Posts Tagged ‘CIVICUS’

Ecuador: unique case of mass amnesty for environmental defenders

March 31, 2022

On 30 March 2022 CIVICUS reported on a very interesting case: On 11th March 2022, the National Assembly of Ecuador approved a bill granting amnesty to 268 people who faced prosecution for their defence of land, indigenous and environmental rights, and for their involvement in 2019 protests. The bill was approved by the plenary of the National Assembly with 99 favourable votes out of the 125 parliamentarians in attendance.

Among those benefitted by the amnesty, 153 are land defenders, 43 are environmental activists, 12 are Indigenous leaders criminalised for administering Indigenous justice and 60 others were more generally facing charges related to their involvement in the October 2019 demonstrations. Several defenders, such as Gabriela Fraga, Nancy Simba, Ángel Punina, Javier Ramírez and Jovita Curipoma, were cleared of charges related to resistance against extractive industries. Civil society groups also highlighted the case of Víctor Guaillas, a water defender who had been detained on charges of ‘sabotage’ in 2019, for whom amnesty came too late. Guaillas was one of the 62 people murdered in November 2021 amid a riot in a Guayaquil prison.

Ecuador’s Human Rights Alliance (DDHH) called the move a “historical precedent against the criminalisation and prosecution of rights defenders.” In a statement, the coalition said that this amnesty “means vindicating the right to truth and justice for those who exercise the right to defend human rights” in a context of recurrent criminalisation of these actors.

In a separate but related development, in December 2021 President Guillermo Lasso had made stigmatising statements about social movements and Leonidas Iza, the president of the Indigenous confederation Confederación de Nacionalidades Indígenas (CONAIE). Iza and former CONAIE president Jaime Vargas were among those facing prosecution related to October 2019 protests, and were both granted amnesty in March 2022.

On 21st December 2021, during a weekly broadcast programme in which he discusses government initiatives, Lasso called Iza “an anarchist” and “a violent man,” and claimed that the Indigenous leader “hates democracy.” The President accused the CONAIE leader of incentivising violence during the October 2019 protests. Lasso also said his government would use all the power of the state to jail “those who want to anarchise this country, disrupt public services, and deepen an economic crisis that has already been affected by the pandemic.”

On 22nd December 2021, the DDHH issued a statement expressing solidarity with the Indigenous movement and Leonidas Iza. The coalition said that Guillermo Lasso’s “violent and contemptuous discourse stigmatises the work carried out by social and political leaders, social and Indigenous movements, and makes unfounded and reckless attacks against Leonidas Iza.”

Lasso repeated his statements in a programme aired on 4th January 2022, calling Iza “an enemy of Ecuadorean democracy.”

On 27th January 2022, Ecuador’s Constitutional Court confirmed the violation “of the rights to prior consultation, to nature, water, a healthy environment, culture and territory, as well as comprehensive reparation measures”, regarding the A’i Cofán Indigenous people of the Sinangoe community in relation to mining concessions that affected their ancestral territory without their free, prior and informed consent. In their ruling, the country’s highest court reaffirmed the state’s obligations in consultation processes on plans and projects that affect Indigenous peoples’ rights and interests.

Indigenous communities and organisations have led the international campaign “Who Should Decide?”. Just days before this court ruling, they delivered more than 365,000 signatures to the Constitutional Court asking the Court to protect the right of Indigenous peoples to decide on the future of their ancestral territories.

International group Amazon Frontlines said that the Constitutional Court ruling recognises “for the first time, the right of Indigenous communities to have the final decision over oil, mining and other extractive projects that affect their lands.” The organisation also evaluated that Ecuador “now has one of the most powerful legal precedents in the world on the internationally recognised right of Indigenous peoples to Free, Prior and Informed Consent.”

See also my earlier: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/02/27/alarming-criminalisation-of-human-rights-defenders-in-latin-america/

https://monitor.civicus.org/updates/2022/03/30/ecuador-amnesty-granted-268-rights-defenders-and-protesters/

India sinking in civic freedoms survey

March 21, 2022

While the world’s attention is understandably focused on the war in Ukraine, other major countries should not stay outside the limelight, e.g. India (conspicuously absent in the condemnation of the aggression) which continues to flaunt human rights. [See e.g. https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2022/01/28/anti-terror-laws-in-india-keep-being-used-against-human-rights-defenders/].

