Posts Tagged ‘CIVICUS’

Human Rights Defenders issues on the agenda of 43rd Human Rights Council

February 24, 2020

On 17 February 2020 the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) published – as usual – its excellent “HRC43 | Key issues on agenda of March 2020 session”. Here some excerpts that relate directly to human rights defenders in the 43rd session of the UN Human Rights Council, which runs from 24 February to 20 March 2020.  If you want to stay up-to-date: with all issues follow @ISHRglobal and #HRC43 on Twitter.

Here are some highlights of the session’s thematic discussions

Protection of human rights defenders including women human rights defenders. The Council will consider a resolution, presented by Norway, to renew the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders. The mandate gathers and responds to information on the situation of defenders around the world, engages constructively with governments and non-State actors and provides recommendations to promote the effective implementation of the Declaration on human rights defenders. In 2019, the Council and the General Assembly unanimously affirmed the vital work defenders play. The Council recognised the critical role of environmental human rights defenders in protecting vital ecosystems, addressing climate change, attaining the sustainable development goals (SDGs). The General Assembly passed by consensus a resolution focusing on implementation of the Declaration and some key elements of protection policy; the resolution also attracted a record number of co-sponsors. The Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders will present his report on human rights defenders operating in conflict and post-conflict situations on 4 March, and country visits to Colombia and Mongolia.

Reports of cases of intimidation and reprisal against those cooperating or seeking to cooperate with the UN not only continue, but grow. Intimidation and reprisals violate the rights of the individuals concerned, they constitute violations of international human rights law and undermine the UN human rights system. [for some of my ealrier posts on reprisals, see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/reprisals/]. During the 42nd session, the Council adopted a resolution which listed key trends such as the patterns of reprisals, increasing self-censorship, the use of national security arguments and counter-terrorism strategies by States as justification for blocking access to the UN. The resolution also acknowledged the specific risks to individuals in vulnerable situations or belonging to marginalised groups, and called on the UN to implement gender-responsive policies to end reprisals. The Council called on States to combat impunity and to report back to it on how they are preventing reprisals, both online and offline. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/11/08/michel-forst-in-last-address-to-general-assembly-pleads-to-fight-reprisals/]. Item 5 of the Human Rights Council’s agenda provides a key opportunity for States to raise concerns about reprisals, and for governments involved in existing cases to provide an update to the Council on any investigation or action taken toward accountability to be carried out.

At this 43rd session, the Council will discuss a range of economic, social and cultural rights in depth through dedicated debates with mandate holders alongside the annual report of the Secretary-General on the realisation of economic, social and cultural rights globally. These include interactive dialogues with the following:

  • The Special Rapporteur on the right to adequate housing on her annual report and country visits reports to Nigeria and France.
  • The Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights on her annual report on cultural rights defenders and country visit report to the Maldives and Poland.
  • The Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment on his annual report and country visits to Fiji and Norway.

The Council will discuss a range of civil and political rights through dedicated debates with the mandate holders, including interactive dialogues with:

  • The Special Rapporteur on torture on his annual report and visit to Comoros.
  • The Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief on his annual report and visits to the Netherlands and Sri Lanka.
  • The Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism on her annual report and visit to Kazakhstan.
  • The Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy on his annual report.

Country-specific developments

China Confronted with mounting evidence of serious human rights violations in China, specifically the mass internment, ‘re-education’, surveillance and harassment of Turkic Muslims in the western province of  Xinjiang, the view of many parts of the UN is incontrovertible. Beginning with a major UN review in August 2018, the UN High Commissioner has pressed for access, while the Special Procedures have expressed serious concerns about protection of freedom of religious belief, the impacts of counter-terrorism and counter-extremism measures, and the imposition of the death penalty in at least one case, that of university president Tashpolat Tiyip. In light of these concerns and the continued deterioration of the situation for human rights lawyers and defenders; the attacks on cultural rights and other freedoms in Tibet; and criminalisation of peaceful assembly and excessive use of police force in Hong Kong, it is high time for the Council to act. Member States should take concrete steps to call for independent, expert monitoring and reporting on the situation in Xinjiang, including access to the region, and urge accountability for actions by public authorities. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/07/12/joint-letter-by-22-states-to-human-rights-council-re-chinas-uighurs/ and https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/07/20/china-coalition-anti-human-rights-un/]

Saudi Arabia The Council’s action on Saudi Arabia has contributed to the provisional release of at least seven women’s rights activists from detention. However, they are still facing trial and many remain in detention. Recent revelations of phone hacking, surveillance and possible blackmail and extortion of the owner of the Washington Post demonstrate the measures that the State is prepared to take to silence any form of criticism or dissent. The joint statement delivered by Australia in September sets out benchmarks for the Saudi government to take to demonstrate its willingness to improve the human rights situation. These benchmarks have not been met. States should ensure that Council scrutiny is maintained and in particular establish a monitoring and reporting mechanism over the situation. [for other posts on Saudi Arabia, see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/saudi-arabia/]

Egypt The lack of action by the international community has emboldened the Egyptian government to continue to violate fundamental rights of its citizens. Special Procedures have rung the alarm bell regarding the pattern of reprisals against individuals and groups who sought to or engaged with the UN. In the last quarter of 2019 alone, more than 3,000 people were arbitrarily arrested and prosecuted under counter-terrorism laws in a nationwide crackdown against all forms of peaceful expression. The Committee against Torture has found that torture in Egypt is widespread and systematic and the situation meets all of the objective criteria for situations requiring the Council’s attention. States should initiate Council action on the situation before it further deteriorates. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/egypt/ ]

