[Repost] Article by MARUAH Secretary Braema Mathi in Q1 2021 edition of “Directors Bulletin” published by the Singapore Institute of Directors

6 January 2021

This article first appeared in the Q1 2021 issue of the SID Directors Bulletin published by the Singapore Institute of Directors. Please click on the excerpt below for Braema’s full article.


[Joint statement] CSOs Condemn Targeting Killing of Afghan Activist and Call for Justice

3 January 2021

24 December 2020

We, the undersigned organisations, strongly condemn the killing of elections monitor and democracy advocate Mohammad Yousuf Rasheed in Afghanistan and urge the authorities to bring those responsible to justice.

On the morning of 23 December 2020, Rasheed, executive director of the Free and Fair Election Forum of Afghanistan (FEFA), was shot by unknown gunmen in Kabul when he was traveling to his office. He later died from injuries in the hospital.

The killing and ongoing threats of violence aim at creating fear and intimidation among those promoting peace and democracy in Afghanistan. In recent months, targeted killings and threatening of prominent figures, including civil society activists, journalists and politicians have been increasing disturbingly. The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) recorded 934 civilian casualties caused by targeted killings from January to September 2020, a 39 per cent increase compared to the same period last year.

We condemn this heinous crime and stand by the people of Afghanistan in support of their aspirations for sustainable peace and democracy. It is essential for the Government of Afghanistan to conduct fair and impartial investigations into these cases and end the impunity of those responsible for the attacks.

Endorsed by,

  1. Asia Democracy Network (ADN)
  2. Asian Network for Free Elections (ANFREL)
  3. Center for Monitoring and Research (CeMI)
  4. Centre for Monitoring Election Violence (CMEV), Sri Lanka
  5. Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA), Sri Lanka
  6. Citizen Congress Watch (CCW), Taiwan
  7. Civil Network OPORA, Ukraine
  8. Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections (Bersih 2.0), Malaysia
  9. Committee for Free and Fair Election (COMFREL), Cambodia
  10. European Network of Election Monitoring Organizations (ENEMO)
  11. Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN), Pakistan
  12. Global Network of Domestic Election Monitors (GNDEM)
  13. Jaringan Pendidikan Pemilih Untuk Rakyat (JPPR), Indonesia
  14. Komite Independen Pemantau Pemilu (KIPP), Indonesia
  15. MARUAH, Singapore
  16. National Democratic Institute (NDI)
  17. National Election Observation Committee (NEOC), Nepal
  18. Nepal Law Society, Nepal
  19. Neutral & Impartial Committee for Free & Fair Elections in Cambodia (NICFEC), Cambodia
  20. Odhikar, Bangladesh
  21. People Network for Elections in Thailand (P-NET), Thailand
  22. People’s Alliance for Credible Elections (PACE), Myanmar
  23. People’s Action for Free and Fair Elections (PAFFREL), Sri Lanka
  24. Perkumpulan untuk Pemilu dan Demokrasi (PERLUDEM), Indonesia
  25. Transparency Maldives (TI Maldives), Maldives
  26. Transparent Elections Foundation of Afghanistan (TEFA), Afghanistan
  27. Women Caucus for Politics, Timor-Leste

Last update: 28 December 2020 (11.30am UTC+7)


(Updated with slides) The Public Order Act and its disempowering effect on Singapore – Sunday, 20 December 2020

10 December 2020

Please click on the links below to access a copy of the slides used by the speakers during their presentation.

Presentation by Priscilla Chia – “Public Order Act – Criminalising civil disobedience?”

Presentation by Howard Lee – “The Public Order Act – Media Analysis & Impact”

Once again, we thank our speakers, Ms Priscilla Chia and Mr Howard Lee, and all participants for making time this afternoon to discuss the impact of the misuse of the Public Order Act on political and social discourse in our country.

We look forward to having you join us again at our next event. Please keep a lookout on our Facebook page or here on this website for updates.

MARUAH Secretariat


[Repost] UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Press Conference Opening Statement – The Toll of 2020!

10 December 2020

9 December 2020

2020 is a year none of us will ever forget. A terrible, devastating year that has scarred so many of us, in so many ways.

At least 67 million people infected, and 1.6 million dead, in a pandemic that is far from over.

A devastating impact on countries’ economies and on employment, income, education, health and food supply for hundreds of millions of people.

A massive setback to development, to efforts to alleviate poverty and to raise the status of women and girls.

