Serbia: CIVICUS calls on Serbian authorities to stop attacks against peaceful protesters

CIVICUS urges Serbian authorities to stop using force to disperse protesters demonstrating against the government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. CIVICUS calls for an independent investigation into violent attacks on protesters by police and condemns police violence against journalists covering the protests.


Malaysia: End harassment and intimidation of media workers and critics

Joint Statement with Amnesty International and the International Commission of Jurists

The Malaysian authorities must immediately put an end to their increasing attacks on freedom of expression, especially the media, international non-governmental organisations Amnesty International, CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation and the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) said today. Laws incompatible with international human rights law and standards, including the Sedition Act 1948 and Section 233 of the Communications and Multimedia Act (CMA) 1998, are being used to limit free speech and press freedom and should be repealed by the legislature.

In the latest move in the ongoing clampdown on criticism and other expression, authorities have targeted those involved in making the documentary “Locked Up in Malaysia’s Lockdown,” by news broadcaster Al Jazeera and its 101 East series – which reported on the authorities’ arrests of migrant workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. Al-Jazeera is being investigated for sedition and defamation, and has also been accused of breaching the Communications and Multimedia Act by the Malaysian authorities.

On 3 July 2020, Al Jazeera on its 101 East Stream published a documentary that investigated the arrests, detention, and ill-treatment of refugees and undocumented migrant workers during the outbreak of COVID-19 in Malaysia. The documentary highlighted raids conducted by authorities; the inhumane conditions of detention; and the situation of migrant workers who fear arrest. Those detained were found to be held in cramped facilities, while migrant workers at risk of detention suffered from a severe lack of adequate food. The documentary also highlighted the chilling effect the government crackdown has had on the migrant worker community, who fear for their lives and safety.

Rather than addressing the concerns raised in the documentary, the government has instead sought to question the reporters involved, and pursue migrant workers who spoke with Al Jazeera. By initiating a public campaign against migrants and refugees and publishing personal details of the migrant workers who were featured in the report, the authorities have also placed the lives and safety of those interviewed in jeopardy.

The government’s subsequent threats to revoke the visas of foreign workers appears intended to intimidate other migrant workers from speaking up about human rights violations, including mistreatment. These actions have contributed to a worrying rise in intolerance towards freedom of expression, including critical views.

Amnesty International, CIVICUS World Alliance for Citizen Participation, and the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) consider these actions as forms of harassment and intimidation of the media, migrant workers, and others exercising their right to freedom of expression, including criticism or dissent.

The use of the Sedition Act 1948, Section 233 of the Communications and Multimedia Act, and criminal investigations against the media set a dangerous precedent and are incompatible with international law and standards. These laws place restrictions on the exercise of freedom of expression that are overly broad, unnecessary and disproportionate, and inconsistent with rule of law and human rights principles.

We reiterate their our previous calls on the Government of Malaysia to abolish both laws, which have historically been used to silence voices of those challenging government policy.


Since the COVID-19 pandemic emerged earlier this year, the Malaysian government has launched a crackdown on refugees, asylum-seekers and migrant workers, carrying out a series of raids on settlements in Kuala Lumpur and Selangor. Most notably, raids were carried out as Labour Day operations on 1 May 2020, but also continued afterwards.

In response to these raids, the Office of the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights (OHCHR) denounced the crackdowns on migrant workers and journalists on 21 May. Migrant workers fear for their safety and there have been reports of suicide amongst them.

Amid growing concerns about the crackdown, the government has increasingly sought to silence criticism.

On 7 July, refugee aid worker Heidy Quah was questioned by police for posting a statement on the raids and the treatment of migrant and refugee children on social media. Her lawyer confirmed that she is being investigated under the Penal Code for criminal defamation and the Communications and Multimedia Act for the ‘improper use of network facilities or network service’.

Since the Perikatan Nasional government assumed power, numerous investigations have been launched against individuals who have criticized government actions. Since February 2020, a journalist has been investigated by police for reporting on immigration raids; a member of parliament was investigated for criticising the May parliamentary session for not permitting debates; and a large number of ordinary Malaysians have been convicted for a variety of social media postings, including for criticising the enforcement of quarantine orders under the Movement Control Order (MCO).

In another recent attack on media freedom, on 2 July 2020, contempt of court charges were filed against Steven Gan, editor-in-chief of online news outlet Malaysiakini, over comments that were posted by readers that were allegedly critical of the judiciary. The Federal Court will next hear the case on 13 July. If convicted, Gan faces an unlimited prison sentence or fine.

Civic space in Malaysia is rated as Obstructed by the CIVICUS Monitor


Joint letter on Colombia: COVID-19 cannot be a smokescreen to target social leaders

Joint Letter: Colombia must implement the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) recommendations regarding social leaders, even during the pandemic

In its recent report, IACHR crucially underscores the importance of recognizing the right to defend rights and the fundamental role of social leaders in Colombia, especially in the current context of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The report Human Rights Defenders and Social Leaders in Colombia, recently presented by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) after their visit to the country in November 2018 repeatedly highlights that the work of human rights defenders and social leaders is essential for the full assurance of the Rule of Law and constitutes an indispensable pillar for the strengthening and consolidation of democracy. When the defense of human rights is impeded, it is not only a particular individual or community that is affected; attacks against social leaders affect the cohesion and continuity of social organization on a larger scale.

Social leaders play a fundamental role in maintaining the social fabric in their communities, often under precarious security conditions. In the current context of the COVID-19 pandemic, the recommendations in the report are even more important to safeguard their work. As Erlendy Cuero, social leader and Vice President of the National Association of Displaced Afro-Colombians (AFRODES), stated in a recent series by Dejusticia on pandemic and inequality, #DelMiedoALaAcción [From Fear to Action], during the pandemic, "homicides, threats and persecution have increased because we find ourselves in a situation where the support for some leaders with protection measures has been reduced and those who do not have security measures are left unprotected.” The latter is compounded by the fact that leaders, who have to stay at home because of the coronavirus, are at greater risk because they are more easily located.

Leaders in areas far from urban centers are more vulnerable, meaning the Colombian government’s adoption of the IACHR’s recommendations in those areas is even more essential. 

Key recommendations made by the Commission include that Colombia: 

  • “Redouble its efforts to implement the Peace Agreement so that the right conditions are in place all around the country for people to be able to defend human rights and defend communities”.
  • “Involve social organizations in any efforts to develop a comprehensive public policy on prevention and on protection of human rights defenders and social leaders, reactivating platforms for dialogue such as the National Roundtable on Guarantees and the National Commission on Security Guarantees, in which agreements have already been worked out”
  • “Properly implement any precautionary measures granted by the InterAmerican Commission and keep protection arrangements in place for beneficiaries as long as the measures are in force”
  • “Take all necessary measures to ensure that authorities or third parties do not manipulate the punitive power of the State and its institutions of justice to harass human rights defenders and harm their work. Ensure that the proper punishment is applied if this occurs”
  • “Adopt measures to investigate with due diligence and confront impunity regarding crimes committed against human rights defenders and social leaders in the country, establishing the perpetrators and masterminds of the crimes”
  • "Improve coordination between national and local so that protection measures can be adapted to safeguard the rights of human rights defenders and social leaders and ensure that measures are effective in remote rural areas" 
  • "Agree on protection measures to address the level of risk, listening to and consulting with the human rights defenders in order to develop a timely, specialized intervention that is proportionate to the potential risk and has a differentiated approach.”
  • "Improve coordination with international human rights organizations" with which the Commission ends its report.

The signatory organizations place special emphasis on the Inter-American Commission’s recognition of the right to defend rights and its call to comply with the provisions contained in the Final Peace Agreement, in line with the constitutional judges in the recent tutela [protection] action judgments confirming #TheRighttoDefendRights presented by various social leaders and organizations in the country, at the end of 2019.


Asociación Interamericana para la Defensa del Ambiente (AIDA)
Asociación Minga
Amnesty International
Business & Human Rights Resource Centre 
Colectivo de Abogados José Alvear Restrepo - Cajar
Comisión Colombiana de Juristas (CCJ)
Espacio Público
Front Line Defenders (FLD)
Fundación Comité de Solidaridad con los Presos Políticos (FCSPP)
International Land Coalition - LAC (ILC LAC)
International Service for Human RIghts (ISHR)
International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA)
Latin America Working Group (LAWG)
Not1More (N1M)
Presbyterian Peace Fellowship
Red Latinoamericana y del Caribe por la Democracia (REDLAD)
Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights 
Unión Nacional de Instituciones para el Trabajo de Acción Social (UNITAS)
Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA)


Increased targeting of members of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission

Front Line Defenders, CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation, FIDH - International Federation for Human Rights, in the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), in the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders and the International Service for Human Rights, condemn the killing of two employees of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC), Fatima Khalil and Ahmad Jawed Folad, on 27 June 2020. The AIHRC staff were killed by an improvised explosive device while on their way to work in the organisation’s official vehicle in Kabul. We believe the killing is a direct reprisal for their human rights work.


Singapore: Open letter to parliamentary candidates and political party leaders to prioritise fundamental freedoms

As Singaporeans prepare to go to the polls in parliamentary elections on 10 July 2020, the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA), CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation and the International Commission of Jurists urge all parliamentary candidates and political party leaders to commit to respecting and protecting human rights, particularly fundamental freedoms, as part of their mandate.


Rebuilding for Good

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Actions needed from governments to support & sustain civil society

The COVID-19 pandemic has had extraordinary economic, social and political impacts. We need recovery plans to expand rights, make economies fairer, level up inequalities, reverse the climate crisis and build workable international institutions. Civil society – which includes the full spectrum of civic groups including NGOs, charities, voluntary groups, trusts, foundations and associations, trade unions, social enterprises, care providers and welfare agencies - must be seen as a vital force in bringing the world out of the crisis in a way that marks a break from the economic, political and social policies that were already failing so many. This is the time when governments need to act on international obligations and invest in a sustained civic effort for reconstruction. 

This document serves as a practical guide for actions that governments can and should be taking to sustain and strengthen civil society as part of COVID-19 recovery and rebuilding efforts. It draws on evidence of initiatives that have been introduced across the world and offers further suggestions to bolster these efforts based on insights provided by civil society networks in 80+ countries, including assessments undertaken by the Affinity Group of National Associations (AGNA), the Charities Aid Foundation (CAF) and CIVICUS. For policy makers and government agencies, we trust that this resource will serve as an invitation to review and enhance measures for civil society. For civil society groups, we anticipate that this will strengthen efforts to secure the supportive measures we need across countries.

We recommend the following measures to support and strengthen civil society as part of COVID-19 response and recovery plans: 

  • Remove restrictions; amplify the value of and contributions from civil society 
  • Support civil society to meet and reduce operating costs
  • Provide flexibility in regulatory requirements
  • Include civil society in COVID-19 stimulus funds and subsidies
  • Develop the infrastructure needed to upscale civil society efforts
  • Empower civil society to develop sustainable alternatives
1. Remove restrictions; amplify the value of and contributions from civil society


Civil society has been at the forefront of the global response to the pandemic. They have provided life-saving services, shared information and coordinated the actions needed to reinforce accountability and pursue responsive policy outcomes. And yet across countries the pandemic has been used to legitimise a wide range of unjustified restrictions on civic freedoms and/or deliberately keep civil society out of planning and implementation efforts. This includes unprecedented levels of censorship, attacks on journalists and human rights defenders, the use of state-sponsored violence to curb criticism and sweeping violations of the right to privacy. 

It is important for governments to acknowledge that a diverse, vibrant and resilient civil society is needed more than ever before to ensure emergency measures stand the test of proportionality and necessity. Even where an official proclamation of emergency has been made, fundamental rights such as the right to life and freedom from torture and degrading treatment must be upheld, as is the right to express democratic dissent. In this context, governments can and must do more to underscore the role that civil society has in response and recovery efforts. Working with civil society enables governments and businesses to understand ground realities better, and develop interventions that respond meaningfully to drivers of inequality and social unrest.  In Ecuador, for instance, an official website provides information about the efforts being undertaken by civil society across the country and similar platforms have also been set up in Italy, France and Ukraine. Initiatives to broadcast civil society efforts through television has also been reported in Ethiopia. 

Local governments can be especially effective in inviting civil society to share their work through available platforms and providing ways for other sections of society to support and expand these efforts. This includes removing restrictions on local media and enabling them to work with other civil society groups to strengthen public trust and engagement. Limited understanding of civil society organisations directly affects local ownership of causes and limits the sector in being strategic and sustainable.

2. Support civil society to meet and reduce operating costs

Support to operating expenses is a direct way to strengthen civil society, particularly groups working on the frontlines. Flexible and unrestricted support to operating costs enables organisations to invest in the infrastructure and functions that will help scale impact and sustainability. The availability of operational support also allows them to adapt and respond quickly during crisis situations. 

In Lithuania, for example, associations and foundations that lease their property from the municipality or municipality-controlled entities have been entitled to a waiver of or reduction in rent payments and penalties imposed on delayed payments. Similar measures have been reported in Latvia and Lebanon. In Zimbabwe, government regulations instructed landlords and banks to give a lockdown calibrated grace period on the payments of rentals and mortgages, and a waiver on COVID-19 related imports such as PPEs, test kits. The provision of essential supplies and physical assets has also been reported in Malawi and Namibia. The availability of such measures however needs to be accompanied by timely and transparent information on such initiatives. Creating relief measures but failing to communicate them effectively prevents groups that are most in need from learning about and accessing these benefits.

This is also an important time for governments to go further and develop new and innovative financial mechanisms to support civil society at this time. Reviewing VAT regimes, providing tax waivers and improving tax incentives for giving - not just specific to crisis related interventions, but across causes - are initiatives that need to be better supported at this time. Repurposing levies, funds and investment vehicles to support civil society interventions are further options. The allocation of indirect taxes such as the use of VAT payments on personal protective equipment towards efforts to support frontline health workers in the UK is an example of such a move. In the Middle East, some governments are reported to have offered loans rather than direct assistance to civil society. Across locations, a toolbox of funding, both financial and non-financial, that is be demand-driven and helps civil society increase their financial resilience is essential. 

3. Provide flexibility in regulatory requirements

Measures to provide registered associations and foundations increased flexibility in administrative procedures, including changes in relation to procurement, spending, reporting, grant-making and contracting, have been reported in a range of countries. The adjustment of project and administrative reporting requirements, for instance, can be a quick but effective way to provide respite to civil society groups. Examples include steps to update project financing, cooperation and delegation arrangements in Malawi and Mexico. 

Provisions to enable flexibility in accounting and tax requirements have also been effected in some countries. Germany, for instance, has provided flexibility in the management of donations as well as in the accounting of losses and capital decreases. In other locations, partial exemptions on taxes payable by NGOs have been implemented.

4. Include civil society in COVID-19 stimulus funds and subsidies

Civil society is painfully absent from measures designed to systematically support social and economic recovery from the pandemic. In most contexts, such measures appear to have been developed solely with businesses in mind, although civil society across every country is in urgent need for tailored fiscal support, including income support measures and subsidies. Existing measures aimed at business recovery must be extended to include civil society, and accompanied by interventions that respond to the special needs of small and large, formal and informal groups that exist across the wider spectrum of civil society.

Available examples of recovery measures for civil society are limited to the UK government’s GBP 750m stimulus package and the EUR 700m support package for civil society, arts and the cultural sector in Austria.  At a smaller scale, a Stability Fund of EUR 35m to support urgent funding needs has been introduced in Ireland and a Presidential Grants Fund in Russia includes 3bn rubles (approx. EUR 39m) for NGOs. In addition to this, wage subsidy and credit access schemes have been introduced in Argentina, Australia, France and the Netherlands. Special allocations for services to vulnerable groups such as women and seniors have been made in Canada, while Ireland has initiated a fund for social innovation in recovery projects. 

Reports from South Africa indicate a range of measures to support civil society initiated by the government, private foundations and businesses. Agencies such as CAF Southern Africa, the Mergon Group and the Western Cape Province (Department of Social Development) have launched funds for NGOs that include opportunities for the public to support funding objectives. The National Lotteries Commission (NLC) released R150 million as a relief measure for NGOs, while the President’s Solidarity Fund is expected to assist NGOs that are implementing services aligned with the fund’s objectives of prevent, detect, care and support. Overall, a wider range of actions aimed at encouraging businesses, philanthropic institutions and the public at large to support civil society efforts are both possible and necessary.

5. Develop the infrastructure needed to upscale civil society efforts

This is precisely the time when governments must create broader mechanisms to sustain and strengthen civil society, including medium to long term funding for networks or umbrella organisations and the development of platforms to share knowledge, strategies and resources in ways that promote cohesion and collaboration, rather than competition. Trans-national companies can support civil society efforts through giving platforms and payroll contributions, just as philanthropic institutions can (and are) leveraging assets and endowments to create new streams of core and flexible resourcing for civil society. 

To this effect, in Portugal and Italy, national volunteer and youth services have been leveraged to harness support to civil society efforts. In Belgium, a COVID-19 Solidarity Fund enables EU employees to contribute to civil society organisations. In several countries, including Latvia and the Netherlands, tax exemptions on donations made to civil society have been introduced. In Sierra Leone, a government-led platform enabled civil society to interact with the President and relevant ministers COVID-19 efforts, allowing civil society representatives direct access to and coordination with Ministries of Health, Finance and the Emergency Response Team on COVID-19. In Malawi, the national taskforce on COVID-19 has included representatives from NGOs, academia, government and religious bodies, among others, thereby harnessing the expertise and networks that different parts of civil society can bring to the effort. 

Across more countries, we need governments to develop stronger incentives for societies to invest in civil society. Governments must be an active partner in building public engagement with civil society by championing the impact it is achieving and sharing information on how public funds are being allocated and utilised. More broadly, we need this to be a catalytic moment for cross-sectoral partnerships and campaigns aimed at developing local generosity movements within and across countries.

6. Empower civil society to develop sustainable alternatives 

Civil society is critical to people-centered approaches to reconstruction that satisfy the demand for positive change. Genuine partnerships between government and civil society allow better coordinated responses in critical times, allowing both actors to work together to assess and mitigate the risks of a crisis on different populations. For this to happen, we need civil society to be an integral part of the multi-stakeholder consultations and decision making spaces that are designing social and economic alternatives for a post-COVID world. An enabled, networked and properly resourced civil society must be celebrated as a force for good.

Rebalancing power and building solidarity will be key to the structural reforms that we need to achieve in the global economy. This includes a systematic push to de-emphasise GDP growth as a key indicator of performance and instead prioritise well-being as an essential metric. Long-awaited transformative changes, such as ending the net outflows of finances and other resources from Global South to Global North countries so that the former can have more aggregate resources to realize the right to sustainable development of their peoples, requires a groundswell of public and political support. The strengthening of civil society and expansion of civic freedoms must be part of the comprehensive global recovery that we need coming out of the pandemic. 


For more information:

Charities Aid Foundation:



Malaysia: Drop contempt proceedings against online news outlet Malaysiakini

Joint statement by Article 19 and CIVICUS


Fiji: Stop harassing peaceful protesters at the University of the South Pacific

Joint Statement by Amnesty International and CIVICUS

The Fiji authorities must respect the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly for university staff and students and immediately cease intimidation tactics.


International support for petition to declare Cuba’s Decree-Law 370 unconstitutional

The undersigned organizations and media outlets support the petition presented on June 8 in Cuba before the National Assembly, the State Council, the Supreme Court, the Office of the Attorney General, and the President of the Republic declaring 2019’s Decree-Law 370 unconstitutional (1). The 64 people who signed the petition did so on behalf of the more than 500 Cuban residents and 3,100 Cuban expats and nationals of 83 other countries who signed the “Declaración contra el Decreto Ley 370: Ley Azote,” published on the Avaaz platform (2).


India: Two more women activists arrested as crackdown on protesters continue

Human Rights Defenders Alert – India and global civil society alliance CIVICUS call for the immediate release of two women activists who were arrested last week for their involvement in mass protests against the discriminatory citizenship law. These arrests highlight the escalating crackdown on dissent by the Indian authorities.


Judicial harassment of human rights defender Muhammed Ismail persists amid pandemic

The Pakistan authorities must halt their judicial harassment of human rights defender Muhammed Ismail and his wife Uzlifat Ismail and drop all charges against them, said CIVICUS, FIDH, the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and Front Line Defenders. The human rights defender faces charges under the Anti-Terrorism Act and the Pakistan Electronic Crimes Act and is currently on conditional bail, which Pakistan’s Federal Investigative Agency has sought to revoke. His next hearing to determine bail is scheduled for 18 May 2020 before the Peshawar High Court.


Bangladesh: Stifling expression using Digital Security Act must not be the norm to address COVID-19 pandemic


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A Joint Statement by the Asian Human Rights Commission and CIVICUS

The Bangladesh government has resorted once again to its notorious Digital Security Act-2018 to muzzle freedom of expression, arresting 11 individuals following criticism of the governments’ handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Four people have been detained since 5 May 2020 under the draconian digital law, including cartoonist Ahmed Kabir Kishore, writer Mushtaq Ahmed, IT specialist Md. Didarul Islam Bhuyan, and Dhaka Stock Exchange Director Minhaz Mannan Emon. A further seven people have been charged. 

All four detainees were forcibly disappeared for hours after they were picked up by the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) from different locations in Dhaka on 5 May 2020. Following a social media outcry, the RAB officially handed them over to the Metropolitan police on 6 May at around 7:45 PM, and a case under the Digital Security Act was filed against them by Abu Bakar Siddique, the Deputy Assistant Director of RAB. They remain in detention.

The seven other individuals accused in the same case are Tasneem Khalil, Editor-in-Chief of Netra News, which the government has blocked in Bangladesh since it was launched last year from Sweden; Saer Zulkarnain; Shahed Alam; Ashik Imran; Shapan Wahed; Philip Schuhmacher; and Asif Mohiuddin, a blogger of Bangladeshi origin living in Germany.

All 11 have been charged under various provisions of the Digital Security Act including ‘propaganda or campaign against liberation war’ and ‘publishing, sending of offensive, false or fear inducing data-information’. Authorities have confirmed that the charges relate to allegedly ‘spreading rumours’ over the coronavirus pandemic on social media. If convicted, they could each face up to seven years in jail. 

The Digital Security Act, passed in October 2018 to replace the often-misused Information and Communication Technology Act, included harsher provisions that have been used to penalize criticism of the government. The law gives the power to security agencies to hold individuals indefinitely in pretrial detention. And, it has created a chilling effect among activists and journalists. Despite repeated calls to bring the law in line with Bangladesh’s international commitments to protect freedom of expression, the government has refused to revise the law.

In times of crisis, people’s health depends at minimum on access to information both off and online. Silencing journalists and activists and blocking websites, is not an effective public health strategy. We urge the authorities to end its use of restrictive laws to silence critics and amid the pandemic ensure the right to seek, receive, and share information relevant to the COVID-19 outbreak.

