Summary: ALERT US: If you are aware of draft laws to restrict civil society activities or existing restrictions not listed below, email us at [email protected].
The role of children's rights advocates depends on the freedom to speak out – a freedom which serves as a litmus test for other freedoms in society.
Without the work of these advocates, CRIN would not exist. We believe that civil society, grass roots activists and children all have the right to participate and express themselves freely and openly in all matters affecting them.
While in some places the internet is opening up opportunities for NGOs, human rights defenders and journalists to express and find out about new ideas, many States are clutching at threats to national security as a pretext for closing in on civil society and restricting access to information.
As part of CRIN's transparency campaign, we are monitoring restrictions on children's rights advocates' work.
Round-up of constraints on the activities of civil society organisations by country:
• Afghanistan / Angola / Azerbaijan
• Bahrain / Burundi
• Egypt / Ethiopia
• Iran / Israel
• Uganda / United States
• Venezuela / Vietnam
Also read updates from the:
In April 2010, Amnesty International reported that Afghan women and child rights defenders “face intimidation and attacks as they attempt to tackle violence and discrimination in the country.” Read more here.
In August 2011, a group of international civil society organisations wrote an open letter to Angola's Minister of External Relations to draw attention to violations against human rights defenders in the country, including intimidation and death threats received by young people involved in public demonstrations.
Since February 2011, authorities in Azerbaijan have been carrying out a systematic clampdown on civil society, including by shutting down the Human Rights House in March, demolishing the offices of three human rights activists in August, and convicting political activists also in August. Read more.
In Bahrain, pro-democracy protesters are being put on trial in military courts and are facing lengthy prison sentences for speaking out against the country's monarchy. Some of the charges against the activists reflect the State's repression of the right to democratic dissent and freedom of expression and association: they include taking part in rallies without notifying competent authorities, the incitement of hatred, and contempt of the regime, More here.
Burundi is also cracking down on civil society, media, and opposition parties in the wake of recent elections, Human Rights Watch has said in a report released in November 2010. The report documents abuses including torture, arbitrary arrests, banning of opposition activities, and harassment of civil society groups. Download the report.
Cambodia: A draft bill at the latter stages of the legislative process proposes that all NGOs will have to register with the government, imposes overly bureaucratic registration procedures and has no appeal process, according to Article 19. It further requires NGOs to submit annual reports, obliges international NGOs to have an office in Cambodia and sign agreements with the government. Read more.
In Egypt, civil society groups have spoken out against a "smear campaign" against them by the country's military rulers, which aims to discredit organisations as unpatriotic if they recieve funding from foreign sources. Civil society groups are facing charges of treason, harming national security and carrying out foreign agendas. Some organisations say they are being targetted because of their work exposing human rights violations commited by members of the armed forces, who, they say, are attempting to intimidate them by carrying out investigations.
In January 2012, the United Nations voiced alarm at reports that the Egyptian military carried out raids against the offices of NGOs. Egyptian soldiers are said to have attacked several Cairo-based NGOs, forcing their way in, blocking doors from the inside, and seizing computers and files. In some cases, the mobile phones of employees were confiscated.
In April 2012, eight North American NGOs' requests to operate in Egypt were rejected by the Insurance and Social Affairs Ministry because it believed the groups' activities violated state sovereignty. The country also requested Interpol issue worldwide arrest warrants for 15 employees of a number of US-based NGOs that operate in Egypt, but the request was denied. More here.
Also in Egypt, 39 human rights and development organisations have drafted a new law to free civil society organisations from restrictive state regulation, which if approved would allow them to function will less state interference, guarantee transparency in their work and sources of funding, and enable them to form and join international and local networks and alliances. Read the petition here.
Ethiopia has been widely criticised for its repressive law governing civil society activities. Proclamation No. 621/2009 for the Registration of Charities and Societies required the re-registration of all civil society organisations. Stringent registration conditions meant that many organisations had to shut down. Violations of the law, which are very broad, can lead to imprisonment. Foreign organisations working on certain issues, including human rights, are no longer allowed to operate in Ethiopia. The same goes for national organisations which receive more than 10 per cent of their funding from international sources. In November, the Committee Against Torture called on Ethiopia "to acknowledge the crucial role of NGOs in preventing, documenting and assisting victims of torture and ill-treatment, consider lifting the funding restrictions on local human rights NGOs, unblock any frozen assets of those NGOs, and ensure their freedom from harassment and intimidation, with a view to enabling them to play a meaningful role in the implementation of the Convention in the State party, thereby assisting the State party in fulfilling its obligations under the Convention." (paragraph 34). Read more here and here.
