A clean and safe environment is a human right

Joint statement by Earthjustice, Greenpeace, AIDA, Amnesty Internationa, CIEL, CIVICUS, CRIN, Human Rights Watch, The Global Initiative

We welcome the Special Rapporteur’s report which usefully identifies a wealth of governmental good practices in recognizing and implementing a right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment.

The report highlights that 80% of UN member states have recognized this human right. It also shows that at least 90% UN member states have reported at least some good practices that reflect procedural and/or the substantive elements of this right. The report therefore shows that “environmental progress and the protection of human rights from environmental harm are possible”. While the report is clear that all states must urgently step up their action at all levels to adequately address the present “daunting and unprecedented global environmental crisis”, it also shows that global recognition of the right to a healthy environment is an essential ingredient of such efforts.

Our organizations therefore call on the Human Rights Council to promptly adopt a resolution recognizing the right to a healthy environment. At a time when people from around the world, and particularly children, are increasingly concerned and mobilized by the environmental crisis, and environmental human rights defenders continue to face violence, states need to make this important move signaling their unequivocal intention to work towards the fulfillment of this right for all.

 

India: The UN must condemn crimes against peaceful protesters

Joint statement at the 43rd Session of the UN Human Rights Council by Amnesty International India, CIVCUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation, FORUM-ASIA and FIDH

As the UN Human Rights Council meets in Geneva to discuss human rights developments globally, we urge states to speak up against serious human rights violations being committed in India against peaceful protesters and other civilians.

Both international human rights law and the Constitution of India guarantee the right to freedom of peaceful assembly, the right to freedom of expression, and the right to freedom of association.

Regrettably, those who have exercised their right to peaceful assembly against the discriminatory Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the National Register of Citizens (NRC) since December 2019 have been arrested and intimidated under various repressive laws. Political leaders have demonised the protesters. At least 50 people have been killed in the protests, including an eight-year-old child, and thousands of people have been arrested and detained. 

On 12 December 2019, the CAA was passed by the Indian Parliament and assented by the President of India. The CAA provides a path to Indian citizenship for Hindus, Sikhs, Parsis, Christians, Buddhists, and Jains from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan, excluding Muslims, thus legitimising discrimination based on religious grounds. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the European Parliament, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), and various US senators have raised serious concerns about the CAA. 

The amendments to the Citizenship Act also weaponize the NRC, the National Population Register, and the Foreigners Tribunals to push minorities – particularly Muslims — towards detention and statelessness. As of now, over 1.9 million people are excluded from the NRC, a registration exercise that took place in Assam State over a period of five years. 

Use of Repressive Laws

Protesters have faced arbitrary arrests and detention under repressive laws, such as sedition provisions in the Penal Code and the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA). In January 2020, sedition charges were lodged against 3,000 people for protesting against the CAA in Jharkhand State. Cases of sedition have also been filed against a schoolteacher and mother of a student for “insulting” the Prime Minister through a school play; carrying a ‘Free Kashmir’ placard during a protest; and shouting “Pakistan Zindabad” [Long Live Pakistan]. 

Indian courts have ruled that any form of expression must involve incitement to imminent violence for it to amount to sedition. But the sedition charges have been repeatedly used to arrest journalists, activists and human rights defenders simply for expressing their views. 

Similarly, the UAPA is India’s primary counter-terrorism law and has been condemned by various human rights groups as being repressive and against the international human rights norms. In the past, the UAPA was abused by successive governments to target human rights defenders working with poor and marginalized communities and those who criticise government inactions or excesses. The abuse of the UAPA has continued under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s administration On 12 December 2019, Akhil Gogoi, an activist and leader of the Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti (KMSS), a peasant rights organisation based in Assam State, was arrested by the Assam police under various sections of the UAPA. 

Excessive Use of Force by Authorities 

Police across India have used excessive force to target peaceful protesters. In December 2019 in Varanasi, the constituency of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the police indiscriminately used firearms and less lethal arms to disperse peaceful protesters. This led to the death of an eight-year old child who was crushed to death on 20 December 2019, and resulted in over a dozen injuries.

The police also attacked student protesters in Jamia Millia Islamia University and Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in Delhi in December 2019 and January 2020, respectively. Students were also attacked in Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) while they were protesting against the CAA in December 2019. Doctors at AMU stated that on 16 December 2019, police blocked ambulances from entering the university to treat the injured students. 

On 24 February 2020, the Allahabad High Court criticised the role of the Uttar Pradesh Police and said, “The police force should be sensitised and special training modules prepared to inculcate professionalism in the personnel while handling such situations”. The court ordered the Uttar Pradesh government to pay compensation to students who were injured during the protests due to police brutality. 

However, to date, no reports have been filed against police officers for using excessive force against protesters. 

Hateful Rhetoric and Vigilante Violence

While there has been a heavy-handed approach by the police towards the protestors, some political leaders have been inciting hatred and violence against the protesters. 

Terms like “anti-nationals” and “traitors” have been used to encourage violence against the protesters. The 24/7 sit-in protest site, Shaheen Bagh in Delhi, which has become the epicentre of the anti-CAA protests in the country, has been routinely targeted. The peaceful protests in Delhi has been led primarily by Muslim women and students. 

In response, some union ministers and chief ministers have engaged in violent rhetoric with statements such as “shoot the traitors”, “press the button with such anger that the current is felt at Shaheen Bagh”, “the protesters would enter citizens’ homes and rape your sisters and daughters and kill them”, “revenge will be taken” in  attempts to divide and fear-monger. In another incident on 23 February 2020, Kapil Mishra,  a leader from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, warned the police of dire consequences if the protesters did not vacate another protest site in Jaffrabad in north-east Delhi, where over 500 women had gathered to protest against the CAA. Shortly after his speech, clashes broke out in the area, which led to the deaths of at least 42 people, including a police constable, and injuring over 250 others. 

This rhetoric has emboldened non-state actors to assault civilians. However, not a single political leader has been prosecuted for making hate speeches against the protesters. On 26 February, the Delhi High Court ordered the Delhi Police to register a police report against a number of political leaders immediately. 

Restriction on Freedom of Movement and Right to Freedom of Assembly

The space for protesting against the CAA and NRC has also been shrinking across India. Orders under Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code were imposed in many parts of Karnataka State and Uttar Pradesh State to restrict gatherings of people at protest sites and to restrict their freedom of movement. 

In Uttar Pradesh State, the police issued notices to over 3,000 people, cautioning them to neither participate nor incite others to participate in the protests. Such bans on protests have also been imposed in other parts of the country including Delhi, Mumbai, Pune, Bhubaneswar, Nagpur, and Bhopal. In in December 2019, the space for peaceful protests in Varanasi was severely restricted with police officers openly threatening the protesters. 

In addition to the criminalisation of peaceful assemblies, the freedom of assembly has also been restricted by burdening civilians with recovering the cost of damages to public property. In December 2019, after the violence broke out in Uttar Pradesh, the state government sent notices seeking to recover INR 45 millions’ (USD 628,403) worth of damage to public property. These notices were sent without any form of judicial scrutiny, raising concerns of arbitrariness and bias. Furthermore, to require assembly organisers to shoulder costs for cleaning up after a public assembly is inconsistent with Article 21 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Such costs deter those wishing to enjoy their right to freedom of assembly.

Internet Shutdowns

As people took to the streets to protest against the CAA, the Indian authorities imposed internet shutdowns across the country to “maintain law and order.” Besides shutting down internet services in 29 districts of Uttar Pradesh State and the entire Assam State, the authorities also cut internet services in districts in the states of West Bengal, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Telangana, Karnataka, Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh, and Manipur. India has become the country with the highest number of internet shutdowns in the world.

These shutdowns did not meet requirements for permissible restrictions on the right freedom of expression, as set out under international human rights law. It is unclear under what criteria decisions were made to cut off internet access or what mechanisms were available to challenge such decisions, in violation of the requirement of legality. There is no evidence to show that internet shutdowns prevent the escalation of violence during protests, which makes them in violation of the requirement of necessity. 

The UN Human Rights Council has unequivocally condemned “measures to intentionally prevent or disrupt access to or dissemination of information online in violation of international human rights law”, and has called on all states to “refrain from and cease such measures”. 

Use of Mass Surveillance 

Police in Delhi and Uttar Pradesh State have also used facial recognition technology to monitor, identify, and arrest protesters. Currently, India does not have data protection legislation, resulting in a lack of oversight and regulation of this technology. The absence of a legal framework that specifically regulates facial recognition technology renders the use of such tool susceptible to abuse.  Moreover, the use of facial recognition technology for law enforcement purposes raises concerns of indiscriminate mass surveillance, which is never a permissible interference with the rights to privacy, freedom of expression, freedom of association and peaceful assembly.

In light of this, we urge the international community, and in particularly UN Human Rights Council member states, to hold the Indian government accountable by calling on the Indian authorities to:

  1. Immediately denounce the state-sponsored and vigilante violence against peaceful protesters.
  2. Drop all charges against peaceful protesters.
  3. Ensure those detained and arrested are treated in line with international human rights law and standards. 
  4. Take necessary measures to establish a fully independent investigation into reports of excessive use of force by law enforcement agencies towards protestors and vigilante violence. The findings should be made public and the perpetrators of such acts should be prosecuted without undue delay.
  5. Ensure that elected political leaders and public officials who have incited violence and promoted hatred between communities are held accountable

See our wider advocacy priorities and programme of activities at the 43rd Session of the UN Human Rights Council

 

Sri Lanka: Concerns about missing persons and possible changes to the Constitution

Joint statement at the 43rd Session of the UN Human Rights Council
CIVICUS, IMADR, International Service on Human Rights, Franciscans International, Human Rights Watch, Forum Asia, Minority rights group international

We are deeply concerned by indicators of a significant backsliding on human rights in Sri Lanka, underscored by the government using their address to the Council this week to go back on the important commitments made by Sri Lanka through HRC resolution 30/1.

Sri Lankan authorities’ indication to revoke the 19th amendment to the Constitution would remove check and balances on the executive and seriously jeopardise the independence of the judiciary and relevant commissions. The Government is reportedly considering reviewing the Office on Missing Persons (OMP) Act. Similarly, the President’s recent callous comments about the fate of thousands of missing persons without any conclusion of investigations in line with international law have added to the distress of families of the disappeared. A Gazette on 22nd January granted powers to a Commission of Inquiry (CoI) to scrutinise investigations into emblematic cases. The COI has attempted to halt criminal proceedings against navy officers accused of the disappearance and killing of eleven youth. We echo the High Commissioner’s concern on the promotion of several military officers who are named in the OISL report for violations of international law.

Since November 2019, the Ministry of Defence has been assigned as the oversight body for NGOs, significantly increasing the risk of their surveillance. More than a dozen human rights and media organisations have received intimidating visits from law enforcement and intelligence agencies, while death threats against journalists have resumed. The climate of fear has returned to Sri Lanka, in particular among those who continue to call for truth, justice and accountability. Relentless campaigns against minorities also require immediate attention.

We urge this Council to hold Sri Lanka accountable to its obligations under international law. Given this week’s announcement that the new Government will not continue to engage with the clear framework agreed through resolution 30/1; the failure of past domestic reconciliation and accountability mechanisms; and the ongoing compromise of the rule of law as pointed out by the High Commissioner yesterday, we call on the Council to establish an international accountability mechanism on Sri Lanka.

Civic space in Sri Lanka is rated as Obstructed by the CIVICUS Monitor (see country profile page)

 

Human rights in Eritrea: Press restrictions persist

Statement at the 43rd Session of the UN Human Rights Council

CIVICUS and Eritrean partner organisations welcome the work of the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Eritrea and thank you for your update. We welcome this crucial continued scrutiny, currently the only way in which human rights in Eritrea can be examined.

The government is failing to make progress and the human rights situation in Eritrea does not show any improvement. There have been repeated reports of arrests and rights abuses since the Special Rapporteur’s latest report of June 2019. On 4 February a conscripted man was shot in Mendefera while trying to escape from illegal detention. This incident took place in the context of the country’s indefinite and non-paid military conscription policy and the government’s notorious shoot-to-kill practice.

The government continues to restrict the press. News outlets shuttered in 2001 have not resumed, and their 10 journalists remain in detention with no trial in sight. The government still operates a ban on independent press and NGOs.

These concerns are exacerbated by the continued refusal by the Eritrean government to cooperate with the Special Rapporteur. Lack of access granted and lack of political will to address the worsening human rights situation in the country makes it increasingly clear that the only available access to justice for human rights violations suffered in Eritrea is at the international level, and we urge the UN to use all available mechanisms to ensure such accountability can be secured.

Eritrea is a member of this Council and it is imperative that it upholds its human rights obligations. We urge the Eritrean government to cooperate with the Special Rapporteur and to review its policies and practices including by: ending the practice of conscripting youth into the army; unconditionally releasing political prisoners; guaranteeing fundamental rights; and allowing space for dissent views on Eritrea’s governance to be freely expressed.  

Civic space in Eritrea is rated as Closed by the CIVICUS Monitor (see country profile page)

 

Advocacy priorities at 43rd Session of UN Human Rights Council

The four-week human rights council will sit from 24 February to 20 March, and there are a number of critical human rights resolutions up for debate, and for the 47 Council members to address. CIVICUS will be conducting and presenting evidence on a variety of thematic and country-focused issues. Full overview below or jump directly to see our programme of events.

Country-specific situations

Nicaragua (Civic space rating: Repressed)

Our members on the ground have documented serious human rights violations, including attacks on fundamental freedoms and against human rights defenders and journalists. A report issued last year by the OHCHR, mandated by a resolution adopted in 2019, reflected this situation, and recommended enhanced UN monitoring and reporting. Given the lack of political will in the country to cooperate with regional and international mechanisms, and the concerning situation on the ground, CIVICUS calls on states to support a resolution on Nicaragua which calls for such enhanced reporting at the very least.

Sri Lanka (Civic space rating: Repressed)

This is a critical time for Sri Lanka, with concerns that the new administration which came to power last year could renege on its Council-mandated human rights and accountability commitments. The resolution adopted at the 30th Session of the Human Rights Council and remains the only process in place which could guarantee justice for victims of human rights violations. Civic space is closing at an alarming rate – since the new administration came to power, civil society members on the ground have been threatened and intimidated, their records destroyed, and human rights defenders and journalists have been attacked. CIVICUS calls for states to encourage cooperation between the government of Sri Lanka and international human rights mechanisms, and for Council members to reaffirm their commitment to resolution 40/1, which put into place time-bound commitments to implement the accountability mechanisms in resolution 30/1.

Iran (Civic space rating: Closed)

In 2019, Iran erupted into a series of protests against lack of political and democratic freedoms and the deteriorating economic situation. Protesters were met with violent repression through mass arrests and lethal force. Current geopolitical developments have entrenched the regime and exacerbated internal insecurity further. This Human Rights Council Session will discuss the renewal of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Iran. CIVICUS supports the renewal of the Special Rapporteur mandate and encourages states to raise concerns about the use of lethal force in protests.

India (Civic space rating: Repressed)

India’s civic space rating was downgraded with the last CIVICUS report. A controversial and discriminatory citizenship law has given rise to mass protests across the country, which have been subject to violent crackdowns, leading many injured and at least 25 dead. Jammu and Kashmir remain under severe repression, including through sustained internet shutdown which is reaching its sixth month. Internet was partially restored in January but restrictions remain, making the shutdown the longest recorded in a democracy. Internet shutdowns are also being used across the country in order to hinder freedom of peaceful assembly. CIVICUS encourages States to raise concerns about India, and to call for an investigation into the violent suppression of peaceful protests, and to repeal discriminatory provisions in the Citizenship Law.

Thematic mandates

The Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders

The mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders will be renewed this Session. This is a crucial mandate which has an impact of all CIVICUS’s areas of focus, and we encourage states to eco-sponsor the resolution at an early stage. The Special Rapporteur will present his annual report on HRDs in conflict and post-conflict situations, and reports on his country visits to Colombia and Mongolia. CIVICUS encourages states to affirm their co-sponsorship of the resolution early in the Session.

Freedom of Expression

The mandate for the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression is set to be renewed this Session, at a time when internet blackouts in increasingly used as a tactic to limit freedom of expression, access to information and freedom of peaceful assembly. We encourage states to co-sponsor the renewal of this important mandate at an early stage.

Freedom of Religion and Belief (FoRB)

The Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion and Belief will present his annual report, which this year focuses on the intersection of religion and belief and gender and SOGI rights, and reports on country visits to Sri Lanka and the Netherlands. CIVICUS will be engaging on Sri Lanka and on India, which have both undergone concerning developments with regards to freedom of religion.

Prevention

The Chair-Rapporteur of two intersessional seminars on the contribution that the Council can make to the prevention of human rights violations will present the report of the seminars.

CIVICUS will be highlighting the connection between civic space and prevention – that closures in civic space are often precursors to wider human rights crises, and that by intervening at the civic space level, the Council has a role to play in ensuring that such human rights violations are prevented.


CIVICUS and members’ events at the 43rd Session of the UN Human Rights Council (events will be livestreamed @CIVICUS Facebook page):

27 February (11:00 CET, Room VII), a side event will discuss the current critical situation in Nicaragua, and the importance of an enhanced monitoring mandate.

2 March (14:00 CET, Room VII), CIVICUS and partners are organising an event on the constitutional and civic space crisis in India. 