We further call on the government of Bangladesh to immediately release the detained critics and drop the charges brought against them and seven other individuals under repressive legislation. The COVID-19 pandemic is not an excuse to use state forces to stifle freedom of expression.



The pandemic has exposed failings by the government in addressing a public health emergency. Patients with symptoms of COVID-19 were denied access to public and private hospitals and died without treatment. The country’s healthcare system failed to provide adequate protective equipment and necessary infrastructures in hospitals to treat the pandemic. Within weeks, hundreds of doctors and nurses were infected with COVID-19, according to the Bangladesh Medical Association. 

Persistent suppression of freedom of expression and censorship under the government of Sheikh Hasina has continued amid the pandemic. The authorities have blocked international news outlet Al-Jazeera and numerous other news portals and websites critical of the state. A monitoring body established by the Ministry of Information to monitor if private television channels were “running any propaganda or rumours about the novel coronavirus outbreak” was scrapped after public outcry.

Due to the muzzling of the press by the authorities, social media has become the preferred platform for those critical of the regime. In response, the police and the RAB have started picking up people for their Facebook posts. On 10th of April 2020, it was reported that at least 50 people were arrested in the country for allegedly spreading rumors. The government has also blocked dozens of websites and Facebook profiles as of late March after the government officially acknowledged the COVID-19 outbreak. Healthcare workers, who spoke out about the problems they have been facing, have been barred from talking to media

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



Cuba: Statement against the application of Decree Law 370 and Limits On Freedom of Expression

A total of 47 human rights organisations and independent press media denounce the violation of fundamental human rights caused by the application in Cuba of Decree Law 370.


Anti-corruption and the role of civil society in monitoring IMF emergency funding

99 civil society organizations have urged the IMF to consistently and formally include anti-corruption measures in its COVID-19 pandemic-related emergency funding and take concrete steps to help protect and empower civil society groups to monitor these funds.

Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva International Monetary Fund
700 19th Street NW Washington, DC 20431

Re: Anti-corruption and the role of civil society in monitoring IMF emergency funding

Dear IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva:

We are 99 civil society organizations located around the world and we are writing to request that the International Monetary Fund consistently and formally include anti-corruption measures in its Covid-19 pandemic-related emergency funding and take concrete steps to help protect and empower civil society groups to monitor these funds.

We are profoundly aware of the devastating scale of the global economic crisis due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and the urgency of providing governments the funds they need to effectively respond. As organizations that closely monitor corruption and its impacts, we also know that transparency and accountability are key to making sure the money the IMF is disbursing actually goes to protecting lives and livelihoods.

Recognizing this, you urged governments during the Spring 2020 Meetings to “spend what you   can but make sure to keep the receipts. We don’t want transparency and accountability to take the back seat in this crisis.” However, most IMF loan agreements include few or no government commitments to mitigate the risk of corruption. Instead, the Fund appears to be taking a largely retroactive approach that relies on the good faith of governments and the close eye of independent monitoring groups.

We appreciate that the urgent need for immediate funding and the nature of the Rapid Credit Facility (RCF) and Rapid Financing Instrument (RFI) – the primary instruments for disbursing emergency funding – constrain the Fund’s ability to implement robust anti-corruption measures. However, some governments that have received funds through these mechanisms, such as Gabon,1 have committed to transparency and anti-corruption measures, including:

  • Receiving all emergency funds in a single account with the Treasury and creating a new budget line for coronavirus-related
  • Publishing a procurement plan that includes the names and beneficial ownership information of companies awarded
  • Agreeing to an independent audit within six months of receiving the

The inclusion of these measures in some cases suggests that it is possible to do so without undue delay. The Fund should apply such measures consistently to all emergency funding.

Moreover, as the Fund has acknowledged, even these measures would be insufficient to adequately ensure accountability because emergency funding is provided in lump-sum payments. In our communications with the Fund, both staff and board members have emphasized that they intend for civil society groups to play a vital role in filling that gap by closely monitoring government spending and communicating their concerns to the IMF.

We are grateful that the Fund recognizes the crucial role civil society organizations play in holding their governments accountable, but this is a stopgap measure in the absence of more robust anti- corruption monitoring efforts by the IMF. It would also be imprudent for the Fund to rely on our oversight role without taking concrete steps to protect and strengthen our ability to effectively monitor these funds. Many of our groups work in countries where government spending is opaque, auditors do not exist or are not independent, and authorities do not tolerate criticism. Even where they can operate safely, many groups lack the technical capacity and resources to effectively monitor the billions of dollars in funding that the IMF is disbursing.

To protect and strengthen civil society monitoring of emergency funding, we urge the Fund to take the following measures:

  1. Require transparency. Monitoring groups are neither law enforcement nor the government’s lender, both of which have authority to investigate and control the funds. The Fund should consistently apply transparency and anti-corruption measures to all loans, such as requiring governments to conduct independent audits and publish procurement plans, including the names and beneficial owners of all companies awarded
  1. Protect groups’ ability to operate. Numerous countries have laws that limit freedom of association and expression in ways that undermine the ability of civil society groups to safely operate or effectively monitor IMF funds. For example, Sri Lanka has ordered police to arrest those who criticize government officials involved in the coronavirus response.2 In other cases, there is no law or formal order explicitly prohibiting criticism of government policies, but officials nevertheless retaliate against those who criticize them. The Fund should require governments to commit to respecting the rights of civil society groups and repeal or amend laws that prevent groups from safely monitoring government spending.
  1. Formally recognize the role of monitoring groups. Monitoring groups can provide the Fund with valuable information regarding government spending, but they need a safe and effective channel to do The IMF should formally recognize independent monitoring organizations as stakeholders in loan agreements and establish a channel for them to report allegations of wrongdoing. It should consider engaging select groups as independent monitoring organizations in contexts where corruption risks are especially high.
  1. Strengthen groups’ capacities. The IMF’s unprecedented levels of spending, and the importance of the funding in light of the pandemic’s economic impact, has made monitoring government spending of IMF funds a new priority for many of our organizations. At the same time, the economic crisis means that many of our groups have even fewer resources than usual to The Fund should conduct virtual trainings to help build organizational capacity to monitor funds and consider providing willing groups with necessary resources, especially in countries where there are few well-resourced groups monitoring government spending.

You opened this year’s Spring Meetings by noting that extraordinary times call for extraordinary action. The Fund should apply the same creativity and sense of urgency it has shown to support governments to help civil society groups ensure IMF funds go to the people who need it most.

We would be happy to meet with you to discuss these issues in more detail and would appreciate learning what steps you have taken in this regard.


Abibiman Foundation
AbibiNsroma Foundation (ANF)
2 Human Rights Watch, “Sri Lanka Uses Pandemic to Curtail Free Expression,” April 3, 2020,

Accountability Lab
Actions for Development and Empowerment
Africa Development Interchange Network (ADIN)
Africa Network for Environment and Economic Justice (ANEEJ)
AHAM Humanitarian Resource Center
Alliance Sud
Alyansa Tigil Mina (Alliance to Stop Mining)
American Jewish World Service
Arab Watch Coalition
Asamblea Permanente de Derechos Humanos de Bolivia
Ayiti Nou Vle A
BudgIT Foundation
Buliisa Initiative for Rural Development Organisation (BIRUDO)
Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS)
Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL)
Center for Social Awareness, Advocacy and Ethics
Center for Democratic Education
Centre for Environmental Justice
Centre for Human Rights and Development
Connected Development
Consumer Unity and Trust Society Zambia
Corporación Acción Ciudadana Colombia - AC-Colombia
Development Alliance NGO
Eastern Social Development Foundation
Ensemble Contre la Corruption-ECC
Environics Trust
Etika Asbl, Luxemburg
Facing Finance
FIDH (International Federation for Human Rights)
First Peoples Worldwide
FORES - Argentina
Foundation for the Conservation of the Earth (FOCONE)
Freedom House

Fundación Ambiente y Recursos Naturales
Gambia Participates
Global Legal Action Network
Global Network for Sustainable Development
Global Witness
Green Advocates International
Heartland Initiative
Human Rights Online Philippines (HRonlinePH)
Human Rights Watch
Indian Social Action Forum
Integrity Initiatives International
Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility
International Accountability Project (IAP)
International Campaign for the Rohingya
Jamaa Resource Initiatives
Liberia CSO Anti-Corruption Coalition - LCACC
Living Laudato Si' Philippines
Mongolian Women's Employment Supporting Federation
NGO Forum on ADB
Nigeria Network and Campaign for Peace Education
North East Coordinating Committee
Oil Workers' Rights Protection Organization Public Union
Oyu Tolgoi Watch
PEFA Forum
Phenix Center for Economic Studies
Philippine Misereor Partnership Inc.
Photo Circle
Positivo Malawi
Project Blueprint
Rchard Matey
Réseau Camerounais des Organisations des droits de l'homme
Rights CoLab
Rivers without Boundaries Mongolia

Sano Paila (A Little Step)
Sayanaa Wellbeing Association
Shadow World Investigations (formerly Corruption Watch UK)
Sibuyan Against Mining / Bayay Sibuyanon Inc.
Slums Information Development and Resource Centers (SIDAREC)
Task Force Detainees of the Philippines
The Future We Need
Universal Rights and Development NGO
Witness Radio Organization – Uganda
Women’s Action Network
WoMin African Alliance
YES Project Initiative
Youth Empowerment & Leadership Foundation
Youth Group on Protection of Environment
Zambia National Education Coalition

1 IMF, Gabon: Request for a Purchase Under the Rapid Financing Instrument, April 16, 2020, Under-the-Rapid-Financing-Instrument-Press-Release-Staff-Report-49336.

2 Human Rights Watch, “Sri Lanka Uses Pandemic to Curtail Free Expression,” April 3, 2020,





Yemen: Over 150 NGOs appeal for death sentences of four journalists to be overturned


Organisations which support human rights, press freedom and journalists are calling on United Nations mechanisms and member states to help save the lives of four Yemeni journalists who were sentenced to death in April 2020 in the capital Sana’a on charges of “spying” and “spreading false news.” Of the six other journalists in the same case whom the judge ordered to be freed, after five years in detention, only one has been released so far. The de facto authorities in Sana’a, the Houthis, must immediately overturn the death sentences and free the other nine journalists who have been convicted in violation of their right to freedom of expression.


#FreeAlaa: Egyptian activist Alaa Abdel Fattah on hunger strike protesting his continued illegal detention

We, the undersigned civil society organizations, lawyers, journalists, and activists, urge the Egyptian authorities to immediately and unconditionally release Alaa Abdel Fattah, our courageous friend, human rights activist, and blogger.


Open letter to donors: 'Accelerate your commitments' during COVID-19

This is an open letter from representatives of NEAR, Civicus, and the Global Fund for Community Foundations

Dear international donors,

It is time to join up global solidarity with swift and effective local action. At the risk of calling the evolving tragedy of a global pandemic an opportunity, we believe that there is a way for you to accelerate your commitments and ensure we have a lasting and stronger local civil society in the global south, both during the COVID-19 emergency response and for many years to come.

Read on Devex


Civil Society Calls for Urgent Release of Palestinian Prisoners and Detainees in Israeli Prisons


As we mark Palestinian Prisoners’ Day this year, Palestinian prisoners and detainees face the additional threat of a coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak in Israeli prisons and detention centers. While governments around the world are being called on to release prisoners and those detained in violation of international law, the Israeli occupying authorities have taken no steps to release Palestinian prisoners and detainees or to adequately mitigate and prevent a COVID-19 outbreak in prisons. Instead, mass arbitrary detentions and arrests, a staple of Israel’s prolonged military occupation and widespread and systematic human rights violations against the Palestinian people, have continued during the pandemic.[i]


We are in this together, don’t violate human rights while responding to COVID-19

As governments are undertaking extraordinary measures to curb the spread of COVID-19, we recognise and commend the efforts states are making to manage the well-being of their populations and protect human rights, such as the rights to life and health. However, we urge states to implement these measures in the context of the rule of law: all responses to COVID-19 must be evidence-based, legal, necessary to protect public health, non-discriminatory, time-bound and proportionate.


Urgent call to release 19 detained members of the LGBTI community in Uganda

CIVICUS calls on the Ugandan authorities to release 19 members of the LGBTI community who have been arrested on trumped up charges, under the pretext of curbing the spread of COVID-19.

All 19 have been charged with, “committing a negligent act likely to spread the infection of disease,” and, “disobedience of lawful orders.” However, the Ugandan authorities have a history of targeting members of the LGBTI community:

“The Ugandan authorities have a track record of targeting LGBTI activists and subjecting them to arbitrary arrest and detention. The arrests have nothing to do with violating COVID-19 social distancing rules, but are based on the state’s prejudice against the LGBTI community – this has been the case even before the COVID-19 pandemic. There is no justification for these arrests and the activists should be released immediately,” says Mawethu Nkosana, LGBTI Advocacy & Campaigns Lead, CIVICUS.

“Detention centres and jails are congested places where the virus can easily spread. As we work together to curb the impact of COVID-19, we call for the immediate release of the 19 activists – they are at risk of contracting the virus and are not guilty of any crime.”


On 29 March 2020, the Ugandan authorities raided the premises of Children of the Sun Foundation (COSF), an NGO in Kyengera, Wakiso district. This is a shelter for the LGBTI community. The authorities arrested 23 individuals and charged 19 for allegedly violating rules which prevent large gatherings to curb the spread of COVID-19.

Four of those arrested, including a nurse at the shelter, were released on medical grounds. Restrictions on movement imposed by the Ugandan authorities on 30 March to curb the spread of the virus have hindered access to lawyers of the accused. Even when special permission was sought, on some occasions prison authorities prevented lawyers from accessing the detained activists.

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


Bahrain: Free Imprisoned Rights Defenders and Activists

Extend Releases to Those at Special Risk of COVID-19


Protecting our co-workers during COVID-19: A Social Security Protocol for Civil Society


We have a responsibility to act decisively to protect our co-workers from adverse health, social and economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. This six-point protocol, based on the ILO’s policy framework to fight COVID-19, provides a shared template for civil society groups to deliberate context-specific measures and adopt feasible actions in a time-bound and transparent manner.


Cambodia and COVID19: State of Emergency draft law will put civic freedoms at further risk

Cambodia and COVID19: State of Emergency draft law will put civic freedoms and human rights defenders further at risk

CIVICUS, FORUM-ASIA, Frontline Defenders and Civil Rights Defenders are seriously concerned about draconian provisions in Cambodia’s draft State of Emergency Law which mandates unfettered power to the executive, undermining fundamental freedoms with no defined endpoint. 

The Cambodian government must immediately revise the draft law to bring it in line with international human rights laws and standards. If not, these emergency powers will be used as yet another weapon in Cambodia’s legal arsenal to quash dissent, stifle critics and silence human rights defenders.

The draft law bestows executive power to ban or restrict meetings and to close public or private spaces. It also allows the government to put in place means to observe all telecommunications systems, and to ban or restrict news or social media deemed to “generate public alarm or fear or generate unrest, or that could bring about damage to national security, or that could bring into being confusion regarding the state of emergency”. Failure to follow these measures could result in severely disproportionate prison sentences of up to five years – rising to ten years if deemed to ‘impact national security’ – and fines of up to 5,000,000 riels (about $1,250 USD). 

The severity of the health crisis presents serious challenges for governments and requires measures to safeguard health and wellbeing. International human rights law gives space for governments to take on exceptional powers at exceptional times. But such measures must be necessary, enshrined in law, proportionate and non-discriminatory. 

The draft State of Emergency Law contains no sunset clause and can only be ended by Royal Decree, which could allow the law to be used well beyond the end of the current pandemic. The potential permanence of these very restrictive measures makes the legislation neither proportionate nor necessary and would severely undermine Cambodia’s international human rights obligations to protect freedom of expression and assembly, as well as the right to privacy, enshrined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and its own Constitution. 

Our organisations are further concerned about provisions relating to restrictions on the media. Independent media in Cambodia has been under attack for several years, and media workers have been attacked, threatened and imprisoned for criticism of the government. The sweeping powers provided in this bill to ban media accused of ‘damaging national security’ will risk further rollbacks of press freedom and freedom of expression. Since January, at least 22 people have been arrested for sharing allegedly ‘false news’ relating to COVID-19. Human rights defenders, including the Acting Director of local human rights rights group LICADHO, have been threatened over comments made about the government’s response to the pandemic.

Vaguely-worded and over-broad measures in the draft law to monitor telecommunications systems combined with existing problematic laws will further increase repressive surveillance of activists and government critics. 

Cambodia has a history of misusing legislation in order to silence critics and human rights defenders, and to entrench power in the hands of the ruling party. Its human rights record over the last years has been increasingly dismal. The dissolution of its political opposition and jailing of opposition members, as well as attacks on the press and against NGOs and unions, have shown that authorities are already willing and able to use and misuse vaguely-worded laws to stifle dissent. This civic space backsliding over the past three years has, furthermore, meant that the law cannot be scrutinized by either an opposition party, or independent civil society. Such scrutiny is crucial for the principle of governing by consent.

The global pandemic means that governments worldwide must take steps to safeguard the right to health of those they serve. However, all human rights are interconnected and interdependent. Laws brought in to protect health must not be given carte blanche to blatantly disregard fundamental rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly.

  • Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)
  • CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
  • Civil Rights Defenders
  • Frontline Defenders


COVID-19: Urgent measures must be taken by MENA governments to protect the prison population


In light of the global COVID-19 pandemic outbreak—qualified as a Public Health Emergency of International Concern by the World Health Organization (WHO)—we, the undersigned organisations, express grave concern over the situation of detainees and prisoners across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). While certain states in the region have taken some positive steps to protect the general population, the prison population remains particularly vulnerable. 

Several countries in the MENA region have overstretched health systems and infrastructures, some of which have also been considerably weakened by years of armed conflict. In these countries, prisons and detention facilities are often overcrowded, unsanitary, and suffer from a lack of resources; accordingly, detainees are routinely denied proper access to medical care. These challenges are only further exacerbated during a health emergency, subjecting detainees and prisoners to heightened risk and placing weak prison health infrastructures under immense stress. Moreover, individuals in detention regularly interact with prison wardens, police officers, and health professionals who engage with the general population. Failure to protect prisoners and prison staff from COVID-19 may have negative implications for the population more broadly.

Under international human rights law, every individual has the right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health. States have an obligation to guarantee realization of this right. In addition, states have the obligation to ensure that detainees and prisoners are treated humanely and with respect for their dignity and not subject to cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment.  The Nelson Mandela Rules require equivalence in healthcare—meaning that healthcare in prisons must meet the same standards as healthcare outside of them. This does not change during a pandemic.

While restrictions, including on prison visits, may be imposed to curb the spread of infectious diseases like COVID-19, they must abide by the principles of proportionality and transparency. Any measure, including prison releases, must be taken in accordance with clear and transparent criteria, without discrimination. 

In light of the above, 

We call on governments in the MENA region to:

  1. Make known to the public their country-specific, and if relevant, facility-specific policies and guidelines in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in detention centers, prisons, and police stations.
  2. Share their emergency preparedness plans and provide specific training to relevant staff and authorities to ensure sufficient and sustained access to healthcare and hygiene provision.
  3. Conduct a thorough review of the prison population and in turn, reduce their prison populations by ordering the immediate release of:
    1. “Low-risk” detainees and prisoners, including those convicted or held in pretrial detention (remand) for nonviolent offences; administrative detainees; and those whose continued detention is not justified;
    2. Detainees and prisoners particularly vulnerable to the virus, including the elderly, and individuals with serious underlying conditions including lung disease, heart disease, diabetes, and autoimmune diseases.

       4. Allow individuals serving probation and probationary measures to fulfill their probation and probationary measures in their homes.
       5.Guarantee that individuals who remain in detention:

    1. Have their right to health effectively upheld by being granted full access to medical care as required;
    2. Access COVID-19 testing and treatment on a standard equal to that governing the general population;
    3. Are provided with means of communication and opportunities to access the outside world when in-person visits are suspended;
    4. Continue to enjoy their right to due process, including but not limited to the right to challenge the lawfulness of their detention, and their right not to experience delays that would render their detention arbitrary. 

We call on the World Health Organization, International Committee of the Red Cross, and UN Human Rights Council Special Procedures mandate holders to issue public statements and guidance highlighting recommendations and best practices for all governments around detention and imprisonment during a global pandemic. 

Undersigned organisations:

(Listed in alphabetical order)

ACAT - France (Action by Christians Against Torture)

Access Now

Al Mezan Center for Human Rights

ALQST for Human Rights

Arab Network for Knowledge about Human rights (ANKH)

Arab Reform Initiative (ARI)

ARCI (Associazione Ricreativa Culturale Italiana)

Association of Detainees and Missing in Sednaya Prison

Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE)

Bahrain Centre for Human Rights

Bahrain Transparency Society

Bar Human Rights Committee of England and Wales


Committee for Justice

Democratic Transition and Human Rights support (DAAM Center)

Digital Citizenship Organisation

DIGNITY - Danish Institute Against Torture

Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms

Egyptian Human Rights Forum

El Nadim Center

HaMoked: Center for the Defence of the Individual

Human Rights First

Initiative franco-égyptienne pour les droits les libertés (IFEDL)

International Commission of Jurists

International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)

Kuwaiti Transparency Society

Lebanese Centre For Human Rights

medico international e.V., Germany

MENA Rights Group

Mwatana for Human Rights

Physicians for Human Rights - Israel

Project on Middle East Democracy


Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights

Syrian Center For Legal Studies and Researches

Syrian Network for Human Rights

Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy (TIMEP)

UMAM Documentation & Research (MENA Prison Forum)

Women's March Global

World Organisation Against Torture


Outcomes from the UN Human Rights be continued

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the United Nations Human Rights Council’s 43rd Session, which was scheduled to run from 24 Feb – 20 March, was suspended after three weeks on 13 March until further notice.

CIVICUS fully supports the suspension of the Session on public health grounds, and the precautionary measures taken before the suspension. However, we remain concerned that public participation in the Council risks being disproportionately affected, especially in light of the decision to cut General Debates from the 44th Session (June), which removes a key platform for civil society to engage with governments. The UN depends on information from the ground in order to make evidence-based decisions, and we call on states to take steps to ensure that the participation of civil society is not compromised.

In Nicaragua, a human rights crisis has seen hundreds of thousands flee the country and an ongoing crackdown against human rights organisations, community leaders, and journalists. The situation is compounded by a lack of political will from the government to engage with regional or international mechanisms, or to ensure accountability. CIVICUS welcomes that the draft resolution on Nicaragua tabled during the Session would provide a mandate for enhanced monitoring and reporting by the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights (OHCHR) on the situation at this critical time, and we urge all states to support this resolution when the Session resumes.

We also call on states to support the renewal of the Special Rapporteur on Myanmar. The 43rd session marked the final one for the current Special Rapporteur on Myanmar, Yanghee Lee, and we thank her for her outstanding work during her mandate. Myanmar has undergone significant developments in its human rights framework since the Special Rapporteur began her term – from elections in 2015 which saw a groundswell of hope for positive change, to the dawning realisation of crimes against humanity against the Rohingya in Rakhine state. But the curtailment of fundamental freedoms and total crackdown on any criticism of authorities has remained grimly consistent. Those on the ground, the human rights defenders and activists who are trying to achieve change, need international support from the Human Rights Council.

