
  4. ensure that those responsible for human rights violations are prosecuted in proceedings which comply with international law and standards on fair trials; and
  5. fully comply with its international legal obligations and commitments including under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, and its own Constitution.

With assurances of our highest consideration,

  • Association for Human Rights in Ethiopia
  • CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
  • Civil Rights Defenders
  • DefendDefenders (East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project)
  • Ethiopia Human Rights Project
  • Freedom House
  • Front Line Defenders
  • Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect
  • Human Rights Watch
  • International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
  • International Service for Human Rights
  • Reporters Without Borders
  • World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)

Annex: Background

A repressive legal framework

The legal framework in Ethiopia restricts the enjoyment of civil and political rights, and therefore the activity of the political opposition, civil society, and independent media in the country.
The Charities and Societies Proclamation (2009) caps foreign funding at 10% for non-governmental organisations working on human rights, good governance, justice, rule of law and conflict resolution. The law has decimated civil society and human rights activism in the country. Currently, a handful of independent human rights organisations continue to operate, but with great difficulty.
The Anti-Terrorism Proclamation (2009) has been used repeatedly to silence critical voices. Political opposition party leaders and members, people involved in public protests, religious freedom advocates and journalists have been arrested and charged under this law. Both laws are a matter of great concern and have been repeatedly raised in international forums, including at Ethiopia’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in 2014.
Overarching restrictions under the State of Emergency

The State of Emergency directives restrict the organisation of political campaigns, demonstrations, and any communication that may cause “public disturbance.” It also bans communications with foreign governments and NGOs that may undermine ‘national sovereignty, constitutional order and security’, and the right to disseminate information through traditional and social media. Additionally, the Command Post was given sweeping powers to arbitrarily arrest and detain individuals without due process.
A few weeks before the State of Emergency was extended by an additional four months, the government announced it was lifting some of these restrictions, including the Command Post’s power to arbitrarily arrest people or conduct property searches without warrants, curfews, and certain restrictions regarding sharing of information online and offline.
Despite some improvements in internet access since mobile data services were restored throughout parts of the country on 2 December 2016, social media platforms such as Whatsapp, Facebook and Twitter remain inaccessible except through VPNs.

Mass arrests

Since the declaration of the State of Emergency, the Command Post announced that tens of thousands have been arbitrarily arrested and transported to different detention centers throughout the country. Most of the detainees were held for a period of around three months in Awash, Alage, Bir Sheleko, and Tolay police and military camps. In November 2016, authorities announced the release of 11,607 people who were detained under the State of Emergency following “rehabilitation training programs.” One month later, authorities announced they were releasing an additional 9,800 detainees.  Former detainees have reported being subjected to torture, harsh prison conditions, and other forms of ill treatment. In late March 2017, the Command Post announced through state media that 4,996 of the 26,130 people detained for allegedly taking part in protests would be brought to court.

Continued targeting of the political opposition, the media and civil society

According to the Association for Human Rights in Ethiopia, three of Ethiopia’s main opposition parties, the Unity for Democracy and Justice Party (UDJ), Blue Party, and All Ethiopian Unity Party (AEUP) have claimed that a large number of their members were targeted by Command Post and arbitrarily arrested.

On 30 October 2016, Dr. Merera Gudina, a professor and prominent opposition leader of the Oromo Federalist Congress was arrested after his return from Brussels where he provided testimony on the current political crisis to some members of the European Parliament and described human rights violations being committed in Ethiopia. On 3 March 2017, prosecutors formally charged Dr. Merera with a bid to "dismantle or disrupt social, economic and political activity for political, religious and ideological aim [...] under the guise of political party leadership". Dr. Merera was also accused of meeting with an organisation designated as a terrorist group contravening restrictions contained in the State of Emergency directives.

Members of the Wolqait Identity Committee, including Colonel Demeqe Zewude, have also faced allegedly politically motivated criminal charges under the 2009 Anti-Terrorism Proclamation. Their attempted arrest sparked protests in the Amhara capital of Gondar in August 2016.

On 18 November 2016, journalists Elias Gebru and Ananiya Sori were arrested by security forces, according to the Association for Human Rights in Ethiopia. Both were reportedly arrested in relation to their criticism of government policies and actions. Ananiya was released on 13 March 2017. At the time of writing, Elias is still being held in prison without due process of law.

