Posts Tagged ‘CIVICUS’

NGO Statement remembers the one-year anniversary of the ban on the Maldivian Democracy Network

December 19, 2020

Today – 19 December 2020 – marks one year since the Government of the Maldives arbitrarily shut down the longest serving human rights group in the country, the Maldivian Democracy Network (MDN) and arbitrarily confiscated all of its funds. Since then, the Government has not reversed any of its unconstitutional actions related to the dissolution of MDN.

We remind the Government of the Maldives that Article 30(b) of the country’s Constitution guarantees the right to establish societies and non-governmental organisations (NGOs). Article 43 affords everyone the right to fair administrative action that adheres to basic fairness and procedural propriety. MDN has been deprived of these rights through arbitrary action taken without due process.

An administrative decision was taken based on allegations of a criminal offence, depriving the organisation and the human rights defenders involved of their right to appeal in the criminal and civil processes initiated by the Government of the Maldives. The right to appeal is guaranteed by Article 56 of the Constitution. Furthermore, the organisation has not been given the right of reply or to defend itself against what is widely seen as a biased decision based on the interpretation of an academic research.

We are disappointed that the Parliament of the Maldives has refused to investigate the matter and hold the government accountable. We urge the Parliament not to use its mandate selectively, and call on it to conduct its affairs equally, uphold the Constitution and the rule of law.

The Government of the Maldives, by taking arbitrary and unconstitutional actions to silence civil society, has set a dangerous precedent that has resulted in a violent witch-hunt of human rights defenders and civil society organisations. We call on President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih to conduct a fair and open enquiry into these deplorable actions and stop the harassment of the human rights community in the Maldives, as several United Nations Member States recommended during the third Universal Periodic Review of the Maldives in November 2020[1].

Signed by:

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

CIVICUS

The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH),

The Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI)

The Maldivian Democracy Network (MDN) is a non-partisan civil society organisation based in the Canton of Geneva, Switzerland, operating under the Swiss civil code. MDN, registered  in the Maldives from 2006 until December 2019, was one of  the longest-running human rights groups in the country until the Government of  Maldives forcefully shut down the organisation.

See also; https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/06/26/maldives-mohamed-nasheed-from-human-rights-defender-to-president-to-exile/

[1] Recommendations made to the Maldives at the 36th session of the Universal Periodic Review

USA and 3 other countries in the Americas downgraded by human rights researchers

December 17, 2020

On Wednesday, 16 December 2020 Débora Leão and Suraj K. Sazawal published an opinion piece in IPS entitled: “USA Downgraded as Civil Liberties Deteriorate Across the Americas” (Débora Leão is a Civic Space Researcher at CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance. She has a Master of Public Policy degree. Prior to joining CIVICUS, Débora worked on advocacy and research related to civic participation, urban development and climate justice. Suraj K. Sazawal serves on the board to Defending Rights & Dissent and is co-author of ‘Civil Society Under Strain’, the first book to explore how the War on Terror impacted civil society and hurt humanitarian aid.

Protests in New York City against racism and police violence, following the death of George Floyd. Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

Few images better illustrate the recent decline in civil liberties in the United States than that of peaceful protesters near the White House being violently dispersed so Donald Trump could stage a photo-op. Moments before the president emerged from his bunker on June 1 to hold a bible outside a boarded-up church, federal officers indiscriminately fired tear gas at people who had gathered in Lafayette Park to protest about the police killing of George Floyd. This was far from an isolated incident: nationwide protests against systemic racism and police brutality have been met with widespread police violence.

Since May, the CIVICUS Monitor, an online platform that tracks fundamental freedoms across 196 countries, documented dozens of incidents where law enforcement officers, dressed in riot gear and armed with military grade-equipment, responded to Black Lives Matter protests with excessive force. These include officers driving vehicles at crowds of protesters and firing tear gas canisters and other projectiles at unarmed people, leaving at least 20 people partially blinded.

Throughout the year, journalists and health workers, clearly marked as such while covering the protests, have been harassed and assaulted. In one incident caught on live TV, a news reporter and camera operator from Louisville, Kentucky were shot by police with pepper balls while covering protests over the police killing of Breona Taylor.

This sustained repression of protests and an increased crackdown on fundamental freedoms led to the USA’s civic space rating being downgraded from ‘narrowed’ to ‘obstructed’ in CIVICUS new report, People Power Under Attack 2020.

This disproportionate response by law enforcement officers to protesters goes beyond what is acceptable practice when policing protests, even during an emergency. Under international law, people have a right to assemble freely. Any restrictions to this right must be proportionate and necessary to address an emergency or reestablish public order.

While recent brutality against protests for racial justice is concerning, the decline in basic freedoms in the USA began before this crackdown. The repression seen in 2020 was preceded by a wave of legislation limiting people’s rights to protest.

