An open letter to our fellow activists across the globe: Building from below and beyond borders

 French | Spanish 

Dear friend,

Six decades after the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted, creating a global covenant affirming the fact that ‘all human beings are born equal in dignity and rights,’ the vision lies in tatters, made worthless by the ever-increasing chasm between haves and have-nots.

Today our world is polarised into the 1% who control the world’s resources and the 99% who are on the receiving end of an unprecedented pillage of people’s labour, their lands and livelihoods. The confluence of disasters and crises (including climate change, poverty, inequality, wars) has brought our planet and the human species to the edge of a precipice.

Around the world, ordinary people are losing trust in the global governance system.  They have little faith in elected governments and public institutions. They do not believe that big corporations tell them the truth. They see the international intergovernmental system as irrelevant at best and ineffectual at worst.  They experience it as a system established to regulate the rules that are beholden to powerful predatory economic and political elites.

Yet still they dream of equality and rights.  Indeed, beyond dreaming, many actively fight for it in their daily lives.  Across all continents, people rise up on the streets, in slums and villages and towns and cities, in protest to demand jobs and decent education and health for their communities.

They have done so to end corruption, they have marched to demand participation in the decisions that affect their lives and they have risen to demand basic services like water and sanitation. At the very heart of their struggle lies their refusal to accept the glaring inequality that sits at the heart of the new world order. Continue reading

Lettre ouverte à tous ceux qui militent pour la justice sociale à travers le monde Batir de manière ascendante et par-delà les frontières


Chères amieschers amis,

Soixante ans après l’adoption de la Déclaration Universelle des Droits de l’Homme qui créa un pacte mondial affirmant que « tous les êtres humains sont nés égaux en dignité et en droits », cette vision est en lambeaux, rendue inutile par le fossé grandissant qui sépare les riches des démunis.

Notre monde est aujourd’hui divisé en deux camps, les 1 % qui contrôlent les ressources mondiales et les 99 % qui subissent ce pillage sans précédent du travail des peuples, de leurs terres et de leurs moyens de subsistance. La confluence de catastrophes et de crises (y compris les changements climatiques, la pauvreté, l’inégalité, les guerres) a mené notre planète et l’espèce humaine entière au bord d’un précipice.

De par le monde, des gens ordinaires perdent toute confiance dans le système de gouvernance mondiale. Les gouvernements élus et les institutions publiques leurs inspirent si peu d’espoir. Selon eux, les grandes entreprises ne leurs disent pas la vérité. Ils considèrent le système international intergouvernemental comme non pertinent, voire inefficace. Ils le perçoivent comme un système mis en place pour réguler des normes redevables aux puissants prédateurs que sont les élites économiques et politiques. Continue reading

Carta abierta a los activistas por justicia social en el mundo : Construir desde abajo y más allá de las fronteras

English | French

Estimadas amigas, estimados amigos,

La adopción de la Declaración Universal de los Derechos Humanos hace seis décadas creó una alianza mundial en torno a la afirmación que “todos los seres humanos nacen iguales en dignidad y derechos”. Sin embargo, hoy nos encontramos con esta visión en ruinas, convertida en inútil debido al creciente abismo entre los que tienen y los que no tienen.

Hoy en día nuestro mundo está polarizado entre el 1% que controla los recursos y el 99% que sufre el saqueo sin precedentes de su trabajo, sus tierras y medios de vida. La confluencia de desastres y crisis (como el cambio climático, la pobreza, la desigualdad, las guerras) ha llevado a nuestro planeta y la especie humana al borde de un precipicio. Continue reading

An interview with Mozynah Nofal

Mozynah is currently participating in CIVICUSs UN learning Exchange program for citizens of an African country. She is 22 years old, from Egypt and holds a Bachelor’s degree in Public Affairs and Policy Management with a specialisation in Development from Carleton University in Canada. 