On 6 April 2017, Ethiopia’s Supreme Court ruled that two bloggers from the Zone 9 collective previously acquitted of terrorism charge should be tried instead on charges of inciting violence through their writing. If convicted of the charge, Atnaf Berhane and Natnael Feleke would face a maximum prison sentence of 10 years. The court also upheld the lower court’s acquittal of two other Zone 9 bloggers, Soleyana S Gebremichael and Abel Wabella.

See additional assessment:

Civic Space in Ethiopia is rated as ‘Closed’ by the CIVICUS Monitor.


Joint statement on Algeria: Accept UN recommendations and reverse record on civil society rights

Global civil society alliance, CIVICUS, and the Center for Research and Maghrebi Studies urge the Government of Algeria to accept recommendations received from the international community during its UN Universal Periodic Review (UPR), particularly regarding ending restrictions on the work of human rights defenders and creating an enabling environment for civil society organisations (CSOs).


Media Statement: New UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association

ARTICLE 19, CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation, the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law (ICNL), and the World Movement for Democracy (the Civic Space Initiative) welcome Dr. Annalisa Ciampi as the new mandate holder of UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of assembly and association, and congratulate her on her appointment.


Adoption of Uganda´s Universal Periodic Review on Human Rights

CIVICUS and the Foundation for Human Rights Initiative Uganda (FHRI) ,welcome the adoption of the UPR report on Uganda and express their appreciation to the government of Uganda for collaborating in the process.


Adoption of Zimbabwe´s Universal Periodic Review on Human Rights

Human Rights Council 34th Session

CIVICUS and Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum welcome the Government of Zimbabwe’s continued cooperation with the Universal Periodic Review process, including its acceptance of a number of important recommendations to improve the human rights situation in the country.

However, the greatest sign of commitment by the government is not merely attending UPR sessions and accepting recommendations. The ultimate evidence of commitment is positive change in the human rights environment.


CIVICUS Statement on Universal Periodic Review Results in Venezuela

Human Rights Council 34th Session

We address the Human Rights Council on behalf of CIVICUS in consultation with 170 Venezuelan civil society organizations.

The majority of countries participating in the UPR drew the attention of the Venezuelan State to the undermining of a broad spectrum of human rights, lack of cooperation with the Office of the High Commissioner, and its refusal to invite representatives of Special Procedures to the country.


Adoption of South Sudan´s Universal Periodic Review on Human Rights

Human Rights Council: 34th Session
Adoption of South Sudan’s UPR Outcome

Oral Intervention by East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project (EHAHRDP) & CIVICUS

The East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project and CIVICUS have very little to welcome in South Sudan’s UPR process. Out of 33 recommendations made to the Government of South Sudan to improve its catastrophic human rights situation, only 4 have been accepted.


CIVICUS Statement at Human Rights Council on Global State of Civic Space

34th session of the Human Rights Council 

Since the creation of the Council CIVICUS has appealed to States present here today to collectively address violations of the civic freedoms which they have all committed to uphold and protect.


CIVICUS Statement at the Human Rights Council on South Sudan

34th session of the Human Rights Council

CIVICUS is deeply alarmed by the report of the Commission on South Sudan about continued mass atrocities, violence, killings and crimes against humanity at a time when the country is plagued by the worst famine. South Sudan is on the verge of an ethnic war that can destabilise the entire region.  In fact, there is a real risk of genocide. 


CIVICUS Statement at Human Rights Council on Burundi

34th session of the Human Rights Council  

CIVICUS expresses serious concerns that the human rights situation has not improved since the last time we presented a statement here in response to the report of the Independent Experts about human rights in Burundi on 27 September 2016.


CIVICUS Statement at Human Rights Council on Eritrea

34th session of the Human Rights Council

CIVICUS expresses its appreciation to the Special Rapporteur on Eritrea for the work she has done to highlight the worst human rights violations and the overall dire situation in Eritrea.  We also laud the Commission of Inquiry (CoI) for the findings and recommendations presented in the report of the Commission. 