In recent years, several states enacted restrictive laws which, for example, criminalise protests near so-called critical infrastructure like oil pipelines, or limit demonstrations on school and university campuses. Increased penalties for trespassing and property damage are designed to intimidate and punish climate justice activists and organisations that speak out against fossil fuels.

In the wake of Black Lives Matter protests, some of the ‘anti-protest’ bills introduced this year seem particularly cruel, for instance, by proposing to make people convicted of minor federal offences during protests ineligible for pandemic-related unemployment benefits.

Growing disregard for protest rights underscores wider intolerance for dissent. In parallel with restrictions on the freedom of peaceful assembly, the USA also saw an increase in attacks against the media, even before Black Lives Matter demonstrations erupted. Over the past three years, the CIVICUS Monitor has documented the frequent harassment of journalists by the authorities and civilians while covering political rallies or when conducting interviews.

Correspondents critical of the Trump administration or reporting on the humanitarian crisis in the USA/Mexico border region sometimes faced retaliation; documents obtained by ‘NBC 7 Investigates’ in 2019 showed the US government created a database of journalists who covered the migrant caravan and activists who were part of it, in some cases placing alerts on their passports.

In January 2020 a journalist was barred from accompanying Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in an official trip to Europe after Pompeo objected to the questions by another reporter from the same outlet.

The harsh treatment of people wanting to express themselves and the decline of civil liberties is part of a broader global decline in fundamental freedoms. Our new report shows less than four percent of the world’s population live in countries that respect the freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression.

Each country’s civic space is rated in one of five categories: ‘open, ‘narrowed, ‘obstructed,’ ‘restricted,’ or ‘closed’. The USA was one of 11 countries downgraded from its previous rating.

Another recent example may be that on 15 December 2020 five independent UN human rights experts expressed serious concern over the arrest and charges brought against an indigenous leader (Nicholas Tilsen, human rights defender of the Oglala-Lakȟóta Sioux Nation), for peacefully protesting a political rally held last July at Mount Rushmore National Memorial, located on treaty lands of the Great Sioux Nation.

In the Americas, three other countries showed significant declines: Chile and Ecuador were downgraded to ‘obstructed’ and Costa Rica’s rating changed to ‘narrowed’.[see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/07/01/even-costa-rica-has-serious-problem-with-protection-of-indigenous-defenders/] In the first two countries, as with the USA, rating changes reflected unnecessary and disproportionate crackdowns on mass protest movements.

Violations of protest rights were common across the region, with detention of protesters and excessive use of force among the top five violations of civic freedoms recorded this year. In addition, the Americas continue to be a dangerous place for those who dare to stand up for fundamental rights: across the world, 60 percent of human rights defenders killed in 2020 came from this region.

The authorities must engage with civil society and human rights defenders to create an environment where they are able to fulfil their vital roles and hold officials accountable.

https://news.un.org/en/story/2020/12/1080122

CIVICUS 2020 report “People Power Under Attack” – Africa

December 14, 2020

Africa: Civic Rights Were Eroded Across Africa in 2020

The most common violations of civic space registered by the CIVICUS Monitor were the detention of journalists, followed by disruption of protests, censorship, intimidation and the detention of protestors. Almost half of CIVICUS Monitor updates in 28 different countries mentioned the detention of journalists. 14 December 2020. Fundamental civic rights, including freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression, deteriorated across Africa in 2020. [See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/10/24/today-civicus-launches-its-worldwide-monitor-to-track-civil-space/]

In an allAfrica.com guest column Sylvia Mbataru and Ine Van Severen – CIVICUS researchers who contributed to People Power Under Attack 2020 – unpack what the report says about Sub-Saharan Africa. They conclude that civic space has been reduced in four West African nations (Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea, Niger and Togo) and has improved in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Sudan.

Over the past year the CIVICUS Monitor has documented several drivers of civic space violations in Africa including mass protests that were met with violent repression, and electoral processes, mostly presidential elections. Violations in the context of elections often involve the arrest of opposition members and pro-democracy activists, internet shutdowns, detention of journalists and crackdowns on protesters.

In three of the four West African countries that were downgraded – Côte d’Ivoire , Guinea and Togo – constitutional changes were adopted in recent years, leaving incumbent presidents Alassane Ouattara, Alpha Condé and Fauré Gnassingbé all claiming that new constitutions allowed them to run for further terms. The process of changing constitutions or bypassing term limits led to mass protests that were met with excessive force, the adoption and use of restrictive legislation, and punishment for dissenters criticising those in power, in particular pro-democracy activists.

Niger has also been downgraded by the CIVICUS Monitor. Even though a peaceful political change of power seems likely in the elections later this month, serious questions remain about Niger’s democratic prospects as human rights violations continue and civil society is subjected to restrictions.