2020 has taken its toll not only across all regions and virtually all countries, but also on the full range of our human rights, be they economic, social, cultural, civil or political. COVID-19 has zeroed in on the fissures and fragilities in our societies, exposing all our failures to invest in building fair and equitable societies. It has shown the weakness of systems that have failed to place a central focus on upholding human rights.

Recent weeks have seen extraordinary progress in vaccine development. This is testimony to the ingenuity and determination of humans in a time of crisis. But vaccines alone cannot resolve the pandemic, or heal the damage it has caused.

States need not only to distribute these vaccines equitably all over the world – they need to rebuild economies, repair the damage done by the pandemic, and address the gaps that it has exposed.

We face three very different possible futures:

  • We can emerge from this crisis in an even worse state than when it began – and be even less well prepared for the next shock to our societies.
  • We can struggle mightily to get back to normal – but normal is what brought us to where we are today.
  • Or we can recover better.

The medical vaccines that are being developed will hopefully eventually deliver us from COVID-19, albeit not for many months yet. But they will not prevent or cure the socio-economic ravages that have resulted from the pandemic, and aided its spread.

But there is a vaccine to hunger, poverty, inequality, and possibly – if it is taken seriously – to climate change, as well as to many of the other ills that face humanity.

It is a vaccine we developed in the wake of previous massive global shocks, including pandemics, financial crises and two World Wars.

The name of that vaccine is human rights. Its core ingredients are embedded in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, whose 72nd anniversary we celebrate tomorrow, on Human Rights Day. The Universal Declaration is made actionable through the obligations that almost all States have undertaken by ratifying one or both of the International Covenants spanning all five areas of human rights.

The Universal Declaration also gave birth to other important international treaties to better protect the rights of specific groups such as children, women, people with disabilities and migrant workers; and ones aiming to tackle forms of discrimination which lead to the greater inequalities, poverty and lack of development that have fed and fertilized the socio-economic devastation caused by COVID-19.

COVID-19 has shone a stark spotlight on our failure to uphold those rights to the best of our ability, not just because we couldn’t, but because we neglected to – or chose not to.

The failure of many countries to invest sufficiently in universal and primary healthcare, in accordance with the right to health, has been exposed as extremely short-sighted. These vital preventive measures are costly, but nothing like as costly as failing to invest in them has proved to be.

Many governments failed to act quickly or decisively enough to halt the spread of COVID-19. Others refused to take it seriously, or were not fully transparent about its spread.

Astoundingly, even to this day, some political leaders are still playing down its impact, disparaging the use of simple measures such as wearing masks and avoiding large gatherings. A few political figures are even still talking casually of “herd immunity,” as if the loss of hundreds of thousands of lives is a cost that can be easily borne for the sake of the greater good. Politicizing a pandemic in this way is beyond irresponsible – it is utterly reprehensible.

Worse still, rather than bringing us together, the response to the pandemic has in some places led to further division. Scientific evidence and processes have been discounted, and conspiracy theories and disinformation have been sown and allowed – or encouraged – to thrive.

These actions have plunged a knife into the heart of that most precious commodity, trust. Trust between nations, and trust within nations. Trust in government, trust in scientific facts, trust in vaccines, trust in the future. If we are to bring about a better world in the wake of this calamity, as our ancestors undoubtedly did in the wake of World War II, we have to rebuild that trust in each other.

It has been shocking, but sadly not at all surprising, to see the disproportionate toll of COVID-19 on individuals and groups who are marginalized and suffer discrimination – in particular people of African descent, those from ethnic, national or religious minorities, and indigenous peoples. This has been the case in some of the world’s richest countries, where the mortality rate of some racial and ethnic minorities has been up to three times that of the overall population.

When COVID-19 hit, members of discriminated groups and indigenous peoples were over-exposed to contagion because of their low-paid and precarious work in specific industries. Many of the people we suddenly started to recognize and refer to as essential – health care workers, cleaners, transport workers, shop employees – come from such minorities.

They were also under-protected because of limited access to health-care and social protections, such as sick leave and unemployment or furlough pay. They were less able to isolate themselves once infected – due to inadequate living conditions, limited access to sanitation, the inability to work from home. This meant the virus could spread much more easily within their communities, and from those communities back into wider society.

Over the past 11 months, the poor have become poorer, and those suffering systemic discrimination have fared worst of all.