India The High Commissioner expressed concern over India’s Citizenship (Amendment) Act 2019 (CAA) for being ‘fundamentally discriminatory’ as it fails to extend protections to Muslim asylum seekers. Nationwide demonstrations and protests have been met with police brutality and arbitrary detentions. Vigilante groups allegedly affiliated with right-wing Hindu nationalist groups close to the government have physically attacked student protestors. Human rights defenders involved in organising peaceful assemblies have been detained and faced online harassment. ISHR calls on States to raise these concerns in their national statements including during the high level segment. [See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/06/27/ngos-come-out-in-support-of-indias-lawyers-collective/]

Burundi. At the last Council session, the Council renewed the mandate of the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi, which will present its oral briefing on 10 March at 10:00. ISHR remains highly concerned about the human rights situation in Burundi and its refusal to cooperate with the Council’s mechanisms. For more information on the situation of human rights defenders in Burundi, check ISHR Briefing Paper for the UPR here. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/03/29/ngo-statement-condemns-new-irregularities-in-the-case-of-germain-rukuki-burundi/

Sri Lanka. Civil society groups are concerned over the backsliding on the commitments made by Sri Lanka in Human Rights Council Resolution 30/1. The recently elected president, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, along with his brother Mahinda Rajapaksa, who has been appointed prime minister, have been implicated in war crimes and numerous human rights violations when they were defence secretary and president respectively from 2005 to 2015. The new Government has made clear its intention to walk away from the Council process on Sri Lanka, a process that is currently the only hope for victims of human rights violations that truth, justice, reparations, and guarantees of non-recurrence are possible. [see https://www.nwaonline.com/news/2020/feb/23/sri-lanka-details-un-case-pullout/] Meanwhile, the relatively open climate for human rights defenders and journalists of the past few years seems to be rapidly closing. More than a dozen human rights and media organisations have received intimidating visits by members of law enforcement and intelligence agencies, while death threats against journalists have resumed. ISHR calls on States to urge for continued cooperation of the Government of Sri Lanka with OHCHR and the Special Procedures. The Council should reiterate the reference in Resolution 40/1 to “the adoption of a time-bound implementation strategy” for implementation of all elements of Resolution 30/1. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/01/22/sri-lankan-government-accused-of-embarking-on-process-to-silence-critics/]

Other country situations:

    • Interactive dialogue with the High Commissioner on the Occupied Palestinian Territories
    • Interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on Eritrea
    • Interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on Myanmar
    • Interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea
    • Interactive dialogue with the High Commissioner on Libya
    • High-level interactive dialogue on the Central African Republic
    • Interactive dialogue with the Commission on human rights on South Sudan
    • Interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on Iran
    • Interactive dialogue with the Commission of Inquiry on Syria
    • Enhanced interactive dialogue on the High Commissioner’s report on the Democratic Republic of Congo
    • Interactive dialogue with the Independent Expert on Mali 
    • Interactive dialogue on the High Commissioner’s oral report on Ukraine
    • High Commissioner briefings on the following countries: Guatemala, Honduras, Colombia, Nicaragua, Yemen, Venezuela, Myanmar, Cyprus, Sri Lanka, Iran, Eritrea, Afghanistan

During this session, the Council will adopt the UPR working group reports on Italy, El Salvador, the Gambia, Bolivia, Fiji, San Marino, Kazakhstan, Angola, Iran, Madagascar, Iraq, Slovenia, Egypt and Bosnia and Herzegovina. This session of the Council will provide an opportunity for Angola, Egypt and Fiji  to to accept recommendations made in relation to human rights defenders, as proposed in ISHR’s briefing papers.

Council programme, appointments and resolutions

The President of the Human Rights Council will propose candidates for the following mandates:

  1. Two members of the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (one from Asia and one from the Arctic);
  2. Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Somalia;
  3. Special Rapporteur on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living, and on the right to non-discrimination in this context;
  4. Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, including its causes and its consequences;
  5. Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples;
  6. Special Rapporteur on the sale and sexual exploitation of children, including child prostitution, child pornography and other child sexual abuse material;
  7. Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders;
  8. Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar.

Some resolutions werealready announced (States leading the resolution in brackets):

  1. Prevention of genocide (Armenia)
  2. Special Rapporteur on Torture, mandate renewal (Denmark)
  3. Freedom of religion or belief (EU)
  4. Situation of human rights in Myanmar (EU)
  5. Situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, mandate renewal (EU)
  6. Mandate renewal of the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants (Mexico)
  7. Protecting the rights of human rights defenders, mandate renewal (Norway)
  8. Technical assistance and capacity-building to improve human rights in Libya (African Group)
  9. Combating intolerance, negative stereotyping and stigmatization of and discrimination, incitement to violence and violence against persons based on religion or belief (Pakistan on behalf of the OIC)
  10. The human rights situation in the Syrian Arab Republic (France, Germany, Italy, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Netherlands, Qatar, Turkey, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland)
  11. Situation of human rights in South Sudan, mandate renewal (Albania, Norway, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland)
  12. Situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran, mandate renewal (North Macedonia, Republic of Moldova, Sweden, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland)
  13. Freedom of Expression, mandate renewal (Netherlands, Canada)

Officers of the Human Rights Council

Newly appointed members of the Bureau for the 14th cycle comprises of the following Ambassadors:

  • Ms. Elisabeth Tichy-Fisslberger (Austria), President of the Human Rights Council
  • Mr. Yackoley Kokou Johnson (Togo), Vice-President and Rapporteur
  • Mr. Nasir Ahmad Andisha (Afghanistan), Vice-President
  • Ms. Socorro Flores Liera (Mexico), Vice-President
  • Mr. Juraj Podhorský (Slovakia), Vice-President

Panel discussions

During each Council session, panel discussions are held to provide member States and NGOs with opportunities to hear from subject-matter experts and raise questions. All panel discussions will be broadcast live and archived on http://webtv.un.org. Four panel discussions are scheduled for this upcoming session:

  1. Annual high-level panel discussion on human rights mainstreaming titled “Thirty years of implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child: challenges and opportunities” will take place on 24 February at 16:00
  2. High-level panel discussion commemorating the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action with a particular focus on their implementation will take place on 25 February at 09:00
  3. Annual interactive debate on the rights of persons with disabilities, titled “Article 8 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, on awareness-raising”, will take place on 6 March at 16:00
  4. Debate on the midterm review of the International Decade for People of African Descent will take place on 13 March at 16:00.

NOTE: The UN’s liquidity crisis is having a serious impact on this session and the next one (44th in June) and ISHR – jointly with 26 other NGOs – have expressed their concerns to the UNSG that in light of the special emergency measures and ongoing budget constraints, further measures may be imposed to restrict civil society participation at the Council. Despite the adoption of a number of measures by the Council over the years to address the budgetary constraints faced by the United Nations Office at Geneva (UNOG), the Director General of UNOG informed the Council’s President that the Council may not be able to carry out all its mandated activities in 2020. This is due to the special emergency measures instituted by the UNSG to respond to the UN’s liquidity crisis which prohibit all lunch-time meetings, thus making it impossible for UNOG to provide conference services to all the Council’s required meetings. The President of the Council requested the UNSG to issue an exemption of these measures to ensure that the Council can hold all its meetings. The UNSG issued an exemption for meetings during the High-level Segment and voting on resolutions, but not for other meetings in the March session. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/05/20/lack-of-funds-forces-lack-of-oversight-by-un/]

For more information contact: Salma El Hosseiny at s.hosseinyATishr.ch 

For a survey of the 42nd session, see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/10/02/result-of-the-42nd-session-of-the-un-human-rights-council/

See also CIVICUS advisory on this Council session: https://www.civicus.org/index.php/media-resources/news/united-nations/geneva/4282-advocacy-priorities-at-43rd-session-of-un-human-rights-council

https://www.ishr.ch/news/hrc43-key-issues-agenda-march-2020-session

Saudi Arabia finds that celebrities are easier to buy than human rights NGOs

January 13, 2020

On 13 January 2020 Amnesty International has released a joint statement, along with Transparency International and Civicus, [https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/ior30/1649/2020/en/] explaining why it will not be engaging in this year’s C20 process, a cycle of preparatory meetings leading up to the annual G20 summit, which  started yesterday with a three-day “kick-off meeting”.

“The C20 is supposed to provide a platform for civil society voices from around the world to influence the G20 agenda. Since Saudi Arabia has locked up most of its own independent activists, the only domestic organizations present will be aligned with the government – which makes a mockery of the whole process,” said Netsanet Belay, Research and Advocacy Director at Amnesty International. “The C20 in Riyadh is a sham. We cannot participate in a process which is being abused by a state which censors all free speech, criminalizes activism for women’s and minority rights, as well as homosexuality, and tortures and executes critics.”

Saudi Arabia took over the G20 presidency in December 2019. It has recently invested in expensive PR campaigns to improve its image, and hosted several high-profile sporting events which draw international visitors [see e.g.: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/01/04/dakar-rally-starts-on-5-january-in-jeddah-but-hrds-in-jail/]. But behind this carefully cultivated façade, Saudi Arabia’s human rights record is as appalling as ever. Saudi Arabia is responsible for the extrajudicial execution of the journalist and peaceful critic Jamal Khashoggi. More than a year after his murder in October 2018, there has been no justice or accountability for his death. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/12/27/saudi-arabia-continues-to-buy-celebrities-this-time-for-the-mdl-beast-festival/]

The country’s leading women’s rights activists remain behind bars and on trial for their promotion of women’s rights in the country. Scores of other individuals, including human rights defenders, have been serving lengthy prison terms for their peaceful activism or have been arbitrarily detained for up to a year and a half without charges. The Saudi Arabian authorities have also carried out executions following unfair trials and routine torture and other ill-treatment in custody.

The Saudi-led C20 process has already failed to guarantee the C20’s fundamental principles. The appointment of the Chairs of working groups and various committees was opaque and non-consultative, while arbitrary decisions have excluded experienced international groups. The C20 process is led by the King Khalid Foundation, which is connected to the Saudi Royal Family, and cannot be considered as transparent, inclusive and participatory. Since the Saudi authorities ban political parties, trade unions and independent human rights groups, there is no way the C20 meetings can be the free and open discussions they are designed to be.

The full statement is available here

Annual reports 2019: CIVICUS Global Report

December 27, 2019

The end of a year usually means looking back and many human rights NGOs issue reports of this kind. Here is the first by CIVICUS, through its Monitor:

Civic space – space for civil society – is the bedrock of any open and democratic society. When civic space is open, citizens and civil society organisations (CSOs) are able to organise, participate and communicate without hindrance. When people are free to participate, they are able to claim their rights and influence the political and social structures around them. This can only happen when a state holds by its duty to protect its citizens and respectsand facilitates their fundamental rights to associate, assemble peacefully and freely express their views andopinions. These are the three key rights that civil society depends upon.