These countries in West Africa have not been alone in efforts to muzzle dissent, exclude opposition and crack down on protests in the context of elections.  This bleak picture is further seen in Eastern and Southern Africa.

In Burundi, ahead of the May 2020 elections, state security forces and members of the youth league of the ruling party threatened, intimidated and killed opposition party members, and stifled the media and civil society organisations.

In Tanzania, as the country prepared for its August 2020 vote, the government embarked on a major crackdown to suppress dissent, including by enacting new laws and regulations to stop opposition members from actively campaigning, prevent civil society organisations and independent observers from observing the electoral process, weaken civil society and the media, and limit the use of online platforms by journalists and voters.

Despite this difficult picture, the year also proved the resilience of people and civil society in exercising their civic freedoms, leading to fundamental democratic changes. In Malawi, although the period surrounding the disputed May 2019 election was characterised by violations including internet shutdowns and repression of protests, civil society successfully contested the results, leading to a new election and a change of government in June 2020 .

However, many other African countries are moving away from holding free and fair elections. With several countries gearing up to hold elections in the coming months, civic rights violations are being reported in countries across the continent.

In Uganda, opposition members and their supporters are being violently prevented from holding rallies and journalists are being arrested and violently attacked while covering events held by opposition candidates and civil society; human rights defenders are being threatened by state authorities, including by having their bank accounts frozen and their operational licences withheld.

In Ethiopia, civil society groups have expressed concern at the crackdown on dissenting political views ahead of the general elections slated for 2021. Similarly, in Zambia, civil society has denounced an escalating trend of judicial harassment, repression and attacks on human rights defenders ahead of the August 2021 general elections. In Benin, electoral laws have been adopted that make it difficult for opposition candidates to stand in the 2021 presidential  election, which might lead to President Patrice Talon running almost unopposed.

The situation is so bleak that for the first time in a decade, according to the 2020 Mo Ibrahim Index of African Governance, overall governance in Africa has declined. The Index highlighted that, “in terms of rights, civil society space and participation, the continent had long before embarked on a deteriorating path and the pandemic simply aggravated this existing negative trajectory.”

With even more elections on the cards in 2021 – in Djbouti, Chad and Somalia among others – governments should prioritise the respect of fundamental freedoms, including the right of people to express themselves without intimidation and to assemble peacefully to express their dissent. Africa’s leaders should adhere to the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Government, ensuring that free and fair elections take place. 2021 must be the year in which Africa’s dismal trends are reversed.

https://findings2020.monitor.civicus.org/africa.html

https://findings2020.monitor.civicus.org/africa.html

CIVICUS publishes “CIVIC FREEDOMS AND THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC: A SNAPSHOT OF RESTRICTIONS AND ATTACKS”

October 6, 2020

The CIVICUS Monitor has produced on Monday 5 October 2020 a new research brief on the state of civic freedoms amid the global pandemic. The brief provides a snapshot of restrictions facing activists, journalists and civil society organisations. There are over 35 country case studies and it is broken into five parts:

  • Protests in the time of COVID-19
  • Freedom of expression under threat
  • Restrictive laws under the pandemic
  • Excluded groups left further at risk
  • Bright spots during the pandemic.

Also worth flagging, is that at the end of November, the CIVICUS Monitor will be releasing its annual global index on the state of civic freedoms (see last version. This is the flagship data report which rates and measures the state of freedom of association, peaceful assembly, and free speech across 196 countries. The report will provide global statistics on areas such as, excessive force against protesters, the detention of protesters, the detention of journalists, acts of censorship, etc. This data will also be disaggregated at the regional level.

  • Civic activism continues during the COVID-19 pandemic and people have continued to mobilise to demand their rights.
  • Violations of protest rights have been documented: protesters are being detained, protests are being disrupted and excessive force is being used by states.
  • Restrictions on the freedom of expression and access to information continue.
  • States are enacting overly broad emergency legislation and legislation that limits human rights.

In April 2020, just one month after the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic, we highlighted a series of alarming civic space violations by states. As noted in our previous brief, in many countries the emergency measures introduced to tackle the pandemic have had troubling impacts on human rights and the space for civil society. After more than six months of the pandemic, violations and restrictions on civic space continue.

Since 2016, the CIVICUS Monitor has documented and analysed the state of civic space in 196 countries. Civic space is the bedrock of any open and democratic society and is rooted in the fundamental freedoms of people to associate, peacefully assemble and freely express their views and opinions. This brief covers civic space developments in relation to COVID-19 between 11 April 2020 and 31 August 2020. It is compiled from data from our civic space updates by activists and partners on the ground.

