CIVICUS Monitor Watch List Updated-23 June 2021

Latest Update: 23 June 2021 - The new CIVICUS Monitor Watch List highlights serious concerns regarding the exercise of civic freedoms in Colombia, Chad, EthiopiaMyanmar and Slovenia. 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.

In the coming weeks and months, 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 monitor@civicus.org.

   Open Narrowed Obstructed  Repressed Closed

Colombia

Civic space rating: Repressed

On 28th April 2021, nationwide protests erupted  sparked by a tax reform proposed by the Iván Duque Márquez government. Thousands joined “Paro Nacional” (“National Strike”) demonstrations convened by Colombia’s biggest unions against the bill. While the government withdrew the controversial tax reform bill in early May, protests continued and grew to encompass multiple grievances. Response to the protests in various cities across the country was characterised by heavy repression. In the weeks since demonstrations began, civil society organisations in Colombia have denounced serious human rights violations, including disproportionate use of force by the police, violent suppression of protests, the killing and disappearance of protesters, sexual abuse and arbitrary detentions.

This is taking place in a context of  increasing violence in Colombia as government divestment from post-conflict programmes continues to undermine the implementation of the 2016 peace accord. Community leaders, land and environmental defenders and members of ethnic groups have been left particularly vulnerable, with local civil society organisations recording hundreds of killings in recent years.

Chad

Civic space rating: Repressed

Internet restrictions, bans on and repression of protests, suspension of media outlets and arbitrary arrests of human rights defenders and journalists are regular civic space violations in Chad. However, in the run-up to the presidential elections, which took place on 11th April 2021, and following the military takeover which ensued after the death of President Idriss Déby Itno on 20th April 2021, civic space violations increased at an alarming pace.

Just days after the official announcement of President Déby’s victory in the April 2021 presidential elections, on 20th April 2021, Chad’s military  declared that President Déby had been mortally wounded in combat and that a Transitional Military Council, led by the late President’s son, General Mahamat Idriss Déby, had been installed. The Military Council further announced that the National Assembly and the government were dissolved and the Constitution suspended with the promise that elections are to be held after a 18 month transitional period. In early May 2021, the military junta appointed a transitional government.

At least 16 people were  killed and over 700 people arrested in protests, organised by a coalition of civil society actors and opposition groups, Wakit Tama, to demand a return to civilian rule between 27th April and 19th May 2021 in Chad’s capital N’Djamena, and Moundou. Many of those arrested were later released. Human rights defenders and journalists are regularly subjected to arbitrary arrests and prosecution. On 18th February 2021, a Criminal Court sentenced Baradine Berdei Targuio, the president of human rights organisation Organisation Tchadienne des Droits Humains (Chadian Organisation of Human Rights) to three years in prison for ‘violation of the constitutional order’. The HRD was arrested in January 2020 in relation to a Facebook post commenting on the health of the president.

Authorities in Chad regularly impose internet restrictions. Access to internet and social media has been  disrupted for over 900 days between the last presidential elections in 2016 and 2021. Additionally, Chad’s national media regulator, the Haute Autorité des Médias et de l’Audiovisuel (HAMA) regularly suspends and sanctions media outlets. On 7thSeptember 2020, HAMA suspended twelve newspapers for three months on grounds of ‘non-compliance’ with the 2018 Press Law, specifically the provision that publishers and managing editors of publications are required to have academic qualifications in journalism.

Ethiopia

Civic space rating: Repressed

The political situation in Ethiopia deteriorated rapidly in the latter quarter of 2020. Since early November 2020, the government of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has been engaged in armed conflict with the leading party in the Tigray region, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). On 4th November 2020, a six month state of emergency was declared in Tigray. Claims emerged that the conflict was escalating towards a state of civil war, as thousands were killed and tens of thousands internally displaced or fled into neighbouring Sudan. The ongoing conflict and humanitarian crisis in Tigray remain alarming and worrisome in light of the upcoming elections in June 2021.

There have been shutdowns of internet, messaging services and other forms of communication which has made it increasingly difficult for people in Ethiopia and the Ethiopian diaspora to obtain reliable information on what is happening. Thus, resulting in widespread communication blackouts. There have been many arrests, searches, threats and attacks directed against political opponents, journalists and media organisations for all kinds of reasons including the spread of “false propaganda” and information that incites violence.

Some of the notable events include the arrest of a journalist called Dawit Kebede, the arrest of Kumerra Gemechu, a cameraman working for Reuters and the killing of Dawit Kebede (not the same Dawit Kebede who remains in prison) who worked for Tigray regional state TV.

Myanmar

Civic space rating: Repressed

Myanmar was initially added to the CIVICUS Monitor Watchlist in February 2021, when its military seized power in a coup and arrested the civilian leaders of the national and state governments. More than four months on, fundamental freedoms remain under severe attack.

Thousands have been arbitrarily arrested and detained. They include human rights defenders, trade unionists, student activists, poets, writers, filmmakers and monks. Many people have been taken in terrifying night-time raids. Many activists are facing baseless charges including ‘treason’ which is punishable by up to 20 years in prison or ‘incitement’ which is punishable by up to three years in prison. There have been reports of torture and ill-treatment during interrogation, and of deaths in custody.

Since the coup, mass protests and strikes have been taking place across Myanmar by the civil disobedience movement (CDM). In response, the Myanmar security forces intensified their crackdown on protests using violent crowd dispersal techniques like water cannons, tear gas, rubber bullets and sound grenades, and escalating to battlefield weapons including assault rifles, light machine guns, sniper rifles and live grenades.

Journalists are being hunted down and targeted by the military. According to reports, as of 21 May 2021, at least 88 journalists have been arrested since the coup, the majority detained during newsroom raids or while covering anti-coup street protests.Dozens have fled the country or have sought refuge in territories controlled by ethnic armed organisations.

The internet shutdowns, which began following the coup, have now reached a new level of severity. Multiple telecoms companies have been ordered to shut off various communications services including mobile data, roaming and public wi-fi for varying lengths of time. The Myanmar junta added a ban on satellite television to existing restrictions on the internet, tightening its grip over information in the country.

Slovenia

Civic space rating: Narrowed

Civic space has been in decline in Slovenia, particularly when Janez Janša’s government came into power in March 2020, prompting a  ratings change to ‘narrowed’ in December 2020 by the CIVICUS Monitor. The government has used the COVID-19 pandemic as a pre-text to pass several measures which affect basic human rights, the rule of law and the right to participation. Freedom of association has been threatened as civil society organisations face funding cuts and smear campaigns. Trade associations have also faced a breakdown in social dialogue with the government.

Independent journalists have repeatedly been attacked and been branded as ‘liars’, both online and offline, by the Prime Minister and the ruling Slovenian Democratic (SDS) Party. The Slovenian Press Agency (STA) has faced political and economic pressure, as funding to the agency has been suspended by the government.

In addition, the right to peaceful assembly has been disproportionately limited during the pandemic. Since the government came into power, weekly cycling protests have been held. However police have issued fines to protesters totaling up to 10,000 Euros.