On 10 March 2022, The Wire in New Delhi reported that India has been added to CIVICUS’ watchlist of countries that have seen a “rapid decline” in civic freedoms by an independent monitor, highlighting the drastic measures taken by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to silence critics of his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

India and Russia were added to CIVICUS Monitor’s Watchlist. CIVICUS Monitor is an online platform that tracks the latest developments to civic freedoms, including the freedoms of expression, association and peaceful assembly, across 197 countries and territories.

India has remained a “repressed” nation in the ‘People Power Under Attack 2021’ report by the CIVICUS Monitor, along with 48 other countries including Afghanistan, Russia and Hong Kong. Its rating was first downgraded in 2019, “due to a crackdown on human rights activists, attacks on journalists and civil society groups, and the assault on civic freedoms in Indian administered Jammu and Kashmir”.

This rating is typically given to countries where civic space is heavily contested by power holders, who impose a combination of legal and practical constraints on the full enjoyment of fundamental rights.

In its report, CIVICUS highlighted several developments that it saw as cause for concern.

In January, the Central Bureau of Investigation conducted raids on Madurai-based human rights watchdog, People’s Watch. The raid came against the backdrop of 6,000 other civil society organisations, including Oxfam, losing their foreign funding licenses under the controversial Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act. Greenpeace and Amnesty International are among the civil society groups that have had to close their offices in India.

Meanwhile, scores of human rights defenders and activists remain in detention under the draconian Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) and other laws. They include the 15 human rights defenders linked to the 2018 Bhima Koregaon incident who have been accused of having links with Maoist organisations, based on evidence believed to be “fabricated”.

Waiting for bail, 84-year-old tribal rights activist Stan Swamy, who remained in custody since October 2020 in the Elgar Parishad case under UAPA, died in July last year. [Update on this case: The death of Jesuit priest and Adivasi rights activist Stan Swamy in judicial custody will “forever remain a stain on the human rights record of India”, says a new brief by the United Nations’ Working Group on Arbitrary Detention. The group had formally adopted its opinion on Swamy’s death during its 92nd session on November 16, last year but made its comments public just this week. The Working Group transmitted to the Indian Government a communication concerning Swamy on May 12 last year, but did not receive any response. India is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights [ICCPR]. In its communication, the Working Group urged the Government to prioritize the use of non-custodial measures at all stages of criminal proceedings, including during the pretrial phase, in the current context of a global pandemic. Furthermore, its source submitted that placing Father Swamy in prison increased his risk of contracting COVID-19 and thus put his life at risk. The failure of the Government to heed these prescient warnings led to his avoidable death in custody, the opinion states.] [https://theleaflet.in/un-working-group-asks-india-to-accord-stan-swamys-family-with-compensation-and-reparations-under-international-law/]

Further, at least 13 activists who were arrested under the UAPA for their work against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) 2019 remain in detention. The slow investigative processes and extremely stringent bail provisions ensure that those detained under the law are held in pre-trial detention for long periods.

“The office raids and foreign funding bans are part of the government’s strategy to harass and silence their critics,” said Josef Benedict, Civic Space Researcher for the CIVICUS Monitor. “The use of broadly worded anti-terrorism laws against activists, journalists, academics, and students, reflect a multi-year decline in the state of civic and democratic freedoms in the country.”

Journalists have continued to be targeted in India for their work in recent months and there have also been concerns about the widespread surveillance of activists, journalists and others critical of the Modi government following the Pegasus spyware expose.

The government must release all human rights defenders detained and come clean about its surveillance of activists and journalists as well as establish an independent and effective oversight mechanism to monitor all stages of interceptions of communications,” said Henri Tiphagne, national working secretary of HRDA – India.

In a letter addressed to Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi, 21 members of European Parliament stated, “We, the undersigned Members of the European Parliament, are writing to express our concern over the treatment of human rights defenders (HRDs) in India.” “We have followed cases of HRDs being jailed for their peaceful work, targeted under anti-terror laws, labeled as terrorists, and facing increasing restrictions on their ability to safely mobilize and access funds due to restrictive legislation. We are especially concerned about the safety of unjustly jailed defenders with emphasis on 15 HRDs accused in what is known as the Bhima Koregaon case and 13 defenders currently in jail for their campaign against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA).”