International human rights law recognises that in the context of officially proclaimed public emergencies, including in public health, which threaten the life of a country, restrictions on some rights can be justified. As explained in our previous brief, those limitations need to comply with international standards. But while international law is clear, some states have gone beyond justifiable restrictions, with negative consequences on civic space and human rights while also creating additional barriers for already excluded groups.

Although states placed restrictions on large public gatherings during the pandemic, people have continued to mobilise through various forms of protest. However, a number of violations were documented during protests, including the detention of protesters, protest disruptions and the use of excessive force by law enforcement agencies. In addition, violations on the freedom of expression, which featured prominently in our first COVID-19 brief, have continued. These violations include censorship of free speech, targeting of media outlets and detentions of journalists. States have also continued to pass restrictive laws, such as overly broad emergency laws, under the guise of fighting the pandemic. Citizens, journalists and human rights defenders (HRDs) have experienced harassment and intimidation. During the pandemic, many excluded groups have faced additional risks and violations.

See also:

https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/04/23/civicus-and-600-ngos-dont-violate-human-rights-while-responding-to-covid-19/

and

https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/12/27/annual-reports-2019-civicus-global-report/

https://monitor.civicus.org/COVID19Oct2020/

Duterte speech at General Asembly tries to divert attention from killings by discrediting NGOs

September 25, 2020

Human rights watchdog Karapatan decried what they called as vilification against human rights defenders by President Rodrigo Duterte. During his recorded speech at the 75th United Nation’s General (UNGA) Assembly on 23 September Duterte claimed, “A number of interest groups have weaponized human rights; some well-meaning, others ill-intentioned.” He claimed further that “the Philippines will continue to protect the human rights of the Filipino people, only that there are groups trying to discredit the functioning institutions and mechanisms in a democratic country.

In reaction, Cristina Palabay, secretary general of Karapatan said that Duterte, “is posturing in making desperate pleas before the international community that is growing increasingly critical of his human rights record and tyrannical rule.” “Duterte’s empty promise to ‘continue’ protecting the rights of Filipinos is betrayed when Duterte himself, just a few seconds later, continued to justify the drug war and the terror-tagging of human rights defenders, reiterating his administration’s distorted reasoning that the said campaigns are in protection of human life and the accusation that human rights groups and advocates are ‘weaponizing’ human rights,” Palabay said in a statement. [see also: https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/en/case/threats-against-cristina-palabay]

Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) Secretary General Renato Reyes Jr. said Duterte’s accusations against human rights workers is a blanket denial of human crisis in the Philippines. “Duterte would rather discredit human rights defenders and institutions than acknowledge that there are extrajudicial killings and other violations in the Philippines. He continues to deny what the whole world has already come to recognize,” said Reyes in a statement.

Just last week, the European Parliament expressed support to the human rights defenders in the Philippines. They also condemned the recent killings of activists in the country and called for accountability of the perpetrators. The United Nations Special Procedures also expressed solidarity with Filipino human rights defenders.

Duterte also said in his speech that “To move forward, open dialogue and constructive engagement with the United Nations is the key.” However, Palabay reiterated that the Duterte government did not even allow the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and UN Special Rapporteurs to conduct an in-country investigation on the killings under the government’s campaign against illegal drugs and other human rights violations. Palabay added, “Their (UN bodies) requests for such are met with threats of violence, wild accusations of foreign meddling, and demeaning insults. The Philippine government even rejected most of the findings and recommendations of the recent report of the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights and is currently finding ways to evade independent investigation at the UN Human Rights Council.”

Reyes also said that Duterte’s statement about engaging the UN is “empty rhetoric as it merely aims to blunt international criticism of his human rights record.

Meanwhile, a resolution on the Philippines is now being discussed at the UN Human Rights Council. A draft of the resolution was presented by the Iceland and the Philippines at the HRC 45th regular session according to Civicus, a global alliance of civil society organizations and activists.

Different progressive groups in the Philippines are calling to end all political killings and other rights violations under President Duterte during Martial Law commemoration last Sept. 21. (Photo by Carlo Manalansan/Bulatlat)

Human rights defenders have been calling for independent investigation on human rights violations in the Philippines. This call was reiterated during an online forum led by Civicus on Tuesday,22 September.

