Posts Tagged ‘Civil society’

Anaïs Marin – UN Expert on Belarus: “Full-scale assault” ongoing against civil society

July 6, 2021
Protestors at the March of Peace and Independence in Minsk, Belarus (file photo).

Unsplash/Andrew KeymasterProtestors at the March of Peace and Independence in Minsk, Belarus (file photo). 5 July 2021

Belarus has witnessed an unprecedented human rights crisis over the past year, the independent expert appointed to monitor the country said on Monday 5 July 2021, calling on authorities to immediately end their policy of repression and fully respect the legitimate aspirations of their people.

Belarus has witnessed an unprecedented human rights crisis over the past year, the independent expert appointed to monitor the country said on Monday, calling on authorities to immediately end their policy of repression and fully respect the legitimate aspirations of their people.

In her annual report to the Human Rights CouncilAnaïs Marin said she had received reports of massive police violence used against protesters – since last August’s disputed presidential election brought millions onto the streets to contest the result – cases of enforced disappearance, allegations of torture and ill-treatment and the continuous intimidation and harassment of civil society actors.

Broad spectrum of abuses

“The Belarusian authorities have launched a full-scale assault against civil society, curtailing a broad spectrum of rights and freedoms, targeting people from all walks of life, while systematically persecuting human rights defenders, journalists, media workers and lawyers in particular,” Ms. Marin told the Council.

“The crackdown is such that thousands of Belarusians have been forced or otherwise compelled to leave their homeland and seek safety abroad; yet the downing of a civilian plane in Minsk on 23 May, for the apparent sole purpose of arresting a dissident who was on board, signaled that no opponent to the current Government is safe anywhere”, the expert added.

She noted that the significant deterioration of the human rights situation in Belarus started in late spring 2020 and climaxed in the aftermath of the presidential election of 9 August, the results of which were widely contested.

Malpractices were reported during the election campaign, as most opposition candidates were forced out of the race, while the vote count was marred by allegations of fraud.

Unjustified and disproportionate

“Distrust in the legitimacy of the electoral outcome triggered spontaneous and largely peaceful popular protests to which the authorities responded with unjustified, disproportionate and often arbitrary force”, said the Special Rapporteur, who reminded that over 35,000 people have been detained since then for trying to exert their right to freedom of peaceful assembly, including women and children arrested for peacefully demonstrating solidarity with victims of police violence.

“Since August 2020 I received innumerable allegations of beatings and ill-treatment, including torture in detention, but also allegations of rapes, enforced disappearances and even killings – all remain to be investigated.”

She said she was also alarmed by the hundreds of cases of criminal prosecution of human rights defenders and lawyers, journalists and medical staff, which have taken place, simply for doing their job.

Abusers protected

“As the legal and judicial systems in Belarus protect the perpetrators of grave human rights violations, continuing impunity means that there is no guarantee of non-reoccurrence,” Ms. Marin said. “Hence the international community should keep on demanding the release and rehabilitation of all those still detained on political grounds, and support initiatives aiming at bringing perpetrators of the most serious crimes to account”.

The UN expert also expressed concerns about the impact the ongoing crackdown has had on the right to education, pointing to discriminatory measures that persist in Belarus against people with disabilities, ethno-linguistic minorities, people living in rural areas and those deprived of liberty.

‘Disastrous consequences’

I call on the Belarusian authorities to put an end to their policy of repression, to immediately and unconditionally release those arbitrarily detained, and to ensure full respect for the human rights and legitimate democratic aspirations of people in Belarus”, the UN expert said, warning that a further aggravation of the human rights crisis and international self-isolation could have disastrous consequences for the whole country.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/06/28/fidh-launches-website-tracking-systematic-human-rights-violations-in-belarus/

https://news.un.org/en/story/2021/07/1095302

Joint statement by U.N. rapporteurs emphasizes digital rights as “top priority” to rebuild civic space

June 29, 2021

A bit belatedly, I refer to the statement made by Access Now welcoming on Tuesday, 8 June 2021, the timely new statement from U.N. Special Procedures emphasizing that digital rights are “a top priority” to rebuild civic space amid recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. The nine experts are taking part in RightsCon 2021 (June 7-11), marking the third consecutive year that Special Rapporteurs have issued a statement in light of thematic discussions to be held at the global summit on human rights in the digital age.

The experts pointed to recent instances of digital repression including non-transparent content takedowns and manipulation — as the world is witnessing in Palestine, India, and Colombia — and called upon businesses to uphold their responsibility to respect human rights. They stressed that “the opacity that prevails in the ways content is moderated by Governments and companies reinforces global perceptions of discrimination, inefficiency and censorship. There is an urgent need for transparency.”