They expressed worry that the prominent human rights defender Khurram Parvez remained in detention under the UAPA in one of the most overcrowded and unsanitary prisons in the country for his documenting of rights violations in Indian-administered Kashmir.

Echoing calls by UN experts, they viewed their case as emblematic of the way the Indian government “continues to use the UAPA as a means of coercion to restrict human rights defenders’ fundamental freedoms in the country.” [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/11/23/india-arrests-khurram-parvez-again/]

See also 31 March: https://www.hrw.org/news/2022/03/31/human-rights-watch-submission-universal-periodic-review-india

https://thewire.in/rights/for-rapid-decline-in-civic-freedoms-india-added-to-civicus-monitors-watchlist

Anti-terror laws in India keep being used against human rights defenders

January 28, 2022

On 26 January 2022 four major NGOs made a strong joint statement on India:

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

The CAA has been widely criticized by activists, human rights defenders, civil society organizations, students and the international community for being openly sectarian and discriminatory against Muslims. After the CAA’s adoption, protesters across the country took the street to voice their concerns against the legislation, which goes against India’s Constitutional principles of secularism and equality. Police authorities responded by arresting human rights defenders and activists who spoke up against the CAA. Most of them were student activists and human rights defenders from the minority Muslim community.

The arrests of human rights defenders began in February 2020 and are still ongoing. Many of them had multiple First Information Reports (FIR) registered against them and were charged with serious offenses, including under UAPA. Of those arrested, only five human rights defenders – Natasha Narwal, Devangana Kalita, Safoora Zargar, Asif Iqbal Tanha, and Md. Faizan Khan – were released on bail. Thirteen others – Sharjeel Imam, Umar Khalid, Khalid Saifi, Tahir Hussain, Saleem Malik, Mohd. Saleem Khan, Meeran Haider, Shadab Ahmed, Tasleem Ahmed, Shifa Ur Rehman, Athar Khan, and women human rights defenders Ishrat Jahan and Gulfisha Fatima– remain in jail. Despite prolonged incarceration, the trial for their case has not commenced yet.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/06/01/eu-human-rights-committee-condemns-indias-arrest-of-human-rights-defenders/ and https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/06/27/un-experts-address-3-big-ones-usa-china-and-india/

On 24 January 2022, a Delhi court framed charges against human rights defender Sharjeel Imam while rejecting his application for bail. The charges include Sections 124A (“sedition”), 153A (“promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion), 153B (“imputations, assertions prejudicial to national integration”), 505 (“statements conducing to public mischief”), along with Section 13 (“punishment for unlawful activities”) of the UAPA.

Khalid Saifi, Ishrat Jahan, and Gulfisha Fatima have reported custodial violence and torture by the Delhi police. There has been no effective investigations into these allegations or responsibility taken for their treatment. Shifa Ur Rehman, who has been in detention since 26 April 2020, suffers from severe kidney disease and has been denied access to adequate medical care in prison.

We express our deep concern over the harassment and arbitrary detention of human rights defenders that appear to be in retaliation to their peaceful activism and the legitimate expression of dissent against a discriminatory law. Despite the risks, human rights defenders have raised their voice for those oppressed by the CAA and in support of the Constitutional values that represent India.

We call on the Indian authorities to protect those defending human rights values and principles enshrined in national laws and to uphold international human rights commitments. We stand in solidarity with those who cannot speak out due to their incarceration, threats by Indian authorities, or due to a prevailing sense of fear. The treatment of these human rights defenders highlights a pattern of perpetrated abuse and violence, which is also exerted through legal mechanisms. This is especially concerning given India’s membership in the United Nations Human Rights Council and its pledge to preserve and protect human rights.

We urge the relevant authorities in India to:

1. Immediately and unconditionally release all human rights defenders arrested for protesting against the CAA, dismiss all charges, and cease all forms of harassment against them.
2. Guarantee under all circumstances that the arrested human rights defenders are not subjected to any form of torture and other ill-treatment while in police custody, and guarantee their access to adequate medical care and treatment.
3. Initiate a thorough judicial review of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and the Citizenship (Amendment) Act in genuine consultation with independent civil society organizations and human rights defenders, with a view to aligning these laws with India’s obligations under international human rights law.
4. Guarantee in all circumstances that all human rights defenders in India are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals, and free of all restrictions—including police and judicial harassment.