CIVICUS Statement at Human Rights Council on Annual Report by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

34th session of the Human Rights Council
8 March, 2017

Thank you Mr. President,

High Commissioner, CIVICUS welcomes your annual report and update. We are consistently awed by the breadth of work undertaken by your offices across the world. In this period where restrictions of civil society groups and HRDs are becoming increasingly normalized, CIVICUS vigorously endorses your call for the allocation of greater resources to strengthen and bolster OHCHR’s mandate and operations. 


Joint Letter to UN Human Rights Council: Renew mandate of Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders

Re: Support consensus renewal of the mandate of Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders

7 March 2017

Your Excellency,

The undersigned 93 civil society organisations, coming from all regions, urge your delegation to support the renewal of the mandate of the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders.

The work of human rights defenders is vital to promoting human rights, upholding the rule of law, and achieving sustainable and inclusive development. Despite this critical role, the Special Rapporteur notes that defenders are under ‘unprecedented attack’ with ‘the number killed around the world continuously rising’.


Civicus at Human Rights Council: Statement on right to privacy

34th session of the Human Rights Council
Interactive Dialogue with the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy
7 March 2017
Delivered by Tor Hodenfield

Thanks you Mr. President,

CIVICUS welcomes the report of Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy. We applaud the Special Rapporteur and his team for undertaking a frank and much needed assessment of the characteristics of the international legal framework surrounding governmental surveillance. It is clear from these reflections that the mandate of the Special Rapporteur is more essential than ever.


CIVICUS at the Human Rights Council: Statement on climate change and the rights of the child

34th session of the Human Rights Council
Interactive Dialogue on Climate Change and the Rights of the Child
2 March 2017
Delivered by Matthew Reading-Smith

CIVICUS welcomes this opportunity to address the Vice President of the Council and the other distinguished panelists. We applaud the Council´s commitment to an integrated approach to the implementation and monitoring of the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Climate Agreement. These two frameworks beckon the highest degree of international cooperation and reveal common areas of social, economic and environmental interdependence.


CIVICUS at the 34th Session of the Human Rights Council

Two thirds of the activities of the United Nations system takes place in Geneva, making it a key centre of international co-operation and multilateral negotiation. CIVICUS’ main focus currently concentrates on the human rights mechanisms, most notably the Human Rights Council and its subsidiary bodies such as the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) and Special Procedures, but also on the Treaty bodies. CIVICUS also works closely with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).


Statement on human rights abuses in South Sudan

UN Human Rights Council - 26th Special Session
Special Session on South Sudan

CIVICUS welcomes this Special Session following the findings and recommendations recently put forward by the Expert Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan.  We agree with the assessment that South Sudan is on the verge of an unprecedented spate of violence which has strong ethnic connotations.  


Widening space by young human rights defenders

The event will contribute to the Forum on Human Rights, Democracy and the Rule of Law on “Widening the Democratic Space: the role of youth in public decision-making” by strengthening recognition and deepening the understanding  among participants of how young human rights defenders play a key role in widening the role and participation of young people in  public decision-making  as a means to contribute to sustainable peace and development. 


Mr. Ahmad Alhendawi-United Nations Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth 

Ms.  Ayesha  Munu -Girls’ Rights  Defender  

Mr.  Carlos  Andres-Environmental  Rights  Defender   

Chaeli Mycroft -Ability activist 

Ms. Madeline Wells-Indigenous Peoples Rights Defender  

Peggy  Hicks-  Director  at the UN's

human rights office


21 November 2016, 13:15 – 14:45, Palais des Nations, Geneva, Room XXIII


Amnesty  International,  CIVICUS,  Defence  for  Children  International,  KidsRights and World Vision


If you do not have a UN badge please register for the Forum here and upload a  letter of accreditation  by Wednesday, November 16, 2016 at 6 pm, Geneva time in order to access Palais des Nations, once the accreditation is approved.

The  event  will  be livestreamed through  our Facebook  page  and  will  provide the  opportunity for  people who are not in Geneva to engage with the event and send questions. The hashtag  #YoungHRDs  will  also be used on Twitter to gather inputs and solicit questions in the lead up to and during the event.


Negotiations for a Binding Treaty on Business and Human Rights

The intergovernmental working group was mandated to elaborate an international legally binding instrument on transnational corporations and other business enterprises with respect to human rights.