Children in homes with limited or no Internet access or computer equipment have fallen behind in their education, or dropped out of it altogether, with girls especially badly affected. In terms of basic economic security, employment, education, housing and food, the pandemic is having a negative impact that is so vast and so wide-ranging it is almost impossible for us to grasp its enormity.

Had adequate social and economic protections been in place for a much higher proportion of the world’s population, in poor countries and in rich ones – had we applied the human rights vaccine – we would not be in such a bad state as we are today. COVID-19 has very clearly demonstrated that inequalities and discrimination not only harm the individuals who are directly affected, and unfairly impacted – they create shock waves that ripple across the whole of society.

This was shown most graphically when the coronavirus ripped its way through shockingly ill-prepared and underequipped institutions such as care homes for older people and people with disabilities, orphanages, migrant dormitories and prisons. A compelling case, if ever there was one, for better regulated institutions and increased alternatives to incarceration.

Those who were most critical to saving lives were themselves inexcusably put at risk, with shortages of masks and protective clothing as the pandemic surged through the wards. Health workers are only some 2-3 percent of national populations, yet they comprise around 14 percent of COVID cases reported to the WHO.

The impact on women has been particularly devastating. Because of the horrendous increase in domestic violence all across the world, and because a large proportion of women work in the informal sector and in health care. And because many were left with no choice but to withdraw from the labour market in order to care for children no longer able to go to school, and for older people and the sick. In some areas, women’s rights risk being set back decades, including through more limited access to sexual and reproductive rights.

If we are to recover better, women will need to play a much greater role in decision-making and priority-setting. It is no coincidence that in a world where so few countries have women leaders, several of the countries viewed as having handled the pandemic most effectively were in fact led by women.

Discrimination also lies at the heart of another of 2020’s defining features, when racial injustice and police brutality were brought sharply into focus by the killing of George Floyd and the worldwide protests that followed. In many countries, we saw a burgeoning realization of persistent racial injustice and systemic racism, raising unresolved histories of racist oppression, and demanding far-reaching structural changes.

In countries in conflict, COVID has added an additional layer to already multi-faceted human rights calamities. In Yemen, a perfect storm of five years of conflict and violations, disease, blockades, and shortage of humanitarian funding, set against an existing backdrop of poverty, poor governance and lack of development, is pushing the country remorselessly towards full-scale famine. There has been no shortage of warnings about what will happen in Yemen in the coming months, but a distracted world is doing little to prevent this very preventable disaster.

Rights to free expression, to assemble and to participate in public life have been battered during the pandemic. Not because of warranted restrictions on movement to constrain the spread of COVID, but by the actions of some governments taking advantage of the situation to shut down political dissent and criticism, including by arresting civil society actors and journalists. Some appear to have also been using COVID fears and restrictions as a way to tilt elections in favour of the ruling party.

The contribution of civil society to surviving the pandemic and recovering better once it is over, will be absolutely vital, and the curtailing of civil society’s contributions is one of the surest ways of undermining that recovery, by removing one of the key remedies.

The pandemic has left us exposed, vulnerable, and weakened. Yet, in its devastation, it has also provided clear insights on how we can turn disaster into an opportunity to reset our priorities and improve our prospects for a better future.

Even with stretched resources, the main ingredient that we need to build that future is political will. The will to put our money where it is most needed – not wanted, needed. The will to fight corruption, because in many countries, even very poor countries, there is more money available, but much is lost when it goes straight into the pockets of a few. We need to address inequality, including with tax reforms that could help fund major socio-economic improvements.

Similarly, richer countries need to help poorer countries survive this crisis and recover better. Repairing the frayed system of multilateralism will be essential to manage the recovery. The work must begin at home, but leaders in powerful countries need to once again recognize that, more than ever, our world can only meet global challenges through global cooperation.

Narrow nationalistic responses will simply undermine collective recovery. The first test of this will be our ability to ensure that new COVID vaccines and tools reach everyone who needs them. The pandemic has highlighted over and over again that no one is safe until everyone is safe.

Will we seize this moment to devise ways to recover better? Will we properly apply the human rights vaccine that can help us build more resilient, prosperous and inclusive societies? Will we take the immediate necessary steps to combat the biggest existential threat of all, climate change?

Let’s hope so. Because if we do not, especially with regard to climate change, 2020 will simply be the first step on the road to further calamity.

We have been warned.