In late 2019, Iran erupted into a series of protests against the lack of political and democratic freedoms and the deteriorating economic situation. Protesters were met with violent repression through mass arrests and lethal force. When the Session resumes, the Human Rights Council will vote on extending the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Iran. We welcome support shown by states so far for the renewal of the mandate, and we urge adoption of this resolution when the Session continues.

What is a Special Rapporteur?
Special Rapporteur is a title given to an independent expert who works on behalf of the United Nations who has a specific country or thematic mandate from the Human Rights Council. Special Rapporteurs often conduct fact-finding missions to countries to investigate allegations of human rights violations. They can only officially visit countries that have agreed to invite them. Aside from fact-finding missions, Rapporteurs regularly assess and verify complaints from alleged victims of human rights violations. 

The mandates for Special Rapporteurs on freedom of expression and opinion, and on human rights defenders, are set to be renewed when the Session resumes. We encourage all member and observer states to show their full support for these mandates by co-sponsorsing the resolutions.

Just prior to the suspension of the Session, Mary Lawlor was appointed as new Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders. We look forward to working with her as she protects those on the frontline of defending human rights around the world, and we thank Michel Forst, the outgoing mandate holder, for his tireless work.

Towards the beginning of the Session, the High Commissioner’s update on Sri Lanka highlighted ongoing impunity for past grave human rights abuses in the country. The new Sri Lankan government, which came into power in 2019, has said that it intends to renege on Human Rights Council resolution 30/1 which provided commitments to accountability, truth and reconciliation. The human rights space in Sri Lanka has deteriorated sharply under the new administration, and the undermining of this resolution – currently the only route to ensuring transitional justice in Sri Lanka – would not only be fatal to victims and their families, but also a significant setback to the UN itself. We urge states to strongly encourage Sri Lanka to uphold its commitments and reiterate calls for an international accountability mechanism to ensure that accountability remains a possibility.

Although India was not on the official agenda of this Session, the ongoing crackdown on Kashmir, a discriminatory citizenship law and violent suppression of protests proved an ongoing issue throughout the Session.

CIVICUS, FORUM-ASIA, ISHR, FIDH, OMCT and ICJ organized a side event to discuss the current situation and ways in which the international community, including the Council, could contribute to constrictive progress. With key partners, CIVICUS also joined important statements on the situation in Jammu and Kashmir as well as on India’s recent discriminatory citizenship law, and we were encouraged to see several states raise their own concerns about India during debates.

Civic space ratings by CIVICUS Monitor
Open Narrowed Obstructed  Repressed Closed


Our joint and stand alone country statements at the 43rd Session of the Human Rights Council
Angola Burundi El Salvador  Eritrea Fiji
India Iraq Iran Jammu & Kashmir Madagascar
Myanmar Nicaragua Sri Lanka See all statements



G20: Hundreds of civil society organisations pledge to avoid Saudi Arabia-led process


More than 220 civil society organizations from around the world have  voiced their concerns over the G20 civil society engagement process hosted by and in Saudi Arabia in 2020. The organizations have pledged not to participate in this year’s process, known as the Civil 20 or ‘C20’, the dedicated stream of meetings for civil society within the G20.

The organisations endorsed a statement, originally published in January 2020, that reads in part:

“Instead of real reform, the Saudi government has been trying to whitewash its dire human rights record by holding major international events in the country. This includes the G20 and – through a government-authorized NGO – the C20. As leading civil society organisations present in most countries around the world (but notably not Saudi Arabia), we cannot participate in a process that seeks to give international legitimacy to a state that provides virtually no space for civil society, and where independent civil society voices are not tolerated.”

Delia Ferreira Rubio, Chair of Transparency International, said: “Civil society offers the G20 independent, expert policy recommendations to promote sustainable development and improve the lives of billions of people. The G20 must be serious about ensuring an effective civil society engagement where all independent voices have equal standing. We continue to work with our partners to find ways of bringing this expertise to the G20, but will not participate in a process that seeks to launder Saudi Arabia’s appalling record on human rights and independent civil society.”

Netsanet Belay, Amnesty International’s Director of Research and Advocacy, said: “It’s high time for the Saudi Arabian authorities to take meaningful steps to end arbitrary arrests, torture, and unfair trials, and to end its widespread resort to the death penalty. We hope that the dozens of human rights defenders and women’s rights activists behind bars - such as Waleed Abu al-Khair, Loujain al-Hathloul, Raif Badawi, Samar Badawi and Naseema al-Sada - gain strength from this act of solidarity by so many organizations worldwide who are not prepared to allow Saudi Arabia’s appalling human rights record to be whitewashed. Even better would be their immediate and unconditional release so that they can engage meaningfully with their government on developing human rights compliant laws and policies at home and abroad – including in relation to the G20”.

Lysa John, Secretary-General, CIVICUS, stated “The Saudi authorities have made it virtually impossible for human rights defenders and civil society organisations to operate. Saudi Arabia does not tolerate freedom of speech and scores of human rights defenders and activists are in jail or exile. We refuse to engage in the Saudi-led C20 because we believe that activists and independent civil society organisations will not be able to freely participate in this process.”  


List of organizations endorsing the statement as of 20th March 2020:

A Common Future


Association Catholique pour la Protection de l'Environnement au Burundi (ACAPE BURUNDI)


Access Center for Human Rights (ACHR)


Action for Pastoralists Integrated Resilience


Adilisha Child, Youth Development and Family Preservation


Advance Center for Peace and Credibility International


Association for Farmers Rights Defense (AFRD)


Africa Rise Foundation


African Youth Peer Review Committee (AYPRC)


African Youth Union Commission


Association Aide aux Familles et Victimes des Migrations Clandestines (AFVMC)


Association pour l'Integration et le Developpement Durable au Burundi (AIDB Burundi)


Alcondoms Cameroun


Alliance des Défenseurs des Droits Humains et de l'Environnement au Tchad




AL-Shafaa Organisation


Amagugu International Heritage Center


Angels in the Field


Anqad Association for Development and Social Welfare


Ark Wellness Hub Uganda


Action pour le Respect et la Protection de l'Environnement (ARPE)


Asociacion Alfalit Guatemala




Association Sauvons la vie, de l'eau potable pour tous (ASSAUVET)


Association de Lutte contre le Chomage et la Torture (ALUCHOTO)


Association des Amis de la Nature


Association For Promotion Sustainable Development


Association les Amis du Verbe


Association of the Prodigy Youth for the Sustainable Development

Central African Republic

Association of Working Children and Youths


Aware Girls


Bina Foundation


Bonabo United


BRIDGE Foundation


Brother's Keeper


Bunjakko Modern Farm Limited


Bureau d'Informations, Formations, Échanges et Recherches pour le Développement (BIFERD)

Democratic Republic of the Congo

Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies


Calvin Ong'era


Canadian Centre for Victims of Torture


Canadian Council for International Co-operation 


Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network


Center for Constitutional Governance


Center for Development of Civil Society


Centre for Law and Democracy


Centre de Recherche sur l'Anticorruption

Democratic Republic of the Congo

Centre for Legal Support


Centre for Media and Development Communication (CEMEDEC)


Centre for Social Policy Develoment


Community Initiative for Social Empowerment (CISE)


Children on the Edge 


Chinese and Southeast Asian Legal Clinic 


Civil Society in Development (CISU)


Civil Society Reference Group (CSRG)


Coalition in Defence of Nigerian Democracy and Constitution


Coalition of Youth Organizations (SEGA)


Collectif de Développement et Respect de la Dignité Humaine (CODDHU)

Democratic Republic of the Congo



Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (COMFREL)


Commonwealth Society of Nigeria


Community Health Education Sports Initiative Zambia


Community Youth Initiatives Liberia Inc


Consultando Soluciones REcosrec


Coalition d'organisations volontaires et solidaires pour des actions de développement communautaire (COSAD)


Corruption Watch 

South Africa 

Curtis Business

Democratic Republic of the Congo

Democracy Without Borders


Denis Miki Foundation


Dhankuta Municipality


Diálogo de Mujeres por la Democracia


Dominion Empowerment Solutions


Dytech - OutGrow It


Edutech for Africa



El Salvador

Enoch Adeyemi Foundation


Equality Now


Fédération Internationale des Entrepreneurs et ou Etudiants Africains d'Affaires (FIEAA)


Front Commun pour la Protection de l'Environnement et des Espaces Protégés (FCPEEP)

Democratic Republic of the Congo

Fellowship for Community Enlightenment (FCE)


Federación Nacional de Personerías de Colombia (FENALPER)




Focus Youth Forum (FYF)


Freedom Now


Fund Our Future

South Africa

Fundación Integral para el Desarrollo Regional (FINDER)

El Salvador

Fundación Selva Sagrada


Fundación para el Desarrollo de Políticas Sustentables (FUNDEPS)


Fundación para el Desarrollo de la Libertad Ciudadana


Futur Radieux


Gatef Organization


Geospatial Organization


Germany Zimbabwe Forum


Ghana Association of Private Voluntary Organisations in Development


Give Hope Uganda


Global Network for Sustainable Development


Global Witness


Global Shapers Castries Hub

Saint Lucia

Globalpeace Chain


Gram Bharati Samiti


Gulf Centre for Human Rights

Middle East

Gutu United Residents and Ratepayers Association (GURRA)


HAKI Africa


Hands of External Love Program


Hannibal Entertainment Visual Studio Production


Hitesh BHATT


HOPE Worldwide-Pakistan

New Zealand

Human Rights First 


Human Rights Research and Education Centre, University of Ottawa


Human Rights Watch


Instituto de Comunicación y Desarrollo (ICD)


India Media Centre




Initiative de Gestion Civile des Crises (IGC)


Institute of Peace and Conflict Resolution


Instituto para el Futuro Común Amerindio (IFCA)


International Center for Accelerated Development


International Development Opportunity Initiative


International Federation of Women Lawyers, FIDA Nigeria


International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)


International Student Environmental Coalition


Interregional Public Charitable Organization of Assistance to Persons with Disabilities Sail of Hope


Jeunesse Assistance


Justice  Access Point


Justice Initiative for the Disadvantaged and Oppressed Persons (JIDOP)



United States of America

Key populations Uganda


Konstitusiya Arasdırmalar Fondu


Vulnerable People's Development Organization (KOTHOWAIN)


Kurdistan Without Genocide


Kuza Livelihood Improovement Projects


Laxman Belbase - Individual


The Lesbians, Gays & Bisexuals of Botswana (LEGABIBO)


Leila Oguntayo


Liberia Media Center


Local Communities Development Initiative


Makerere University Uganda


Malawi Human Rights Defenders Coalition


Mama leah Fondation


Moabite Indigenous Nation Trust

United States of America

Morya Samajik Pratishthan


Mother of Hope Cameroon (MOHCAM)


Mzimba Youth Organization




National Sudanese Women Association


Network of Estonian Non-profit Organizations


New Owerri Youth Organisation


Nobel Women's Initiative


One More Salary


ONG Les Batisseurs

United States of America

Organization of the Justice Campaign



Democratic Republic of the Congo

Pacific Sexual and Gender Diversity Network


Pakistan NGOs Forum


Palestinian Center for Communication and Development Strategies


Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms (MADA)


Parent-Child Intervention Centre


Participatory Research Action Network (PRAN)


Peaceful and Active Centre for Humanity (PEACH)


PEN International


Primadent Initiative for Oral Health


Public Organization Youth House


Rainbow Pride Foundation


Rainbow Sunrise Mapambazuko

Democratic Republic of the Congo

Real Agenda For Youth Transformation


Red Global de Acción Juvenil (GYAN)


Richard Bennett

United Kingdom

Rural Initiatives in Sustainability & Empowerment (RISE)


Rideau Institute


Rising Generation for Youth Organization


Réseau Nigérien des Défenseurs des Droits Humains (RNDDH)


Role Model Zambia


Sauti ya Haki Tanzania




Shanduko Yeupenyu Child Care


Sierra Leone School Green Clubs

Sierra Leone

Social Watch Benin


Society for Development and Research


Society for Rural Women and Youth Development


South Sudan Community Change Agency

South Sudan

Street Youth Connection Sierra Leone (SYC-SL)

Sierra Leone

Success Capital Organisation


Sudda Changing Lives Foundation


Synergy of experts on environment and sustainable development

Burkina Faso

TATU Project


Human Rights Defenders Network (ACPDH)


The Rock Shalom


The Social Science Centre for African Development (KUTAFITI)

Democratic Republic of the Congo

The Young Republic


The Tax Justice Network 


The Youth Voice of SA

South Africa

Tochukwu Anyadike


Transparency International Australia


Transparency International Bangladesh


Transparencia por Colombia


Transparency International EU


Transparency International Kazakhstan


Transparency International Uganda 


Transparency International Ukraine


Transparency International Pakistan


Union des Frères pour Alternatif du Developpement Intégré (UFADI)


Uganda Youth Guidance and Development Association


Ugonma Foundation


Ukana West 2 Community Based Health Initiative


Union for the Promotion, Defense of Human Rights and the Environment-UPDDHE.GL

Democratic Republic of the Congo

Vanuatu Association of Non-Government Organisation




Veille Citoyenne


Vijana Hope

Democratic Republic of the Congo

Volunteers Hub Liberia


Volunteers Welfare for Community Based Care of Zambia (VOWAZA)


WDC Somalia


We Lead Intergrated Foundation


Women Empowerment Group (WEG)


Women United to Fight Sexual Violence in Liberia (WOUFSVIL)


Women's March Global

United States of America

World Youth Union SL

Sierra Leone




Cote D'Ivoire

Yole Africa

Democratic Republic of the Congo

Young League Pakistan


Youth Advocates for Change


Youth For Change


Youth for Development Network


Youth For Environment Education And Development Foundation (YFEED Foundation)


Youth for Future 2006


Youth Harvest Foundation Ghana


Youth Leadership Initiative for Social Justice




Zambian Governance Foundation for Civil Society


Zimbabwe Climate Change Coalition



The G20 must put human rights at the heart of its response to COVID-19 pandemic

In the COVID-19 outbreak, the global community is facing one of the most challenging crises for decades. As of mid-March 2020 more than 200,000 people have been infected and over 8,000 people have lost their lives. The economic impact is only starting to be felt, and will likely affect the livelihoods of millions worldwide. This is a global crisis that needs to be addressed with clear, fair, coordinated and concrete measures - measures that the G20 can and should implement.

The policy response to the previous global financial crisis a little over a decade ago was widely seen to have been lopsided and to have led to socially unfair outcomes, including increasing poverty, the loss of millions of jobs, and stagnating or dropping incomes for workers.

Economic and Social Rights

The indications are that the coming economic downturn will be even swifter and more severe than in the previous crisis. In addition to dealing with the public health crisis, a decisive policy response from governments will be essential to provide social security – including sick pay, health care and parental leave

– to all members of society, including those in insecure forms of labour who are suffering the brunt of many of the control measures introduced to date. Coordinated international cooperation and assistance is also vital to ensure that states with fewer resources are also able to respond effectively to the COVID- 19 pandemic.

In this context, we welcome the announcement of a G20 extraordinary virtual Summit and urge G20 Leaders to urgently adopt and implement concrete and measurable policies and plans in order to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic at home and abroad, protect people’s health, and reduce its economic impacts, while ensuring a just and human rights-centred transition to a zero-carbon economy. Such measures must guarantee access for all to preventive care and good quality and affordable treatment, including those most at risk or less able to implement preventive measures through poverty, homelessness, or living and working in environments where they are more exposed to the virus. In doing so, G20 Leaders should guarantee:

Access to information

All affected individuals and communities are entitled to easy, accessible, timely and meaningful information concerning the nature and level of the health threat, possible measures to mitigate risks, early warning information of possible future consequences and information on ongoing response efforts.

Information should be available in the languages necessary to meet the various needs of those affected, and through media and in formats that can be easily understood and accessed, so that those affected can take informed decisions and fully participate in the response efforts.

As has already been recognised by the G7, public access to reliable and real-time information is key to prevent and mitigate public health crises. G20 leaders should commit to real-time information sharing and to publish gender-disaggregated data on how the virus is impacting women, and ensure access to protection from domestic violence and to sexual and reproductive health services.

Civic space and media freedom

Both the human rights of individuals and media freedom are essential in times of crisis. Responsible journalism can help arrest the spread of misinformation and thereby shore up public trust in government, which is key to effective crisis responses. Input and oversight by civil society organizations is also critical, both to strengthen overall accountability and to boost the quality and inclusiveness of public decision- making.

We are already seeing international battles for control of the narrative around the virus, in particular between the world’s two largest national economies - the USA and China. Such attempts to “compete” over the truth have to stop. It is vital that the media, domestic and foreign, are able to report freely on the crisis, to present the public with facts – even if these facts are uncomfortable to those in power. For lessons to be learned from this crisis and applied to the prevention and mitigation of the next, the public must remain informed of the truth throughout.

Transparency around decision-making

In an environment of unprecedented pressure and uncertainty, there is a high risk that public decisions will be captured or distorted by vested private interests for their own gain. Governments must provide reasoned justification for the choices they make, both to contain the pandemic and to boost their economies. A public health emergency should not be taken as an opportunity to bypass accountability. Now, more than ever, government decisions must be “open by default”. As the Council of Europe has affirmed, “fundamental safeguards to the rule of law, parliamentary oversight, independent judicial control, and effective domestic remedies, must be maintained even during a state of emergency.”

Already before the current crisis, it was clear that governments must strengthen checks and balances, limit the influence of big money in politics and ensure inclusive and broad input in political decision- making. Public policies and the allocation of resources should not be determined by economic power or political influence, but by fair consultation and impartial budget allocation. That is why governments must urgently tackle the channels through which private interests can gain undue leverage over public decision- making.

Over the years, G20 countries have committed to put in place a wide range of policies, from tackling conflicts of interest to protecting whistleblowers. What they have not yet done is adequately implement these in practice. If implemented in an effective and complementary way, existing commitments can address many aspects of the challenge that undue influence will pose to an effective and sustainable long- term response to the current crisis.

In addition, parliaments, governments and international organizations should postpone any ongoing non- emergency related measures that require public consultation, until they have put in place effective alternative measures to ensure public participation in the decision-making process.

Furthermore, to avoid abuses of power, any state of emergency declared by national governments should be limited in duration and scope, and emergency powers should be exercised only for the purposes for which they were granted.

We call on all governments and other actors involved to ensure that all responses to the COVID-19 outbreak are in compliance with international human rights law and standards, taking into account the specific needs of marginalized groups and people and those most at risk, and that the specific human rights risks associated with any particular response are addressed and mitigated.


Ladies European Tour community should #StandWithSaudiHeroes

In December 2019, the Ladies European Tour announced that it would hold a tournament in Saudi Arabia from the 19th to the 22nd March 2020 in collaboration with Golf Saudi and the Saudi Golf Federation.

While this announcement can be seen as an embedment of Saudi Arabia’s “Vision 2030” economic reform plan, it also contributes to “sports-washing”—hosting major events that seek to gloss over serious human rights violations committed by the Saudi authorities in recent years.

Since the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in October 2018 at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, Saudi Arabia has faced increased international criticism over its human rights record; particularly its lack of a transparent investigation into the prominent journalist’s murder, the torture and detention of women’s rights activists and its role in war crimes committed during its military operations in Yemen.

In June 2019, the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions presented to the Council her investigation into Khashoggi’s murder, which found the State of Saudi Arabia responsible and highlighted that the killing reflected a broader crackdown against activists, journalists and dissenters, as well as a culture of impunity at the highest levels. The Special Rapporteur called on corporations to “establish explicit policies to avoid entering into business deals with business, businesspeople, and organs of the State that have had a direct or indirect role with Khashoggi’s execution or other grave human rights violations”.[1]

The Saudi government has created a hostile environment for human rights defenders— applying a counter-terrorism framework to arbitrarily detain, torture and put on trial dozens of them for their peaceful advocacy. Among those who remain detained are notable Saudi women’s rights activists Loujain al-Hathloul, Nouf Abdulaziz, Maya al-Zahrani, Nassima Al Saddah and Samar Badawi, who advocated for women’s right to drive and an end to the country’s discriminatory male guardianship system.

These women were among a dozen women’s rights defenders arrested in 2018 in retaliation for peacefully campaigning for the protection and promotion of women’s rights throughout the kingdom. It was reported that they were subjected to electric shocks, flogging, sexual threats and other forms of torture during interrogation. These women, who remain detained, along with other women’s rights activists temporarily released, are on trial on charges solely related to their activism. We remain concerned that they will not be able to exercise their right to a fair trial in accordance with the international human rights standards, which Saudi Arabia is obliged to adhere to.

While Saudi Arabia adopted some positive measures, including permitting women to drive and removing travel restrictions for women over 21, the authorities have yet to fully dismantle the male guardianship system, tackle severe lack of gender inequality, and end the arbitrary detention and prosecution of women’s rights activists and human rights defenders.

The world’s top human rights body, the United Nations Human Rights Council (the Council) has unprecedentedly scrutinized the human rights record of Saudi Arabia in 2019. In March 2019, Iceland on behalf of 36 States delivered the first-ever joint statement on Saudi Arabia which, expressed serious concern over the continuing arrests and arbitrary detentions of human rights defenders and called for the release of ten named women’s rights activists from detention as well as accountability for the extrajudicial killing of Khashoggi. In September 2019, Australia delivered another joint statement that set out a list of measures that the Saudi government should take to improve its human rights record, which to this date the Saudi government failed to comply with.

Lastly, we also draw your attention to the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights which provide that businesses should seek to prevent (...) adverse human rights impact that they are directly linked to through their business relationships, even where they do not contribute to those impacts. The ability of civil society to operate where you hold or participate in events is essential to upholding your credibility.

Take Action:

In light of Saudi Arabia’s numerous and ongoing violations of international human rights and humanitarian law, the undersigned NGOs have called on Ladies European Tour organizers, players, and official broadcasters to urge the Saudi authorities to drop all charges against Saudi women’s rights activists and immediately and unconditionally release all those detained for their peaceful and legitimate human rights activism.

Because you can genuinely make a difference in these activists’ lives and their struggle for freedom and gender equality, we are asking Ladies European Tour fans to help increase awareness and show solidarity by sharing on social media messages of support and solidarity with #StandWithSaudiHeroes.

While official Ladies European Tour voices and players are important in pressuring Saudi authorities to act, it is important that fans of the sport around the world speak up, too. You too can help the activists get their freedom and continue their human rights struggle. In the lead up to the tournament, please add your voice to the campaign by sharing support on social media channels using the hashtag #StandWithSaudiHeroes, follow campaign developments online, and reach out to competitors representing your home country to participate.