Please inform us of any actions that may be taken with regard to the above case.

-FIDH
· Civicus:
· Front Line Defenders
· World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)

https://www.fidh.org/en/region/asia/india/india-ongoing-targeting-of-18-human-rights-defenders-under-anti

2021 global data report from the CIVICUS Monitor

January 18, 2022

The new #PeoplePower2021 report shows where civil society conditions are improving and getting worse. A closer look at top violations & trends.

2021 global data report from the CIVICUS Monitor

  • 9 out of 10 people live in countries where civic freedoms are severely restricted 
  • Country downgrades include Poland, Singapore, Nicaragua, Jordan and South Africa
  • Detention of protesters is the top violation of civic freedoms in 2021
  • COVID-19 continues to be used as a pretext to restrict rights across the globe

The fundamental rights to freedom of expression, assembly and association continue to deteriorate year after year worldwide, according to a global report released by the CIVICUS Monitor, an online research platform that tracks fundamental freedoms in 197 countries and territories. The new report, People Power Under Attack 2021, shows that the number of people living in countries with significant restrictions on civic rights, including the freedoms of expression, association and peaceful assembly, amount to almost 89% of the population this year. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/05/26/10th-edition-of-civicuss-state-of-civil-society-report-2021/

The CIVICUS Monitor data shows that year after year, there is significantly less space for people to exercise fundamental freedoms: only 3.1% of the world’s population lives in countries rated as ‘open’.

Nearly two billion people live in countries with the worst rating, ‘closed’, where the authorities are routinely allowed to imprison, injure and kill people for attempting to exercise their fundamental freedoms. China, Saudi Arabia, Turkmenistan and 21 other countries fall under this category – Nicaragua and Belarus joined their ranks this year. 

It is nearly two years since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and the virus is having a dire impact on civic freedoms globally, one that will have lasting impact if remedial action is not taken. Our research shows the detention of protesters and the use of restrictive laws to muzzle dissent are becoming more prevalent, as governments use the pandemic to introduce or implement additional restrictions on civic freedoms. 

“Governments across the world are setting a very dangerous precedent by using the health emergency as a smokescreen to crack down on protests and enact or amend legislation that will further limit peoples’ rights. Specifically, disinformation legislation is being enacted and used to criminalise speech, a concerning practice that could become the new norm to crush dissent,” said Marianna Belalba Barreto, Civic Space Cluster Lead. 

This year, 13 countries have been downgraded and only one improved their rating.  The CIVICUS Monitor is particularly concerned about civic space restrictions in Europe, where four countries dropped a rating: Belarus, Belgium, Czech Republic, and Poland. Europe has the greatest number of ‘open’ countries, but year after year we continue to see signs of serious deterioration.

Also alarming is the deterioration of civic space conditions in Africa, where South Africa, Botswana, Mali and Mozambique all dropped ratings. In the Americas, Nicaragua joined Cuba in our worst category, ‘closed’. The Middle East and North Africa retained its status as the region with the worst civic rights record, with Jordan being downgraded to ‘repressed’. In Asia, Singapore also fell into the ‘repressed’ category, as a persistent clamp down on dissent and opposition voices continues. 

https://monitor.civicus.org/widgets/world

“What we are seeing is not a proportional reaction to a health emergency, where restrictions are meant to be extraordinary measures to deal with a crisis that is temporary. On the contrary, governments are using the pandemic as a pretext to further accelerate the crackdown on human rights that we have been documenting over the past years.” 

Although only one country – Mongolia – improved its rating in 2021, it is important to highlight the resilience of civil society. Governments have not been successful in silencing alternative voices or limiting their activism. Despite increasing restrictions, civil society has found ways to continue to speak up and claim their rights.  

Over twenty organisations collaborate on the CIVICUS Monitor, providing evidence and research that help us target countries where civic freedoms are at risk. The Monitor has posted more than 550 civic space updates in the last year, which are analysed in People Power Under Attack 2021. 