For more information and media requests, please contact: Rupert Colville – + 41 22 917 9767 / rcolville@ohchr.orgor Ravina Shamdasani – + 41 22 917 9169 / rshamdasani@ohchr.orgorLiz Throssell– + 41 22 917 9296 / ethrossell@ohchr.orgor Marta Hurtado – + 41 22 917 9466 / mhurtado@ohchr.org

Tag and share – Twitter: @UNHumanRights and Facebook: unitednationshumanrights


[Repost] Southeast Asian Parliamentarians for Freedom of Religion or Belief – Newsletter | July – December 2020

10 December 2020

MPs call for ASEAN’s joint action on freedom of religion or belief in Southeast Asia

On 2 December, parliamentarians from Indonesia, Myanmar, Singapore, and Thailand came together to discuss ways to increase collaboration to advance freedom of religion or belief in Southeast Asia. The parliamentarians are part of the Southeast Asia Parliamentarians for Freedom of Religion or Belief (SEAPFoRB), a working group of parliamentarians committed to improving freedom of religion or belief in the region. 

Among the many issues, parliamentarians discussed the rise of religious intolerance, hate speech and violent extremism, the discrimination and persecution of religious minorities, increased ethnoreligious nationalism, and the politicization of religion. Some challenges have worsened during the COVID-19, particularly scapegoating and hate speech against religious minorities, and increased restrictions on religious worship under the pretext of social distancing, SEAPFoRB members said. 

The SEAPFoRB virtual meeting 2020 was hosted by the ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) and the International Panel of Parliamentarians for Freedom of Religion or Belief (IPPFoRB) 

Read the statement here.

For the rest of the newsletter, please click here.


[Repost] UN Human Rights – Civil Society Weekly Update 47 (2020)

23 November 2020

We have extracted some interesting excerpts from UN Human Rights – Civil Society Weekly Update 47 (2020):


We are pleased to share with you a set of indicators developed by the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedoms of peaceful assembly and of association, M. Clément Voule, which were launched on the 7th month anniversary of the declaration of COVID-19 as a global pandemic by WHO. These indicators aim to measure State’s compliance with international standards regarding civic space, peaceful assembly, and political participation during public health emergencies.  These indicators are available in the following formats: 

1)      10 printable assessment cards:  they can be used by field presences and civil society actors to measure the degree of conformity of measures taken by governments to tackle COVID19 and their impact on the civic space in general. They are available in English, French and Spanish and downloadable under toolbox section here.

2)      An online survey (in ENGLISHFRENCH and SPANISH). Field presences and civil society can carry out their assessment online and share their results with the Special Rapporteur preferably before 30 November 2020. The results of this survey will be fed into the preparation of a dedicated report on “protection of human rights in the context of peaceful protests during crisis situations”, which the Special Rapporteur was tasked with by Resolution A/HRC/44/L.11 adopted at the 44th session of the Human Rights Council. This report will be presented to the HRC in June 2022. 


In its Resolution 44/7, the Human Rights Council requested the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to consult Member States and other relevant stakeholders in order to prepare and submit to its forty-seventh session an analytical study on the promotion and the protection of the rights of older persons in the context of climate change.  Accordingly, we would welcome your inputs to the study by e-mail to bschachter@ohchr.org and miyer@ohchr.org by no later than 31 December 2020. We would also welcome your kind assistance in circulating this call for inputs as widely as possible within your networks.  In formulating inputs, you are welcome to respond, as appropriate, to the attached questionnaire. For environmental considerations, electronic submissions are encouraged and we ask that responses not exceed five pages. Please submit contributions in MS Word or compatible format in either of the official working languages of the United Nations (French or English). Inputs received will be posted on our website.


[Repost] October news updates from The Working Group For An ASEAN Human Rights Mechanism

17 November 2020

Please click on the link below to download a copy of the latest news updates from The Working Group For An ASEAN Human Rights Mechanism:

https://drive.google.com/file/d/1GlO_e1_lH_WGs6dflV_hStmJfVsnTMod/view?usp=sharing


[Joint statement] Tanzania: Systematic restrictions on fundamental freedoms in the run-up to national elections

2 November 2020

https://www.civicus.org/index.php/media-resources/media-releases/4700-tanzania-systematic-restrictions-on-fundamental-freedoms-in-the-run-up-to-national-elections