The diversity and scope of issues addressed within the mandates of the nine U.N. experts speaks to the heightened role of technology — and the need to center digital rights — in the pandemic recovery. We are thrilled to have such a robust presence of U.N. Special Rapporteurs and members of the Working Group on Business and Human Rights in this year’s RightsCon program,” said Peter Micek, U.N. Policy Manager at Access Now. “The statement decries patterns of abuse accelerating digital inequalities and discrimination against users most at risk, reminding states and the tech sector to undertake systemic efforts to reach those most affected.”

“We look forward to continuing to engage with the U.N. experts at RightsCon and beyond to address the intersection of technology within their mandates through a human rights-centered and intersectional lens,” said Laura O’Brien, U.N. Advocacy Officer at Access Now. “As we recover from the pandemic, we cannot understate the value of civil society engagement with U.N. experts.”

The experts warned particularly “against using the pandemic as an excuse to rush forward ‘digital transformation,’ as exemplified in digital vaccine certificates, without prioritising foundational digital rights safeguards” — a call that Access Now emphasizes.

The nine Special Procedures and their mandates include: Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism; Clément Voule, the right to peaceful assembly and association; Olivier De Schutter, extreme poverty and human rights; David R. Boyd, human rights and environment; Gerard Quinn, the rights of persons with disabilities; Tlaleng Mofokeng, the right to physical and mental health; Irene Khan, freedom of expression; Mary Lawlor, the situation of human rights defenders; and the Working Group on Business and Human Rights — Dante Pesce, Surya Deva, Elżbieta Karska, Githu Muigai, and Anita Ramasastry.

https://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/WO2106/S00090/un-joint-statement-experts-call-for-centering-digital-rights-in-pandemic-recovery-on-eve-of-rightscon-2021.htm

https://www.manilatimes.net/2021/06/20/business/sunday-business-it/access-nows-digital-security-helpline/1803849

New Assistant Secretary General wants to improve civil society participation in the General Assembly

November 16, 2020

In her first interaction with the Third Committee of the General Assembly, Ilze Brands Kehris, the new Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights and Head of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in New York,  emphasised the importance of  civil society participation as well as preventing reprisals and attacks against human rights defenders who engage with the UN.

On 5 November 2020 the ISHR reported on her participation in an interactive dialogue with the Third Committee of the General Assembly on 2 November. In light of what the EU called a ‘disconcerting trend’ of increasing reprisals, attacks and killings of human rights defenders, it welcomed the Secretary General’s Report on Reprisals (A/HRC/45/36) as well as the UN’s commitment to a system wide strategy to protect civil society space. The EU also condemned the practice by some States in the ECOSOC Committee on NGOs of blocking accreditation for NGOs without justification. Furthermore, the EU asked the ASG how civil society participation in key UN meetings could be improved, including the Third Committee. 

In her responses, the ASG reaffirmed the UN’s commitment to enhance civil society participation at all levels including in New York at the Third Committee, and encouraged discussions on this. She emphasised that furthering the inclusion of civil society participation is a specific priority in the Secretary General’s “Call to action for Human Rights” and that the UN has followed this with endorsement at a UN-wide level with a particular focus on the 3 ‘Ps’ – Protection, Promotion and Participation of civil society. She indicated that there was a plan to implement this focus with specific guidance in the future. 

In response to a question by Latvia on challenges that her office faces, the ASG emphasised the challenges surrounding the looming budgetary discussions. While reiterating that human rights is one of the three key pillars, the ASG lamented that only 3.7% of the overall budget is devoted to human rights. She urged support for human rights in the budget  so that the crucial functions could continue to be performed.

https://www.ishr.ch/news/unga75-assistant-secretary-general-encourages-discussions-improving-civil-society-participation

https://www.un.org/sg/en/content/profiles/ilze-brands-kehris

Nicaragua: things getting worse and worse for human rights defenders: COVID-19 and foreign agents

October 17, 2020
The New Humanitarian of 2 September 2020 carried a special feature on Nicaragua. President Daniel Ortega is making life increasingly hard for aid and human rights groups in Nicaragua even as poverty, malnutrition, and emigration due to political strife are on the rise, and as he is criticised for a dismissive and reckless response to the coronavirus outbreak. Moreover, a new law for the regulation of “foreign agents” was passed on 15 October.

“In Nicaragua, simply existing as a person carries a risk,” Ana Quirós, director of the Center for Information and Advisory Services in Health, or CISAS, told The New Humanitarian. “You do not need a particular reason to become a victim of violence, of repression, kidnapping or assassination. It is a general risk.

Quirós was deported and stripped of citizenship in November 2018 after the government accused CISAS, which had been working on health education and HIV prevention in Nicaragua with the support of several international aid groups and actors – including Medico International, Medicus Mundi, and the EU – of “participating in destabilising activities”.

Quirós said individuals still working with aid and civic groups in the country are under great threat, and that several people who had been working with CISAS in Nicaragua since it was banned had been forced to flee the Central American country.

It has been during this pandemic that the absence of the NGOs has been most strongly felt, especially for us working in health,” the CISAS director said. “The government hasn’t made any efforts regarding communication, training, education in health, and with regard to the other basic human rights of the population,” Quirós said. “The population is very unprotected, and is hungry for information and real knowledge about the risks and measures that one needs to take to prevent illnesses.