In regional news, 18 human rights organisations across Africa recently voiced outrage over the refusal of the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights to grant observer status to The Coalition of African Lesbians (CAL). The decision, they say, is particularly disturbing in light of moves by a number of African countries to enforce ever harsher laws criminalising homosexuality. Full story.
In 2009 a decree was issued in Honduras which allows authorities to clamp down on child rights activists. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) said it was “deeply concerned” over the executive decree 011-2009 adopted by the de facto authorities in Honduras, through which fundamental rights have been restricted, such as personal liberty and freedom of association. Human rights defenders named as being at risk, included four child rights advocates. Read more here.
At its latest session (March 2011), the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights announced the appointment of a Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders. The Rapporteur is Commissioner José de Jesús Orozco Henríquez.
ARTICLE 19 has expressed its concern about three recommendations to the Inter-American human rights system, which are aimed at strengthening this human rights body, but which could in fact restrict the role and resources of the Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression. One of the recommendations is a proposal to abandon the annual report of the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and incorporate all Rapporteurs’ reports under a single section in the Inter-American Commission on Human Right’s (IACHR) annual report. ARTICLE 19 argues that this move would "deprive the OAS of important and independent assessment of the situation in the region and might lead to lesser attention to serious human rights violations." The other worrying proposals inculde a recommendation for the adoption of a "code of conduct" for the management of IACHR Rapporteurs, which ARTICLE 19 fears could potentially be abused to "interfere with the independence of all special rapporteur mandates" and that "[s]uch independence must include the freedom to comment upon the issues that are covered by their mandates without any control or limitation by member states". Full story.
Elsewhere, a bill is being discussed in Iran which would mean NGOs currently operating in the country would be de-registered. Full story.
Iranian human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh, who is known for defending children who face the death penalty, is being held in solitary confinement in the country's notorious Evin prison. In a cruel turn, prison officials used her children against her. They forced Sotoudeh to insist to her 12-year-old daughter in a telephone conversation that her father refrain from publicising the case in the media, reports openDemocracy in November 2010. Sotoudeh is one of a number of children's rights lawyers in a similar predicament in Iran. Full story.
In April 2010, a bill was proposed by Israeli members of parliament entitled "Associations (Amutot) Law (Amendment – Exceptions to the Registration and Activity of an Association), 2010". This bill aims to prohibit the registration of, or to close down any existing non-governmental organisation (NGO), if "there are reasonable grounds to conclude that the association is providing information to foreign entities or is involved in legal proceedings abroad against senior Israeli government officials or IDF officers, for war crimes," reports the International Federation for Human Rights. Read more.
Also in Israel, human rights groups have condemned an Israeli ministerial committee's approval of two bills that seek torestrict foreign funding to organisations in the country. The Association for Civil Rights in Israel called the measures a "severe affront to Israel’s democratic character and part of a larger effort on the part of specific (lawmakers) to curtail the work of human rights and social change organisations whose agenda and/or activities differ from their political views." Read more here.
During its October 2010 session, the Inter-American Commission reminded the United States of its obligation to grant visas to those participating in human rights hearings. The statement was made after a hearing on the human rights situation of women in camps for internally displaced persons in Haiti was cancelled because the petitioners were denied visas.
In Lebanon, the Lebanese Centre for Human Rights (CLDH), was bracing to go through a second hearing in October 2011 for documenting arbitrary detention and torture in Lebanon. The Amal Movement, a political and para-military organisation representing Shiite interests in Lebanon, had filed a lawsuit against the CLDH following its publication in February 2011 titled “Arbitrary Detention and Torture: the bitter reality of Lebanon”. Read the article.