The CIVICUS Monitor analyses the extent to which these three civil society rights are being respected and upheld, and the degree to which states areprotecting civil society. In an attempt to capture these dynamics on a global scale, over 20 organisations from around the world have joined forces on the CIVICUS Monitor to provide an evidence base for action to improve civic space. In order to draw comparisons at the global level and track trends over time, the CIVICUS Monitor produces civic space ratings for 196 countries. Each country’s civic space is rated in one of five categories – open, narrowed, obstructed, repressed, or closed – based on a methodology that combines several sources of data on the freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression. Civic space updates from our research partners contain qualitative, narrative information related to the situation for civil society in a country. This qualitative information is directed by a set of guiding questions and the resulting data is gathered from a variety of primary and secondary sources. In many cases, country-specific updates have come directly from national civil society themselves. (Methodology: In countries where it does not have a research partner, the CIVICUS Monitor relies on a variety of other sources produced at the national, regional and international levels to arrive at country ratings. These civic space updates are then triangulated, verified and tagged by the CIVICUS team. Together, the research partners posted 536 civic space updates from 1 October 2018 to 11 November 2019 which form the basis for the analysis presented in this report. For the time period assessed, these civic space updates cover 153 countries. This report analyses trends and developments since its previous report, published in November 2018. As well as global-level trends, it analyses trends in five regions: Africa, Americas, Asia and the Pacific, Europe and Central Asia and Middle East and North Africa (MENA).

Following an update of ratings in November 2019, the CIVICUS Monitor continues to tell a worrying story. The data shows that there are 24 countries with closed civic space, 38 countries with repressed space and 49 with obstructed space. Just 43 countries receive an open rating, and 42 countries are rated narrowed. Since our previous report, published in November 2018, space for activism has reduced: only three per cent of the world’s population now live in countries with open civic space. Nine countries have changed their civic space rating since our November 2018 update: two have improved their ratings, while seven have worsened. This indicates that repression of peaceful civic activism continues to be a widespread crisis for civil society in most parts of the world. Worrying signs for civic space continue to be seen in Asia, where two countries, Brunei and India, dropped their rating from obstructed to repressed. Given the size and global role of India, the decline in the quality of its civic space must be of particular concern. One country in the Pacific – Australia – dropped from an open to narrowed rating, partially due to increased restrictions on the freedom of expression and government surveillance

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/12/06/20-human-rights-defenders-under-attack-one-for-each-year-of-the-declaration/

https://civicus.contentfiles.net/media/assets/file/GlobalReport2019.pdf

The NGO Forum and the 65th session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights

October 11, 2019

The 65th Ordinary Session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights will be held in Banjul, The Gambia from 21 October to 10 November 2019. The African Commission session will be preceded by the NGO Forum and 39th African Human Rights Book Fair, which will take place from 17 to 19 October 2019.​ The ISHR gives a preview:

What will happen during the NGO Forum and 65th ordinary session of the African Commission?

The NGO Forum

Like every year, ahead of this session of the NGO Forum, a training on advocacy particularly focused on regional and international mechanisms will be organised. This year’s training is organised by CIVICUS and will be held from 15 to 21 October 2019. It will consist of three different elements:

  • Advocacy training will be conducted by our partner in The Gambia, from 15 to 17 October
  • Participants will then attend the NGO Forum, which is held ahead of the ordinary sessions of the African Commission
  • The 65th session of the African Commission will open on 21 October and participants will have the opportunity to put the training into practice

The Forum on the Participation of NGOs in the Ordinary Sessions of the African Commission, also known as the ‘NGO Forum’ is an advocacy platform coordinated by the African Centre for Democracy and Human Rights Studies (ACDHRS) to promote advocacy, lobbying and networking among and between human rights NGOs, for the promotion and protection of human rights in Africa. The NGO Forum shares updates on the human rights situation in Africa by the African and international NGOs community with a view of identifying responses as well as adopting strategies towards the promotion and protection of human rights on the continent.

Issues such as:

  • Resilience strategies and protection of displaced human rights defenders
  • The situation of statelessness in Africa
  • The status of intersex and transgender refugees in Africa
  • The rights of internally displaced people during armed conflicts
  • The use of surveillance technologies to stifle protest, expression and privacy in Africa

The 65th ordinary session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights

  • Panel discussions
  • The importance of civic space participation in the 2030 and 2063 agendas, 23 October, 9.30 to 11am.
  • Panel on the Protection of Human Rights Defenders with a focus on Protection Laws, 23 October, 3 to 4.30pm

During every session, special mechanisms from the African Commission present their activity report. These reports catalogue the activities and initiatives undertaken by each mechanism inter-sessionally and includes one by the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders and Focal Point on Reprisals in Africa. For the full programme, click here.

ISHR will also organise side events, such as Ending intimidation and reprisals against those cooperating with regional mechanisms in Africa on 22 October 2019, 17.30-19.00 in the Kairaba Hotel, Banjul, The Gambia. This side event aims at providing more visibility and clarity on the Special Rapporteur’s mandate on reprisals, to share some lessons learned from efforts to address reprisals and intimidation at the international level, and to hone in on what more can be done at the regional level. In particular, the event will be an opportunity for the Special Rapporteur to share key information on how to engage with the reprisal’s aspect of his mandate through the presentation of the mandate’s working documents in this regard.

