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.


Afghanistan: Assault on peaceful protests highlight deteriorating space for civic freedoms

Global civil society alliance CIVICUS condemns the excessive use of force and arbitrary arrests by Taliban security forces as they crack down on protests in Afghanistan. Such actions highlight the deteriorating space for civic freedoms in the country and the need to ensure independent mechanisms to hold Taliban authorities accountable.


Honduras: After two years in pre-trial detention, release arbitrarily detained Guapinol human rights defenders

  • Today marks exactly two years since Guapinol human rights defenders were jailed
  • Human rights defenders featured in CIVICUS’s Stand As My Witness Campaign
  • United Nations declared their detention is arbitrary and calls for their release
  • Detention unlawfully extended for further six months in August
  • Honduras one of the most dangerous places for environmental rights defenders

For two years, eight members of the Committee for the Defence of Common and Public Assets (CMDBCP) have been held in pre-trial detention in Honduras for defending protected water sources and natural resources of communities in danger of mining related contamination. The Guapinol human rights defenders have been advocating against the Guapinol mining project in Tocoa, in the department of Colón in Honduras. They were initially detained on 1 September 2019, and are being kept arbitrarily in pre-trial detention without any legal basis.

The eight defenders are Ewer Alexander Cedillo Cruz, José Abelino Cedillo Cantarero, José Daniel Márquez Márquez, Kelvin Alejandro Romero Martínez, Porfirio Sorto Cedillo, Orbin Nahuan Hernández, Arnol Javier Alemán and Jeremías Martínez. They were initially arrested on 26 August 2019, while protesting against the mining activities of the Honduras company Inversiones Los Pinares (ILP), which threatens the safety and livelihood of thousands of people in communities in the department of Colón. ILP was granted mining concessions by the state of Honduras in 2014 and its ongoing mining projects have contaminated water sources. Projects are being implemented without adequate consultations with communities affected.

“There is absolutely no basis for Honduras to detain the eight human rights defenders and to continue to keep them in pre-trial detention. Despite numerous calls from the international community, including from United Nations bodies for their release, the Honduran authorities continue to disregard the rule of law and have held them for two years now,” said David Kode, Advocacy and Campaigns Lead, CIVICUS.

The CMDBCP was set up primarily to raise awareness about the impact of the Guapinol project mining activities and to advocate against the actions of mining communities on behalf of the people affected. More than 32 members of CMDBCP have been subjected to judicial persecution and arbitrary detention, 6 have been killed and many more face threats and intimidation. These restrictions are symptomatic of the violence and human rights violations which target environmental and land rights activists, which makes Honduras one of the most dangerous countries for activists working on climate justice and environmental rights in the world.

On 9 February 2021, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions established that the deprivation of the liberty of the Guapinol human rights defenders is arbitrary and called on Honduras to release them immediately.

“The continuous detention of the Guapinol human rights defenders violates Honduras’ regional and international human rights violations and exposes the defenders to severe health risks in the context of a global pandemic,” David continued.

The Guapinol human rights defenders are part of the CIVICUS #StandAsMyWitness campaign - a global campaign that advocates for the rights of human rights defenders and calls for their release.

CIVICUS calls on the Honduras government to respect the rule of law and immediately release the Guapinol human rights defenders and hold those responsible for human rights violations accountable.

For more information on civic space violations, visit the Honduras country page on the CIVICUS Monitor


Uganda: Lift restrictions on NGOs and respect freedom of assembly and expression

CIVICUS, a global alliance of civil society organisations and activists dedicated to strengthening citizen action and civil society throughout the world is seriously concerned over a decision by the Ugandan authorities to close and suspend the operations of 54 non-governmental organisations (NGOs).

On 20 August 2021, The National Bureau for Non-Governmental Organisations (NGO Bureau) under the Ministry of Internal Affairs published a decree, revoking operational licences and certificates of 15 NGOs and halting the operations of 36 others. Many of those affected highlight human rights violations and have contributed to civil society development in Uganda. The Ugandan government accuses the NGOS of failing to register with the NGO Bureau or for operating with expired NGO permits. Those indefinitely suspended are accused of consistently failing to file annual returns and audited books of accounts and for failing to comply on other issues.

“The dissolution of these organisations is a new low for human rights in a country that has continuously failed to respect fundamental freedoms, including freedom of association. The closure and suspension of organisations is intended to silence independent civil society voices committed to defending human rights and civic space in Uganda,” said David Kode, Advocacy and Campaigns Lead for CIVICUS.

The closure and suspension of these organisations follows several restrictions imposed on NGOs, including a national validation exercise in 2019. Government justified the restrictions by stating they were needed to identify entities involved in “unscrupulous activities,” and to prevent unregistered NGOs from laundering money. Although the Public Order Management Act was constitutionally nullified by the court in March 2020, it is still being used by the government to limit fundamental freedoms including the right to assemble and association.

The NGO Bureau has imposed the current restrictions on civil society organisations at a time when members of security personnel continue to enjoy high levels of impunity for targeting human rights defenders and journalists.

CIVICUS calls on the government of President Yoweri Museveni to rescind the suspensions of all NGOs affected, respect its international human rights obligations, and create an enabling environment for civil society organisation and human rights defenders.

The CIVICUS Monitor, an online platform that tracks threats to civil society in countries across the globe, rates civic space – the space for civil society – in Uganda as repressed.

For more information, please contact:
David Kode
Advocacy and Campaigns Lead


Myanmar: Activists behind bars

MyanamrActivistsinPrison Banner1

Following the February 2021 military coup, thousands in Myanmar have been arbitrarily arrested, detained, and attacked including human rights defenders, trade unionists, journalists, political and student activists, poets, writers, and monks. 

As documented by the CIVICUS Monitor, many are facing baseless charges and there have also been reports of torture and ill-treatment during interrogation, and of deaths in custody. The following are some of the human rights defenders and activists who have been detained by the junta.

Min Htin KoKo Gyi1Filmmaker Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi  

Filmmaker Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi was arrested on 1 February 2021, following the military coup. He is a prominent filmmaker and founder of the Human Dignity Film Institute. He produced an award-winning documentary Floating Tomatoes about the disastrous effect that pesticides are having on Myanmar's Inle Lake.

In August 2019, he was previously arrested and sentenced under Section 505(a) of Myanmar’s Penal Code to a year in prison by the Insein Township Court for a series of Facebook posts critical of the military-drafted 2008 Constitution and the military’s role in politics.

(Photo Credit: Myanmar NOW) 

Ko Min Thway Thit1Student activist Ko Min Thway Thit 

Student activist Ko Min Thway Thit was arrested on 1 February 2021, following the coup. On 30 December 2021 he was sentenced to one year imprisonment for driving an unregistered vehicle without a license under Section 95 of the Vehicle Safety and Motor Vehicle Management Law.

He was previously imprisoned in 2015 for his role in the protests against the new education bill and released in 2016. He was also among four fined 30,000 kyats for organising a protest without permission on 7 July 2019 to commemorate Ne Win’s 1962 massacre of student activists.

(Photo Credit: Burma News International) 

ko mya aye kyaukse88 Generation activist, Mya Aye 

Prominent democracy activist and one of the leaders of the 88 Generation was arrested on 1 February 2021, following the coup. Mya Aye was arrested twice under the former junta for his political activism during and after the 1988 uprising and served a total of 12 years in prison.

He faces hate speech charges under Article 505(c) of the Penal Code for incitement, which carries up to two years in prison.


(Photo Credit: The Myanmar Times) 

Ko Wai Moe Naing1Protest leader Ko Wai Moe Naing 

Ko Wai Moe Naing, a prominent anti-junta protest leader in Monywa, Sagaing Region, was beaten and dragged away by junta forces after his motorcycle was rammed on 15th April 2021.  A photo apparently showing him to have been badly tortured went viral the day after his arrest

Wai Moe Naing met with his lawyers for the first time on 27th May 2021, more than a month after his arrest The meeting took place during a court hearing in Monywa Prison, where he is currently being held. He reportedly faces a total of 10 criminal charges, including treason, murder, incitement, unlawful association, wrongful confinement, and armed robbery.

(Photo Credit: Myanmar NOW) 

Man Zar Myay Mon1Land and environmental rights defender, Man Zar Myay Mon 

Man Zar Myay Mon is a land and environmental rights defender in Sagaing Region. He was detained on the morning of 8 June 2021, by soldiers while he was attempting to flee Shan Htoo Village, Chaung-U Township, Sagaing Region. The soldiers shot him in the leg while he was riding a motorbike, immediately captured him, handcuffed him, and blindfolded him. He is being held at an interrogation center at the headquarters of the Tatmadaw’s Northwestern Command in Monywa, Sagaing Region

After he became a leading figure of peaceful anti-coup protests, in March 2021 Man Zar Myay Mon was charged with “incitement” under Article 505(a) of the Penal Code for his participation in the demonstrations and an arrest warrant was issued against him, which forced him to go into hiding. He has worked for many years to promote accountability of the extractive industries for the benefit of local communities. He was also active as one of the community leaders in the Letpadaung mine protests in Sagaing Region.

(Photo Credit: The Irrawaddy) 


Ma Chun BuJournalist Ma Chan Bu

Security forces beat and arrested reporter Ma Chan Bu from the 74 Media on 29 March while she was covering a protest in Myitkyina, Kachin State. She was arrested with Ko La Raw, who is with Kachin Wave. Both media outlets are based in the Kachin State capital. She has been charged under Section 505a of the Penal Code. 

According to reports as of 15 July 2021, nearly half of the 87 journalists arrested by Myanmar’s junta in the five months since the coup remain in detention. 31 reporters were released prior to 30 June 2021 when the junta declared a general amnesty and freed 2,300 prisoners from the country’s jails, including another 14 journalists. In most cases, authorities charged reporters with defamation of the military under Section 505 (a). Dozens of reporters are currently in hiding. She was released on 19 October 2021.