Forty years after Ortega led a socialist revolution to uproot the dictatorship of Anastasio Somoza, Nicaragua continues to be burdened by a host of humanitarian concerns, albeit as it isolates itself from international aid institutions.

Under the government leadership of Ortega and his influential wife, Vice-President Rosario Murillo, the country remains one of the poorest in Latin America, while the violent repression of political opponents since April 2018 has generated a migration crisis proportionately comparable to that of Venezuela. After Ortega’s re-election in 2006, Nicaragua’s poverty rate fell, following a similar trend throughout Latin America, but an independent report published at the end of 2019 estimates that it has since soared, and that roughly a third of the population, or more than two million people, now live on less than $1.76 per day.

According to the World Food Programme, 17 percent of children under five suffer from chronic malnutrition, with the rate at nearly 30 percent – similar to humanitarian crisis settings such as Somalia – in Nicaragua’s northern provinces, which form part of Central America’s dry corridor. In 2019, WFP provided assistance to 45,000 people in Nicaragua affected by the seasonal climate change-linked emergency.

Due to severe restrictions on free assembly and expression, it is probable that protection and humanitarian needs are under-reported in Nicaragua,” ACLED wrote in an email to TNH. “It is clear from current political violence and demonstration trends in Nicaragua – particularly amid the pandemic – that the situation requires urgent attention from international humanitarian actors.

Demonstrations initially flared in April 2018 against a social security reform, which has since been scrapped. They later morphed into broader political unrest as the government responded with heavy-handed measures against student protesters, and as dissatisfaction grew at government corruption and the Ortegas’ increasingly autocratic rule.

The ensuing government crackdown led to the deaths of hundreds of people – the government set the number at 197, while human rights groups say it was at least 325 – and drove more than 103,000 people to seek asylum abroad. Most fled to neighbouring Costa Rica, where at least 400,000 Nicaraguans had already been living.

In July, Michelle Bachelet, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, condemned the ongoing repression in the country two years after the initial protests, listing a litany of government offences between March and June, including arbitrary arrests, house searches without warrants, and detentions, threats, and intimidation.

Line graph of demonstrations in Nicaragua, 2019-2020

Human rights violations continue to be documented against those who the government perceives as opponents, including human rights defenders, journalists, social leaders, and former political detainees,” Bachelet reported.

The crushing of the opposition included, in 2019, the revocation of the legal status of a number of civil society groups and local NGOs – the Nicaragua Centre for Human Rights (CENIDH) and CISAS among them.

Here, one cannot organise trade unions or teachers. One cannot organise any group that is not under the auspice of the regime,” Monica Baltodano, director of the Popol Na Foundation, another of the banned groups, told the independent news site Confidencial last December.

….Vice-President Murillo told Nicaraguans that the country was under divine protection, while officials ordered medical staff not to wear personal protective equipment (PPE) in order not to scare patients. In July, 25 doctors were fired for signing a letter critical of the government’s handling of the pandemic. It asked simply that health workers should not be persecuted and that they be allowed to use PPE.

After the United States and the EU imposed financial sanctions on Nicaraguan officials last year, 65 of the 148 officially recognised political prisoners were released from prison in December. Further sanctions have been imposed since, including on a second son of the presidential couple. But international political pressure has routinely been countered by the message that Nicaragua will manage on its own.

International aid groups and agencies have also experienced government pressure as it attempts to influence and define their roles. Ever since Ortega resumed the presidency in 2007, the organisations have had to operate with increasing care, former aid workers familiar with the country told TNH.

In 2015, the United Nations Development Programme was told by the government that it was no longer needed as an intermediary between donors and those executing development projects. Without providing further details, the authorities said the agency and its country chief were accused of “political meddling”, and of maintaining a “hidden agenda”.

UNDP told TNH at the end of July that its operations in Nicaragua were now “limited” and that it did not have a resident representative or a deputy representative. The UN agency did not respond to requests for further comment on the situation in the country.

In 2018, the government expelled a UN human rights team after the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights requested an immediate end to the persecution of political opponents and called for the disarming of masked civilians responsible for a string of killings and detentions. Soon after, two missions of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) investigating violence during the anti-government protests were also thrown out.

As COVID-19 cases appear to mount, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) – the regional wing of the World Health Organization – has urged the government to take stronger measures to curb the spread of the virus.

PAHO continues to await authorisation to send a team of experts to evaluate the situation. Since the beginning of the outbreak, it has donated PPE to the health ministry, while repeatedly stating that the official COVID-19 data provided is incomplete.

In spite of donations from various international sources, doctors have argued that distribution of masks and other PPE items remains inadequate. As of 26 August, Citizen’s COVID-19 Observatory estimated that 107 health workers in Nicaragua had died from the coronavirus…

Meanwhile, the International Committee of the Red Cross, one of the few international aid groups with a presence in Nicaragua, has offered its support to help with the release of what human rights groups estimate – following the protest crackdown – to be more than 6,000 political prisoners.