Human Rights Situation in Syria - CIVICUS Statement at the 25th Special Session

We remain deeply alarmed by the humanitarian crisis in Aleppo and the rapidly deteriorating human rights situation across Syria. The renewed and indiscriminate attacks by the Syrian Government and its allies on the besieged areas of Eastern Aleppo have had devastating consequences for its civilian population and the city’s remaining social infrastructure. Hundreds of thousands of civilians remain trapped in Aleppo, largely deprived of access to potentially life-saving relief.  The attack on a humanitarian convoy last month and the bombing and shelling of hospitals, rescue structures and schools are against the minimal provisions of international humanitarian law and, if done deliberatively, constitute crimes against humanity.


CIVICUS Universal Periodic Review Submissions on Civil Society Space

In advance of the start of the 3rd cycle of the UN Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in April 2017, CIVICUS has made joint and stand-alone submissions examining the environment for civil society in 11 countries. The submissions specifically highlight a broad range of unwarranted legal and extra-legal restrictions on the rights to freedom of assembly, association, expression and the work of human rights defenders. To compliment these narrative reports, CIVICUS and its partners provide an analysis of the State under Review’s level of domestic implementation of recommendations received during the 2nd UPR cycle in May 2012 and provide a number of targeted follow-up recommendations.  

Countries examined: Algeria, Bahrain, Brazil, Ecuador, India, Indonesia, Morocco, the Philippines, Poland, South Africa, and Tunisia (see from list below)

Algeria: CIVICUS and the Ibn Khaldoun Center for Research and Maghrebi Studies (IKCRMS) highlight the use of restrictive legislation to unwarrantedly limit the work of independent civil society organisations and impede peaceful protests. CIVICUS and IKCRMS further discuss continued attempts to silence independent media through the undue closure of independent outlets and the persecution of individuals and groups for exercising their right to freedom of expression. 
Bahrain: CIVICUS, the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR) and the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) underscore the severe and continued restrictions on freedom of expression including the routine judicial persecution and harassment of individuals and groups for taking part in legitimate forms of dissent both online and offline. CIVICUS, BCHR and GCHR further examine the targeting of human rights defenders, journalists, religious leaders, peaceful protesters and civil society representatives through reprisals, travel bans, prison sentences, torture and other unjustified limitations. 

Brazil: CIVICUS and Conectas highlight the endemic levels of violence against journalists and human rights defenders, and particularly against land rights, indigenous and environmental activists. The submission further examines the use of legal and extra-legal restrictions on the right to free assembly in Brazil, leading to increasingly violent policing and repression of protests. It provides recommendations to the Government of Brazil to ensure an enabling environment for civil society, in accordance with the rights enshrined in Brazil’s Constitution as well as international best practice.

Ecuador: CIVICUS, FCD (Citizen and Development Foundation), Fundamedios (Andean Foundation for the Observation and Study of the Media) and AEDEP (Ecuadorean Association of Newspapers’ Editors) address concerns regarding the expansion of state controls over Ecuadorean civil society. The submission also discusses the situation of human rights defenders, particularly those working on the rights of indigenous peoples and sexual and reproductive rights. It concludes with recommendations to the Government of Ecuador on how to improve the conditions for civil society to operate free from unwarranted state interference, communicate and cooperate, seek and secure funding, and publically present their demands without fear of retaliation.

India: CIVICUS and Human Rights Defenders Alert, supported by 19 Indian civil society organisations, examine India’s fulfilment of the rights to freedom of association, assembly, and expression and unwarranted restrictions on human rights defenders since its previous UPR examination.  We look at unwarranted restrictions on civil society groups, the use of restrictive legislation to de-register organisations and the suspension of the bank accounts of others to prevent them from carrying out their activities.  We further examine attacks, intimidation and judicial persecution of human rights defenders, the brutal assassination of journalists and often violent dispersal of peaceful demonstrations

Indonesia: CIVICUS, LBH PERS, ICJR, ELSAM, YAPPIKA focus on the failure of the government of Indonesia to fully implement all the recommendations it accepted and noted during its previous UPR review. We assess attacks and persecution of human rights defenders, the assassination of an environmental rights activist, harassment and physical attacks on journalists and the use of restrictive legislation, circulars and policies to target freedom of expression and online freedoms. The submission looks at the use of excessive force to disperse peaceful demonstrations and the use of pre-emptive measures to ban protests especially those held on issues affecting West Papuans.  