(Photo Credit: BNI Multimedia Group)

Thin Thin Aung1Women human rights defender Thin Thin Aung 

Thin Thin Aung was arbitrarily arrested on 8 April 2021 from Botahtaung Township in Yangon and taken to the Yay Kyi Ai military interrogation centre in Yangon’s Insein Township. On 9 April 2021, military security forces raided her apartment in Yangon and seized her belongings, including her computers. She was taken to the Mingalardon interrogation centre (Yay Kyi Aing) on the same day. After being tortured for two weeks, she was transferred to Yangon’s Insein prison on 21 April 2021. She has been charged under Section 505 (a) of the Penal Code. 

She is a co-founder of Mizzima News Agency and the Women’s League of Burma (WLB), the founder of Women for Justice formerly known as Women’s Rights and Welfare Association of Burma (WRWAB). Since the 1988 uprising, Thin Thin Aung has dedicated her life to the fight for democracy and human rights in Myanmar. She has spent most of her time advocating locally and internationally for justice for women’s human rights. She was released on 19 October 2021.

Myo Aye1

Trade union leader, Ma Myo Aye 

One of Myanmar’s leading trade union leaders, Ma Myo Aye was arrested on 15th April 2021. She was arrested at her office in Yangon’s Shwepyithar Township by around 40 members of the military junta’s security forces. Myo Aye was then taken to a police station for interrogation. 

She is director of Solidarity Trade Union of Myanmar (STUM) and has been one of the most prominent union leaders in the civil disobedience movement, which has been organising national strikes and protests since the military seized power.  She was released on 19 October 2021.

(Photo Credit: Twitter/@cleanclothes)  

Shwe Nya Wah SayadawPro-democracy Buddhist monk, Shwe Nya Wah Sayadaw 

Buddhist monk Shwe Nya War Sayadaw was arrested on 1 February 2021, following the coup. He was detained by the military at his monastery in Yangon. He is an outspoken monk and has been critical of the 969 movement, which is backed by nationalist Buddhist monks.

In 2012, he was ordered to leave his monastery in Yangon because of a speech he gave at a pro-democracy event at the Mandalay office of the National League for Democracy, where he had publicly called for the release of political prisoners and the end of ongoing civil wars.

 (Photo Credit: Kaung Htet/ The Myanmar Times)



Zambia: New government must lift restrictions on civil liberties

Global civil society alliance CIVICUS congratulates President Hakainde Hichilema on his election as the new President of Zambia and commends the millions of people of Zambia for participating in the electoral process that has seen the transition of power from former President Edgar Lungu to a new government. The people of Zambia braved the Covid-19 pandemic, concerns of violence, and internet restrictions ahead of the elections to exercise their civic duty.

“Zambians have demonstrated to the world a resolve to chart their own democratic path in a constitutional way; to return to a space where human rights and fundamental freedoms are respected, promoted, and protected. We urge the government of President Hichilema to promote and protect human rights principles and good governance for a better Zambia.” Said Dr Paul Mulindwa, Advocacy and Campaigns Officer, CIVICUS.

Over the last five years in Zambia civil liberties deteriorated as Zambian authorities arrested journalists, suspended independent media platforms and subjected human rights activists to judicial persecution. Several activists have been targeted particularly for calling for accountability in the management of state finances and for protesting against corruption.

President Hichilema’s government has a responsibility to initiate broad consultations with civil society, reverse civic space restrictions imposed by his predecessor and respect fundamental freedoms in line with Zambia’s constitution and international human rights obligation.

We urge the new government to:

  • Carry out an independent investigation into the violence ahead of the elections and bring the perpetrators to justice. Lift the ban on all independent media outlets, particularly Prime TV, and lift all restrictions on online freedoms and create an enabling environment for independent media, journalists, and activists to freely express their views without fear of intimidation and harassment.
  • Adhere to and respect the provision of the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance, including not restricting access to internet as a standard practice in future elections.
  • Honour its obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, and all other human rights obligations and commitments.
  • Fulfil the promises made during the electoral processes including building a better Zambia, based on democratic principles.

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


Pakistan: Three years on, Prime Minister Imran Khan has overseen an assault on civic freedoms

PM Imran Khan1
Three years after Imran Khan took office as Pakistan’s Prime Minister in August 2018, global civil society alliance CIVICUS has documented an ongoing assault on civic freedoms. Human rights defenders and critics have been harassed, criminalised and forcibly disappeared. There have been ongoing efforts to censor the media and to target journalists, and the crackdown on the Pashtun movement including enforced disappearances of activists has persisted. The culture of impunity in the country has meant that perpetrators of these abuses have not been held accountable.

As a current member of the Human Rights Council, Pakistan has a duty to uphold the highest human rights standards. However, the documented violations are inconsistent with Pakistan’s international obligations to respect and protect civil society’s fundamental rights to the freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression, including those under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). These fundamental freedoms are also guaranteed in Pakistan’s Constitution.

Human rights defenders at risk

The Pakistani authorities have harassed, and at times, prosecuted activists for criticising government policies. Among those targeted since Imran Khan came to power include human rights defender Idris Khattak who was forcibly disappeared from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province in November 2019 for seven months. Nearly seven months later, in June 2020, the Ministry of Defence finally admitted that human rights defender Khattak was being held in state custody. He is now facing prosecution in a military court. Women human rights defender Gulalai Ismail was forced to leave the country in September 2019. She and both her parents, activist Professor Mohammed Ismail and his wife Uzlifat Ismail, have been facing harassment for the last two years and are also facing trumped up terrorism charges.

The UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women has raised concerns that women human rights defenders are frequently subjected to reprisals, harassment and threats. One stark example of this has been the response to the ‘Aurat March’, a march held yearly in towns and cities across Pakistan to mark International Women’s Day and for women to reclaim their space, speak up for their rights and demand justice. Women rights activists involved in the march have routinely been subjected to intimidation and threats. The Imran Khan administration has systematically failed to speak out or take action against the perpetrators. On the contrary, in March 2021, a court in Peshawar ordered the registration of a first information report (FIR) against the organisers of the march in Islamabad.

NGOs shut down or expelled

The government has shut down numerous civil society organizations over the last three years under the guise of combating terrorism, money laundering or for promotion of an ‘anti-state’ agenda. In December 2018, not long after the Prime Minister assumed power, Pakistan expelled 18 international NGOs from the country when their renewal of registration was rejected arbitrarily without reason. Local NGOs have had their funds frozen. The procedures for NGOs to obtain foreign funding lacks transparency, remains cumbersome and applied in a discriminatory manner.

Assault on press freedom

Press freedom in Pakistan has also continued to deteriorate under Imran Khan’s leadership. The military has set restrictions on reporting, including barring access to regions, encouraging self-censorship through direct and indirect methods of intimidation against both reporters and editors, and even allegedly instigating violence against reporters.

In 2019, several journalists were placed on a “watch list” by the Pakistan Federal Investigation Agency’s (FIA) Cybercrime Wing over criticism of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman during his visit to Pakistan. In October 2019, the head of the Committee to Protect Journalists' (CPJ) Asia programme, Steven Butler, was denied entry into Pakistan and deported because his name was on a “stop list of the Interior Ministry”. In 2020, government officials and supporters mobilised a cyber-harassment campaign against women journalists and commentators whose views and reporting have been critical of the government and more specifically its handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

Journalists have been criminalized and even abducted. Rizwan Razi was arrested in February 2019 in Lahore over a series of social media posts allegedly critical of the judiciary, government and intelligence services. In July 2020, Matiullah Jan was abducted by unidentified armed men from a busy street in Islamabad and released 12 hours later. Jan is known for his criticism of the country’s powerful institutions, including its military, and has been labelled “anti-state”. In May 2021, journalist Asad Ali Toor was assaulted by three unidentified men, believed to be agents of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency who forcibly entered his apartment in Islamabad. They interrogated, gagged and beat him.

Crackdown on the PTM movement

There has been a systematic crackdown against the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM). The PTM have mobilised nationwide against human rights violations against Pashtun people. They have demanded the establishment of a truth and reconciliation commission to examine human rights violations committed by the state and non-state actors in Pashtun areas, including enforced disappearances allegedly perpetrated by the Pakistan army, and extrajudicial killings. Protesters also continue to call for equal rights for Pashtun people, as guaranteed by the constitution, and the restoration of peace in Pashtun areas and the region in general.

Instead of addressing these concerns, the Imran Khan administration has arbitrarily arrested, detained and prosecuted on spurious charges scores of PTM activists since the beginning of the protests. These activists have been accused of sedition and other crimes under Pakistan’s Penal Code, and of terrorism charges.

Some PTM activists have been killed. In February 2019, PTM leader Arman Loni died in police custody Loralai in Baluchistan. He had suffered blows to the head and neck when police officers physically assaulted him with rifle butts. Arman’s death was not registered by the police for another two months. In May 2020, Arif Wazir, a PTM leader, died in Islamabad following an attack by unidentified assailants outside his home in Wana, South Waziristan. He had been detained and charged for his activism, and had previously been considered ‘anti-national’ by authorities. No one has been brought to justice for these killings.

Authorities have attempted to suppress the PTM by silencing media coverage of the movement. In December 2018, internet service providers blocked the website of Voice of America's (VOA) Urdu language service. An article by Manzoor Pashteen published in the New York Times in February 2019 was censored by its local publisher. Journalists covering protests have been targeted in a similar manner to participants.

Enforced disappearances

Enforced disappearances targeting human rights defenders, political activists, students, journalists and others have continued relentlessly under the Imran Khan administration. The UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearance has received 1144 cases of allegations of enforced disappearances from Pakistan between 1980 and 2019 with more than 731 cases pending at the end of 2019. According to human rights groups, in some instances, people are openly taken into custody by the police or intelligence agencies, and often authorities deny information to families about where their loved ones are being held. Many of those forcibly disappeared have been subjected to torture and death during detention.

The government had committed to criminalising enforced disappearances when it came to power in 2018. However, the bill to do so languished at the draft stage for more than two years before it was finally introduced to the National Assembly in June 2021.


After three years in power, the current administration continues to fall far short of its human rights obligations.

