Malawi: CIVICUS calls for the immediate release of activist and journalist Vitus-Gregory Gondwe

CIVICUS calls on the Malawian authorities to immediately release Vitus-Gregory Gondwe, a journalist and activist based in Malawi, for his work that exposes government corruption and urges  Malawian authorities to act against individuals involved in corruption. 


Zambia: Immediate drop-off trumped-up charges on Journalist Eric Chiyuka

CIVICUS calls on the Zambian authorities to immediately drop all the charges against journalist and activist Eric Chiyuka.


Bangladesh: Stop Reprisals Against Victims, Activists

Bangladesh authorities have responded to US Treasury Department sanctions on the notoriously abusive Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) by retaliating against victims’ relatives, human rights defenders and their families, and human rights organizations, twelve organizations said today.

The US imposed the sanctions on the paramilitary unit and several of its current and former officials on December 10, 2021 in response to credible and widespread allegations of serious human rights abuses including extrajudicial killings, torture, and enforced disappearances.

Since the sanctions, credible sources have confirmed that the RAB and National Security Intelligence (NSI) have been making threatening phone calls to victims and human rights defenders, summoning them to their local offices, and visiting their workplaces and homes in the middle of the night.

In one case, the RAB and intelligence agency harassed a relative of a human rights defender from mid-February to early March 2022, accusing them of involvement in “anti-state activities” for supporting families of victims of enforced disappearances. Another human rights defender said that RAB officers visited their home at midnight while their children were asleep to interrogate them about the sources of funding for their work with families of victims of enforced disappearance. RAB officers then visited this activist’s workplace, threatening them by saying that “hiding information will invite more troubles to yourself.”

The government has also targeted human rights organizations. A leaked government circular apparently signed by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and Cabinet Secretary Khandker Anwarul Islam on January 25 appears to show that the Finance Ministry and the Prime Minister’s Office were tasked in response to the sanctions with monitoring foreign funding to several human rights organizations.

The government uses draconian laws and the courts to harass human rights defenders for their work. On February 18, Zohurul Haque, a journalist and Patkelghata Press Club president, was arrested under the abusive Digital Security Act (DSA) for allegedly posting statements critical of the government and police on Facebook. On February 27, the Dhaka Cyber Tribunal framed charges against a cartoonist, Ahmed Kabir Kishore, and a journalist living in exile, Tasneem Khalil, in a case filed under the DSA for allegedly spreading rumors and partaking in anti-government activities.

Adilur Rahman Khan and ASM Nasiruddin Elan, leaders of Bangladeshi human rights organization Odhikar, are facing trial based on trumped up charges at the Cyber Tribunal of Dhaka. In February, the UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Mary Lawlor, expressed her concerns over this case, citing the court’s failure to uphold fair trial guarantees and its lack of transparency.

Odhikar’s application for renewal with the Non-Governmental Organization Affairs Bureau had remained pending since 2014, severely inhibiting its ability to conduct human rights monitoring and reporting. But after years of inaction, in early February, soon after the sanctions were passed, the agency sent Odhikar a letter requesting specific information and documents, including the names and addresses of everyone killed extrajudicially and disappeared between 2009 and 2021.

On March 14, UN human rights experts expressed their concern that reprisals against human rights defenders could discourage and deter human rights work. They said in a statement that Bangladesh should “immediately cease reprisals against human rights defenders and relatives of forcibly disappeared persons for their activism and co-operation with international human rights bodies and UN mechanisms.” Human rights organizations have also urged Bangladesh to respond to the UN’s concerns and for the UN to ban anyone who has served with RAB from deployment in peacekeeping operations.

Bangladesh should immediately cease harassment and reprisals against victims of human rights violations, human rights defenders, and their families, the groups said. Instead, the government should focus its efforts on ensuring full accountability for the serious human rights abuses that persist in the country.

The groups are:

Amnesty International

Anti-Death Penalty Asia Network

Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances

Asia Forum for Human Rights and Development


Asian Network for Free Elections

Capital Punishment Justice Project

CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation

Eleos Justice

Human Rights Watch

International Federation for Human Rights

(FIDH, within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders)

Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights

World Organisation Against Torture

(OMCT, within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders)


Slovenia: New research on the state of civic freedoms ahead of elections


New research on the state of civic freedoms ahead of Slovenia's parliamentary elections - journalists & civil society facing restrictions

  • The ruling SDS party has interfered & undermined the work of the Slovenian Press Agency and the largest public broadcaster, RTVSLO
  • Budget cuts have targeted organisations and media critical of the Prime Minister’ Janez Janša’s government
  • COVID-19 used as a pretext to restrict protest rights & the work of civil society

Global civil society alliance CIVICUS and the European Civic Forum are concerned about the ongoing decline of civic freedoms in Slovenia under Prime Minister Janez Janša’s government.  

Ahead of Parliamentary elections on 24 April, the government has stepped up its political interference in the public broadcaster, while anti-government protesters and independent journalists continue to  be harassed.

Our latest research brief released today highlights how in the last two years under Janez Janša’s government, civic freedoms are deteriorating. In December 2020 the CIVICUS Monitor downgraded the country’s civic space rating from ‘open’ to ‘narrowed’ signalling the  decline. In June 2021 the country was also placed on the rights index's periodic Watchlist, a roundup of countries where a rapid decline in civic freedoms has occurred. The fundamental civic and democratic rights of freedom of peaceful assembly, expression, and association are under attack ahead of the elections.

Since Janša came to power in March 2020, Slovenians have staged weekly, spontaneous cycling anti-government protests. The government has responded by intimidating protesters, with the State Prosecutors Office bringing cases against so-called organisers of unannounced or unregistered protests to recover the costs of police intervention. Jaša Jenull, a prominent protester at the anti-government protests is facing fines amounting to over 40,000 Euros.

“These repressive practices have wider repercussions beyond targeted activists. For example, administrative courts are now kept busy with reviewing these unlawful fines, reducing their capacity to work on other cases. State resources which are being deployed to enforce disproportionate pandemic restrictions and silence dissent could have been used to address people’s needs which have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and initially triggered ongoing protests,” said Giada Negri, Research and Advocacy coordinator for the European Civic Forum.

The current government has ramped up its political interference at public broadcaster RTV Slovenia (RTVSLO). In March 2022 RTVSLO staff staged protests over the appointment of Igor Pirkovič as acting editor of the public broadcaster’s web portal Multi Media Centre (MMC), who was previously paid by the government as a screenwriter of state celebrations. The MMC’s editorial board claims that Pirkovič is biased in favour of the ruling SDS party and believes that he was brought in to change the portal's pre-election reporting in favour of the ruling coalition. Last year, the appointment of Director General Andrej Grah Whatmough at RTVSLO sparked a series of editorial and programming changes, which were approved by RTV SLO’s Programme Council, an editorial decision-making body which has been infiltrated by the ruling SDS Party. 

Prime Minister Jansa has used the current Ukraine crisis as an excuse to attack RTVSLO’s political debate channel Tarča for its coverage of the war against Ukraine, accusing it of playing “Putin’s Agenda”. This led to the Programme council reprimanding RTVSLO journalists and announcing that it would now only be using BBC News coverage on the Ukraine crisis. 

“While Jansa has condemned Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, at home he is adopting Putin style tactics through repeated political interference at the public broadcaster RTVSLO and vilification of independent journalists. His government has increasingly harassed peaceful protesters and slashed funding to civil society. The European commission must take action to ensure that repressive measures against journalists and civil society are redressed,” said Aarti Narsee, Civic Space Research Lead Europe, CIVICUS.

Slovenia is rated "Narrowed" on the CIVICUS Monitor. 40 other countries have this rating including Romania, Italy and South Korea (see all). The narrowed rating means that while the state generally allows individuals and civil society organisations to exercise their rights to peaceful assembly, freedom of speech and freedom of association, violations of these rights also take place.

More information

Download the Slovenia country research brief here. Also available in Slovenian here.


To arrange interviews, please contact Aarti Narsee, CIVICUS European & Central Asia Civic Space Researcher  and 



Sri Lanka: Lift restrictions on fundamental freedoms and investigate violations

CIVICUS, a global civil society alliance, is alarmed by the declaration of a state of emergency in Sri Lanka, the excessive use of force by the Sri Lankan security forces against protesters and restrictions on internet access following widespread demonstrations in the country.

There have been anti-government protests since early March 2022 as the country suffers its worst economic crisis in decades. Demonstrators accuse the government of mismanaging the economy and creating a foreign exchange crisis that has led to shortages of essentials such as fuel, cooking gas, milk powder and medicine.

Hundreds of protesters marched outside President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s private residence on 31 March 2022. The peaceful protests turned violent when security forces deployed tear gas and water cannons leaving at least 50 injured. Dozens of protesters were arrested and some ill-treated. Eight journalists who were covering the protests were allegedly assaulted by security forces.

On 1 April 2022, a state of emergency was declared by the president in an effort to quell the protests. It allows authorities to arrest and detain suspects without warrants, and this severely restricts fundamental rights such as the freedoms of expression and assembly. Under the state of emergency, the authorities imposed a nation-wide 36-hour curfew. Despite this, thousands of protesters, including students, continued to take to the streets. According to reports at least 600 protesters were arbitrarily arrested on 2 and 3 April.

“Sri Lanka’s clampdown on civic space with the imposition of a state of emergency is extremely worrying. We urge the government to refrain from deploying violence against protesters and instead respect and protect peoples’ rights to peaceful protest. All those detained arbitrarily must be released and all abuses by security forces must be investigated and punished,” said Josef Benedict, Asia Pacific Researcher of CIVICUS.

The government has restricted internet access and social media platform for nearly 15 hours under the pretext of maintaining public and social order. On 2 April 2022, Thisara Anuruddha Bandara, a youth activist who actively promoted the #GoHomeGota social media campaign to oust the president - used widely during the protest - was arrested for allegedly ‘exciting disaffection’ against the president under Section 120 of the Penal Code. He was granted bail a day after.