To: President John Magufuli

Excellency, 

We, the undersigned civil society organizations, are deeply concerned about the continued deterioration of democracy, human rights and rule of law in the United Republic of Tanzania. In the past five years, we have documented the steady decline of the country into a  state of repression, evidenced by the increased harassment, intimidation, prosecution, and persecution of political activists, human rights defenders (HRDs), journalists and media houses; the enactment of restrictive laws; and disregard for rule of law, constitutionalism, as well as regional and international human rights standards. We are deeply concerned that the situation has worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic and as the country heads for general elections on 28 October 2020.[1]

Tanzania as a party to several regional and international treaties, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, has a legal obligation to respect and protect fundamental rights, particularly the right to – freedom of expression and the media, peacefully assemble, form and join associations, and to participate in public affairs, which are fundamental rights for free and fair elections in a democratic society. As a member of the African Union (AU) and the Southern African Development Community (SADC), Tanzania has committed to uphold and promote democratic principles, popular participation, and good governance.

Leading up to the elections in Tanzania, we have unfortunately documented an unfavourable environment for public participation and free engagement in the political process. The role of the media in providing information and access to varying viewpoints in a true democracy is indispensable. Media houses must be allowed to provide these services without undue restrictions, yet in recent times, several independent media houses have been suspended. These have included the seven-day suspensions of The Citizen newspaper in February 2019,[2] Clouds TV and Clouds FM in August 2020, and the six-month suspension of Kwanza online TV in September 2019[3] and again in July 2020 for 11 months;[4] the online publication ban against Mwananchi news in April 2020;[5] the revocation, effective June 24, 2020, of the license of the Tanzania Daima newspaper;[6] and the fines against online stations, Watetezi TV and Ayo TV in September 2019.[7]We note, with great disappointment, that the government is yet to comply with a ruling by the East African Court of Justice requiring the amendment of the Media Services Act to address the unjustified restrictions on freedom of expression.[8]

We are further concerned about the restrictions on individuals peacefully expressing their opinions, including criticising public officials.[9] The latter are required to tolerate a greater amount of criticism than others – a necessary requirement for transparency and accountability. Tanzania’s criminal justice system has however been misused to target those who criticize the government. Tito Magoti and IT expert Theodory Giyani were arrested in December 2019 and questioned over their social media use and association with certain government critics.[10] The duo were subsequently charged with economic crimes, including “money laundering” which is a non-bailable offence. Despite their case being postponed more than 20 times since December 2019, and no evidence being presented against them, they remain in pre-trial detention.[11] Investigative journalist Erick Kabendera was similarly arrested and charged with “money laundering” where he was held in pre-trial detention for seven months with his case postponed over ten times.[12] Several United Nations (UN) mandate holders have raised concern about the misuse of the country’s anti-money laundering laws that “allow the Government to hold its critics in detention without trial and for an indefinite period.”[13]

Most recently, a prominent human rights lawyer and vocal critic of the government, Fatma Karume was disbarred from practising law in Tanzania following submissions she made in a constitutional case challenging the appointment of the Attorney General.[14] Other lawyers are also facing disciplinary proceedings for publicly raising issues on judicial independence and rule of law.  Opposition leader, Zitto Kabwe was arrested and prosecuted for statements made calling for accountability for extrajudicial killings by State security agents.[15] The above cases are clear evidence of intolerance for alternative views and public debate.

In addition, authorities should ensure respect for the right of individuals to freely form associations and for those associations to participate in public affairs, without unwarranted interference. We note the increasing misuse of laws to restrict and suspend the activities of civil society organisations.[16] On August 12, Tanzania Human Rights Defenders Coalition (THRDC) was notified that its bank accounts had been frozen pending police investigations. THRDC’s coordinator was then summoned by the police to explain an alleged failure to submit to the State Treasury its contractual agreements with donors.[17]  Prior to this, in June 2020, the authorities disrupted the activities of THRDC for allegedly contravening “laws of the land.”[18] Several other non-governmental organisations working on human rights issues have been deregistered or are facing harassment for issuing public statements critical of the government. Ahead of the elections some civil society organisations have reported being informally told by authorities to cease activities. As a result of the repressive environment, civil society organisations have been forced to self-censor activities. 