We urge the government of Pakistan to undertake the following as a matter of urgency:

• Take steps to ensure that all human rights defenders in Pakistan are able to carry out their legitimate activities without any hindrance and fear of reprisals in all circumstances and conform to the provisions of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders.
• Drop all charges against human rights defender Idris Khattak and release him immediate and unconditionally. End all acts of harassment - including at the judicial level and restrictions on freedom of movement - against Muhammad Ismail, his wife Uzlifat Ismail and Gulalai Ismail.
• Take measures to foster a safe and enabling environment for civil society, including by removing legal and policy measures that unwarrantedly limit the freedom of association. This includes removing all undue restrictions on the ability of CSOs to receive international and domestic funding, in line with international law and standards; refrain from acts leading to the closure of CSOs or the suspension of their peaceful activities and consult meaningfully with civil society in any review of these laws and regulations.
• Ensure freedom of expression and media freedom, both online and offline, by bringing all national legislation into line with international law and standards and ensuring that journalists are able to work freely and without fear of retribution for expressing critical opinions or covering topics that the government may find sensitive. Any forms of harassment and attacks against journalists must be promptly and impartially investigated immediately and perpetrators brought to justice;
• Put an end the harassment, stigmatisation, intimidation, unlawful surveillance, travel restrictions and arrest of peaceful PTM activists and ensure that they can freely express their opinions and dissent without fear of reprisals. Conduct a swift, thorough, independent and impartial investigation into the killing of PTM leaders and activists Arman Loni and Arif Wazir, and ensure that those responsible for his death are brought to justice;
• Ensure efforts to criminalise enforced disappearance as an autonomous crime move swiftly and that the law in in line with international law and standards. The government must also ensure that all allegations of such acts are thoroughly investigated and those responsible brought to justice.

The CIVICUS Monitor, an online platform that tracks threats to civil society in countries across the globe, rates civic space – the space for civil society – in Pakistan as Repressed.


CIVICUS stands with indigenous peoples and calls for a new social contract

Global civil society society alliance, CIVICUS, stands in solidarity with  indigenous peoples in celebrating the International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples on 9 August, which this year is calling for a new social contract that puts the voices, needs and concerns of indigenous peoples at the forefront. 

Since 1994, the International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples marks an opportunity to celebrate Indigenous Peoples, and provide an opportunity to raise awareness on critical issues relevant to indigenous peoples.

Across the world, indigenous peoples marginalised and excluded by governments from participating in public affairs. They routinely face evictions from their lands without compensation, and are currently impacted by the harshest consequences of climate change. Moreover, human rights defenders seeking to protect and promote the human rights of indigenous peoples continue to be killed, intimidated, and harassed for defending their indigenous land and natural resources, and for advocating for the rights of indigenous communities.  

On 20 April 2021, Liliana Pena Chocue was killed by unidentified individuals in Colombia. In February 2021, two other indigenous rights defenders. Yenes Ríos Bonsano and Herasmo García Grau were killed in Peru. All three were members of Indigenous patrol and forest control groups.

Across the world, indigenous peoples communities have had their lands appropriated for development projects without their consent. These include the Himba community in Namibia, Biafra Indigenous People of Nigeria, Basarwa in Botswana, Benet and Batwa in Uganda, Ogiek and Endorois in Kenya, to name just a few. 

The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples gives indigenous peoples the right “to maintain, protect and have access to their ancestral lands, religious and cultural sites. 

CIVICUS stands in solidarity with indigenous communities across the world that continue to experience human rights violations from state and non-state actors. In this regard CIVICUS supports the demands of Sengwer indigenous people of Kenya to regain their ancestral lands at Embobut. CIVICUS stands with Batwa indigenous peoples in the Great Lakes region, the Baka and Bagyelis in Cameroon who remain vulnerable, marginalised, and landless with no compensation following the eviction from their ancestral lands by their governments.

“In this period of the United Nations 2030 Agenda, focusing on Sustainable Development, and specifically, its pledge of “leave no one behind”, every stakeholder must ensure that indigenous peoples are not left behind in every process of development, including promoting and protecting their rights, if SDGs are to be effectively achieved,” said Paul Mulindwa CIVICUS’ Advocacy and Campaign’s Lead for Africa.

As we celebrate the International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples, CIVICUS calls on state and non-state actors to 

  1. Carry out independent investigations into the killings of all indigenous rights activists this year and hold the culprits to account. 
  2. Ensure that the rights and identities of indigenous peoples are recognised and respected at all times 
  3. Ensure that the benefits from commercial or development projects done in their ancestral lands are shared with affected communities 
  4. Empower indigenous peoples and their future generations to break the social, legal, political, and economic barriers that have kept their communities from the benefits of development and transformation taking place in Africa
  5. Guarantee effective consultations with Indigenous Peoples to obtain their free, prior and informed consent for decisions that affect them.
  6. Ensure effective participation and inclusion of indigenous peoples in public spheres.
  7. Promote and protect the land rights of indigenous peoples by ensuring clear land tenure systems that promotes communal ownership.


Thailand: Immediately repeal emergency regulation that threatens online freedoms

Seventeen (17) international human rights organisations today denounced the Thai government’s newly announced Regulation No. 29, which empowers the authorities to censor online expression, and investigate and prosecute individuals responsible for communications that may “instigate fear”. The Regulation is the government’s latest attack on the right to freedom of expression and information in Thailand.


Cambodia: A year on, the persecution of human rights defender Rong Chhun and other activists continue

Stand with Rong Chuun

CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance, calls on the Cambodian authorities to drop the baseless charges against trade union activist and human rights defender Rong Chhun and to release him immediately and unconditionally. One year on from his arrest, his ongoing persecution highlights the unrelenting government repression against activists in the country and his ongoing detention during a pandemic is putting his life at risk.

Rong Chhun, the President of the independent Cambodian Confederation of Unions and a member of the Cambodia Watchdog Council, was arrested on 31 July 2020. He has been a vocal human rights defender and has long raised concerns about the plight of farmers’ and workers’ rights.

Chhun was charged with incitement under Article 495 of Cambodia’s Penal Code after he advocated for the land rights of villagers living near the Cambodia-Vietnam border. He was jailed at Prey Sar Prison and his trial began in January 2021. He has been denied bail amid an unprecedented COVID-19 outbreak in Cambodia’s prisons.

“The authorities must drop the politically-motivated charges that have been brought against Rong Chhun. Speaking up for local communities should never be a crime. The persecution against him exemplifies the systematic weaponization of the courts by the Hun Sen regime to target activists and silence all forms of dissent,” said Lisa Majumdar, CIVICUS Advocacy Officer.

Rong Chhun’s arrest last year sparked a wave of arrests in relation to planned protests to demand his release. Many of the activists arrested remain in detention and have also been denied bail. They include Hun Vannak, Chhoeun Daravy, Tha Lavy, Koet Saray, and Eng Malai (aka So Metta), who are members of Khmer Thavrak and Sar Kanika a former activist for the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP).  Others detained include Muong Sopheak and Mean Prommony, member and Vice-President of the Khmer Student Intelligent League Association (KSILA).

“It is extremely disturbing that activists in Cambodia have been denied bail despite calls by the UN to decongest prisons and release political prisoners during the pandemic. Holding them at this time poses a serious risk to their lives - and adds another layer of punishment for these activists. The international community must do more to stand side by side with Cambodia civil society and demand their release,” said Lisa Majumdar.

Research undertaken by the CIVICUS Monitor shows that laws are routinely misused in Cambodia to restrict civic freedoms, undermine and weaken civil society, and criminalize individual’s exercise of their right to freedom of expression. Human rights defenders, civil society activists and journalists are often subject to judicial harassment and legal action. They have also been ongoing police ill-treatment against the families and relatives of detained activists  from the banned Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP) who have been holding protests.

Civic space in Cambodia is rated as ‘repressed’ by the CIVICUS Monitor.


Indonesia: Unilateral renewal of Special Autonomy and arbitrary arrest of protesters in West Papua

CIVICUS and TAPOL regret the revision and renewal of the Special Autonomy Law in West Papua (Papua and West Papua Provinces), which further strips critical aspects of decentralisation and autonomy for the region. We are also extremely concerned about the arbitrary arrest of people protesting the renewal and forcible disruptions of protests.  Despite such protests and the lack of consultation with the people of West Papua, the law was passed by the Indonesia House of Representatives on 15 July.

Papua protest July 2021

Demonstrations held in the last week marked the latest in a series of protests by West Papuans opposing the Indonesian government's decision to extend Special Autonomy status and demanding an internationally supervised independence referendum. Police arrested 23 students and activists in Jayapura on 14 July 2021, and four protesters were injured. On 15 July, 18 demonstrators were arrested in Kaimana, West Papua, and a protest in Manokwari was blocked. Another 50 protesters were arrested and beaten in front of the House of Representatives in Jakarta on 15 July just prior to the passage of the law.

We call on the Indonesia authorities to halt their repression of peaceful protest against the extension of the Special Autonomy Law. The right to peaceful protest is an essential part of a democracy, which Indonesia needs to immediately realise in West Papua. 

The Special Autonomy Law in West Papua was first enacted in 2001 and has now been extended for another 20 years, with some concerning new amendments. The originally-enacted law had itself long been rejected by many West Papuans as failing to realise meaningful autonomy. 

Eighteen articles of the revised law were amended and two articles were added, with serious implications for issues of decentralisation and autonomy. According to Article 76, the central government can now decide on the creation of new regencies and districts. This has been opposed by many West Papuans because it could lead to further marginalisation and militarisation in the region. Two sections of Article 28 were omitted, which removed the right to form local political parties. A new rule is now in place that the vice president will have an office in the provinces to oversee the implementation of the Special Autonomy Law.

Kaimana protest arrests papua

The Papuan People’s Assembly (Majelis Rakyat Papua/MRP) was excluded from the amendment discussions despite its inclusion in consultations being explicitly required by the law. The MRP had stated that the renewal is not the wish of West Papuan people. The Papuan People’ Petition (Petisi Rakyat Papua/PRP), which consist of 112 mostly Indigenous groups, collected 714,066 grassroot West Papuans’ signatures against Special Autonomy.