“The government must halt any restrictions on internet access, including to social media platforms, which is a clear violation of the right to freedom of expression and information guaranteed by the constitution and under international human rights law. The authorities must also drop the charges against youth activist Thisara Anuruddha Bandara immediately,” added Josef Benedict.

CIVICUS has documented how the Rajapaksa administration has led an assault on civic space and fundamental freedoms since the President assumed power more than two years ago. There have been ongoing attempts to prevent and disrupt protests. This included imposing a ban on all protests under the pretext of COVID-19, arbitrary arrests of peaceful protesters and activists using the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), as well as criminalising dissenters. In March, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, similarly reported to the Human Rights Council that ‘the Government’s response to criticism has constricted democratic and civic space’.

As the party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the Sri Lankan government has the duty to respect, protect and fulfil fundamental freedoms enshrined under the treaty. This includes the right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. Any use of force must only be the minimum amount necessary, targeted at specific individuals, and proportionate to the threat posed.

The protests and escalating economic crisis has led to the resignations of 26 ministers in the current cabinet leaving only the president, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, and his brother, Mahinda Rajapaksa, the prime minister.

Civic space in Sri Lanka is rated as obstructed by the CIVICUS Monitor


Civil society expresses solidarity with the Ukrainian people and condemn Putin’s War

We civil society organisations, including national umbrella bodies from across the world, stand united in our condemnation of Russia’s military aggression toward Ukraine in gross violation of international law. We deplore the targeting of civilian populations and infrastructures by Russian forces, which amounts to war crimes.


Indonesia: Intimidation against human rights activists exemplify narrowing civic and democratic space

CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance, is highly alarmed by the Indonesian authorities' decision to name human rights defenders Fatia Maulidiyanti and Haris Azhar as suspects in a defamation case for speaking up about human rights violations connected to corporate crime in Papua allegedly linked to government officials.


Hong Kong: Police must drop order against human rights group to shut down its website


CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance, is disturbed by a formal letter issued by the Hong police to UK-based human rights group, Hong Kong Watch, to shut down its website for allegedly violating a national security law.


Egypt: End arbitrary detention, Free them all


Twelve Egyptian activists have been on hunger strike since early February 2022 in protest of their prolonged pre-trial detention at Tora Prison Complex. Among them, Abdelrahman Tarek (Moka), Ahmed Maher (Rigo), Galal El Beheriy, and Walid Shawky started hunger strikes to protest their unlawful imprisonment. On 8 March, Walid Shawky ended his hunger strike. Their health is at risk as their physical condition further deteriorates. The undersigned organisations call on the Egyptian authorities to immediately and unconditionally release the aforementioned individuals, as well as all of the many other individuals currently held in detention for peacefully exercising their right to free expression.


Indonesia: Release Victor Yeimo and hold perpetrators of human rights violations in Papua accountable

CIVICUS, a global civil society alliance, and Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) are gravely concerned by the ongoing prosecution of human rights defender Victor Yeimo.


Singapore: Jolovan Wham’s sentencing highlights repressed civic space

The sentencing of Singaporean activist Jolovan Wham highlights the increasingly repressive space for activists and human rights defenders in Singapore, said the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA), CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation, and Think Centre in a joint statement today.


Unified and coordinated international response a must in face of Russia’s attacks on Ukraine

Read the statement in Russian

Global civil society alliance CIVICUS stands in solidarity with the people of Ukraine and calls for a swift, unified and targeted international response on Russia.


Mexico: Investigate the killing of human rights defender Francisco Vazquez

The brutal assassination of human rights defender Francisco Vazquez in Morelos, Mexico, by unidentified armed men should prompt the authorities to hold those responsible accountable and put a stop to these senseless acts of violence against human rights defenders and others, global civil society alliance, CIVICUS said today.


Sudan: Free women detainees!

CIVICUS joins civil society groups in calling for the immediate release of Sudanese women human rights defenders in detention, and accountability for the crimes committed against them.


Tanzania: Reversal of Ban on Four Newspapers a step in the right direction

Global civil society alliance CIVICUS welcomes the decision of Tanzanian President Samia Suluhu Hassan to lift the ban on four newspapers – Mwanahalisi, Mawio, Mseto, and Tanzania Daima – that was imposed by the late President John Magufuli between 2016 and 2020.


Cambodia: More arrests and increased harassment of striking NagaWorld union activists

Image NagaWorld protesters

CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation and the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) are gravely concerned about the escalation of harassment against the NagaWorld union members and further arrests this week by the Phnom Penh police under the pretext of violating a pandemic law. We urge the government to release the detained activists immediately and unconditionally, and to further respect the right to peaceful assembly of the workers in Cambodia.


Turkey: CIVICUS joins call for the release journalist Sedef Kabaş

We join the Coalition For Women In Journalism (CFWIJ) and other press freedom organisations and journalists in calling on Turkey to release senior journalist Sedef Kabaş.


One Year after the Illegitimate Military Coup in the Republic of the Union of Myanmar

Joint LGBTIQ+ Civil Society Statement

We will never forget. It has been a year since the violent and illegitimate occupation of the democratically elected government by Myanmar's military junta on 1 February 2021. This was at a period when the people were at their most vulnerable, amid the COVID-19 pandemic. It was and still is a grave and utter betrayal of the public will and trust and a sheer disregard of democratic institutions and values.

In the past 365 days, we have been witnessing accounts of serious human rights violations, including extrajudicial killings, criminalisation, arbitrary detentions, illegal arrests, torture, violent reprisals, and sexual and gender-based violence committed against pro-democracy activists and human rights defenders.

This junta has fueled a humanitarian crisis that continues to impose fear, escalating violence, and destroy innocent lives throughout the country. Bombings of villages identified as centres of the opposition had resulted in killings of civilians and humanitarian workers and triggered gross internal displacement of communities. The crisis continues to escalate and has spilt across its borders as thousands have fled and sought refuge in neighbouring countries.

We are appalled by the junta's disregard of socio-economic and health emergencies caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, such as curtailing supplies of oxygen and medicines, arresting doctors and medical personnel, and leaving thousands to die without medical help.

We will always remember. The sheer tenacity, bravery and courage of LGBTIQ+ persons who were and are at the frontlines fighting for democracy, dignity, and freedom will forever be commemorated and ingrained in our collective memory. Despite repressive conditions, our LGBTIQ+ siblings have tirelessly campaigned both online and offline in pursuit of reclaiming democracy and urging for a global action to condemn military-led atrocities. We are deeply moved by various forms of creative resistance such as flash mobs, the waving of rainbow flags, the march of drag artists that had become symbols of peoples' solidarity and strength.

This military junta and their supporters have blood on their hands. We deeply regret that many have been separated from their loved ones and have lost their lives amid the struggle. Data reported by Myanmar's National Unity Government (NUG) in June 2021 revealed that at least 12 LGBTIQ+ people were shot to death, while hundreds more were detained, arrested, and severely tortured based on their SOGIESC. Many are currently in hiding to escape retaliation.

We stand firmly in solidarity. As long as Myanmar is unfree, democracy in Southeast Asia will never move forward. We commit our continuous support for efforts to reclaim and fortify human rights, freedoms, peace and democracy in Myanmar. Human rights and freedoms, particularly of LGBTIQ+ peoples, can flourish only if the people are recognised and respected as the rightful sovereign of the country. As such, we strongly deplore the military junta as an illegitimate force that is unworthy of any recognition.

We urge the UN to step up and impose necessary sanctions and actions against the junta. Min Aung Hlaing, the rest of the military leadership, their political allies, and their families should be made accountable for the atrocities they committed.

We urge all governments, the UN, and the entire international community to recognise Myanmar's National Unity Government (NUG) immediately and assure urgent unified response to provide unified assistance for putting Myanmar back on the path to democracy, the restoration of fundamental freedoms such as on information and expression, and guarantee the prevalence of peace and prosperity. While Myanmar is in crisis, we urge the international community to open up its borders, facilitate safe passage, and create domestic conditions to guarantee safety and dignity for all Myanmar persons seeking refuge.

We urge ASEAN, especially the government of Cambodia in its capacity as the Chair of the regional bloc, to fully implement its Five-Point Consensus on Myanmar: an immediate cessation of violence, constructive dialogue with all stakeholders especially marginalised and ethnic groups who are excluded from political processes, provision of humanitarian assistance, and the appointment and unhindered visits of an ASEAN Special Envoy to facilitate constructive dialogues with all stakeholders.

To our Myanmar LGBTIQ+ queerblings both in the country and abroad, you are not alone in this struggle. We are with you until and after democracy is fully regained in your beloved country.


In solidarity: List of Organizational Signatories

Regional Organisations

APCOM Foundation


Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact

Asia Pacific Transgender Network (APTN)

Equal Asia Foundation


Initiatives for International Dialogue

International Women's Rights Action Watch Asia Pacific (IWRAW AP)

Intersex Asia

Pan Africa ILGA



Youth Voices Count


CamASEAN Youth's Future (CamASEAN)


Arus Pelangi

Cangkang Queer

CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation


Komunitas Sehati Makassar

GAYa Nusantara Foundation


JEJAKA Malaysia

Justice for Sisters

People Like Us Support Ourselves (PLUsos)

People Like Us Hang Out! (PLUHO)



Blue Diamond Society


Filipino LGBT Europe


National Forum of Women With Disabilities (NFWWD)


Asexual Support Philippines

Bisdak Pride

Camp Queer

Care for Queers

Galang Philippines

Iloilo Pride Team

Intersex Philippines

Kapederasyon LGBT Organization

LakanBini Advocates Pilipinas

Lakapati Laguna


LGBTQ Plus Partylist

LGBTS Christian Churches

Metro Manila Pride

Mindanao Pride

MUJER-LGBT Organization, Inc.

Pioneer Filipino Transgender Men Movement (PFTM)

Side B Philippines

Society of Trans Women of the Philippines (STRAP)

Transmasculine Philippines

UPLB Babaylan

Youth for Change

Youth for YOUth Organization


My Queer Story SG


Free Gender TH

Manushya Foundation

Mokeluang Rimnam

Sangsan Anakot Yawachon Development Project

School of Feminist, Thailand

Sexuality and Gender Acceptance (SAGA) Thailand


The LinQ

V-Day Thailand

Timor Leste

ARCOIRIS Timor Leste


This statement was also signed by 4 organisations from Myanmar who opted not to be identified due to security reasons.