We also note the enactment of further restrictive laws.[19] For example, the Written Laws Miscellaneous Amendments Act (The Amendment Act)[20] which has introduced amendments to 13 laws.[21] The Amendment Act requires anyone making a claim for violation of rights to have been personally affected.[22] This limits the ability of civil society organisations to carry out legal aid and law-based activities where they are not personally harmed. It violates Article 26(2) of the country’s Constitution, which provides for the right of every person “to take legal action to ensure the protection of this Constitution and the laws of the land.” Furthermore, it is an internationally recognized best practice that all persons, whether individually or in association with others, have the right to seek an effective remedy before a judicial body or other authority in response to a violation of human rights.[23] The Amendment Act further provides that lawsuits against the President, Vice-President, Prime Minister, Speaker, Deputy Speaker, or Chief Justice cannot be brought against them directly but must be brought against the Attorney General.[24] This provision undermines government accountability for human rights violations. We remind the authorities that international bodies have raised concerns about Tanzania’s repressive laws.[25]

We are especially concerned over the continued cases of verbal threats and physical attacks against members of opposition political parties.[26] We note with concern that to date, no one has been held accountable for the 2017 attack against the CHADEMA party leader, Tundu Lissu, who is a presidential candidate in the upcoming elections. Most recently, opposition leader Freeman Mbowe was brutally attacked and his assailants are still at large. Failure to thoroughly and impartially investigate such cases breeds a culture of violence and impunity, which in turn threatens the peace and security of the country. The government must take steps to bring perpetrators of such violence to account and to guarantee the safety of all other opposition party members and supporters.

Earlier, in November 2019, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) issued a press statement on the “deteriorating human rights situation in Tanzania.”[27] The Commission specifically voiced concern over “the unprecedented number of journalists and opposition politicians jailed for their activities.” The ongoing crackdown on civic space in Tanzania also led the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, to issue a strong warning ahead of the 28 October 2020 General Elections. At the opening of the UN Human Rights Council’s 45th session, she “[drew] the Council’s attention to increasing repression of the democratic and civic space, in what is becoming a deeply deteriorated environment for human rights” and stressed that “[with] elections approaching later this month, we are receiving increasing reports of arbitrary arrests and detention of civil society actors, activists, journalists and members of opposition parties.” She added: “Further erosion of human rights could risk grave consequences, and I encourage immediate and sustained preventive action.”[28]

While we acknowledge measures taken by your government to halt the spread of the COVID-19 virus and protect the citizens of Tanzania, we are deeply concerned that the pandemic has been used to unduly restrict fundamental freedoms. Examples are the arrest and sentencing of two Kenyan journalists for interviewing members of the public in Tanzania on the status of the pandemic in the country[29] as well as, the suspension of  Kwanza Online TV for reposting an alert by the U.S. embassy in Tanzania regarding the pandemic in the country.[30]  The rights to peacefully express one’s opinion, receive information, peaceful assembly and association, and to participate in public affairs are not only essential in the context of the upcoming elections, but also in relation to the current COVID-19 pandemic. Freedom of expression in particular, ensures “the communication of information to the public, enabling individuals to … develop opinions about the public health threat so that they can take appropriate steps to protect themselves and their communities.”[31]  The UN has repeatedly emphasized that Government responses to COVID-19 must not be used as a pretext to suppress individual human rights or to repress the free flow of information.[32] 

The need for Tanzania to uphold human rights, democracy and the rule of law is now more than ever important as a matter of national security, following recent reports of insurgent attacks along Tanzania’s border with Mozambique.[33] Studies have shown that experiences of injustice, marginalization and a breakdown in rule of law, are root causes of disaffection and violence. A peaceful and prosperous nation requires good governance and respect for rule of law, with a society that protects fundamental freedoms and ensures justice for all.

As civil society organisations deeply concerned about constitutionalism, justice, and democracy in the United Republic of Tanzania, we strongly urge your Excellency to adhere to your undertaking to ensure a free and fair election in Tanzania. The government has an obligation to create an enabling environment for everyone, including political opposition, non-governmental organisations, journalists, and other online users, HRDs, and other real or perceived government opponents to exercise their human rights without fear of reprisals. As such, we call on the relevant authorities to immediately drop criminal charges and release defenders such as Tito Magoti and Theodory Giyani and any others being prosecuted for peacefully exercising their rights. Suspensions and the freezing of assets of non-governmental organisations such as THRDC, independent media houses such as Kwanza Online TV, and members of the legal profession- particularly Fatma Karume, must be reversed.  Opposition parties must be allowed to freely and peacefully campaign and engage with their supporters without undue restrictions such as arbitrary arrests, physical attacks, forceful dispersal and intimidation of supporters, and harassment by security forces. The legitimacy of Tanzania’s elections is at stake.