Civic freedoms in 197 countries and territories are categorised as either closed, repressed, obstructed, narrowed or open, based on a methodology that combines several data sources on the freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression.

As the climate crisis intensifies and the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbate social and economic inequalities, the efforts of civil society are fundamental to achieve tangible results and systematic change. However, a new report by CIVICUS shows how activists, human rights and environmental defenders face profound barriers: not only are governments and businesses failing to take urgent steps to mitigate the climate crisis; they are also actively trying to silence activists, disrupt and prevent climate actions and repress environmental, land and Indigenous rights defenders. In addition, companies play a crucial role in limiting human rights activism.

CIVICUS’ report highlights the role of companies across the world in perpetrating, contributing to, or allegedly benefiting from attacks on human rights defenders and rights groups, including: Feronia PHCFormosa Plastics GroupSOCFINNewmont Mining CompanyXiang Lin SI LtdGreat Season LtdChevron EnergySomkhele and Tendele Coal Mining, PanAust, Oxec, OCP Ecuador and Petroecuador, SG Interests, Celtejo, Mineral Commodities (Ltd) (MRC) and Mineral Sands Resources, PetroTal, Enbridge, Lydian Armenia, andthe RWE Group. The report also highlights positive developments from Chevron and the Mizuho Financial Group.

The Business and Human Rights Resource Centre (BHRRC) had already asked most of these companies to respond to the allegations included in the report, previously. Responses can be found in the companies’ dashboard. BHRRC asked RWE Group to respond to the allegations; RWE’s response is included below.

https://www.civicus.org/index.php/media-resources/reports-publications

https://www.business-humanrights.org/en/latest-news/civicus-report-highlights-role-of-companies-in-attacks-on-human-rights-defenders-amid-increasing-restrictions-on-civil-society/

Harassment of Adilur Rahman Khan and other Human Rights Defenders in Bangladesh

December 21, 2021

On 14 December 2021 a Statement Bangladesh: Stop Harassment of Human Rights Defenders” was published by Forum Asia, FIDH and other NGOs: “Bangladesh authorities must end the harassment of Adilur Rahman Khan and ASM Nasiruddin Elan, respectively Secretary and Director of the human rights group Odhikar, who have been targeted through the misuse of the criminal justice system”, eleven rights groups said.

On December 15, 2021, the Cyber Tribunal of Dhaka will continue the examination of prosecution witnesses in the case brought against Adilur Rahman Khan, also a member of OMCT General Assembly and FIDH Secretary-General, and ASM Nasiruddin Elan, for charges brought against them in Case No. 1 of 2013 under the notorious Section 57 of the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Act, 2006 (amended in 2009), in relation to a fact-finding report issued by Odhikar on the killing of at least 61 people by security forces and law-enforcement agencies in May 2013. Khan and Elan face up to ten years in prison. See also; https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/88F17E2F-F919-580F-2FDA-59B8E24ACBF6

The government should stop using vague laws to silence human rights defenders and start holding perpetrators of abuses to account, ” said Kerry Kennedy, President of Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights. “Odhikar’s findings not only should have led to investigations and reforms, but also should have been welcomed by the government as an opportunity to strengthen their commitment to upholding human rights.

Following Odhikar’s 2013 report, Khan and Elan were arbitrarily detained for respectively 62 and 25 days until they were both released on bail. On February 14, 2021, the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court of Bangladesh rejected Odhikar’s appeal to quash the case on its legal merits. On September 12, 2021, the Cyber Tribunal of Dhaka resumed the trial in the case against the two while their review petition is still pending hearing before the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court, contravening the right to a fair trial. On October 5, November 9, and November 24, 2021, the Cyber Tribunal of Dhaka started to examine prosecution witnesses in the case.

We express our deepest concern over the ongoing harassment of Adilur Rahman Khan and ASM Nasiruddin Elan, which is manifestly a form of reprisals against Odhikar for their legitimate human rights work, including for cooperating with UN human rights mechanisms in documenting enforced disappearances, extra-judicial executions and torture in Bangladesh.

