CIVICUS Monitor Watch List Updated-15th August 2018
Latest Update: 15th August, 2018 - The new CIVICUS Monitor Watch List highlights serious concerns regarding the exercise of civic freedoms in Bangladesh, Cameroon, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Guatemala, Maldives and Nicaragua. The Watch List draws attention to countries where there are serious and ongoing threats to civic space, according to CIVICUS Monitor research findings and consultations with activists on the ground.
Right now, individual activists and civil society organisations in these countries are experiencing a severe infringement of their civic freedoms as protected by international law. These violations include brutal attacks by police on peaceful protests in Nicaragua and Bangladesh; the killing of 18 human rights defenders since January 2018 in Guatemala; flagrant disregard for the rule of law in Maldives ahead of elections scheduled in September; killing of protesters, targeted campaigns of harassment and arbitrary detention of activists and political opposition in the DRC; and the prosecution of human rights defenders and journalists on trumped-up charges in Cameroon amidst an escalating civil conflict and humanitarian crisis.
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 and on the dedicated country pages on the CIVICUS Monitor. If you have information to share on civic space in any of these countries, please write to firstname.lastname@example.org or find details of how to send us an encrypted email here.
Over the last year, the Bangladeshi authorities have used repressive laws to target and harass journalists and human rights defenders, restrict freedom of assembly and carry out the enforced disappearances of opposition supporters. The human rights situation has deteriorated further ahead of national elections scheduled for late 2018. Members of the Bangladesh Chhatra League (BCL), the student wing of the ruling party Bangladesh Awami League (BAL), have attacked student activists, academics and journalists with impunity. Scores of activists and government critics have been detained around the recent protests and some are facing charges under Section 57 of the Information and Communication Technology Act, which has been systematically used to silence dissent. Some were allegedly tortured or ill-treated in custody. Further, civil society groups, including the media, continue to face pressure from both state and non-state actors. Over a hundred people have been shot dead by security services for drug-related offences while 13,000 people have also reportedly been arrested.
Protests spread across Anglophone areas of Cameroon since 2016, resulting in repression of protests and the arrest and prosecution of protest leaders. More recently, a conflict between armed separatists and government forces has intensified during 2018 with killings and human rights violations committed by both sides. Security forces are accused of targeted killings, and the burning and looting of villages, while armed separatists are accused of killing and abducting government and security officers, and burning schools. At least 100 civilians, 43 security officers and an unknown number of armed separatists have reportedly been killed,according to the International Crisis Group report from April 2018. Amidst a mounting humanitarian crisis, NGOs and human rights defenders have also been targeted. For instance, in April 2018 a military court in Yaoundé found seven Anglophone activists and citizens guilty on several charges during a trial on 26th April. Journalists, including Mancho Bibixy who reported on the rights violations against Cameroonian Anglophone citizens, have also been targeted. The crisis has also led to periodic shutdown of the internet in Anglophone areas of Cameroon. The 1st October 2018, which Anglophone separatists use to mark independence day, and 7th October, when elections are due to be held, are possible flashpoints for further repression.
An alarming number of human rights defenders have been killed in Guatemala recently, with at least 18 human rights defenders (HRDs) killed between January and July 2018 alone. There were also two assassination attempts and 135 other attacks, with 32 of those aimed at women HRDs. On 9th August, UN Special Rapporteurs issued a statement raising the alarm at the spike in killings between May and July 2018. This makes 2018 the most lethal year on record for land and environmental defenders in Guatemala.Journalists have also not escaped the widening repression. Reports from the country indicate that civic space has worsened due to land disputes and actions by corporate interests, the source of targeted violence against specific groups of activists. In the Coban Alta Verapaz community alone, four were killed in one month for mobilising against land grabs and evictions. Many fear this violence will go unnoticed as the international community's attention is drawn towards the crises in Nicaragua and Venezuela.
Democratic Republic of the Congo
Despite the announcement that the incumbent president Joseph Kabila will not run for a third term, tensions in the DRC are still high ahead of elections expected in December 2018. In recent months and years, protestors, youth movements, human rights defenders, journalists and the political opposition have all faced widespread repression by the authorities. Kabila's chosen successor, Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, is himself accused of overseeing deadly attacks by security forces on protestors in Kinshasa and Kasai province during his time as Interior Minister. In June 2018, CSOs and UN Special Rapporteurs expressed serious concerns about a planned new NGO law, which would give authorities the power to dissolve associations on the grounds of undermining public order or national security. Arrests and harassment of activists including from the Filimbi, LUCHA and Collectif d’Action de la Société Civile movements have continued in recent months.
A widespread crackdown on dissent began in February 2018 when a court ordered the release of opposition leaders. This decision led to the arbitrary arrest of judges, scores of opposition politicians and activists who face a variety of trumped-up charges from bribery to terrorism. Police also used unnecessary force to disperse peaceful demonstrations, and in some cases, indiscriminately used pepper spray and tear gas. There are also documented cases of people being ill-treated in detention. At least a dozen journalists were injured while covering protests, with reporters being arrested and ill-treated. With elections due on 23rd September 2018, civic space is likely to become increasingly contested. Already in May 2018, the Electoral Commission moved to bar four opposition leaders from running in the upcoming presidential elections.
At least 300 people have been killed since protests began in April 2018, with hundreds more kidnapped or missing. The protests were initially sparked by regressive changes to the social security system. Although the government’s plan to reduce pension benefits was later dropped, protests continued and intensified as demonstrators demanded that President Ortega stand down and be held accountable for the deadly repression of protests. While large-scale protests have subsided in recent days, some marches continue amid a tense political situation as the government of Daniel Ortega continues to silence its critics despite the agreements made with international bodies, and an undertaking to allow an IACHR investigation into the violence. Attacks on protestors are perpetrated both by state forces and armed with the government, while women human rights defenders and journalists have also been targeted. Repression was accompanied by misinformation efforts (for instance, regarding the numbers of people injured or killed) and media censorship to keep the situation out of the spotlight.