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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Reflections on the state of civil society in Bahrain – UNHRC 24th Session

by Joshua Chivanga, Intern, CIVICUS Geneva Office

Growing up in Zimbabwe I always had a dream. I envisaged sitting on the board of directors of a multilateral organisation, I dreamt of making it to the upper echelons of the United Nations; oh yes that was the nature of my dreams. I always dreamt BIG. I pictured my name enshrined in the hall of fame with clusters of people literally stampeding just to catch a glimpse of me.

Such was the power of my imagination at a tender age. Since then, days have slowly turned into weeks, weeks into months and the months into years and today I am a young man still chasing those dreams, albeit with some degree of success.

Today I am privileged to attend the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) 24th Session, not as President of the Council but as a young determined activist under the CIVICUS UN Learning Exchange Programme. Continue reading

A Revolution, a Fetish and a Box

By Amal Elmohandes, NAZRA, Egypt

Characterized as the Egyptian Revolution’s 3rd Wave, the protests on June 30 in Egypt followed the collection of more than 22 million signatories calling for the resignation of President Muhammad Morsi by the Tamarud (Rebel) Campaign.

Since the removal of President Morsi on July 3, people around the world have become preoccupied with the ‘whether it was a coup or not’ issue, to the extent that a blind eye has been turned to the 186 women who were sexually assaulted in Tahrir Square and its vicinity, some brutally raped, between June 28 – July 7, 2013.

The masses stood both united and divided, in preparation for June 30, and as has sadly become the norm with most uprisings, lives were lost, victories were celebrated and the repercussions are being endured. The severe polarization between the Islamist groups supporting Morsi, and the cluster of ideologically and politically oriented groups who support a secular state continues to make the atmosphere on the streets tense. Violence has spread like wild fire, with attacks carried out on churches, shops owned by Copts, and on Copts themselves in several Egyptian governorates, including Minia, Assuit, Luxor and Sinai. Several clashes have also taken place in different parts of Cairo including the violent killings of residents in Ben ElSarayat, ElManial and Mokattam districts, along with the massacre at the Republic Guard, where it is estimated that 50 to 80 Morsi supporters died at the hands of the Republican Guard and the Military. Continue reading

Civil Society: Whispers of progress, though we must keep shouting to get more satisfaction

By Mark Nelson, Policy and Advocacy Intern, CIVICUS

Although 2012’s Mayan apocalypse didn’t pan out quite as spectacularly as anticipated, the year was nonetheless an eventful one for civil society activists engaged in struggles for political, social, economic and environmental justice around the world. Through its Civil Society Watch project, CIVICUS continued to monitor situations adversely affecting civil society in seventy-six countries in 2012. CIVICUS’ State of Civil Society Report 2013 also focuses on an “enabling environment” for civil society.

Despite disturbing trends ranging from the deepening humanitarian crisis in Syria, where pro-democracy activists have been bombarded with tanks and heavy artillery, to authoritarian aggrandizement in Russia via draconian laws and intimidation of activists, a few small victories have been achieved through advocacy and solidarity initiatives.

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Stop! Mind the gender gap in development discourses

At a time when the United Nations, governments, development partners and civil society are vigorously having consultations on a post-2015 development framework, the issue of gender equality seems to have lost its resonance in discourses on development especially within the African continent. Lessons from experiences in implementing the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) show that countries can experience different levels of economic growth but still suffer from massive social and economic inequalities.

I recently attended a gender forum organised by the African Development Bank (AfDB) in Tunis, Tunisia which brought together government ministers, representatives from civil society, international organisations, the private sector and development practitioners. The aim of the forum was to bring together key stakeholders from the continent to map out strategies needed to redress the challenge of gender inequality in Africa. The theme of the meeting was “changing the state of gender equality in Africa.”