It is further a matter of great concern that since 2013, attacks, unlawful surveillance, smear campaigns and harassment against Odhikar and its staff and management have been incessant. Odhikar is also facing serious difficulties to conduct its work due to violations of the right to freedom of association, since its registration has not been renewed by the NGO Affairs Bureau of the Government of Bangladesh and is still pending since 2015. Moreover, all of its bank accounts have been frozen and the organization has been forbidden from receiving funding from foreign or international sources, impacting its operations considerably.

The trial against Khan and Elan resumes in a context where human rights in Bangladesh are under attack from all sides. Human rights violations committed by security forces, including enforced disappearances, extrajudicial executions, and torture remain pervasive throughout the country, with absolute impunity. Authorities regularly crackdown on human rights defenders and journalists who speak out against these violations, including through the use of the Digital Security Act – 2018, the Special Powers Act – 1974, and other draconian laws. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2014/12/02/adilur-rahman-khan-speaks-out-against-torture/

Cases such as these question the Bangladeshi government’s commitment to protecting human rights. The international community, including the United Nations and the diplomatic corps in Bangladesh, should monitor the case against Adilur Rahman Khan and ASM Nasiruddin Elan and take a clear stand to ensure that the government of Bangladesh respects the rights of the two defenders to a fair and public trial and, more generally, guarantees the right to defend human rights and puts an end to all acts of harassment against all human rights defenders in Bangladesh.

Our organisations call on the authorities of Bangladesh to immediately and unconditionally drop all charges against Adilur Rahman Khan and ASM Nasiruddin Elan, and to ensure in all circumstances that human rights defenders in Bangladesh are able to carry out their legitimate activities without any hindrance and fear of reprisals.

This trial is in reality an indictment of the authorities and a crucial test case for the country’s judiciary to be closely watched by the international community,” said Gerald Staberock, OMCT Secretary General, speaking on behalf of the Observatory. “The true culprits are those responsible for extra-judicial killings not those who report on it. Prosecuting human rights activists will not stifle dissent but will isolate Bangladesh from the international community.

The NGOs:

Amnesty International

Anti-Death Penalty Asia Network (ADPAN),

Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC),

Asian Network for Free Elections

Capital Punishment Justice Project (CPJP)

CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation,

Eleos Justice, Monash University, Associate Professor

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

FORUM-ASIA

Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights

World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders

https://www.fidh.org/en/region/asia/bangladesh/bangladesh-government-must-act-to-address-rule-of-law-crisis

Don’t let Tajikistan human rights defender Yorov celebrate his 50th birthday in jail!

July 9, 2021

Buzurgmehr Yorov, a Tajikistani human rights lawyer (Photo supplied)Buzurgmehr Yorov, a Tajikistani human rights lawyer (Photo supplied)

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On 9 July 2021, Buzurgmehr Yorov, a Tajikistani human rights lawyer and outspoken critic of the government, risks to mark his 50th birthday behind bars. Yorov was wrongfully imprisoned in September 2015 and sentenced to 22 years on trumped-up charges. [see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/00187e62-3527-4167-93e2-45c84b098562]. Human rights organisations CIVICUS and the International Partnership of Human Rights (IPHR) call for his immediate and unconditional release.

In 2015, Buzurgmehr was arrested after representing members and leaders of the banned opposition party, the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRTP). Following his arrest, he was interrogated for ten hours and allegedly beaten. He was then detained for eight months before his trial began – during this time he was physically abused and held in solitary confinement on many occasions.  

In a series of closed and unfair trials held between October 2016 and August 2017, the human rights lawyer was convicted on various charges, including overthrowing the government, inciting unrest, and insulting the President and government officials. Although his sentence was reduced by six years in November 2019 to mark the 25th anniversary of Tajikistan’s constitution, he is currently being held in the Strict Regime Prison Colony No.1 in Dushanbe.

In May 2019, the UN Human Rights Council concluded that Buzurgmehr’s arbitrary detention is against international law, and it called on the Tajikistan authorities to release him immediately.  See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/09/29/in-tajikistan-lawyers-have-to-be-human-rights-defenders/

“The Tajikistani authorities use intimidation, harassment, arbitrary arrest, threats and criminal prosecution to pressure independent lawyers to drop or refrain from taking up cases and issues considered to be politically sensitive. Burzurgmehr Yorov was brave enough to try to do his job despite this pressure. The international community should urge the Tajikistani authorities to implement UN recommendations and release him immediately,” said Brigitte Dufour, Director of IPHR. 