The unilateral decision by the Government of Indonesia to revise and extend the Special Autonomy Law is a flagrant violation to the right to self-determination of West Papuan people.

We urge the President of Indonesia Joko Widodo to issue a regulation in lieu of law (Peraturan Pemerintah Pengganti Undang-undang/Perppu) to annul the Special Autonomy Law. Instead of forcing this extension, the authorities should instead hold meaningful consultation with the West Papuan people to address their grievances, deal with the injustices they have faced and to seek an end to the conflict. This includes releasing all political prisoners detained for their activism including Victor Yeimo, ending the harassment of human rights defenders, activists, students and others in Papua and ensuring that all serious crimes committed by Indonesian security forces are investigated, findings made public and that victims and their families receive reparations.

CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation is a global alliance of civil society organisations (CSOs) and activists dedicated to strengthening citizen action and civil society around the world. Founded in 1993, CIVICUS has more than 10,000 members in more than 175 countries throughout the world.

TAPOL campaigns for human rights, peace and democracy in Indonesia. We are based in the UK and work to raise awareness of human rights issues in Indonesia, including in the contested territory of West Papua. Founded on grassroots campaigning, TAPOL works closely with local organisations in West Papua and Indonesia to advocate for truth and justice and encourage the international community to take action. 


India: Death of priest highlights persecution of human rights defenders under Modi government

The death of Jesuit priest and human rights defender Father Stan Swamy, today, has deeply shocked and outraged global civil society alliance CIVICUS. Swamy’s death is a result of the persecution he has faced by the Modi government after revealing abuses by the state.


Eswatini: Respect democratic rights and stop violence against peaceful protesters

Eswatini authorities must stop the brutal repression of peaceful protesters and respect the rights of people to demand democratic reform. CIVICUS calls on the authorities in Eswatini to protect the right to protest, which is enshrined in the Eswatini constitution and in international human rights law.


Cambodia: Government must end the persistent judicial harassment of environmental defenders

Mother Nature activists

The Government of Cambodia must drop the charges against Mother Nature Cambodia (MNC) environmental defenders and immediately release them, said human rights groups Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA), Asia Democracy Network (ADN), CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation, Earth Rights International (ERI), and Front Line Defenders.

On 20 June, environmental defenders Sun Ratha, Yim Leanghy and Ly Chandaravuth were charged with conspiracy against the government (Article 453 of the Criminal Code), which carries a sentence of five to ten years. Sun Ratha and Yim Leanghy were further charged with insulting the king (Article 437 bis), which carries a sentence of up to five years.  MNC founder Alejandro Gonzalez-Davidson was charged in absentia for both offences. Another human rights defender, Seth Chhivlimeng who had earlier been arrested was detained for 24 hours and released without charge.

The Interior Ministry spokesperson had earlier accused them of using foreign money to commit ‘rebellious actions’ against the Government.

‘The judicial harassment of these human rights defenders is part of the government’s systematic campaign against environmental defenders who try to hold them to account for violations of environmental rights. It sends a chilling message that instead of taking steps to address the environmental damage brought on by businesses and development activities, they will target the defenders,’ said Olive Moore, Deputy Director at Front Line Defenders.

The activists were arrested on 16 June 2021 for documenting the sewage discharge into the Tonle Sap river in Phnom Penh. The environmental group Mother Nature Cambodia has consistently advocated for the protection of the environment through peaceful activism and worked to expose corruption behind development activities. 

For their advocacy, they have faced reprisals from the government. In May 2021, MNC activists Thon Ratha, Long Kunthea, Phuong Keo Raksmey, Alejandro Gonzales-Davidson and Khmer Thavrak Youth Movement activist Chea Kunthin were sentenced to between 18 and 20 months’ imprisonment for incitement. Three of them, Thon Ratha, Long Kunthea, Phuong Keo Raksmey, had been in pre-trial detention since September 2020, while Kunthin and Gonzales-Davidson were charged in absentia. 

The charges of conspiracy and insulting the King, point towards an escalation of harassment against defenders. 

‘Within a repressed civic space, these charges of conspiracy and insulting the king demonstrate the extent to which the government will use its arsenal of repressive laws against human rights defenders they see as a threat. These arbitrary and vague laws continue to be used to stifle dissent and peaceful advocacy and are inconsistent with Cambodia’s international human rights obligations,' said Josef Benedict, CIVICUS Asia Pacific Researcher.

The groups call on the international community, including the United Nations, to condemn the harassment of environmental defenders, and to stand for the causes they fight for.

‘The international community must condemn this systematic targeting of human rights defenders and call for their immediate and unconditional release. They must take a stand against the escalation of harassment against defenders, including through the arbitrary use of repressive laws meant to intimidate dissenters. The protection of defenders must be of utmost priority and these attacks cannot be justified,’ said Shamini Darshni Kaliemuthu, Executive Director of FORUM-ASIA. 

‘Further, they must ensure any agreements or engagements they have with the government or with its businesses comply with international human rights standards including the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, and do not further cause harm to defenders who continue to fight for the environment despite the massive risks they face,’ said the groups.

The Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) -

The Asia Democracy Network (ADN)

CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation -

EarthRights International -

Front Line Defenders -


Bangladesh: Hold security forces accountable for torture

Rights Groups Call for Decisive Action on International Day for Victims

The Bangladesh government has failed to address widespread allegations of torture and ill-treatment by its security forces, ten rights groups said on the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture. The groups called on the United Nations and concerned governments to take decisive action.

Law-enforcement and intelligence agencies in Bangladesh, including both the police and soldiers seconded into civilian law enforcement are credibly accused of torture and ill-treatment of detainees and suspects. Such acts have included: beatings with iron rods, belts, and sticks; using electric shocks on their ears and sexual organs; waterboarding; hanging detainees from ceilings and beating them; deliberately shooting to maim, including knee-capping them; forcing prolonged exposure to loud music and sounds; committing mock executions; and subjecting them to forced nudity. Hundreds have become victims of enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings.

“Bangladesh human rights activists, international groups, and UN experts have all raised concerns about security force abuses including ill treatment in custody only to be met with denials and lies,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Over the past several decades Bangladesh leaders pledged reform but each government has scaled up such atrocities, fostering a culture of abuse and impunity among security forces.”

The Bangladesh government failed to follow-up as required in August 2020 after the UN Committee against Torture made concrete recommendations to prevent and address torture during the country’s review under the Convention against Torture in July 2019. These recommendations included official statements at the highest levels that torture will not be tolerated and that law enforcement authorities must end unacknowledged detentions. 

The committee said that the government should establish an independent mechanism to investigate all allegations of torture or ill-treatment by law enforcement officials, enact legislation to protect victims and witnesses, and publish a list of all detention sites. 

Following the review, the UN human rights body described the police as a “state within a state,” asserting that “in general, one got the impression that the police, as well as other law enforcement agencies, were able to operate with impunity and zero accountability.” 

Seven years after its implementation, in 2020, a Bangladesh court ordered the first ever conviction under the 2013 Torture and Custodial Death (Prevention) Act. Activists hoped this would pave the way for investigations and accountability for the dozens of documented reports of torture by security forces. However, following the 2020 conviction, the victim’s family told the media that they faced repeated pressure, threats, and offered bribes by law enforcement to drop the case. Furthermore, Bangladesh police have repeatedly called for the government to amend the 2013 Torture Act to make it less prohibitive, casting doubt on the hope some harbored that Bangladesh’s security forces may be serious about ending torture. 

Mushtaq Ahmed, a writer, died in prison on February 25, 2021, after being held in pretrial detention for nine months for posting on Facebook criticism of the government’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic. His death caused a public outcry. Ahmed Kabir Kishore, a cartoonist, who had been detained with Ahmed by members of the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), was released on bail. Kishore filed a legal claim alleging that he was tortured, and also described the torture Ahmed said he had undergone while they were illegally detained. 

“Mushtaq was smelling strongly of urine,” Kishore said. “He too had been picked up a few days ago and had been beaten a lot. He was electrocuted in the genitals. There were newspapers on the floor and I asked Mushtaq to use that to clean himself. He took off his underwear and threw it away—I saw that it had excrement in it. He had defecated in his pants from the torture, he told me.”

When 13 Diplomats expressed grave concern about Ahmed’s death in custody and called for “a swift, transparent, and independent inquiry into the full circumstances” of his death, Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen told the media to “stop giving publicity to this sort of nuisance.” The government has yet to hold an independent and transparent investigation into Ahmed’s death.

Rights groups have extensively documented crimes of torture, extrajudicial killing, and enforced disappearances, in particular by the Detective Branch of police and the RAB, a paramilitary force notorious for committing acts of torture, extrajudicial killings, and enforced disappearances, and have called for RAB to be disbanded. In March 2021, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michele Bachelet affirmed that “[a]legations of torture and ill-treatment by the Rapid Action Battalion have been a long-standing concern.”

In October 2020, US senators published a bipartisan letter calling for targeted sanctions against top RAB officials for torture, extrajudicial executions, and enforced disappearances under all applicable authorities, including the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act. The US government should swiftly move forward with these measures and should be joined by other concerned jurisdictions with similar sanctions regimes including the UK, EU, and Canada. 

The UN Committee against Torture has expressed concern “that personnel that have served with the Rapid Action Battalion have frequently been deployed for service with United Nations peace missions” and called for an independent inquiry into allegations of grave abuses by the Rapid Action Battalion. Bangladesh is the top contributor of peacekeeping troops in the world, yet these troops are not being sufficiently vetted to ensure abusive practices inculcated at home are not tacitly condoned and exported to missions abroad, the groups said. 

“The United Nations should stand with victims of torture in Bangladesh by ensuring that abusive security forces cannot ‘blue-wash’ their reputations through deployment in UN peacekeeping operations,” Mohammad Ashrafuzzaman, liaison officer of the Asian Human Rights Commission. “The UN department of Peace Operations should start by taking a serious look at how their human rights vetting policy is being applied in Bangladesh.”