5 March (13:00 CET, Room VII), CIVICUS is co-sponsoring an event led by ICNL and the Civic Space Initiative consortium partners on countering terrorism financing while preserving civic space ----canceled due to the coronavirus

12 March (12:30 CET, Room XXI), CIVICUS is co-sponsoring a side event on the use of lethal force in protests in Iran and Iraq, and responses from the international community---canceled due to the coronavirus

Current council members:

Afghanistan; Angola; Argentina; Australia; Austria; Bahamas; Bahrain; Bangladesh; Brazil; Bulgaria; Burkina Faso; Cameroon; Chile; China; Croatia; Cuba; Czechia; Democratic Republic of the Congo; Denmark; Egypt; Eritrea; Fiji; Hungary; Iceland; India; Iraq; Italy; Japan; Mexico; Nepal; Nigeria; Pakistan; Peru; Philippines; Qatar; Rwanda; Saudi Arabia; Senegal; Slovakia; Somalia; South Africa; Spain; Togo; Tunisia; Ukraine; United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland; and Uruguay.

 

The climate emergency is a threat to human rights and human life

Statement at the 43rd Session of the UN Human Rights Council
Watch statement delivered by youth climate activist, Paloma Costa:

My name is Paloma Costa and I am from a region where the Amazon is threatened and human rights seem to mean nothing. I am the outcome of this dominant paradigm of development, an economic model that we insist that "sustains" our nations but is not sustainable at all. Where mining and large enterprises are destroying our land and our people. 

So, I want to state something today: Our lives are not for sale. Our lands are not for sale. We are facing a systemic crisis and we cannot come with market solutions to human problems. 

While we are here convened and discussing human rights, there are still people being killed, arrested and oppressed, just for being social-environmentalists, forest protectors or activists. There are still negotiations of climate change lead by deniers of science and deniers of the climate crisis. The climate emergency is a threat to human rights and human life. And we are drowning in your lack of action in order to make deep structural changes in our society. 

And we have the solutions! We can defeat local struggles if it becomes a global fight! What more do we need to see to start turning all those resolutions and recommendations available into commitments and policies? To adopt mechanisms where people have responsibility for their actions and recommendations given really guide the parties, in an inclusive, deliberative and binding way?

That’s why I stand here, to amplify those unheard voices of young people whose human rights are being violated, especially in the global south. But what I really wanted to see is all of these voices here with me, because we are the conscience in the work you do, and we are ready to be part of the solution and take climate action NOW! We just need to be heard and that our calls turn into concrete action. So I still have hope. Because, your pencils have both the power to heal or to kill. So what will you choose?

We all have a dream of a beautiful world, and we should honour that dream by doing the necessary work to make it happen. I want to be a co-creator of the world I dream of. The indigenous united themselves in Raoni’s land to protect their territories and as Célia Xakriabá, said: the limits of these lands are in our conscience. So, are you conscious to unite and protect our planet? 

 

South Sudan: UN must extend mandate of reporting mission

To: Permanent Representatives of Member and Observer States of the United Nations Human Rights Council
Re: The UN Human Rights Council should extend the mandate of the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan

Excellencies,

We, the undersigned national, regional, and international non-governmental organisations, write to call on your delegation to actively support the extension of the mandate of the United Nations (UN) Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan (“the CoHR”) during the upco- ming 43rd session of the UN Human Rights Council (“the Council” or “the HRC”), which will take place from 24 February-20 March 2020.

The Revitalised Peace Agreement for Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan (R- ARCSS), which was signed on 12 September 2018, has offered hope to the South Sudanese people. The Agreement remains the most promising basis to improve human rights and build sustainable peace in the country as it addresses key issues (governance reform, ceasefire and security arrange- ments, humanitarian assistance, resource management, and transitional justice, including accounta- bility) in a comprehensive manner.

However, in the last 17 months, fighting has continued in parts of the country, particularly in Yei River State, and significant humanitarian and human rights issues have remained unaddressed. Ac- cording to the World Food Programme, more than 5.5 million South Sudanese could go hungry by early 2020.1 Millions remain internally displaced. Former warring parties largely remain operational on the ground, as the process of cantonment remains limited and lags behind the deadlines set out in the R-ARCSS.

Despite repeated pledges by South Sudan’s Council of Ministers to approve the establishment of the Hybrid Court for South Sudan as per Chapter V of the R-ARCSS, the Government is yet to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the African Union (AU) and to enact legislation to operationalise the Court. The MoU can be signed immediately, prior to the effective establishment and operationalisation of a Revitalised Transitional Government of National Unity (RTGoNU, here- after National Unity Government).

In its last report to the Council, in March 2019,2 the CoHR concluded that despite the signing of the R-ARCSS, violations, including rape and sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV), continue to occur, which may amount to crimes under international law, including war crimes and crimes ag- ainst humanity. Additionally, widespread impunity for these and other crimes, and lack of support and a full range of reproductive health services for survivors, remain prevalent. In the address it delivered to the Council during the latter’s 42nd session (September 2019), the CoHR highlighted a number of key issues that might “sabotage progress towards implementation of the Agreement,” elements that might “destabilise the peace process,” and a complex reality marked by inter-commu- nal violence and risk factors of further violence. The Commission reported ongoing high levels of SGBV and enforced disappearances and lamented the continued impunity enjoyed by perpetrators of grave violations of international humanitarian law and violations and abuses of human rights.

The latter is supported by findings in a report published by Amnesty International in October 2019.3 The report documents the failure of the South Sudanese Government to investigate and prosecute suspects of such crimes since the start of the conflict in December 2013.

Indeed, the parties have done very little to address these and other systemic human rights issues identified by the CoHR and other actors, including the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), and human rights NGOs. In March 2019, during the Council’s 40th session, the South Sudanese Government dismissed findings of ongoing rape, including gang rape, committed in Bentiu and other areas of the country.

In November 2019, after weeks of uncertainty and a first six-month extension of the deadline, Pre- sident Salva Kiir and Dr. Riek Machar agreed to a 100-day extension of the deadline to form a National Unity Government. The extended deadline has been set for 22 February 2020, i.e., two days prior to the opening of the Council’s 43rd session in Geneva. Yet, uncertainty remains over whether a National Unity Government will be formed and, beyond, over implementation of other milestones set out in the R-ARCSS.

Observations and investigations by some of the present letter’s signatories point to a volatile secu- rity situation, ongoing human rights abuses, and a rapidly shrinking civic space in the country. The National Security Service and military intelligence continue to carry out unlawful arrests, detentions and torture or other ill-treatment of critics and perceived dissidents. Authorities have applied moun- ting pressure over human rights defenders and other independent actors, including journalists who report on the situation. Fear and self-censorship have increased as the country approaches the Feb- ruary 2020 deadline. In September 2019, the CoHR indicated that “surveillance and securitization have created a climate of fear and heightened paranoia among civil society.”

On 10 November 2019, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) adopted a resolution on the human rights situation in South Sudan, in which it “strongly condemn[ed] all acts of violations of human rights and international humanitarian law in South Sudan, including attacks against journalists, human rights defenders, members of civil society organizations and hu- manitarian workers.”

There have been significant delays in the implementation of transitional security arrangements.5 The overall implementation of Chapter II of the R-ARCSS remains limited. Risk factors and warn- ing signs of mass atrocities, including inter-communal violence, internal displacement, conflict over land and livelihoods, and disputes over state boundaries, exist. Funds also appear to be missing for the full implementation of the R-ARCSS,6 and a range of actors, including African human rights bodies such as the ACHPR, have reiterated their calls on parties to the R-ARCSS to implement Chapter V of the Agreement, including provisions on the establishment of the Hybrid Court for South Sudan and a Commission for Truth, Reconciliation and Healing.7 These elements point to the fragility of peace in the country.

The inability of the leaders to expeditiously solve outstanding issues of the R-ARCSS puts civilians at increased risks of atrocity crimes. Numerous failed peace agreements in the past led to further violence and dire humanitarian crises.

In the lead-up to the Council’s 43rd session, three scenarios still appear to be possible. First, fighting might resume on a local or larger scale, and the violence that has not ceased in some areas of the country might increase. Throughout the country, grievances over past violence and atrocities, dis- placement, land grabbing, cattle, livelihoods, and state boundaries remain unaddressed and could trigger further violence. In this scenario, the unaddressed underlying causes of the violence and significant risk factors of further violations make it likely that grave human rights violations will be committed.

Second, the parties may further delay formation of a National Unity Government. On 17 December 2019, President Salva Kiir and Dr. Riek Machar announced that they had “agreed to form a transi- tional unity government even if they fail to resolve all their differences before a new deadline.”8 However, a government is yet to be formed and operationalised, and much uncertainty remains. A number of States, including members of the Troika,9 have expressed concern over the urgent need for the parties to work towards meeting the extended deadline and called on all sides to further demonstrate that they possess the political will to deliver peace.10 Such delays extend the status quo and could fuel more violence and rights abuses.

The third scenario is that a National Unity Government is formed by the extended deadline. This would be a welcome development but does not mean the R-ARCSS will have been fully implemen- ted – far from it – and that no setbacks could occur. Many challenges would still lie ahead, including with regard to Chapter II (transitional security arrangements) and Chapter V (transitional justice and accountability) of the Agreement. Political disagreement leading to a government collapse and parties reneging on their promises to implement the R-ARCSS will remain a possibility. The poli- tical economy of the conflict, corruption, systemic human rights violations and abuses, and impunity (especially at the command responsibility level) will remain unchanged.

Sustained regional and international engagement is vital for the full implementation of the R- ARCSS by the parties. South Sudan deserves the priority attention of the AU, the Intergovern- mental Authority on Development (IGAD) and the UN Security Council (UNSC), and we be- lieve that UN Human Rights Council action is an integral part of this engagement. The Council should extend the mandate of the CoHR for another year.

Whichever of the above scenarios prevails in the lead-up to the Council’s 43rd session and in the upcoming months, the Council should renew the CoHR’s mandate as is. Indeed:

(i) If fighting resumes, the CoHR’s investigative and reporting work will be crucial to keep the international community informed of human rights developments in the country and to further advance accountability and other components of the transitional justice agenda.

(ii) If further delays are observed in relation to the formation of a National Unity Government, the CoHR will play an essential role in monitoring the human rights situation, including human rights-related provisions and implications of the R-ARCSS, and the Commission will be an inte- gral part of regional and international efforts to push the parties to abide by the Agreement, including effective transitional justice mechanisms. The CoHR will also continue to fulfil a vital role in collecting and preserving evidence of crimes and human rights violations and abuses, as well as keeping the international community informed of the situation.

(iii) Lastly, even if a National Unity Government is formed by the extended deadline, imple- mentation of the R-ARCSS will remain fragmented and limited, and the security situation will remain fragile for the foreseeable future with risks of a return to violence, which necessitates an impartial and independent mechanism exercising an investigative mandate. Continuous work will be needed on all aspects of the R-ARCSS, including Chapters II and V. The CoHR’s man- date will continue to fulfil a vital role in collecting and preserving evidence and in keeping the international community informed of the situation, providing technical advice to the Govern- ment and other stakeholders, and assisting in the operationalisation of effective transitional jus- tice mechanisms, which are essential to build sustainable peace in South Sudan.

The country still needs a holistic transitional justice programme that includes the Hybrid Court, a Commission on Truth, Reconciliation and Healing (CTRH) and a Compensation and Repa- ration Authority (CRA). Disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration (DDR) and the esta- blishment of a vetting system in the army and security forces will also be key for human rights improvements.

As the human rights and security situation in South Sudan is not consolidated, it is premature to consider a change of approach and crucial for the Council to maintain its scrutiny and engagement. The Council should continue to dedicate its utmost attention to South Sudan and allow the CoHR the time it needs to fulfil its responsibility with regard to all aspects of its mandate: investigation, monitoring, reporting, technical assistance and capacity-building, and advice on transitional justice in all its dimensions – truth-telling, reparations, the full rehabilitation of survivors, and building guarantees of non-recurrence (including through ac- countability, legal and judicial reform, institution-building, and ultimately reconciliation).

For the Council, any way forward beyond its current approach to the promotion and protec- tion of human rights in South Sudan should rely on benchmarks and a thorough assessment not only of the situation on the ground, but of risk factors of further violations. Given the volatile situation in the country, a change of approach in Geneva would risk sending the wrong signal, and ultimately being detrimental to efforts to push the parties to fully abide by the R- ARCSS and respect and protect human rights.

Ahead of its 43rd session, we call on the Council to follow up on its meaningful action on South Sudan to date by renewing the CoHR’s mandate as currently is. Member and Observer States should support the development and adoption of a resolution that:

  • Renews the mandate of the Commission in full, to allow it to continue to conduct independent investigations into alleged human rights violations and abuses and violations of international humanitarian law, and to collect and preserve evidence of, and clarify responsibility for, alle- ged gross violations and abuses of human rights and related crimes, with a view to ending impunity and ensuring accountability, with a particular focus on sexual and gender-based crimes (the CoHR’s mandate explicitly includes documentation of evidence for SGBV), and attacks and reprisals against human rights defenders, humanitarian aid workers and other independent actors;
  • Recalls that the Government of South Sudan has the responsibility to protect its population from, among other human rights violations and abuses, genocide, war crimes, ethnic clean- sing, and crimes against humanity;
  • Urges the Government of South Sudan and opposition groups to allow and facilitate access to all locations and persons of interest to the Commission; 
  • Requests that reports and updates 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 to the UN Security Council for consideration and further action;
  • Requests that reports and updates of the Commission be transmitted to the ACHPR, in con- cordance with the 2019 Cooperation Agreement between OHCHR and the ACHPR.11 The reports should support and inform regular ACHPR briefings to the AUPSC;
  • Encourages the AU Commission to: (a) take immediate steps, including the establishment of the Hybrid Court for South Sudan, to ensure justice for serious crimes committed, as recom- mended by the AU Commission of Inquiry on South Sudan and provided for in the 2015 Peace Agreement and the 2018 Revitalised Agreement; (b) inform the public about a timeline for the establishment and operationalisation of the Court, making clear that failure by the Government to sign the MoU and adopt the Statute for the Court will result in the AU unila- terally establishing an ad hoc tribunal; and (c) guarantee the transparency of the process for establishment of the Court or an ad hoc tribunal, and ensure that South Sudanese civil society actors will be consulted throughout;
  • Urges the Government of South Sudan to adopt the Statute of the Hybrid Court for South Sudan and sign the Memorandum of Understanding to formally establish and operationalise the Hybrid Court; and
  • Urges all States to encourage further concrete action to deter and address ongoing violations of international law at the UN Security Council, and to exercise their jurisdiction over crimes under international law committed in South Sudan under the principle of universal jurisdic- tion and where the opportunity arises.

We thank you for your attention to these pressing issues. 

Sincerely,

African Centre for Democracy and Human Rights Studies (ACDHRS) 
AfricanDefenders (Pan-African Human Rights Defenders Network) 
Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS)
Center for Reproductive Rights
Central African Network of Human Rights Defenders (REDHAC)
CIVICUS
Community Empowerment for Progress Organization (CEPO) – South Sudan Crown The Woman
DefendDefenders (the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project) Dominicans for Justice and Peace
Geneva for Human Rights / Genève pour les Droits de l’Homme
Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect (GCR2P)
Human Rights Watch
International Commission of Jurists
FIDH (International Federation for Human Rights)
International Movement Against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism (IMADR) International Service for Human Rights
Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada
Legal Action Worldwide (LAW)
National Alliance for Women Lawyers – South Sudan
Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network (SAHRDN)
South Sudan Human Rights Defenders Network (SSHRDN)
World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)

 

Laos: Letter to UN Member States ahead of human rights review

Open Letter: UN member states must highlight Laos’s severely restrictive civic space environment at its upcoming UN human rights review

Your Excellency,

As you will be aware, Lao People's Democratic Republic (Lao PDR) will face its third review under the UN’s UPR mechanism on 21 January 2020.

Following its last review in 2015, the government of Lao PDR committed to reassess the policy framework and restrictions on domestic and international civil society organisations and facilitate an enabling environment for them; to fully respect and ensure freedom of expression by revising legislation; to ensure freedom of assembly in accordance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR); and to investigate individual cases such as the enforced disappearance of human rights defender Sombath Somphone.

In total, member states made 33 recommendations to the Lao government that directly relate to barriers to open civic space. Since then, the government has partially implemented just three of these recommendations.

In a submission to this UN review cycle, the Manushya Foundation, FORUM ASIA and CIVICUS outlined some of the most serious concerns facing civil society in Lao PDR. The submission found that the country’s persistent failure to uphold its commitments has resulted in continued unwarranted restrictions to civic space and acute shortcomings with respect to right to freedom to freedom expression, assembly and association, and in the protection of human rights defenders.

In Laos’s pre-UPR session, held in December 2019, independent civil society organizations highlighted that the situation for fundamental freedoms had worsened, particularly in relation to online surveillance.

We are encouraged by Laos’s renewed commitment to the sustainable development goals which it reaffirmed during its UPR pre-session. However, we remind states, and the Lao government, that civic space is central to the achievement of all of the SDGs, and without engagement of independent civil society, any improvements in SDGs are cosmetic at best.

Based on our research, the government continues to exercise pervasive control over civil society, which faces severe restrictions as a result. Extensive surveillance, reprisals and the criminalisation and enforced disappearance of human rights defenders have created an environment in which it is all but impossible to speak out.

While the right to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association are guaranteed in the Constitution of Lao PDR, an array of restrictive laws and government decrees continue to exist that serves to restrict civic freedoms and criminalise any expression perceived as critical of the government. This lack of civic space has meant many people fear speaking up about corruption or the violation of rights resulting from development projects and investments, specifically those related to land and sustainable development.

A new Decree No. 238 on Associations that came into effect in November 2017 imposes severe restrictions on civil society organisations (CSOs) and force CSOs to maintain close relations with the state, making independent human rights organisations virtually non-existent. Further, international CSOs also face challenges operating in the country.

The UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights said in March 2019 after his visit to Lao PDR that he “received countless reports from people inside the country and who have recently fled Laos about the extent to which people feel they are not able to speak freely and fear reprisal for expressing criticism of government policies”.

Given this environment, and the lack of political will demonstrated thus far by the government of Lao PDR to uphold its civil space obligations, we urge states to ensure that civic space remains a key issue raised during this third cycle of Laos’s UPR.