Buzurgmehr has repeatedly been subjected to torture and ill-treatment in detention, including severe beatings and periods in solitary confinement. His family are particularly concerned about his health during the COVID-19 pandemic, as several fellow prisoners have contracted the virus and died.  

Buzurgmehr Yorov has been a vocal critic of government abuse and has been awarded numerous international prizes in recognition of his contribution to democratic and civil rights in Tajikistan. After founding Sipar law firm in 2007, he frequently represented government critics and provided legal assistance to victims of human rights violations. 

Buzurgmehr’s family recall one occasion before his detention – when the police demanded he accompany them to the station, Buzurgmehr replied, “Here, in the office of the bar, there are people who came from afar, from different parts of the country to see me. I will never make them wait just because I am urgently called to talk to the head of the Interior Ministry’s Department for Combating Organized Crime. Even if President Emomali Rahmon invites me to talk – until I fulfill my duties to clients, I’m not going anywhere.”

Buzurgmehr’s detention marks a concerning trend in Tajikistan, where independent lawyers are increasingly facing intimidation, harassment, arbitrary arrest, threats and criminal prosecution, in an attempt to stop them from taking on politically sensitive cases.  

Buzurgmehr Yorov is one of the faces of CIVICUS’s international #StandAsMyWitness campaign, calling for the release of imprisoned human rights defenders across the world. Ahead of Buzurgmehr Yorov’s 50th birthday, CIVICUS and IPHR join calls for his immediate and unconditional release. The international community must continue to put pressure on the Tajikistani authorities to improve the situation of lawyers in the country and to respect fundamental rights.

Tajikistan is rated as ‘repressed’ by the CIVICUS Monitor, CIVICUS’s online platform that measures civic freedoms, including the freedoms of expression, association and assembly, in every country across the world.

IPHR: International Partnership for Human Rights (IPHR) is an independent, non-governmental organization founded in 2008. Based in Brussels, IPHR works closely together with civil society groups from different countries to raise human rights concerns at the international level and promote respect for the rights of vulnerable communities.

https://www.eurasiareview.com/08072021-call-for-tajikistan-to-release-human-rights-lawyer-ahead-of-50th-birthday-behind-bars/

10th edition of CIVICUS’s State of Civil Society Report (2021)

May 26, 2021

Protests prove the power of collective action as states fail pandemic test, says new report

As COVID-19 swept the globe, deepening existing fault-lines in societies and generating fear and uncertainty, many governments used the pandemic as a pretext to clamp down on civic freedoms, sparking protests in many countries. The annual State of Civil Society Report 2021, by global civil society alliance CIVICUS, shows that despite the odds, millions of people around the world mobilised to demand more just, equal and sustainable societies during the pandemic.

Mobilising against the odds

Globally, the mass mobilisation that made headlines and changed the conversation was the resurgence of demands for racial justice under the Black Lives Matter banner in the USA and beyond following the police killing of George Floyd in May 2020. People from all walks of life came to the streets to demand an end to systemic racism and police brutality.

The scourge of racism was highlighted in places as diverse as Colombia, the Netherlands and South Africa. The determination to end police brutality resonated widely, encouraging uprisings against police violence, notably in Nigeria.

Even in highly repressive countries, people bravely put their bodies on the line to oppose abusive power and demand democratic freedoms.

India witnessed the largest coordinated strike in world history as farmers defied brutal tactics to protest against corporate capture and elite collusion. Exposure of grand corruption in authoritarian Russia brought people to the streets, where they were met with more repression.

Bold civil disobedience against military might was offered in Myanmar. Dreams of democracy were deferred in Algeria, Belarus and Hong Kong, among others, but people showed extraordinary courage, taking to the streets in the face of great odds, keeping alive hopes for change.

Proving the power of collective action

The success of collective action led to breakthroughs in democracy and human rights across the globe.

In Chile, concerted street protests led to a commitment to develop a new constitution through democratic processes, with gender parity and Indigenous representation guaranteed. Sustained mobilisations in Argentina resulted in abortion being legalised, while in several countries young environmental activists took action to keep climate change in the spotlight.