The UN should undertake a comprehensive review of its ties with the Bangladesh military. All discussions about increasing Bangladeshi troop deployments in UN missions and high-rank posts should be put on hold pending the results of such an investigation, the groups said. The UN Department of Peace Operations should sever all ties with any units, soldiers, and commanders found responsible for serious human rights abuses, including commanders who failed to prevent or punish abuses by individuals under their command. 

In addition, the UN department of Peace Operations should carry out increased vetting for all personnel with a history of RAB affiliation under the 2012 UN policy on Human Rights Screening of United Nations Personnel which requires verification that any individual serving the United Nations has not committed any “violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law.” 

The UN Human Rights Council should adopt a resolution on enforced disappearances, torture, and extrajudicial killings in Bangladesh. 

“Bangladesh authorities have long been sweeping allegations of torture under the rug,” said Angelita Baeyens, Vice President of International Advocacy and Litigation at Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights. “The government should heed recommendations by the UN rights bodies and address abuses by its security forces.”

This joint statement is endorsed by:

  1. Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances (AFAD) 
  2. Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) 
  3. Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) 
  4. Asian Network for Free Elections (ANFREL) 
  5. CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
  6. Eleos Justice, Monash University 
  7. Human Rights Watch 
  8. International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) 
  9. World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)
  10. Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights



Malaysia: Authorities reverting to repressive tactics of former governments to throttle expression online


French Separatism Bill threatens fundamental freedoms, warn civil society organisations

The proposed French "separatism" bill («Projet de loi confortant le respect des principes de la République») could threaten rights and civil liberties, according to French and European civil society organisations including CIVICUS, the European Civic Forum (ECF), Le Mouvement Associatif (LMA) and la Ligue des droits de l’Homme (LDH). French civil society organisations and trade unions have scheduled public demonstrations against the bill on 12 June 2021.


Bangladesh: No accountability for killing of Mushtaq Ahmed 100 days on

100 days on since the death in custody of writer and critic Mushtaq Ahmed, no one has been held accountable for his killing. Global civil society alliance CIVICUS calls on the Bangladesh authorities to immediately establish an independent investigation into his death and to bring the perpetrators to justice.


The French “separatism” bill raises concerns for rights and civil liberties

Dear Commissioner Didier Reynders,

Dear Michael O’Flaherty,

Cc: Commissioner Ylva Johansson, Vice President Vera Jourová

The French “separatism” bill raises concerns for rights and civil liberties: the European Commission must question France

We, civil society organisations that advocate for rights and values, for the defence of civil liberties and the rule of law, and against any form of discrimination, are writing to raise concerns about the French “separatism” bill («projet de loi confortant le respect des principes de la République») currently under discussion in Parliament.

Numerous actors including associations in France[1], the national human rights body[2] and European organisations[3] have expressed major concerns over the bill and the implications it would have for rights and civil liberties. Among the provisions raising worries is a so-called “Contract” of Republican Engagement, that the Government will introduce by a Decree, which will give administrative authorities the right to withdraw public funding and extended possibilities for dissolution with a limited role for the judiciary. Additionally, it introduces unnecessary controls on foreign funding that cast a negative presumption on all civic organisations receiving funding from abroad.

The bill may be considered by EU institutions as implementing EU law on combating terrorism, racism and xenophobia and its provisions may lead to disproportionate restrictions of freedom of association (article 12 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU - CFR), freedom of expression (art. 11 of CFR) and freedom of thought, conscience and religion (art. 10 CFR), as well as to the violation of the right to non-discrimination (art. 21 CFR). There is concern that the bill as currently drafted will affect minorities based on their ethnic origins, Muslim populations or people considered to be Muslim, and associations standing up for their rights.[4]

Organised civil society is a key pillar of French democracy and an important watchdog in ensuring the respect for the rule of law. We are alarmed by the fact that the law is dramatically increasing the control of public authorities and institutions on the right to associate, departing from the more than centennial liberal framework that made the French civil society sector one of the strongest and most vibrant in Europe and the world. Our concern extends to the fact that the French Government is restricting parliamentary debate to pass the law by a fast-track procedure and without consultation with civil society ahead of the legislative process.

If the law is passed in its current form, it will also set a dangerous precedent for the rest of Europe. As a recent case in point, legislation stigmatising and restricting access to foreign funding to associations in Hungary was later proposed in Poland and Bulgaria[5].

The European Commission recognises the important role of civil society in the “ecosystem” of access to rights by all in the EU. The recognition of civil society’s role in safeguarding the rule of law was expressed in the Commission’s first rule of law report, and through the infringement procedure against Hungary’s law on the transparency of organisations supported from abroad. Another very positive development is illustrated by the Citizens, Equality, Rights & Values (CERV) programme funding’s increase for the 2021-2027 period.

We urge the Commission to show a similar willingness to support civic actors in France by expressing concerns about the draft law. In particular, we call on the European Commission to:

  • Question publicly the provision restricting the right to associate and civil liberties included in the draft proposal, with no delay;
  • Open discussions with the French authorities on the current state of civic space and rule of law in the country and associate French civic actors in appropriate forms.

We are counting on the European Commission and the European Fundamental Rights Agency to act swiftly in raising concerns regarding restrictions to rights and civil liberties with regards to the draft bill.


European and global Networks

  • CIVICUS - Global
  • Civil Society Europe - Europe
  • Equinox - Europe
  • European Center for Not-for-Profit Law (ECNL) – Europe
  • European Civic Forum (ECF) - Europe
  • European Network Against Racism (ENAR) - Europe
  • Reclaim EU - Europe

French organisations

  • Le Mouvement Associatif – France
  • Ligue des droits de L’Homme (LDH) - France
  • Action Droits des Musulmans (ADM) - France
  • Alliance Citoyenne – France

France Separatism bill


[1] See, for example, Joint open letter – for the attention of senators: Bill “reinforcing respect for the principles of the republic”, 7 April 2021,  the national platform, Le Mouvement Associatif, “Projet de loi Respect des principes républicains: propositions du Mouvement associative” (, 13 January 2021; The coalition for associative freedoms, a Coalition bringing together more than 10,800 supporters: "Separatism law": associative freedoms in danger.

[2] Commission nationale consultative des droits de l’homme , Second avis sur le projet de loi confortant le respect des principes de la République, 4 April 2021.

[3] COE, The Expert Council on NGO Law is concerned about the restrictions by the Bill to strengthen respect for the principles of the Republic by all, 31 March 2021, The Expert Council on NGO Law is concerned about the restrictions by the Bill to strengthen respect for the principles of the Republic by all - Newsroom (; ECNL, France aims to strengthen respect of republican values: but how does it affect civic space?, 10 December 2021.

[4] ADM analysis of the « projet de loi confortant le respect des principes de la République » 

[5] European Commission, 2020 Rule of Law Report Country Chapter on the rule of law situation in Poland, 30 September 2021, pl_rol_country_chapter.pdf (, p. 16; European Commission, 2020 Rule of Law Report Country Chapter on the rule of law situation in Bulgaria, 30 September 2021, bg_rol_country_chapter.pdf (, p. 20.

 Civic space in France is rated "Narrowed" by the CIVICUS Monitor.


Call on UNHRC to adopt a resolution on human rights situation in Occupied Palestine

HRC 30th Special Session: Call on the United Nations Human Rights Council to adopt a resolution on the grave human rights situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem and in IsraelOn 27 May 2021, the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC) will hold a Special Session in relation to the escalating human rights violations against the Palestinian people on both sides of the Green Line.

A draft resolution from the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) calling for the establishment of a commission of inquiry on the issue was circulated to UN member states. There is still time to call on our respective governments to support the resolution ahead of the vote in the UN Human Rights Council on 27 May 2021. Let’s act now!

Israel’s repression against Palestinians on both sides of the Green Line intensified in May 2021 in response to widespread Palestinian demonstrations against Israel’s imminent threat of eviction and displacement of eight Palestinian families from their homes in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in Jerusalem. This is only the latest in a series of measures, which form part of Israel’s decades-long institutionalized regime of racial domination and oppression over the Palestinian people as a whole. While the international community has ensured Israel’s impunity since 1948, enabling Israel to continue to commit widespread and systematic human rights violations. Palestinians on both sides of the Green Line, and refugees and exiles abroad, are denied their right of return and continue to steadfastly resist 73 years of Israeli settler colonialism and apartheid.

What can you do?

This resolution needs all the support it can garner. Encourage your friends and colleagues throughout the world to mobilize their networks. In particular, we seek support from human rights and anti-racism movements in in all parts of the world to place pressure on their governments to support a commission of inquiry.

  1. Sign the petition through this link
  2. Write to your foreign ministry calling on it to support the OIC resolution and the establishment of an ongoing commission of inquiry on violations committed on both sides of the Green Line and to reject any proposed amendment that would undermine or seek to restrict or undermine the commission of inquiry. A list of contact information for foreign ministries can be found here.
  3. Send a copy of the correspondence to your country’s ambassador in Geneva. Contact information can be found here.
  4. Follow the Special Session, which will be livestreamed and use social media to tweet at your representatives and @UN_HRC with #SupportPalestineCOI to raise awareness about the debate and the call for an independent commission of inquiry.

What is the Special Session about?

The special session was convened based on a request by Pakistan, on behalf of the state members of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and other UN members and observers indicated below. 

In addition to the debate, the OIC has presented a resolution requesting that the HRC appoint an ongoing independent commission of inquiry to investigate, in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and in Israel, all violations and abuses of international humanitarian law and international human rights law since 1 April 2021, which will also be mandated to study all underlying root causes, including Israel’s systemic discrimination and repression, thereby encompassing the crimes of apartheid and persecution.

This comes following years of work by civil society, including Palestinian, regional and international human rights organisations, urging states to address the root causes of Israel’s settler colonialism and apartheid imposed over the Palestinian people as a whole. 

Palestinian civil society, supported by a broad coalition of 120 regional and international organisations, urged member states to ensure the creation of a commission of inquiry to monitor, document and report on all violations of international human rights and humanitarian law, including the latest Israeli attacks against Palestinians on both sides of the Green Line and address the root causes of Israel’s institutionalized regime of racial domination and oppression. In addition, the organisations called for the mechanism to address the root causes of Israel’s institutionalized regime of racial domination and oppression.