Panellists:

  • Remy Ngoy Lumbu, African Commission’s Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders and Focal Point on Reprisals in Africa
  • Michel Forst, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of Human Rights Defenders
  • Clément Voule, UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Association and Assembly
  • Madeleine Sinclair, ISHR New York Co-Director and Legal Counsel
  • A woman defender from Sudan

ISHR will monitor and report on key developments at the 65th ordinary session of the African Commission. Follow them on Twitter at @ISHRglobal, @ISHR_fr and at #ACHPR65.

https://www.ishr.ch/news/achpr65-alert-ngo-forum-and-65th-session-african-commission-human-and-peoples-rights

CIVICUS leads 24-hour Speak! campaign starting Friday 20 September

September 18, 2019

The Comms team at CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance, starts ahead of the United Nations Summits in New York and global climate mobilisation, an international campaign bringing people across the world together at nearly 150 events in 50 countries, as part of SPEAK! 2019

A global campaign to help bridge divisions through the power of dialogue. SPEAK! 2019 will culminate in 24 hours of action from 5pm this Friday 20th to 5pm Saturday 21st September.

Please see below for a media releasewith more news.

  • Global SPEAK! campaign counters growing social and political divisions with a call to “speak with” those we don’t normally
  • Campaign will comprise almost 150 events in 50 countries, with most being held during 24 hours of global action from 5pm Friday 20th – 5pm Saturday 21st September
  • Campaign timed to coincide with United Nations Summits in New York and global climate mobilisation

From youth summits to casual dinners, peace dialogues to film festivals, the SPEAK! campaign seeks to help people pop the ‘bubbles’ that disconnect us from one another, in order to speak with those we wouldn’t normally and really listen to what they say. The campaign will kick off a week of global action, as heads of state gather at the United Nations to review progress of the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris climate agreement. “The challenges of our time will ultimately impact us all; but as many of us look around our communities and countries, we seem increasingly divided,” says Nic Mackay from the SPEAK! team. “If we are to stand with one another in creating a more just, peaceful and sustainable world, we first need to speak with one another — especially those with whom we disagree.”

In 26 countries, SPEAK! Champions will spearhead events at both the local and national level. Global partners including RNW Media, TechSoup, World Cleanup Day, Listen First and the National Conversation Project have also mobilised their networks to hold events. Those who can’t attend an event can still take part in the campaign this Friday or Saturday by having a conversation with someone you wouldn’t normally — whether in person or online — and sharing the experience on social media using #TogetherWeSpeak.

A full list of SPEAK! events planned globally here <http://tracking.vuelio.co.uk/tracking/click?d=tnHgrx0s-kA5e8YFF6Q9Li3lEIZkC2Mv91xhJoRYLZHILOjY7j51E- For more information or to arrange interviews with event organisers, please contact: Nic Mackay nic.mackay@civicus.org <mailto:speak@civicus.org> media@civicus.org

Equatorial Guinea to close down a human rights NGO

July 17, 2019

Human rights groups have condemned a decision by the government of Equatorial Guinea to close down a prominent rights NGO, the Center for Studies and Initiatives for the Development of Equatorial Guinea (CEID). The country’s Minister of the Interior and Local Corporations published a decree on 5 July, 2019 revoking official authorisation granted to the CEID, one of the few independent NGOs that expose human rights violations in Equatorial Guinea. The resolution dissolving the civil society organisation (CSO) accuses the organisation of violating its own constitution and engaging in political activities.

The dissolution of the CEID is a new low for human rights in a country that has failed for decades to respect fundamental freedoms,” said Paul Mulindwa, Advocacy and Policy Officer for CIVICUS. “The organisation’s closure is aimed at silencing independent and peaceful voices committed to defending human rights in Equatorial Guinea,”.

The CEID’s closure follows physical assaults, arbitrary arrests and judicial persecution of the organisation’s Vice President Alfredo Okenve. The move is intended to silence independent and peaceful voices committed to defending human rights in Equatorial Guinea, and has a chilling effect on human rights defenders and CSOs in the country. See: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/03/17/equatorial-guinean-human-rights-defender-alfredo-okenve-gets-house-arrest-instead-of-award-ceremony/

The repressive environment in Equatorial Guinea is fueled by the use of violence against human rights defenders, the militarisation of the state and politics, high levels of impunity enjoyed by perpetrators of human rights violations and the use of restrictive legislation – such as law No 1/1999 on the Regime of NGOs – to restrict CSO operations. The CIVICUS Monitor, an online platform that tracks threats to civil society in countries across the globe, rates civic space – the space for civil society – in Equatorial Guinea as closed.

CIVICUS calls on the government of President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo to publicly rescind the resolution, respect its international human rights obligations including commitments made recently to the United Nations’ Universal Periodic Review process and create an enabling environment for civil society organisation and human rights defenders.

https://www.civicus.org/index.php/media-resources/news/3959-government-s-closure-of-prominent-human-rights-ngo-another-blow-for-fundamental-freedoms-in-equatorial-guinea

Rich palette of side events at 41st Session of the UN Human Rights Council

June 21, 2019

The 41st session of the UN Human Rights Council is to start soon. In addition to items of the agenda [see https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/06/14/guide-to-human-rights-defenders-issues-at-the-41st-human-rights-council-starting-on-24-june/] there are – as usual – many side events in Geneva, both by States and NGOs, that relate to human rights defenders. You can download the list of NGO events here.