Individual Signatories

50 Individual Activists from the following countries: Australia, Cambodia, France, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Netherlands, Pakistan, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Timor Leste, Turkey, and United Kingdom.





Myanmar: Hold the junta accountable

Human Rights Defenders call on ASEAN and the international community to hold the junta accountable for grave human rights violations and atrocity crimes in Myanmar.


Global Call to Join a Diplomatic Boycott of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics

  • Beijing Olympics Begin Amid Atrocity Crimes
  • Global Groups Call for Action on Rights Concerns


Egypt: Quash Verdicts and Stop Unfair Trials by Emergency Courts

We, the undersigned organisations, call on Egyptian President Abdelfattah Al-Sisi to immediately quash the verdicts against seven arbitrarily detained human rights defenders, activists and politicians.


India: Ongoing targeting of activists under anti-terror laws for their protests against citizenship law

India jail

We, the undersigned civil society organizations, are deeply concerned about the ongoing harassment of 18 human rights defenders under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) in reprisal for their advocacy work against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) 2019. Thirteen of those arrested under the UAPA are currently in Rohini, Tihar, and Mandoli jails, New Delhi. We call for the immediate and unconditional release of all the human rights defenders arrested, and the dismissal of all charges against them.


Amendments on the Media Services Act of 2016 of Tanzania

Global civil society alliance CIVICUS welcomes the commitment by the Tanzanian authorities to review the restrictive Media Services Act of 2016 and create a more enabling environment for media outlets and journalists. The proposed review presents a key moment to address long-standing deficits in existing media legislation. It has the potential of opening the space for media actors to exercise their fundamental freedoms, including freedom of expression.


India: Release human rights defender Khurram Parvez & stop harassment of activists in Jammu & Kashmir

Stand with Khurram TW

Ahead of his upcoming hearing on 21 January 2022, CIVICUS, a global civil society alliance, calls on the government of India to immediately and unconditionally release human rights defender Khurram Parvez. The judicial harassment he is facing highlights the repressive environment for activists and critics in Indian administered Jammu and Kashmir.


Rights Groups in Indonesia stand in solidarity with the People of Myanmar

We, the undersigned civil society organisations in Indonesia, and organisations with presence in Indonesia, express solidarity with the people of Myanmar and condemn the ongoing grave violations committed by the military junta. We reiterate our commitment to call on the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the international community to abide by its obligations to hold the perpetrators accountable and to protect the human rights of peoples in Myanmar.


India: Halt judicial harassment of rights groups over foreign funding

CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance, condemns the recent case filed by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) against the Centre for Promotion of Social Concern (CPSC) and its programme unit called People's Watch on allegations of 'conspiracy' and 'illegal foreign funding withdrawal' under the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act (FCRA), 1976.


ASEAN: Refrain from legitimising junta and enhance cooperation to address human rights situation in Myanmar

Civil society organisations urge the regional-bloc under Cambodia Chairship to halt further measures that will bring legitimacy to the junta military of Myanmar.

We, the undersigned, express deep concern over the planned visit of Prime Minister Hun Sen, on behalf of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), to Myanmar to meet with the junta representative, General Min Aung Hlaing. The visit is scheduled for 7 January 2022. We call on the ASEAN to refrain from further actions that will legitimise the junta and effectively implement the ASEAN Five-Point Consensus in alignment with the call made by the international community.


Hong Kong: Restrictions on civic space increase as independent media outlets are forced to close

  •  Prominent independent news site to cease operations 
  • Authorities using restrictive laws to silence the media 
  • The international community must take steps to restore fundamental freedoms


Algeria: Marked regression in human rights underscored by proliferation of baseless terrorism prosecutions


The undersigned organisations are deeply concerned and alarmed by the sustained repression of fundamental freedoms and legitimate human rights work in Algeria, including the marked proliferation of prosecutions on baseless terrorism charges against human rights defenders, journalists and peaceful activists.


Egypt: Release human rights defenders Alaa Abdel Fattah, Mohamed El-Baqer and Mohamed Oxygen

Ahead of the Emergency Court verdict on 20 December, we, the undersigned organisations, call upon the Egyptian authorities to immediately and unconditionally release Alaa Abdel Fattah, Mohamed El-Baqer and Mohamed Ibrahim “Oxygen” and to drop all charges and cases against them. Their detention and imprisonment create an environment where freedom of expression is not respected. States and international institutions should raise these cases directly with their Egyptian counterparts and urge immediate release and dismissal of all charges.


Bangladesh: Drop charges against Odhikar Leadership & stop harassment of Human Rights Defenders

Bangladesh authorities must end the harassment of Adilur Rahman Khan and ASM Nasiruddin Elan, respectively Secretary and Director of the human rights group Odhikar, who have been targeted through the misuse of the criminal justice system, eleven rights groups said today.


Laos: Nine years on, civil society worldwide still demands answers on Sombath's enforced disappearance

On the ninth anniversary of the enforced disappearance of Lao civil society leader Sombath Somphone, we, the undersigned organisations, reiterate our calls on the Lao government to determine his fate and whereabouts and deliver justice to him and his family.


Philippines: Human rights defender Teresita Naul released after courts dismiss trumped-up charges

CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance, welcomes the release of human rights defender Teresita Naul. Her arrest and prosecution highlight how activists in the Philippines are often vilified and criminalised for their activism under the Duterte regime.


ASEAN must step up its efforts to address deteriorating human rights and civic space situation in Southeast Asia

Under the Chairmanship of Cambodia in 2022, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) must meaningfully address the regressive human rights crisis in the region, including the rapidly deteriorating situation in Myanmar, said rights groups at a webinar today.

The webinar titled ‘Cambodia as ASEAN Chair: Prospects for Human Rights in 2022’ organised by CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation and Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) discussed the human rights situation in the region and how the ASEAN has responded in 2021 as well as its trajectory as Cambodia spearheads ASEAN next year.

Eleven months after the coup and eight months since ASEAN leaders adopted the five-point consensus, the human rights and humanitarian crisis continues unabated in Myanmar ‒ at least 1,200 people including children have been killed and 10,568 arrested. The deteriorating situation affects not only the daily lives of the people on the ground but also the human rights and political discourse at the regional and international level.

Questions remain as to what extent the regional bloc can effectively bring immediate progress to the situation of Myanmar or if it will just be used to legitimise the military regime.

‘While we welcome the decision by ASEAN to exclude the military junta from ASEAN Summits, we are deeply concerned about the lack of substantive actions to mitigate the Myanmar crisis. The whole country is now dealing with a multi-level crisis. It is not sufficient for ASEAN alone to tackle this crisis. Therefore, we call on ASEAN to cooperate with the UN and international mechanisms to take immediate concrete actions. Further delays in actions will allow the junta to commit more atrocities and this means more bloodshed for the people on the ground,’ said Khin Ohmar, Chair of Progressive Voice.

‘As the next chair, Cambodia has a huge task ahead to ensure that ASEAN unity and credibility is not lost. If ASEAN allows the junta to continue in this manner, the Myanmar crisis will further impact the regional stability and development. ASEAN needs to understand that it is in its best interest to work with the National Unity Government and the people of Myanmar,’ she added.

‘We want ASEAN leadership to have a strategic vision and action plan. ASEAN will not be able to implement its five-point consensus alone, particularly after the junta military has blatantly denied their commitment in the consensus. Under the Cambodia Chairmanship, ASEAN must engage with NUG, the United Nations, dialogue partners, and civil society. What is happening is not only a crisis to Myanmar but a crisis to the credibility of ASEAN and threats to security in general,’ said U Bo Hla Tint, Myanmar National Unity Government Ambassador to ASEAN.

According to the CIVICUS Monitor, fundamental freedoms in half of ASEAN Member States are rated as ‘repressed’. The year 2021 has also shown how restrictive laws have been used to stifle dissent and prosecute human rights defenders in numerous ASEAN countries and new laws passed that would curtail civic space. Further there has been a crackdown on peaceful protests and the use of extra-legal tactics, including online surveillance and smear campaigns, as well as torture and ill-treatment. In Cambodia specifically, CIVICUS documented the arbitrary arrest of dozens of activists, judicial harassment, and intimidation of opposition party CNRP members and families, and reprisals on journalists.

‘It is difficult to see how ASEAN would meaningfully progress on human rights issues with Cambodia at the helm. It has become a de facto one-party state after dismantling the opposition. Civic space has also continued to shrink in the country and those speaking up have faced blatant judicial harassment and at times outright violence. At the same time, we need to keep the pressure on them and support Cambodian civil society,’ said Josef Benedict, Asia Pacific Researcher of CIVICUS.

Under the pretext of COVID-19, Cambodia has introduced draconian measures such as the National Internet Gateway to increase online surveillance. This adds to the long list of concerns including the arbitrary arrest and judicial harassment of defenders and political opposition in the country. Cambodia’s degrading human rights record raises concerns about whether it has the political will to take the steps needed to improve on the human rights situation of ASEAN.

‘Cambodia should strive to improve the dire human rights situation it is facing domestically – especially considering the fact that elections are fast approaching – while also seeking to ensure regional peace and stability. As ASEAN chair, Cambodia must rally its ASEAN partners to answer the calls for support coming from Myanmar, and take concrete action rather than hide behind the argument of non-interference,’ said Sopheap Chak, the Executive Director of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR).

ASEAN’s prospects of human rights in 2022 remain rocky and uncertain, reflecting on the domestic situation ASEAN Member States, particularly its Chair, must deal with. Nevertheless, the panelists called on civil society and various actors to keep monitoring the progress, or lack thereof, by ASEAN in responding to the situation of human rights and civic space in the region, particularly on immediate measures to bring an end to the crisis in Myanmar.

CIVICUS is a global alliance dedicated to strengthening citizen action and civil society around the world with 8,500 members in more than 175 countries. Based out of Johannesburg, CIVICUS has offices in New York and Geneva.

The Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) is a network of 82 member organisations across 23 countries, mainly in Asia. Founded in 1991, FORUM-ASIA works to strengthen movements for human rights and sustainable development through research, advocacy, capacity development and solidarity actions in Asia and beyond. It has consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council, and consultative relationship with the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights. The FORUM-ASIA Secretariat is based in Bangkok, with offices in Jakarta, Geneva and Kathmandu.

Media contact:

• Cornelius Hanung, Asia Advocacy and Campaigns Officer of CIVICUS ()
• Communications and Media Programme, FORUM-ASIA ()

The CIVICUS Monitor is an online platform that tracks threats to civil society in all countries across the globe.


Poland debates prison terms for abortion in new blow to women’s rights

Joint press release by IPPF EN and CIVICUS 

The Polish Parliament is set to discuss an anti-abortion bill from a religious ultra conservative group to jail women who access abortion and criminalize anyone who helps them do so, including family members, friends and doctors.  


Honduras: Trial of Guapinol defenders begins as state continues to ignore calls for their release

  • The trial of the Guapinol human rights defenders begins on 1 December, after 2 years of unlawful detention.
  • Human rights defenders featured in CIVICUS's #StandAsMy Witness Campaign.
  • United Nations declared their detention is arbitrary and called for their release.
  • Honduras was recently elected to the UN Human Rights Council for the first time.
  • Honduras is one of the most dangerous places for environmental rights defenders.


Winners of the 2021 Innovation Awards!

Winners of the 2021 Nelson Mandela-Graça Machel Innovation Awards reflect the power of collective action.

The Awards, named for human rights icon Nelson Mandela and former First Lady of South Africa and Mozambique, humanitarian Graça Machel, honour the power of people to demand change for a more just, inclusive and sustainable world.

The 2021 Innovation Awards recognise groups that stand out for their innovative work building people power in support of human rights and social justice for everyone.  Through a public open call, submissions were accepted under the  topics explored during the 2020 ICSW/virtual events. After receiving an impressive 5,334 endorsements during the public support campaign for finalists, an external committee of civil society leaders and activists with thematic expertise reviewed and selected seven winners. 

The winners in the seven categories are: 

Building and sustaining movements for social justice: (South Africa)

Creating positive narratives for people power:IA Winners All
HIVE Pakistan's Campaign AIK Better Together

Democratising governance systems and processes:
Life in Leggings: Caribbean Alliance Against Gender-based Violence

Enhancing diversity and inclusion through artivism:
Together! Civil Society Organization (Ethiopia)

Protecting and promoting digital civic space:
Hashtag Generation (Sri Lanka)

Resourcing youth-led groups and movements:
Noble Missions for Change Initiative (Nigeria)

Sustaining people power through self- and community-care:  
Let's Walk Uganda   

We would also like to provide special (non-financial) recognition for the initiative that received the most endorsements on the Innovation Zone platform: Asociación de comunidades negras del Cesar Ku Suto (Colombia). The overwhelming public support received is an important indicator of the value their community places in their work.  

The winners were selected from a pool of more than 350 inspiring applicants from over 70 countries that participated in the open call. Each winner will receive US$5000 in recognition of their work in promoting people power, human rights and social justice. 

The Nelson Mandela-Graça Machel Innovation Awards are led by global civil society alliance, CIVICUSand seek to celebrate, promote, and defend a worldwide community of informed and inspired citizens engaged in confronting the challenges facing humanity.

For more information on the winners and other inspiring people power initiatives around the world visit the Innovation Zone


For more information, contact:



Over 100 Global foundations & donors pledge solidarity with blacklisted Palestinian civil society groups

Philanthropic leaders urge governments to uphold democracy and human rights by protecting civil society against repressive policies

More than 100 global foundations and donors, most of them U.S.-based, have signed on to an open letter expressing solidarity with Palestinian civil society after six leading human rights organisations were designated as so-called “terrorist organisations” by Israeli Defense Minister Benjamin Gantz. The list of signatories includes foundations and funder networks across the U.S. and Europe that support environmental justice, feminist movements, and human rights -- all areas that the six banned nonprofit organisations focus on.

“The cynical weaponisation of anti-terrorism laws poses an existential threat both for Palestinian human rights defenders and those defending human rights globally,” said Lara Friedman, president of the Foundation for Middle East Peace, a philanthropic organisation that promotes a just resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “The breadth of signers of this letter underscores funders’ shared recognition of the urgency of challenging this dangerous tactic, and of the moral obligation to defend partners on the ground who, in essence, have been singled out for attack because they have done their work defending human and civil rights too well.”

The six targeted organisations provide essential services for more than five million Palestinians living under Israeli military occupation. The list includes Addameer, Al-Haq, Bisan Center for Research and Development, Defense for Children International - Palestine, the Union of Agricultural Work Committees and the Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees.

“The philanthropic community must not be silent,” said Latanya Mapp Frett, Global Fund for Women President and CEO. “Palestinian women, girls, and gender diverse and nonconforming people face multiple sources of violence—from the Israeli military occupation to a society dominated by patriarchy. The groups targeted by the Israeli government as ‘terrorists’ are activists. Women human rights defenders are fighting worldwide to end the widespread impunity for violence against women, sexual and gender-based violence, and femicide. We are honored to be part of a group of philanthropists who recognise their role in supporting movement leaders on the forefront of social justice.”

International human rights and intergovernmental bodies rely on the targeted groups for documentation of Israeli rights violations, such as the government’s plan to construct more than 3,100 new illegal settlement units on Palestinian lands, announced just days after the six organisations were banned.  

"The exposure of illegal spying on peaceful Palestinian human rights defenders, coming on top of baseless terrorism claims against internationally respected human rights organisations, underscores how important it is that the international community continue supporting their legitimate work," said Andrew Anderson, executive director of Front Line Defenders, which protects human rights defenders at risk globally. "Surely this episode will serve as a stark warning against any deployment of the term 'terrorist' against human rights defenders anywhere in the world, and renew efforts to rein in the use of spyware against human rights defenders, journalists and other civil society activists."

The philanthropy open letter urges the U.S. government, European Union, and other governments around the world to protect Palestinian civil society by taking the following actions:  

  • Denounce all smear campaigns against Palestinian civil society organisations and press the Israeli government to immediately and fully rescind Gantz’s designation of “terrorist organization” against the six prominent Palestinian human rights organisations;
  • Hold the Israeli government accountable to adhere to international law and human rights standards; and;
  • Ensure that any philanthropic funds designated toward civil society organisations in Palestine reach them without interference by the Israeli government or financial institutions.

“These designations mark a crescendo, not an opening salvo, in the Israeli government’s long-standing campaign to suppress Palestinian civil society,” said Kay Guinane, founder and senior advisor at the Charity & Security Network, a resource and advocacy center that protects the ability of nonprofits to carry out peacebuilding, humanitarian, and human rights missions. “For over a decade, Israel has been working with a network of legal outfits and disinformation groups to distract, defund, and delegitimise organisations in Palestine and internationally that work to support Palestinian needs and end Israel’s human rights abuses. Now, in addition to supporting disinformation and spurious lawsuits, the Israeli government is simply outlawing those who stand up to its abuses.”

Pamela Kohlberg, who sits on the board of the Radical Imagination Family Foundation, added: “It is especially important for us, as Jews, to stand up for the human rights of the Palestinian community. Uniting as progressive funders to protest the targeting of these important civil society groups is critical. Future work for stability in the region will require relationships and cooperation with these organisations.”

The full text of the letter and latest list of signatories may be found here.

Civic space in Palestine is rated as "Repressed" by the CIVICUS Monitor.

Civic space in Israel is rated as "Obstructed" by the CIVICUS Monitor. 


Honduras: Int. Law Experts file an amicus curiae brief requesting the cessation of criminal proceedings against the defenders of the Guapinol River

On November 17, 2021, eleven international human rights organizations[1] filed an amicus curiae brief before the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court of Honduras, arguing against the unjust, extensive pretrial detention of the human rights activists known as the Guapinol Environmental Defenders. The Defenders have spent over two years in pretrial detention for events related to a peaceful protest to protect water sources in the Carlos Escaleras National Park. The brief argues that the extensive detention prior to their trial has violated the Defenders’ fundamental constitutional and international human rights. Honduran courts repeatedly reject attempts to release the Defenders, most recently from the Sentencing Court in Trujillo on October 27, 2021. The case is set to be heard before the Sentencing Court in La Ceiba starting on December 1, 2021.


Sri Lanka: Two years on, escalating assault on freedoms by the Rajapaksa administration

sri lanka president

Two years on from the election of Gotabaya Rajapaksa as President of Sri Lanka, the state of civic freedoms in the country continues to regress. Research undertaken by the CIVICUS Monitor – which rates civic space in Sri Lanka as ‘obstructed’ – shows a worrying pattern of increasing restrictions on freedom of expression, assembly and association, often with impunity.


Sri Lanka: Release human rights defenders detained for advocating for education rights

CIVICUS, a global alliance of civil society, stands in solidarity with five human rights defenders (HRDs) detained for participating in peaceful protests to promote and protect education rights in Sri Lanka. Ahead of their hearing on 11 November 2021, we urge the courts to grant them bail immediately. We also call on the government of Sri Lanka to drop all charges against them and respect their rights to dissent and to peaceful assembly.


ASEAN: Cambodia Chairmanship Should Thoroughly Address Crisis in Myanmar

We, the undersigned organisations, call on the Association of Southeast Asian Nations(ASEAN) to increase its effort to address the ongoing human rights crisis in Myanmar, which was triggered by the attempted coup in February 2021. Under the incoming chairmanship of Cambodia in 2022, ASEAN needs to align its endeavours with the international efforts of the United Nations and civil society to hold the military junta accountable for its actions. Failure to meaningfully address the suffering of the people of Myanmar will be the failure of the regional bloc to promote and protect human rights in the region.