What is a commission of inquiry?

UN commissions of inquiry are international independent investigative bodies designed to examine serious situations of violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law, as applicable. Based on their mandates, they collect information on violations, establish the facts, and identify perpetrators. As such, these investigatory bodies can play an important role in promoting accountability for violations and preventing future violations.

Why is this important?

This is an important resolution as it is the first time the Human Rights Council:

  • Addresses the root causes of Israel’s systemic discrimination, including Israel’s settler colonialism and apartheid, by establishing a commission of inquiry, which would address Israeli violations against the Palestinian people;
  • Includes a geographic scope encompassing, for the first time, Israeli violations targeting the Palestinian people on both sides of the Green Line, in recognition that Israel’s institutionalized regime of racial domination and oppression targets the Palestinian people as a whole.

What is at stake?

  1. Some delegations may attempt to change the language and weaken the resolution given that the proposed commission of inquiry has a real potential to begin to address the root causes of human rights violations in Palestine, to seek meaningful accountability, and to preserve evidence that can be used in international criminal proceedings to hold perpetrators accountable.
  2. We need UN member states to take the opportunity to establish an ongoing commission of inquiry that addresses the current systematic violations but also future violations in the context of Israel’s institutionalized regime of racial domination and oppression over the Palestinian people, with the aim to bring an end to decades of impunity and international inaction in the face of mass atrocities against Palestinians.


Cambodia: Stop silencing critical commentary on COVID-19

We, the undersigned international human rights organisations, call on the Cambodian government to immediately stop its assault on freedom of expression in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. In recent months, the government has warned against public criticism of its actions, prevented independent journalists from reporting on the pandemic, prosecuted individuals for criticising the inoculation campaign, and threatened journalists and social media users with legal actions on the spurious grounds of provoking “turmoil in society.”

While Cambodia was spared from high numbers of severe COVID-19 cases in 2020, beginning in February 2021 there has been a spike in cases to which the government responded with disproportionate and unnecessary measures in violation of Cambodia’s international human rights obligations. This includes a campaign against freedom of expression that further constricts media freedom and promotes fear and self-censorship in the country. These measures serve to undermine, not advance, efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19.

The Cambodian authorities placed a de facto ban on independent reporting in Phnom Penh’s red zones—areas deemed to be high risk for COVID-19 transmission. On 3 May 2021, the Ministry of Information announced that only state media or journalists invited by the government would be permitted to report from red zones. The next day, the Ministry of Information issued a letter warning journalists not to disseminate information that could “provoke turmoil in society” and threatening legal action against those who disobey. The letter followed viral livestream footage from multiple Facebook news outlets of long queues of COVID-19 patients outside government treatment centres.

The government’s campaign to silence critical commentary has extended beyond journalists to ordinary people, in a manner incompatible with international human rights standards.

In a press release dated 1 May 2021, the Government Spokesperson Unit demanded the immediate cessation of social media posts intended to “provoke and create chaos” in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, referring to such posts as “acts of attack” that must be punished. The press release concluded by praising the efforts of government officials to curb the spread of COVID-19 but did not provide any legal justification for imposing these possible restrictions on the right to freedom of expression.

On 30 April 2021, Kandal provincial authorities warned farmers in Sa’ang district not to post images of vegetables spoiling in their fields due to the closure of markets, stating that such communications are bad for morale. One farmer, Tai Song, was pressured by the provincial authorities to sign a document agreeing not to post such content again after he shared a photo on Facebook showing his vegetables rotting and stating that he had to clear and throw away his crops.

The Cambodian authorities have arrested dozens of individuals for expressing critical opinions about the government’s COVID-19 response, including at least six individuals for their criticism of the government’s vaccination campaign. One Chinese journalist, Shen Kaidong, was subsequently deported for publishing a story deemed ‘fake news’ in which multiple Chinese nationals reported receiving a text offering them the Sinopharm vaccine for a service fee.

Authorities have also prosecuted at least three individuals—Korng Sambath, Nov Kloem, and Pann Sophy—for posting TikTok videos criticising the use of Chinese-made vaccines under the new, overly broad and vague Law on Measures to Prevent the Spread of COVID-19 and other Serious, Dangerous and Contagious Diseases (the COVID-19 Law).

These actions are consistent with the government’s systematic and relentless crackdown on freedom of expression and information spanning far beyond the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. This latest surge contributes to the government’s broader efforts to silence all critical voices in Cambodia.

The right to freedom of expression is protected by Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Cambodia acceded in 1992, and by Article 41 of Cambodia’s Constitution.

Protecting public health is the grounds on which the government is purporting to restrict freedom of expression. While there is a legitimate need to counter the spread of misinformation online to protect public health during a pandemic, this objective must be provided by a clear and accessible law and pursued using the least intrusive means, rather than unnecessary and disproportionate measures like unwarranted arrests, detentions, and criminal prosecutions.

In its General Comment 34, the UN Human Rights Committee emphasised the essential role of the media in informing the public and stated that “in circumstances of public debate concerning public figures … the value placed [on] uninhibited expression is particularly high.” A 2017 Joint Declaration of four independent experts on freedom of expression stressed that “general prohibitions on the dissemination of information based on vague and ambiguous ideas” are incompatible with international human rights standards.

The UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights emphasised in General Comment 14 that the protection of freedom of expression is a key component of the right to health—enshrined in Article 12 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights—enabling vital information collected by the public and journalists to reach policymakers. We therefore strongly condemn the Cambodian government’s efforts to inhibit the free flow of information relevant to the pandemic. Such actions will negatively impact the quality and reliability of news reporting and undermine the government’s own ability to respond to COVID-19.

Open dialogue and robust investigative journalism are critical during times of crisis, including public health emergencies. The Special Rapporteur on the right to health has emphasised the crucial role of the media in ensuring accountability in health systems. During a pandemic, free and independent media can help identify viral hotspots or outbreaks, monitor national and international responses, and promote transparency and accountability in the delivery of necessary public health services.

The Cambodian government’s clampdown on free speech is having a chilling effect on the exercise of freedom of expression in Cambodia. The authorities’ actions are reinforcing the already widespread atmosphere of self-censorship, preventing participation in governance and public affairs, and extinguishing an important safeguard for government accountability.

We therefore call on the Cambodian government to end the harassment of independent journalists reporting on COVID-19 and individuals who voice critical opinions or fears about the pandemic on social media platforms and to take steps to ensure a free, independent, and diverse media environment. We urge the Cambodian authorities to substantially amend or repeal the new COVID-19 Law and other non-human rights compliant legislation that criminalise or unduly restrict freedom of expression and information. The Cambodian government should uphold the right to freedom of expression, including the freedom to seek, receive and impart information instead of using a public health crisis as an excuse to extinguish dissent.

This statement is endorsed by:

1. Access Now
2. Amnesty International
4. ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR)
5. Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)
6. CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
7. Human Rights Watch
8. International Commission of Jurists (ICJ)
9. International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
10. International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX)
11. Reporters Without Borders (RSF)
12. World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)

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


Belarus: Release arrested journalist after forced emergency landing at Minsk Airport

Journalist, Roman Protasevich is wanted by the government for broadcasting the government’s violent response to last year’s protests against Alexander Lukashenko


India: Chronology of harassment against human rights defender Sudha Bharadwaj

SudhaSudha Bharadwaj, aged 60, is a human rights lawyer and activist who has spent her life defending Indigenous people in India and protecting workers’ rights. She was detained in August 2018, arrested under the draconian Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) on trumped up accusations of having links with Maoist terrorist organisations, based on evidence believed to be fabricated. It is alleged that she and 15 other human rights defenders conspired to incite Dalits at a public meeting which led to violence in Bhima Koregaon village in the Pune district of Maharashtra in January 2018. The treatment of Sudha highlights the increasingly repressive measures used by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government to clamp down on dissent and silence human rights defenders.


Afghanistan: Joint call for immediate end to attacks against HRDs & need for protection & accountability

Afghanistan Statement on Security of HRDs May2021

The threats, harassment, intimidation, and attacks against human rights defenders, activists, journalists, and media workers in Afghanistan must end – the undersigned international human rights organisations said.  

From September 2020 until May 2021, a total of 17 human rights defenders have been killed, including nine journalists, based on information compiled by the Afghan Human Rights Defenders Committee (AHRDC). Nine of those killed were in the first five months of this year. During this period, over 200 human rights defenders and media representatives reported that they were receiving serious threats to the AHRDC and the Afghanistan Journalists Safety Committee. A report published by the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) in February 2021, noted that 65 media practitioners and human rights defenders have been killed since 2018. In most of these cases, no perpetrators have been held to account. These attacks are aimed at silencing peaceful dissent and those working on human rights, especially women’s rights, as well as those seeking justice and accountability for human rights violations. The timing of escalating attacks against human rights defenders, activists, and journalists appears to be linked to the ongoing peace process between the Government of Afghanistan, the United States, and the Taliban.

It is vital to uphold and prioritize freedom of expression during this critical time in Afghanistan and for its future. The progress made on creating safe space for human rights defenders especially women human rights defenders and journalists is at stake with the United States and NATO forces’ full withdrawal announcement from Afghanistan by 11 September 2021. The attack targeting school children in Kabul on 8 May, is a devastating reminder of escalating violence against civilians, especially against women and girls. The international community, as stakeholders of the current political processes, including the United States, United Kingdom, European Union, and NATO member States, should under international human rights, humanitarian and criminal law, protect the rights of all, especially those being targeted such as human rights defenders and civil society activists. However, with the announcement of unconditional withdrawal and no progress on the peace process, the promotion and protection of the rights of human rights defenders and journalists do not seem to be a priority.   

The lack of respect for International Humanitarian Law and the absence of accountability for attacks against human rights defenders and activists, have only increased the danger to defenders and emboldened perpetrators. Afghan authorities and the international community must call on all parties to stop using civilian targets for military gains and safeguard the progress in human rights made over the last two decades and ensure that they are not scaled back as a result of the ongoing negotiations. 