This means ensuring freedom of association, freedom of expression, freedom of peaceful assembly, the right to operate free from unwarranted state interference, the right to communicate and cooperate, the right to seek and secure funding, and the state’s duty to protect. At a minimum, such recommendations should include:

  • Take measures to foster a safe, respectful, enabling environment for civil society, including through removing legal and policy measures, which unwarrantedly limit the right to association.
  • Relevant laws and regulations should be revised - in particularly, Decree No. 238 on Associations and Decree No. 13 of 2010 on INGOs - to guarantee that undue restrictions on freedom of association are removed and to bring them into compliance with 22 of the ICCPR.
  • Ensure that human rights defenders are able to carry out their legitimate activities without fear or undue hindrance, obstruction or legal and administrative harassment.
  • Establish a new commission tasked with carrying out a prompt, thorough, independent, and impartial investigation aimed at determining the fate or whereabouts of human rights defender Sombath Somphone.
  • Ensure freedom of expression and media freedom by all bringing national legislation into line with international standards. In particular, Article 65 the Penal Code (propaganda against the state), the Media Act of 2008 and Decree No. 327 on Internet-Based Information Control/Management, should be reviewed to ensure that national legislation are in line with the best practices and international standards in the area of freedom of expression.
  • Extend a standing invitation to all UN Special Procedures mandate holders and prioritize official visits with the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression and the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association.

Yours sincerely,

Emilie Pradichit, Director, Manushya Foundation    
Ahmed Adam, Programme Manager, United Nations Advocacy, FORUM-ASIA
David E. Kode, Advocacy & Campaigns Lead, CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation

 

UN must condemn systematic violations of fundamental freedoms in Hong Kong

The UN’s highest official principally responsible for human rights, High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet, should publicly denounce the Hong Kong Government for its systematic violations of the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of expression, and condemn the unnecessary and disproportionate use of force by police in Hong Kong. 

The Hong Kong Police Force have systematically suppressed the right to peaceful assembly by using excessive force against individuals exercising their rights, including beating peaceful protesters and using tear gas, pepper spray, and rubber bullets. Police have increasingly denied permits for assemblies and marches and arbitrarily detained individuals for “unlawful assembly.” 

The Hong Kong and Chinese Central governments have allowed police to operate with complete impunity. No police officer has faced legal action over excessive use of force or abuse of power in connection to the violent suppression of the protests since the demonstrations broke out. In contrast, police have arrested almost 4,500 individuals in connection to the protests since June 9. There has been credible evidence of torture and ill-treatment of protestors by police in detention.

On November 19, the Office of the High Commissioner released a press briefing which stated incorrectly that the Hong Kong “authorities have by and large respected the exercise of [the] right [to peaceful assembly].” The Office of the High Commissioner failed to condemn police violence. This amounts to a denial of the extensive documentation from credible sources of violations of human rights in Hong Kong and ignores concerns raised by other UN independent experts.

According to the mandate determined by the UN General Assembly, the High Commissioner has the responsibility to “promote and protect the effective enjoyment by all of all human rights,” and to “play an active role in removing the current obstacles and in meeting the challenges to the full realization of all human rights and in preventing the continuation of human rights violations throughout the world.”

This mandate asks that the High Commissioner use her position to raise serious concerns about human rights abuses everywhere in the world. By not doing so, the Office has harmed its credibility by ignoring police brutality and the suppression of the Hong Kong people’s largely peaceful exercise of their fundamental freedoms. 

China’s Government in Beijing has increasingly signalled that it is ultimately in charge in Hong Kong. On November 16, People’s Liberation Army soldiers cleared up debris and bricks, without being invited by the Hong Kong Government to assist, as required by the Basic Law. On November 18, China’s Ambassador to the United Kingdom Liu Xiaoming said, “We [the Central Government] have enough resolution and power to end the unrest.” Holding the China-controlled Hong Kong Government accountable for its human rights abuses is a key test if the UN can resist interference in the UN human rights system by an increasingly powerful China. 

Beginning in June, millions of people in Hong Kong have publicly demonstrated against an extradition bill to Mainland China that would have undermined the separate freedoms that are enshrined in law in Hong Kong. The police have repeatedly responded to these peaceful protests with excessive force, and the protests have since morphed into a movement denouncing police violence and demanding full democratic rights for the people of Hong Kong. Police inaction in the face of attacks on protesters, journalists and bystanders at the Yuen Long MTR Station on July 21 represented a clear failure to protect the rights to life and security of persons. Journalists trying to cover the protests have faced violence, intimidation, and threats from police, including an incident in which police shot an Indonesian journalist in the face with a rubber bullet while she covered the protests, permanently blinding her in one eye. Medics and social workers providing assistance to arrestees and injured individuals have also faced police obstruction.

The political situation in Hong Kong has deteriorated since October. Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam used colonial-era emergency powers to ban face-masks at assemblies (which was later ruled unconstitutional) and police have used live ammunition to shoot three young protesters. The death of 22-year-old student Chow Tsz-lok (周梓樂) on November 8 after being injured close to a police operation sparked the most recent outbreak of violence; the campuses of Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) and Polytechnic University have been turned into battlefields. While certain protestors have used violence, including petrol bombs, bricks and arrows, the Hong Kong Police Force’s response has been severe and disproportionate. Hong Kong police must distinguish violent elements from peaceful protestors and restrict the use of force to the minimum extent necessary, in accordance with the UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials.

On June 28, four UN independent human rights experts appointed by the UN Human Rights Council sent a communication to the Chinese Government raising concern over allegations of excessive use of force by Hong Kong police on June 12 against “overwhelmingly peaceful” demonstrators. These same four experts then issued a public statement on September 12 stating, “We are seriously concerned by credible reports of repeated instances where the authorities failed to ensure a safe environment for individuals to engage in public protest free from violence or interference.” We are disappointed that this language does not appear in the Office of the High Commissioner’s November 19 press statement. 

On August 13, the High Commissioner’s spokesperson said the Office has “credible evidence” of law enforcement officials using some anti-riot measures which are “prohibited by international norms and standards” and urged the Hong Kong authorities to “act with restraint.” The failure of Hong Kong authorities to heed this call from the High Commissioner’s office should have been raised in the latest press statement. Instead, the statement lacks a sense of proportion between the violent actions of small groups of protesters and the systematic use of unnecessary and disproportionate force by police against unarmed protesters.

The High Commissioner herself called on the Hong Kong Government to immediately carry out an “effective, prompt, independent and impartial investigation” into violence during a press conference on October 5. Hong Kong has no independent mechanism to investigate excessive use of force by authorities, as the Independent Police Complaints Council (IPCC)’s expert advisers themselves re-confirmed recently. The IPCC does not have investigatory powers such as subpoenaing documents and summoning witnesses. The Human Rights Committee, which monitors the implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, raised concern over the lack of independence of the IPCC to the Hong Kong Government in 2013. 

The High Commissioner for Human Rights must call on Hong Kong authorities to take concrete steps to de-escalate tensions and reduce violence on both sides - police and protesters. As a minimum first step, Hong Kong authorities must establish an independent commission of inquiry into excessive use of police force, bringing to justice any law enforcement official responsible for unlawful use of force, as well as their superior officers. Any response to allegations of violent attacks on police must be handled through a fair judicial process. Those detained solely for exercising their rights to peaceful assembly and free expression should be unconditionally released and charges against them should be immediately dropped.

This statement is endorsed by: 

Amnesty International 
Article 19 
Australia Tibet Council
Child Rights International Network (CRIN)
Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD)
CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
Covenants Watch Taiwan
CSW (Christian Solidarity Worldwide)
Free Tibet
Geneva for Human Rights
International Campaign for Tibet 
International Movement Against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism (IMADR)
International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) 
International Tibet Network Secretariat
International Women's Rights Action Watch Asia Pacific
Safeguard Defenders
Students for a Free Tibet
Taiwan Association for Human Rights
Tibet Action Institute
Tibet Justice Center
World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)
World Uyghur Congress 

 

Civil Society calls on Fiji to address civic space concerns

On 6 November 2019, Fiji’s human rights record will be reviewed by UN member states as part of the 34th session of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR).  Civil society groups CIVICUS, the Pacific Islands Association of Non-Government Organisation (PIANGO), Fiji Women’s Rights Movement (FWRM) and Citizens’ Constitutional Forum (CCF) urge the Fiji government to use this opportunity to make commitments to improve civic freedoms in the country. We also call on the international community to use this opportunity to make recommendations to expand the democratic space in the country.

Civic space in Fiji is currently rated as ‘obstructed’ by the CIVICUS Monitor, a global tool tracking civic space, owing to the serious constraints on fundamental rights in the country. This is due to an array of restrictive laws that have been used to silence freedoms of opinion and expression as well as ongoing restrictions to the right to peaceful assembly.

During a country visit in February 2018, then-UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, said that civil society groups are facing a “narrow civic space and the suppression of dissenting voices." As documented in a joint submission to the Human Rights Council in March 2019, since Fiji’s last review in 2014, human rights defenders have continued to face harassment for undertaking their work.

Although Article 17 of the Constitution of Fiji guarantees the “right to freedom of speech, expression, thought, opinion and publication” in law, policy and practice, restrictions on the freedom of expression and media freedom persist. Sedition provisions in the Crimes Act have been used by the Fijian authorities to target the media and opposition politicians while the Public Order (Amendment) Act has also been used to harass journalists and civil society. The Media Industry Development Act (Media Act) has also created a chilling effect for media and press freedom.

The right to peaceful assembly has been arbitrarily restricted with the use of the Public Order (Amendment) Act 2014, particularly for trade unions. The Fiji Trade Union Congress were denied authorization to hold a march at least six times between 2018 and 2019, without any valid reason and often at the last minute.

Our joint submission presented a number of recommendations to the Fiji government to address these civic space concerns.

These include, among others:

  • Take measures to foster a safe, respectful and enabling environment for civil society, including by removing legal and policy measures that unwarrantedly limit the right to association.
  • Ensure freedom of expression and media freedom by bringing all national legislation into line with international standards.
  • Halt the use of sedition, contempt for scandalising the courts and judiciary, and other laws against individuals simply for peacefully exercising their right to the freedom of expression.
  • Amend the Public Order (Amendment) Act in order to guarantee fully the right to the freedom of assembly and to remove restrictions other than those provided for within the framework of international law.

Fiji’s UPR presents an opportunity for the country to make at the national level the commitments to civic space and human rights that it demonstrates at the multilateral level through its engagement with and leadership within the UN Human Rights Council and its mechanisms. We urge the government of Fiji to take this opportunity to create and maintain, in law and practice, an enabling environment for civil society, in accordance with the rights enshrined in international human rights law.

 

Maldives: Civil society groups call for better respect for civic freedoms in report to the UN

Joint statement on Maldives ahead of human rights review in 2020

Civil society groups CIVICUS and FORUM-ASIA have submitted information to the UN Human Rights Council on civic freedoms in the country ahead of its review in 2020. While welcoming the human rights improvements undertaken by the new government since it came to power, the submission highlights ongoing restrictions to freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression, and unwarranted restrictions on human rights defenders since its previous examination in 2015.

The UN Human Rights Council will review the Maldives’ human rights record at its Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in May 2020. This marks five years since its last review, when UN member states made 258 recommendations to the Maldivian government including 16 recommendations that directly relate to barriers to open civic space. They included protecting journalists, human rights defenders and other civil society actors and creating an enabling environment for them. Other recommendations include guaranteeing freedom of expression and the media and upholding freedom of assembly. As of today, the government has only partially implemented these recommendations.

The report welcomes the significant strides by the government in opening up the space for the exercise of fundamental freedoms, establishing a commission to probe unresolved disappearances and reviewing legislation restricting civic space since its last UPR examination We also welcome the proposed bill to protect whistleblowers. However, there are still implementation gaps with regard to the protection of human rights defenders and the freedom of expression.

Our organisations are alarmed by ongoing reports of harassment of and threats against human rights defenders and journalists, particularly by extremist groups, and the lack of effective action by law enforcement authorities. We also concerned by efforts to silence civil society groups as illustrated most recently by the decision to “temporarily suspend” the Maldivian Democracy Network (MDN), a leading human rights organization following accusations of blasphemy. This is a regressive move that sets a dangerous precedent for freedom of expression and association, and threatens the positive steps towards restoration of fundamental freedoms and human rights. The government must reverse its decision to suspend MDN, and create a safe and enabling environment for human rights defenders and organisations to carry out their legitimate work without fear of reprisals and harassment.

On freedom of expression, we welcome the repeal of the Anti-Defamation and Freedom of Expression Act, enacted in 2016, which was systematically used against the media, opposition activists and dissidents. However, we remain concerned about threats and attacks on government critics. In January 2019, Ibrahim Ismail, the chairman of Mandhu College and a former lawmaker, came under attack for criticising the sentencing of a woman to death by stoning for adultery.

The report also highlights the slow progress in undertaking comprehensive reforms of the laws related to the freedoms of association and peaceful assembly. The Freedom of Peaceful Assembly Act 2013 imposes undue limitations on assemblies and gives the police wide discretion in granting permission and must reviewed. We also urge any revisions to the Associations Act – which was often used by the previous government to stifle critical civil society groups – to be consistent with international human rights law and standards.

The Universal Periodic Review of the Maldives is an important opportunity for the Maldives to display its commitments toward human rights reforms. We have seen encouraging developments but much more needs to be done. In the lead up to the UPR review we call on the Maldives government to increase its efforts to fulfil the commitments made in the 2015 review and systematically consult with civil society on the implementation of UPR recommendations, including by holding periodical comprehensive consultations with a diverse range of civil society.

We also urge the international community to support both the people and the government of the Maldives in addressing the shortcomings in the protection of civic freedoms as well as work of human rights defenders in the Maldives. International scrutiny is necessary to sustain the improvement we have seen in the Maldives over the past year, and ensure any positive reforms made are not reversed.

The CIVICUS Monitor, an online platform that tracks threats to civil society in countries across the globe, rates the space for civil society in the Maldives as Obstructed 


For more information or to arrange an interview, please contact: Josef Benedict, CIVICUS Civic Space Research Officer,  
 

 

Country recommendations on civic space for Universal Periodic Review

CIVICUS makes joint UN Universal Periodic Review submissions on civil society space in Honduras, Malawi and Maldives

CIVICUS and its partners have made joint and stand-alone UN Universal Periodic Review (UPR) submissions on 3 countries in advance of the 36th UPR session (May 2020). The submissions examine the state of civil society in each country, including the promotion and protection of the rights to freedom of association, peaceful 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.

Honduras (Español) - En Honduras, CIVICUS, la Red Latinoamericana y del Caribe para la Democracia (REDLAD) y la Asociación de Organismos No Gubernamentales (ASONOG) abordan sus preocupaciones relativas a la criminalización y represión de las protestas, fenómeno de larga data que afecta particularmente a estudiantes y personas defensoras del territorio y el medio ambiente, y que se intensificó en reacción a las protestas gatilladas por los cuestionados resultados de las elecciones de noviembre de 2017. El informe también aborda el tema de los persistentemente elevados niveles de violencia que hacen de Honduras uno de los países más peligrosos del mundo para las personas defensoras de derechos humanos y periodistas, y en particular para quienes denuncian la corrupción y los impactos de megaproyectos extractivos.

Malawi - CIVICUS, Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR) and Centre for the Development of People (CEDEP)address unwarranted restrictions on civic space since Malawi’s last UPR examination. Acute implementation gaps were found regarding the rights to the freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression as well as issues relating to protection of HRDs. We remain alarmed that Malawi has failed to bring its criminal code into compliance with the principles of the International Convention of Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) regarding criminal penalties for same-sex conduct, despite promising to uphold these agreements.

Maldives - The submission by CIVICUS, the Voice of Women Maldives and FORUM-ASIA highlights that while there have been some civic space reforms undertaken by the new government that came to power in November 2018 there are still implementation gaps. There have been ongoing reports of harassment of and threats against human rights defenders, particularly by extremist groups, and there has been a lack of effective action by law enforcement agencies. There are also concerns by the slow progress in undertaking comprehensive reforms of the laws related to the freedoms of association and peaceful assembly.

See all of our UPR submissions here.

 

Reaction to human rights resolution on Cambodia

42nd Session of the UN Human Rights Council
Response to resolution on Cambodia

CIVICUS welcomes the renewal of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Cambodia in a resolution which was passed by consensus today. As the country’s human rights situation is deteriorating and space for freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association is decreasing, international scrutiny is more important than ever. 

However, the resolution was also a missed opportunity for the Human Rights Council to push for substantive change on the ground. At a time when the human rights situation in the country is regressing, a strong resolution providing for enhanced monitoring and reporting mechanisms would have shown that the Council will not accept sustained violations of fundamental freedoms. 

‘This resolution does not go far enough towards bringing to account the perpetrators of human rights violations, or to provide a remedy for victims and their families,’ said Lisa Majumdar, Advocacy Officer with CIVICUS. 

‘Cambodia’s human rights situation has deteriorated over the past four years and international action so far has been inadequate. This resolution could have an important moment to step up scrutiny of the authorities and show Cambodian human rights defenders that they are not alone.  Instead it sends a signal that the Cambodian government can continue to violate rights with impunity’, said Lisa Majumdar.

We welcome the acknowledgement in the resolution of the ‘chilling effect’ over civil society and independent voices following the murder of human rights defender and analyst Dr Kem Ley, although disappointed that the resolution did not name him, and we reiterate calls for a full, independent and transparent investigation into his death. Such a chilling affect has been compounded by repressive laws, misuse of the justice system, online and offline intimidation, and the shutdown of independent media outlets.