In a written statement to TNH, the organisation said: “The ICRC returned permanently to Nicaragua in 2018. We have been visiting detention sites since 2019, and in November 2019 renewed our host country agreement. We can develop our humanitarian action with openness, in dialogue with the authorities and civil society, according to our humanitarian principles and working methods.”

Last Thursday 15 October Nicaragua’s National Assembly approved the law for the regulation of ‘foreign agents “. The law requires any Nicaraguan citizen working for “governments, companies, foundations or foreign organizations” to register with the Interior Ministry, report monthly their income and spending and provide prior notice of what the foreign funds will be spent on. The law establishes sanctions for those who do not register. Once registered as “foreign agents,” those Nicaraguans may not “finance or promote the financing of any type of organization, movement, political party, coalition or political alliance or association” that gets involved in Nicaragua’s internal politics.

https://www.thenewhumanitarian.org/news-feature/2020/09/02/Nicaragua-conflict-political-unrest-poverty-coronavirus

Nicaragua passes controversial ‘foreign agent’ law

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

October 6, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See also:

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

and

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

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

What can funders do for Human Rights Defenders during COVID-19?

September 29, 2020

 David Mattingly in Open Global Rights asks: “What Kind of Support Do Human Rights Defenders Need During COVID-19?“. The details are worth it:

 

…as governments grapple to provide relief, local organizations and activists are playing a critical role in responding to the pandemic. But they continue to face increased restrictions, threats, and attacks intended to curtail activism and stifle dissent—and they urgently need sufficient resources and political support from the international philanthropic community to continue their efforts.  The Fund for Global Human Rights initiated a COVID-19 impact survey to assess the challenges and opportunities that emerged for civil society over the first three months of the pandemic. Drawing on a deep global network of frontline activists and organizations from more than twenty countries, the Fund surveyed over 200 grantee human rights organizations in late April and early May to better understand how the pandemic has impacted their work. [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/07/23/us1-million-fund-to-support-100-ngos-hit-by-covid-19/]

The survey offers valuable insights into how the activism landscape has changed—and what kind of support is necessary to sustain human rights work through this period of global crisis and beyond. Despite the challenging circumstances, frontline activists are demonstrating remarkable resilience and pivoting to respond differently to community needs. 

Nearly half of the survey’s respondents reported that they were still able to engage in their core work areas, like advocating for LGBTQ equality or defending Indigenous peoples’ land and resource rights. And 40% of respondents said that they were able to continue some core activities while also taking on new areas of work such as monitoring government actions in response to the pandemic, documenting the impact of COVID-19 on their constituencies, or providing community education on health and safety. Remarkably, 11% of respondents said that they had engaged entirely with these new areas of work or activities, which  they had not previously carried out, in order to address the pandemic. A minimal number of respondents—only 3%—answered that they were unable to continue working, and none expected to shut down entirely. 

Despite this largely positive outlook, the picture is likely to change over time as groups learn of more lost funding, donors shift priorities, and the public health crisis deepens across new geographies. This change is already taking place as activists working with historically marginalized groups—including Indigenous peoples and religious, ethnic, and racial minorities disproportionately impacted by COVID-19—have seen firsthand.

Around the world, botched or wanting pandemic responses have highlighted deep cracks in global and domestic systems—from massive disruptions in the transnational food supply chain to marginalized workers being excluded from government assistance programs. Human rights activists have demonstrated their capacity to redirect their resources and balance short-term—and often life-or-death—priorities with their longer-term goals. Thanks to this capacity for adaptation and responsiveness, civil society is poised to meet this moment of reckoning. 

However, human rights defenders are working under tremendous pressure. The pandemic has generated new priorities and urgencies, even as the immense challenges of frontline activism have multiplied. 

From Hungary to Brazil, governments have taken advantage of lockdowns and emergency measures to close civic spaces, curb fundamental freedoms, and stifle opposition. And in an effort to consolidate power, authoritarian or populist leaders are abusing prudent health and safety restrictions to specifically target human rights defenders. Nearly half of survey respondents reported that they had already been targeted by restrictions, curfews, or containment measures.

In Honduras, several prominent activists were arrested on trumped-up charges related to the pandemic, many of whom were attacked or jailed without access to legal recourse. Over 50% of survey respondents reported challenges to the normal functioning of protection mechanisms for human rights defenders.

In addition to these mounting dangers, survey respondents reported that infrastructure issues—including lost funding (37 respondents), sick staff (10 respondents), and reduced staff due to budget cuts (25 respondents)—were impacting their work. A quarter of respondents reported that technical difficulties, such as the lack of reliable internet or access to banks, pose a major challenge. Others mentioned dealing with impacts to their personal well-being, looking after sick family, or lacking access to critical supplies as paramount difficulties—an important reminder that human rights defenders are vulnerable to the same systemic inequalities they fight to overcome.