Civil society members, women human rights defenders, and journalists are systematically threatened and attacked for the work they carry out. Those working outside the capital are especially exposed to serious threats due to the lack of support available in Kabul and through some international networks and embassies. Many of these defenders have had to relocate within Afghanistan and, in some cases, even temporarily leave the country with their families for safety concerns. Defenders fear publicly denouncing attacks they are subjected to due to concerns over the security and sustainability of their work. This demonstrates the immense pressure under which Afghan defenders, activists, and journalists are forced to live and work. 

State mechanisms for the protection of defenders including the recently appointed Joint Commission for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders have yet to be operationalized. The government has failed to adequately respond to complaints of threats and early warning signals of attacks against human rights defenders and journalists. Defenders are faced with the impossible choice of balancing their commitment to work in their country with threats against themselves and their families.  We call on the Government of Afghanistan to take greater responsibility to ensure the safety and security of defenders, activists, and journalists, and to end impunity for the attacks against them. 

Women human rights defenders,  journalists, and minority groups in Afghanistan have been among the worst affected.  Many women defenders have been compelled to relocate internally or outside the country, stop their work, or stay at home. Attacks on women defenders have included harassment of family members and colleagues. Women who have campaigned for years for equal rights, and equal participation in public spaces, including the peace process, have found themselves under attack in reprisals against them for their work.  

The Government of Afghanistan and international stakeholders and facilitators in the ongoing peace process must take responsibility through their conduct and engagement in the country to stop the increase in violent attacks against human rights defenders.  Rights groups and the United Nations have consistently called for the effective participation of civil society representatives, especially women human rights defenders, in the peace process given its huge impact on security on the ground. Despite this, and even though rights groups and women defenders have worked continuously to engage with the peace process, the Moscow summit in March 2021 did not see effective representation of women.  A peace process, or negotiation, that fails to include women representatives adequately and effectively, and in parallel engages with the Taliban without benchmarks on human rights, undermines women’s safety and progress made on human rights over the past years. Much more must be done to ensure that the peace process takes into account the threats, harassment, intimidation, and attacks occurring in the country and to ensure that it does not exacerbate people’s suffering.  

The crisis unfolding in the country requires a strong commitment to direct engagement and support for Afghan defenders to work and live in safety and dignity. It requires the international community to proactively support those defenders who have worked to promote and protect human rights, at great personal cost. As human rights organizations focusing on the protection of human rights defenders, we call for an effective protection mechanism for human rights defenders in Afghanistan.  We, therefore, call on the Government of Afghanistan and relevant international actors to take the following measures: 

  • The newly established government-led Joint Commission must deliver on its objectives to provide effective protection to human rights defenders at risk. We call for access to information on the measures that the Joint Commission has taken so far to provide immediate protection to defenders, investigate the threats against them, and bring suspected perpetrators to justice. 
  • Ensure that human rights standards and the protection of human rights defenders are articulated as key benchmarks for any sustainable peace process. The Taliban and others targetting civilians and human rights defenders must immediately halt violence and prioritize intra-Afghan peace talks as a way to ensure sustainable peace. 
  • Offer human rights defenders immediate practical support on the ground at all levels, including through diplomatic and political channels. 
  • Actively ensure justice and redress for violence and threats against defenders especially by local authorities and law enforcement to ensure prompt responses to security threats. 
  • Establish a national monitoring mechanism, and an impartial and independent mechanism internationally to investigate the killings of human rights defenders, journalists, clarifying the circumstances in which the defenders were killed, expeditiously bringing those responsible to justice. 
  • Collaborate with human rights defenders and civil society organisations for designing and implementing robust protection policies with a gender perspective and an intersectional approach.
  • Ensure effective representation of human rights defenders, especially women, in any peace process that has a bearing on their security, including but not limited to the peace process. Participation must include guarantees of safety and effective and equitable representation of views. 

Signatory Organisations: 

  1. Amnesty International 
  2. Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)
  3. CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
  4. FIDH, within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
  5. World Organisation Against Torture 
  6. (OMCT), within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
  7. Front Line Defenders
  8. South Asians for Human Rights 
  9. Urgent Action Fund for Women’s Human Rights – Asia & Pacific
  10. Women's International League for Peace and Freedom

For further information, please contact: 

  • Front Line Defenders: Adam Shapiro, Head of Communications & Visibility – - +1-202-294-8813
  • South Asians for Human Rights: Anushaya Collure, Programme Coordinator – +94)-11-2695910
  • Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) - .
  • Amnesty International: Samira Hamidi, Regional Campaigner,
  • CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation: Josef Benedict, Asia Pacific Researcher -
  • FIDH, within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders: Juliette Rousselot, +33 (0)6 81 72 10 73,
  • World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) - Iolanda Jaquemet, Director of Communications - - +41 79 539 4106
  • Urgent Action Fund for Women’s Human Rights – Asia & Pacific -
  • Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom: Tessa Cerisier <>;


Indonesia: Activists at risk in the Papua region

Indonesia military in Papua

Global civil society alliance, CIVICUS is extremely concerned about the risks facing activists in the region of Papua following new counter-insurgency operations in the region since late April 2021. The Indonesia authorities must ensure that these operations do not lead to abuses and that activists are not targeted.

On 9 May 2021, police arrested Victor Yeimo, a pro-independence activist and international spokesperson of the West Papua National Committee (Komite Nasional Papua Barat/KNPB), who has been vocal about human rights violations perpetrated by the Indonesian security forces in Papua. 

He is being detained at the Police’s Mobile Brigade Headquarters in Abepura where he was taken without prior notice to his lawyers and denied access to his family. He has been charged for treason, broadcasting false information, disrespecting the national flag and other charges for his involvement in 2019 anti-racism protests in the province, where there were some incidents of violence and arson. The protests were met with excessive force by the security forces and the prosecution of dozens of activists. One of the reasons cited for his arrest was also his participation in the Human Rights Council in March 2019, which is a clear case of reprisal.

According to a human rights group, Papua’s police chief, Mathius Fakhiri, said that the police are still “digging up” cases against Yeimo. With the climate of impunity in the region, the activist remains at risk of torture and ill-treatment.

“Victor Yeimo’s arbitrary arrest and detention appear to be simply retaliation for speaking up about abuses by security forces and for his political activism. Unless the authorities produce credible evidence that he was involved in any violence, the charges against him must be dropped and he must be released immediately,” said Josef Benedict, a researcher from CIVICUS.

Indonesian military operations in Papua intensified in response to the 25 April killing of the head of the State Intelligence Agency, Brigadier General Gusti Putu Danny Nugraha, in the Puncak Regency by the West Papua National Liberation Army (WPNLA). President Joko Widodo responded to the killing by ordering the security forces to arrest every member of the group responsible for the general’s death. The Jokowi administration later declared an unnamed “armed criminal group” a terrorist organization, apparently referring to the WPNLA. 

“The designation of the armed movement as terrorists would undermine any peaceful resolution to the decades-long conflict and only increase human rights violations by the security forces in the region. It will also put peaceful pro-independence activists and others working to end the conflict in Papua at risk,” added Benedict.

There have also been concerns about internet disruption around the military operations which human rights groups believe have been done deliberately by the authorities. In 2019, the government shut down internet service in Papua region during weeks of protests. The shutdown was later found to be unlawful.

There have been severe human rights violations in the Papuan region by the Indonesian security forces spanning arbitrary arrests, torture and other ill-treatment and unlawful killings, including of activists, under the guise of suppressing separatism.  Dozens of peaceful pro-independence political activists have been prosecuted for treason (Articles 106 and 110 of the Criminal Code) for raising the Morning Star flag– a symbol of Papuan independence - or participating in peaceful protests over the last two decades. Access to foreign journalists and human rights observers have also been restricted.

Despite continued promises by President Joko Widodo to address the grievances of Papuans, they continue to face discrimination and exploitation in the resource-rich region.

Civic space in Indonesia is rated as obstructed by the CIVICUS Monitor.


Uganda: Stop arrests, detention, and targeting of opposition leaders and activists ahead of inauguration

Ugandan authorities must stop targeting opposition leaders and arresting and detaining political and civil activists ahead of the inauguration of President Yoweri Museveni on 12 May 2021, says global civil society alliance CIVICUS.

Violence and arbitrary detentions have been unleashed on members of the opposition, and the homes of Bobi Wine, Leader of the National Unity Platform, and Dr Kizza Besugye, four-times presidential candidate, are currently under siege.

Key political figures and activists have had their fundamental freedoms violated in the run-up to the swearing-in of President Museveni, who starts his sixth term in office following much-disputed elections. The arrest of over 40 activists ahead of the inauguration of Yoweri Museveni must be condemned.

Background: Uganda went to the polls on 14 January 2021 for presidential, parliamentary and local government elections. The electoral process was marred by violence, intimidation, illegal detention, and killings. Opposition leaders were repeatedly hounded and arrested, and several activists and journalists were arrested and detained. In November 2020 over 70 activists were killed during a protest in Kampala while over 250 were kidnapped and others arrested. To date more than 60 activists remain in detention without charge.

The presidential electoral outcomes have been denounced by many former presidential candidates, who have since rejected invitations to attend the swearing-in ceremony.

Civic space in Uganda is rated as repressed by the CIVICUS Monitor. 


Chad: Stop violence against peaceful protesters and respect democratic rights of Chadians

Chadian authorities must stop the brutal repression of peaceful protesters and ensure an immediate democratic transition in Chad, says global civil society alliance CIVICUS. Unrest is likely to continue if the military does not allow for a civilian-led government.  
On 8 May 2021, security forces used violence against peaceful protesters who denounced a military takeover in Chad following the death of long-term President Idriss Déby Itno on 20 April 2021.  
More than 5 people were killed and several others wounded during similar protests held on 27 April. Led by a coalition of civil society groups and members of the political opposition, the protests condemn the continuation of a Chad dynasty after President Déby’s son, General Mahamat Idriss Déby, succeeded his father and appointed a military transitional government.  
“The Chadian military has once again chosen to ignore an opportunity to put in place democratic reforms, reset Chad’s political trajectory and respect constitutional and international human rights obligations.  The military continues a pattern of violence over dialogue and continues to trample on democratic norms,” said David Kode, Advocacy and Campaigns Lead for CIVICUS  
Ahead of Chad’s recent elections in April 2021, the authorities imposed a ban on peaceful protests to deter members of civil society and the political opposition from protesting President Idriss Déby Itno’s decision to stand for a sixth term in office.  In February 2021, more than 100 people were arrested for protesting and several were later charged with disturbing public order.  President Idriss Déby was killed fighting rebels in April. Since then, civil society and the political opposition have been protesting the Transitional Military Council and calling for a return to civilian rule. 