More than seven months since ASEAN agreed on a Five-Point Consensus on Myanmar, there has yet to be significant progress on the implementation of the consensus, or significant action taken by ASEAN to tackle the escalation of violations and number of victims. Analysis from civil society has revealed that the Myanmar military junta, and to some extent ASEAN, have failed to uphold all five points. This is reflected in the increase in attacks since the adoption of the consensus on civilians and members of the National League for Democracy (NLD) and National Unity Government (NUG), which formed as the legitimate government after the November 2020 election. ASEAN’s response to this situation has been slow, which is apparent from the late appointment of the ASEAN Special Envoy, while the commitment to facilitate dialogue between the junta and the NUG or other parties is still unclear. This negligence has resulted in a further crisis and shrinking civics pace in Myanmar, which is having a ripple effect on the region’s human rights situation.

We appreciate the unprecedented decision made through the Emergency ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting (EAMM) on 15 October 2021 to exclude the Myanmar junta’s representative of the Myanmar junta from sitting as the country’s representative during the 38th and 39th ASEAN Summit from 26–28 October. While noting the bloc’s decision to invite a “non-political representative” from Myanmar, our stance remains that no seat should be given to the military junta at future ASEAN meetings until the Five-Point Consensus is accomplished or until democracy is restored in Myanmar.

From the Chairman’s Statement of the 38th and 39th ASEAN Summits issued by Brunei Darussalam,we noted ASEAN’s commitments to find a balance between the non-interference principle and to upholding the rule of law, good governance, the principles of democracy, and constitutional government in addressing the situation in Myanmar. The exclusion of the Myanmar military junta will need to be normalised in the upcoming ASEAN process.

Moving forward to Cambodia’s ASEAN chairmanship in 2022, the regional bloc must move faster and meaningfully to address the situation in Myanmar. This includes formally engaging the NUG and other parties after excluding the military junta from the latest Summit. Only with the willingness to reassess the non-interference principle and consensus tradition can ASEAN act strategically.

We also call for ASEAN to focus its efforts outside the regional bloc, by engaging with the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), dialogue partners, and the international community to formulate a time-bound and comprehensive action plan.

For further information, please contact:

Putri Kanesia (AJAR)  

Supporting organisations

ADN(Asia Democracy Network)
AJAR (Asia Justice and Rights)
Amnesty International Indonesia
CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
Kurawal Foundation
KontraS (the Commission for the Disappeared and Victims of Violence)
Migrant Care
SAFEnet(Southeast Asia Freedom of Expression Network)
SEA Junction



Five reasons why the elections in Nicaragua do not guarantee human rights

On 7 November 2021, general elections will be held in Nicaragua in the context of a deterioration of the human rights crisis that began with the repression of protests in April 2018. The undersigned organizations are deeply concerned about the continuing grave human rights violations and their recent escalation. The following sets out five reasons which explain why the coming general election will take place in a context of severe restrictions on civil and political liberties. 

As President Daniel Ortega seeks a fourth consecutive term, government repression of critics and the political opposition has intensified. This increasingly alarming deterioration includes violations of personal freedom and safety, freedom of expression and association, freedom of the press, as well as other restrictions on the exercise of civil and political rights. These human rights violations have affected various groups in situations of vulnerability, including women, who, as reports have stated, experience differentiated impacts.

Since the end of May, the Nicaraguan government has detained 39 people it views as government opponents, including seven presidential candidates. Some of these detainees were victims of enforced disappearance for weeks or months. These abuses mark the beginning of a new stage in the campaign of repression and criminalization of dissident voices, journalists and human rights defenders, facilitated by a lack of judicial independence and the executive’s control of the National Assembly, which has enacted laws that violate fundamental rights of freedom of expression, assembly and association, and the right to vote and run for public office in free and fair elections.

It is clear that, at this time, the conditions do not exist in Nicaragua for holding elections that guarantee the exercise of rights and, therefore, we call on the international community, multilateral organizations and international human rights organizations to strengthen their efforts to put an end to the human rights crisis.



Since 28 May 2021, the government of Daniel Ortega has detained 39 people perceived as government opponents, including presidential candidates, public political figures, student leaders, activists, campesino representatives, defence lawyers and journalists. Some were subjected to enforced disappearance for weeks or months before the authorities provided information on their whereabouts. Many have been subjected to continuous interrogation in abusive conditions of detention, including prolonged isolation and insufficient food, which may constitute torture and/or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment under international law. The recent arrests are in addition to the more than 100 people perceived as critics who have remained arbitrarily detained for a prolonged period in the context of the human rights crisis in the country. 

The Nicaraguan state must end the practice of arbitrary detention and enforced disappearance and immediately and unconditionally release all those unjustly detained for exercising their rights. This is essential in order to restore the full enjoyment of all their rights, including the rights to vote and to run for and hold public office in general conditions of equality.



The authorities continue to use the criminal justice system, taking advantage of the lack of judicial independence, to subject people perceived as opponents to arbitrary proceedings and imprisonment. Frequently, violations of due process and fair trial guarantees include violations of the presumption of innocence, the requirement to present a court order at the time of arrest, the right to be tried before an independent and impartial judge, the right to access detailed information about the charges against them, the right to legal defence and to free and confidential communication with a lawyer of their choice. The Nicaraguan judiciary’s lack of independence also means that those who are the targets of threats do not have access to any impartial authority to which they can turn to make a complaint or request protection.

The authorities have also failed to comply with the recommendations of international human rights mechanisms, thereby obstructing the exercise of fundamental rights. 

The Nicaraguan state must ensure that people have access to justice, truth and reparation for crimes under international law and other serious human rights violations (such as enforced disappearance, torture and arbitrary detention) committed before and during the election context.



The authorities persecute human rights defenders, independent journalists and dissidents or perceived opponents solely for exercising their right to freedom of expression. As part of this repressive strategy, in October 2020 the National Assembly adopted the Law to Regulate Foreign Agents and the Special Law on Cybercrime, which severely restrict freedom of expression and association. 

Between July and August 2021, the authorities ordered the closure of 45 non-governmental organizations, including women’s associations, international humanitarian organizations and several medical associations. Another 10 organizations have been closed down since 2018.

In addition, the government continues to support a series of attacks and undue restrictions on the independent media and communications workers, as well as organizations that defend press freedom; these include administrative and criminal investigations, the detention of journalists and raids on media offices and the seizure of their assets. In this worrying context, not only are the rights of the professionals and the media under attack violated, but the public’s access to information, key for the proper exercise of political rights, is restricted.  

The Nicaraguan state must protect and respect the right to freedom of expression, including freedom of the press, which is essential for access to information and pluralistic debate in the context of an election. In addition, it must stop the harassment, stigmatization and criminalization of human rights defenders, journalists and dissidents or perceived opponents, solely for expressing their criticism of state policies.



The government has tried to eliminate and discourage electoral competition through the arbitrary detention and prosecution of opponents and presidential candidates, resulting in the withdrawal of their political rights. In turn, it has revoked the legal status of the main opposition parties, preventing them from participating in the elections. 

In December 2020, the National Assembly approved the Law for the Defence of the Rights of the People to Independence, Sovereignty and Self-determination for Peace, which has been used to open criminal investigations against many of those detained since late May. This law includes broad and vaguely worded provisions that restrict the right to run for public office. 

Local organizations have already indicated that, in these conditions, the electoral process does not guarantee the full exercise of political rights.

The Nicaraguan people have a right to exercise their right to vote freely, without intimidation, and the right to run for and hold public office in general conditions of equality. For the full and effective exercise of these rights, it is essential that freedom of expression, assembly and association be guaranteed.

The Nicaraguan state must guarantee the conditions necessary for the population to satisfactorily exercise its right to participate in the conduct of public affairs.



In response to the 2018 protests, state officials used excessive, disproportionate and often unnecessary force against demonstrators demanding their rights. According to a group of independent experts appointed by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), the police and pro-government armed groups, with the support of the Nicaraguan government, committed widespread abuses, including extrajudicial executions, against protesters who, in the vast majority of cases, were unarmed. Impunity has been the norm for serious abuses during the 2018 protests. 

Despite international scrutiny, the response to those demonstrating and promoting respect for human rights has continued to be one of repression. 

The recent upsurge in the repression and harassment of dissident voices allows the conclusion that the state will not guarantee the right to peaceful assembly if new demonstrations are held in the context of the elections.

The Nicaraguan state must guarantee freedom of peaceful assembly before, during and after the election process.


Amnesty International

Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL)


Human Rights Watch

International Institute on Race, Equality and Human Rights

Washington Office on Latin America 

World Organisation Against Torture

People in Need

International Network of Human Rights

Women’s Link Worldwide


A decline in civic freedoms is anything but ‘silly’  

UK Member of Parliament, Jacob Rees-Mogg’s belittling of the CIVICUS Monitor's Watchlist is further evidence of the disregard for civil society and citizen activism in the country. 

We, the undersigned, are concerned by the UK government’s ongoing actions to curtail freedom of peaceful assembly. The derisive response from the Leader of the House of Commons to a query on the country’s placement on the CIVICUS Monitor’s International Watchlist is further cause for dismay.

The senior member of the ruling party made his comments during a parliamentary question and answer session in the House of Commons. Following MP Alistair Carmichael’s query on the decline of civic freedoms in the United Kingdom, Rees-Mogg proceeded to dismiss the concerns raised by negating the evidence presented and belittling its source.  

CIVICUS is a global alliance of 10,000+ members and gathers its data through a network of established research partners.  In September 2021, the UK was placed on the CIVICUS Monitor Watchlist – a quarterly brief that spotlights countries where a serious and rapid decline of civic freedoms has been observed. Other countries featured on this list include Afghanistan, Belarus and Nicaragua.   

The Watchlist highlights threats to the right to freedom of peaceful assembly currently experienced in the UK. The proposed Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill is a chief source of concern and is expected to give police more power to crack down on protests, with serious repercussions for minority groups in the country. Despite concerns expressed by civil society, new proposals to the Policing Bill were introduced in October 2021. These include protest banning orders and new stop and search powers.  

The controversial bill, currently with the House of Lords (the upper house of Parliament), comes at a time when protests by anti-racism and environmental rights groups are being met with disproportionate force and restrictions. Other legislative developments, such as the proposal to “overhaul” the Human Rights Act and the introduction of changes to the New Elections Bill and the Judicial Review and Courts Bill, are expected to further undermine the democratic checks and balances that hold the government accountable.  