CIVICUS Interview Regarding Egypt

1. What are your experiences of civil society interaction with Egypt’s interim government?

My experiences have been extremely disheartening.  One of the first efforts to organise civil society after the ousting of President Morsi on 3 July 2013, was in Rabaa Square in Cairo and in other squares across Egypt. The sit-ins in these squares were in response to the military’s removal of Egypt’s first democratically elected President. These efforts ended in the bloody massacre by the security and army forces of protesters at the Rabaa al-Adawiya and al-Nahda sit-ins on 14 August 2013, killing an estimated 1000 people and which to this day have not been properly investigated. The months that followed the massacre showed a similarly heavy handed response from the interim government and the military against Morsi supporters, and the attitude of intolerance on behalf of government and government supporters towards the opposition has been evident in every aspect of civil life. The Muslim Brotherhood has now been banned and recently labelled a terrorist group. Most of its leaders have been imprisoned and their funds now managed by a commission established by the judiciary. Continue reading

Protecting civic space against #NGOMuzzle laws in Kenya

By Irũngũ Houghton and Stephanie Muchai[1] 

 “We said that Kenyans had enacted the best and most progressive Constitution in the world. The struggle for this Constitution was by the civil society….”Hon. Fatuma Ali, MP

“Regulation and accountability is important but let us … not take away the freedom and space within which the public benefit organisations act and operate.”

Hon. Oyugi, MP

“Alongside many of my colleagues here were the alumni of the civil society at one time…as we are trying to streamline those that are very wayward, we may end up suffocating the NGOs…”

Hon. Kabando wa Kabando, MP


This article captures the background and events of November 2013 in Kenya. A set of thirteen amendments to the Public Benefits Organisations Act 2013 were unexpectedly brought to the National Assembly. If they had passed, they would have fundamentally affected civic space, democracy and development. It offers lessons and reflections on the state of governance and civil society in Kenya and the challenges of protecting and advancing fundamental freedoms within a new constitutional order.


Post independent governments in Kenya systemically violated human rights and heavily curtailed freedoms of assembly, association and expression in particular. Members of civil society were systemically harassed, intimidated, tortured and killed for attempting to exercise these rights and pierce secrecy, corruption and nepotism veils.[2] Civil society organisations who attempted to research, advocate or support communities to advocate in the public interest were attacked, banned or de-registered by state agents on trumped up charges. Continue reading

Cambodia: A No Go Zone for Human Rights Activists

by Kizito Ssekitooleko, CIVICUS Intern, Geneva.

On 28th January 2014, I attended the 18th Session of the United Nations Universal Period Review (UPR) on Cambodia. I also had the privilege of attending two side meetings held before the UPR and organized by World Association for the School as an Instrument of Peace and International PEN and its Partners. Several disturbing revelations on restrictions on the operation of human rights activists came up during the side meetings and the UPR on Cambodia.

In early January, 2014, the authoritarian regime of Cambodia passed a blanket ban on the right to exercise free assembly in Cambodia. Following this ban, all attempts by the citizens of Cambodia as well as civil society organizations to exercise their right to assemble as guaranteed in the Constitution of Cambodia are met with excessive use of force and use of lethal ammunition from police, the military and plain clothed security personnel. For example, on 3rd January, 2014, Cambodia government, using excessive force quelled a peaceful demonstration of garment workers asking a higher wage. In January, 2014, Cambodian security officers also brutally attacked peaceful demonstrators who were protesting against a government decision refusing Mr. Mam Sonando, a strong government critic and human rights defender to launch a new television channel in Phnom Penh. On 26th January, 2014, a planned demonstration organized by some Labour Unions and associations in Cambodia was stopped in advance by the deployment of the military and other security personnel at the site where peaceful demonstrators were to assemble.