  1. ALQST
  2. Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB)
  3. CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
  4. Equality Now!
  5. Gulf Center for Human Rights
  6. International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)
  7. MENA Rights Group
  8. Women’s March Global

[1] See full recommendations to corporations on page 98- Section K:


Myanmar: Lift Internet Restrictions in Rakhine and Chin States

Mobile internet blackout in four townships in Rakhine State among the world’s longest running.


Why we are not engaging with the G20’s civil society process in 2020


The annual G20 summit often seems like a talking shop for the world’s most powerful governments. The leaders of 19 of the largest national economies plus the European Union get together, shake hands in front of the cameras, and make vague agreements, many of which they don’t implement. The summits draw the attention of the world’s media, and – frequently – protesters from around the world who want to hold those governments to account.

Less well known is the extensive cycle of preparatory meetings leading up to the G20 leaders’ summit. Despite the many limitations and challenges of the process, for many voices from outside government –especially trade unions, rights groups and civil society – these are rare opportunities to make policy recommendations directly to national authorities and to influence the global agenda on issues that affect billions of people. For the last few years, there has even been a dedicated stream of meetings for civil society within the G20, known as the Civil 20 (C20).

In 2020, however, we as civil society organisations will be keeping our distance from the official C20 process, which will be hosted by and in Saudi Arabia.

G20 host Saudi Arabia has tried to promote an image of itself as a modern country attractive for foreign investors. The government has recruited expensive Western PR advisors and spent millions of dollars to polish its image and suppress criticism from international media. Meanwhile, at home the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia regularly arrests and prosecutes human rights defenders, censors free speech, limits free movement, and tortures and mistreats detained journalists and activists. Vaguely worded counter-terror laws are used to silence government critics, including through the imposition of the death penalty. In October 2018, the world was shocked by the brutal murder of journalist and dissident Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Women face systematic discrimination in law and practice. In addition, women human rights defenders who dare defend the rights of women are subjected to judicial persecution, arbitrary arrests and detention.

Instead of real reform, the Saudi government has been trying to whitewash its dire human rights record by holding major international events in the country. This includes the G20 and – through a government-authorized NGO – the C20. As leading civil society organisations present in most countries around the world (but notably not Saudi Arabia), we cannot participate in a process that seeks to give international legitimacy to a state that provides virtually no space for civil society, and where independent civil society voices are not tolerated.

In June 2019, the C20 established a set of principles, including a basic structure and operating mechanisms, to ensure its sustainability and effectiveness. The C20 principles emphasize inclusion of a variety of civil society actors, from local to global; transparency of decision-making; freedom and independence from undue influence by any non-civil society actors; inclusiveness and diversity; and the guiding values of human rights, gender equality and women’s empowerment. Most of these principles will be absent in 2020, and more alarmingly we are already seeing the Saudi G20 presidency undermining these principles.

Virtually no domestic civil society actors will be able to participate in the upcoming C20 in Saudi Arabia, other than a token number of organisations working on issues deemed inoffensive by the Saudi government, since the Saudi authorities do not allow the existence of political parties, trade unions or independent human rights groups. Most progressive civil society activists are on trial or serving long prison sentences for speaking up, or have been forced into exile in order to avoid prison or worse. Returning to the country is not an option, as it will put them at risk. Without these independent and critical voices in the room, the credibility of the C20 is severely compromised.

Foreign and international civil society actors would also face significant challenges in freely participating in a Saudi-organised C20 event.

Existing laws and policies in Saudi Arabia not only directly affect the rights to freedom of association, expression and peaceful assembly, but also create a chilling effect that acts to silence certain categories of activists who, if they were to speak out, would be jeopardizing their own safety. Moreover, in November 2019, Saudi Arabia’s state security agency categorised feminism and homosexuality as crimes. While the announcement was rectified, Saudi Arabia’s leading women human rights defenders are still behind bars and prosecuted for their human rights work. These laws and practices contradict C20 principles on diversity, gender equality and the empowerment of women, and they would stifle freedom of expression in discussions on women’s rights, sexual and reproductive rights, and LGBTI rights.

This is compounded by a serious lack of press freedom in Saudi Arabia. Strict media controls, censorship and surveillance of social media, mean any discussions held at a Saudi-led C20 would never reach the wider Saudi population beyond a state-sanctioned narrative. Even if any such discussions were possible, without free media all meaningful discussions at the C20 would benefit only a limited audience. This is inconsistent with the C20’s guiding principles of inclusiveness, openness, transparency and participation.

Previous G20 summits have seen protests by activists from the host state and elsewhere. Freedom of peaceful assembly is a right, but in a country where all gatherings, including peaceful demonstrations, are prohibited, there is no possibility that this fundamental right will be respected.

The Saudi-led C20 process is lacking in many respects, most notably in guaranteeing the C20’s fundamental principles. Even this early in the 2020 C20 process we have observed a marked lack of transparency from the C20 hosts. The appointment of the Chairs of working groups and various committees was opaque and non-consultative, while arbitrary decisions have excluded experienced international groups. The C20 process led by the King Khalid Foundation, which is connected to the Saudi Royal Family, cannot be considered as transparent, inclusive and participatory, as required by the C20 Principles.

At a time when the world is facing a wide range of challenges, independent voices are needed more than ever. A state that closes civic space until it is virtually non-existent cannot be trusted to guarantee the basic conditions for international civil society to exchange ideas and collaborate freely on any issue, let alone those issues it deems sensitive or offensive.

While we will not participate in the C20 this year, we commit to work together to make sure those voices are heard in 2020.


Dakar Rally community must #StandWithSaudiHeroes

The Dakar Rally (formerly known as the Paris-Dakar Rally) is an annual off-road endurance rally organized by the French company Amaury Sport Organisation (A.S.O). In April 2019, it was announced that the upcoming 2020 rally would be held throughout Saudi Arabia. The announcement, which outlined the race route from January 5-17, 2020, also promised a five-year partnership with Saudi Arabia as host.

While this announcement plays a part of Saudi Arabia’s “Vision 2030” economic reform plan, it also contributes to “sports-washing” — hosting major events that seek to gloss over serious human rights violations committed by the Saudi authorities in recent years. Since the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in October 2018 at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, Saudi Arabia has faced increased international criticism over its human rights record; particularly its lack of a transparent investigation into Khashoggi’s murder, the torture and detention of women’s rights activists and its role in war crimes committed during its military operations in Yemen.

The Saudi government has created a hostile environment for anyone speaking out, including journalists, writers and human rights defenders — arbitrarily detaining, torturing and putting on trial dozens of human rights defenders for their peaceful advocacy. Among those who remain detained are notable Saudi women’s rights activists Loujain al-Hathloul and Samar Badawi, who advocated for women’s right to drive and an end to the country’s discriminatory male guardianship system.

Al-Hathoul and Badawi, along with Nassima al-Sadah and Nouf Abdulaziz, were among a dozen women’s rights defenders arrested in a 2018 crackdown in retaliation for peacefully campaigning for the protection and promotion of women’s rights throughout the kingdom. Some women reported that they were subjected to electric shocks, flogging, sexual threats and other forms of torture during interrogation. Some have also been held in prolonged solitary confinement. These women, who remain detained, along with other women’s rights activists temporarily released, are on trial on charges solely related to their activism. Another 14 supporters of these women’s rights defenders were arrested in March and April 2019 and remain in prison without charge.

While Saudi Arabia adopted some positive measures, including permitting women to drive and removing travel restrictions for women over 21, the authorities have yet to fully dismantle the male guardianship system, tackle severe gender inequality, and end the arbitrary detention and prosecution of women’s rights activists.

In 2019, the world’s top human rights body, the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council, has unprecedentedly scrutinized Saudi Arabia’s record. In March, Iceland, on behalf of 36 States, delivered the first-ever joint statement on Saudi Arabia which, inter alia, called for the release of ten named women’s rights activists from detention and accountability for the extrajudicial killing of Jamal Khashoggi. In June, the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Ms. Agnes Callamard, presented the conclusions of her investigation into Khashoggi’s killing, which found the State of Saudi Arabia responsible and highlighted that the extrajudicial killing reflected a broader crackdown against defenders, journalists and dissenters, as well as a culture of impunity at the highest levels. The Rapporteur also called on corporations to “establish explicit policies to avoid entering into deals with businesses, business people, and organs of the State that have had a direct or indirect role in Khashoggi’s execution or other grave human rights violations”.

Lastly, we also want to draw your attention to the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, which provide that businesses should “seek to prevent [...] adverse human rights impacts that they are directly linked to through their business relationships, even where they do not contribute to those impacts.” The ability of civil society to operate where you hold or participate in sports events is essential to upholding your credibility and avoiding any contribution or linkage to human rights violations.

Take Action:

In light of Saudi Arabia’s numerous and ongoing violations of international human rights and humanitarian law, the undersigned NGOs call on Dakar Rally organizers, participants, sponsors and official broadcasters to urge the Saudi authorities to drop all charges against Saudi women’s rights activists and immediately and unconditionally release all those detained for their peaceful and legitimate human rights activism. Because you can genuinely make a difference in these activists’ lives and their struggle for freedom and gender equality, we are asking Dakar Rally participants to help increase awareness and show solidarity by wearing a #StandWithSaudiHeroes pink armband during the event.

While official Dakar Rally voices and drivers – both male and female – are important in pressuring Saudi authorities to act, it is important that fans of the Rally around the world speak up too. You too can help these activists get their freedom and continue their human rights struggle.

In the lead up to the Rally, please add your voice to the campaign by sharing support on social media channels using the hashtag #StandWithSaudiHeroes, follow campaign developments online, and reach out to competitors representing your home country to participate.


  1. ACAT-France (Action by Christians against Torture)
  2. ALQST
  3. Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB)
  4. ARTICLE 19
  5. CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
  6. Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)
  7. European Centre for Democracy and Human Rights
  8. Gulf Center for Human Rights (GCHR)
  9. International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
  10. Front Line Defenders
  11. International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)
  12. Ligue des Droits de l'Homme (LDH)
  13. MENA Rights Group
  14. Reporters Without Borders (RSF)


Urgent Request for UN Intervention in the case of activist in Tanzania

Mr. Michel Forst
United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders

Professor Rémy Ngoy Lumbu
African Commission Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders and Focal Point on Reprisals in Africa

Dear Sirs,                    

Re: Urgent Request for Intervention in the Case of Human Rights Defender, Tito Elia Magoti.

We, the undersigned civil society organizations (CSOs) working to promote and defend human rights across the globe, including in Tanzania, urgently write requesting your intervention in the arrest and detention of human rights defender, Tito Elia Magoti. We are not only concerned that his arrest and detention is in retaliation for his legitimate human rights work but that the manner of his arrest, indicates a pattern by the State of disregarding due process procedures. We are further concerned that the charges against him, more specifically that of “money laundering” which automatically denies him the right to bail under Tanzanian law, poses an existential threat to all human rights defenders, journalists and civil society in Tanzania. Those charged under this law, regardless of the frivolousness of the allegations, can be indefinitely detained without trial.

On December 20, 2019, Mr. Tito Magoti, a young lawyer and Program Officer with the Legal and Human Rights Center (LHRC), was reportedly abducted by four unidentified men, handcuffed and driven off in what seemed to be a civilian vehicle.[1] LHRC is a Tanzanian based organization that works to promote, reinforce and safeguard human rights and good governance in the country.[2] Members of LHRC and other human rights organizations frantically visited various police stations in search of Mr. Magoti but were unable to locate him. It was feared he had been abducted. In the evening of December 20, 2019, the Dar es Salaam Zone Police Commander, SACP Lazaro Mambosasa, eventually released a press report indicating that he had not been abducted but was in police custody with several other arrested individuals.[3] No mention was made of where he was being detained or what allegations he was facing.[4] Police Commander Mambosasa’s statement was subsequently contradicted by the Regional Police Commander for Kinondoni region, where Mr. Magoti was arrested, alleging that he had no knowledge of the arrest.[5]

On December 23, 2019, having failed to locate their employee, LHRC filed an urgent petition against the Dar es Salaam Special Zone Police Commander and the Attorney General demanding the release of Mr. Magoti whose whereabouts and charges against him had yet to be divulged.[6] It is only after this application was made that Mr. Magoti together with his colleague, Mr. Theodory Faustin Giyan, a software developer and commentator of matters of public interest, were brought before the Kisutu Resident Magistrate Court in Dar es Salaam, on December 24, 2019, and jointly charged with (i) leading an organized crime; (ii) possession of a computer program designed for the purpose of committing an offence; and (iii) money laundering. (The charges are attached as Annexure “A”)

We are gravely concerned with the manner of arrest and detention of Mr. Magoti. Regional and international human rights standards are clear that an accused person has the right to be immediately informed of the reason for his arrest; the immediate right to legal representation; and the right to inform his family of his arrest; and where he is being detained.[7] The State also has a legal obligation to present an accused before a court of law within 48 hours of arrest.[8] Mr. Magoti’s arrest by unidentified men who subsequently held him in incommunicado detention for four days was not only a violation of his due process rights, but such practices raise the risk of cruel and inhuman treatment or torture while in custody as well as disappearances.[9] (The Tanganyika Law Society's statement clearly outlining the failure of the Tanzanian government to respect due process procedures in the arrest of Mr. Magoti is attached as Annexure "B")

There have been numerous reported cases of abductions in Tanzania including those of prominent government critics.[10] In July 2019, investigative journalist, Erick Kabendera was forcefully removed from his home by unidentified men who claimed to be the police.[11] Similarly, for several days, his family and lawyers did not know where he was being detained as he was moved from station to station and denied access to his lawyers.[12] In November 2017, investigative journalist, Azory Gwanda disappeared under suspicious circumstances and has not been seen since.[13] Given this environment, it is of paramount importance that the Tanzanian government when arresting citizens refrain from abductions by the police and respect fundamental due process procedures recognized under its own constitution and regional and international standards.

We strongly believe that the allegations against Mr. Magoti are in retaliation for his legitimate human rights work. During Mr. Magoti’s unlawful detention, he was reportedly questioned for his use of social media (Twitter) and his association with media owner and activist Maria Sarungi-Tsehai; former Tanganyika Law Society President Fatma Karume; and opposition politician Zitto Kabwe, all of whom are vocal critics of the Tanzanian government, and are all currently facing various forms of retaliation for demanding government accountability and transparency.[14] We are even more concerned with the specific charges of “money laundering” against Mr. Magoti and his colleague. According to the charges, the joint accused, between February 1, 2019 and December 17, 2019, “willfully organized a criminal racket namely possession of a computer program that is designed for the purpose of committing an offence, thereby acquiring a sum of money amounting to Tanzanian Shillings, Seventeen Million, Three Hundred Fifty-Four Thousand, Five Hundred Thirty-Five only”. It is further alleged that the accused acquired the above sum knowing that the money was proceeds of a predicate offense, namely “leading organized crime” and as such charged with “money laundering” under the Anti-Money Laundering Act as read with the Economic and Organized Crimes Control Act.[15] Under Tanzanian laws, money laundering which is an economic crime is a non-bailable offence.[16] As such, Mr. Magoti is not entitled to bail and the resident magistrate postponed his case to January 7, 2020.[17] His case was again postponed to January 24, 2020 for further investigation.[18]

Erick Kabendera mentioned above, who was also charged with “money laundering”, has been in detention since his arrest in July 2019, with his case being postponed at least 10 times while the prosecution “carries out investigations”.[19] Individuals charged with non-bailable offences have reportedly spent months and even years in detention without trial.[20] We fear that Mr. Magoti and his colleague can be held in pretrial detention indefinitely. A fundamental principle of any criminal justice system is the presumption of innocence which dictates that an accused person is innocent until proven guilty by a competent and independent court. The right to pre-trial release is recognized under regional and international law which dictates that as a general rule, bail should be granted and only in certain circumstances denied. Each case must be judged on its own merits with courts taking into consideration factors such as (1) the seriousness of the alleged crime (2) whether there is overwhelming evidence against the accused (3) possibility of the accused interfering with witnesses and evidence; and (4) where the accused poses a flight risk or is a danger to the community if granted bail.[21] Even then courts must strive to put conditions that favour the liberty of an accused in order to minimize the risk of an innocent person serving a sentence prior to conviction. Tanzania’s blanket denial of bail for certain crimes without individual assessment of each case is thus inconsistent with international standards.

There is an undeniable clampdown of civil society in Tanzania. Organizations have documented the “unwarranted closure of media outlets, judicial persecution and harassment of independent journalists, the targeted assassination of opposition party members, blanket restrictions on peaceful protests and the introduction and invocation of a raft of laws to undermine freedom of online speech”.[22] It is our deep fear that the arrest of Mr. Magoti and his colleague are but one of many cases of the continued targeting of government critics. We are additionally concerned with the developing pattern of charging government critics with the crime of “money laundering” thereby denying them the right to bail and condemning them to indefinite prison sentences.

Civil society especially human rights defenders play an important role in promoting and protecting the rights recognized under international human rights treaties, and help ensure that States respect economic, social, cultural, civil and political rights. The United Nations Declaration on the Rights and Responsibilities of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (Declaration on Human Rights Defenders)[23] specifically recognizes the right that everyone, including human rights defenders, have to “discuss, form and hold opinions on the observance … of all human rights … and, through these and other appropriate means, to draw public attention to these matters…”[24] The government of Tanzania has an obligation to create a conducive environment where civil society can contribute to the development of Tanzania which involves holding the government transparent and accountable. Under international law, no one shall be arrested for exercising their fundamental rights and if so, that arrest is arbitrary.[25] It is deeply troubling when the criminal justice system is being used in such a manner. If left unchecked, this is a very dangerous practice that threatens civil society and the very fabric of Tanzania’s democracy.

In light of the above, we respectfully request that your offices urgently intervene in the case of Tito Magoti and other human rights defenders and journalists in Tanzania, who are facing criminal prosecution for exercising their fundamental rights and urge the government to immediately drop these charges. We also urge that you strongly remind the government to ensure that all citizens, from the moment of their arrest for any crime, are afforded the full due process of the law without derogation.


  1. Africans Rising
  2. mobi
  3. Amnesty International
  4. Anti-Corruption Trust of Southern Africa (ACT-SA) - ACT-Southern Africa
  5. Association of Concerned Africa Scholars (ACAS), USA
  6. Center for Civil Liberties (Ukraine) 
  8. Civic Education Network for Eastern and Southern Africa
  9. Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA)
  10. Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)
  11. Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition
  12. DefendDefenders (East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project)
  13. Ethiopian Human Rights Defenders Coalition
  14. Friends of Angola
  15. GEARS Initiative Zambia
  16. Human Rights Concern - Eritrea (HRCE)
  17. Human Rights Defenders Network-SL
  18. Human Rights Defenders Solidarity Network Uganda
  19. Human Rights Institute of South Africa (HURISA)
  20. International Commission of Jurists (ICJ)
  21. Legal Resources Centre (LRC)
  22. Nelson Mandela University Refugee Rights Centre
  23. Odhikar (Bangladesh)
  24. Safe Space for Children and Young Women Tanzania
  25. Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network (SAHRDN)
  26. Tanzania Human Rights Defenders Coalition (THRDC)
  27. Zambia Civic Education Association
  28. Zambia Council for Social Development (ZCSD)

Cc. Mr. Diego García-Sayán
United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers.

Mr. David Kaye
United Nations Special Rapporteur on Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression. 

[1] Tanganyika Law Society, Statement of the National Bar on the Abduction of Mr. Tito Magoti, the Program Officer Legal and Human Rights Centre, December 24, 2019.

[2] Legal and Human Rights Center, website, available at

[3] Id. Note 1. As it stands, no mention has been made of who these individuals are nor have they been presented before the courts.

[4] The Citizen, Police bosses differ over knowledge over Tanzanian rights activist Tito Magoti arrest, December 2019, available at

[5] Id.

[6] The Citizen, Tito Magoti: Case filed against Dar Police Chief and the AG over his detention, December 23, 2019, available at

[7]Article 4 and 7, African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights. Adopted 27 June 1981, OAU Doc. CAB/LEG/67/3 rev. 5, 21 I.L.M. 58, 1982, entered into force 21 October 1986. Article 14, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Opened for signature Dec. 16, 1966, 999 U.N.T.S. 171. See also United Nations Principles and Guidelines on Access to Legal Aid in Criminal Justice Systems, UNODC (2013) and African Commission on Human and People’s Rights, Principles and Guidelines on the Right to a Fair Trial and Legal Assistance in Africa, 2003.

[8] Article 9(3) of the ICCPR states that anyone arrested “shall be brought promptly before a judge or other officer authorized by law”. The UN Human Rights Committee, the body charged with authoritative interpretation of the ICCPR, has explained that delays should not exceed a few days from the time of arrest and that 48 hours is ordinarily sufficient. See Freemantle v. Jamaica, H.R. Comm. 625/1995, paragraph 7.4 (2000) where the committee held that four days was not prompt.

[9] The UN Human Rights Committee has stated that longer detention in the custody of law enforcement officials without judicial control unnecessarily increases the risk of ill-treatment. See concluding observations: Hungary, CCPR/CO/74/HUN, paragraph 8 (2002).

[10] Vanguard Africa, In Tanzania, Abductions and Disappearances of Government Critics Continue Unabated, July 30, 2019, available at

[11] Committee to Protect Journalists, Unidentified men take Erick Kabendera from Tanzania home, July 29, 2019, available at

[12]Committee to Protect Journalists, Tanzania switches track, charges Kabendera with economic crimes, August 5, 2019, available at

[13] Human Rights Watch, Tanzanian Journalist’s Disappearance Remains Unsolved, April 8, 2019, available at

[14]Kwanza Broadcasting Limited whose director is Ms. Maria Sarungi-Tsehai was earlier in the year suspended for 6 months by the Communications Regulatory Authority for allegedly violating regulations under the Electronic and Postal Communications Online Content Regulations 2028. See Reporters Without Boarders, Tanzania Slaps Harsh Sanctions on three online TV Channels, September 30, 2019, available at Ms. Fatuma Karume, who is the former president of the Tanganyika Law Society, was recently arbitrarily suspended from practicing law in mainland Tanzania for her submissions in a constitutional court case challenging the appointment of the Attorney General. See The Citizen, Uproar over Fatma Karume Suspension, September 22, 2019, available at . Mr. Zitto Kabwe is currently facing criminal charges following statements he made demanding police accountability for extra-judicial killings. See also The EastAfrican, Zitto Kabwe charged with incitement, freed on bail, November 2, 2018, available at

[15] In the Resident Magistrate’s Court of Dar es Salaam at Kisutu, Economic Crime Case 137 of 2019, Republic vs Tito Elia Magoti & Theodory Faustin Giyan.

[16] Section 148 (5) (a)(v) of the Criminal Procedure Act lists money laundering as one of the non-bailable offences. Read also FB Attorneys, Non bailable offences in Tanzania, July 22, 2019, available at

[17] The Citizen, Rights activist charged with money laundering, December 24, 2019, available at

[18] allAfrica, Tanzania Investigation on LHRC Official’s Case in Top Gear, January 8, 2020, available at

[19] BBC News, Tanzania journalist to spend Christmas in jail, December 18, 2019, available at

[20] The Guardian, Tanzanian journalist could face up to five years in jail, September 12, 2019, available at

[21] United Nations Human Rights Committee, General Comment No. 32, Article 14: Right to Equality Before the Courts and Tribunals and to a fair Trial, U.N. Doc CCPR/C/CG/32 (2007).