Morocco: CIVICUS highlights the criminalisation, intimidation and harassment of civil society groups through the imposition of travel bans, banning of meetings and conferences of CSOs and unjustifiable denial of formal registration of vocal groups. CIVICUS underscores the lack of implementation of recommendations in relation to freedom of expression, including a number of legitimate forms of free speech that continue to be criminalised.

The Philippines: CIVICUS and KARAPATAN examine the continued extrajudicial killing, intimidation and harassment of human right defenders, journalists and media workers as well as legal restrictions on the right to freedom of expression, in particular the criminalisation of libel and overbroad provisions of the 2012 Cybercrime Prevention Act. CIVICUS and KARAPATAN asses The Philippines level of implementation of a range of UPR recommendations pertaining to civic space.

Poland: CIVICUS and the Committee for the Defence of Democracy (KOD) highlight grave concerns on the sharp decline in respect for civic space that has occurred since late 2015 when the newly-elected government began to implement policies and introduce laws clearly aimed at curbing media freedom, free expression and dissent. As Poland appears for the third time before the UPR, CIVICUS and KOD make a series of recommendations on how Poland can reverse course and strengthen respect for the fundamental freedoms in line with its international commitments.
South Africa: CIVICUS and HURISA discuss the harassment of peaceful protestors and demonstrators by state security agents which impedes the right to freedom of peaceful assembly, the extra-judicial killing of human rights defenders, and the failure to sufficiently amend or repeal restrictive legislation limiting freedom of information. CIVICUS and HURISA further provide an analysis of South Africa’s operationalisation of UPR recommendations on freedom of assembly, association, expression and HRDs.

Tunisia: CIVICUS and The Movement for Amazigh of Tunisa discuss the legal and extra-legal restrictions undermining freedom of expression in the country, including legal provisions that criminalise defamation, overbroad definitions in the anti-terrorism legislation and a number of recent attacks against journalists and media workers. CIVICUS and Amazigh of Tunisia further examine restrictive pre-revolution legislation that impedes the freedom of assembly. 


Interactive Dialogue on Somalia - Joint Statement at the Human Rights Council

33rd session of the Human Rights Council

CIVICUS and the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project thank the Independent Expert on Somalia for his report. 

As Somalia prepares for its electoral process later this year, we take this opportunity to welcome steps taken by the government to strengthen its human rights framework in preparation for the election.

While recognising this progress, we call on Somali authorities to make a concerted effort to  address undue restrictions on freedom of expression. In particular, we call on Somalia to ensure that government officials’ threats and intimidation of media workers are swiftly and effectively investigated. In June 2016, Puntland Ministry of Information issued a directive restricting journalists from interviewing persons linked to pirates and terrorists, and in an audio recording, the Minister of Information threatened to use force and to kill journalists who violate the order. Although Al Shabaab has claimed responsibility for the majority of violations committed against media workers, the Government should cease its practice of closing radio stations and arresting journalists deemed critical. 


Joint civil society statement on Swaziland at the Human Rights Council

33rd session of the Human Rights Council

We are concerned that even though the Swaziland government has committed to consider 72 recommendations, there has been no consultation with civil society on the recommendations. We continue to witness violations (e.g. the right to freedom of association, expression and assembly) 


Interactive Dialogue on Burundi - Civicus Statement at the Human Rights Council

33rd session of the Human Rights Council

CIVICUS welcomes the final report of the Independent Experts and commends them for their clear analysis of the shocking situation of human rights in Burundi. 

We note that the report concedes that violence against human rights defenders, journalists and ordinary citizens continues unabated and those who are behind the violence act with unacceptable impunity. 

Mr. President, we agree with the findings of the report on the enforced disappearances, abductions, killings, torture, arrests and detentions of those perceived to be opponents of the regime.  Human rights defenders, journalists and ordinary citizens have been killed, others been abducted and taken to unknown locations.  Those fortunate enough to be released alive are tortured before they are released.


Fundamental freedoms being violated in Sudan - CIVICUS Statement at the Human Rights Council

33rd session of the Human Rights Council

CIVICUS welcomes the report of the Independent Expert and recognizes the Council’s continued vigilance in addressing the human rights situation in Sudan.  