However, we are concerned by references in the resolution to Cambodia’s ‘efforts and progress’ in enforcing basic laws such as the criminal code and the criminal procedure code. Not only should this be a baseline standard to meet, but there are multiple cases of Cambodian courts continuing to misuse both laws in order to judicially harass and in some cases imprison human rights defenders, land activists, and opposition supporters. Cambodia’s manipulation of the justice system to serve political goals should be the subject of reform, not praise.

The Special Rapporteur on Cambodia presented her latest report to the Council earlier this week. The report detailed the regression in the country’s political situation as well as some steps it has taken towards meeting sustainable development goals and outlining recommendations. 

We call on the Cambodian government to restore full fundamental freedoms in line with the report's recommendations, and to implement recommendations from its UPR held earlier this year.

 

Reaction to human rights resolution on Sudan

42nd Session of the UN Human Rights Council
Response to resolution on Sudan

CIVICUS welcomes the resolution on Sudan passed by the Human Rights Council this afternoon. Although it did not provide the international investigation of human rights violations since 2018 that civil society had called for, it extended the mandate of the Independent Expert on Sudan and kept the country under international scrutiny at this critical time. 

We further welcome the Memorandum of Understanding signed between the UN Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights and the transitional Sudanese government, and we hope this proves a collaboration which will lead to substantive human rights gains in the country. 

‘There is still a long way to go for human rights in Sudan, and we hope that these steps by both the international community and the transitional authorities on the ground prove the first steps towards ensuring full accountability for past human rights violations, as well as creating a safe enabling environment for civil society, human rights defenders and independent media in the country,’ said Paul Mulindwa, Advocacy Officer for Africa at CIVICUS.

We reiterate calls on the transitional government of Sudan to to ensure the release of detained activists, work towards locating missing individuals from the 3 June sit-in dispersal, and refrain from using force against peaceful protesters and instead protect their right to freedom of expression, and work toward an effective and peaceful transition toward democracy. Read our earlier statement at the UN Human Rights Council here.

 

Reaction to human rights resolution on reprisals

42nd Session of the UN Human Rights Council
Response to resolution on reprisals

CIVICUS welcomes the new resolution on reprisals, passed by the Human Rights Council this afternoon, which detailed trends and patterns in reprisals and identified the increased risk for those most marginalized. 

The latest report to the Human Rights Council on reprisals – presented to the Council by the Assistant Secretary-General of the UN last week – showed that reprisals against activists continue unabated, without accountability. This undermines the strength of the entire United Nations when its member states persecute and punish those that provide evidence and testimonials of human rights abuses. 

The UN depends on information from the ground in order to fulfil its mandate of protecting human rights. Every act of reprisal, including those detailed in the latest report as well as the countless others that go unreported, is a direct challenge to this. We were particularly concerned to see 13 Human Rights Council members listed in the report as perpetrators of reprisals, and reiterate calls for a mechanism which imposes real political costs and accountability for states that engage in reprisals.

Several hostile amendments to the resolution were tabled by Russia, but were defeated by the Human Rights Council. We welcome the strong statements made by a number of states today in support of the resolution, and we call on states, and the UN bodies, to step up their efforts to both prevent and address reprisals.

Read our statement to the Human Rights Council here.

 

Reaction to human rights resolution on Burundi

42nd Session of the UN Human Rights Council
Response to resolution on Burundi

CIVICUS and members welcome the renewal of the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi. It is a crucial time for the country with elections coming up next year, and we particularly welcome the enhanced focus on rights violations in the context of the elections.

This will ensure that the country remains under international scrutiny over the election period, and will help ensure accountability and justice for human rights violations. The Burundi government has still not granted access to the Commission of Inquiry, but the renewal of the mandate has shown that obstructionism, indifference, and threats made by the Burundi government against the UN will not go rewarded.

‘This is a critical time for Burundi as the human rights situation continues to worsen. The work of the Commission of Inquiry is needed now more than ever and we welcome its ongoing work,’ said Cyriaque Nibitegeka, lawyer and human rights defender.

We applaud the 23 states that voted for the resolution for their support to human rights defenders and wider civil society in Burundi.

We reiterate calls to the Burundian government to to fully cooperate and allow access to UN Human Rights Council mechanisms, including the Commission of Inquiry, and to release detained human rights defenders as a matter of urgency. Read our statement to the Human Rights Council here.

 

Sudan: Excessive force of protests continues under transitional government

42nd Session of the UN Human Rights Council
Statement on the situation of human rights in Sudan

CIVICUS and the Sudanese Development Initiative are encouraged by the agreement reached between the Forces for Freedom and Change and the Transitional Military Council on 5 July 2019.  We applaud the African Union and Ethiopia for their role in mediating the Sudanese-led talks and the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) for its support to the process.

Consequently, there has been some improvement, albeit minimal, in the human rights situation in Sudan. There are reports of activists and human rights defenders facing intimidation, arrests and government surveillance as well as Sudanese militia continuing to use excessive force to respond to peaceful protests. 

Security personnel who used excessive force in June 2019 against peaceful protesters have not been held accountable and brought to justice. We are outraged that four school children were among five people shot dead by security forces during a peaceful protest in the Sudanese city - El-Obeid on 29 July 2019. 

Mr. President, CIVICUS welcomes the agreement reached in August 2019 which includes a commitment to conduct an investigation into the violence perpetrated against peaceful protesters in June 2019. However, for sustainable peace and stability in Sudan, it is imperative for an independent, impartial and transparent investigation be immediately conducted into violations and abuses committed in relation to peaceful protests since December 2018 to ensure justice to all victims of such violence. 

We call on the transitional government to ensure the release of detained activists, work towards locating missing individuals from the 3 June sit-in dispersal, and refrain from using force against peaceful protesters.  The transitional government should move away from Sudan’s turbulent past by  protecting  the right to freedom of expression for all persons, and work towards an effective and peaceful transition toward democracy.

We urge the Sudanese authorities and citizens to continue their commitments and spirit of dialogue in addressing all the underlying causes of the protests which has resulted in this historic revolution. 

We call on the Council to renew the mandate of the Independent Expert at this critical time, and we ask the Independent Expert on Sudan what steps the international community, including the Human Rights Council, should be taking to address the ongoing human rights violations in Sudan, and to ensure accountability for perpetrators and justice for those affected since December 2018?

 

Cambodian civil society needs international support

42nd Session of the UN Human Rights Council
Joint statement during interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on Cambodia

CIVICUS and the Cambodian Center for Human Rights welcome the Special Rapporteur’s report. We are alarmed that the situation of civic space in the country is worsening, with individuals and organisations attacked for raising human rights abuses, while Cambodians face ever-decreasing levels of freedoms of expression, association and peaceful assembly.

In July this year, authorities detained two youth activists, Kong Raya and Soung Neakpoan, who participated in a commemoration ceremony on the third anniversary of the murder of prominent political commentator Kem Ley in Phnom Penh. Other peaceful protests have been blocked or restricted. In recent weeks, two local human rights organizations – LICADHO and Samakum Teang Tnaut STT – were called in for questioning by the government after releasing a report on the human rights impact of micro-finance loans; the director of a third CSO – Transparency International Cambodia – was also called in for separate comments he made in a newspaper.

We echo the Special Rapporteur’s comments that ‘judicial institutions are themselves key to ensuring accountability in society’. Given this, we are dismayed that such institutions continue to be used by the government to silence human rights defenders and others who dissent. Such lack of justice at the national level calls for heightened international scrutiny.

The dissolution of the main opposition party in 2018 has effectively transformed the country into a one-party state and undermines democratic space. At least 150 opposition activists have been detained or otherwise judicially harassed since 2018, six in the last week alone.

As highlighted by the Special Rapporteur, Cambodia’s press freedom indices continues to fall. Independent media outlets perceived as critical towards the government were subject to a severe crackdown in 2017 and 2018 through threats and sanctions including shutdowns, and the environment for independent media remains fraught with danger. Two RFA journalists, Yeang Sothearin and Uon Chhin, face up to 16 years in prison for baseless espionage charges. Their verdict is pending.

Cambodia participated in the third cycle of the UPR process earlier this year, committing to various human rights reforms. During its review, CSOs highlighted that this should be the first step towards improving the deteriorating human rights situation. Developments on the ground since these commitments were made does not bode well for their fulfillment.

With independent media all but quashed and civic space under threat, international scrutiny is all the more urgent. At a minimum, the mandate of the special rapporteur must be renewed. But to see real change in Cambodia, the situation merits enhanced monitoring and reporting from the High Commissioner of Human Rights, to outline benchmarks the government must meet to comply with its international human rights obligations.

Cambodian civil society deserves, and needs, international support. We ask the Special Rapporteur where the international community, including the Council, can exert pressure in order to ensure a substantive improvement of civic space, and whether she sees any avenue for Cambodia’s human rights record to improve substantively, given its current political framework.

We also use this opportunity to call on the Human Rights Council to pass by consensus the resolution on Cambodia tabled during this Session.

 

 

Joint statement calling on Saudi Arabia to improve its human rights record

ARABIC

42nd Session of the UN Human Rights Council

The Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) and the Free Saudi WHRDs Coalition* praise the significant joint statement which was delivered  by Australia on behalf of a cross-regional group States expressing their concern over the persecution and intimidation of activists, including women human rights defenders, as well as in relation to reports of torture, extrajudicial killing, enforced disappearances, unfair trials, arbitrary detention and impunity. It calls on the Saudi government to end impunity, including for the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, accept visits by UN experts, end the death penalty and ratify international human rights treaties.  

During the same debate, the sister of woman human rights defender Loujain Al-Hathloul, Lina Al-Hathloul called on the UN Human Rights Council to help her hold those who tortured her sister accountable, and secure her immediate and unconditional release.  

Since March 2019, the Council has increased its scrutiny of Saudi Arabia, when Iceland delivered the first ever joint statement on the country. In June 2019, the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial and summary executions Dr. Agnes Callamard presented to the Council her investigation which found the State of Saudi Arabia responsible for the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Turkey in October 2018. The UN expert urged States to act immediately to ensure accountability for Khashoggi’s murder and guarantee non-repetition. 

“In less than a year this is the second joint statement delivered during the HRC, regarding Saudi Arabia human rights violations. Beyond its content, the statement sends a strong message to the authorities that torturing and intimidating Women Human Rights Defednders is unacceptable and can’t be whitewashed with the progressive enhancements in the country; and that impunity is no longer an option. Saudi Arabia should be reminded that the gravity of the state’s systematic actions has irreversible consequences on the victims and their families, and that accountability, justice and reparations are among its international obligations” Said Weaam Youssef, GCHR Women Human Rights Defenders Programme Manager.

GCHR as part of the Coalition of Free Saudi Women Human Rights Defenders has been advocating for the immediate and unconditional release of Saudi women’s rights activists who have been detained since mid-May 2018. Some of them have been tortured and sexually harassed; but no one was held accountable.

“Saudi Arabia, as a member of the Council, should listen to its peers and immediately and unconditionally release all the women’s rights activists, drop all charges against them and guarantee that they can continue their activism without any fear or threat of reprisals”, demanded the Coalition.

The statement has set out a list of measures that Saudi Arabia should take to demonstrate its political will to engage in good faith with the Council and improve its human rights record. They include:

  • Ending the persecution and intimidation of activists, journalists, dissents and their family members;
  • An end to impunity for torture and extrajudicial killings, including establish the truth and accountability for the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi;
  • End its use of the death penalty;
  • Accept visits by relevant UN Special Procedures;
  • Ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

Read the joint statement here and watch Lina Al-Hathloul's statement here

The States who signed on the joint statement are: Belgium, Canada, Croatia, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Monaco, Montenegro, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Peru, Slovakia, Slovenia, Sweden, The United Kingdom.

*The Free Saudi WHRDs Coalition is: Women’s March Global, the Gulf Centre for Human Rights, CIVICUS, Equality Now, MENA Women Human Rights Defenders Coalition and Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain and ISHR

 

Statement: Ethiopia's adoption of Universal Periodic Review on Human Rights

42nd Session of the UN Human Rights Council
Joint statement on Ethiopia's adoption of Universal Periodic Review on Human Rights

Mr President, CIVICUS and Association for Human Rights in Ethiopia (AHRE) welcome the government of Ethiopia’s engagement with the UPR process and particularly for accepting 131 out of 327 UPR recommendations. We also welcome the gradual reopening and operational civic space for civil society organisations (CSOs) in Ethiopia; and the Declaration of Peace and Friendship signed between Ethiopia and Eritrea in July 2018, in a continued spirit to make progress towards achieving sustainable peace in the region.

Notwithstanding some positive developments, we regret that since the UPR review in January 2019, recommendations pertaining to civic space and fundamental freedoms have not been fully implemented by the Ethiopian government. We also note with concern that institutional and legal impediments for sustained political space remain an encumbrance to the development of a vibrant civil society. Independent investigations and accountability for perpetrators of years of human rights violations, including torture and extrajudicial killings of dissidents and protesters, remain insufficient.

These restrictions have recently led to the closure of the Sidama Media Network (SMN) and the arrest and illegal detention of two of its managers and two board members in 18 July 2019. Such actions are illustrative of the government’s failure to systematically implement UPR recommendations pertaining to freedom of expression.

Mr President, we are deeply concerned by the government’s failure to adequately respond to ethnic tensions across a number of regions that recently saw the Amhara regional governor and two other government officials killed in June 26, 2019. About 820,000 people were uprooted in Gedeo district and 150,000 in the bordering West Guji zone of Oromia when the violence flared in 2018 remain displaced with deplorable human rights situations. We remain equally alarmed by ethnic violence on 18 July in the Sidama zone leading to the displacement of more than 900 people, mostly women and children.

Mr President, AHRE and CIVICUS call on the Government of Ethiopia to immediately and urgently take proactive measures to implement all UPR recommendations, particularly those pertaining to efforts to address intercommunal violence, and ensure protection of people displaced by interethnic disputes.

 

Statement: Qatar's adoption of Universal Periodic Review on Human Rights

42nd Session of the UN Human Rights Council
Joint statement on Qatar's adoption of Universal Periodic Review on Human Rights

CIVICUS and the Gulf Centre for Human Rights note that since its 2nd UPR cycle in 2014, Qatar acceded to the ICCPR and the ICESCR as a major step towards realizing human rights in the country. However, there remain critical gaps in implementation, particularly around civic space. Of the 31 recommendations related to civic space, 24 were accepted and seven were noted. However, Qatar has not implemented 13 of these recommendations, including to revise all laws which restrict freedom of assembly and association.

Mr President, civic space in Qatar remains closed. Law No. 12 of 2004 and Law No. 18 still place considerable hurdles, restrictions and fines on civil society looking to form associations or peacefully assemble. Furthermore, while revisions have been made to Qatar’s Kafala (sponsorship) system, authorities continued to place limitations on the rights of foreign workers to join unions or engage in peaceful strike action.

Human rights defenders continue to face restrictions in their work. On 28 April 2018, Dr Najeeb Al-Nuaimi, a well-known human rights lawyer who voluntarily defends prisoners of conscience in Qatar, received the latest in a series of travel bans. Few human rights defenders confidently continue their work under the constant threat of detainment. Furthermore, freedom of expression remains under threat in Qatar. On 16 April 2019, authorities arbitrarily closed the Doha Centre for Media Freedom, an organization committed to freedom of expression.

Moreover, the 2014 Cybercrimes Prevention Law places heavy penalties on journalists and researchers including fines of up to a maximum of 500,000 Riyals (approx. US$137,500) and prison sentences ranging from one to 10 years. We are therefore concerned that Qatar did not accept a number of recommendations under this UPR cycle relating to online expression, including to reform the repressive Cybercrime Law.

Mr President, in this context, civic space remains under constant threat in Qatar. We call on the government to fully adopt and implement the provisions of the ICCPR and ICESCR into national legislation as per their obligations, and take all the necessary steps to protect and promote civic space both in law and in practice in the country, by implementing all UPR recommendations related to these rights.

 

Statement: Equatorial Guinea's adoption of Universal Periodic Review on Human Rights

42nd Session of the UN Human Rights Council
Joint statement on Equatorial Guinea's adoption of Universal Periodic Review on Human Rights

Mr President, EG Justice, Centro de Estudios e Iniciativas para el Desarrollo, ONG – Cooperación y Desarrollo, and CIVICUS welcome the government of Equatorial Guinea’s engagement with the UPR process and particularly for accepting 202 of 221 UPR recommendations.

We regret that since its last examination, recommendations pertaining to safeguarding civic space and fundamental freedoms have not been implemented by the Equatorial Guinean government. Serious restrictions to freedom of peaceful assembly, association, and expression have increased. And the general situation of human rights has worsened.

We are deeply concerned by the government’s recent pronouncements that it has closed the Center for Studies and Initiatives for the Development of Equatorial Guinea (CEID) – one of the few civil society organisations raising concerns over human rights violations. Human rights defenders, activists and members of the political opposition continue to be subjected to violence, repression, intimidation, arbitrary arrests, detention and harassment. Human rights defender Alfredo Okenve was brutally assaulted by security agents in November 2018 and was arrested and his movement restricted in March 2019 after he was invited to receive an award for his human rights activities. In February 2019, activist Joaquin Elo Ayet was arbitrary arrested, tortured and detained for an extended period without charges for his campaigns against corrupt practices and human rights violations.

Freedom of expression is severely constrained as most media outlets are controlled by the state or the family of President Teodoro Obiang Nguema and the intimidation and harassment of journalists force many to self-censor. Freedom of association is restricted by onerous registration processes for civil society and the refusal of the government to recognize labour unions.

EG Justice, Centro de Estudios e Iniciativas para el Desarrollo, ONG – Cooperación y Desarrollo, and CIVICUS call on the Government of Equatorial Guinea to immediately and urgently take proactive measures to implement all UPR recommendations, particularly pertaining to removing restrictive laws and practices that undermine civic space, and to create an enabling environment for journalists and human rights defenders and activists to work without fear of reprisals.