Here a selection:

  • Launch of ISHR joint report on strengthening HRC membership on 1 July at 13:00 at the UN Delegates restaurant. Speakers will introduce the report and highlight some of the key challenges, opportunities and practical recommendations, including with regard to good practice relating to candidacy and membership of the HRC.
  • Promoting and Protecting Civic Space for Migrants and Refugees is organised by CIVICUS and Solidarity Center and will take place on 24 June at 12:00. This event will examine findings on civic space barriers for migrant/refugees in Germany, Jordan, Kenya, Malaysia and Mexico from a new report by Solidarity Center and CIVICUS; provide an analysis of some of the civic space trends for migrants/refugees across the five countries; and hear from civil society activists on the ground.
  • Health impacts for US Asylum is organised by Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) and will be held on 26 June at 10:00 in Room VIII. PHR will present findings from two reports about the asylum crisis in the United States with research based on forensic evaluations of more than 180 child asylum seekers regarding their trauma exposure in country of origin and reasons for fleeing, and documentation of cases where US immigration enforcement has impeded migrants access to emergency health care.
  • Defending rights online: Challenges facing human rights defenders and a free and open Internet is organised by Article 19 and will be held on 26 June at 15:30 in Room VIII. It will discuss what more States at the Human Rights Council can do to bolster safeguards for the protection of human rights online, while also holding States accountable for violations of those rights. The panelists include the Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression and human rights defenders from Russia, Mexico, Tanzania and Tajikistan. https://www.article19.org/resources/event-defending-online-civic-space-challenges-facing-human-rights-defenders/
  • Freedoms of expression, assembly, and association in Asia organised by Forum-Asia and will be held on 26 June 2019 at 15:00. This side event aims to discuss issues related to freedoms of expression, assembly, and association in Asian states.
  • Ending Impunity for Murdered Journalists: Enhancing the role and impact of the UN is organised by Article 19 and will be held on 27 June at 11:30 in Room VIII. The panelists include the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, the Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, and Hatice Cengiz, Fiancée of Jamal Khashoggi. It will examine how the UN’s response to cases of murdered journalists might be enhanced.
  • Criminalisation of solidarity in migration organised by the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) and OHCHR, and will be held on 27 June in  Kazakh Room – Cinema XIV. The event will feature the screening of the movie “The Valley” by Nuno Escudeiro, documenting the situation of human rights defenders and migrants in South of France, with an introductory panel and a discussion session after the movie (THE VALLEY is a coproduction Point du Jour (France), Miramonte Film (Italy) and was awarded the Emerging international filmmaker at the HOT DOCS film festival, Toronto).
  • Women’s rights under attack: the case of Poland, organised by the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and Human Rights Watch, will take place on 27 June, at 13:00 in Room XV. This side event will expose attempts to erode sexual and reproductive health and rights, campaigns against women’s rights organisations, and targeting of women’s rights activists – against the backdrop of a decline in the rule of law in the country. It will explore how international and regional organisations should address this concern in Poland and in the rest of the continent.
  • Needs, best practices and risks of research and data collection on sexual orientation and gender identity, organised by COC Nederland and sponsored by ISHR will be held on June 27 at 15:30 in Room V.
  • Human Rights in Kashmir is organised by the International Commission of Jurists and will be held on 28 June at 13:00 in Room XXI.
  • The human rights problem of political marginalisation is organised by Salam for Democracy and Human Rights (Bahrain) and CIVICUS, and will take place on 2 July at 12:00. Despite steadily rising levels of social and political marginalization in Bahrain, the government has sought to convey the appearance of political stability. In a context where freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly and association are severely restricted, what strategies can civil society – in Bahrain and in other countries around the world – bring into play to reduce political marginalisation?
  • The situation of migrants and refugees rights in Brazil is organised by Conectas and will be held on 2 July at 14h in Room VIII. The event will discuss the rights of migrants and refugees in Brazil focusing on the situation of Venezuelans refugees coming to the country, the reasons why they are leaving Venezuela and how Brazil is responding to this situation.
  • Human rights in Myanmar is organised by Physicians for Human Rights, and will be held on 1 July at 12:00 in Room VIII. PHR will provide an in-depth briefing on new research findings that reveal a painful, long-term legacy of the Rohingya Crisis and underscore the urgent need for accountability.
  • Human rights in Myanmar is organised by Forum Asia and will be held on 1 July 2019 at 14:30 in Room VIII. Human rights defenders and the Special Rapporteur on Myanmar will provide updates on the situation in the country since the last Council session.
  • Upholding the rule of law: The UN database on businesses operating in the OPT is organised by the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies and will be held on 5 July at 14:00 in Room VIII. More than three years following the establishment of the Database mandate pursuant to Human Rights Council Resolution 31/36– the results of this process are not being transmitted with the necessary transparency. The side event will focus on the importance of releasing the database as a public online platform of business enterprises engaged in business activities related to Israeli settlements.
  • Human rights in Sudan is organised by DefendDefenders and Physicians for Human Rights. It will be held on 8 July at 13:00 in Room XXIV. This event will bring Sudanese voices to the Council to speak about the situation in Sudan and the ongoing crackdown.
  • Human Rights in Venezuela is organised by the International Commission of Jurists and will be held on 8 July at 14:30 in Room IX.

Any others that come to my attebtion will be reported later.