The report presented today clearly articulates that the Government has failed to take adequate and swift measures to realize its human rights obligations under international law.

Indicative of the Government’s unwillingness to seriously address persistent human violations is its resistance to launching an independent judicial investigation into the killings, excessive use of force and arbitrary arrests of scores of peaceful protestors in September 2013 in response to oil-subsidies imposed by the State. The codification of impunity for the National Intelligence and Security Services under the 2010 National Security act presents a nearly insurmountable barrier to ensuring accountability for the gross human rights violations committed by security forces in response to the exercise of the right to freedom of assembly.


Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on Cambodia - Joint Statement at the Human Rights Council

33rd session of the Human Rights Council
Joint Oral Submission
World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR) and CIVICUS

Next month marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of the signing of the Paris Peace Agreements, which set out a framework for peace in Cambodia based on a multi-party democracy guaranteeing human rights; however, the past year has seen the pillars of Cambodian democracy come under attack.

Despite the Council’s call in October 2015 for the government “to promote a pluralistic and democratic process”, political opposition have systematically been targeted: last October two opposition lawmakers were brutally beaten by members of the Prime Minister’s Bodyguard Unit; opposition leader Sam Rainsy faces charges for defamation and remains in self-imposed exile; and earlier this month acting opposition leader Kem Sokha was sentenced to five months imprisonment following a criminal investigation widely considered to be politically motivated. 


Youth and human rights - Joint Statement at the Human Rights Council

33nd session of the Human Rights Council

CIVICUS has the honour of delivering this statement on behalf of CIVICUS Youth Action Team and three members organisations of the alliance: Amnesty International, Zimbabwe National Association of Youth Organisations and Young Diplomats of Canada. We thank the Council for organising this important discussion and the panellists for their insightful interventions. 

Mr President, in 2016 CIVICUS reported that the enjoyment of at least one of the three core civic freedoms ― freedom of association, assembly and expression ― was threatened in one hundred and nine countries. Youth-led civil society groups and human rights defenders, routinely at the forefront of rights-based movements, remain particularly susceptible to these unlawful restrictions and draconian persecutions.


HUNGARY: UNIVERSAL PERIODIC REVIEW - CIVICUS Statement at the Human Rights Council

33nd session of the Human Rights Council

CIVICUS welcomes Hungary’s commitment to engage with the Universal Periodic Review process and takes seriously the recommendations made by states and other stakeholders during the 2nd cycle review.

We urge the Government of Hungary to accept all recommendations made, and draw particular attention to those recommendations related to the recent erosion of respect for fundamental freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression.


Interactive Dialogue with the UN Special Rapporteur on Indigenous Peoples - CIVICUS Statement

33rd session of the Human Rights Council

CIVICUS welcomes the Special Rapporteur’s report on the rights of indigenous peoples and its contribution towards the development of a stronger guiding framework on the relationship between business and human rights. We especially applaud the Special Rapporteur’s thematic analysis of the impact of international investment agreements on the rights of indigenous peoples within the context of achieving greater coherence between international investment law and international human rights standards to safeguard the fulfilment of states’ duties to protect and promote the rights of indigenous peoples.


Unwarranted limitations on civic space in Cambodia, Egypt and Syria - Statement at Human Rights Council

CIVICUS remains deeply concerned by the ongoing conflict in Syria and the continued suffering of its people. Yet last week’s cessation of hostilities and the attendant reduction in violence and airstrikes has again engendered hope that humanitarian access will be granted to besieged areas. This cessation of hostilities agreement - the second since February -  is also a rare opportunity to move towards a negotiated political solution to Syria’s devastating conflict. We call on all sides to ensure with utmost political will that this opportunity is not wasted. There is also a pressing need for the voices of Syria citizens and civil society to be heard and fully included in any transitional justice and peace process.


Equal participation in political and public affairs - CIVICUS Statement at Human Rights Council

33nd session of the Human Rights Council

CIVICUS welcomes this opportunity to address the High Commissioner and the Council on the evolving discussion to develop a more robust guiding framework to protect and promote the right to participate in political and public affairs. We applaud the High Commissioner and Council for facilitating an inclusive process, including the recent expert working group meeting, to enable wide engagement among a diverse range of stakeholders.