 

Statement: Nicaragua not implementing human rights recommendations

42nd Session of the UN Human Rights Council
Joint statement on Nicaragua's adoption of Universal Periodic Review on Human Rights

Red Local and CIVICUS welcome the government of Nicaragua's engagement with the UPR process.

However, our joint UPR submission documents that since its previous review Nicaragua has not implemented any of the 26 recommendations it received relating to civic space, 17 of which concern freedom of expression and access to information. We also regret that during the current cycle, recommendations regarding the provision of access to and cooperation with regional and international human rights mechanisms, the investigation of human rights abuses perpetrated against demonstrators, and the safety and freedom of jailed journalists and HRDs were not accepted by the government.

As detailed in our submission, Nicaraguan legislation still treats slander and insult as criminal offences, and the freedom of the press continues to be limited by the manipulated allocation of official advertising, denial of access to cover government activities, tight control of the flow of information from the top of the state apparatus, and media concentration in the hands of the presidential family and their allies. Acts of explicit censorship have also been recorded.

As also documented in our submission, legislation regulating the establishment, operations and dissolution of CSOs is applied arbitrarily, with the aim of hindering and intimidating the staff of independent CSOs, which have also been affected by legal or de facto restrictions on receiving external funding and sustaining international collaboration. Land rights defenders, women’s and LGBTI rights activists, journalists and bloggers are also routinely stigmatised, harassed, criminalised, arbitrarily arrested and physically attacked.

The exercise of freedom of peaceful assembly is subjected to de facto and legal barriers, from authorisation requirements to hold demonstrations and a Sovereign Security Law that broadly defines security threats to criminalise common tactics of protest movements, to the illegal use of excessive and deadly force against demonstrators, which between April and August 2018 resulted in at least 300 people killed.

We call on the Government of Nicaragua 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.

 

Strengthen the work of UN Special Procedures that can protect human rights

42nd Session of the UN Human Rights Council
Joint Statement: 20 NGOs express support for the Coordination Committee’s process to strengthen the work of the Special Procedures

We deliver this statement on behalf of 20 NGOs. 

We note the concerns in the Declaration of the Special Procedures’ mandate holders at the Annual Meeting 2019 and share their concern about the global retrenchment against the values and obligations embedded in international human rights law and the challenges they spell out with regard to non-cooperation. 

We also express appreciation for the process set in place by the Special Procedures Coordination Committee to discuss ways in which the work can be strengthened including by seeking input from a wide range of stakeholders. This process presents the most appropriate way to ensure the effectiveness of the Special Procedures in protecting and promoting human rights, and to discuss ways to strengthen cooperation and address situations where there may be concerns regarding the actions of individual mandate holders. 

We hope that this process will also provide an opportunity to discuss issues of chronic underfunding, non-cooperation of States with the Special Procedures, acts of reprisal and intimidation against human rights defenders and ad hominem attacks against mandate holders and how to make non-cooperation including selective cooperation by states more costly. 

Amnesty International
Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)
Association for Women’s Rights in Development
Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
Center for Reproductive Rights
Child Rights Connect
CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation 
Colombian Commission of Jurists
Defence for Children International 
Geneva for Human Rights
ILGA World
International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute
International Commission of Jurists
International Movement against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism (IMADR)
International Service of Human Rights
Peace Brigades International
Sexual Rights Initiative (SRI)
Swedish Association for Sexuality Education
Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF)
World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)

 

Côte d’Ivoire: Activists being arrested and concerns ahead of 2020 elections

42nd Session of the UN Human Rights Council
Statement during Adoption of the UPR report of the Republic of Côte d’Ivoire

Mr President, CIVICUS welcomes the government of Côte d’Ivoire’s engagement with the UPR process. We also welcome improvements in the environment for CSOs and HRDs since the end of the conflict that engulfed the country from 1999 to 2011, in particular the adoption, in February 2017, of the Decree implementing the Law on the Protection of Human Rights Defenders.

However, in our joint UPR submission, we documented that, since its last review, the government of Côte d’Ivoire has not implemented most of the recommendations on civic space.

One year before the presidential elections in October 2020, there are concerns of increasing intolerance towards dissenting voices, in particular threats, attacks and arbitrary arrests of civil society activists, bloggers and trade unionists. On 23 July 2019, six members of civil society coalition ‘Les Indignés’ were arbitrarily arrested in front of the offices of the Electoral Commission. Aristide Ozoukou of the Coordination of Students of Côte d’Ivoire was arrested on 9 February 2019 after making a Facebook post in which he called for students to stay at home following a strike of teachers. Online activist Soro Tangboho was sentenced, in appeal, to a prison sentence of two years for « disturbing public order » and « incitement to xenophobia ».According to the activist, he was arrested on 8 November 2018 while livestreaming a video on Facebook of police officers racketeering car drivers.

Additionally, the right to freedom of peaceful assembly has at times been denied, particularly to the political opposition. An opposition protest, planned for 5 August 2019 in Sanguoine was banned by local authorities. In April 2018, 18 protesters were sentenced to 12 days in prison and a fine for ‘disturbance of public order’ for participating in an opposition protest, calling for a reform of the Independent Electoral Commission.

CIVICUS remains concerned about the high fee of 10 USD for citizens to obtain a National ID Card, which is required for enrolment on the electoral list. 

We call upon the government to conduct independent investigations for all violations committed against journalists, human rights defenders, trade unionists and wider civil society, including break-ins into the offices of human rights organisations, and to bring perpetrators to justice. 

Mr President, CIVICUS invites the Government of Côte d’Ivoire 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.

 

Reprisals are calculated steps by states to prevent activists from exposing human rights violations

42nd Session of the UN Human Rights Council
Statement during interactive dialogue with the Assistant Secretary General on Reprisals

We thank the Assistant Secretary General for presenting this essential report which shows that acts of reprisals are not aberrative, but rather are calculated steps taken to prevent human rights defenders from exposing human rights violations. The UN depends on information from the ground in order to fulfil its mandate of protecting human rights. Every act of reprisal, those detailed in this report and the countless others that go unreported, is a direct challenge to this.

But reprisals continue unabated, without accountability, and with a direct impact on the efficacy of the UN as a whole. We are particularly concerned to see council members listed in this report.

Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt and the Philippines, particularly, show patterns of reprisals. We remain deeply concerned by the arbitrary detention and treatment of Ms. Samar Badawi and Ms. Loujain Al-Hathloul following their engagement with CEDAW. In the Philippines, we are seriously concerned by the attacks and threats against CIVICUS member Karapatan. Last week, FIND, a Philippines group advocating for the right of families of disappeared, was smeared by a representative of the government online following a side event highlighting the situation – and this was by no means the first time that human rights defenders have been attacked within this building for engaging with the Council. We echo the report’s recommendation that states commit to addressing reprisals in practice through the universal periodic review mechanism. However, we note that a number of cases outlined in the report actually came as a direct result of engagement with the UPR process: the cases of Nguyen Thi Kim Thanh in Viet Nam; of staff members of the international non-governmental organization Chinese Human Rights Defenders; of the New Generation of Human Rights Defenders Coalition in Kazakhstan; and of Malaysian human rights defender Mr. Numan Afifi. 

The report shows reprisals at every stage of engagement, including attempts by state representatives on the Economic and Social Council to block accreditation of NGOs working on human rights. This pre-emptive weakening of civil society engagement with the UN represents yet another deliberate curtailment of civic space. 

We ask the Assistant Secretary General: what possibility does he foresee for real political costs and accountability for states that engage in reprisals, particularly those who are repeat perpetrators? 

And how can the UN and its related bodies take action to protect human rights defenders on the ground?

 

Countries of concern at the Human Rights Council

42nd Session of the UN Human Rights Council
Countries of concern

Civic space restrictions often precede wider human rights abuses. In order to prevent further repression, we would like to draw the Council’s attention to the following:

Last year, several civil society organisations raised Tanzania’s worrying decline in respect for fundamental freedoms. Now, sweeping new legislation, rushed through its parliament in June, places new punitive restrictions on CSOs in the country. As the situation deteriorates further, the time left for the Council to take preventative action is running out.

In Honduras, the government’s violent response to peaceful protests have left at least three dead, including a 17-year-old student, and many more injured. Honduras has become one of the world’s most dangerous countries for human rights defenders facing constant violence, criminalization, and slander. 

The past 40 days have seen severe restrictions to fundamental rights in Kashmir. Sweeping internet blackouts have had serious implications on freedom of expression and access to information. There have been reports of restrictions on movement and numerous ongoing arrests, including of activists, and we call on the Council to establish an independent international investigation into allegations of human rights violations.

We are concerned that elections in Kazakhstan were marred by serious restrictions to freedom of peaceful assembly and of expression. Crackdowns on protests related to the elections, and persecution of journalists, marked yet another regressive measure to silence dissent in Kazakhstan.

Finally, CIVICUS remains deeply concerned about the situation in Saudi Arabia. At the last Council Session, we joined other CSOs to call for a monitoring mechanism in Saudi Arabia. No action has been taken, women human rights defenders remain detained, the space for participation remains virtually non-existent, and investigations into the killing of Jamal Kashoggi remained shrouded in lack of transparency. It is past time for the Council to take action on Saudi Arabia and we reiterate calls on the Council to address human rights violations with the utmost urgency.

 

DRC: 500 political prisoners released under new administration but concerns persist

42nd Session of the UN Human Rights Council
Statement during Adoption of the Universal Periodic Review report of the Democratic Republic of Congo

The Ligue des Droits de la personne dans la région des Grands Lacs (LDGL) and CIVICUS welcome the government of DRC's engagement with the UPR process. We also welcome some positive initial steps with regards to civic space taken by President Félix Tshisekedi during his first nine months in office, including his commitment to release more than 500 political prisoners. 

In our joint UPR Submission, we documented that since its last review, DRC has not implemented, nor taken any concrete steps to implement, recommendations relating to civic space. We welcome the government’s acceptance of recommendations on civic space in this UPR cycle, and look forward to their implementation, although we regret that the DRC did not accept recommendations relating to engagement with Special Procedures mandate holders. 

Press freedom in DRC is seriously hampered by restrictive legislation, which contains provisions criminalizing press offenses. Journalists are subjected to threats, intimidation, physical attacks, arbitrary arrest and judicial prosecution, with almost complete impunity. TV reporter Steeve Mwanyo Iwewe was sentenced on 1 March 2019 to one year in prison – later reduced to a six- month suspended sentence - on charges of ‘insulting authorities’ while he covered a protest of local state employees.

Under the former administration, protests were systematically banned, protesters arbitrarily arrested and often met with excessive force by security personnel, leading to hundreds of deaths. Although protests are no longer systematically banned, excessive use of force, including the use of live ammunition, is still a recurrent issue. One person was killed during opposition protests in Kinshasa and Goma on 30 June 2019.

Some restrictive draft legislation should be amended or withdrawn. The draft law on the protection of HRDs contains restrictive provisions and limitations that are not in line with the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders. The draft modifying the Law on Associations would restrict civic space if approved in its current state. 

Mr President, the DRC’s UPR review provides an opportunity for the DRC to put into practice its promises. LDGL and CIVICUS call on the Government of DRC to take proactive measures to implement recommendations relating to create and maintain, in law and in practice, an enabling environment for civil society.

 

Burundi: Human rights continue to worsen ahead of 2020 elections

42nd Session of the UN Human Rights Council
Interactive Dialogue with the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi

CIVICUS and independent Burundian civil society organisations welcome the important work of the UN Commission of Inquiry on Burundi, and specifically this report which provides critical oversight of the human rights situation in the country.

As the report makes clear, the human rights situation in Burundi remains dire and continues to worsen. Sustained monitoring and reporting is vital. The civic space in Burundi is closed, with independent and critical voices, including civil society organisations and human rights defenders, particularly targeted. We remain deeply concerned that the sentencing of human rights defender Germain Rukuki was upheld by the Court of appeals in July 2019.

Burundi is scheduled to hold elections in 2020. The fragile pre-electoral context and rising political tensions are likely to give rise to further human rights violations. We are particularly alarmed by the political intolerance of the ruling party’s youth wing “Imbonerakure” of political opposition members. Offices of political opposition parties have been burned or destroyed and members of those parties arbitrarily detained.

In light of the banning of international media and unwarranted restrictions imposed on independent private media in Burundi, it is imperative that human rights violations are documented by the international community. We urge the Council to renew the Commission’s mandate to ensure continued monitoring and documentation of the human rights situation in Burundi, especially ahead of the 2020 election, as limited civic and democratic space in the country hinders independent and critical sources of information. The renewal of the Commission’s mandate would make clear that obstructionism, indifference, and threats made by the Burundi government against the UN are not rewarded.

We call on the government of Burundi to fully cooperate and allow access to UN Human Rights Council mechanisms, and we ask the Commission of Inquiry what further support they need from the Human Rights Council to continue and strengthen their work?

 

Reprisals on UN premises must be addressed urgently

ARABIC

NGOs: Alarming trend of intimidation and reprisals on UN premises must be addressed urgently
Joint Letter

On August 23, 2019, 23 NGOs wrote to the United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights (ASG), the President of the Human Rights Council (HRC), and the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, to raise concerns over an alarming pattern of intimidation and reprisals faced by members of civil society during sessions of the Human Rights Council and Treaty Bodies. 

The letter calls on the ASG to raise this issue during his speech before the HRC on September 19, 2019, and urges the OHCHR to take measures to ensure that such acts of reprisals are not repeated in the future.


To: Mr Andrew Gilmour, Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights; H.E. Mr Coly Seck, Permanent Representative of Senegal and President of the Human Rights Council; Mr Michel Forst, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders

Mr Gilmour, 

We, the undersigned organisations, write to raise deep concerns about a consistent pattern of intimidation and reprisals faced by members of civil society from around the world during sessions of the Human Rights Council (HRC) and the Treaty Bodies. We are particularly concerned by acts of intimidation perpetrated by representatives of and individuals affiliated with government parties. 

During the 41st session of the HRC, staff of Permanent Missions and individuals wearing non-diplomatic badges, who were later verified as working with UN Member and Observer States, attended our side-events, and blatantly eavesdropped on our conversations, recorded our comments, took photos and videos of the audience, and made threatening gestures and remarks. 

We are all the more concerned as this is not the first time that human rights defenders and other individuals engaging with the HRC have faced acts of harassment and intimidation. Rather, these tactics are part of a consistent and systematic pattern of behaviour that we have unfortunately come to anticipate and expect at every session of the HRC. 

Furthermore, HRDs engaging with the Treaty Bodies also face intimidation and reprisals perpetrated by representatives of and individuals affiliated with government parties. There have been multiple instances of so-called “GONGOs” – governmental non-governmental organisations – registering for confidential and closed briefings with Treaty Bodies’ members. This allows them to know exactly who among civil society is present during these briefings. There has also been cases of briefings that have been filmed without the permission of NGOs. 

What is more, governments’ support given to GONGOs means that they are often granted consultative status with the UN. On the contrary, independent NGOs continue to be denied the ECOSOC status, demonstrating that reprisals against HRDs also occur within the UN system. In addition, the proliferation of GONGOs both at the HRC and Treaty Bodies, allows them to influence the discourse about human rights in a particular state or region, thus minimising the real issues at stake. 

The aforementioned acts of harassment and intimidation are concerning not only because they create an atmosphere of fear and self-censorship, but also because numerous human rights defenders who have travelled to Geneva to participate in HRC or Treaty Body sessions have faced reprisals upon their return to their countries as a direct result of this. As such, we take these acts of intimidation very seriously and submit that they may result in further acts of retaliation.

We note with appreciation that the current president of the HRC, his Excellency Mr Coly Seck, Permanent Representative of Senegal, addressed some of the issues raised in this letter during the final meeting of the 41st session of the HRC. He expressed his concern that “civil society organisations continue to face intimidation and reprisals” and pointed out that a number of cases had been reported to him, including of verbal harassment and unauthorised photographs taken during side-events. He emphasised that “any acts of intimidation against any individual or group that attempts to cooperate with the Human Rights Council is unacceptable”, and reminded Member and Observer States of their responsibility to ensure that civil society operate in a safe space. 

In addition, in July 2019, Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organisation, working in conjunction with the University of Oxford, Tibet Justice Centre and the Economic and Social Research Council launched the report “Compromised Space for Unrepresented Peoples at the United Nations”. Based on interviews and testimonies from 77 HRDs working on behalf of minorities, indigenous communities and other unrepresented peoples, it identifies a systematic attack on the UN human rights system by certain governments. This is characterised by “blocking tactics [...] including deferring ECOSOC status decisions, and intervening in plenary statements, to more overt instances of harassment, intimidation and outright violence, which constitute state reprisals”. Such challenges are compounded for HRDs from minority, indigenous and marginalised groups.

While we acknowledge that HRC presidents, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights’ (OHCHR) reprisals team, the Treaty Bodies’ focal points for reprisals and yourself have all previously raised awareness on this issue, we strongly believe that there is a need to draw further attention to such acts of intimidation and harassment. We further note that to date, the OHCHR has not developed a systematic and practical response to the practices outlined in this letter. 

It is our contention that failure to sanction reprisals on UN premises will only embolden such acts elsewhere. Therefore, we call on you to raise this grave pattern during the presentation of the UNSG annual report on reprisals during the 42nd session of the HRC. We also call on you to urge the OHCHR to take measures to ensure that such acts of intimidation do not happen in the future. 