[22] CIVICUS, Tanzanian: Civil society groups express concern over rapid decline in human rights, May 10, 2018, available at

[23] The Declaration was adopted with broad support by the United Nations General Assembly, UN Doc.A/Res/53/144, 8 March 1999. It represents a strong commitment by states to its implementation on the principles and rights enshrined in legally binding, key international human rights instruments such as the ICCPR and the African Charter. The Declaration represents a clear commitment by States to acknowledge, promote and protect the work and rights of human rights defenders around the world.

[24] Id.

[25] United Nations Human Rights Committee, General Comment No. 35, December 16, 2014, CPR/CGC/35. Paragraph 17 specifically states that the “arrest or detention as punishment for the legitimate exercise of the rights as guaranteed by the Covenant is arbitrary, including freedom of opinion and expression (Article. 19), freedom of assembly (Article. 21), freedom of association (Article. 22).”


Cambodia: Charges against journalists must be dropped

Joint Statement: Civil society organizations call for all baseless charges against journalists to be dropped

We, the undersigned media institutions and local and international civil society organizations call for charges against two former Radio Free Asia (RFA) journalists, Mr. Uon Chhin and Mr. Yeang Sothearin (known as Yeang Sochea Meta), to be dropped.  We also call on the government to take immediate action to cease the harassment, arbitrary detention, threat and intimidation of, as well as discrimination against, the independent media.

The two former RFA journalists, Uon Chhin and Yeang Sothearin, were charged by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court with supplying a foreign state with information prejudicial to national defence, under Article 445 of Cambodia’s Criminal Code and with the alleged production of pornography under Article 39 of the Law on the Suppression of Human Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation. The pair were arrested on 14 November 2017 and held in pre-trial detention for nine months. They were released on bail and placed under judicial supervision on 21 August 2018.

On 3 October 2019, the Court announced its decision to continue its investigation, despite the fact that there is a lack of credible evidence against the pair required to hold them criminally liable as per the burden of proof standards enshrined in Article 38 of the Constitution of the Kingdom of Cambodia. Throughout the case of Uon Chhin and Yeang Sothearin, the pair’s fair trial rights have not been upheld in line with national and international law.

We hope that the Appeal Court’s hearing on 23 December 2019, on the charges of production of pornography, as well as the hearing on 20 January 2020 on the charges of supplying a foreign state with information prejudicial to national defence, will provide justice for the pair and the baseless charges will be dropped. It should be noted that according to the summons the facts of the case are going to be heard for the first time in the Appeal Court, constituting a significant and concerning procedural irregularity. The case against Uon Chhin and Yeang Sothearin is one of many in which criminal charges have been used to silence independent and critical voices.

We also call for all charges against Mr. Aun Pheap, and Mr. Peter Zsombor, former Cambodia Daily journalists, to be dropped. On 28 August 2017, after conducting interviews with villagers regarding the commune council elections in Pate Commune, O'Yadav District, Ratanakiri Province, both were charged with incitement to commit a felony under Articles 494 and 495 of the Cambodian Criminal Code, and summoned to appear at a trial hearing on 25 December 2019. The interviews were conducted in their capacity as journalists for the Cambodia Daily, which has since been forced to close due to a tax requirement. The prosecutions serve to further threaten and intimidate other independent journalists.

On 19 November 2019 the Mondulkiri Provincial Court of First Instance summonsed Mr. Sath Chanboth, a journalist for Rasmei Kampuchea and Apsara TV, to appear in court on 2 December 2019, where he was questioned under charges of public defamation and incitement to commit a felony. The summons follows a lawsuit filed by Lieutenant Colonel Sophat Serivuthy, a soldier commander in Mondulkiri. We call for the judicial harassment of Sath Chanboth to be ceased.

In addition to the above cases, we express our concern over the prosecution of Mr. Rath Rott Mony, a translator for Russia Today, and former trade union leader, whose case further threatens the free media.  He was accused of incitement to discriminate, and later sentenced to two years imprisonment and ordered to pay 70 million riels ($17,200) in compensation to plaintiffs for his role in supporting foreign journalists to produce a documentary on sex trafficking in Cambodia. His sentence was upheld in November 2019 by the Court of Appeal at a hearing where none of the plaintiffs or concerned parties were present, undermining the legitimacy of proceedings.

The harassment of journalists also takes other forms. A number of independent journalists have been denied the identification cards necessary to conduct their work. Additionally, some journalists report harassment from their employers for attempting to respect the principle of independence of the media.

We notice that a number of positive steps have been taken by the Royal Government of Cambodia (RGC) recently such as the grant of licence to the Voice of America’s bureau in Cambodia, allowing it to buy airtime from two local radio stations to broadcast its daily news programs, a meeting between Information Minister and RFA’s representative, as well as the decision to provide a licence to The Cambodian Journalists Alliance (CamboJA) on 09 September 2019, an independent journalists network. Despite these steps, journalists still face numerous barriers to conducting their work professionally and exercising their right to freedom of expression.

May Titthara, Executive Director of CamboJA, states that “to restore a better space for media, complaints against journalists and intimidations against journalists must be immediately ceased. The prosecution of Yeang Sothearin, Uon Chhin, Aun Pheap and recent criminal complaints against journalists must be dropped. Radio licenses which have been revoked should be renewed.

Chak Sopheap, Executive Director of Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR), adds: “Cases such as these form a pattern of arbitrary and retaliatory prosecutions of critical voices, including those of human rights defenders, journalists, union leaders, community representatives and the political opposition. We emphasise that journalism is not a crime and should not be treated as such. Respecting the right to freedom of expression and ensuring a space in which journalists can conduct their work freely and safely without fear of reprisal are important steps toward building a strong democracy and rule of law.”

We, the undersigned media institutions and local and international civil society organizations urge the RGC to accept our above requests and take concrete actions to ensure that the right to freedom of expression is respected and to create an environment in which independent media and journalists can perform their important role freely.

This joint statement is endorsed by:

  1. Cambodian Journalists Alliance (CamboJA)
  2. Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR)
  3. Cambodian Center for Independent Media (CCIM)
  4. Cambodian Food and Service Workers Federation (CFSWF)
  5. Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC)
  6. Minority Rights Organization (MIRO)
  7. Ponlok Khmer (PKH)
  8. Youth Resource Development Program (YRDP)
  9. Affiliated Network for Social Accountability (ANSA) Cambodia
  10. Community Legal Education Center (CLEC)
  11. Khmer Kampuchea Krom for Human Rights and Development Association (KKKHRDA)
  12. Independent Democracy of Informal Economy Association (IDEA)
  13. Center for Alliance of Labor and Human Rights (CENTRAL)
  14. Cambodian Tourism Workers Union Federation (CTWUF)
  15. Equitable Cambodia (EC)
  16. Gender and Development for Cambodia (GADC)
  17. Sahmakum Teang Tnaut (STT)
  18. Coalition of Cambodian Farmer Community (CCFC)
  19. International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX)
  20. Article 19
  21. FIDH, within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
  22. World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
  23. Building Community Voices (BCV)
  24. Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (COMFREL)
  25. Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (LICADHO)
  26. CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
  27. Alliance for Conflict Transformation (ACT)
  28. International Federation of Journalists (IFJ)
  29. Reporters Without Borders (RSF)
  30. International Commission of Jurists (ICJ)
  31. Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)
  32. Cambodian Independent Teachers’ Association (CITA)
  33. Amnesty International (AI)
  34. Cambodian Volunteers for Society (CVS)
  35. Cambodian Independent Civil-Servants Association (CICA)
  36. ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR)
  37. Cambodian Youth Network (CYN)

For more information, please contact:

Mr. May Titthara, Executive Director of CamboJA
Tel: +855 17 500 503 or email:
Ms. Chak Sopheap, Executive Director of CCHR,
Tel: +855 11 943 213 or email:


Re: Cambodia’s Law on Trade Unions and Cases Against Union Leaders

Prime Minister Samdech Hun Sen
Government Peace Building, No. 38
Confederation Russia Blvd (110)
Phnom Penh

Dear Prime Minister,

We, the undersigned Cambodian and international civil society organizations, are deeply concerned about the proposed amendments to the Law on Trade Unions (“TUL”), as approved by the Cambodian Senate on December 9, 2019. The 10 proposed amendments to articles 3, 17, 20, 21, 27, 28, 29, 54, 55, and 59 fall short of international labor rights standards and were adopted without an inclusive and genuine consultative process of relevant stakeholders.

Numerous provisions in the TUL need significant revision. The latest round of TUL amendments further curtail workers’ labor and human rights by severely limiting their freedom of association, and rights to organize and collective bargaining. While we note the proposed minor amendments to the TUL introduced improvements to the previous text, they do not go far enough and have failed to address other problematic issues. The International Labor Organization’s Committees of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations and on Freedom of Association have made a number of calls for amendments to the TUL that are not reflected in the proposed amendments, for example, with regards to articles 3, 10, 12, 13, 20, 21, 28, 38, 59, and fines under Chapter 15.

Our concerns regarding the TUL and the proposed amendments include:

  1. Article 3 (amended): The current article still does not extend application of the TUL to “all persons,” as previously recommended by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). Article 3 of the TUL states the law applies to “all persons who fall within the provisions of the labour law.” This undermines article 36 of Cambodia’s Constitution which guarantees that “Khmer citizens of either sex shall have the right to form and to be members of trade unions.” The proposed amendments to the TUL thereby fail to widen the coverage of the law to workers in the informal sector, teachers, and other public servants. Related to this, domestic workers and small businesses with fewer than 10 employees will always fail to meet the minimum requirement of 10 workers in order to create a local union, as enshrined in article 10 of the TUL, resulting in a de facto denial of their right to unionize.
  2. Article 5 (unchanged): The article states that all workers and employers have the right to form a union of their choice “for the exclusive purpose” of study, research, training, promotion of interests, and protection of the rights of persons covered by the union. The OHCHR has recommended removing the phrase “for the exclusive purpose of” as it could unduly restrict the right of the organization to freely decide on their activities and programs.
  1. Article 12 (unchanged): The article details that an application for registration of a union shall be approved “if it adequately meets all requirements” including copies of union statutes, regulations that govern leadership, names of leaders, copies of financial books, bank accounts, and official minutes of elections. Article 12 grants a high degree of discretion to the government and sets out considerably burdensome registration requirements for unions.
  1. Article 17 (amended): The article infringes on unions’ rights to determine their internal affairs. The amendment added an additional independent auditing mechanism if 10 percent of union members or 5 percent of union donors call for it. The auditing mechanism requires the institution be legally registered in Cambodia, which may eliminate the use of reputable independent auditors who are licensed overseas. The amendment has not reduced or simplified the required documentation that unions must annually submit to the Ministry of Labor and Vocational Training (MoLVT). When article 17 is read in conjunction with the unchanged article 18, the law effectively empowers the MoLVT to revoke union registration if the union has not fulfilled obligations stipulated by regulators in two warning notifications.
  2. Article 18 (unchanged): This article empowers the MoLVT to file a lawsuit in the labor court to revoke the registration of a union if it has not fulfilled its obligations outlined under the current TUL. Considering the cumbersome administrative and documentary demands imposed by the law, and regulator’s arbitrary powers to determine whether those requirements have been met, workers’ unions' risk dissolution based on arbitrary grounds and unreasonable requests.
  1. Articles 20, 21 and 38 continue to infringe on the right of unions to elect their representatives in full freedom.
  1. Article 54 (amended): The amendments fail to bring the law into conformity with international standards because they do not grant the right to collective bargaining and collective dispute resolution to all unions, regardless of their “most representative status.” Under TUL, unions that do not have most representative status are currently prevented from defending the interests of their members, including being blocked from making representations on their behalf and representing them in grievances before the Arbitration Council.
  1. Union registration procedures and union statute requirements: The TUL’s registration requirements conflict with international standards by requiring previous authorization by the authorities (violating article 2 of ILO Convention No. 87) and infringing on unions’ rights in drawing up their own constitutions and rules (violating article 3 of ILO Convention No. 87). In addition, determination of the union with most representative status is subject to approval and recognition by the authorities when this discretion should lie with an independent body. The amendments, therefore, fail to ensure a transparent, effective and simple registration process that will guarantee freedom of association for all workers as well as address the backlog of pending union registration applications.
  2. The current law does not include any provisions to increase protection for workers employed on fixed-duration contracts to exercise their right to freedom of association. To date, the widespread use of short-term employment contracts causes fears among workers that if they join a union, management will not renew their contract.

We, therefore, urge you to revisit these provisions of the TUL, and seriously consider the recommendations made in submissions by civil society stakeholders, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and the International Labor Organization. By doing so, the Cambodian government could ensure that legal revisions to the TUL conform to its obligations under international human rights treaties and international labor conventions.

We would be remiss if we did not also raise concerns about the consultation procedures to date on the TUL. In July 2019, the MoLVT issued invitations for a second tripartite meeting to discuss the TUL. At that meeting, there was an overrepresentation of pro-government unions, government officials, and employers’ representatives. Many independent unions did not receive an invitation or were told they needed to collect a physical invitation from MoLVT.

Both before and after the 2018 elections, labor advocates, union leaders and activist workers have been increasingly targeted by the Cambodian government. While we note the Cambodian government has taken steps to resolve some of the fabricated criminal charges against federation level union leaders – with some notable exceptions such as the recent conviction of Kong Athit connected to the Capitol bus drivers protest in 2016 – we are concerned there has been little progress in lifting cases against local union leaders. The result of this repression has been to silence independent and critical opinions, and to broaden fears among rank-and-file workers to assert their rights.

The current environment for labor rights advocates, trade union leaders, and civil society activists is not conducive to ensure a genuine improvement of the human rights and labor rights situation in Cambodia. We, therefore, urge the Cambodian government to take the following steps:

  1. Initiate a fresh round of inclusive, genuine and transparent consultations around proposed TUL amendments in January 2020 to ensure that the law is amended to fully comply with international labor and human rights standards. These consultations should include the OHCHR, ILO, and local and international civil society organizations – in particular, independent trade unions -- and submissions from the participants should be invited in advance. A full report and a draft of final amendments based on these consultations should be published and formally shared with the National Assembly and the Senate to inform revisions in the TUL amendments.
  2. Drop all baseless criminal cases against union leaders, workers and labor rights advocates.
  3. Stop all forms of harassment of union leaders, workers and labor rights advocates.

We thank you for your consideration.


  • Amnesty International
  • Asia Floor Wage Alliance (AFWA)
  • Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)
  • Asian Network for Free Elections (ANFREL)
  • Building and Wood Worker's International (BWI)
  • Building and Wood Workers Trade Union Federation of Cambodia (BWTUC)
  • Cambodia's Independent Civil Servants Association (CICA)
  • Cambodian Alliance of Trade Unions (CATU)
  • Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR)
  • Cambodian Food And Service Workers Federation (CFSWF)
  • Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee (CHRAC)
  • Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC)
  • Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (LICADHO)
  • Cambodia Tourism Workers Union Federation (CTWUF)
  • Cambodian Youth Network (CYN)
  • Center for Alliance of Labor and Human Rights (CENTRAL)
  • Civil Rights Defenders
  • CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
  • Clean Clothes Campaign International Office
  • Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers Democratic Unions (C.CAWDU)
  • Coalition of Cambodian Farmer Community (CCFC)
  • Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (COMFREL)
  • Global Labor Justice
  • Human Rights Watch
  • Independent Free Union Federation (FUFI)
  • Independent Trade Union Federation (INTUFE)
  • Informal Democratic Economy Association (IDEA)
  • International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
  • International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF)
  • Labor Rights Supported Union of Khmer Employees of Nagaworld
  • Local Initiative for OHS Network (LION) Indonesia
  • Maquila Solidarity Network (MSN)
  • Sedane Labour Resource Centre (LIPS)
  • Solidar Suisse
  • Union Coalition for Labor (UCL)
  • United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS)

Minister of Labor and Vocational Training
Minister of Commerce
Ministry of Justice


Groups call for respect for peaceful protest in Colombia

December 9 marked the 18th day of peaceful nationwide protests by labor unions, students, peace activists, Afro-Colombians, indigenous, victims, women, farmers negatively impacted by free trade agreements, and many other Colombians. As the demonstrations were launched, U.S. organizations and activists pledged their support to the peaceful protests in a public statement. Days prior to the strike, the Duque administration implemented unnecessary security measures that sent the message that they wanted to squash the protests.

On November 19, the police raided and searched some 37 homes of activists, artists, and alternative media services. 21 of the raids were declared illegal by Colombian courts. In an attempt to justify repression, the President and members of the Democratic Center Party publicly stigmatized the protestors, criminalizing the right to protest and incorrectly stating that there was a foreign influence driving the protests to destabilize the government. Given this initial response from the highest level of government, we felt compelled to speak out against possible attacks and abuses against protestors.

Two weeks later, we sadly see that our concerns were justified. Even though the majority of the hundreds of thousands of Colombians protested peacefully, they were met with a brutal response from the Colombian National Police’s Mobile Anti-Disturbances Squadron (ESMAD, a 3,300-member riot police unit founded in 1999). On November 22, a curfew was issued in both Bogota and Cali due to false rumors spread on social media that thieves—some of them Venezuelans—were taking advantage of the police being busy to attack people’s homes. These rumors caused panic and led to the formation of “para-police” patrolling the streets and fomenting fear and chaos. The government fueled xenophobia against Venezuelans by deporting 60 Venezuelans with no due process.

The next day, Saturday 23, the ESMAD worked methodically and violently to break up any peaceful gathering of protesters, apparently under an order “to disperse any demonstration that might block traffic.” Members of the ESMAD shot 18-year-old Dilan Cruz in the back of the head with a “bean bag” weapon, a “non-lethal” projectile intended, according to UN standards, to “be used in direct fire with the aim of striking the lower abdomen or legs of a violent individual and only with a view to addressing an imminent threat of injury to either a law enforcement official or a member of the public.” Multiple protestors caught the incident on video. Dilan died from his injuries on November 25. The coroner determined that his death was a homicide.

According to the coalition Defendemos la Libertad, made up of 60 organizations working together to conduct observation of social protests, over 400 cases of abuse at the hands of the ESMAD and other police were reported just between November 21 and 27. This includes 16 eye injuries caused by tear gas canisters and other projectiles, which are forbidden by Colombian police procedures and international law to be shot at protesters' faces.

This is not the first time that actions taken by the ESMAD have resulted in death and injuries. Since its creation in 1999, the unit has killed at least 34 people. Their disproportionate use of force and brutal attacks against unarmed civilians in rural protests—especially those led by indigenous communities—have been denounced to authorities on numerous occasions.

To our knowledge, U.S. public funds do not fund the ESMAD directly. However, many of the ESMAD’s weapons, including tear gas and “bean bags,” are purchased with the Colombian government’s own funds through U.S. arms sales programs. Much of its materiel, for instance, comes from one Pennsylvania-based company, Combined Systems, Inc., which sells tear gas canisters and stun grenades to Colombia. We call on the State Department and the U.S. Congress to place a moratorium on sales of crowd control weapons to Colombia until the ESMAD has either been replaced by a new force or undergone a full overhaul toward building a dramatically different, more rights-respecting culture and doctrine based on de-escalation, respect for peaceful protest, and minimal use of force. The U.S. Embassy and State Department should support civil society’s rightful demands for peace, labor rights, safety for human rights defenders, and environmental protection. The Secretary of State’s reiteration of rumors that widespread social protests across the Americas are driven by Venezuelan and Cuban intervention rather than the real national concerns that lead people to protest in each country, including Colombia, is harmful.

Lastly, we call on the Duque administration to resolve these protests peacefully through a negotiation involving the broad leadership of the various sectors involved in the protests that leads to a deeper resolution of the issues driving this widespread social discontent. A thorough investigation of the killing of Dilan Cruz and other abuses taking place during the protests should be carried out in civilian courts. The Inspector General’s office (Procuraduria General de la Nación) and the Ombudsman’s Office (Defensoría del Pueblo) should be encouraged and permitted to play their crucial roles in issuing disciplinary measures for public officials and verifying and documenting citizen complaints. Finally, the Duque administration should ensure that the existing protocol for addressing social protest (Resolution 1190 of 2018 of the Ministry of the Interior) is employed at all times instead of completely ignoring it.


  • Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA)
  • Witness for Peace Solidarity Collective
  • United Church of Christ, Justice and Witness Ministries
  • The International Institute on Race, Equality, and Human Rights
  • OXFAM America
  • Movement for Peace in Colombia, New York
  • Latin America Working Group (LAWG)
  • Latin American Studies Association (LASA) – Colombia Section
  • Interdisciplinary Colombian Studies at University of New Mexico
  • Global Ministries of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and the United Church of Christ
  • Colombia Human Rights Committee, Washington, DC
  • Colombia Grassroots Support, New Jersey.
  • Codhes
  • CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
  • Chicago Religious Leadership Network on Latin America
  • Center for Justice & International Law (CEJIL)
  • Amazon Watch
  • ACSN
  • Victoria Sanford, PhD - Director, Center for Human Rights & Peace Studies, Lehman College-NY
  • Sinclair Thomson - New York University-NY
  • Sandra Granobles - DC Government Educator
  • Ofunshi Oba Koso, Minnesota Yoruba Cuba Association- MN
  • Nicolás Sánchez - Department of Latin American Studies, Duke University
  • Nancy Appelbaum - Director, Latin American and Caribbean Area Studies Program, Binghamton University-NY
  • Michael Birenbaum Quintero - Chair, Musicology and Ethnomusicology Department, Boston University
  • Mary Roldán - Epstein Professor of Latin American History Hunter College, CUNY-NY
  • Margaret Powrer – Profesor of History, Illinois Institute of Technology
  • Luz M Betancourt, PhD., CUNY, Graduate Center-NY
  • Lirio Gutiérrez Rivera - Universidad Nacional de Colombia-Colombia
  • Lina Britto - Assistant Professor, Northwestern University- IL
  • Kiran Asher - Professor, University of Massachusetts-MA
  • Jonathan Fox – Professor, School of International Service, American University-DC
  • John C. Dugas - Kalamazoo College-MI
  • Joel Wolfe - Professor of History, University of Massachusetts
  • Jessica Srikantia, Associate Professor at George Mason University's Schar School of Policy and Government-VA
  • James E. Sanders - Utah State University-UT
  • Gloria Monroy-DC
  • Gina McDaniel Tarver - Associate Professor of Art History, Texas State University-TX
  • Gabriel Rudas-Burgos - Professor of Hispanic Languages and Literatures, Stony Brook University
  • Felipe Gómez G - Professor, Carnegie Mellon University-PA
  • Fabian Prieto-Ñañez - Postdoctoral Researcher, Virginia Tech-VA
  • Erin K. McFee, PhD - The University of Chicago-IL
  • Danesis Arce - Afromedios
  • Constanza López - Associate Professor, University of North Florida-FL
  • Barbara Gerlach - Minister, United Church of Christ
  • Alexander Fattal - Assistant Professor, University of California, San Diego-CA


India: Excessive force used by police to crackdown on protests against citizenship law

CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance is alarmed at the violent crackdown on protests across India in response to a controversial citizenship law passed by the country’s parliament last week. We urge the authorities to exercise maximum restraint and respect the right to peaceful assembly.