 

Civil Society and human rights NGOs are fighting back but against odds

May 5, 2019

This article by  (IPS) was published on 10 April 2019 in the context of International Civil Society Week (ICSW), which took place  in Belgrade. Under the title “Civil Society, Once the “World’s New Superpower,” is Battling Against Heavy Odds” it describes how human rights NGOs have come under pressure in recent years

Former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan once described civil society organizations (CSOs), as “the world’s new superpower” ..but that political glory has continued to diminish over the years against the backdrop of repressive regimes, hard right nationalist governments and far right extremist groups.

Perhaps the most virulent attacks on NGOs are on their attempts to provide protection and security to migrants and refugees in the “dangerous crossings,” from North Africa across the Mediterranean Sea and the Mexico/US border. “There are now serious restrictions in civic space on every continent,” says the annual State of Civil Society Report 2019, released last week by the Johannesburg-based CIVICUS. And it singles out the Italian government’s decision to impose a hefty fine on one of the world’s best-known humanitarian organisations, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), while also freezing their assets, impounding their rescue vessel and investigating their staff for human trafficking…in retaliation for their efforts to save refugees from drowning in the Mediterranean Sea. There were also instances of civil society activists being charged, tried and convicted in the United States for providing water supplies for migrants crossing the deadly Sonoran desert on the US/Mexico border. As these attacks continue, international institutions are “struggling” to help shore up these NGOs because these institutions, including the United Nations, are “hamstrung by the interests and alliances of powerful states.”

The report points out these institutions did little to respond to the great challenges of the day– failing to fight overwhelming inequality and also were largely silent on human rights abuses of states such as Saudi Arabia and Sudan while letting down the people of Syria and the Rohingyas of Myanmar, among many others.

Asked if there is a role either for the United Nations or its member states to protect CSOs under attack, Mandeep Tiwana, Chief Programmes Officer at CIVICUS, told IPS the UN is making some efforts to put the issues of attacks on CSOs and activists in the spotlight. In December last year, he said, the President of the UN General Assembly, in a symbolic event, awarded the UN human rights prize to three civil society activists and an organisation dedicated to the protection of human rights defenders. [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/12/20/human-rights-defenders-receive-their-2018-un-prizes/]

Recently, on March 21, the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) adopted a first-of-its-kind resolution on the protection of environmental human rights defenders, said Tiwana. The UN Secretary General has a designated senior official to lead efforts within the UN system to address intimidation and reprisals against those cooperating with the UN system. And, he said, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and UN Women regularly champion the work of CSOs and women human rights defenders respectively. “However, in light of the growing restrictions on civic space, around the world, and even at the UN itself, these efforts are often not enough,” complained Tiwana. This is in part because the UN itself is also under pressure from (undemocratic) governments that restrict civil society at home, and wish to do so at the UN as well.

He said the CIVICUS Monitor, a participatory platform that measures civic freedoms finds that only 4% of the world’s population live in countries where the freedoms of expression, association and peaceful assembly are adequately protected…

“Our 2019 State of Civil Society Report points out, that the UN is hamstrung by the actions of powerful states that refuse to play by the rules including the US, China and Russia”. Tiwana said a number of rights repressing states are joining international bodies. In 2018, for example, Bahrain, Bangladesh and Eritrea, joined the UN Human Rights Council….

Second, states are withdrawing from international institutions and agreements, with the US withdrawing from the Paris Agreement on Climate and undermining UN resolutions on Palestine and the Occupied Territories. Philippines has pulled out of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in a bid to avoid international accountability for widespread human rights violations including attacks on civil society. In 2018, the new Global Compact for Migration also saw a string of states with hardline migration policies pull out between the agreement of the deal and its signing.

Third, rogue leaders are bringing their styles of personal rule into international affairs, ignoring existing institutions, agreements and norms, acting as unilateral strongmen or striking bilateral deals with other hardmen, undermining multilateralism and making it harder to scrutinise their actions, Tiwana noted. Potentially everything seems up for negotiation and nothing can be assured at the international level, even the 70-year-old international human rights norms that underpin civil society action, he warned.

The writer can be contacted at thalifeen@ips.org

http://www.ipsnews.net/2019/04/civil-society-worlds-new-superpower-battling-heavy-odds/

Lysa John of CIVICUS argues for new coalitions and open movements to defend human rights

April 26, 2019

This article is part of a series in the context of International Civil Society Week (ICSW), sponsored by CIVICUS, and which took place in Belgrade, on 8 – 12 April 2019. Written bythe secretary-general of CIVICUS: “Grassroots Organising Points the way in Fight Against Rising Repression

.. Greta Thunberg is marvelling at how, in just a few short months, her solitary protests outside Sweden’s parliament, have inspired and united hundreds of thousands of young people and others across the globe into a powerful, growing grassroots movement for climate change action. Thunberg’s school climate strike has inspired more than 1,500 climate strike events in more than 100 countries across the globe, from Argentina to New Zealand.

Lysa John – Credit: CIVICUS

…..The old approaches of working with governments, who are failing to serve their people’s interests, for incremental change, are not working anymore…

In this environment, citizen action is increasingly being organized into grassroots, social movements – mass-based, non-hierarchical groupings driven by people power, that are starting to prove successful in the fight for human rights and social justice.

The global #MeToo gender rights movement and the March for Our Lives American gun reform movement led by high school students – both still growing campaigns – provide encouraging lessons for the Climate School Strike movement on the power of this dynamic approach to activism.