The right to freedom of peaceful assembly is an integral part of international commitments to protect civic freedoms. We expect the UK to be a global champion of these commitments. Government Minister Rees-Mogg’s response sadly reflects a complete disregard for the fundamental freedoms of citizens in one of the world’s oldest democracies. Casting aspersions on civil society is a tactic often used by authoritarian governments to deflect criticism and avoid oversight. It is unfortunate that the UK government has often employed this approach to defame activists and organisations who speak truth to power.  

As past and present leaders of the CIVICUS alliance, we stand with the findings of the Monitor Watchlist and call on the UK government to urgently remedy the developments which have caused civil society organisations across the world to raise this alarm.  

We welcome the opportunity to meet with MP Jacob Rees-Mogg to present the findings of our research and make recommendations on how the UK government can reverse the decline of civic freedoms in the country. 


Julia Sanchez
CIVICUS Board Chair (Canada)

Anabel Cruz
Former Board Chair (Uruguay)

Ingrid Srinath
Former Secretary General (India)

Kumi Naidoo
Former Secretary General (South Africa)

Katsuji Imata
Former Secretary General (Japan)

Lysa John
Present CIVICUS Secretary General (South Africa)

Civic space in the United Kingdom is rated as narrowed by the CIVICUS Monitor.


The International Community Must Support and Protect Palestinian Civil Society


As a group of 242 regional and international organisations, we express our full solidarity with Palestinian civil society and human rights defenders as Israel continues to escalate its attacks to shut down critical human rights work and silence opposition to its occupation of Palestinian territory and apartheid over the Palestinian people as a whole. We urge the international community to take all necessary action to support and protect Palestinian civil society and human rights defenders and ensure the continuation of their invaluable work.


Hongkong: Civic space deteriorates as another civil society group plans closure

CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance, expresses grave concern over increasing restrictions of civic space in Hong Kong exacerbated by the implementation of the National Security Law (NSL). These restrictions have led to the closure of human rights organisations and independent unions and highlight the proliferation of a climate of fear for activists and those who are critical of the authorities. 

In the most recent case, prominent human rights watchdog Amnesty International announced the closure of its local and regional office in Hong Kong. In a statement, the organisation said that the NSL “has made it effectively impossible for human rights organizations in Hong Kong to work freely and without fear of serious reprisals from the government”. It added that “the recent targeting of local human rights organisations  and trade unions  signals an intensification of the authorities’ campaign to rid the city of all dissenting voices.”

Between August and October 2021, several other organisations announced their disbandment in the wake of the sweeping NSL. These include the Civil Human Rights Front (CHRF), the pro-democracy group that organized some of Hong Kong's biggest protests in 2019. Other groups include the Hong Kong Alliance, responsible for organising three decades of vigils commemorating the victims of the Tiananmen Square massacre, Hong Kong Professional Teacher’s Union, the city’s largest teachers’ union and the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions (HKCTU), the largest independent trade union.

All the groups cited the drastic change in the political situation in Hong Kong and the potential risks of criminalisation under the NSL as the main driving force behind their decision.

“The recent closure of offices announced by Amnesty International and the disbandment of other organisations out of a fear of potential reprisals send a chilling message to people in Hong Kong and across the region. It confirmed concerns raised by many when the law came about that it was not so much about security but rather designed as a tool to crackdown on civic freedoms in Hong Kong,” said Cornelius Hanung, Asia Advocacy and Campaigns Officer, CIVICUS.

CIVICUS has previously documented the detrimental impact of the NSL imposed by Beijing, which criminalises four types of activities, namely secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with “foreign forces.” According to the law, these  carry a maximum sentence of life in prison. Following the passage of the law in June 2020, several pro-democracy organisations including Demosisto, one of Hong Kong’s most prominent pro-democracy political groups, ceased their operations.  Some civil society staff left their jobs while others have exercised greater caution in their activities. More than a year on, it has been arbitrarily used to criminalise more than a hundred activists and opposition politicians, restrict press freedom and silence protests.

“We stand in solidary with the people of Hong Kong and our civil society colleagues, and reiterate our calls for the government to repeal the National Security Law which is clearly in contravention of international human rights law. We further urge the international community not to remain silent in the face of increasing  restrictions on civil society but to use all avenues to speak up on these abuses” said Cornelius Hanung.

In September 2020, CIVICUS supported the call by 50 United Nations experts calling for decisive measures to protect fundamental freedoms in China, including Hong Kong, and for an international mechanism to address the Chinese government’s human rights violations. We call on delegations to the Human Rights Council to take collective, coordinated action at the next Council session to make clear that systemic human rights violations in China, including those taking place in Hong Kong, will not go unnoticed and unchecked. 


Malaysia: IPCC bill is a step backwards for police accountability

Today, we—Amnesty International Malaysia, ARTICLE 19, CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation and Human Rights Watch—call on Members of Parliament in Malaysia to reject the deeply flawed Independent Police Conduct Commission (IPCC) bill and move quickly to table a bill to establish a police accountability mechanism that is truly independent and capable of ensuring adequate police oversight.

The IPCC bill is expected to be tabled in Parliament during this Parliamentary sitting for its second reading. While there is little doubt that Malaysia desperately needs an independent oversight commission for the police, the IPCC bill, first tabled in August 2020, further weakens the already anaemic oversight mechanism currently in place and must be rejected.

The bill fails to address widespread public concerns about police misconduct, ongoing misuse of power against government critics, and custodial deaths. If passed, the bill would not, as the government states, promote accountability, but rather shield police officers from scrutiny and independent oversight.

Police abuse of power in Malaysia

Malaysia has a long history of police abuse, including the excessive use of force, torture, ill-treatment, harassment, and deaths in custody. Human rights violations by police officers have been documented by both national and international non-governmental organisations (NGOs).

The police have also abused their power to restrict freedom of expression and assembly in Malaysia. The space for peaceful protests has shrunk considerably. Police personnel continue to harass those criticising governmentofficials and have arbitrarily arrested peaceful protesters under the guise of dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.

The aggressive application of the Sedition Act 1948, in particular against government critics, is another abuse of police power frequently witnessed. Between January and August 2021, NGOs documented investigations under the Sedition Act being opened by police in 17 cases involving 37 individuals in total. The recent investigations of the #Lawan protest organisers under the Sedition Act are another worrying example of police overstep to the detriment of human rights.

The Communications and Multimedia Act is also frequently used by the police to censor human rights defenders, journalists, artists, political opponents, and ordinary members of the public who have been critical of the police, government officials or Malaysian royalty, or shared opinions about issues deemed sensitive by the government, such as race and religion.

Police misconduct and violence

This year alone we have seen multiple alarming custodial deaths. In January, former police volunteer reservist Mohd Afis Ahmad died from blunt force trauma to the head just a day after he was arrested. In another case in April, milk trader A Ganapathy was admitted to the Intensive Care Unit upon his release following 12 days in police custody, where he later died. Autopsy results revealed he died from complications arising from injuries on his legs and shoulders, believed to have been sustained while in police custody. In May, security guard S Sivabalan died about 70 minutes after he was arrested by police, allegedly of a heart attack. Promised investigations into each of the above cases appear not to have made any progress.

Police misconduct is not limited to deaths in custody. Allegations of corruption, abuse of power and links to criminal elements have also been raised in recent years. In March this year we were alarmed by allegations from the former Inspector General of Police (IGP) Abdul Hamid Bador that there is a movement of corrupt young police officers or ‘cartels’ within the police force whose ambition is to dominate the police force enabling them to carry out ‘dirty work’ for their own personal interests.

The allegations from the former IGP have shocked the public and highlighted how crucial it is to establish an independent body to investigate these claims and to reform the police force. An independent and effective oversight commission is not going to solve all these problems, but it is an important first step, given the lack of accountability within the police force in Malaysia.

Independent Police Conduct Commission (IPCC)

Despite these concerns, the tabled IPCC bill is not a move towards police accountability but the opposite. The bill further weakens the limited police oversight provided by the current system under the Enforcement Agency Integrity Commission (EAIC). Our key concerns with the bill are as follows:

  1. No powers of search and seizure - The EAIC, for all its weaknesses, has the power to perform searches and seizures in its investigations of wrongdoing, including custodial deaths. The IPCC does not and as such would weaken the ability to conduct meaningful and effective investigations into police misconduct.
  1. Limited powers to compel documents and no provisions for hearings Under the IPCC, documents or evidence can be withheld if deemed ‘prejudicial to national security or national interest,’ a vaguely defined clause that is open to abuse. Unlike the EAIC, the IPCC does not provide for a hearing. Hearings would allow commissioners to fully explore and examine complaints, ensure greater transparency to victims of abuses and their families, and inform the public and decision makers around police procedures and policies.
  1. Prior notice requirement for site visits - The IPCC commissioners cannot visit police premises, lockups, or places of detention without prior notice to the head of department. Experience from the National Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (SUHAKAM) shows that authorities may treat early notice requirements as permission requirements, diluting the power of site visits.
  1. Limited investigation power - Even if the IPCC commissioners are able to successfully carry out investigations despite the above limitations, its powers are limited to making recommendations to a relevant body such as the Police Force Commission, the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission or other relevant authorities. Given how recommendations by bodies such as the EAIC and SUHAKAM have been consistently ignored, it is not unreasonable to expect the IPCC will face the same blue brick wall. The IPCC is also exempt from investigating any act provided for in the Inspector-General Standing Orders (IGSO) (Sections 96 and 97 of the Police Act 1967). The standing orders generally govern issues such as the conduct of arrests, the treatment of detainees, and on matters related to permissible use of weapons, amongst others.
  1. Appointment process lacks independence and is unclear - Under the IPCC, as with the EAIC, members of the Commission will be appointed and dismissed by the King on the advice of the Prime Minister, calling into question the independence of the body. Moreover, appointed members may themselves be police officers. The Chief Executive Officer of the Commission is appointed by the Minister of Home Affairs, which further undermines the principle of independence and impartiality.