Protests began on 12 December in Assam’s capital Guwahati, after India’s lower house passed the new Citizenship (Amendment) Act 2019. The law seeks to provide citizenship to non-Muslim irregular migrants facing persecution from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan. The Office of the UN High Commissioner of Human Rights has described the controversial new law as ‘fundamentally discriminatory in nature’ while human rights groups have called the law ‘unconstitutional and divisive’.

Tens of thousands have since taken to the streets in opposition to the law in various cities in India. According to reports, at least six protesters have been killed during the protests, with at least four who have been shot by the police in Assam and over one thousand detained.

In New Delhi, on 15 December, more than a hundred people protesting the law were injured after police used tear gas and baton charges to disperse a demonstration of students from Jamia Milia Islamia (JMI) University, as well as New Delhi residents. Police violently dispersed the protesters as they marched towards Parliament, and after protesters fled to the university campus, the police reportedly stormed the JMI and fired tear gas into classrooms. Nearly 100 protesters were detained and subsequently released in the early hours of Monday morning.

At Aligarh Muslim University in Uttar Pradesh, thousands of students protesting the law outside the university entrance were attacked by police wielding batons and firing tear gas.

‘Peaceful protest is a legitimate form of dissent and this heavy-handed and violent response from police is unwarranted. Nothing can justify the attacks on protesters which is a clear violation of the right to peaceful assembly. These actions highlight the increasingly repressive civic space we have seen in India over the last year,’ said Lysa John, CIVICUS Secretary General.

The Indian authorities must urgently uphold India’s international and constitutional human rights obligations to respect freedom of peaceful assembly. The authorities should refrain from using excessive force or firearms against peaceful protesters. We call for a prompt, independent and impartial investigation into the abuses by police and for the perpetrators to be brought to justice.

CIVICUS is further alarmed at the government-imposed curfew and internet blackout in Assam in response to the protests. Although the curfew and blackout have been relaxed since the start of the protests, restrictions remain in place, limiting access to information in the region.

“The Indian authorities must put a stop to using internet shutdowns to silence dissent. These actions harm human rights including blocking emergency services, creates a media vacuum barring critical information from reaching the public and also affects the economy,” added John.

This month, India’s rating in the CIVICUS Monitor was downgraded from ‘obstructed’ to ‘repressed’, owing to its increased restriction of space for dissent during 2019 and particularly following Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s re-election in May 2019. Students and civil society organisations have been particularly targeted by repressive laws and judicial harassment.

For more information or to arrange interviews please contact:


Laos and Thailand must investigate enforced disappearances

Civil society groups urge Laos, Thailand to investigate enforced disappearances, reveal fate of Sombath Somphone and Od Sayavong

On the seventh anniversary of the enforced disappearance of Lao civil society leader Sombath Somphone, we, the undersigned organizations, urge the Lao and Thai governments to investigate enforced disappearances, and demand Vientiane finally reveal Sombath’s whereabouts and ensure justice for him and his family.

Considering the Lao police’s protracted failure to effectively investigate Sombath’s enforced disappearance, a new independent and impartial investigative body tasked with determining Sombath’s fate and whereabouts should be established without delay. The new body should have the authority to seek and receive international technical assistance in order to conduct a professional, independent, impartial, and effective investigation in accordance with international standards.

Sombath was last seen at a police checkpoint on a busy street of the Lao capital, Vientiane, on the evening of 15 December 2012. Footage from a CCTV camera showed that Sombath’s vehicle was stopped at the police checkpoint and that, within minutes, unknown individuals forced him into another vehicle and drove him away in the presence of police officers. CCTV footage also showed an unknown individual driving Sombath’s vehicle away from the city center. The presence of police officers at Sombath’s abduction and their failure to intervene strongly indicates state agents’ participation in Sombath’s enforced disappearance.

Lao authorities have repeatedly claimed they have been investigating Sombath’s enforced disappearance but have failed to disclose any new findings to the public since 8 June 2013. They have met with Sombath’s wife, Shui Meng Ng, only twice since January 2013 – the last time in December 2017. No substantive information about the investigation has been shared by the police with the family, indicating that, for all intents and purposes, the police investigation has been de facto suspended.

We also call on the Lao and Thai governments to resolve all cases of enforced disappearances in their countries. The most recent case is that of Od Sayavong, a Lao refugee living in Bangkok, who has been missing since 26 August 2019. Over the past several years, Od engaged publicly in drawing attention to human rights abuses and corruption in Laos, and met with the United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights on 15 March 2019 in Bangkok, prior to the latter’s mission to Laos. The concerns regarding Od’s case were expressed in a joint statement that the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances and three Special Rapporteurs issued on 1 October 2019. 

We would also like to draw particular attention to reports that Ittiphon Sukpaen, Wuthipong Kachathamakul, Surachai Danwattananusorn, Chatcharn Buppawan, and Kraidej Luelert, five Thai critics of the monarchy and Thailand’s military government living in exile in Laos, went missing between June 2016 and December 2018. In the case of the latter three, the bodies of Chatcharn and Kraidej were found about two weeks later on the Thai side of the Mekong River, mutilated and stuffed with concrete, while a third body - possibly Surachai’s - reportedly surfaced nearby and then disappeared. DNA tests carried out in January 2019 confirmed the identity of Chatcharn and Kraidej.

We call on the Lao and Thai governments to investigate these cases in line with international legal standards with a view towards determining their fate and whereabouts.

Both the Lao and Thai governments have the legal obligation to conduct such prompt, thorough and impartial investigations and to bring all individuals suspected of criminal responsibility for crimes under international law and gross human rights violations to justice in fair trials.

We also urge the Lao and Thai governments to promptly ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, which Laos and Thailand signed in September 2008 and January 2012 respectively, to incorporate the Convention’s provisions into their domestic legal frameworks, implementing it in practice, and to recognize the competence of the Committee on Enforced Disappearances to receive and consider communications from or on behalf of victims or other states parties.

Finally, we call on the international community to use the upcoming Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Laos to demand the Lao government promptly and effectively investigate the enforced disappearance of Sombath Somphone. The third UPR of Laos is scheduled to be held on 21 January 2020 in Geneva, Switzerland.

During the second UPR of Laos in January 2015, 10 United Nations member states (Australia, Canada, Finland, Germany, Luxembourg, Poland, Portugal, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom) recommended the Lao government conduct an adequate investigation into Sombath’s enforced disappearance.

Until the fate and whereabouts of those who are forcibly disappeared are revealed, the international community should not stop demanding that they be safely returned to their families. The Lao government should be under no illusion that our demands will go away, we will persist until we know the real answer to the question: “Where is Sombath?”

Signed by:

1.    11.11.11
2.    Action from Ireland (Afri)
3.    Alliance Sud
4.    Alternative ASEAN Network on Burma (ALTSEAN-Burma)
5.    Alyansa Tigil Mina (Alliance to Stop Mining) 
6.    Amnesty International
7.    Armanshahr / OPEN ASIA
8.    Article 19
9.    ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) 
10.    Asia Europe People’s Forum
11.    Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances (AFAD)
12.    Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)
13.    Asian Resource Foundation
14.    Association of Women for Awareness and Motivation (AWAM)
15.    Awaz Foundation Pakistan – Centre for Development Services
16.    Banglar Manabadhikar Sutaksha Mancha (MASUM)
17.    Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC)
18.    CCFD-Terre Solidaire
19.    Center for Human Rights and Development (CHRD)
20.    Centre for the Sustainable Use of Natural and Social Resources (CSNR)
21.    China Labour Bulletin (CLB)
22.    CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
23.    Civil Rights Defenders
24.    Commission for the Disappeared and Victims of Violence (KontraS)
25.    Community Resource Centre (CRC)
26.    Community Self-Reliance Centre (CSRC)
27.    DIGNIDAD Coalition
28.    Dignity – Kadyr-kassiyet (KK)
29.    Equality Myanmar
30.    Europe solidaire sans frontières (ESSF)
31.    Families of Victims of Involuntary Disappearance (FIND) 
32.    FIAN International
33.    FIDH – International Federation for Human Rights
34.    Focus on the Global South
35.    Fresh Eyes - People to People Travel
36.    Front Line Defenders
37.    Global Justice Now 
38.    Globe International
39.    Human Rights and Development Foundation (HRDF)
40.    Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP)
41.    Human Rights in China (HRIC)
42.    Human Rights Watch (HRW)
43.    Indonesian Legal Aid Foundation (YLBHI)
44.    INFORM Human Rights Documentation Centre
45.    International Commission of Jurists (ICJ)
46.    Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw)
47.    Justice for Iran (JFI)
48.    Karapatan Alliance Philippines (Karapatan)
49.    Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and the Rule of Law (KIBHR)
50.    Korean House for International Solidarity (KHIS)
51.    Land Watch Thai
52.    Lao Movement for Human Rights (LMHR)
53.    Lawyers' Rights Watch Canada (LRWC)
54.    League for the Defence of Human Rights in Iran (LDDHI)
55.    MADPET (Malaysians Against Death Penalty and Torture) 
56.    Maldivian Democracy Network (MDN)
57.    Manushya Foundation
58.    MONFEMNET National Network
59.    National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP)
60.    Nomadic Livestock Keepers' Development Fund
61.    Odhikar
62.    People's Solidarity for Participatory Democracy(PSPD) 
63.    People’s Empowerment Foundation (PEF)
64.    People’s Vigilance Committee on Human Rights (PVCHR)
65.    People’s Watch  
66.    Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates (PAHRA) 
67.    Programme Against Custodial Torture & Impunity (PACTI)
68.    Psychological Responsiveness NGO
69.    Pusat KOMAS
70.    Right to Life Human Rights Centre (R2L)
71.    Rights Now Collective for Democracy (RN)
72.    South India Cell for Human Rights Education and Monitoring (SICHREM)
73.    Stiftung Asienhaus
74.    STOP the War Coalition - Philippines (StWC-Philippines) 
75.    Sustainability and Participation through Education and Lifelong Learning (SPELL)
76.    Taiwan Association for Human Rights (TAHR)
77.    Tanggol Kalikasan – Public Interest Environmental Law Office (TK)
78.    Task Force Detainees of the Philippines (TFDP)
79.    The Corner House
80.    Think Centre
81.    Transnational Institute
82.    Union for Civil Liberty (UCL)
83.    Vietnam Committee on Human Rights (VCHR)
84.    Vietnamese Women for Human Rights (VNWHR)
85.    WomanHealtth Philippines
86.    Women’s Rehabilitation Centre (WOREC)
87.    World Organization Against Torture (OMCT)
88.    World Rainforest Movement (WRM)


Andy Rutherford 
Anuradha Chenoy 
David JH Blake
Glenn Hunt
Jeremy Ironside
Jessica diCarlo
Kamal Mitra Chenoy
Mary Aileen D. Bacalso
Miles Kenney-Lazar
Nico Bakker
Philip Hirsch


Iranian authorities must put an end to violence against peaceful protesters across the country

Starting on 15 November 2019, mass protests have erupted in Iran in response to a three-fold rise in petrol costs. Protesters have called for improved living conditions amidst high levels of corruption, unemployment, poverty and discrimination across the country. Some reports have indicated that protests have occurred in 500 locations in at least 120 cities in 28 provinces, including in Isfahan, Tehran, Shiraz and Tabriz – the largest scale in recent history. In response to the protests, Law Enforcement has responded with violence, with reports indicating that as of 2 December 2019, at least 208 protesters have been killed; other sources fear the number of casualties might be higher.

These new protests come on the wave of increasing restrictions on civic space by Iranian authorities. In the context of an already repressed civic environment, authorities have in the past year targeted conservationists, civil society activists - especially labor union and teachers’ union activists - as well as human rights defenders, who have been wrongfully prosecuted for exercising their rights to freely assemble and form human rights associations.

Besides the impunity with which it functions in the face of human rights violations, authorities have deployed various tactics to silence protesters: based on citizens’ reports, the military and security forces have opened live ammunition on protesters and hundreds have been injured. Iranian officials have announced the arrest of over 7000 protesters. The government has warned protesters of the consequences of participating in such protests through text messages, including summoning protesters to security centres to provide details of their involvement in protests.

The Iranian government also shut down internet access during the protests, with reports indicating that up to 95% of Iranians were unable to access the internet, starting on 16 November until 21 November. As the intensity of the protests surge, Iranians can only access the national internet and websites approved by Council of Country Security. This means that monitoring the status of the protests is not possible for the international community, allowing for further impunity on the part of Law Enforcement.

Every day the level and scope of the violence and arrests has increased and specifically the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, has given a green light to widespread repression of the protesters.

In light of these restrictions, the undersigned organizations call on the Government of Iran to:

  • Immediately and unconditionally release all individuals and civil society activists who have been arrested during the protests, upholding the right to freedom of assembly in accordance with the rights enshrined in the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders and Human Rights Council resolutions 22/6, 27/5 and 27/31.
  • Immediately cease the violent crackdown on protesters and ensure that law enforcement abides by international best practice as articulated by the UN Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials and the UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement.
  • Bring to justice, by fair and transparent trial, those responsible for the deaths of protesters.
  • Reinstate access to the internet and ensure free access to and exchange of information among Iranians, and with the outside world, and remove the barriers for such access and exchange.

The undersigned:

  1. Volunteer Activists (VA)
  2. CIVICUS : World Alliance for Citizen Participation
  3. Abdorrahman Boroumand Center for Human Rights in Iran
  4. Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR)
  5. The World Movement for Democracy
  6. Cultura Democratica AC       (Argentina)
  7. Centro para la Apertura y el Desarrollo de América Latina (CADAL)
  8. Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI)
  9. World Youth Movement For Democracy
  10. Human Rights Activists in Iran
  11. Kurdistan Human Rights-Geneva (KMMK-G)
  12. Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law
  13. Andalus Institute for Tolerance and anti-Violence Studies (Egypt and the MENA region )
  14. Siamak Pourzand Foundation (SPF)
  15. Defenders of Human Rights Center (Co-founded by Nobel Peace Laureate Shirin Ebadi)
  16. United For Iran
  17. Iran Human Rights Documentation Center
  18. Women’s Learning Partnership
  19. Freedom House
  20. Asia Democracy Network (ADN)
  21. Ensemble Contre la Peine de Mort (ECPM)
  22. Iran Human Rights
  23. You for Democracy (Tbilisi-based NGO)
  24. Arseh Sevom
  25. Kurdistan Human Rights Network
  26. World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)
  27. Balochistan Human Rights Group (BHRG)
  28. Baloch Activists Campaign
  29. Legal Resources Centre from Moldova
  30. Metro Center For Journalists Rights & Advocacy (Iraqi Kurdistan Region)
  31. Educational Society for Malopolska (MTO) (Poland)
  32. Impact Iran
  33. Pan African Human Rights Defenders Network
  34. DefendDefenders (East & Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project)
  35. JoopeA Foundation
  36. Tavaana (E-Learning Institute for Iranian Civil Society)
  37. All Human Rights for All in Iran
  38. Association for the Human Rights of the Azerbaijani people in Iran (AHRAZ)
  39. Hromadske Radio (Ukraine)
  40. Human Rights Watch
  41. SURSUM CORDA Association ("Hearts Up”-Poland)
  42. Boris Nemstov Foundation for Freedom (Russia)
  43. Forum 2000 (Czech Republic)
  44. Article 20 Network
  45. Minority Rights Group International (MRG)
  46. Free Russia Foundation
  47. Equality Now


Iraq: Authorities must immediately stop targeting protesters, activists, journalists and the media


We, the undersigned human rights organisations, call on the Iraqi government to immediately cease the use of lethal and excessive force against protesters. As peaceful demonstrations continue throughout central and southern Iraq, security forces, particularly the riot police, have used lethal force to disperse protesters in Baghdad, Basra, Nasiriyah, and Najaf. In addition, activists and journalists have been abducted, arbitrarily arrested and murdered in order to prevent them from participating in or covering these demonstrations. In order to enforce control over the media, the Communications and Media Commission ordered several TV channels and radio stations to be closed, and warned other channels to be cautious in their reporting.

Use of Lethal Force

Security forces continue to fire live bullets during protests throughout the country, particularly in Baghdad, Basra, Nasiriyah, and Najaf, where a large number of peaceful demonstrators have been killed and injured. Reliable local sources have confirmed the use of anti-aircraft weapons against demonstrators in Basra governorate.

On 28 November 2019, the Iraqi army reportedly deployed tanks and armored vehicles in the centre of Najaf, as well as security forces who reinforced their presence near the demonstration areas using live ammunition and tear gas to disperse the demonstrators, killing 12 demonstrators and wounding 70 others. Demonstrations resumed despite a curfew imposed by the authorities on 27 November.

In Baghdad, on 27 November 2019, security forces used live bullets and tear gas in their attack on protesters at Al-Ahrar Bridge in the city centre, killing two of them and wounding at least 25 others.

The local government in Basra continues to use live bullets against demonstrators and make arbitrary arrests throughout the area. Demonstrations continue at Majnoon oil field, Umm Qasr port, and the rest of the Governorate, which resulted in the deaths of five people and the injury of more than 100 peaceful demonstrators. Their demands are similar to their peers in other cities: the resignation of the government, an end to corruption, and social justice and respect for public freedoms.

The city of Nassiriyah (pictured above) witnessed on 28 November 2019 a bloody night, where 33 peaceful demonstrators were killed and about 125 others were injured after security forces used live bullets heavily to disperse the demonstrations in Al-Haboubi Square in the city centre and surrounding areas. This came a day after the Iraqi government formed a crisis cell led by Lieutenant General Jamil Al-Shammari, but he was almost immediately dismissed after the use of excessive force by the forces under his command against demonstrators in the city centre.

Targeting Civil Society Activists

On 01 November, civil society activist Majid Al-Zubaidi survived an assassination attempt in front of his house in Al-Amara, the capital of Maysan province. He escaped with injuries to his abdomen after being fired at by unidentified men in a white car with no plates.

On 23 November 2019, in Al-Amara, human rights defender Jawad Al-Harishawi was shot at by gunmen in civilian clothes in a white car with no numbers. Al-Harishawi, who survived the incident, is an activist known for his active participation in and ongoing coverage of the demonstrations.

On01   December 2019, civil society activist Samir Al-Faraj was released after being arrested from his home in Al-Ramadi by security forces early on 27 October 2019. He was arrested after posting a call on his Facebook page for civil disobedience and solidarity with the demonstrators in Baghdad's Tahrir Square. Young supporters of protests in Al-Anbar Governorate are also being arrested or threatened with arrest by officials in the area.

Meanwhile, several other civil society activists have been released after being kidnapped in Baghdad. On 13 November, two activists were released - Saba Al-Mahdawi, who was held for 11 days, and Ali Hashim, who was held for six days, and whose personal phones were confiscated. On 22 November 2019, Ahmed Baqer Bukli was released after six days. Local reports confirmed that the abduction of the activists was carried out by government security agencies in cooperation with armed groups.

On 19 November 2019, civil society activist Hussain Al-Kaabi was released after he was arrested on 07 November by security forces at a protest in the Al-Rifai district in Dhi Qar Governorate, for leading protests, and inviting citizens to participate.

However, human rights lawyer Ali Jaseb Hattab is still being held after being kidnapped on 07 October 2019 in the city of Amara by an armed group that is known to the security forces in the Governorate.

Targeting Journalists and the Media

On 26 November 2019, Alaa Al-Shammari, a reporter of Dijla Satellite in the city of Najaf was severely beaten by riot police using batons. On the same day, riot police attacked other representatives of Dijla TV in Samawah, the centre of Al-Muthanna governorate, Photographer Mustafa Al-Rikabi was seriously injured in the head while he was covering a student demonstration in the centre of the city that was intended to close the governorate's education directorate.

On 21 November 2019, the Communications and Media Commission, which is the governmental regulatory body for media in Iraq, issued a letter number 114 S, which orders the closure of the following channels for three months: Al-Arabiya Al-Hadath, NRT, ANB, Dijlah, Al-Sharqiya, Al-Fallujah, Al-Rasheed, and Hona Baghdad, in addition to extending the closure of Al-Hurra for another three months.

The Commission threatened to take more deterrent legal action in the case of "non-compliance with the charter of the broadcast media rules" without giving any details about the violations committed by these channels. Also, the letter itself issued an ultimatum to the following channels: Al-Sumaria, Asia, Rudaw, Sky News Arabia, and Ur; and ordered the closure of the following radio stations: Nas, Sawa, Al-Yaum, and Nawa. The statement did not address the reasons for all these arbitrary decisions, which seriously threaten press freedom and freedom of expression in the country. Reliable local sources have framed these decisions as a concerted policy being pursued by top authorities in Iraq to silence voices, deter critical opinions, and prevent coverage of ongoing peaceful demonstrations.

In a statement issued on 27 November 2019, Dijlah TV channel announced that it, "had been exposed on Thursday at midnight to a violation of its constitutionally-guaranteed rights by having its office in Baghdad closed and its private broadcasting equipment confiscated."

The Iraqi High Commissioner for Human Rights (IHCHR), in a statement published on its official Facebook page, announced "an increase in the use of excessive violence, which led to the deaths of many martyrs and wounded." The statement also mentioned the following figures of victims among the demonstrators on 26, 27 and 28 November 2019:

  • Dhi Qar: 25 demonstrators killed and 250 injured
  • Baghdad: Two demonstrators killed and 67 wounded, and 25 security personnel injured
  • Muthanna: 308 protesters and security forces injured, most of them among demonstrators based on local reports
  • Najaf: Four demonstrators killed and 354 wounded, and 50 security forces injured

Once again, the undersigned organisations condemn in the strongest terms the excessive use of force by Iraqi security forces, including firing live bullets, and call upon them to fulfill their international obligations, as established by the Iraqi Constitution, to protect the right of their citizens to life, as well as all other human rights, in particular freedom of peaceful assembly, freedom of expression, and freedom of the press. The Iraqi government should immediately and unconditionally cease all forms of violence and protect peaceful demonstrators throughout the country.

The Iraqi government should conduct prompt, independent, impartial and thorough investigations into the killing of protesters, with a view to disseminating the results and bringing all those responsible to justice in accordance with international standards.

In light of the gravity of the situation, we also request the United Nations Human Rights Council to convene a special session to investigate human rights violations in Iraq and to take the necessary measures to ensure that the Iraqi government stops using excessive force in all its forms against peaceful protesters and activists across the country.


  • Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI)
  • ARTICLE 19
  • Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS)
  • Ceasefire Centre for Civilian Rights
  • Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR)
  • International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
  • Iraqi Al-Amal Association
  • Iraqi Network for Social Media (INSM)
  • Iraqi Observatory for Human Rights (IOHR)
  • Iraqi Women Network
  • PEN Center in Iraq
  • PEN International
  • Metro Center for Journalists' Rights and Advocacy
  • World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)





Concerns over violent repression of protests in Latin America and the Caribbean

lac statement

  • A wave of social protests has engulfed Latin America and the Caribbean, with people in Ecuador, Haiti, Chile, Bolivia and Colombia taking to the streets to demand their rights
  • More often than not, these protests have been violently suppressed
  • Human Rights institutions have denounced heavy repression and excessive use of force throughout the region


Global civil society alliance, CIVICUS condemns the violent response by security forces to the genuine demands of demonstrators in several countries in Latin America and the Caribbean who have taken to the streets to protest against deteriorating socio-economic conditions, corruption and unaccountable governance. We urge all governments in affected countries to abide by international human rights standards which provide for every person to exercise their right to peaceful assembly. The closed nature of political spaces and the difficulties citizens face in getting their concerns heard through formal government channels have forced millions in the region to engage in public protests. The response from security forces in most of these countries has been violent.

The protests in Colombia and the response by the authorities reflect the deterioration of civic space. The authorities have used violence against protesters condemning and demanding justice for the killing of human rights defenders. Colombia is now on the CIVICUS Monitor’s “Watch List which draws attention to countries where there is a serious and rapid decline in respect for fundamental freedoms. In Ecuador, the country came to a standstill when protesters rejected an economic package meant to boost the economy. According to the Ombudsman’s Office eight people have been killed, 1,340 injured and 1,192 detained. Indigenous peoples were particularly targeted by security forces during the protests.

“There is no justification for the violent actions of the police and the excessive use of force over citizens that are protesting peacefully to express their discontent with their governments. The governments of Latin America and the Caribbean should comply with its international human rights obligations and stop clamping down on the rights of citizens,” said CIVICUS’ advocacy and engagement officer Natalia Gomez.

In Chile, the human rights institute, Instituto Nacional de Derechos Humanos de la República de Chile (INDH), recorded that 4,271 people were detained and 1,305 injured in protests from 17th October to 31st October 2019. The INDH has also received 120 complaints of torture and 18 of sexual assault and noted that at least 18 people have been killed. In Bolivia, the confrontations have largely involved groups of government supporters and the opposition. News outlets report that at least thirty people were injured in demonstrations on 28 October 2019. Even after President Evo Morales left the country, the violence and the disproportionate use of force continued to escalate.

In Haiti thousands have been protesting the current government and various social policies. According to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the police has responded with excessive force to repress the demonstrations. The Commission denounced the killing of at least 17 people, many of them by police forces, during the protests in September 2019.

CIVICUS calls on the authorities of Ecuador to ensure that the incidents of violence that occurred during the October protests are effectively investigated, and the perpetrators are brought to justice. We also urge the authorities in Chile, Bolivia, Haiti and Colombia where current protests are taking place to ensure a safe environment for protestors and respect their right to raise concerns and assemble peacefully.

For more information please contact:

Advocacy and Campaigns Lead for LAC

CIVICUS monitor lead for LAC

The CIVICUS media team:


International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists: NGOs call for immediate actions


Beirut – To mark the 6th International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists, on 02 November 2019, which was approved by the General Assembly of the United Nations at its 68th session in 2013, 18 NGOs called for immediate actions at the conclusion of an event in Beirut entitled "No to impunity for the crimes committed against journalists in the Arab region."

International day to end crimes against journalists 1

The sponsoring NGOs are the Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB), Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), Bahrain Press Association (BPA), CIVICUS, Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Development Refqan Organisation in Yemen, Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR), IFEX, International Media Support (IMS), Iraqi Observatory for Human Rights (IOHR), Maharat Foundation, Media Association for Peace (MAP), Metro Center for Journalists' Rights and Advocacy, Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms (MADA), PEN International, Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM), Syrian League for Citizenship, and the World organisation Against Torture (OMCT).

The event included a seminar which was moderated by Khalid Ibrahim from GCHR in addition to speakers Adel Marzooq from BPA, Abeer Bader Yassin, an independent journalist from Yemen, and Mustafa Saadoon from the IOHR. Two speakers, Roula Mikhael of Maharat and Vanessa Bassil of MAP, were unable to attend due to the closure of some roads as a result of popular protests in Lebanon.

Marzooq talked about the massive violations that have been committed against journalist in Bahrain by authorities and the fact that after the closure of the only independent newspaper in the country “Al-Wasat” there is no space left for journalists to publish their views freely. He added that the government is using the Cyber Crimes law to target online activism. Marzooq called on the international community to act immediately and provide support for at-risk journalists and put more pressure on repressive governments to respect freedom of the press.

Yassin talked about the situation of journalists in Yemen, describing it as a tragic reality in one of the most dangerous countries to live and work as a journalist, which has resulted in many independent journalists fleeing outside the country. She added that the international community and its organisations did not provide the required protection to journalists in order to dispel the fear of violations against them, so there must be firm and strong mechanisms regarding crimes committed against the media, otherwise it is no wonder that they remain targeted and exposed to the risk, and that the voice of truth remains silent.

Saadoon said that since the beginning of the popular protests in Iraq on 01 October 2019, journalists have experienced difficult situations, there are many threats from authorities or groups loyal to them, and there are dozens of journalists who left Baghdad for the Kurdistan region of Iraq as well as Beirut, Istanbul and Amman. He added that the international community falls short on supporting Iraqi journalists and enhancing their protection and should reconsider typical mechanisms of supporting civil society organisations as well as journalists.

International day to end crimes against journalists 2

A photo exhibition was also organised to mark the International Day to End Impunity, in order to shed light on journalists in the Arab region who have been killed or disappeared in the past years, including in Palestine, Libya, Egypt, Bahrain, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Lebanon, and Saudi Arabia.

The events aimed to draw attention to the serious risks faced by journalists as they do their peaceful work in these nine countries and other countries in the Middle East and North Africa, in addition to raising voices to demand the strengthening of protection and security for journalists, an essential requirement. This includes journalists and professionals working in various media outlets in war and conflict zones as well as those carrying out their work during times of peace.


Following up on recommendations made during events organised by GCHR with partners including UNESCO to mark the occasion of the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists on 02 November 2018, and at GCHR’s Gulf Platform for Human Rights Defenders in the MENA region in January 2019, GCHR calls for immediate action and:

  1. Calls on all concerned institutions to take note that most of the murders and other criminal violations committed against journalists and human rights defenders by government agencies or extremist militias have been carried out by unknown persons yet to be identified;
  2. Urges an immediate and serious investigation in order to find practical and effective mechanisms that decisively end impunity in crimes against journalists in all countries in our region;
  3. Urges governments and other relevant agencies work strenuously to hold accountable those who committed crimes against journalists and that perpetrators (and masterminds) of these violations will not remain unidentified and escape impunity;
  4. Calls on all concerned parties provide proper protection to journalists in MENA countries and beyond so that they can carry out their work to the fullest extent;
  5. Calls on all countries in the MENA region to adopt the recommendations of the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity.

For more information, please read GCHR’s report on impunity available at:


Iraq: Vicious tactics used against protesters and human rights defenders


The Iraqi government has stepped up its violent crackdown on peaceful demonstrators, including human rights defenders and other activists, as the campaign of mass arrests and fatal attacks continues. Meanwhile, the Internet has been repeatedly shut down, and a number of journalists and bloggers have received direct threats ordering them to refrain from covering peaceful demonstrations, which started on 01 October 2019. The undersigned organisations call on the Iraqi authorities to immediately end violence and reprisals against protestors, and uphold the rights to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression.

In an attempt to break up peaceful sit-ins in the capital Baghdad, Basra and other central and southern Iraqi cities, security forces have used live bullets, tear gas, and sound bombs against demonstrators. In addition, unidentified armed groups have killed and abducted civil society activists.

The latest reliable reports from rights groups in Baghdad and Basra confirmed that since 07 November, the authorities have been using heavy tear gas cannisters, smoke grenades and sound bombs for crowd control, followed by live ammunition to target protesters, including high school and university students and other unarmed citizens holding only the Iraqi flag. In Basra, the authorities used shotguns to fire iron pellets against protesters. The authorities also burned protesters’ tents and targeted medical teams in various cities. These violent actions resulted in large numbers of demonstrators being killed or injured across the country.

On 06 November 2019, late at night, prominent writer and civil activist Amjad Al-Dahamat (pictured on the top right) was assassinated by an unidentified armed group driving a black car without numbers using pistols with silencers. The murder took place just 500 metres from the Headquarters of the Police Command in Al-Amarah city, after Al-Dahamat attended a meeting with the Police Commander together with several activists.

Civil society activist Bassam Mehdi, who accompanied Al-Dahamat, was reported to have been seriously injured in the armed attack.

Al-Dahamat, who is considered one of the most important leaders of the popular demonstrations in Maysan governorate, has trained thousands of young people in his area on how to volunteer for civil work and contributed effectively to all the protests that took place in the governorate. In one of his last published articles, he stated, "It is up to the youth themselves. Yes, no one will give you anything. You have to take it for yourself, beginning with your slogans: ‘We want a homeland’, and ‘I came down to take my rights.’"

Also on the night of 06 November 2019, physician Abbas Ali was killed in Baghdad when a member of the Riot Police Force, shot at him, and a bullet penetrated his chest. The murder occurred near the Martyrs' Bridge in Baghdad as he tried to reach wounded demonstrators in this area to give them urgent treatment. He was taken to hospital by Tuk Tuks drivers, who have been hailed as heroes for using their vehicles as ambulances, but he died on the road. A video has emerged showing his colleagues raising his stained white medical jacket and offering respect for his dedication to the work.

On the evening of 07 November 2019, a member of the security forces in civilian clothes abducted journalist and civil society activist Ali Hashim and took him to an unknown destination. Hashim participated actively in the demonstrations of Tahrir Square in Baghdad and published several photos on his Facebook account about his participation in peaceful demonstrations. He participated in previous protests and was arrested and tortured after taking part in the 2015 demonstrations.

Also, on 07 November 2019, civil society activist Hussain Al-Kaabi was arrested by security forces at a protest in the Al-Rifai district in Dhi Qar Governorate, for leading protests, and inviting citizens to participate.

On 02 November 2019, civil society activist and paramedic Saba Al-Mahdawi (pictured on the top left) was kidnapped by unidentified gunmen on her way home from Tahrir Square in Baghdad. Reliable reports confirmed that she was kidnapped before arriving home, and there was no contact with her after 11:15 pm. Al-Mahdawi, who works for a private sector company, volunteered as a paramedic in Tahrir Square to help wounded protesters.

A month before, on 07 October 2019, at 7:15 pm, civilian activist and physician Maytham Mohammed Al-Helo was kidnapped as he left his clinic in the fourth police district, west of Baghdad, by an undefined armed group in a four-wheel drive vehicle with tinted windows, who took him to an unknown destination. He was only released on 24 October 2019.

Also, on 07 October 2019, human rights lawyer Ali Jaseb Hattab was kidnapped in the city of Al-Amarah in Maysan Governorate, southern Iraq, by a group of armed men who surrounded his private car, removed him by force and took him to an unknown destination.

There have been credible reports that several other civil society activists in Baghdad and the rest of the cities where protests are happening have been kidnapped by unknown armed groups. In addition, a number of released human rights defenders and activists confirmed that they were subjected to torture and severe beatings and forced to sign pledges not to participate in peaceful demonstrations.

We the undersigned strongly protest the arbitrary measures taken by the Iraqi authorities to summon some demonstrators under the Anti-Terrorism Law, in addition to threats made to dismiss state employees from their jobs or suspend students for participating in demonstrations.

Preliminary statistics indicate that around 300 protesters have been killed and 14,000 injured since 01 October 2019, when popular protests began, up until 08 November 2019, that were caused solely due to the use of excessive force by security forces, riot police and armed groups against peaceful demonstrators.

Reliable sources reported that, on some occasions, Forensic Medical Departments in various areas, including Karbala, have refused to hand over the bodies of protesters unless their families signed a declaration that the government is not responsible for the killing. Families who did not sign have yet to receive the bodies of their loved ones.

Last week, the authorities completely shut down the Internet starting in the afternoon on 05 November 2019 and returned it on 07 November 2019 for just one hour. The Internet has been repeatedly cut off for long periods of time during recent days in an effort to prevent journalists and human rights organisations from circulating news of violations and the grave acts committed by the authorities against civilians in sit-ins in various parts of the country. The blockage also prevents protesters from communicating with each other and organising protests and peaceful movements. Social networking sites have been mostly blocked for 45 days since the beginning of the protests.

Broadcast media have been affected as well. In addition, broadcast media have been attacked. On 05 October, armed groups stormed satellite TV Channels, Al-Arabiya Al-Hadath, Dijlah and NRT Arabic.

Local sources confirmed that security forces used expired tear gas and heavier teargas cannisters not normally used for crowd control against demonstrators, in addition to firing directly and deliberately at the heads of demonstrators with heavy teargas cannisters and smoke grenades, maiming or killing them immediately. Based on testimonies from the field, some of the cannisters contain unusual gases which leave protesters breathless and losing consciousness, in need of intensive medical treatment.

The undersigned organisations strongly condemn the excessive use of force by the Iraqi authorities, including live bullets, expired tear gas or smoke grenades against peaceful people, and demand that they cease all violence immediately and protect peaceful demonstrators throughout the country in a transparent and serious manner. The Iraqi authorities must uphold the country’s international obligation to protect the right to life of its citizens, among other human rights, including by addressing the recommendations of Iraq’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR), which took place at the United Nations on 11 November 2019.

The undersigned organisations call upon the Iraqi government to immediately and unconditionally:

  1. Fulfill its international obligations to protect human rights, through the UPR and other mechanisms, in particular to respect the civil and human rights of all citizens of Iraq, including by protecting their right to peaceful demonstration throughout the country;
  2. Conduct independent, impartial, thorough and prompt investigations into lethal force used against demonstrators, resulting in over 300 deaths, with a view to disseminating the results and bringing those responsible to justice in accordance with international standards;
  3. Release all peaceful protesters who have been detained, including those who have been kidnapped by armed groups;
  4. Respect and protect the right of all the citizens of Iraq to access the Internet and information on and offline, which should be considered the most basic human rights; and
  5. Ensure that all human rights defenders, journalists and bloggers in Iraq are able to operate without restrictions, including judicial harassment.


Access Now
Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI)
Article 19
Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS)
Ceasefire Centre for Civil Rights
Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR)
International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
International Media Support (IMS)
International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)
Iraqi Al-Amal Association
Iraqi Network for Social Media (INSM)
Iraqi Observatory for Human Rights (IOHR)
Iraqi Women Network
Metro Center for Journalists' Rights and Advocacy
PEN Center in Iraq
PEN International
World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)


The CIVICUS Youth Action Team welcomes new members

Five new members recently joined the CIVICUS Youth Action Team (YAT). They will serve a renewable 14-month term until December 2020. Their role will be to mainstream youth issues into the CIVICUS alliance, to champion youth engagement in civil society and to stand in solidarity with young activists facing civic space restrictions.

New members Alan Jarandilla Núñez (Bolivia) and Martín Iván Tinoco (Mexico) will be representing the Americas. Jelena Mitrović (Serbia) and Dragana Jovanovska (North Macedonia) will be representing Europe and Natasha Chaudhary (India) joins in as a representative for Asia. 

They will be working alongside current YAT members Wiem Chamsi (MENA), Justin Francis Bionat (Asia), Joshua Alade and Daniel Nwaeze (Africa). 

Former YAT members Ana Pranjic and Amanda Segnini finished their terms in August, and Anastasia Hengestu’s resignation happened in the same month. We thank them deeply for their great contribution to youth inclusion in the CIVICUS alliance and we wish them the best in their upcoming endeavours. 

A word from the brand new Youth Action Team:

"Our main goal in the coming months will be to ensure that youth Youth are meaningfully engaged in all of the alliance’s structures and strategies. We will achieve this by promoting the creation of spaces for the leadership and participation of young people in civil society through everyday practices and systems. Our work will prioritise the participation of youth from marginalised communities. We hope for the Youth Action Team to constitute a benchmark for other organisations who want to improve youth engagement through similar models. 

"We are currently working on developing our objectives, and many questions are still open. For instance, we are trying to establish how we can best ensure we are accountable to members. We are also working in an approach to stand in solidarity with young people facing civic space restrictions, and there are many other issues we are currently trying to decide upon. If you have ideas or suggestions around these or other questions, please contact us directly by sending an email to yat2020 [at] We will also be active in the CIVICUS Youth United! Facebook group so don’t hesitate to open up a conversation there. We welcome your input and we are excited to take on this key mandate. We look forward to meaningful collaboration in the coming months.

More about the five new YAT members:


Alan Jarandilla Núñez

Alan is a lawyer and passionate human rights defender from Bolivia. He serves as the Director of Policy and Advocacy of the International Youth Alliance for Family Planning, and is the Founder of Change the System (CTS), a Bolivian youth-led organization working towards sustainable development, human rights and youth participation, from a systemic change perspective.


He is a vocal advocate for human rights, sexual and reproductive health and rights, and meaningful youth engagement in decision making. He believes that an intersectional and holistic approach to global issues is fundamental for addressing the issues that are central to his work. He has followed and led advocacy strategies in different international processes.



Dragana Jovanovska

Dragana is a Management Board member at the Center for Intercultural Dialogue (CID), a youth-led organisation in North Macedonia working with young people from different ethnic, religious and cultural backgrounds in a post-conflict society. As part of her role, she is running an open youth centre, MultiKulti (MultiКулти), in the city of Kumanovo, where she works on her fields of expertise, including intercultural dialogue, human rights and youth participation by using integrated education. She also works as an educator on these themes with youth and adults at a local, national and international level.


Jelena Mitrović 

Jelena has been an activist and volunteer since the age of 14. She has gained experience in different organisations, participating locally in the Becej Youth Association and nationally as a Governing Board Member of the National Youth Council of Serbia. She currently serves at Group COME OUT in the city of Novi Sad as a dedicated and certified youth worker with LGBT+ youth, and she is pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in Sociology. Her priority is to advocate for equal opportunities for all, and ensuring that youth voices are not only heard, but also listened to and accepted in decision making processes.


Martín Iván Tinoco

Martín is a young changemaker driven by a passion for human rights, sexual and reproductive health and rights, and youth participation in public policy in Mexico. He has been involved in civil society since the age of 15, having participated in local, regional and international processes related to the monitoring of the Sustainable Development Goals. Martín currently serves as the Director of Fractal Effect, an organization that seeks to facilitate the meaningful inclusion of youth into decision making spaces. He is pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in Social Studies and Local Management at the National Autonomous University of Mexico.


Natasha Chaudhary

Natasha is the Co-Director at Haiyya, a grassroots campaign consulting organisation based in India. She oversees larger organizational scaling and growth strategy and works on fundraising. She is a trainer, coach and strategy consultant having worked across different programs, including sexual and reproductive health and rights for women, women's voting rights, the youth climate movement, resourcing and incubation models and many more. She deeply cares about gender, health and caste issues with a focus on intersectional leadership and designing interventions that shift away from traditional service delivery models. She holds a Masters degree in Development Studies from the University of Sydney, where she advocated for and worked in the implementation of a sexual harassment policy as the Women’s Officer.



Omar Barghouti at risk of deportation as Israel plans to revoke his residency status


“I plan to act quickly to revoke Omar Barghouti’s resident status in Israel” Arye Deri, Israel’s Interior Minister, 6 October 2019

On 6 October 2019, Israeli Interior Minister Arye Deri announced that he is working towards revoking the residency status of Palestinian resident and human rights defender Omar Barghouti. The Israeli Interior Minister has “instructed the legal department of the Population, Immigration and Borders Authority to prepare the legal framework to revoke Barghouti’s resident status,”[1] placing him at imminent threat of deportation. Prior to this announcement, Israel’s Attorney-General, Dina Zilber, confirmed that the Minister of the Interior has the prerogative to revoke the residency status of a person who is accused of ‘breaching allegiance’ to Israel.[2] Barghouti is a resident of Israel, a status he received in 1994, following a process of family unification with his wife who is a Palestinian citizen of Israel.

According to the Interior Minister’s announcement, he plans to act quickly to revoke Barghouti’s resident status, because “[h]e is a person who is doing everything to hurt the country, and therefore, he cannot enjoy the privilege of being a resident of Israel.”[3] As a Palestinian human rights defender and co-founder of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Movement, Omar Barghouti has been targeted by Israel for his calls for freedom, justice, and equality for the Palestinian people in accordance with international law. Accordingly, Barghouti’s threatened residency revocation amounts to a clear assault on his right to freedom of expression, including his work as a human rights defender and his calls for accountability for Israel’s widespread and systematic human rights violations against the Palestinian people.

The statement made by Interior Minister Deri, dated 6 October 2019, is only the latest manifestation of Israel’s State-led repression against Omar Barghouti for his human rights work. To date, several Israeli ministers, including Deri, have targeted Barghouti, frequently delaying the renewal of his travel document, which in effect means banning him from travel, threatening his right to family life and unity by calling for the revocation of his residency status, and making statements containing threats to his life and personal safety[4]. Barghouti’s threatened residency revocation comes in light of an ongoing and systematic effort led by the Israeli Government to create a coercive environment designed to silence and undermine the work of human rights defenders and activists promoting the rights of the Palestinian people and challenging Israel’s widespread violations and suspected crimes. It is within this context that the Israeli authorities have increasingly resorted to smear and de-legitimisation campaigns against human rights defenders, activists, and civil society organisations advocating for the rights of Palestinians and calling for justice and accountability.

In addition, Israel’s practice of punitive residency revocation on the basis of so-called ‘breach of allegiance’ to the State,[5] has been used as a tool to suppress Palestinians’ activism and to restrict their right to freedom of expression when challenging Israel’s systematic violations of international law. On 17 October 2017, in response to a request based on the Freedom of Information Act, the Israeli Interior Ministry acknowledged it had revoked the residency status of 13 Palestinians on the basis of ‘breach of allegiance’ to Israel.[6] This overbroad criterion could be widely applied to Palestinians voicing opposition to the Israeli authorities in their exercise of their fundamental right to freedom of expression.[7] Israel’s policy of silencing opposition through threatened deportations and punitive residency revocation stands in clear violation of international human rights standards and treaties, which Israel is bound to respect, protect, and fulfil towards the Palestinian people, in particular the right to freedom of expression and to freedom of movement and residence, including to leave one’s country and to return.

In light of the above, the undersigned organisations call on the international community to:

1/ Act immediately to prevent the revocation of Omar Barghouti’s residency status on the basis of ‘breach of allegiance’ to Israel or on the basis of any other criteria, which, if carried out, will result in violations of his rights to freedom of expression, freedom of movement and residence, and would contribute to the commission of the serious crime of population transfer of the Palestinian people under international law;

2/ Call on the international community and UN member states to exert pressure on Israel to comply with international law, by immediately revoking its Entry into Israel Law, which has been used to systematically violate the right of Palestinian citizens to freedom of movement and residence, including to leave their country and to return.

