Latest Update: 17th October 2019 - The new CIVICUS Monitor Watch List highlights serious concerns regarding the exercise of civic freedoms in China (Hong Kong), Colombia, Egypt, Guinea and Kazakhstan. The Watch List draws attention to countries where there is a serious, and rapid decline in respect for civic space, based on an assessment by CIVICUS Monitor research findings, our Research partners and consultations with activists on the ground.
Protestors, activists and civil society organisations in these countries are experiencing infringements of their civic freedoms as protected by international law. These violations include the use of excessive force by security forces during peaceful protests in Guinea, Egypt and Hong Kong, as well as attacks and violence against human rights defenders and journalists.In Colombia, as attacks against human rights defenders continue to increase, violence has also skyrocketed in the context of the upcoming municipal elections. Egypt continues its crackdown on dissent as mass anti-government protests are rocking the country, and thousands have been detained, including children. In Kazakhstan, although President Nursultan Nazarbayev stepped down after almost three decades in power, signs of human rights improvements under Tokayev’s mandate have been shattered by the response of the authorities to peaceful protests held in the country in connection with the presidential elections and the harassment of activists.
In the coming weeks, the CIVICUS Monitor will closely track developments in each of these countries as part of efforts to ensure greater pressure is brought to bear on governments. CIVICUS calls upon these governments to do everything in their power to immediately end the ongoing crackdowns and ensure that perpetrators are held to account.
Descriptions of the civic space violations happening in each country are provided below. If you have information to share on civic space in any of these countries, please write to firstname.lastname@example.org
CHINA (HONG KONG)
There has been marked regression of civic space in Hong Kong since millions of people took to the streets on 9th June 2019 to protest against a proposed extradition bill. Amendments to the Fugitives Offenders Ordinance Bill would allow individuals, including foreigners, to be sent to mainland China to face trial in courts controlled by the Communist Party.
Human rights groups have documented excessive and unlawful force by Hong Kong security forces against protesters, including the use of truncheons, pepper spray, tear gas and rubber bullets. More than 1,300 people have been arrested in the context of the mass protests as of mid-September 2019. There has also been evidence of torture and other ill-treatment of protesters in detention. There has been no independent investigation into the abuses. While the vast majority of protesters have been peaceful, there has been violence, which appears to be escalating alongside excessive use of force by the police.
Protesters have also been attacked with impunity by thugs, while journalists covering the protests have been harassed and attacked both by riot police as well as pro-Beijing mobs. Prominent pro-democracy activists participating in the protests have been arrested or attacked. In October 2019, the Hong Kong government announced it would invoke a colonial-era law, the Emergency Regulations Ordinance, in order to ban face coverings at public gatherings. The law also grants the Hong Kong government sweeping powers relating to detention and to restrict freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.
Colombia has witnessed a spike in violence against journalists and social leaders over the past few years. It was considered the most dangerous country in the world for human rights defenders and the deadliest place to live in Latin America for environmental defenders in 2018. A disturbing wave of attacks led to chilling reports of one HRD killed every three days in January 2019. In Colombia, civil society organisations and rights defenders work in a hostile environment where threats and attacks have escalated, and impunity for such crimes has been the rule.
This scenario led thousands to the streets in July 2019, demanding action from the government in protecting local leaders and defenders. But still, communities historically marked by conflict have continued to backslide into violence. On 29 August 2019, a former Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) commander, Iván Márquez, and other former commanders announced they would be taking up arms again, nearly three years after the peace accord with the Colombian government was signed. Márquez was the lead negotiator for the FARC in the dialogues with the government, and his decision to call on former guerilla members to join a “new phase” in the armed struggle has raised alarm.
As the country approaches October 2019 municipal elections, violence has skyrocketed. Seven candidates for local office have been killed since campaigns started, and over sixty others have been attacked. In addition, repression of peaceful protests has increased since a new government took office in 2018. Defence Minister Guillermo Botero has criticised protesters, stating that social groups taking to the streets are financed by criminal groups to cause social unrest. On 25 September 2019, the police acted to repress peaceful protests by students in Bogotá resulting in violent clashes. Days later, on 1 October 2019, the local police department confirmed that two of its officers had infiltrated the protest and taken part in acts of vandalism which triggered the violence.
Over the past few years, the human rights situation in the country has been a cause for concern. Recently, the protests that have taken place since 20 September 2019 raise further concerns regarding the situation in Egypt, with arrests and the use of excessive force documented against protesters. The protests started through social media mobilisation following the publication of videos by Mohamad Ali, who used to work with the armed forces on several projects and who accused the President of corruption.
Reports by CSOs stated that security officers responded with force, beating and detaining protesters and firing tear gas. Thousands of people have been arrested since the protests started, including protestors, journalists and human rights lawyers and activists. Many of those arrested have been charged for using social media to spread false news, aiding a terrorist group to achieve its objectives and for participating in unauthorised protests.
Further, the government’s crackdown on human rights defenders, the political opposition, and journalists intensified as authorities start raiding their homes and detaining them. As many of the activists were not involved in the protests, the harassment indicates the government is detaining those perceived to have been connected to protests in 2011.
Tension has been on the rise since Guinea’s ruling party, the Rassemblement du peuple de Guinée (RPG), made a public call to amend the current 2010 Constitution, claiming that the modification of the Constitution would be necessary for the 'modernisation of institutions'. Although President Alpha Condé has not publicly stated his intention to run again, the timing of the move - presidential elections are to take place in 2020 - makes observers believe that the President is aiming for a third term in office, beyond the constitutionally allowed two terms.
The platform Front national pour la défense de la Constitution (FNDC; National Front for the Defence of the Constitution), consisting of members of the political opposition, civil society groups and trade unions, was formed in reaction to the move and said it would use all legal means to stop efforts to modify the Constitution. It has recently called for protests and strikes starting on 14th October 2019. Several members of the group were arrested ahead of the planned protest.
According to human rights organisations in Guinea, the plans for a new Constitution may destabilise the country and lead to renewed political violence. Protests in Guinea have often turned violent and excessive use of force, including lethal force, by the security forces has led to many deaths, including of bystanders. At least 4 people were killed during a protest against a possible constitutional change on 14th October in Conakry. Reports indicate that security forces used excessive force, including live ammunition and tear gas, in clashes with protesters.
On 19th March 2019, President Nursultan Nazarbayev stepped down after almost three decades in power and, in line with the constitutional requirements, appointed senate leader Kassym-Zhomart Tokayev as interim president. Subsequently, Tokayev called for early presidential elections, which took place on 9th June 2019. According to the official results, Tokayev won with over 70 percent of the vote. However, local and international observers documented serious irregularities on election day.
Under Nazarbayev, Kazakhstan’s authorities seriously restricted the right to freedom of peaceful assembly, association and expression. However, human rights violations reached a new high with the response of the authorities to peaceful protests held in the country in connection with the presidential elections and the renaming of the capital. During several days of protests, police and special forces detained several thousand peaceful protesters, often using excessive force. In addition, the authorities periodically blocked access to social media and messenger applications and obstructed the work of journalists covering peaceful protests. Further, following the presidential elections, law enforcement authorities and security services put pressure on independent monitors, who documented and drew attention to irregularities and violations tainting the elections. The repression casted a shadow on the elections and the beginning of Tokayev’s period in office.