Yours sincerely, 

1.    Access Now 
2.    ALQST 
3.    Association for Victims of Torture in the UAE 
4.    Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain 
5.    Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy
6.    CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
7.    CCPR Centre 
8.    Committee for Justice 
9.    European Saudi Organisation for Human Rights 
10.    Global Campaign for Equal Nationality Rights
11.    MENA Rights Group 
12.    The Omani Centre for Human Rights
13.    OMCT
14.    Institute on Statelessness and Inclusion 
15.    International Campaign for Freedom in the UAE 
16.    International Centre for Justice and Human Rights 
17.    International Movement Against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism 
18.    Right Livelihood Foundation 
19.    Rights Realization Centre 
20.    Salam for Democracy and Human Rights
21.    Statelessness Network Asia Pacific 
22.    Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization
23.    World Uyghur Congress 

 

Detention and disappearance of activists is widespread

42nd Session of the UN Human Rights Council
-Statement on report of Working Group on Arbitrary Detention

CIVICUS thanks the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention for their report. We are concerned that it shows Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Qatar, Saudi Arabia - Human Rights Council member states from the Middle East – as well as Iraq, Iran, Kuwait, and the UAE, all using arbitrary detention and enforced disappearance to silence civil society and shut down dissent with impunity. 

Bahrain arbitrarily detained Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja and Nabeel Rajab on 9 April 2011 and 13 June 2016 respectively. They are among dozens of human rights defenders whom the authorities have arbitrarily detained, including Dr Abduljalil Al-Singace and Naji Fateel, both subject to mistreatment by officials. The authorities denied them medical treatment and interfered with their family visits. We are particularly alarmed by the Working Group’s reports of reprisals against those who have been subject of an urgent appeal or opinion in Bahrain. This falls far short of the standards that every state, but particularly members of the Human Rights Council, should uphold.

We condemn Egypt's arbitrary arrest of lawyer Ibrahim Metwally in 2017 en route to attend an HRC session, to present cases of enforced disappearance, and his ill-treatment. His and the cases of 12 others arbitrarily arrested in June 2019 reflect Egypt's closure of civic space.

In Iraq, we condemn the detention of journalists, protesters and civil society activists. During protests in Basra, at least seven Iraqi journalists were assaulted or detained including Reuters photographer Essam al-Sudani.

Saudi Arabia’s crackdown on women’s and other human rights defenders forms its systematic use of arbitrary detention in which thousands have been detained.

Those detained in 2018 included Aziza al-Yousef; Loujain al-Hathloul, Eman al-Nafjan and other women’s rights advocates who also campaigned to end the driving ban, as well as writers, academics and family members of WHRDs. “Charges” were only brought against them in March 2019. They remain in prison, alongside members of the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association (ACPRA); Mohammed al-Qahtani, and Abdullah al-Hamid; blogger Raif Badawi and human rights lawyer Waleed Abu al-Khair.

Iran systematically arbitrarily detains trade unionists, HRDs, minority rights activists and lawyers like Nasrin Sotoudeh and Narges Mohammadi.

Kuwait’s arbitrary arrest in July, of stateless rights activists including Abdulhakim al-Fadhli exemplifies the intersectionality of rights and how guaranteeing civil space bolsters other rights. 

The UAE’s March 2017 arbitrary arrest and enforced disappearance of HRD Ahmed Mansoor continues to tarnish the UAE, showing that its “year of tolerance” does not include human rights.

Mr. President, the report of the Working Group shows that the use of arbitrary detention – often without charge, recourse to access independent legal representation, and in poor conditions of detention – remains an active method to quell dissent across the Middle East. 

CIVICUS joins civil society in calling for full cooperation with the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, and we call on states who have instrumentalized arbitrary detention to immediately release those detained and provide justice and remedy to victims and their families. 

We ask the Working Group: what more can be done to ensure implementation of its appeals and opinions in states where arbitrary detention remains so widespread?

 

Nicaragua: Violence and repression continue

42nd Session of the UN Human Rights Council
-Interactive dialogue on the High Commissioner’s report on Nicaragua
-Joint statement from CIVICUS & RedLad

It has been more than a year since the crisis began in Nicaragua, and violence and repression continue unabated. Thousands have been arbitrarily detained and hundreds have been criminalized for exercising their right to peaceful assembly. A recent report, “The Articulation of Social Movements of Nicaragua,” identifies two new phases of political repression during 2019: harassment of activists, restriction of public freedoms and extrajudicial executions.

CIVICUS and REDLAD welcome the recent release of political prisoners. However, the Amnesty Law under which they were released establishes that no investigation will be carried out to investigate the use of lethal violence by the State to repress the protests, perpetuating impunity for those responsible for these crimes. The report of the Articulation of Social Movements of Nicaragua indicates that there are still 121 political prisoners and prisoners held by the Nicaraguan State.

Further attacks on civic space are ongoing. Repression of dissenting voices through arrest, shutting down of protests and closing of organisations represent an alarming unwillingness of the government to engage with and listen to those it governs.

Human rights violations remain widespread in rural and cross-border territories of the country.  The environment for those who live in communities under militarized police forces is particularly dire, resulting in persecution of citizens who participate in protests, sieges by the National Police, arbitrary detention, enforced disappearances, and harassment of authorities of opposition municipalities.

Like the High Commissioner, we are concerned at the lack of political will to guarantee truth, justice and reparation for the victims of repression and their families. There are no guarantees that the negotiations will be restarted, which were canceled unilaterally by the government, or that the commitments agreed between the parties will be fulfilled.

In this climate, international scrutiny on Nicaragua remains as crucial now as ever. Nicaragua is falling far short on its responsibility to ensure accountability and justice. We welcome the OHCHR’s continued monitoring and reporting on Nicaragua and call on the Council to establish an independent investigative mechanism as the first step towards accountability for crimes and redress for those affected.

 

Response to the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights global update

42nd Session of the UN Human Rights Council
-General Debate on the oral update by the High Commissioner

CIVICUS thanks the High Commissioner for your oral update, and especially the attention given to the risks faced by those exercising their rights to participation and freedom of peaceful assembly. As a movement dedicated to advancing the rights essential to civic space, CIVICUS is inspired to see people joining forces to publicly call for essential political reforms. However, across the world, from Cambodia to Kashmir to Sudan, we are witnessing states engage in tactics which discourage, undermine and punish such participation.

In Hong Kong, protests against what is seen as creeping control of China, saw hundreds of thousands take to the streets. They were met with indiscriminate violent attacks by the police and arbitrary arrest. Pro-democracy activists Joshua Wong and Agnes Chow have since been charged.

Papuan students and activists have been arbitrarily detained and charged for protesting. Protests in the Papuan region have been subjected to an internet shutdown and deployment of police and military personnel. Journalists face intimidation and harassment for reporting on the blackout while human rights lawyer Veronica Koman is being charged for speaking out against these violations.

In Zimbabwe, the government has banned public rallies in opposition to its handling of the country’s economic crisis. Worryingly, lawyers and doctors have been threatened for assisting protesters.

As your update highlighted, human rights gains are ones that empower vulnerable and discriminated communities. We are therefore deeply alarmed at the rise in xenophobic attacks and ongoing gender-based violence in South Africa and call on authorities to hold those responsible to account.

For those brave enough to speak out against oppression, there is much at stake. We remind states that every positive human rights change emanates from people coming together to demand their rights and to hold accountable those who seek to diminish them. Societies, and states, in which people can participate without fear or favour are those which progress.

We ask the High Commissioner: what role do you envisage for members of the council not only to protect and encourage those who wish to participate in decisions about their own futures, but to halt crackdowns on participation and freedom of peaceful assembly before such crackdowns spiral into wider human rights violations

 

Advocacy priorities at 42nd Session of UN Human Rights Council (September)

The forty-second Session of the UN Human Rights Council will take place from 9 to 27 September.

There are a variety of issues on the agenda this Session, both thematic and country-focused, and a number of human rights concerns that need to be addressed by the Council.

One of the priorities for CIVICUS and its members is the ongoing human rights and humanitarian crisis in Sudan. Despite a deal reached between the military and protesters in August, peaceful protesters continued to be killed on an almost daily basis. We join calls from local and international civil society for the Council to take immediate action to investigate and monitor human rights violations as a first step towards accountability and justice. The country is rated as closed on the CIVICUS monitor, representing its total lack of civic space and freedoms.

Saudi Arabi, also rated as closed, remains a serious ongoing concern as the country continues its decades-long clampdown on dissent, human rights activism and independent reporting. Women human rights defenders are still detained, and reportedly subjected to torture, for leading campaigns for women’s rights. In October 2018, Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was extra-judicially murdered. CIVICUS, along with partners, will reiterate calls on the Council to establish a monitoring mechanism investigating human rights violations in the country and call for the immediate and unconditional release of the detained Saudi women human rights defenders and activists. Saudi Arabia is a member of the Human Rights Council. Members that flagrantly abuse human rights in their own territories undermine and delegitimise the work of the Council and should be held to higher standard of scrutiny.

Cameroon, rated as ‘repressed’ in CIVICUS’s Monitor, continues to undergo a human rights crisis. In October 2016, protests in Cameroon’s two minority English-speaking regions, the North-West and South-West, triggered the country’s “Anglophone crisis.” Since then, the two regions have been embroiled in a cycle of violence and human rights violations and abuses committed by government forces and by separatist armed groups. Against this backdrop, space for civil society continues to be severely diminished, and we call on members of the Council to take constructive steps to address the situation.

The Commission of Inquiry investigating human rights violations in Burundi will present its findings on the human rights situation in the country. We join calls for the HRC to renew the mandate of the Commission of Inquiry for a further year: with human rights violations ongoing, and 2020 elections approaching, ongoing scrutiny is crucial – particularly in the context of elections. Burundi is rates as ‘closed’ in CIVICUS’s Monitor, reflecting ongoing attacks on civil society members, human rights defenders and journalists.

The Council’s spotlight will also fall on Cambodia when both the Special Rapporteur on Cambodia and the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights will deliver reports on the situation in the country. Civic space in Cambodia has been increasingly under attack – the country is rated as ‘repressed’ in CIVICUS’s monitor – and this Session will provide a crucial opportunity for the Council to strengthen its response to such attacks on fundamental freedoms, and other human rights violations. CIVICUS and our partners are calling for the Special Rapporteur’s mandate to be renewed, and for enhanced scrutiny of the country’s human rights obligations by the OHCHR.

The UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights will be reporting on the human rights crisis in Nicaragua, which the CIVICUS Monitor rates as ‘repressed’. Monitor findings show that freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly continue to be seriously curtailed by the government. Local civil society organisations have been stripped of their legal status and of their assets, and human rights defenders and journalists are harassed. Nicaragua continues to block the return of international human rights bodies to the country, including the special mechanism of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and OHCHR. CIVICUS joins local and international partners calling for continued scrutiny of Nicaragua’s human rights situation.

The Assistant Secretary General on reprisals will present a report the Council, and the resolution on reprisals will be presented for a vote to the Council members. We are calling on states to support a strong resolution which names specific examples of reprisals, including against CIVICUS members. This is a vital resolution because UN action is only possible with strong engagement from civil society on the ground, who not only provide information and analysis, but are on the front line of ensuring that human rights standards are respected by their own governments, and that violations are held to account.

A resolution on arbitrary detention will also be presented to the Council. This is a critical issue in terms of civic space: civil society members worldwide continue to face arbitrary detention as a result of their work. As well as being a serious human rights violation in its own right, this also contributes to a chilling effect on other civil society actors and human rights defenders.

CIVICUS and members’ events at the 42nd Session of the UN Human Rights Council:

Civic space as an early warning system, 16 Sep, 1-2pm, Room IV

This side event will explore the relationship between civic space crackdowns and broader human rights crises, with a view to discussing what potential early intervention from states and the Council could be taken on the basis of such attacks to elevate the Council’s preventative mandate and, ultimately, aim to stop countries spiraling into human rights crises.

The continued silencing and imprisonment of Saudi women human rights defenders, 26 Sep, 9.30-10.30am, Room XXIV

This panel will share the experiences of Saudi WHRDs and reflect on the reality they face in prison. Panelists, including Lina Al-Hathloul, the sister of detained human rights defender Loujain Al-Hathloul, will discuss the extent of the restrictions facing activists in Saudi Arabia and what further efforts can be taken internationally to ensure immediate release of WHRDs, including calling for a resolution from the UN Human Rights Council.

Current council members:

Afghanistan; Angola; Argentina; Australia; Austria; Bahamas; Bahrain; Bangladesh; Brazil; Bulgaria; Burkina Faso; Cameroon; Chile; China; Croatia; Cuba; Czechia; Democratic Republic of the Congo; Denmark; Egypt; Eritrea; Fiji; Hungary; Iceland; India; Iraq; Italy; Japan; Mexico; Nepal; Nigeria; Pakistan; Peru; Philippines; Qatar; Rwanda; Saudi Arabia; Senegal; Slovakia; Somalia; South Africa; Spain; Togo; Tunisia; Ukraine; United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland; and Uruguay.

 

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights must take action on Nicaragua

As UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet prepares to present her report on Nicaragua on September 10th, in compliance with the March 21st Human Rights Council resolution “Promotion and protection of human rights in Nicaragua” (A/HRC/40/L.8), civil society organizations and human rights defenders wish to express our concerns regarding ongoing repression, harassment, and threats against those defending democracy, justice, and human rights in Nicaragua.

For the last 16 months, Nicaragua has suffered a human rights crisis provoked by brutal repression from state forces and pro-government armed groups seeking to quell massive country-wide protests.

According to data from the Inter American Commission of Human Rights, at least 328 people died, including 29 children and adolescents, and more than 2,000 were injured as a result of this violence. Thousands more were arrested arbitrarily, and hundreds were criminalized for exercising their right to protest. The majority of these political prisoners were released under the recent Amnesty Law, which was approved unilaterally by National Assembly members from the ruling FSLN party. However, the Amnesty Law perpetuates impunity by ruling out investigation into suspected crimes committed against protestors.

Furthermore, the government continues to repress the population by imprisoning citizens and violating the due processes to which they are entitled under Nicaraguan law. As a result, some 120 political prisoners remain incarcerated as of July 28th according to the registry maintained by the Civic Alliance for Justice and Democracy.

The second attempt at dialogue between the Civic Alliance (made up of various opposition groups) and the government, which began in February this year, had achieved some formal agreements, but none of these agreements were honoured or implemented by the government. After months of impasse caused by this non- compliance, the government made a unilateral decision to terminate negotiations on July 30th.

The facts on the ground make clear that there is no will among the Nicaraguan authorities to guarantee truth, justice, and reparation for the victims of repression and their families; nor are there guarantees that the government will return to good-faith dialogues that respect the previous agreements.

Given these facts, we recommend that the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights should:

  1. Demand the immediate release of all prisoners arrested in relation to the protests beginning of April 2018 and of all those being charged for alleged common crimes in retaliation for their continued participation in civic demonstrations. Furthermore, to demand the full restoration of these released persons’ rights and liberties along with the closure of their cases, cancellation of their convictions, and reparation of their confiscated goods. 

  2. Urge the State of Nicaragua to cease the repression and persecution of young people, human rights defenders, student leaders, women, journalists, LGBTQ persons, and ex-prisoners who continue to be harassed and threatened with detention or prosecution. Furthermore, to demand respect for the rights of children and adolescents to safety and protection. 

  3. Demand that the State of Nicaragua disarm and dismantle pro-government armed groups that threaten and attack Nicaraguans. 

  4. Make use of all mechanisms within the Universal System of Human Rights to give special and urgent attention to the human rights of Nicaraguans currently seeking refuge in Costa Rica and other countries. 

  5. Demand that the State of Nicaragua respect the right to pursue human rights work, restore legal recognition to civil society organizations whose status was revoked (CENIDH, CISAS, CINCO, IEEPP, Hagamos Democracia, Popol Na, IPADE, ILLS, and Fundación del Río), and return these organizations’ confiscated property 

  6. Insistuponthereturnofconfiscatedpropertyandtherestorationofsuspendedlicensestonewsoutlets 100% Noticias, Confidencial, and Esta Noche and insist that these outlets be allowed to carry out their work without any obstacles or retaliation. 

  7. Offer the OHCHR’s good offices for ensuring the return of human rights mechanisms (IACHR, OHCHR, GIEI) to Nicaragua. In this area, the work of the GIEI (Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts), including its proposal of creating a Special Prosecutor’s Office and an Integral Plan of Reparations for the victims, was very positive. 

  8. Request that Nicaragua revokes the Amnesty Law, which is contrary to the American Convention on Human Rights; make meaningful reforms to the national judicial system; ratify the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. 

  9. Demand that the State of Nicaragua immediately implement protection for indigenous and Afro-descendant people who are being harassed and killed in different regions of the country and underline that the State must urgently protect these communities from violent attacks and land invasions. 


We also request that States’ permanent missions to the United Nations:

  1. Call upon the Nicaraguan government to return to inclusive national dialogues that will end the ongoing repression and establish concrete terms for a democratic transition. 

  2. Insist that as part of these dialogues, the State of Nicaragua take up a sincere electoral reform process that will result in legislation guaranteeing free and fair elections scheduled for November 2021. 

  3. Firmly back the demands of the Nicaraguan people for truth, justice, reparation, and guarantees of non-repetition. 

  4. Urge the State of Nicaragua to accept the recommendations resulting from the Universal Periodic Review process and to implement those recommendations classified as urgent, including the disarmament of paramilitary forces. 


Finally, we call upon the United Nations Human Rights Council to:

  1. Renew the mandate of the resolution “Promotion and protection of human rights in Nicaragua,” so that the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights can continue to monitor the human rights situation in the country.

Signed by:

NICARAGUAN ORGANIZATIONS
- Centro Nicaragüense de Derechos Humanos, CENIDH.

- Instituto para el Desarrollo y la Democracia, IPADE.

- Unión de Presos y Presas políticos de Nicaragua, UPPN.

- Centro por la Justicia y Derechos Humanos de la Costa Atlántica de Nicaragua, CEJUDHCAN.
- Fundación Violeta Barrios de Chamorro, FVBCH.

- Canal 100% Noticias

- Movimiento Autónomo de Mujeres, MAM.

- Articulación de Movimientos Sociales.

- Centro de Investigaciones de la Comunicación, CINCO.