Civil society’s collective action forced an election re-run in Malawi, and overcame systematic voter suppression in the USA. In Thailand, tens of thousands of protesters called for democratic reforms, including, for the first time, demanding a curb on the powers of the monarchy; activists used many creative forms of protest, including using giant inflatable ducks during mobilisations and holding ‘Runs Against Dictatorship’.

Following civic actions, same-sex relations were decriminalised in Bhutan and Gabon and same-sex marriage legalised in Costa Rica.

Many states failed the pandemic test

The pandemic offered a stress test for political institutions, and most were found wanting. The inadequacy of healthcare and social support systems was revealed. International cooperation was lacking as governments asserted narrow self-interest, birthing the dismal practice of vaccine nationalism by wealthy industrialised countries.

Many governments poured out official propaganda and sought to control the flow of information, ramping up censorship and criminalising legitimate inquiry and commentary. China was in the front rank of states that expanded surveillance practices and trampled on the right to privacy.

During the pandemic, several states increased their coercive power. In the Philippines, people were put in dog cages for breaking pandemic regulations, while in several Middle Eastern and North African states, including Bahrain, Egypt and Iran, human rights defenders remained in crowded jails, at risk of contracting COVID-19.

Some countries – notably New Zealand, South Korea and Taiwan – got the virus under control, won public trust and communicated pandemic response measures clearly, while largely respecting rights and democratic freedoms. This shows that the path of repression taken by many was not a necessity but a choice.

Pandemic proves the need for civil society

When states failed to respond effectively to the pandemic, civil society stepped up, providing help to people most in need and defending rights. Civil society organisations responded swiftly with vital support, distributing cash, food, medicines and sanitary supplies, sharing accurate information on the virus and providing healthcare and psychological services.

Looking forward

CIVICUS’s report calls on states to reverse rights restrictions imposed under the pandemic at the earliest opportunity. It urges them to respect human rights and democratic freedoms, and listen to the voices of protesters. It asks the international community to do more to uphold norms on civic freedoms and support peaceful assembly.

The great current wave of protests is sure to continue. People are brave to protest, but they should not have to do so at the risk of being thrown behind bars, or facing brutal, even lethal, violence.

https://reliefweb.int/report/world/state-civil-society-report-2021-enarpt

https://civicus.org

Mary Lawlor calls on Bahrain to release Abdulhadi al-Khawaja on 60th birthday

April 6, 2021
A placard reads "Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, will and determination, hunger strike" during an anti-government protest on 5 September 2014 (AFP/File photo)

A placard reads “Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, will and determination, hunger strike” during an anti-government protest on 5 September 2014 (AFP/File photo)

Mary Lawlor, UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, made the case for the release of Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, former president of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, before his 60th birthday this week. in a video message posted to Twittery.

Khawaja, who previously served as president of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, has been in prison for 10 years, serving a life sentence for “organising and managing a terrorist organisation”, among other charges. “He’s serving a life sentence in prison for peacefully defending the rights of others,” Lawlor said.  

He’s been given an unfair trial and details of his torture have been corroborated by an independent commission of inquiry.”  Lawlor said she had known Khawaja “for many years” and “witnessed his committed work for human rights in the Middle East”

The UN expert also noted that Khawaja’s case had been taken up by the European Union, the United Nations and other international organisations.

I urge the Bahraini government to finally release Abdulhadi in time for his 60th birthday on the 5th of April. His family have been fragmented and dislocated and have suffered greatly over the past ten years; it would be an honourable and compassionate act to allow them to reunite,” Lawlor concluded. 

Khawaja’s was one of the first high-profile arrests following the beginning of pro-democracy protests in 2011 that sparked a widespread government crackdown in Bahrain. See also; https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2014/09/12/bahrain-travails-of-a-family-of-human-rights-defenders/

https://www.middleeasteye.net/news/un-expert-calls-bahrain-release-human-rights-defender-abdulhadi-alkhawaja

https://www.civicus.org/index.php/media-resources/media-releases/5023-bahraini-human-rights-defender-abdul-hadi-al-khawaja-turns-60-on-his-10th-anniversary-in-prison

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