The imperative for human rights groups to demonstrate their relevance by addressing their community’s needs is made crystal clear by the impacts of the pandemic, which cut across areas of economic and social rights, health rights, migrants’ rights, and beyond. As they fill gaps in governments’ pandemic responses and fight for those most vulnerable to receive the resources and attention they need, frontline groups have the opportunity to continue expanding their grassroots constituencies by demonstrating their value to more people.

In recent years, the international human rights movement has been in a process of rethinking its role and strategies, and the pandemic is accelerating this reflection. This kind of crisis—and the myriad effects reported by survey respondents—begs funders to consider how they balance being nimble, adaptive, and reactive to emergencies such as COVID-19 with the values and strategy of long-term support and movement building.

These examples and data demonstrate the importance but also the effectiveness of partnering with frontline groups that are rooted in their communities and well-positioned to continue their critical, long-term work even as they adapt to shifting priorities. As funders, we must trust our frontline partners to assess their communities’ greatest needs and offer the flexibility to pivot amid a crisis. This means flexible funding, of course, but it also entails support for holistic security and wellness, and emergency funds and political support for activists that are targeted.

As different groups learn to navigate this new operating environment, it is critical that funders make space for cross-regional and intersectional exchanges, following the lead and priority of frontline activists, to compare  strategies, share learning, and foster solidarity.

More than 70% of survey respondents said they had explored or considered engaging with other groups working on similar issues and were interested in connecting with their peers. But with nearly a quarter indicating they have unreliable internet, funders must play a greater role in providing tech support and the means to collaborate. 

The Fund’s COVID-19 impact survey set out to answer the same question activists ask every day: what does our community need? The answers were a heartening reaffirmation of the resilience of civil society, as well as a pertinent reminder that, in times of crisis, our support must meet the demands of the moment.  

The pandemic is accelerating the need for adaptation and, as funders, we should take our cue from how local rights groups are nimbly pivoting to address both immediate and longer-term needs. As grassroots activists and advocates overcome mounting adversities to offer life-changing support in a historic moment of global turmoil, funders must learn, adapt, and evolve alongside them.

https://www.openglobalrights.org/what-kind-of-support-do-human-rights-activists-need-during-covid-19/

NGO statement on the achievements and challenges of the 44th session of the UN Human Rights Council

July 21, 2020

Further to my post of yesteday [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/07/20/un-human-rights-council-concluds-44th-session-and-appoints-four-special-rapporteurs-including-irene-khan/] here a more complete assessment of the result of the 44th session of the UN Human Rights Counccil as seen by the following NGOs: ARTICLE 19, Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS), and IFEX, and published on 20 July 2020

Hong Kong’s chief executive Carrie Lam on giant screens remotely addressing the opening of the UN Human Rights Council’s 44th session on in Geneva, Switzerland, 30 June 2020, FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP via Getty Images

The 44th session of the HRC resulted in a number of welcome resolutions, on peaceful protests and freedom of opinion and expression among them, and country-specific discussions. However, several States escaped collective scrutiny this session.[see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/06/25/human-rights-defenders-and-the-44th-session-of-the-un-human-rights-council/]

The 44th session of the UN Human Rights Council began with China’s imposition of legislation severely undermining rights and freedoms in Hong Kong. Within days, there were reports of hundreds of arrests, some for crimes that didn’t even exist previously. We welcome efforts during this session by a growing number of States to collectively address China’s sweeping rights abuses, but more is needed. An unprecedented 50 Special Procedures recently expressed concerns at China’s mass violations in Xinjiang, Hong Kong and Tibet, suppression of information in the context of COVID-19, and the targeting of human rights defenders across the country. The Council should heed the call of these UN experts to hold a Special Session and create a mechanism to monitor and document rights violations in the country. No state is beyond international scrutiny. China’s turn has come.

The 44th session also marked an important opportunity to enable those affected directly by human rights violations to speak to the Council through NGO video statements.

Amnesty’s Laith Abu Zeyad addressed the Council remotely from the occupied West Bank where he has been trapped by a punitive travel ban imposed by Israel since October 2019. We call on the Israeli authorities to end all punitive or arbitrary travel bans.

During the interactive dialogue with the Commission of Inquiry on Syria, victims’ associations and families of victims highlighted the human rights violations occurring in detention centers in Syria. We welcome the efforts by some States to underline their demands and welcome the adoption of the Syria resolution on detainees and urge the Syrian government to take all feasible measures to release detainees and provide truth to the families, noting the important pressure needed by Member States to further call for accountability measures for crimes committed in Syria.

Collette Flanagan, Founder of Mothers against Police Brutality, also delivered a powerful video statement at the Council explaining the reality of racist policing in the United States of America. We fully support victims’ families’ appeals to the Council for accountability.