- Centro de Información y Servicios de Asesoría en Salud, CISAS.

- Foro de Educación y Desarrollo Humano de la Iniciativa por Nicaragua.

- Iniciativa Nicaragüense de Defensoras, IN-Defensoras.

- Asociación de Educación y Comunicación “La Cuculmeca”.

- Fundación Puntos de Encuentro.

- Red de Mujeres de Matagalpa.

- Red de Mujeres Contra la Violencia.

- Colectivo de Mujeres de Matagalpa.

- Feministas Madrid por Nicaragua.

- Asociación Colectivo de Mujeres 8 de Marzo.

- Movimiento de Jóvenes Feministas Las Malcriadas.

- Articulación Feminista de Nicaragua.

- Movimiento Feminista de Nicaragua.
- Programa Feminista La Corriente.

- Mujeral en Acción.

- Grupo Lésbico Feminista Artemisa.

- Fundación Coordinadora de ONG’s que trabajan por los derechos de la Niñez, CODENI.
- SOS Nicaragua UK.

- Morada Feminista Nicaragua UK.

- SOS Nicaragua
- Sverige.

- Resistencia Civil Nicaraguense.

- Proyecto Lechuza.

- Popol Na.

- Movimiento por Nicaragua.

- Anides.

- Campaña 28 de septiembre por la Despenalización del Aborto
- Punto focal Nicaragua.

LATIN AMERICAN ORGANIZATIONS

- Comité de América Latina y el Caribe para la Defensa de los Derechos Humanos de las Mujeres.

- Iniciativa Mesoamericana de Mujeres Defensoras de Derechos Humanos, IM
- Defensoras.

- Fundación Para el Debido Proceso, DPLF.

- Unidad de Protección a Defensoras y Defensores de Derechos Humanos
- Guatemala, UDEFEGUA.
- Fondo de Acción Urgente
- América Latina y el Caribe.
- Red Latinoamericana y del Caribe por la Democracia, REDLAD.

INTERNATIONAL ORGANIZATIONS

- Institute about Race, Equality and Human Rights, Race&Equality.
- International Service for Human Rights, ISHR.

- International Network of Human Rights, RIDH.

- Just Associates, JASS.
- Freedom House.

- CIVICUS.

- Asociation France-Nicaragua.

 

Country recommendations on civic space for Universal Periodic Review on Human Rights

All UN member states have their human rights records reviewed every 4.5 years. CIVICUS makes four joint and stand-alone UN Universal Periodic Review submissions on civil society space in Armenia, Laos, Kenya and Kuwait, which are up for review in January 2020.

The submissions examine the state of civil society in each country, including the promotion and protection of the rights to freedom of association, peaceful 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.

Armenia – CIVICUS highlights unwarranted restrictions on freedom of peaceful assembly and the use of violence, intimidation and harassment to disperse peaceful protests particularly in 2018 and 2016. We express concerns over the targeting of human rights defenders particularly those working on environmental and LGBTI rights. We highlight concerns over restrictions on freedom of expression and the targeting of journalists who covered protests.   

Kenya -   In this submission, ARTICLE 19 Eastern Africa, CIVICUS, the Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC) and the National Coalition of Human Rights Defenders–Kenya (NCHRD-K), express deep concern over the government’s continued unjustified restriction of peaceful protests, as seen in the unlawful interpretation of existing laws by security agents to restrict the right to peaceful assembly and the increasingly worrying trend of security agents violently disrupting peaceful protests. We further examine undue limitations on the freedom of expression, as highlighted by the high number of incidences of harassment, attacks and extrajudicial killings of journalists as well as clauses that are inimical to the freedom of expression in new legislation such as the Computer Misuse and Cybercrimes Act 2018.  

Kuwait - Since its 2nd Universal Periodic Review, ISHR, Gulf Centre, MENA Rights Group and CIVICUS found that Kuwait did not implement any of the 13 recommendations related to civic space. Instead, restrictive legislation such as the 1979 Public Gatherings Act, the 1970 National Security Law, the 2015 Cybercrime Law and the 2006 Press and Publications Law, continue to place undue restrictions on fundamental freedoms. Furthermore, HRDs face unwarranted restrictions, with women HRDs and activists from the stateless Bedoon minority facing heightened threats. Legal and policy limitations placed on the rights to the freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression put HRDs at a continuous risk of detention, defamation, citizenship revocation and other forms of reprisals as a direct result of their work. 

Laos – The submission by CIVICUS, the Manushya Foundation and FORUM-ASIA highlights how the Lao PDR government - which is a one-party state - dominates all aspects of political life and maintains strict controls on civic space. We examine how the extensive restrictions and surveillance of civil society and the absolute controls of the media including TV, radio and printed publications. We also highlight the ongoing failure to investigate the fate and whereabouts of human rights defender Sombath Somphone which has created a chilling effect and the continued criminalisation of government critics. Read press release

See other country reports submitted by CIVICUS and partners to the UN's Universal Periodic Review on Human Rights

 

Outcomes & reflections from the UN Human Rights Council

Joint statement at the end of the 41st Session of the UN Human Rights Council

By renewing the mandate of the Independent Expert on sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI), the Council has sent a clear message that violence and discrimination against people of diverse sexual orientations and gender identities cannot be tolerated. It reaffirmed that specific, sustained and systematic attention is needed to address these human rights violations and ensure that LGBT people can live a life of dignity. We welcome the Core Group's commitment to engage in dialogue with all States, resulting in over 50 original co-sponsors across all regions. However, we regret that some States have again attempted to prevent the Council from addressing discrimination and violence on the basis of SOGI.

This Council session also sent a clear message that Council membership comes with scrutiny by addressing the situations of Eritrea, the Philippines, China, Saudi Arabia and the Democratic Republic of Congo. This shows the potential the Council has to leverage its membership to become more effective and responsive to rights holders and victims. 

The Council did the right thing by extending its monitoring of the situation in Eritrea. The onus is on the Eritrean Government to cooperate with Council mechanisms, including the Special Rapporteur, in line with its membership obligations. 

We welcome the first Council resolution on the Philippines as an important first step towards justice and accountability. We urge the Council to closely follow this situation and be ready to follow up with additional action, if the situation does not improve or deteriorates further. We deeply regret that such a resolution was necessary, due to the continuation of serious violations and repeated refusal of the Philippines – despite its membership of the Council– to cooperate with existing mechanisms. 

We deplore that the Philippines and Eritrea sought to use their seats in this Council to seek to shield themselves from scrutiny, and those States who stood with the authorities and perpetrators who continue to commit grave violations with impunity, rather than with the victims.

We welcome the written statement by 22 States on China expressing collective concern over widespread surveillance, restrictions to freedoms of religion and movement, and large-scale arbitrary detention of Uyghurs and other minorities in Xinjiang. We consider it as a first step towards sustained Council attention and in the absence of progress look to those governments that have signed this letter to follow up at the September session with a resolution calling for China to allow access to the region to independent human rights experts and to end country-wide the arbitrary detention of individuals based on their religious beliefs or political opinions.

We welcome the progress made in resolutions on the rights of women and girls: violence against women and girls in the world of work, on discrimination against women and girls and on the consequences of child, early and forced marriage. We particularly welcome the renewal of the mandate of the Working Group on Discrimination Against Women and Girls under its new name and mandate to focus on the intersections of gender and age and their impact on girls. The Council showed that it was willing to stand up to the global backlash against the rights of women and girls by ensuring that these resolutions reflect the current international legal framework and resisted cultural relativism, despite several amendments put forward to try and weaken the strong content of these resolutions. 

However, in the text on the contribution of development to the enjoyment of all human rights, long standing consensus language from the Vienna Declaration for Programme of Action (VDPA) recognising that, at the same time, “the lack of development may not be invoked to justify the abridgement of internationally recognized human rights” has again been deliberately excluded, disturbing the careful balance established and maintained for several decades on this issue. 

We welcome the continuous engagement of the Council in addressing the threat posed by climate change to human rights, through its annual resolution and the panel discussion on women’s rights and climate change at this session. We call on the Council to continue to strengthen its work on this issue, given its increasing urgency for the protection of all human rights.

The Council has missed an opportunity on Sudan where it could have supported regional efforts and ensured that human rights are not sidelined in the process. We now look to African leadership to ensure that human rights are upheld in the transition. The Council should stand ready to act, including through setting up a full-fledged inquiry into all instances of violence against peaceful protesters and civilians across the country. 

During the interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial and summary executions, States heard loud and clear that the time to hold Saudi Arabia accountable is now for the extrajudicial killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. We recall that women human rights defenders continue to be arbitrarily detained despite the calls by 36 States at the March session. We urge States to adopt a resolution at the September session to establish a monitoring mechanism over the human rights situation in the country. 

We welcome the landmark report of the High Commissioner on the situation for human rights in Venezuela; in response to the grave findings in the report and the absence of any fundamental improvement of the situation in the meantime, we urge the Council to adopt a Commission of Inquiry or similar mechanism in September, to reinforce the ongoing efforts of the High Commissioner and other actors to address the situation.

We welcome the renewal of the mandate on freedom of peaceful assembly and association. This mandate is at the core of our work as civil society and we trust that the mandate will continue to protect and promote these fundamental freedoms towards a more open civic space.

We welcome the renewal of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Belarus. We acknowledge some positive signs of re-engagement in dialogue by Belarus, and an attempted negotiation process with the EU on a potential Item 10 resolution. However, in the absence of systemic human rights reforms in Belarus, the mandate and resolution process remains an essential tool for Belarusian civil society. In addition, there are fears of a spike in violations around upcoming elections and we are pleased that the resolution highlights the need for Belarus to provide safeguards against such an increase.

We welcome the renewal of the quarterly reporting process on the human rights situation in Ukraine. However, we also urge States to think creatively about how best to use this regular mechanism on Ukraine to make better progress on the human rights situation.

The continued delay in the release of the UN database of businesses engaged with Israeli settlements established pursuant to Council resolution 31/36 in March 2016 is of deep concern.  We join others including Tunisia speaking on behalf of 65 states and Peru speaking on behalf of 26 States in calling on the High Commissioner to urgently and fully fulfil this mandate as a matter of urgency and on all States to cooperate with all Council mandates, including this one, and without political interference.

Numerous States and stakeholders highlighted the importance of the OHCHR report on Kashmir; while its release only a few days ago meant it did not receive substantive consideration at the present session, we look forward to discussing it in depth at the September session. 

Finally, we welcome the principled leadership shown by Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands, in pursuing accountability for individual victims of acts of intimidation and reprisals under General Debate Item 5, contrasting with other States which tend to make only general statements of concern. We call on States to raise all individual cases at the interactive dialogue on reprisals and intimidation in the September session. 

Signatories:

  1. International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)
  2. DefendDefenders (the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project)
  3. Global Initiative for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
  4. Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)
  5. International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
  6. International Commission of Jurists (ICJ)
  7. Center for Reproductive Rights 
  8. ARTICLE 19
  9. Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
  10. Human Rights House Foundation 
  11. CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
  12. Franciscans International 
  13. Association for Progressive Communications (APC)
  14. Amnesty International
  15. Human Rights Watch
  16. International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA) 

 

Sudan: More than 100 people were killed when paramilitary forces dispersed peaceful protests

41st Session of the UN Human Rights Council
Interactive dialogue on Sudan

CIVICUS notes the efforts that have been made by the Sudanese authorities and Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights (OHCHR) towards establishment of an OHCHR country office in Sudan in line with resolution 39/22 of the Human Rights Council.  We now urge the Sovereign Council of Sudan and OHCHR to sign the Memorandum of Understanding to operationalize the OHCHR office to provide technical advice, monitoring and public reporting with unrestricted access to all parts of the country, with a view to fulfilling Sudan’s human rights obligations and commitments.

We welcome ongoing efforts between the Sudanese authorities and civilian leaders particularly those facilitated by the African Union and Ethiopia to finalise a peace deal that will guide the political transition and lead the country to elections in three years.  The current peace deal which is due to be finalized provides for an independent national investigation into all acts of violence committed since February 2019.   However, for the transition to be effective and stable, the scope of these investigations must include all violence against peaceful protesters and restrictions placed on fundamental freedoms since the protests started in December 2018. 

In particular, the human rights violations committed by the paramilitary forces – the Rapid Response Forces and the National Intelligence and Security Forces (NISS) during the protests must be investigated by an independent, impartial, thorough inquiry. More than 100 people were killed and many more injured when paramilitary forces violently dispersed peaceful protesters when peace negotiations reached an impasse on 3 June 2019. We urge the Sudanese authorities to ensure that security forces respond to ongoing and future protests in line with the country’s international human rights obligations and address underlying causes of the protests.

All human rights defenders, representatives of civil society and citizens still in detention in connection with the protests should be released unconditionally.  We also call on the Sudanese authorities to respect the rights of citizens to access and information and restore internet connections in all parts of the country where the internet was shut down in an attempt to conceal the brutality of the crackdown by the military against protesters.
  
It is past time for the international community to take decisive action on the human rights situation in Sudan. We call on the Council to provide all necessary resources to carry out an independent, impartial inquiry into all acts of violence against protesters since December 2018, so that perpetrators can be held to account.

 

DRC: No steps taken to end impunity enjoyed by state actors for human rights violations

41st Session of the UN Human Rights Council
Interactive dialogue on the Democratic Republic of the Congo

CIVICUS welcomes some positive first steps with regards to civic space taken by President Felix Tshisekedi during his first six months in office, including his commitment to release more than 500 political prisoners. The President pledged, during his inauguration speech, to 'ensure that every citizen is guaranteed the respect of the exercise of their fundamental rights’, and that the government would have among its priorities the fight against impunity and the promotion of the press and the media to turn into a ‘real fourth estate’.

Despite these initial positive developments, no steps have been taken to end the widespread impunity enjoyed by state actors for human rights violations, including by security forces. Despite some noticeable improvements in the area of peaceful assembly, restrictions including the use of excessive use of force to disperse protesters, are at times still imposed.

One person was killed when police dispersed protesters during opposition protests in Kinsasha and Goma on 30 June 2019.  It was reported that security forces used tear gas against protesters and some of those involved in the protests were physically assulted. Although there has been a decline in media violations, press offenses are still criminalised. TV reporter Steeve Mwanyo Iwewe was sentenced on 1 March 2019 to one year in prison and the sentence was later reduced to a six-month suspended sentence, in Mbandaka, Equateur province, on charges of ‘insulting authorities’ while he covered a protest of local state employees.

We call on the Tshisekedi administration to take concrete and sustained measures to implement human rights commitments made and to ensure that the freedoms of peaceful assembly, expression and association are respected. This includes reviewing all restrictive legislation–  notably the draft Law on Associations and the draft Law on the Protection of Human Rights Defenders – to bring them in line with international human rights law.

We further urge the DRC  to take concrete measures to end widespread impunity by fully investigating all human rights violations and bringing those responsible swiftly to justice.

 

Nicaragua: Over 100 political prisoners remain detained

41st Session of the UN Human Rights Council
-Interactive dialogue on the report from the High Commissioner on Nicaragua
-Joint statement from CIVICUS & Red Local

We note that the government of Nicaragua has yet to comply with some of the agreements reached with the Civic Alliance for Justice and Democracy during negotiations earlier this year. While we welcome the release of 56 political prisoners by the Nicaraguan government, 104 political prisoners are still arbitrarily detained, and over one hundred are missing. We reiterate calls for the immediate release of those unjustly incarcerated and urge the government to take urgent steps to investigate the whereabouts of those who have been disappeared.

The government furthermore agreed to put in place a security protocol for political prisoners and those forced into exile. This has not been done. . We call for its immediate implementation to ensure the full enforcement of their rights, and the return of assets. We also call on the government to put in place measures to guarantee the safe return of those in exile.

The Nicaraguan government’s severe repression of anyone standing up for their rights has continued, reflected in the High Commissioners’ oral update. Free expression and assembly is severely restricted. Local civil society organisations have been stripped of their legal status and of their assets, and human rights defenders and journalists are harassed.

Given the grievous human rights violations, we are particularly concerned that the Amnesty Law recently established by the Nicaraguan government will subsume the essential truth and reparations process needed to address the severe human rights violations prevalent in the country, and hinder any opportunity for full accountability. The law on comprehensive care for victims was pushed though in a process which saw civil society and victims themselves completely side-lined.

We are further deeply concerned that the government of Nicaragua continues to block the return of international human rights bodies to the country, including the special mechanism of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and OHCHR. Such bodies shine a crucial light on human rights violations and are critical for ensuring accountability of perpetrators. Victims of human rights violations have the right to truth, justice and reparation. The government of Nicaragua should guarantee those rights and put a complete stop to their strategy of repression.

 

Renew mandate of Independent Expert on sexual orientation and gender identity

Over 1300 civil society organisations from across the globe call for the renewal of the mandate of the Independent Expert on violence and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

Around the world, millions of people face human rights violations and abuses because of their real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity (SOGI). These abuses include: killings and extrajudicial executions; torture, rape and sexual violence; enforced disappearance; forced displacement; criminalization; arbitrary detentions; blackmail and extortion; police violence and harassment; bullying; stigmatization; hate speech; denial of one’s self defined gender identity; forced medical treatment, and/or forced sterilization; repression of the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly, religion or belief; attacks and restrictions on human rights defenders; denial of services and hampered access to justice; discrimination in all spheres of life including in employment, healthcare, housing, education and cultural traditions; and other multiple and intersecting forms of violence and discrimination. These grave and widespread violations take place in conflict and non-conflict situations, are perpetrated by State and non-State actors (including the victims’ families and communities) and impact all spheres of life.

In 2016, this Human Rights Council took definitive action to systematically address these abuses, advance positive reforms and share best practices – through regular reporting, constructive dialogue and engagement – and created an Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

This Council considered the mandate an essential tool to respond to the vast body of evidence of such violence and discrimination in all world regions and followed recommendations from the UN human rights system – including the Treaty Bodies, the Human Rights Council, its Special Procedures and the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), and the findings of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and many others.