So, how does civil society engage social movements in a way to harness the power of dynamic, new ways to tackling the world’s most pressing challenges?..

In order to build stronger, more resilient and effective civil society we need to re-connect with citizens. Across the world, we are seeing the emergence of diverse civic movements aimed at calling out injustices or achieving improvements in governance in local and national contexts.

Many of these are spontaneous, self-organised expressions of change – led by ordinary people who feel strongly about universal values of justice, integrity and solidarity. For formal civil society organisations (CSOs), there could not be a better time to lean into and strengthen approaches to community leadership for ‘glo-cal’ change. We have the passion and intellect to connect the action on the streets with the spaces where decisions must be taken; and to channel the local energies for change into strategies for long-term, globally-connected transformation.

At the International Civil Society Week (ICSW), a primary goal is for delegates to work together to understand and connect with people’s movements on the streets around the world, to build bridges that strengthen alliances and create solidarity and to identify steps to build and sustain collective impact. On every continent, forces seek to undo the advances made in our societies and communities. But around the world, brave citizens continue to risk their lives to stand up against repression and persecution.

The ICSW is all the more significant this year as civil society leaders, activists and innovators are gathering in a country in which a growing social movement has been demonstrating some of these very goals. For weeks now, there have been ongoing mass protests in the capital, Belgrade, calling for democratic reforms under the banner of a campaign known as “#OneinFiveMillion. The campaign is a live example of how civil society plays an instrumental role in fighting to protect and expand civic freedoms and democratic values in the Balkans and globally. The toppling of Macedonia’s government in 2017 by unprecedented civic action is another example of that fight back. Serbian civil society played a crucial role in the country’s transition to democracy. But not all parts of the country’s society are equally protected, with gay-rights activists and women human rights defenders, in particular, targets of attacks and threats. By hosting ICSW 2019 in Serbia, we will shine a spotlight on the region’s communities, help address their challenges and find ways to support them.

We will also examine the opportunities we have to forge new alliances and increase our collective impact by coming together to fight for common issues. Across the past year, we have civil society get better at transferring strategies and lessons for change across countries.

India’s legal win for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer community has, for instance, boosted efforts to repeal discriminatory laws in other countries, including Costa Rica and Portugal. In Argentina, Kenya and Ireland, we saw ordinary people take action to defend and advance abortion rights. Last, but not in the least, we will spend time reviewing the changes we need within civil society and the way we operate. We need greater accountability for our own actions and the way we engage those we are meant to serve and represent.

…..

Building a new generation of champions for social justice – in the way that Greta Thunberg has inspired millions of children and youth to take action for the climate – is the future we need to design together; our time in Belgrade offers us the opportunity to commit to doing this better and more actively together.

http://www.ipsnews.net/2019/04/grassroots-organising-points-way-fight-rising-repression/

International Civil Society Week 2019: call for more NGO voice in the UN

April 14, 2019

The International Civil Society Week 2019 has finished. During the this meeting in Belgrade, that brought together over 850 civil society leaders, activists and concerned citizens from across the world, a large number of contribution were made and I will make reference to some of them in separate posts. Here one of the results:

A World Citizens’ Initiative as an instrument of citizen participation at the United Nations was promoted on 11th April 2019 at a plenary session of the International Civil Society Week 2019 (ICSW). Presenting the idea of a UN World Citizens’ Initiative (UNWCI), Caroline Vernaillen of Democracy International stressed that addressing the UN’s democratic deficit needs to be on the agenda, too. “The UN is a club of representatives of member states. There are no means for ordinary citizens to take influence and this has to change,” she said. The activist from Belgium stated that a UNWCI would help “create a citizen-based global political sphere.

Caroline Vernaillen and Andreas Bummel with CIVICUS’ Secretary-General Lysa John (middle)

According to Vernaillen, the instrument of a UNWCI would allow global citizens to gather support for specific proposals which then would have to be considered and acted upon by the UN General Assembly. She emphasized that a similar instrument already exists in the European Union, the European Citizens Initiative.

CIVICUS, Democracy International and Democracy Without Borders have started preparing an international campaign to promote a UNWCI and participants of the civil society week were invited to join their efforts. The UNWCI campaign is planned to be launched in September or October 2019 when the next session of the UN General Assembly begins.

Joe Mathews, a board member of Democracy International and Co-President of the Global Forum for Direct Democracy, commented on Twitter that a World Citizens’ Initiative was a “powerful new idea” in direct democracy, “open to people everywhere, to attack big problems and check global power.”

The UNWCI campaign will be launched with a view of the 75th anniversary of the UN in 2020. On 11th April 2019, one of the numerous sessions of the civil society week dealt with this topic. Jeffery Huffines of CIVICUS gave an overview of the UN’s preparations of a UN2020 summit (see also this recent article). He urged civil society representatives to engage with this process and proposed that NGOs should think about whether there should be a global civil society forum on the occasion of UN2020.

The new initiative Together First was represented at this session by Giovanna Marques Kuele. She said that the UN needed to become “more democratic, more representative and more transparent.” Together First plans to identify the most important reform proposals and push for them ahead of a UN summit in 2020.

Speaking at the ICSW, the UN’s Assistant Secretary-General for Strategic Coordination, Fabrizio Hochschild, stated that on the occasion of 2020 UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres “will call for a global youth driven conversation on what kind of world we want 25 years from now, in 2045.

World Citizens’ Initiative promoted at international civil society week