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The Human Rights Council: From Bangladesh to Geneva

I recently represented CIVICUS recently on a trip to Geneva to participate in Universal Periodic Review (UPR) sessions at the UN Human Rights Council. CIVICUS had made UPR submissions for Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Colombia, Russia, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, all of which were being examined at the 16th session in April this year. Of particular interest was the session on Bangladesh for CIVICUS has been very active in its advocacy on that country in recent months. Trips to Dhaka, press releases on the NGO law and now a side-event at the HRC with FORUM-ASIA entitled ‘Bangladesh: Towards a conducive environment for Human Rights Defenders’ on 25 April 2013 have made us busy indeed.

The Bangladeshi activists that flew in from Dhaka for the event were clearly being watched carefully by officials from the Bangladeshi Mission. The Mission did not make much of a secret of it. They were there for all to see in the Serpentine Bar at the United Nations Palais des Nations in Geneva, their camera phones held up taking pictures of the activists. I also saw them recording what the activists said at the CIVICUS and FORUM-ASIA side-event. Although it is welcome that the Bangladeshi Mission attended, their attentions, which felt akin to surveillance at times, did not make for an altogether pleasant interaction with the activists. Particularly when it is noted that one of the NGO’s – Odhikar, had experienced surveillance coupled with the threatening and harassment of its staff back in Bangladesh in recent years. What is more surprising though is that these intimidating attentions were occurring in the serene environs of Geneva, amidst a faux-convivial air of polite handshakes and back slapping between the activists and the Bangladeshi delegation. Continue reading

Canada: Selling out civil society too?

Last week’s stunning announcement by the National Research Council that it will only perform research that has “social or economic gain” prompted prominent astronomer and author Phil Phait to claim that Canada is selling out science.

A new report on the conditions for civil society across the world shows that Canada is selling out civil society too.

Often considered a bastion of liberal democracy and progressive values, Canada regularly ranks highly on indexes on development and human rights. The most recent editions of the Institute for Economics and Peace’s Global Peace Index, the State of World Liberty Index and the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index place Canada fourth, third and eighth respectively.

However, the State of Civil Society 2013 published by CIVICUS, the global alliance, tells a different story, one that highlights the fact that over the past six years the conditions for civil society have steadily deteriorated in Canada. Continue reading

Africa’s liberators should embrace civil society as an ally

Governments across Africa are clamping down on dissent, hiding their secrets and attacking the funding base of their critics. And it seems that those who fought hardest for freedom, are now those least convinced by the virtue of freedom of expression, association and assembly.

Despite numerous international commitments to protect civic space, evidence from around the world suggests that conditions are getting worse for civil society. Our annual stocktake, The State of Civil Society 2013, published by CIVICUS,catalogues a litany of threats to civil society: from outright violence against civic leaders, to legal restrictions on civil society organisations and dramatic funding cuts.

The situation in many African countries is particularly acute, especially where political movements that once fought for freedom and prosperity, having assumed power are now undermining both aims by trying to clampdown on civil society. What they ignore at their peril is that, while solidarity and unity are crucial during liberation struggles, debate and dissent are vital to promote both vibrant democracies and economic prosperity. Continue reading

Advancing the Business and Human Rights Agenda: Key to Reform Financial Sector

*The UN Secretary General’s July 2012 report on Business and Human Rights provides a critical insight on the need for enhanced corporate accountability and financial regulation. Governance gaps at many levels are blamed in the report for creating a “permissive environment for wrongful acts by economic actors of all kinds, without adequate sanctioning or reparation.”

Closely linked to the business and human rights agenda is the role of dominant economic policies in spurring inequality which is threatening global political, social and economic stability. A 2011 study by UNICEF estimates that the top 20% of the world’s population accounts for 70% of global income. Civil society group Oxfam estimates that the top 100 billionaires of the world earned enough money in 2012 to “make extreme poverty history four times over.” Yet, we find increasing talk about privatisation and advancement of the same neo-liberal agenda which has spurred inequality by governments around the world. Public-private partnerships are becoming the new mantra at international conferences on development as civil society groups lament the failure of states to fulfil their social contract to citizens. More and more governments are outsourcing basic services which are their responsibility to provide such as health, education, mass transport and even policing to private players as politicians and business leaders collude. Continue reading