We hope that the High Commissioner’s report on systemic racism, police violence and government responses to antiracism peaceful protests will be the first step in a series of meaningful international accountability measures to fully and independently investigate police killings, to protect and facilitate Black Lives Matter and other protests, and to provide effective remedy and compensation to victims and their families in the United States of America and around the world.

We appreciate the efforts made by the Council Presidency and OHCHR to overcome the challenges of resuming the Council’s work while taking seriously health risks associated with COVID-19, including by increasing remote and online participation. We recommend that remote civil society participation continue and be strengthened for all future sessions of the Council.

Despite these efforts, delays in finalising the session dates and modalities, and subsequent changes in the programme of work, reduced the time CSOs had to prepare and engage meaningfully. This has a disproportionate impact on CSOs not based in Geneva, those based in different time zones and those with less capacity to monitor the live proceedings. Other barriers to civil society participation this session included difficulties to meet the strict technical requirements for uploading video statements, to access resolution drafts and follow informal negotiations remotely, especially from other time zones, as well as a decrease in the overall number of speaking slots available for NGO statements due to the cancellation of general debates this session as an ‘efficiency measure.’

We welcome the joint statement led by the core group on civil society space and endorsed by cross regional States and civil society, which calls on the High Commissioner to ensure that the essential role of civil society, and States’ efforts to protect and promote civil society space, are reflected in the report on impact of the COVID-19 pandemic presented to the 46th Session of the HRC. We urge all States at this Council to recognise and protect the key role that those who defend human rights play.

These last two years have seen unlawful use of force perpetrated by law enforcement against peaceful protesters, protest monitors, journalists worldwide, from the United States of America to Hong Kong, to Chile to France , Kenya to Iraq to Algeria, to India to Lebanon with impunity.

We therefore welcome that the resolution “the promotion and protection of human rights in the context of peaceful protests” was adopted by consensus, and that the Council stood strongly against some proposed amendments which would have weakened it. We also welcome the inclusion in the resolution of a panel during the 48th session to discuss such events and how States can strengthen protections. We urge States to ensure full accountability for such human rights violations as an essential element of the protection of human rights in the context of protests. The current context has accelerated the urgency of protecting online assembly, and we welcome that the resolution reaffirms that peaceful assembly rights guaranteed offline are also guaranteed online. In particular, we also commend the resolution for calling on States to refrain from internet shutdowns and website blocking during protests, while incorporating language on the effects of new and emerging technologies, particularly tools such as facial recognition, international mobile subscriber identity-catchers (“stingrays”) and closed-circuit television.

We welcome that the resolution on “freedom of opinion and expression” contains positive language including on obligations surrounding the right to information, emphasising the importance of measures for encryption and anonymity, and strongly condemning the use of internet shutdowns.. Following the High Commissioner’s statement raising alarm at the abuse of ‘false news’ laws to crackdown on free expression during the COVID-19 pandemic, we also welcome that the resolution stresses that responses to the spread of disinformation and misinformation must be grounded in international human rights law, including the principles of lawfulness, legitimacy, necessity and proportionality. At the same time, we are concerned by the last minute addition of language which focuses on restrictions to freedom of expression, detracting from the purpose of the resolution to promote and protect the right. As we look to the future, it is important that the core group builds on commitments contained in the resolution and elaborate on pressing freedom of expression concerns of the day, particularly for the digital age, such as the issue of surveillance or internet intermediary liability, while refocusing elements of the text.

The current context has not only accelerated the urgency of protecting assembly and access to information, but also the global recognition of the right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment. We welcome the timely discussions on ”realizing children’s right to a healthy environment” and the concrete suggestions for action from panelists, States, and civil society. The COVID-19 crisis, brought about by animal-to-human viral transmission, has clarified the interlinkages between the health of the planet and the health of all people. We therefore support the UN Secretary General’s call to action on human rights, as well as the High Commissioner’s statement advocating for the global recognition of the human right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment – already widely reflected at national and regional levels – and ask that the Council adopts a resolution in that sense. We also support the calls made by the Marshall Islands, Climate Vulnerable Forum, and other States of the Pacific particularly affected and threatened by climate change. We now urge the Council to strengthen its role in tackling the climate crisis and its adverse impacts on the realization of human rights by establishing a Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Climate Change, which will help address the urgency of the situation and amplify the voices of affected communities.

The COVID crisis has also exacerbated discrimination against women and girls. We welcome the adoption by the Council of a strong resolution on multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination against women and girls, which are exacerbated in times of a global pandemic. The text, inter alia, reaffirms the rights to sexual and reproductive health and to bodily autonomy, and emphasizes legal obligations of States to review their legislative frameworks through an intersectional approach. We regret that such a timely topic has been questioned by certain States and that several amendments were put forward on previously agreed language.

The Council discussed several country-specific situations, and renewed the mandates in some situations.