CIVICUS response to Human Rights Commissioner´s opening remarks at 33rd Session of Human Rights Council

We fully endorse the High Commissioner´s caution against populist demagogues in Europe and the United States, who fuel hatred and bigotry against minority groups, refugees and entire religious communities. We applaud his continued attention to the precipitous backsliding on basic public freedoms undermining important human rights gains and democratic consolidation in many regions of the world.

We equally deplore the lack of access given to his Office and Special Procedures to many countries in an attempt to block or evade human rights scrutiny.

Specifically, CIVCUS reiterates the High Commissioner’s deep concern about the grave and escalating violations of human rights in Ethiopia in the context of peaceful protests. We urge the Council to rapidly dispatch an international, independent and transparent investigation into the use of excessive and lethal force against protesters, which has resulted in hundreds of extra-judicial killings and thousands of arrests.


Interactive Dialogue on access to safe drinking water and sanitation and on arbitrary detention

CIVICUS thanks the Special Rapporteur on access to safe drinking water and sanitation for his very innovative report, for looking through the gender lens on the myriad challenges women face in tackling the material and structural determinants of gender inequalities in access to water, sanitation and hygiene which could serve as an entry point to address gender inequality more broadly. We particularly thank him for making the link to participation, not only as a right in itself, but also imperative for fulfilling other rights. We concur that.the lack of water, sanitation and hygiene facilities that meet women’s and girls’ needs can be largely attributed to the absence of women’s participation in decision-making and planning.


Joint letter to the UN HRC: Addressing the escalating human rights crisis in Ethiopia


A group of civil society organizations (CSOs) have written to the UN Human Rights Council (UN HRC) to draw the delegation's attention to grave violations of human rights in Ethiopia, including the recent crackdown on largely peaceful protests in the Oromia and Amhara regions. 

They call on the delegation of the 33rd HRC session to prioritise and address through joint and individual statements the escalating human rights crisis in Ethiopia. 
Read the letter here


Human Rights Violations in Cambodia: Joint letter to UN HRC calling for resolution


12 international, regional, and Cambodian non-governmental organizations (NGOs), urge the Permanent Representatives of Member and Observer States of the United Nations Human Rights Council to adopt a resolution addressing Cambodia's gravely deteriorating human rights situation.


Joint Press Statement by the Civic Space Initiative (CSpI)

States must implement crucial UN Human Rights Council resolution on civil society space, and cooperate fully with the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of assembly and of association.

The CSI is committed to engaging with governments and other stakeholders to ensure that the international human rights standards adopted at the HRC are implemented nationally, to enhance the enabling environment for civil society, and to defend that space where it is at risk. 

Read the full statement here


CIVICUS Statement on the Interactive Dialogue on the UN High Commissioner’s report on Burundi

Thank you, Mr. President,

CIVICUS and the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project welcome the report of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on the situation of human rights in Burundi.

We note with extreme concern the dire deterioration of the situation, including restrictions on fundamental freedoms and arbitrary arrests and detentions, cruel and inhumane treatment, torture and extrajudicial executions, perpetrated by the armed forces and the Imborenakure.  This -as the report mentions- has created a climate of fear and intimidation, fuelled by high levels of impunity.


Over 200 NGOs call on the UN HRC to support resolution on civic society space

Re: Call for your support and solidarity in rejecting amendments to HRC32 draft resolution protecting civil society space (A/HRC/32/L.29)  

Open Letter to Member States of the UN Human Rights Council  29 June 2016  

Your Excellency,  

We, the undersigned 244 civil society organizations, spanning across all regions of the world, call on your delegation to stand in solidarity with civil society by supporting the draft resolution on the protection of civil society space, to be considered for adoption at the 32nd session of the Human Rights Council (on 30 June or 1 July).[1] We urge you to cosponsor the draft resolution, reject all amendments, and vote in favour of the resolution if a vote is called.


CIVICUS UN HRC statement on restrictions on civic space in Bahrain and Egypt

CIVICUS remains deeply alarmed by both the increase and severity of restrictive laws, policies and practices being used to undermine and enfeeble civil society across the globe. In a report launched this week, CIVICUS has documented serious threats to civil society space in 109 countries in 2015, representing a roughly 15 percent increase over the past year.