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


Colombia: Stop brutal attacks and killings of protesters

Colombian authorities must stop brutally repressing protesters and investigate the killings, attacks, and excessive use of force by police officers and military personnel against demonstrators, said global civil society alliance CIVICUS. 

Since April 28, people in Colombia have taken to the streets to demand social justice and oppose a tax reform. Protests take place against a backdrop of growing inequality and violence, sparked by failure to implement the 2016 peace agreements and exacerbated by the pandemic. Protesters have been heavily repressed by police in various cities across the country. The military has been deployed to police the protests, which is only allowed in exceptional cases and on a temporary basis according to international law.  

On Sunday May 2, President of the Republic Iván Duque Márquez withdrew the controversial tax reform bill but protests have continued. Last week DANE (Colombia’s statistics body) announced that poverty increased in 2020, affecting nearly half of the population.  Growing inequality has intensified unrest and violence in the country. 

Serious human rights violations, including disproportionate use of force by the police, violent suppression of protests, the killing and disappearance of protesters, sexual abuse, arbitrary detention and use of firearms have been condemned by civil society organisations in Colombia. 

The use of violence against protesters occurs in a context of heavy stigmatisation against the demonstrators. Civil society in Colombia has condemned national and local government pronouncements against the mobilisation, which compared demonstrators to “vandals” and suggested they are linked to illegal armed groups. 

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said that while they were on a verification mission on the night of May 3, police opened fire on demonstrators, reportedly killing and injuring a number of people in the city of Cali. Human rights groups accompanying OHCHR were attacked, threatened and shot by police. This was confirmed by the representative of OHCHR in Colombia, Juliette de Rivero, who added that none of the members of the mission were injured.

In one week of protests, monitoring organisations have documented hundreds of human rights violations. As of May 3, Colombia’s Ombudsperson had registered at least 19 people killed since the beginning of the protests – with more cases reported by civil society that are yet to be confirmed. Human rights group Defender la Libertad says around 300 people were wounded and almost a thousand protesters detained. Civil society group Temblores also documented nine cases of sexual violence by the public forces and 56 reports of disappearances during the protests. The Foundation for the Freedom of the Press (FLIP) also documented 70 attacks against the media. 

“What we are seeing now is an escalation of violence from the Duque government against social mobilisation, which is becoming more and more lethal. The introduction of ‘military aid’ action has legalised the use of military force to suppress the legitimate right to protest and peacefully demonstrate,” said Gina Romero, from the Latin America and Caribbean Network for Democracy-Redlad. 

“CIVICUS reminds the government of Colombia that freedom of peaceful assembly is a fundamental human right articulated in the United Nations’ International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). The right to gather to express collective views is a cornerstone of a free and open society,” said Natalia Gomez Peña, CIVICUS Advocacy and Campaigns Officer for Latin America.

“Even if an assembly includes violent participants, human rights law does not permit the authorities to use excessive force against protesters. When using force, enforcement agencies and officers must not use firearms to disperse crowds and cannot indiscriminately use non-lethal weapons such as tear gas,” Gomez Peña continued.

CIVICUS calls on the Colombian government to guarantee the right to peaceful demonstration, freedom of expression, security, life and integrity of all people participating in the national strike. 

Colombia is rated REPRESSED by the CIVICUS Monitor, an online platform measuring the state of civic freedoms, including the freedoms of expression, assembly and association, in all countries.


Interviews are available with:

  • Natalia Gomez Peña, CIVICUS Advocacy and Campaigns Officer for Latin America;
  • Gina Romero, from the Latin America and Caribbean Network for Democracy-Redlad. 

Please contact: or  


CIVICUS is a global alliance of civil society organisations and activists, dedicated to strengthening citizen action and civil society throughout the world. CIVICUS has over 10,000 members worldwide.



Cambodia: Conviction of environmental defenders another blow to civil society

Cambodia jailed activists

From left to right: Long Kunthea, Thun Ratha and Phuon Keoreaksmey

The conviction of environmental defenders today highlights again the rapid deterioration of human rights and space for civil society in Cambodia, says global civil society alliance CIVICUS. The defenders sentenced must be released immediately and unconditionally.

Three environmental rights defenders from Mother Nature Cambodia – Phuon Keoreaksmey, Long Kunthea and Thun Ratha – were today sentenced by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court to jail for 18 to 20 months after being convicted for ‘incitement’. Two others were found guilty in absentia. 

Thun Ratha was handed 20 months in jail and a fine of 4 million riel (USD 1,000). Alejandro Gonzalez-Davidson, the group’s co-founder who has been deported from Cambodia, was tried in absentia and given the same sentence.  Keoreaksmey, Kunthea and Chea Kunthin, a youth activist also tried in absentia, were given 18 months and the same four million riel fine. The court also issued arrest warrants against Gonzalez-Davidson and Kunthin and ordered the confiscation of materials belonging to them.

“The authorities have in recent years devoted ever more time and energy to weaken and dismantle the human rights movement in Cambodia. Those speaking up, even simply for protecting the environment, have faced blatant judicial harassment and at times outright violence. These convictions today are part of this trend,” said Josef Benedict, CIVICUS’s Asia researcher. “The international community must not remain silent at this injustice but stand side by side with Cambodia civil society and take action to protect its members.”

Research undertaken by the CIVICUS Monitor shows that laws are routinely misused in Cambodia to restrict civic freedoms, undermine civil society, and criminalize individual’s exercise of their right to freedom of expression. Human rights defenders, civil society activists and journalists and former members of the banned opposition party Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP) continue to be targeted. 


On 3 September 2020, Thun Ratha, Long Kunthea and Phoung Keorasmey, activists with environmental group Mother Nature Cambodia, were arbitrarily detained while planning a protest to call attention to the filling in of a lake, one of the last large lakes in Phnom Penh to create a military base and its impact on the biodiversity of the area. On 6th September 2020, the three were charged with ‘incitement to commit a felony or cause social unrest’ (articles 494 and 495 of the Cambodian Criminal Code) and placed in pre-trial detention.  They were also denied bail.

Mother Nature Cambodia is an environmental rights organisation that advocates and campaigns locally and internationally for the preservation, promotion and protection of Cambodia's natural environment. As part of their work, the organisation monitors and challenges gross environmental violations and also raises awareness, educates and empowers people by providing them with training and financial support.


Myanmar: ASEAN meeting outcomes ignores assault on rights and civil society

Global civil society alliance CIVICUS is disappointed that the outcomes of the regional ASEAN summit held in Jakarta fell short of what is necessary to address Myanmar’s human rights crisis, including by failing to call for the immediate release of human rights activists, journalists and others arbitrarily detained. This failure undermines any chance of ensuring a genuine dialogue and transition back to democratic civilian rule.

A statement released after the summit said the leaders and foreign ministers from the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) had reached a consensus on five points. They included asking for an immediate stop to the violence and opening a dialogue between the military and civilian leaders, with that process overseen by a special ASEAN envoy who would also visit with a delegation. The group also offered humanitarian assistance. The statement offered no timeline for these actions to be taken or an implementing mechanism.

No mention was made of the nearly 4,000 people who have been arbitrarily detained by the military, including activists, peaceful protesters, and journalists, some in unknown locations and denied access to lawyers or family members. Many are facing serious and baseless charges, including treason.

“Millions of people in Myanmar were hoping that ASEAN would, for once, uphold the principles enshrined in the ASEAN Charter including the rule of law and respect for and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms, and were once again tremendously disappointed. ASEAN has failed the thousands of political prisoners including activists and journalists by not calling for their immediate and unconditional release, which should be an integral part of any successful efforts to restore democracy,” said David Kode, CIVICUS’s Advocacy and Campaigns Lead.

The summit also failed to acknowledge the National Unity Government (NUG) that was formed on 16 April 2021 representing elected members of the Union Parliament. It also ignored the serious violations that have occurred in Myanmar since the coup which left around 750 dead, including children and thousands injured due to the use of lethal force by the security forces to crack down on protests, the ill-treatment by the security forces during night-time raids and the internet shutdowns. No mention was made of UN resolutions on the crisis adopted by consensus at the Human Rights Council since the coup. Nor was there any acknowledgment of or offering of support to the UN mechanisms mandated to monitor and report on human rights violations relating to the coup. 

“The failure to acknowledge and engage with the legitimately elected representatives of the people of Myanmar shows that ASEAN leaders’ talk of democracy is only lip service. We call for ASEAN to put their words into action by demanding an end to the state of emergency and for the elected civilian government to be restored,” said David Kode.

Since the meeting, the junta already seem to be backtracking from their already minimal promises. Myanmar military junta leader Min Aung Hlaing said he will consider proposals by ASEAN to solve the ongoing crisis in Myanmar only after peace and stability are restored in his country. 

CIVICUS reiterates calls for an immediate end to the escalating violence by the military, the immediate and unconditional release of all those arbitrarily detained, and for steps to be taken by the international community, including ASEAN, to hold those responsible for the serious human rights violations to account.


A year after imprisoned Saudi activist Abdullah al-Hamid’s passing, NGOs call for accountability & release of all HRDs

April 24, 2021 marks one year since prominent Saudi human rights defender Dr Abdullah al-Hamid passed away, while serving an 11-year prison sentence on politically motivated charges. Before his passing, Dr al-Hamid was suffering from heart conditions and was advised to undergo surgery. However, prison authorities delayed his operation for several months, leading to the deterioration of his health. As a consequence, on April 9, 2020, he suffered a stroke in al-Ha’ir prison, entered into a coma, and eventually passed away. 




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