We welcome the renewal of the Special Rapporteur’s mandate and ongoing scrutiny on Belarus. The unprecedented crackdown on human rights defenders, journalists, bloggers and members of the political opposition in recent weeks ahead of the Presidential election in August provide a clear justification for the continued focus, and the need to ensure accountability for Belarus’ actions. With concerns that the violations may increase further over the next few weeks, it is essential that the Council members and observers maintain scrutiny and pressure even after the session has finished.

We welcome the extension of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Eritrea. We urge the government to engage, in line with its Council membership obligations, as the Special Rapporteur’s ‘benchmarks for progress’ form a road map for human rights reform in the country.

We welcome the High Commissioner report on the human rights situation in the Philippines which concluded, among other things, that the ongoing killings appear to be widespread and systematic and that “the practical obstacles to accessing justice in the country are almost insurmountable.” We regret that even during this Council session, President Duterte signed an Anti Terrorism Law with broad and vague definition of terrorism and terrorists and other problematic provisions for human rights and rule of law, which we fear will be used to stifle and curtail the rights to freedom of opinion and expression, to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association. Also during this session, in a further attack on press freedom, Philippine Congress rejected the franchise renewal of independent media network ABS-CBN, while prominent journalist Maria Ressa and her news website Rappler continue to face court proceedings and attacks from President Duterte after Ressa’s cyber libel conviction in mid-June. We support the call from a group of Special Procedures to the Council to establish an independent, impartial investigation into human rights violations in the Philippines and urge the Council to establish it at the next session.

The two reports presented to the Council on Venezuela this session further document how lack of judicial independence and other factors perpetuate impunity and prevent access to justice for a wide range of violations of civil, cultural, economic, political, and social rights in the country. We also urge the Council to stand ready to extend, enhance and expand the mandate of the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission when it reports in September.

We also welcome the report of the Special rapporteur on the human rights situation in the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967 and reiterate his call for States to ensure Israel puts an end to all forms of collective punishment. We also reiterate his call to ensure that the UN database of businesses involved with Israeli settlements becomes a living tool, through sufficient resourcing and annual updating.

We regret, however, that several States have escaped collective scrutiny this session.

We reiterate the UN Special Rapporteur Agnes Callamard’s call to pressure Saudi Arabia to release prisoners of conscience and women human rights defenders and call on all States to sustain the Council’s scrutiny over the situation at the September session.

Despite calls by the High Commissioner for prisoners’ release, Egypt has arrested defenders, journalists, doctors and medical workers for criticizing the government’s COVID-19 response. We recall that all of the defenders that the Special Procedures and the High Commissioner called for their release since September 2019 are still in pre-trial detention. The Supreme State Security Prosecution and ‘Terrorism Circuit courts’ in Egypt, are enabling pre-trial detention as a form of punishment including against human rights defenders and journalists and political opponents, such as Ibrahim Metwally, Mohamed El-Baqer and Esraa Abdel Fattah, Ramy Kamel, Alaa Abdel-Fattah, Patrick Zaky, Ramy Shaat, Eman Al-Helw, Solafa Magdy and Hossam El-Sayed. Once the terrorism circuit courts resumed after they were suspended due to COVID-19, they renewed their detention retroactively without their presence in court. It’s high time the Council holds Egypt accountable.

As highlighted in a joint statement of Special Procedures, we call on the Indian authorities to immediately release HRDs, who include students, activists and protest leaders, arrested for protesting against changes to India’s citizenship laws. Also eleven prominent HRDs continue to be imprisoned under false charges in the Bhima Koregaon case. These activists face unfounded terror charges under draconian laws such as sedition and under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. While we welcome that Safoora Zargar was granted bail on humanitarian grounds, the others remain at high risk during a COVID-19 pandemic in prisons with not only inadequate sanitary conditions but also limited to no access to legal counsel and family members. A number of activists have tested positive in prison, including Akhil Gogoi and 80-year-old activist Varavara Rao amid a larger wave of infections that have affected many more prisoners across the country. Such charges against protestors, who were exercising their rights to freedom of peaceful assembly must be dropped. We call on this Council to strengthen their demands to the government of India for accountability over the excessive use of force by the police and other State authorities against the demonstrators.

In Algeria, between 30 March and 16 April 2020, the Special rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, human rights defenders, issued three urgent appeals in relation to cases involving arbitrary and violent arrests, unfair trials and reprisals against human rights defenders and peaceful activists Olaya Saadi, Karim Tabbou and Slimane Hamitouche. Yet, the Council has been silent with no mention of the crackdown on Algerian civil society, including journalists.

To conclude on a positive note, we welcome the progress in the establishment of the OHCHR country office in Sudan, and call on the international community to continue to provide support where needed to the transitional authorities. While also welcoming their latest reform announcements, we urge the transitional authorities to speed up the transitional process, including reforms within the judiciary and security sectors, in order to answer the renewed calls from protesters for the enjoyment of “freedom, peace and justice” of all in Sudan. We call on the Council to ensure continued monitoring and reporting on Sudan.

https://ifex.org/human-rights-council-ngo-statement-on-the-achievements-and-challenges-of-the-44th-session/

UNDP launches a Global Initiative on Business and Human Rights

July 8, 2020

With thanks to Reliefweb for posting on 7 July 2020 here UNDP’s launch of a project to implement the human rights and bussines agenda.