In Mexico, all sectors of civil society have been the targets of violent, and sometimes deadly, attacks for their human rights work, including environmentalists, indigenous leaders, journalists, students, and university professors. Recently, Norma Andrade, the founder of the organisation Nuestras Hijas de Regreso a Casa, set up to address the murder and disappearance of hundreds of women and girls in Ciudad Juárez, was shot several times and seriously wounded. Doctors treating her in hospital have also received threats.
Stepping Stones Nigeria, which works to challenge violence and discrimination against children accused of witchcraft, has spoken out against a media and intimidation campaign to slander the organisation. It strongly refutes the allegations of financial impropriety made against it in the December edition of Newswatch magazine, which the organisation says is part of a larger "campaign of lies" on the part of individuals who profit off child witchcraft accusations and who invest large sums of money to this end. Full story.
Trumped up charges and evidence planting against NGOs and human rights defenders have come to light in the Philippines. According to CIVICUS, recent events suggest a growing trend of intimidation of human rights organisations and activists, including office raids and illegal arrests and detentions. Find out how you can take action here.
Amnesty International denounces that in Russia little progress has been made to increase the safety of those who expose human rights abuses and corruption in Russia and in neighbouring countries. Journalists, civil society activists and human rights defenders are routinely subjected to intimidation, threats and attacks, with insufficient investigations being carried out on the part of authorities to bring perpetrators to justice. Lawyers have also been disbarred and journalists detained for “inciting hatred against Russian bodies”. More here.
In Uganda, the government has said it will ban 38 human rights organisations from functioning in the country because they "promote" gay rights and "recruit" children to homosexuality, saying they have received international support in their "conversion" of children into homosexuality, which is criminalised in the country. Full story.
In November 2010, Human Rights Watch called on the Vietnamese government to release a lawyer detained for exposing corruption and end its crackdown on lawyers and activists challenging the government on human rights. Full story
In December 2010, the Venezuelan government banned political parties and NGOs from receiving international funding and instituted a raft of restrictions on media organisations. Read more here and here.
Leading by example?
In campaigning for openness and transparency, it is only right that we apply the same principles to our own conduct as children's rights advocates. In this spirit, CRIN runs a campaign calling for greater transparency in how global leaders in children's rights are selected and more involvement of NGOs in these processes.
So far, we have looked at the appointment process for the Executive Director of UNICEF, members of the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child and members of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child.
We also monitor the independence of national children's ombudpersons offices.
The idea is to get people with the appropriate commitment and strong credentials to fill all these positions to lead the way in stirring more and stronger children's rights advocacy.
As a continuation of this work, we are monitoring developments in the Human Rights Council review which is currently under way. Proposals to restrict the activities and independence of the UN experts known as Special Procedure are of particular concern. Some States are pressing for mandate-holders to respect a code of conduct when carrying out their work. Others are even suggesting the establishment of an independent legal committee to monitor compliance with the code of conduct. Full details in our HRC CRINMAIL.
Reporters Without Borders considers the number of journalists murdered, expelled or harassed, and the existence of a state monopoly on TV and radio, as well as the existence of censorship and self-censorship in the media, and the overall independence of media as well as the difficulties that foreign reporters may face.
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) uses the tools of journalism to help journalists by tracking press freedom issues through independent research, fact-finding missions, and firsthand contacts in the field, including local working journalists in countries around the world. CPJ shares information on breaking cases with other press freedom organisations worldwide through the International Freedom of Expression Exchange, a global e-mail network. CPJ also tracks journalist deaths and detentions. CPJ staff applies strict criteria for each case; researchers independently investigate and verify the circumstances behind each death or imprisonment.
Freedom House likewise studies the more general political and economic environments of each nation in order to determine whether relationships of dependence exist that limit in practice the level of press freedom that might exist in theory.
World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers
Arab Press Freedom Watch
International Center for Journalists
International Federation of Journalists
International Press Institute
OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media
Canadian Journalists for Free Expression
The Committee to Protect Journalists
Electronic Frontier Foundation
Index on Censorship
International Freedom of Expression Exchange
International Press Institute
Student Press Law Center
International journalists' network
Bangladesh children's news agency
Media Monitoring Africa
Media Wise - 'for better journalism' (UK)
Press - Save the Children Norway
Youth Media and Communication Initiative (YMCI) (Nigeria)
Ghana Media Advocacy Programme
Child Rights Alliance for England (UK)