Laila Matar, deputy director for UN at Human Rights Watch said at the minimum, the HRC resolution “need to be stripped of all government propaganda.”It also has to make sure that the OHCHR would continue in monitoring and reporting comprehensively on the human rights situation and report also through interactive dialogues at the HRC so that the international community would have a chance to truly address human rights violations in the country,” Matar said.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/08/22/the-killing-of-randy-echanis-and-zara-alvarez-put-the-philippines-under-more-pressure/

‘Weaponizing human rights?’ | Rights group refutes Duterte’s ‘lies’ at the UN assembly

Human rights defender’s story: Maryam Al-Khawaja from Bahrain

August 3, 2020

On 17 July 2020 ISHR published this video of Maryam Al-Khawaja, who is a human rights defender from Bahrain/Denmark. She is the Vice-Chair of the Urgent Action Fund for Women’s Human Rights, a board member at ISHR, and a board member at CIVICUS.

see also; https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/maryam-al-khawaja/

https://www.ishr.ch/news/human-rights-defenders-story-maryam-al-khawaja-bahrain

The South Africa based NGO CIVICUS celebrates Mandela Day with campaign #StandAsMyWitness

July 18, 2020

On 18 July, the world celebrates the birth and legacy of Nelson Mandela: In prison for 27-years, South Africa’s first democratic president, resilient spirit, and compassionate advocate for human rights for all. It’s been 30 years since the world rejoiced his release from prison as a global icon of peace. Yet, all around the world people are still imprisoned, persecuted, and harassed for their stand for freedom, rights and democratic values, and for calling out corrupt governments and multinational companies.

They are asking you to #StandAsMyWitness.

Thousands are in jail following unfair trials and trumped-up charges. Many are currently in pre-trial detention, facing long prison sentences for their human rights activities. For defenders locked up in overcrowded prisons, the COVID-19 pandemic threatens their already precarious health and welfare. They need you to use your voice so they are not silenced.

Launching on Nelson Mandela’s birthday, the campaign calls for rights defenders’ immediate release from jail and persecution, and for states, authorities and multinational corporations to guarantee peaceful human rights activities – without fear of reprisals and intimidation.

Adding your voice will give human right defenders, families, friends and colleagues a reason to renew their hopes for a better future during these unprecedented times.

1. Engage on Social Media

Use this social media toolkit to share your messages of solidarity. https://thesocialpresskit.com/standasmywitness

2. Send a Letter

We’re featuring 6 activists to shine a spotlight on their cases and demand their immediate release. They are from 6 countries, and you will find 6 template letters for each of them! Take a look. Choose 1, or if you have time 2. Write to their respective governments and demand their release:

  1. Teresita
  2. Sudha
  3. Asya
  4. Maria Esperanza
  5. Niger activists
  6. Loujain

3. Share the details of HRDs not mentioned in our Interactive Map.

Do you know any human rights defenders in detention or facing judicial harassment that you would like us to profile? Tell us about them by following the link below.

HRDs Map

Interactive Map of Human Rights Defenders in Detention

see also; https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/07/12/nelson-mandela-human-rights-lecture-in-geneva-on-18-july-2019/

https://www.civicus.org/index.php/involved/support-campaigns/stand-as-my-witness

CIVICUS expresses solidarity with US protesters in their struggle for justice

June 6, 2020

On 4 June 2020 Johannesburg-based NGO CIVICUS 2020 issued a statement saying that US law enforcement agencies and decision makers must respect the right to protest.

Global civil society alliance, CIVICUS, condemns violence against protesters by law enforcement officials over the past few days, and stands in solidarity with those protesting against deep-rooted racism and injustice…

CIVICUS reaffirms that the right to protest, as enshrined in international law, must be protected. We call for an end to police violence against Black communities. Earlier this week, as law enforcement agencies suppressed protests in Washington DC, President Trump threatened to deploy the National Guard to crush demonstrations:

President Donald Trump is stoking violence by threatening to forcibly deploy military units in states and cities to crush the demonstrations and restore order in a constitutionally questionable manner,” said Mandeep Tiwana, Chief of Programmes at CIVICUS. 

There are reports that over 10,000 protesters have been arrested since protests began. CIVICUS is concerned by the arbitrary arrests of thousands of protesters, including 20 members of the press. There are numerous cases of journalists being deliberately targeted by law enforcement agencies and at least 125 press freedom violations have been reported since the start of the protests.

CIVICUS’ recently released State of Civil Society Report 2020 highlights the importance of people’s movements in demanding change…Civic space in the United States is currently rated as narrowed by the research and ratings platform.

As a matter of urgency, CIVICUS calls on authorities to respect the rights of freedom of assembly and expression. We urge systemic reforms to address police impunity, militarisation and institutional racism. The deliberate targeting of journalists must also end, as must the incendiary language used by President Trump and other politicians. 

We also call on law enforcement agencies to stop using violent methods to disperse protesters and call for an investigation into the unwarranted use of force.

https://www.civicus.org/index.php/media-resources/media-releases/4431-law-enforcement-agencies-and-decision-makers-must-respect-the-right-to-protest-in-the-us

CIVICUS and 600 NGOs: “don’t violate human rights while responding to COVID-19”

April 23, 2020

Six hundred NGOs signed a statement saying “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.