The need for an independent police oversight body

The idea of an independent police oversight body was first proposed in 2005, as part of 125 recommendations made by the Royal Commission to Enhance the Operation and Management of the Royal Malaysian Police. The commission was composed of prominent public figures, including a former IGP. The police force also made its submissions as did the Retired Senior Police Officers' Association of Malaysia.

A key recommendation was the establishment of an Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC) to investigate police abuses and discipline those responsible. A proposed bill was drafted as part of the report. Yet, more than 16 years later, Malaysia seems to be moving ever further away from meaningful police reform.

Police leadership has resisted independent oversight and the IPCMC has not yet been established, despite vigorous and sustained campaigning from civil society and human rights organisations. The previous Pakatan Harapan government tabled an IPCMC bill in July 2019 although it was criticised by human rights groups for being insufficient.

Malaysia needs an independent oversight body that is truly independent and impartial from the State and the police, to avoid a conflict of interests. To be effective, the oversight body must possess real powers and responsibilities to investigate and take concrete action against police officers responsible for serious abuses. It is long overdue for the Malaysian government to treat the matter of custodial deaths and other police misconduct with the urgency it warrants. The families of those who have died while in police detention deserve answers and justice for their loved ones. People in Malaysia need to be assured that these deaths will not continue to occur with impunity and that those who abuse their positions of power and responsibility will be held accountable.

Therefore, we urge the government to drop the IPCC bill and instead urgently table a bill that establishes an oversight commission that is truly independent, with sufficient powers to effectively investigate and take action against police misconduct. The rule of law applies to all, even the police.

Endorsed by

  1. Amnesty International Malaysia
  2. ARTICLE 19
  3. CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
  4. Human Rights Watch

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


Vietnam: Immediately release journalist and human rights defender Pham Doan Trang


Ahead of her upcoming trial on 4 November, the undersigned 28 human rights and freedom of expression organizations today condemn the ongoing arbitrary detention of independent journalist and woman human rights defender Pham Doan Trang. We call on the Vietnamese authorities to immediately and unconditionally release and drop all charges against her. The persecution of Doan Trang and other human rights defenders, including independent writers and journalists, is part of the worsening assault on the rights to freedom of expression and information in Vietnam.

Pham Doan Trang was arrested more than a year ago in Ho Chi Minh City, on 7 October 2020, and initially charged under Article 88 of the 1999 Penal Code and its successor provision, Article 117 of the 2015 Penal Code, which both criminalize ‘making, storing, distributing or disseminating information, documents and items against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.’ She is now being charged under Article 88 of the 1999 Penal Code, according to the indictment made public on 18 October 2021.

A month before her arrest, Doan Trang was the subject of a joint communication issued by five UN Human Rights Council Special Rapporteurs (independent experts) responding to mounting harassment against her and other independent writers and journalists. In its December 2020 response, the government of Vietnam denied all allegations of wrongdoing and, without providing evidence, justified Doan Trang’s arrest as a response to her alleged abuse of the internet to overthrow the State.

It is clear that Pham Doan Trang is being persecuted for her long-standing work as an independent journalist, book publisher, and human rights defender, known for writing about topics ranging from environmental rights to police violence, as well as for her advocacy for press freedom. Vietnamese authorities have regularly used Article 88 (and later Article 117) of the Penal Code to punish human rights defenders, independent journalists and writers, and others who have peacefully exercised their human rights.

International human rights experts have repeatedly called on Vietnam to amend the non-human rights compliant provisions of its Penal Code and bring them into line with international law. In 2021, four UN Special Rapporteurs noted that Article 117 is ‘overly broad and appears to be aimed at silencing those who seek to exercise their human right to freely express their views and share information with others.’ In 2019, the UN Human Rights Committee called on Vietnam ‘as a matter of urgency’ to revise vague and broadly formulated legislation, including Article 117, and to end violations of the right to freedom of expression offline and online.

In June 2021, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, responding to the detention of an Independent Journalist Association of Vietnam member, pointed to a ‘familiar pattern of arrest that does not comply with international norms, which is manifested in the circumstances of the arrest, lengthy detention pending trial with no access to judicial review, denial or limiting of access to legal counsel, incommunicado detention, prosecution under vaguely worded criminal offences for the peaceful exercise of human rights, and denial of access to the outside world. This pattern indicates a systemic problem with arbitrary detention in Vietnam which, if it continues, may amount to a serious violation of international law.

Since her arrest, Doan Trang has been held incommunicado, until 19 October 2021, when she was finally allowed to meet with one of her lawyers after having been denied access to her family and legal representation for over a year. Prolonged incommunicado detention is a form of prohibited ill-treatment under international law under the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and Article 7 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which Vietnam has ratified. As a result of this denial of her rights to a fair trial, liberty, and security, she has faced increased risk of torture and other ill treatment.

On 30 August 2021, following the conclusion of the police investigation, the Hanoi Procuracy Office issued its formal indictment against Doan Trang. Alarmingly, her family did not learn of this until more than a month later, on 7 October, and only after having requested information from the authorities. The family and lawyers were again denied visitation. Authorities at the time also refused to provide Doan Trang’s lawyers with a copy of the indictment or access to the evidence they had prepared against her. This undue delay in the proceedings and refusal to grant access to a lawyer of her choosing amounts to a violation of her right to a fair trial under Article 14 of the ICCPR.

According to the indictment, which was only made public on 18 October—more than a year after her arrest—Doan Trang is being charged under Article 88 of the Penal Code, for alleged dissemination of anti-State propaganda. The authorities dropped the similar charge under Article 117 of the amended Penal Code.

The indictment calls attention to three specific pieces of writing. It mentions a book-length report Doan Trang wrote with Green Trees, an environmental rights group, about the 2016 Formosa Ha Tinh Steel disaster; a 2017 report on the freedom of religion in Vietnam; and an undated article titled ‘General assessment of the human rights situation in Vietnam.’ The indictment also accuses her of speaking with two foreign media, Radio Free Asia and the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), to allegedly defame the government of Vietnam and fabricate news. These publications highlight Doan Trang’s vital work as an author, journalist, and human rights defender who has worked tirelessly for a more just, inclusive, and sustainable Vietnam. Her peaceful activism should be protected and promoted, not criminalized, in line with the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, the undersigned organizations said.

The use of human rights reports as evidence in a criminal prosecution sends a chilling message to civil society against engagement in human rights documentation and advocacy, and increases the risk of self-censorship. In light of the fact that Doan Trang’s report on Formosa was also part of direct advocacy with the UN Special Rapporteur on toxics and human rights in 2016, its inclusion as evidence against her may constitute an act of intimidation and reprisal for cooperation with the UN and consolidate an environment of fear, as already noted by several UN actors.

Ahead of her 4 November 2021 trial, Doan Trang was only granted her first meeting with her lawyer on 19 October 2021. While the lawyer noted Doan Trang’s overall positive attitude, he also recounted several serious medical concerns. Doan Trang’s legs, which were broken by the police in 2015, have been in greater pain as a result of the denial of adequate medical care during her detention. She has not been allowed to visit a doctor to treat other preexisting conditions, including low blood pressure, and as a result she has lost 10 kilograms.

We denounce this unacceptable denial of her rights to a fair trial and freedom from torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment and call for an immediate end to her arbitrary detention, and for all charges against her to be dropped.

Doan Trang’s background as an independent journalist and human rights defender

Doan Trang is among the leading voices and best-known independent writers in Vietnamese civil society and recognized internationally for her human rights advocacy. She is the author of thousands of articles, blog entries, Facebook posts, and numerous books about politics, social justice, and human rights.

She is the co-founder of the environmental rights group Green Trees, and the independent media outlets Luat Khoa Magazine, The Vietnamese Magazine, and the Liberal Publishing House. Doan Trang is the recipient of the 2017 Homo Homini Award presented by Czech human rights organization People in Need and the 2019 Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Award Prize for Impact. In 2020, the International Publishers Association awarded her organization, the Liberal Publishing House, with their Prix Voltaire Award.

Pham Doan Trang is no stranger to harassment and intimidation by the State for her writing and human rights advocacy. This has included torture and other ill-treatment, including physical assault. In 2015, she was beaten so badly by security forces that she was left disabled and has since often needed crutches to aid her mobility. In 2018, she was hospitalized after being subjected to torture in police custody. For three years preceding her arrest, she was forced to move constantly and lived in fear of intimidation and harassment by police and other State authorities.

In view of the above, we call on the government of Vietnam to:

  • Immediately and unconditionally release and drop all charges against Pham Doan Trang and all other human rights defenders currently imprisoned solely for the peaceful exercise of their human rights and fundamental freedoms;
  • Pending her immediate and unconditional release, guarantee humane treatment and conditions, and ensure prompt access to medical attention;
  • Guarantee Doan Trang unrestricted access to and regular communication with her family and confidential access to legal assistance of her choosing;
  • Ensure that her chosen lawyers are promptly provided with timely access to all relevant legal documentation and granted unrestricted communication and access in confidentiality with Doan Trang and adequate time and facilities to prepare for her defense;
  • Ensure the trial is open to the public, including diplomatic and human rights civil society observers and the media, and refrain from any arbitrary restriction on travel or interference of trial observers, media, and civil society preceding and during the trial;
  • Repeal or substantially amend the Penal Code and other non-human rights compliant legislation, used to harass and imprison individuals—including independent journalists and human rights defenders—for the exercise of their fundamental rights, and bring them in conformity with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to which Vietnam has been a State Party since 1982, and other applicable international law and standards.


  1. Access Now
  2. ALTSEAN-Burma
  3. Amnesty International
  4. ARTICLE 19
  5. Asia Democracy Chronicles
  6. Asia Democracy Network
  7. Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)
  8. Boat People SOS (BPSOS)
  9. CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
  10. Committee to Protect Journalists
  11. Defend the Defenders
  12. FIDH - International Federation for Human Rights
  13. Front Line Defenders
  14. Green Trees
  15. Human Rights Watch
  16. International Commission of Jurists
  17. International Publishers Association
  18. Legal Initiatives for Vietnam
  19. Open Net Association
  20. PEN America
  21. People in Need
  22. Que Me - Vietnam Committee on Human Rights
  23. Reporters Without Borders
  24. Safeguard Defenders
  25. The 88 Project
  26. Vietnam Human Rights Network
  27. Vietnamese Women for Human Rights
  28. World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)

Civic space in Vietnam is rated 'closed' by the CIVICUS Monitor.