Excerpts from the speech by Mourad Wahba (Assistant Administrator of UNDP and Director of the UNDP Regional Bureau for Arab States):

UNDP has been working on advancing the business and human rights agenda since 2016 when we started a regional programme in Asia, built around the participation and partnership of governments, businesses, Civil Society organisations, National Human Rights Institutions, trade unions and other stakeholders. Our work has been strongly aligned with the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights, the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights, ILO and the OECD.

Our collaboration will now grow. Last week, UNDP launched a Global Initiative on Business and Human Rights building on our achievements in Asia, which will incrementally expand to the rest of the world.

The Global Initiative will have four main fronts:

  1. Supporting governments in developing and implementing National Action Plans;
  2. Strengthening access to justice for victims of business-related human rights abuses;
  3. Advising corporations on how to address human rights risks; and
  4. Enabling peer-learning for government officials, businesses, civil society and national human rights institutions.

We are honoured to partner with the Working Group and OHCHR, to chart the lessons learned since the adoption of the Guiding Principles and accelerate their implementation. Over the coming 12 months we will be hosting regional consultations, which will guide the development of a joint Roadmap for the Next Decade of Business and Human Rights.

Our network of five regional offices and 170 country offices will be leveraged to ensure all relevant stakeholders, including representatives of vulnerable and marginalised groups, are consulted on the way forward.

UNDP believes that the elaboration of this Roadmap should be guided by the goals set in the 2030 Agenda and the Secretary General’s Call to Action for Human Rights….

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/01/28/ngos-demand-that-rules-against-strategic-lawsuits-against-public-participation-slapp-are-upgraded/

https://reliefweb.int/report/world/project-launch-business-and-human-rights-towards-decade-global-implementation

Good practice examples abound in new UN report on civil society

June 15, 2020

Participation, promotion and protection are the three watchwords that should guide the UN’s work on and with civil society, says a newly-released UN report.  Offering examples of good practice within the UN system -which provide a baseline for a new UN strategy on civil society- and a range of  recommendations, the report is timed to inform decision-making at the 44th session of the UN’s Human Rights Council. 

On 31 May 2020 the ISHR discussed the new report of the UN on civil society: with countless recent examples of restrictive and repressive measures taken to silence or discredit civil society actors, the UN’s new report drawing together examples of some good practices across the UN, is timely. Re-stating the vital contribution of civil society actors, the report goes on to cite examples of good practices of UN entities engaging with and protecting civil society. The report recommendations – aimed at encouraging improvement across the UN system as well as by States – echo several which ISHR has consistently voiced .

ISHR’s Eleanor Openshaw said that good practice examples to inspire reform by the UN and States were valuable: ‘In days where we’ve seen journalists being arrested in Minneapolis and an increasing number of defenders murdered in Colombia – as just two such examples – we need States and UN bodies to revise and strengthen their practice to ensure the voice of civil society is heard and safeguarded.’…

The report contains examples where discussion between different stakeholders has been formalized and where their input is part of the process from policy inception to implementation,’ noted Openshaw.

One such example is the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC), created by the UN General Assembly which styles itself as ‘a unique inter-agency forum for coordination, policy development and decision-making involving the key UN and non-UN humanitarian partners’. ‘This example of civil society having a seat at the table in recognition of the experience and expertise they bring to the issue makes more evident the lack of such opportunities in other spaces, particularly in human rights bodies,’ said Openshaw.

The report also highlights clear gaps. One of the key findings is the absence in 2/3 of UN mechanisms of means to contest restrictions on civil society participation or access to information. Whilst the report makes no explicit reference to Covid-19, having sought input prior to the onset of the pandemic, it does contain recommendations that speak to shifts in practice the pandemic has engendered.It notes how the impact of any modifications should be assessed to ensure civil society is not disadvantaged or disproportionately affected. This is one of several recommendations ISHR and other civil society have been making over time.

It’s great to see that the UN has reflected the recommendations of civil society groups such as ISHR, who have experience working with defenders and engaging with UN and regional organisations,’ noted Openshaw. ‘It’s but one example of civil society expertise adding value.’

The need for the UN to improve and make more consistent its work to promote, engage with and safeguard civil society has been a long-term call. The Secretary General made such a recommendation in his 2018 report on the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, and again in his recent Call to Action for Human Rights. This new UN report was as a result of the request made by the Human Rights Council in 2018

https://www.ishr.ch/news/hrc44-three-key-principles-should-guide-uns-work-civil-society-says-new-report

Along with the full report, the UN has produced a one-pager summarizing key report recommendations.

CIVICUS expresses solidarity with US protesters in their struggle for justice

June 6, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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