The two mandate holders have examined these issues in greater depth through reports, country visits, communications, and statements issued in the past three years. They have identified root causes and addressed violence and discrimination faced by specific groups, including lesbian, bisexual, trans and gender diverse persons.

The mandate has also welcomed progress and identified best practices from all regions of the world, including in decriminalisation, legal gender recognition, anti-discrimination laws and hate crime laws that include SOGI. All the while, continuing to engage in constructive dialogue and assist States to implement and further comply with international human rights law, as well as collaborating with UN mechanisms, agencies, funds and programs and other bodies in international and regional systems.

For persons of diverse sexual orientations and gender identities globally, this mechanism and its work have been a beacon of hope that violence and discrimination will not be ignored; and since 2016, progress has been made in many areas in all regions, including in countries that have decriminalized consensual same-sex sexual acts, legally recognized a person’s gender identity and promulgated SOGI-inclusive anti-discrimination and hate crimes laws.

Despite these positive advances, to this day, 69 countries still criminalize consensual same-sex sexual acts, seven with the death penalty. Alarmingly 3000 killings of trans and gender diverse people were reported in 72 countries in the past decade. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trans and gender diverse people everywhere face daily discrimination and violence.

A decision by Council Members to renew this mandate would send a clear message that violence and discrimination against people of diverse sexual orientations and gender identities cannot be tolerated. It would reaffirm that specific, sustained and systematic attention is needed to address these human rights violations and ensure that LGBT people can live a life of dignity.

We 1,316 civil society organisations from 174 States, around the world urge this Council to ensure we continue building a world where everyone can live free from violence and discrimination. To allow this important and unfinished work to continue we urge you to renew the mandate of the Independent Expert on violence and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

 

Statement: Eritrea's adoption of Universal Periodic Review on Human Rights

41st Session of the UN Human Rights Council

The Eritrean Movement for Democracy and Human Rights (EMDHR), Eritrea Focus, and CIVICUS welcome the government of Eritrea’s engagement with the UPR process and for its acceptance of 131 UPR recommendations. We also welcome the Declaration of Peace and Friendship signed between Eritrea and Ethiopia in July 2018, and the shared commitments to make progress towards achieving sustainable peace in the region.

But regional overtures towards peace have not translated into national policy and practices. Since Eritrea’s last review, it has failed to implement any recommendations it accepted pertaining to civic space and fundamental freedoms.

Instead, the human rights situation in the country continues to worsen, civic space continues to be severely suppressed, and serious restrictions to freedom of peaceful assembly, association, and expression prevail.

Mr President, we are deeply concerned by the closure of 20 health centres administered by Catholic churches, and the arbitrary arrest and detention of four Christian bishops based in Debre Bizen monastery and of 141 Christians in Mai Temenai district in June 2019, which followed a call by the Catholic Church for genuine dialogue on peace and reconciliation in Eritrea. Such actions illustrate the willful failure of the Eritrean government to implement UPR recommendations and improve the repressive environment for civic space and basic freedoms.

We note with concern the lack of constitutionalism in Eritrea, a situation that perpetuates human rights violations and abuses by government institutions with impunity, where activists, journalists and human rights defenders continue to be arrested and illegally detained.

Mr President, Eritrean Movement for Democracy and Human Rights, Eritrea Focus, and CIVICUS call on the Government of Eritrea to immediately and urgently take proactive measures to implement all UPR recommendations, particularly pertaining to removing restrictive laws that undermine civic space and create an enabling environment for journalists and human rights defenders to exercise their rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association. 

 

Statement: Cambodia's adoption of Universal Periodic Review on Human Rights

41st Session of the UN Human Rights Council

CIVICUS, the Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR), the Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC) and IFEX welcome the Royal Government of Cambodia's engagement with the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process.

In our joint UPR Submission, we documented that since its last review, Cambodia has failed to fully implement any of the recommendations it accepted relating to civic space and fundamental freedoms. We welcome the government’s acceptance of a number of recommendations received in this cycle to strengthen respect for freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly and to protect human rights defenders. The Royal Government of Cambodia must now take concrete steps to promptly and meaningfully implement these recommendations in order to restore civic space, which has been drastically undermined in recent years.

The legal framework currently in place contravenes Cambodia’s obligations under international human rights law. Laws and provisions are routinely misapplied to restrict freedom of association, undermine civil society, and criminalize individual’s exercise of their right to freedom of expression. We are disappointed that the government of Cambodia explicitly decided not to accept certain recommendations to amend or repeal repressive laws, including the Law on Political Parties, the Law on Associations and Non-Governmental Organizations and the Trade Union Law.

Human rights defenders, civil society activists and journalists are routinely subject to judicial harassment and legal action. While we welcome the release of human rights defenders and journalists from detention in 2018, we are concerned that many were released on bail with cases still pending against them.

Media outlets perceived as critical towards the government have been subjected to a severe crackdown in 2017 and 2018, through threats and sanctions including shutdowns, which significantly curtail citizens’ access to information. We encourage the Royal Government of Cambodia to promptly implement the recommendations it accepted related the independence of the media, and we urge the government to re-create an enabling environment for a free and pluralistic media, including by ceasing judicial harassment against journalists, and abuse of tax regulations to harass media outlets and associations (even though Cambodia decided to note the recommendation received in this regard).

Mr President, we recognize the importance of this review as a first step to address the deterioration of respect for human rights in Cambodia. We now call on the Royal Government of Cambodia to take proactive and immediate measures to restore civic space, foster a free and enabling environment for civil society, and ensure that all Cambodians can freely exercise their fundamental freedoms.

 

Statement: Mass arrests and killings of protesters in Venezuela

41st Session of the UN Human Rights Council
Interactive Dialogue on the report of the High Commissioner on Venezuela 

CIVICUS thanks the High Commissioner for her report, which shows how deeply the human rights situation has deteriorated in Venezuela.  The escalating political crisis has precipitated a significant increase in violations of civic freedoms: according to the local NGO Foro Penal, as of May 2019 there were 857 political prisoners. Many have reportedly been tortured. Reports of serious reprisals against human rights defenders and humanitarians show the increasing danger of simply carrying out legitimate work to provide humanitarian support in the midst of a crisis, or protect human rights as violations escalate.

CIVICUS is deeply concerned by mass arrests and killings of protesters during demonstrations. Since the beginning of the year, 60 protesters have reportedly been killed in the protests. Of five killed by security forces during protests calling for the resignation of Nicolas Maduro on 30 April and 1 May, three were not yet 18.

Venezuela’s indigenous communities have been among those hardest-hit by the humanitarian crisis. A siege of the Pemon indigenous community, imposed after the community attempted to help humanitarian aid enter the country, forced more than 700 hundred members of the community to leave their lands. At least 7 people were killed and 62 arbitrarily arrested during the confrontation. We call for the special protection of indigenous communities.

We are concerned by politically-motivated internet restrictions and the blockage of online content, including that of BBC and CNN International. Online censorship has affected over 20 online media outlets, severely restricting citizens’ right to information.

We welcome the agreement reached between the office of the High Commissioner and the Venezuelan Government for a team of human rights officers based in the country, and we hope this is the first step towards enhanced monitoring and reporting on the worsening human rights crisis in Venezuela, including measures to ensure accountability for perpetrators and reparations to the thousands who have fallen victim to human rights abuses.

We echo the High Commissioner’s remarks in her June statement that ‘the people of Venezuela cannot afford further deterioration of the situation. We ask the High Commissioner what immediate steps the Council and its member states can take to support those in Venezuela who are advocating for the protection of their rights and those seeking redress for the harm they have suffered?

 

Statement: Reprisals at the national level against experts who report back to the Human Rights Council

41st Session of the UN Human Rights Council

Our organisations are gravely concerned by the proliferation of reprisals against Special Procedures mandate holders and members of Expert Mechanisms and Commissions of Inquiry (COI) by States, including members of the Council, as well as threats against the Special Procedures system as a whole.

Special Procedures are the eyes and ears of the Council and ensure that this body’s work remains relevant and informed by the reality of human rights on the ground. Reprisals aim to discredit, intimidate, deter and silence these experts, and to prevent civil society from engaging with them.

We are alarmed by a pattern of reprisals and non-cooperation by Council-member, the Philippines. The government has threatened the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial killings with physical violence on numerous occasions. It has made terrorism accusations against the Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples.

Burundi and Eritrea are also engaged in patterns of reprisals, with the Special Rapporteur on Eritrea and members of the COI’s on both Burundi and Eritrea having been attacked on multiple occasions, at the Council, the GA or in the media. The Maldives has accused the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief of spreading anti-Islamic activities, resulting in death threats against him online. The Special Rapporteur on Myanmar has faced reprisals and has also experienced violent threats on social media.

We call on States to cooperate in good faith and end all reprisals against Special Procedures and those who cooperate with them. The President and States must act immediately in meetings when such reprisals occur. This Council must safeguard its Special Procedures from all efforts to undermine them through reprisals or other dangerous initiatives.

Article 19
Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development
Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales
CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative
Concelho Indigenista Missionário CIMI
Conectas Direitos Humanos
DefendDefenders
Franciscans International
Human Rights Law Centre
International Commission of Jurists
International Federation for Human Rights Leagues (FIDH)
International Humanist and Ethical Union
International Service for Human Rights
World Movement Against Torture (OMCT)

 

Statement: Afghanistan's adoption of Universal Periodic Review on Human Rights

41st Session of the UN Human Rights Council

Afghanistan Human Rights Organisation (AHRO) and CIVICUS welcome the government of Afghanistan's engagement with the UPR process. However, we regret the lack of progress by the Government in implementing the civic space recommendations during the last UPR review, including to ensure effective investigations and accountability of abuse against journalists. Abuses against human rights defenders and journalists continues with impunity. Alarmingly, state institutions have also been implicated in some abuses against media.

During 2018, Afghanistan was the deadliest country for media, with 15 journalists and other media workers killed. In the first five months of 2019, at least five Afghan journalists and media workers were killed and a number of others have been critically wounded in deliberate attacks. We are deeply worried by the recent public threat of attacks issued by the Taliban against media. We call on the Government to stand by the rights of journalists and to protect them as parties negotiate an end to the war.

We note that the Government has taken steps this year to end impunity for the murder of journalists by bringing to trial two cases – that of BBC journalist Ahmad Shah and Kabul News journalist Abdul Manan Arghand, who were both killed in 2018 by unidentified armed men. However, both trials lacked transparency and death sentences were handed to the perpetrators, which are serious human rights concerns. 

Women, victims’ groups and other CSOs have all been sidelined throughout the peace process, representing a significant threat to civic space. We call on the Government to ensure women and independent CSOs have a seat at the negotiation table and meaningfully participate in decision-making. It is the responsibility of the Afghan Government to ensure that women’s rights, victims’ rights and fundamental freedoms of Afghans are protected and respected during all stages of the peace process and in any peace deal.

Mr President, AHRO and CIVICUS call on the Government of Afghanistan to take proactive measures to address these concerns and implement these recommendations to create and maintain, in law and in practice, an enabling environment for civil society, including women’s groups and journalists.

 

Statement: Macedonia's adoption of Universal Periodic Review on Human Rights

41st Session of the UN Human Rights Council

The Balkan Civil Society Development Network (BCSDN), The Macedonian Centre for International Cooperation (MCIC) and CIVICUS welcome the government of North Macedonia's engagement with the UPR process. We also welcome improvements in legislation and practice to promote civic space, particularly the Government’s decision to end the financial inspections of the 22 civil society organisations (CSOs) critical of the previous government and the public conclusion clearing them of any wrongdoing.

The Government has revised the legal framework to safeguard freedom of expression and opinion and improved the general climate, particularly for independent journalists. We welcome changes in law, relating to the urgent reform priorities, and efforts to enhance the independence of the public broadcasting service and regulatory body. However, despite this positive trajectory, we remain concerned over the frequency of threats being made towards independent journalists. 

In light of this concern, our recent joint UPR Submission documented that since its last review, North Macedonia has only partially implemented the eight recommendations relating to freedom of expression and opinion.

We encourage the Government to amend existing legislation which undermines freedom of association. Namely, the Penal code, where legal representatives of associations and foundations are defined as public officials and carry the same responsibilities. Similarly, the recently proposed “Law on Lobbying” could subvert recent improvements by stifling civil society participation in policy dialogue.

Finally, while improvements were made in the Law on Police, there is still a need to improve the Law on Public Assemblies. Worryingly, this legislation contains burdensome obligations for organisers and requires foreign persons to receive permission before organising protests. While authorities have facilitated numerous gatherings that were peaceful, we remain dismayed at the use of disproportionate force against protesters. In June 2018, police used tear gas and shock bombs, leading to the injury of 25 people. Media coverage of the protest was also hampered by the violence.

Mr President, BCSDN and MCIC and CIVICUS call on the Government of North Macedonia 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: Chile's adoption of Universal Periodic Review on Human Rights

41st Session of the UN Human Rights Council

Pro Acceso and CIVICUS welcome the government of Chile's engagement with the UPR process. We also welcome the government's progress in relation to the legislative framework governing  freedom of association and progressive initiatives to strengthen the participation of civil society.
  
However, in our joint UPR Submission, we documented significant challenges with respect to the right to peaceful assembly both in law and in practice. In addition, the government has failed to create a safe environment for HRDs, particularly for indigenous people, who continue to face attacks and criminalisation.
 
We remain concerned by the lack of commitment of the government to amend legislation regulating peaceful protest, which contradicts the Chilean Constitution and international standards. The Supreme Decree 1,086, which came into force in 1983, regulates this right and establishes procedures that in practice functions as a system of prior authorisation. 

In practice, civil society has documented cases of excessive use of force by the police, including the use of teargas bombs, rubber bullets and hydrant trucks.  Between June 2016 and March 2019, the CIVICUS Monitor received several reports of police repression of protests, especially protests by students and members of the Mapuche community.

In addition, we are concerned by the misuse of the Anti-Terrorism Law (Law 18,314 on counter terrorism policy) against members of the Mapuche indigenous community advocating for land and environmental rights. The legislation has been used in a "total of 19 emblematic cases, involving 108 individuals, mostly related to situations of Mapuche protests.” 

Mr President,  Pro Acceso and CIVICUS call on the Government of Chile 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, including signing and ratifying the Regional Agreement on Access to Information, Public Participation and Justice in Environmental Matters in Latin America and the Caribbean known as the Escazu Agreement, whose negotiation process Chile lead since 2012, and which establishes specific obligations for the protection of environmental defenders.

 

Statement: Vietnam's adoption of Universal Periodic Review on Human Rights

41st Session of the UN Human Rights Council

Mr President, VOICE, CIVICUS and FORUM-ASIA welcome the government of Vietnam's engagement with the UPR process including its decision to accept 241 recommendations on a range of human rights issues.

We welcome the commitment of the government of Vietnam to extend cooperation with UN Special Procedures  and in the spirit of such cooperation we urge the authorities to extend an invitation to the Special Rapporteurs on the situation of human rights defenders, the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression and on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association.

We note that Vietnam accepted recommendations to guarantee  and lift  restrictions on freedom of opinion and expression. However, we regret that since the review activists have been arrested or convicted for online posts including Le Minh The, and Nguyen Ngoc Anh. We are also disappointed that the recommendations pertaining to the release of political prisoners including Tran Thi Nga and Hoang Duc Binh were not accepted by the government. According to human rights groups an estimated 264 political prisoners remain in jail. Many have been ill-treated in prison and detained thousands of kilometers from their families.

We note that Vietnam accepted recommendations to guarantee  and improve protection  of freedom of peaceful assembly. Despite these commitments, over a hundred protesters who participated in the nationwide demonstrations against bills on Special Economic Zones and Cybersecurity in June 2018 have been convicted and jailed, or are at risk of physical attacks, since the review. We remain concerned about the restrictive legal framework use to suppress the formation of independent CSOs. 

Mr President, VOICE and CIVICUS call on the Government of Vietnam 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: Countries of concern at the UN Human Rights Council

41st Session of the UN Human Rights Council
Interactive Dialogue on Countries of Concern

CIVICUS is deeply concerned by the grave situation in Sudan, and we call once again on the Council to take immediate steps to address this crisis, at the very least by establishing a fact-finding mission to monitor, verify and report on the situation to prevent further bloodshed and ensure that the perpetrators of these atrocities are held to account.

In Saudi Arabia, human rights defenders face continued unwarranted detention. A wave of further arrests in April targeted those supporting the women’s rights movement and detained activists.  Saudi Arabia is not above Human Rights Council scrutiny and we reiterate calls on the Council to establish a monitoring mechanism over human rights violations in the country and call explicitly for the immediate and unconditional release of the detained Saudi women human rights defenders.

In Guatemala, human rights defenders are being criminalized and harassed. Cases filed against Claudia Samoyoa Pineda and Jose Martinez Cabrera is illustrative of the authorities’ growing intolerance of independent dissent, including of those working on land and environmental defense. This is just one example of targeted reprisals levelled against civil society organisations and human rights defenders that have mobilised against a series of attacks on Guatemala's democratic institutional framework.

Civic space in Afghanistan remains under serious threat. Violence against human rights defenders and journalists continues with impunity and state actors also have been implicated in violations against journalists. Women, civil society and victim's groups have been excluded from the peace processes, which threatens to undermine all hard-won gains. 

Lastly, we are deeply concerned at the situation in the Philippines. Despite progress on a bill to protect human rights defenders, the situation on the ground remains dire. Dozens of activists have been killed since 2016 under the Duterte administration and the work of CSOs, media and human rights defenders have been severely undermined by smear campaigns by the government.

We call on the Council’s continued attention to, and call for urgent action on, these issues of serious concern.

 

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