All responses to COVID-19 must be deeply rooted in these cross-cutting principles: respect of human dignity, independence and autonomy of the person, non-discrimination and equality, and respect of diversities and inclusion. Any response must comply with international standards on emergency legislation and respect human rights and the rule of law. Extraordinary measures are legitimate only under exceptional circumstances, such as when there is an immediate threat to public health. These measures should be used in a necessary and proportionate manner and should be aligned to international human rights law.

To date, there are over two million confirmed cases of COVID-19 around the world. The next few weeks are crucial as measures put in place by states will determine the course of the pandemic. Resources will come under severe strain and there may be more shortages of personnel and protective equipment which will put countries under immense pressure. More cases may be reported which will lead to stricter measures being implemented by some states. Despite the challenges faced by governments across the globe, responses to the pandemic should not be used as a pretext to restrict civic space.

We are particularly concerned by states that are abusing emergency powers to place restrictions on fundamental rights, including freedom of expression and the right to access information. Across the globe, journalists, human rights defenders and other independent voices are threatened and punished for speaking out about the extent of the pandemic in their countries, or the measures adopted in response to COVID-19. These countries include Tajikistan, Niger, Egypt, Thailand, Saudi Arabia, El Salvador, Bangladesh and China. Other governments are adopting legislative measures to curtail fundamental freedoms, such as in Hungary, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and the Philippines. Some states are abusing their powers to suppress peaceful assemblies, including in Hong Kong.

Governments including India, Myanmar, and Bangladesh, have enforced internet restrictions and shutdowns which prevent many people from accessing vital information about how to protect themselves against the virus. These restrictions also negatively affect the growing number of people who are working remotely so that they can practice physical separation.

Access to information is critical in efforts to curb the spread of COVID-19. Governments must proactively share key information about the pandemic as soon as it is available, such as important decisions, the number of cases, availability of equipment and supplies, and clear advice. Information should be widely available to everyone, not just selected government officials or other intermediaries, as is the case in Uzbekistan. This ensures that individuals, communities and health workers can react quickly and responsibly to new information.

Migrants in detention centers, for example in Mexico and Greece, are living in dire conditions without access to adequate hygiene facilities. It is also impossible for them to practice physical distancing due to overcrowding. All asylum seekers who arrived in Greece since 1 March 2020 have been denied access to asylum. We commend states such as Portugal which have temporarily lifted restrictions on asylum seekers with pending applications. This ensures they have access to healthcare and social security in line with the rest of the population.

Women and children who experience or are at risk of domestic violence may be forced to remain in dangerous situations with an abusive partner or relative. At the same time, access to places of safety and support services may be reduced as shelters are impacted by public health measures and criminal justice resources are diverted.

We are concerned by governments confining persons with disabilities within institutions in several countries including France. This contravenes the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and it places persons with disabilities at an increased risk of contracting COVID-19.

We are concerned by governments that have imposed restrictions leading to human rights violations against LGBT+ persons, including in Peru, Uganda, and Colombia. Governments need to ensure that their policies are inclusive and that all public officials are trained on LGBT+ rights.

Several countries have released prisoners as part of their response to curb the spread of the pandemic. These actions are commendable as congested detention facilities and prisons are high risk areas. We urge countries including Egypt, Bahrain, Kuwait, Iran, Israel, Libya, Morocco, Syria, Turkey, India, and the UAE to include human rights defenders, peaceful protesters and prisoners of conscience among those being released.

We are further concerned by the growing practice of monitoring and closely controlling people’s movements, even at the cost of their privacy. Efforts to contain the virus must not be used to expand systems of invasive digital surveillance. Israel and Taiwan are notable examples of how technological surveillance is being used in this context, and how disproportionate the impact of such measures may be when they are not strictly defined and limited.

The unprecedented challenges presented by COVID-19 present an opportunity for states and civil society organisations to work together to defeat the virus.

We urge states to be transparent and accountable: this will ensure that any measures adopted to prevent the spread of COVID-19 will be effective. Specifically, we urge states to:

    1. Ensure all measures adopted in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic fully comply with states’ international human rights obligations, and that any associated restrictions on human rights are necessary, proportionate, inclusive and time-limited. Also maintain regular contact with civil society to ensure that new measures are in line with international standards.
    2. Ensure that COVID-19 is not used as a pretext for imposing unjustified restrictions on civil society; it must not be used to target human rights defenders and journalists, and to facilitate authoritarian power grabs.
    3. Ensure the pandemic is not used as an excuse to impose forced returns or refoulement in violation of international human rights law; or as a pretext to suspend or derogate from the fundamental right to seek asylum.
    4. Ensure that the independent judiciary, and not other branches of government, decides on any measures limiting the access and operation of courts. Allow independent courts to evaluate any unlawful imposition or unjustified extension of emergency measures, or the unlawful curtailment of the rule of law.
    5. Ensure that judiciaries and other relevant state authorities give particular consideration to urgent cases, where delay is most likely to cause irreparable harm, or where protective measures are required. This refers to: migrants (including asylum-seekers and refugees as well as internal migrants), women and children, LGBT+ communities, older persons, persons with disabilities, religious minorities and other vulnerable groups.
    6. Release detainees; immediately and unconditionally release all human rights defenders and prisoners of conscience. This will ease pressure on the prison system and reduce the chance of the prison population, and the population more broadly, of contracting COVID-19.
    7. Pay special attention to traditionally marginalised or vulnerable groups and ensure access to appropriate support, resources and protection mechanisms. Be aware of any issues relating to stigmatisation, exclusion, violence, hatred, labelling and the targeting of victims of COVID-19.
    8. Ensure that no one is left behind in the national policies and strategies to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. Make sure policies are inclusive and effectively protect against discrimination on any ground. Consider persons with a disability and make sure all information is delivered in accessible formats.
    9. Apply a gender perspective in all policies relating to the COVID-19 pandemic.
    10. Maintain reliable and unfettered access to the internet so that all have the right to access and share information. End all unjustified interference with internet connectivity.
    11. Protect the role of independent media outlets and public interest journalism. Ensure that measures to contain the virus, as well as the fight against disinformation, are not used as a pretext to muzzle the media or regulate media freedoms.
    12. Ensure any use of surveillance to track the spread of coronavirus is limited in purpose and time and abides by human rights safeguards. States should adhere to the rights of free expression, privacy, non-discrimination, confidentiality and protection of journalist sources.

To see the NGOs that have endorsed, follow the link below:

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See also:  https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/04/10/policy-response-from-human-rights-ngos-to-covid-19-civicus-protocol/

https://www.civicus.org/index.php/media-resources/news/4379-civil-society-s-call-to-states-we-are-in-this-together-don-t-violate-human-rights-while-responding-to-covid-19

https://www.newsweek.com/governments-accused-using-pandemic-threaten-human-rights-1499469

Policy response from Human Rights NGOs to COVID-19: CIVICUS’ Protocol

April 10, 2020

In the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, many human rights organisations have been formulating a policy response. While I cannot be complete or undertake comparisons, I will try and give some examples in the course of these weeks. Here the one by CIVICUS which has published a Protocol, that is open for endorsment by other NGOs. The Protocol (online<https://www.civicus.org/index.php/media-resources/news/4367-protecting-our-co-workers-during-covid-19-a-social-security-protocol-for-civil-society>) has been endorsed by over 60 civil society leaders from across the globe, including Greenpeace International.

The 6 point Protocol proposes practical measures and actions that civil society groups can take to help workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. It is aimed at protecting employees from any adverse health, social or economic issues that will arise during this challenging period.

The 6 proposed measures:

  1. Systems to enable social distancing and other precautions
  2. Support for COVID-19 testing and treatment
  3. Protection of pay and jobs during the COVID-19 lockdown and escalation period
  4. Flexibility and support for home and care-related responsibilities
  5. Extending our community of care to our collaborators and constituencies
  6. Acting in solidarity with workers and other vulnerable communities

In a letter to civil society allies CIVICUS Secretary General Lysa John <https://civicus.org/index.php/media-resources/news/3484-lysa-john-announced-as-new-civicus-sg> says,

“The ‘COVID-19 Social Security Protocol for Civil Society <https://www.civicus.org/index.php/media-resources/news/4367-protecting-our-co-workers-during-covid-19-a-social-security-protocol-for-civil-society> ’ is first and foremost a call for us to recognise that the people we work with and alongside need to be assured of our support for their well-being if we are to remain resilient and relevant in the context of a dire and desperately uncertain future. Without the solid foundations of trust and authenticity, our organisations are not equipped to withstand the formidable challenges that all agencies – large and small – will need to respond to in the coming months.”

Recommendations:

1. Systems to ensure physical distancing and other precautions

What it involves:
  • Procedures to enable physical distancing are explicitly adopted and communicated alongside an overarching call to social solidarity
  • Transition to virtual ways of working wherever   possible, provision of protective gear and guidelines for frontline workers whose efforts are needed to ensure the continuation of critical and essential services (e.g. non-transferable support services to vulnerable populations)
  • Ensuring that pay and benefits for personnel who are unable to perform their duties virtually are not reduced at this time
Why is this important?
  • In keeping with WHO guidelines and corresponding national government regulations, all agencies are required to take active measures to protect their personnel from contracting or transmitting the virus
  • If relevant government authorities have not provided effective guidelines on social distancing, we can be proactive in implementing the WHO guidelines for our teams, and support advocacy efforts to ensure relevant   regulations are put in place.