This statement is delivered by CIVICUS together with our national partner organization, the Sierra Leone Campaign for Good Governance. We commend Sierra Leone for its global leadership on promoting and protecting civil society and in particular its sponsorship of Human Rights Council Resolution 27/31 on the protection of civil society space.

We further recognise the challenges Sierra Leone faces in rebuilding its democracy and infrastructure since the end of the brutal civil war and most recently the ebola outbreak. We note however that restrictions on fundamental freedoms continue to impede efforts to advance democratic consolidation.



CIVICUS applauds Somalia’s cooperation and engagement with the UPR process. We also take this opportunity to remember the passing of Ambassador Bari Bari and the important contributions he made to the advancement of human rights both within the Council and at home.

While acknowledging the very real and substantial challenges the Government of Somalia faces in consolidating democratic space and creating accountable State institutions inflicted by 20 years of civil war, we also urge the Government and the international community to take concerted measures to realize the important progressive civic space recommendations accepted by Somalia’s during its UPR.


CIVICUS UN HRC statement on Ethiopia's non-compliance with Special Procedures

Thank you, Mr. President, 

CIVICUS welcomes Special Procedures’ comprehensive report on Communications with States that brings to light human rights situations on which the Council has remained largely silent. 

We refer to Communications to Ethiopia in December 2015 on the violent repression of peaceful protests organized by students throughout the Oromia region of Ethiopia. In response to the protests, the Ethiopian authorities have arbitrarily arrested thousands of people and several hundred people have been summarily killed by the security services while participating in the protests. 


HRC 32: Interactive Dialogue on South Sudan

Human Rights Council: 32nd Session

The East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project and CIVICUS welcome this enhanced interactive dialogue with national, regional and international stakeholders on the grave situation in South Sudan.

Mr President, the establishment of a Commission on human rights in South Sudan at the 31st Session of the Council and the appointment of Commissioners last week represent a welcome step towards accountability for the victims of grave human rights violations in Africa’s newest nation. The Commission represents an important opportunity for regional and international cooperation in response to one of the most brutal conflicts happening in the world today.


Joint CIVICUS UN HRC statement on the Commission of Inquiry on Eritrea

Human Rights Council: 32nd Session

CIVICUS and Citizens for Democratic Rights in Eritrea welcome the report of the Commission of Inquiry (CoI) on Eritrea. 

We remain deeply concerned by the findings presented in the CoI’s report, including those amounting to crimes against humanity, which indicate that there has been no material improvement in human rights situation on the ground. We note with particular alarm that extensive violations of freedom of expression, assembly and association continue unabated. The absolute and violent repression of all forms of dissent and civil society freedoms in Eritrea is emblematic of the extreme consequences of denying people the right to participate in the development of the state.


Joint UN Human Rights Council statement on protecting and promoting civil society space

CIVICUS on behalf of the Civic Space Initiative  welcomes the High Commissioner’s presentation of its landmark report on protecting and promoting civil society space.

We are seriously concerned by the growing implementation gap between states’ international human rights obligations and commitments, including those set out in HRC Resolution 27/31, and national realities facing civil society. CIVICUS has documented serious human rights violations against civil society in 109 countries in 2015. ICNL has documented 153 restrictive legislative initiatives since 2012. This underscores the urgency of an international response to prevent the closing of civic space.


Joint CIVICUS UN HRC statement on the report of the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women

WILPF has the honour of delivering this statement on behalf of 27 CSOs. We applaud the ambitious and complementary thematic priorities proposed by the Special Rapporteur in her first annual report to the Council and we congratulate her in her appointment. 

We welcome the Special Rapporteur’s attention to: 1) closing the implementation gap on violence against women under the aegis of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and; 2) the use of data as a tool for prevention through the establishment of “femicide watch”.


Joint CIVICUS & Save the Children UN Human Rights Council Statement on civic space for children

Joint NGO Oral Statement by Save the Children, CIVICUS and 17 NGOs

A strong, diverse and independent civil society is also a space for children. Children, who constitute more than 30% of the world’s population, have the right to be heard and participate in different spheres of society. Children want to participate in public processes. We need them to speak out to better respond to their situation. Despite this, children’s voices are often marginalized.




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