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Investigations into the 2011 human rights violations in Yemen are a matter of urgency

by Kizito Ssekitooleko, CIVICUS intern, Geneva

Yemeni protesters during the 2011 revolution. Source: Al Jazeera English via Wikimedia Commons

Yemeni protesters during the 2011 revolution. Source: Al Jazeera English via Wikimedia Commons

On 29 January 2014, I attended the side meeting on Yemen, organized by CIVICUS and its partners, as well as the 18th Session of the United Nations Universal Periodic Review (UPR) on Yemen. One of the issues that arose in the side meeting and the UPR process was concerning investigations into the human rights violations during the 2011 uprising in Yemen. This issue caught my attention, because it directly touches on the work of human rights activists and human rights defenders in Yemen. As it will be shown below, the rights violated included attacks on peaceful protesters, restrictions on exercise of the right to expression, association and assembly which are core to the work of human rights activists and human rights defenders and other civil society organizations. Before I dwell on this issue, let me briefly talk about the 2011 uprising in Yemen.

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The nightmare of young North Koreans: Untold tragedy of human rights situation in China

By Hanna Noh, Intern, CIVICUS Geneva Office 

“Hungry crowd is angry crowd”, said the delegation of China emphasising the nation’s understanding on human rights during the working group report on People’s Republic of China on 22nd October, as part of the 17th Universal Periodic Review session held from 21st October to 1st November 2013 in Geneva. I watched both with expectations and questions on how much China has been committed to improving human rights. The meeting highlighted many important questions submitted in advance; limited freedom of expression on the Internet, promoting ethnic minorities especially in Tibet and Xinjang, abolition of death the penalty and  ratification of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

The picture said to be of the nine young defectors aged from 15 to 23 sent back to North Korea. Photograph by on Monday 3rd June 2013

The picture said to be of the nine young defectors aged from 15 to 23 sent back to North Korea. Photograph by on Monday 3rd June 2013

Nevertheless, China’s irresponsible practice on refugees, especially those who fled from DPRK was not appropriately addressed. It was not only omitted from China’s national report, but also failed to receive substantial attention during the interactive dialogue. In May 2013, nine young North Korean defectors who are believed to be orphans were returned to their country, believably by the Chinese authority. The 9 starved children fled from North Korea and entered Laos through China under the protection of South Korean missionary. However, before they succeeded in getting in contact with the South Korean embassy for refugee protection, the group was detained by the Laos authority and sent back to China. Until they landed at Beijing airport, the group believed that they were going to South Korea. In Beijing, the unfortunate 9 children were boarded to North Korea. However, Beijing denies that the Chinese authorities are responsible for such practice. Now the returned defectors are being used for propaganda purposees, appearing on national broadcast saying that they “were able to be back to their homeland thanks to the ‘generous leader’”. But no one knows what fate awaits them when the media spotlight is gone. Continue reading

Are human rights always the scapegoat of economic development? : Miryang, a troubled city

human rights the scapegoat of economic development

by Hanna Noh

[1] South Korea, the first country to become the UN assessment contributor from UNAIDS, miracle of the Han River. Those are common accolades commemorating South Korea’s incredible development over the past half-century. After three years of a devastating Korean War (1950-1953), the country was left impoverished and in a dire state. Consequently, basic human rights such as freedom of expression and freedom of assembly were often sacrificed in pursuit of industrialization and development. Now, South Korea enjoys its status as the world’s 15th largest GDP (Gross Domestics Products)[2] and is ranked 7th largest merchandise exporter in the world[3]. Nevertheless, what we are witnessing now in Miryang, a small farming village located in the Southeast region of South Korea, resembles the development stage of South Korea seen in the 1970’s, when government prioritised national development over individual rights.

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Chinese Female Human Rights Defender arrested without charges

by Carlyn Hambuba, Intern, CIVICUS Geneva Office 

The world is still highly patriarchal, where men enjoy certain privileges and recognition unlike women.  Women human rights defenders are not an exception to the patriarchal norm. Women human rights defenders actually face twofold harassment, first as defenders of human rights and secondly by virtue of them being women. Society still expects a woman not to be out-spoken. A woman is supposed to watch in the periphery as men make decisions, disagree, or worse even, mismanage economies or violate basic human rights.

Cao Shunli

Cao Shunli

When a woman breaks the cultural norm and becomes outspoken, she is labelled with a lot of undesirable names. If she dares try to champion the rights of others, she is ostracised. Continue reading