 

2. Support for COVID-19 testing and related treatment

What it involves: Access to COVID-19 testing differs across countries. A few essential steps that we can take to support our teams in this context are:

  • Mapping and providing active information on testing procedures
  • Covering costs of testing procedures where these are not covered by health insurance.
  • Supporting the return of personnel located outside their home countries who request or require to be repatriated for health and/or family reasons
  • Fully paid sick leave for personnel needing to rest and recuperate; flexible arrangements in relation to time needed to care for family members and dependents. This could include ‘record-free’ leave provisions so personnel do not need to utilise their annual sick leave quota to cover illness related to the COVID19 outbreak
  • Full or partial support for costs of related treatment through existing group medical insurance plans; in case these are not available, explore organisation-supported reimbursements
  • Psycho-social support to deal with the mental health impacts of the pandemic, including with adverse effects of the outbreak within family and communities
Why is this important?
  • Ensuring access to basic health care for employees is an important responsibility for all organisations. For many organisations however, support to core costs that enable social security benefits for   employees is hard to negotiate and organise.
  • More ideas on how donors and intermediaries can support civil society groups to address core costs in this period are available in this Open Letter to Donors

 

3. Protection of jobs and pay across the COVID-19 lockdown and escalation period

What it involves: In anticipation of the adverse economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have an important role to play in protecting our co-workers from reduction of pay and loss of employment. Some measures that can be considered include:

  • Extending employment contracts, till December 2020 for instance, as an immediate measure of protection. This should ideally include personnel who work part-time, such as consultants, fellows and interns.
  • In the event that an employment contract must end in this period, ensuring a source of income is available to support transition is a helpful measure. National regulations on allowances linked redundancy and unemployment, for instance, can be used to benchmark this and activate government-backed programs in this regard
  • Coordinating with donors and intermediaries to redirect costs for new positions that were to be proposed in this period towards costs for staff retention
  • Coordinating with Boards to approve the use of organisation’s reserves, if available, and requesting their support for costs related to employment protection measures
Why is this important?
  • The implementation of this recommendation is directly related to donor flexibility and proactive measures adopted by governance bodies of civil society organisations.
  • Ensuring an open conversation with donors to reallocate expenses related to activities that cannot be undertaken in this period, such as budgets linked to travel and in-person meetings, is one possibility in this regard.

 

4. Flexibility and support for home and care related responsibilities

What it involves: In order to support staff to cope with the added pressure of familial duties, while also taking care of their own needs, we can consider the following:

  • Flexible or reduced work hours for personnel (without affecting levels of pay)
  • Reduction of work related deliverables for staff who have responsibility for children and other dependents, including the elderly and disabled
  • Additional measures (economic and psycho-social) to support single parents, staff who live alone and those who risk violence and abuse within their homes
Why is this important?
  •  Working from home places significant demands on staff who are primary caregivers within their families. Women are often burdened with additional responsibilities in this time

 

5. Extending our community of care to our collaborators and constituencies

What it involves:
  • Disseminating information on necessary protection protocols advised by the WHO and, where possible, translating these into relevant languages and making them accessible in multiple formats
  • Providing information on support and services provided by our organizations in this time
  • Ensuring that contingency plans for critical services are in place and shared with them
  • Identifying and calling out public measures that are being used to restrict and intimidate civil society
Why is this important?
  • As we conduct our duty of care to our employees, we have the opportunity to extend care and share knowledge with the communities we serve and networks we work with.
  • Civil society across the world often works to respond to and fill critical gaps in service delivery, access to justice and government accountability. Taking steps to ensure that our collaborators and constituencies are informed helps to ensure transparent flows of information and mediate continuity for critical services where possible.

 

6. Acting in solidarity with workers and other vulnerable communities

What it involves: We have the opportunity to act in solidarity by:

  • Adding our voice and organisational support to campaigning for improved employment protections by organised labour, and for the most vulnerable casual workers and gig-economy workers
  • Supporting campaigns where there is an opportunity to advance progressive social welfare policies, including wage & income protection, universal social protection, access to healthcare and childcare support for frontline workers who are holding up essential public services.
  • Getting behind the bold, systemic reforms that challenge and change the fundamental inequities that have been exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic
Why is this important?
  • Adding our collective weight and support right now, may help secure both immediate relief, as well as pivotal longer-term wins for progressive campaigns

 

A list of resources to help determine and action relevant measures is available here.

For more information: | @CIVICUSalliance | https://www.facebook.com/CIVICUS/


For other posts like this see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/covid-19/

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https://www.civicus.org/index.php/media-resources/news/4367-protecting-our-co-workers-during-covid-19-a-social-security-protocol-for-civil-society