  1. Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS)
  2. Al-Haq
  3. 7amleh - Arab Center for the Advancement of Social Media
  4. Albanian Media Institute
  5. Addameer
  6. Adil Soz
  7. The African Centre for Democracy and Human Rights Studies (ACDHRS)
  8. BADIL Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights
  9. Cartoonists Rights Network International (CRNI)
  10. Civic Coalition for Palestinian Rights in Jerusalem (CCPRJ)
  12. Community Action Center – Al Quds University
  13. Defense for Children International - Palestine
  14. Free Media Movement - Sri Lanka
  15. Freedom of Expression Institute (FXI)
  16. Hurryyat - Center for Defense of Liberties and Civil Rights
  17. IJC Moldova
  18. International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)
  19. Jerusalem Legal Aid and Human Rights Center (JLAC)
  20. Media Institute of South Africa (MISA) - Zimbabwe
  21. Pacific Islands News Association (PINA)
  22. Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)
  23. Palestinian Counseling Center
  24. Palestinian Non-Governmental Organizations Network (PNGO)
  25. Ramallah Center for Human Rights Studies
  27. Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network (SAHRDN)
  28. Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM)
  29. The African Centre for Democracy and Human Rights Studies
  30. Vigilance for Democracy and the Civil State
  31. Visualizing Impact

ANNEX: Background Information

Barghouti is not the first Palestinian to have been threatened with punitive residency revocation on the basis of ‘breach of allegiance’ by the Israeli authorities, despite the illegality of the practice. Following a request sent to the Ministry of the Interior based on the Freedom of Information Act, the Interior Ministry acknowledged on 17/10/2017 that it had revoked the residency status of 13 Palestinians on the basis of ‘breach of allegiance’.

The first punitive residency revocation carried out by the Israeli authorities dates back to 2006, when the Minister of the Interior revoked the residency status of three Palestinian parliamentarians in addition to the former Palestinian Minister of Jerusalem, claiming they had ‘breached allegiance’ to Israel. The revocation of the residency status of Palestinians in a punitive manner has thus already been used by Israel against politically active Palestinians, in a manner, which violates their rights to freedom of expression and association.

In 2006, the four Palestinians filed a petition (HCJ 7803/06) to the Israeli Supreme Court. Rendering its judgment on 13 September 2017, more than eleven years after the petition had been filed, the Israeli Supreme Court acknowledged the absence of any legal grounds in Israeli legislation permitting punitive residency revocation on the basis of so-called ‘breach of allegiance.’ Despite this conclusion, the Supreme Court nevertheless upheld the revocation of the petitioners’ residencies for six months, allowing the illegality to continue, and gave the Israeli Parliament (the Knesset) this period of time to change the law in order to legalise punitive residency revocation on the basis of ‘breach of allegiance’ to the State of Israel.

Following the Supreme Court judgment, the Entry into Israel Law of 1952 was amended on 7 March 2018, thereby granting the Israeli Interior Minister the power to revoke residency rights of Palestinians based on the additional criterion of ‘breach of allegiance’ to Israel. According to the Law, as amended, ‘breach of allegiance’ is defined as committing, or participating in, or incitement to commit a terrorist act, or belonging to a terrorist organization, as well as committing acts of treason or aggravated espionage. By using this overbroad and vague definition of ‘breach of allegiance,’ the Israeli Parliament has made it possible for current and future Israeli Interior Ministers to revoke the residency rights of Palestinians, based solely on their own interpretation that the resident “has committed an act which is considered a breach of allegiance to the State of Israel.” With this amendment, Israel has made it possible to revoke the residency status of any Palestinian based on vague, overbroad, and subjective grounds, thereby contributing to the serious crime of population transfer and demographic manipulation, in violation of established norms of international law.










Global rights group condemns detention of human rights activist in Pakistan

  • Global rights alliance condemns the detention of Muhammad Ismail, a human rights activist and CIVICUS member who has been promoting human rights in Pakistan for more than a decade
  • Ismail and his family have been facing months of harassment and intimidation
  • This incident highlights the hostile environment for human rights defenders and others in Pakistan to exercise their freedom of expression

CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance, is extremely concerned about the arbitrary detention of Muhammad Ismail, a human rights activist and CIVICUS member, and calls for his immediate release. His detention is a serious escalation of the ongoing judicial harassment and intimidation of Ismail and his family that has persisted for months.

In July 2019, Muhammad Ismail was accused of baseless charges under the Anti-Terrorism Act in connection with the legitimate human rights work of his daughter, Gulalai Ismail. On 24 October 2019, he travelled to the Peshawar High Court for a hearing, which had been routinely postponed. He was leaving the premises when he was accosted outside the court by men dressed in black militia uniform, who forced him into a black vehicle. His whereabouts remained unknown until the morning of 25 October, when he appeared in the custody of Pakistan’s Federal Investigations Agency before a judicial magistrate and brought with further charges under the Pakistan Electronic Crimes Act. He was served a 14-day judicial remand and remains detained.

Muhammad Ismail is a prominent member of Pakistani civil society and the focal person for the Pakistan NGO Forum (PNF), an umbrella body composed of five networks of civil society organizations (CSOs) in Pakistan. He is a long-standing member of the Affinity Group of National Associations (AGNA), a network of national associations and regional platforms from around the world. His daughter Gulalai Ismail is a human rights defender who has faced persecution from authorities for her advocacy for the rights of women and girls, and her efforts to end human rights violations against the ethnic Pashtun people. She was subsequently granted asylum in the United States of America.

“The Pakistan authorities must immediately release Muhammad Ismail from pre-trial detention and drop all charges against him. The new set of baseless charges levelled against him today are a clear continuation and escalation in an ongoing campaign of judicial harassment,” said Josef Benedict, Civic Space Researcher with CIVICUS.

Prior to his detention, Muhammad Ismail and his family had faced months of harassment and intimidation, including at least three raids on their family home in Islamabad, as well as threats of physical harm to Gulalai Ismail’s younger sister. Security forces also took away the family’s driver, interrogated him, and subjected him to physical acts of ill-treatment. Previously, on 18 October 2019, Muhammad Ismail survived an attempt to abduct him from his home in Islamabad.

“The authorities must also cease all forms of harassment and threats against Ismail’s family. This highlights the hostile environment for human rights defenders and others in Pakistan to exercise their freedom of expression,” said Josef Benedict.

CIVICUS has documented systematic harassment and threats against human rights defenders and political activists, many who have been charged for exercising their freedom of expression. Journalists have also been targeted and media coverage critical of the state have been suppressed. There have been ongoing cases of enforced disappearances in Pakistan despite pledges by the government of Prime Minister Imran Khan to criminalise the practice

These violations are inconsistent with Pakistan’s international obligations, including those under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) which it ratified in 2008. These include obligations to respect and protect civil society’s fundamental rights to the freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression. These fundamental freedoms are also guaranteed in Pakistan’s Constitution.

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.

For more information or to arrange an interview, please contact:

Josef Benedict ;


14 member states elected to UN Human Rights Council

Last week (17 October), 14 new member states were elected to the 47-member state Human Rights Council for the 2020-2022 term.

Among them were 11 states with a rating of ‘narrowed’ or worse by the Civic Space Monitor, a platform which tracks the state of civil society freedoms worldwide.

In the Latin America and Caribbean regional group, Brazil and Venezuela, respectively rated as obstructed and repressed, were elected in a three-way contest with Costa Rica, which is rated as open. We regret that states did not take the opportunity presented by Costa Rica’s late-stage candidacy to build a stronger Human Rights Council, which can only be achieved through a membership committed to cooperating with its mechanisms and upholding its aims and values.

Since the current administration of Brazil came to power in 2018, the country has seen an increase in violent rhetoric and, over the last year, a curtailment of human rights protections and undermining of Human Rights Council mechanisms. This falls far short of the behavior which any member of the Council should demonstrate, and we are particularly concerned by Brazil’s reelection given its influence in the region and beyond. 

Just one month ago, a report presented at the 42nd Session of the Human Rights Council by the UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights detailed serious human rights violations by the Venezuelan government, including arbitrary arrests, torture, and extrajudicial executions. Nevertheless, 105 states at the UN General Assembly states voted for Venezuela to join the Council. The election of Brazil and Venezuela by UN member states at the expense of Costa Rica’s membership severely undermines the commitments of the Human Rights Council.
Namibia (narrowed), Libya (closed), Mauritania (repressed) and Sudan (closed) won the four seats available to the Africa group. Benin also stood for election. We urge the transitional government of Sudan to take steps towards ensuring full accountability for past human rights violations, and to use this opportunity to play a more constructive role in the international community as an advocate for human rights given its strategic position in the Horn of Africa. The ongoing serious human rights violations in Libya makes it unfit for membership and we urge the Human Rights Council to make clear that membership does not preclude it from continued international scrutiny.

Armenia (obstructed) and Poland (narrowed) took the two open Eastern European Group seats, elected over the Republic of Moldova (obstructed). In the Asia-Pacific Group, Indonesia (obstructed), Japan (narrowed), Marshall Islands (open) and Republic of Korea (narrowed) won the four available seats over Iraq, which had also stood for election. We urge these new members states to use their election to the Human Rights Council as an opportunity to strengthen their commitments to human rights and civic space.

Germany (open) and the Netherlands (open) take the remaining Western European and Others Group seats, having stood unopposed. 

The election of so many states with poor civic freedoms records means that civil society engagement at the Council itself is even more vital in order for people to be given a voice at the international level that is denied to them at the national level, and we urge the Human Rights Council to protect and enhance space for civil society within all multilateral institutions.
CIVICUS looks forward to working with the delegations in Geneva which share our vision, and that of our members, for universal human rights. We will continue to work with civil society in every member state to strengthen civic space on the ground, and to hold to account states which seek to repress the voices of civil society.


Five countries added to the civic space watchlist

  • Egypt, China (Hong Kong), Colombia, Guinea and Kazakhstan join global watchlist
  • Escalating rights violations include arrests, abductions and assassinations of activists, as well as the persecution of journalists and media blackouts
  • International community must pressure governments to end repression and bring perpetrators to account

Five countries from Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Latin America have been added to a watchlist of countries which have seen a rapid decline in fundamental freedoms in recent weeks and months. The new watchlist released by the CIVICUS Monitor, an online platform that tracks the latest developments to civic freedoms across the globe, identifies growing concerns in Egypt, China (Hong Kong), Colombia, Guinea and Kazakhstan.

Activists, civil society groups and peaceful protesters in these countries are experiencing an alarming number of attacks to their civic freedoms as protected by international law. In particular, the freedoms of expression, assembly and association. Violations include the murder of human rights defenders and social leaders in Colombia; excessive force and mass arrests against protesters in Hong Kong, Egypt and Kazakhstan; and the arbitrary arrest of activists in Guinea who are trying to uphold the constitution and presidential term limits as the country prepares for 2020 elections. 

“It is deeply alarming to see ongoing and serious  attacks to basic rights in these countries,” said Marianna Belalba Barreto, CIVICUS Civic Space Research Lead. “The scale of these violations is often under reported as journalists in these countries are facing their own host of restrictions” Belalba said. “We call upon neighbouring states and international bodies to put pressure on these countries to end the repression.”

In September 2019, demonstrations against alleged government corruption in Egypt were met with excessive force. The use of tear gas was widespread and videos have surfaced of police beating protesters before being taken into custody. In a bid to silence government critics, security forces have carried out sweeping arrests of protesters, detained journalists, blocked news websites and disrupted online messaging services. Civic space in Egypt is rated as Closed.

Human rights groups in Hong Kong have documented excessive and unlawful force by security forces against protesters including the use of truncheons, pepper spray, tear gas and rubber bullets. Protesters have also been attacked by pro Beijing mobs. More than 1,300 people have been arrested in the context of the mass protests as of mid-September 2019 and some have been ill-treated in detention. Civic space in China (Hong Kong) is rated as Closed.

In Colombia, dozens of community leaders have been killed this year, and violence has escalated ahead of October's Municipal Elections. Thousands have marched across the country calling for an end to the violence and impunity for these crimes. Colombia remains one of the most dangerous countries in the world for human rights defenders and environmental activists. Civic space in Colombia is rated as Repressed.

In Guinea, plans to change the constitution, which could see the presidential term limit abolished, has sparked opposition and protests. Activists opposing constitutional changes have been arbitrarily arrested, and security forces have used live ammunition and tear gas during protests, killing several people and injuring dozens more. Civic space in Guinea is rated as Obstructed.

While in Kazakhstan, since June 2019 elections human rights abuses have hit a new high. The work of journalists and electoral observers has been obstructed, while thousands have been detained in post-election protests. Civic space in Kazakhstan is rated as Obstructed.

In the coming weeks and months, the CIVICUS Monitor will closely track developments in each of these countries as part of efforts to ensure greater pressure is brought to bear on governments and the perpetrators of these attacks. The CIVICUS Monitor rates countries based on the state of their civic space as either open, narrow, obstructed, repressed or closed. These ratings are based on multiple streams of data that assess the state of freedom of expression, freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association.


Mozambique: Killing of activist Dr. Matavel & restrictions on civic space mar upcoming elections


Open letter to the Government of Mozambique

Your Excellency,

We, the undersigned orgnisations, are deeply alarmed by the escalating crackdown on fundamental freedoms and the persecution of activists in the context of the upcoming presidential, legislative and provincial elections scheduled for 15 October 2019 in Mozambique. The recent spate of killings, intimidation and arbitrary detention of human rights defenders and journalists, particularly those involved in election monitoring, including Dr. Anastácio Matavel, gravely undermines the possibility of free and fair elections. We urge the authorities to take all necessary steps to end the pre-election campaign to suppress independent dissent.

President Filipe Nyusi is seeking a second five-year term in the upcoming elections. The vote comes just two months after Nyusi and the opposition Renamo party signed a permanent cease-fire meant to stop the fighting that has flared sporadically in the 27 years since the end of a 15-year civil war that killed an estimated 1 million people and devastated the country.

The space for civil society in Mozambique has significantly deteriorated since October 2018 municipal elections. Most recently, on 7 October 2019 Human Rights Defender Dr. Anastácio Matavel was brutally murdered. Dr. Matavel was killed after he attended a training session for election observers. A group of five individuals, four of whom are active police officers, unloaded at least 10 live rounds on Dr. Matavel's vehicle. He died in hospital at the age of 58.

Dr. Matavel was the founder and Executive Director of FONGA-Gaza NGO Forum and chairman of the General Assembly of JOINT Liga of NGOs in Mozambique. The murder of Dr. Matavel is a direct attack on civil society for undertaking its legitimate activities to engage in election observation.  Dr. Matavel believed fair and free elections are a key factor for the consolidation of peace, democracy and human rights necessary for the development of Mozambique.

In March 2018, journalist and human rights lawyer, Ericino de Salema was abducted and beaten by unidentified individuals. There have been no arrests in the case and no one has been held accountable for the attack. There remain ongoing harassment and intimidation of journalists with critical views.  On 5 January 2019 journalist Amade Abubacar was arrested without a warrant by police officers of Macomia district, while interviewing villagers fleeing from insurgent attacks. Amade was held in pre-trial detention for nearly 100 days, including 12 days in incommunicado military detention. Amade is currently awaiting trial.

A vibrant civil society is key for any democracy to thrive. Such brutal attacks and targeted persecution of a member of civil society should be condemned in the most rigorous way. We call for a prompt and impartial investigation to ensure justice for Dr. Matavel and all civil society activists who have been targeted for exercising their right to independent dissent. These and other unwarranted restrictions on civic space deeply mar upcoming elections and raise the specter of further entrenching democratic backsliding. 


  1. Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)
  2. Association for Human Rights in Ethiopia (AHRE)
  4. Civil Rights Defenders
  5. Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA)
  6. FIDH, in the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
  7. Front Line Defenders
  8. Groupe d'Action pour le Progrès et la Paix (G.A.P.P.-Afrique) (Canada, France, Bénin et Mali)
  9. International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)
  10. Southern Africa Litigation Centre
  11. Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights
  12. Oxfam
  13. Odhikar – Bangladesh
  14. L'organisation Tchadienne Anti-corruption (OTAC) – Chad
  15. Justice and Peace Netherlands
  16. JOINT Liga de ONGs em Mocambique 
  17. JASS (Just Associates)
  18. Japan NGO Action Network for Civic Space (NANCiS) Charter
  19. Japan International Volunteer Center (JVC)
  20. World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), in the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defender               


Serbia’s Civic Space Downgraded

The downgrade is based on an assessment of conditions for the exercise of the freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression on the CIVICUS Monitor.

CIVICUS has today downgraded Serbia’s civic space rating from Narrowed to Obstructed. The decision was taken following a thorough assessment of the state of civic freedoms in the country as protected by international law. The downgrade follows CIVICUS’ regular monitoring of the situation with our members and partners, after the government has taken a number of steps to restrict the work of independent journalists and civil society groups. The decision comes after over two years of rule by the Serbian Progressive Party (SNS), during which the space for civil society has come under concerted attack. The cumulative impact of threats, smears and the threat of physical attacks against civil society have led to the Serbia’s downgrade in the CIVICUS Monitor. An Obstructed rating indicates a situation where the state imposes a variety of legal and extra-legal restrictions on civil society through demeaning statements and bureaucratic restrictions.

“The Serbian government appears intent on turning its back on civic freedoms, by allowing and enabling numerous abuses against civil society to go unpunished,” said Dominic Perera, Civic Space Research Advisor at CIVICUS. “Serbia has witnessed a steady decline in civic space through smear campaigns and threats directed at critics of the government coupled with a worryingly sharp increase in attacks against journalists.”

The downgrade takes place against the backdrop of widespread protests which took place across Serbia for much of 2019. In this environment, the government has ramped up tactics designed to intimidate those who question power holders, especially on contentious issues such as corruption. Instead of conducting thorough and impartial investigations into abuses of power, public officials have doubled down on their efforts to publicly discredit journalists and organisations working to promote social justice. This includes several prominent members of the SNS party openly accusing anti-corruption activists of working to promote foreign interests for acting as government watchdogs.

Freedom of expression has also experienced a rapid decline, with the number of attacks against journalists doubling since 2016, rising to 77 separate incidents in 2018 alone. This is further compounded by the government’s appropriation of media outlets, which has led to a situation where investigative journalists and news programmes have been mysteriously taken off air or fired. This alarming combination of tactics signals a closure of spaces for independent dissent.

Meanwhile, the number of government-affiliated NGOs has soared. These state sponsored organisations often orchestrate smear campaigns against independent organisations and activists which criticise the government.

“CIVICUS calls on the Serbian authorities to halt the erosion of spaces for dissent”, said Perera. “We call on the government to engage in a meaningful dialogue with civil society and to heed the calls of civil society and the EU to promote an enabling environment for civil society.”

Serbia is now rated Obstructed on the CIVICUS Monitor. Visit Serbia’s homepage for more information and check back regularly for the latest updates. In December 2019, CIVICUS will release People Power Under Attack 2019 - a global analysis on the threats and trends facing civil society in 196 countries.


On 10th anniversary of ACPRA, NGOs call on Saudi authorities to release all detained members


On October 12, 2019, which marks the 10th anniversary of the founding of the Saudi Association for Civil and Political Rights (ACPRA), the undersigned organisations call on Saudi authorities to immediately and unconditionally release all detained ACPRA members.

ACPRA 10th anniversary

Created in 2009 by 11 human rights defenders and academics, ACPRA was established to promote and protect fundamental rights and freedoms in Saudi Arabia. While ACPRA was never legally recognised by the government, it was formally banned as an organisation in 2013. As of May 2016, all of its 11 members had been prosecuted and subjected to severe treatment by Saudi authorities for their human rights activism and cooperation with the United Nations human rights mechanisms. Yet, Saudi Arabia has been a member of the UN Human Rights Council for a total of 12 years.

As part of its mission, ACPRA advocated peacefully for a constitutional monarchy, a universally elected parliament, an independent judiciary, and for the protection of fair trial rights in Saudi Arabia. ACPRA has documented cases of human rights violations and communicated them to the relevant UN Special Procedures. Additionally, a number of ACPRA’s members had been mentioned in the UN Secretary General’s yearly report on Cooperation with the United Nations, its representatives and mechanisms in the field of human rights.

The 11 co-founding members of ACPRA are: Essa Al-Hamid (sentenced to 11 years in prison, followed by an 11-year travel ban); Dr Abdulrahman Al-Hamid (sentenced to 9 years in prison, followed by a 9-year travel ban); Dr Abdullah Al-Hamid (sentenced to 11 years in prison and an 11-year travel ban); Dr Abdulkarim Al-Khoder (sentenced to 10 years in prison, followed by a 10-year travel ban); Omar Al-Said (sentenced to 7 years in prison and a 10-year travel ban); Mohammed Al-Bajadi (sentenced to 4 years in prison, 4 years of suspension and a 10-year travel ban, and currently detained since May 2018 as part of a crackdown on women’s rights defenders); Sheikh Sulaiman Al-Rashudi (sentenced to 15 years in prison and a 15-year travel ban); Dr Mohammad Al-Qahtani (sentenced to 10 years in prison and a 10-year travel ban); Saleh Al-Ashwan (sentenced to 5 years in prison followed by a 5-year travel ban); Fowzan Al-Harbi (sentenced to 10 years in prison and a 10-year travel ban); and Abdulaziz Al-Shubaili (sentenced to 8 years in prison and an 8-year travel and social media ban).

The prosecuted ACPRA members were sentenced to lengthy prison sentences ranging from 5 to 15 years by the Specialised Criminal Court (SCC), which was set up in 2008 to try acts of terrorism but has instead been used to prosecute human rights defenders and other peaceful activists. These ACPRA members all faced vaguely defined charges such as “insulting the judiciary,” “calling to break allegiance with the ruler,” “accusing the judiciary of being unable to deliver justice,” “communicating with international organisations in order to harm the image of the State,” and “forming or joining an illegal organisation,” in reprisals for having peacefully advocated for constitutional reform and the respect of fundamental rights and freedoms in Saudi Arabia.

The undersigned human rights organisations urge the authorities of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to:

  1. Immediately and unconditionally release all human rights defenders without charges or reservations;
  2. Allow ACPRA and other NGOs to continue to carry out their work supporting families of detainees and promoting human rights in their country;
  3. Allow ACPRA to register, in order to enable its members to continue their peaceful and legitimate activities in the defense of human rights; and
  4. Guarantee, under all circumstances, that all human rights defenders in Saudi Arabia are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals and without restrictions. 


Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB)
Amnesty International
FIDH, under the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
Front Line Defenders
Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR)
Human Rights Watch
International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)
MENA Rights Group
Right Livelihood Foundation (Abdullah Al Hamid and Mohammad Al Qahtani are among the 2018 Right Livelihood Award Laureates)
World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), under the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders




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