Poland: A Year On, Abortion Ruling Harms Women

Anniversary Marks Ongoing Assault on Women’s Rights, Rule of Law

Women, girls, and all pregnant people have faced extreme barriers to accessing legal abortions in the year since a Constitutional Tribunal ruling virtually banned legal abortion in Poland, 14 human rights organizations said today. Since the ruling, women human rights defenders have also faced an increasingly hostile and dangerous environment.

Poland’s authorities should end efforts to undermine reproductive rights and weaken protections from gender-based violence. They should commit to protecting women human rights defenders who have faced ongoing threats and attacks since the October 2020 decision. Escalating death threats since October 9 against Marta Lempart, co-founder of Ognopolski Strajk Kobiet (All-Poland Women’s Strike) and a target of repeated threats for leading demonstrations supporting legal abortion and women’s rights, led to her police protection during public appearances.

“The Constitutional Tribunal ruling is causing incalculable harm to women and girls – especially those who are poor, live in rural areas, or are marginalized,” said Urszula Grycuk, international advocacy coordinator at the Federation for Women and Family Planning (Federa) in Poland. “The dignity, freedom and health of pregnant people are compromised because their own government is denying them access to essential reproductive health care.”

The organizations are Abortion Support Network, Amnesty International, the Center for Reproductive Rights, CIVICUS, Federa, FOKUS, Human Rights Watch, International Campaign for Women’s Right to Safe Abortion, International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), International Planned Parenthood Federation-European Network, MSI Reproductive Choices, Le Planning Familial, Riksförbundet för sexuell upplysning/The Swedish Association for Sexual and Reproductive Rights, and Strajk Kobiet/Women’s Strike.

Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal, whose independence and legitimacy is profoundly eroded, is widely acknowledged as politically compromised. On October 22, 2020, it ruled that abortion on grounds of “severe and irreversible fetal defect or incurable illness that threatens the fetus’ life” was unconstitutional. The government brought the case to the tribunal after parliament failed to adopt legislation with the same effect. The ruling came into force on January 27, 2021.

This eliminated one of the few legal grounds for abortion under Poland’s highly restrictive law. Previously, over 90 percent of the approximately 1,000 legal abortions annually in Poland were on these grounds. The ruling came as Covid-19 pandemic restrictions made travel for health care prohibitively difficult and costly. The ruling spurred the country’s largest public protests in decades, led by women human rights defenders.

Activists and women’s rights groups reported that the ruling had a significant chilling effect as people seeking abortions and medical professionals feared repercussions. Abortion Without Borders, which aids women in European countries where abortion is illegal or access is highly restricted, reported that 17,000 women in Poland contacted them in the six months after the ruling for help accessing abortion, and that they continue to receive about 800 calls a month.

Federa, a Polish reproductive health and rights organization, reported conducting approximately 8,100 consultations in the 11 months after the ruling, 3 times as many as during the same period in previous years. This included calls to its helpline and over 5,000 emails concerning access to abortion and other sexual and reproductive health services.

Since the Law and Justice party came to power in 2015, Poland’s government has repeatedly moved to further curb sexual and reproductive health and rights, including by supporting a 2016 draft bill for a total abortion ban that parliament rejected following mass public protest. The government also supported a draft bill, introduced by an ultra-conservative group, to essentially criminalize comprehensive sexuality education. The bill has been in committee since April 2020. These bills are “civic initiatives,” which require public signatures to be considered.

In September 2021, the same group introduced a new civic initiative “Stop Abortion” bill to parliament. It would consider abortion at any stage a homicide and would bring criminal penalties against women who have abortions, and anyone who assists them, with punishment of up to 25 years in prison. The bill is backed by Ordo Iuris Institute for Legal Culture, an ultra-conservative, anti-choice, and anti-lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) group.

Women’s rights organizations and parliament members of the opposition Lewica party are collecting signatures for a civic initiative bill, “Legal Abortion Without Compromise,” which would permit abortion without restriction as to reason up to the twelfth week of pregnancy. It would permit abortion after 12 weeks in cases of risk to the person’s mental or physical health, a non-viable pregnancy, or pregnancy resulting from rape or incest.

Evidence consistently demonstrates that laws restricting or criminalizing abortion do not eliminate it, but rather drive people to seek abortion through means that may put their mental and physical health at risk and diminish their autonomy and dignity. The United Nations Human Rights Committee has said that as part of the obligation to protect the right to life of pregnant people, states should not apply criminal sanctions against anyone undergoing abortion or medical service providers assisting them.

In July, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) announced that it will address complaints from Polish women who may be victims of violations of the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms due to the Constitutional Tribunal’s abortion ruling. Poland’s government has failed to effectively implement previous ECtHR judgments concerning access to lawful abortion despite repeated calls and a March judgment by the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe.

The Law and Justice government has also targeted women’s rights organizations and activists. Activists said that government rhetoric and media campaigns smearing them and their work foster misinformation and hate that can put their safety at risk. Several women’s rights defenders were detained or face what they describe as politically motivated criminal charges for actions during protests following the Constitutional Tribunal’s abortion ruling. Activists received multiple bomb and death threats in February and March for their support of reproductive rights but said that, in many cases, police minimized the security risks and either did not open investigations or failed to pursue them effectively. No one has been held accountable for these threats. Police launched investigations and arrested one man in connection with online death threats to Lempart ahead of her planned appearance at a protest on October 11, and are now providing her protection at public events.

The government has undermined efforts to combat gender-based violence, including by initiating Poland’s withdrawal from a landmark European convention on violence against women, the Istanbul Convention. The government referred the convention to the politically compromised Constitutional Tribunal for review due to its definition of “gender.” Campaigns against gender equality have been used to target women’s and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex rights and those who support them.

“Extreme restrictions on abortion are part of a broader assault by Poland’s government on human rights, including women’s rights and LGBTI rights, and the rule of law,” said Marta Lempart, co-founder of Strajk Kobiet. “It should alarm all Europeans that this is happening in their own backyard, even as European governments claim to be leaders on women’s rights and democratic values.”

The anti-abortion ruling’s anniversary comes amid increasing tensions between Poland’s government and the European Union after an October 7 Constitutional Tribunal ruling rejecting the binding nature of EU law. It followed a series of EU Court of Justice rulings that the Polish government’s weakening of judicial independence breaches EU law. The European Commission said it “will not hesitate to make use of its powers” under EU treaties to ensure application of EU law and protect people’s rights.

Poland’s government should reverse restrictions on reproductive rights and ensure that these rights are upheld in accordance with international law, including the right to access safe abortion. It should cease attacks on women’s rights and women human rights defenders and end moves to undermine the rule of law, democracy, and human rights.

The European Commission and EU member states should urgently address rule of law breaches and their impact on women’s human rights, including reproductive rights, in Poland. The European Commission should trigger legal infringement proceedings for Polish authorities’ use of a politically compromised Constitutional Tribunal to erode the rights of people in Poland and undermine democratic checks and balances, in blatant violation of the EU Treaties.

The Commission and EU member states should act to protect and support women’s rights defenders and organizations in Poland. Member states should actively support people in Poland seeking access to abortion.

The Commission should urgently implement the mechanism tying access to EU funds to respect for EU values and continue its commitment to tie EU Recovery Funds to rule of law guarantees. EU member states should advance and expand scrutiny under Article 7.1 of the Treaty on European Union (TEU) by adopting specific recommendations or voting to determine that there is a clear risk of a serious breach of EU values in Poland, as has been called for also by European Parliament.

“Despite fear and repercussions, people in Poland are fighting every day to protect rights that everyone in the EU should be able to exercise freely, including access to safe abortion,” said Hillary Margolis, senior women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Women’s rights are on a precipice in Poland, and unless the European Commission and Council act to defend democratic values, more and more women and girls will suffer the consequences.”

For more Human Rights Watch reporting on Poland, please visit:

For more information, please contact:
For Human Rights Watch, in London, Hillary Margolis (English): +1-917-385-4107 (US mobile) or +44 (0)7733-486-524 (UK mobile); or . Twitter: @hillarymargo
For Human Rights Watch, in Brussels, Philippe Dam: (French, English): +32-495-45-22-71 (mobile); or . Twitter: @philippe_dam
For Human Rights Watch, in Budapest, Lydia Gall (English, Swedish, Hungarian): +36-702-748-328 (mobile); or . Twitter: @LydsG
For Abortion Support Network (part of Abortion Without Borders), in London, Mara Clarke (English): +44 (0) 7913-353-530; or
For Amnesty International, Alison Abrahams: +32-483-680-812 or +44-20-7413-5566; or ; or . Twitter: @amnestypress     
For the Center for Reproductive Rights, in New York, Geraldine Henrich-Koenis (English): +1-703-314-1137; or . Twitter: @ReproRights
For CIVICUS, in Johannesburg, Aarti Narsee: ; or . Twitter @ajnarsee
For FIDH, in Brussels, Elena Crespi (English, French, Italian, Spanish): +32-484-875-964. Twitter: @ecrespi_fidh
For FIDH, in Paris: Marc de Boni (French, English): +33-6-722-842-94. Twitter: @MarcdeBoni
For Federa, in Warsaw, Urszula Grycuk (Polish, English): .
For International Planned Parenthood Federation European Network, in Brussels, Irene Donadio (English, Italian): +32-491-071-93-90; or . Twitter: @ippfen
For the Polish Women’s Strike, in Warsaw, Anna Styrańczak: +48-881-718-904; or .

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


Sudan: Stop harassing journalists and human rights defenders

The ongoing prosecution, harassment, and intimidation of journalists and human rights defenders by the Sudanese transitional authorities is a clear violation of Sudan’s international human rights obligations and poses major setbacks to the democratic commitments of the transitional leadership, said global civil society alliance CIVICUS today.




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