We call on Tanzania to heed the messages delivered by national, African, and international actors and to change course before the country enters a full-fledged human rights crisis, with potentially grave domestic and regional consequences.

Signed:

  1. Access Now, Global
  2. Acción Solidaria on HIV/aids, Venezuela
  3. Africa Freedom of Information Centre 
  4. Africa Judges and Jurists Forum
  5. AfroLeadership
  6. ARTICLE 19, Global
  7. Asia Dalit Rights Forum (ADRF), New Delhi and Kathmandu
  8. Association for Human Rights in Ethiopia (AHRE)
  9. Association of Freelance Journalists
  10. BudgIT Foundation, Nigeria
  11. CEALDES, Colombia
  12. Center for Civil Liberties, Ukraine
  13. Centre for Human Rights & Development (CHRD), Mongolia
  14. Centre for Law and Democracy, Canada
  15. Center for National and International Studies, Azerbaijan
  16. Child Watch, Tanzania
  17. CIVICUS, Global
  18. Civic Initiatives, Serbia
  19. CIVILIS Human Rights, Venezuela
  20. Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA)
  21. Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)
  22. Community Empowerment for Progress Organization (CEPO), South Sudan
  23. Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI)
  24. Corporación Comuna Nueva, Santiago de Chile
  25. DefendDefenders (East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project)
  26. Democracy Monitor PU, Azerbaijan
  27. Eastern Africa Journalists Network (EAJN)
  28. Ethiopian Human Rights Council (EHRCO)
  29. Ethiopian Human Rights Defenders Coalition (EHRDC)
  30. Espacio Público, Venezuela
  31. Front Line Defenders, Global
  32. Gestos (HIV and AIDS, communication, gender), Brazil
  33. Greenpeace Africa
  34. Groupe d’Action pour le Progrès et la Paix (GAPP-Afrique), Canada
  35. Groupe d’Action pour le Progrès et la Paix (GAPP-BENIN)
  36. Groupe d’Action pour le Progrès et la Paix (GAPP Mali)
  37. HAKI Africa, Kenya
  38. Human Rights Concern – Eritrea (HRCE)
  39. Human Rights Defenders Network, Sierra Leone
  40. Humanium, Switzerland
  41. HuMENA for Human Rights and Civic Engagement (HuMENA Regional)
  42. International Partnership for Human Rights (IPHR) – Belgium
  43. Jade Propuestas Sociales y Alternativas al Desarrollo, A.C. (JADESOCIALES)- México
  44. Ligue Burundaise des droits de l’homme Iteka-Burundi
  45. Maison de la Société Civile (MdSC), Bénin
  46. MARUAH, Singapore
  47. Media Rights Agenda (MRA), Nigeria
  48. Nigeria Network of NGOs, Nigeria 
  49. Nouvelle Dynamique de la Société Civile de la RD Congo (NDSCI)
  50. Odhikar, Bangladesh
  51. ONG Convergence des Actions Solidaires et les Objectifs de Développement Durable (CAS-ODD ONG) – Bénin
  52. ONG Nouvelle Vision (NOVI), Bénin
  53. Open School of Sustainable Development (Openshkola), Russia
  54. Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA)
  55. Partnership for Peace and Development, Sierra Leone
  56. RESOSIDE, Burkina Faso
  57. Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, Global
  58. Sisters of Charity Federation, United States
  59. Somali Journalists Syndicate (SJS), Somalia
  60. Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network (SAHRDN)
  61. Sudanese Development Initiative (SUDIA), Sudan
  62. The Human Rights Centre Uganda (HRCU), Uganda
  63. Tournons La Page (TLP)
  64. Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Network, Sierra Leone
  65. Women in Democracy And Governance, Kenya (WIDAG)
  66. Zambia Council for Social Development, Zambia

[1] United Nations, Office of the High Commissioner, UN Experts call on Tanzania to end the crackdown on civic space, July 22, 2020, available at https://www.ohchr.org/en/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=26117&LangID=E.

[2] Committee to Protect Journalists, Tanzania imposes 7-day publication ban on The Citizen, March 01, 2019, available at https://cpj.org/2019/03/tanzania-citizen-7-day-publication-ban/

[3] Committee to Protect Journalists, Tanzanian authorities ban online TV station, fine 2 others, January 8, 2020, available at https://cpj.org/2020/01/tanzanian-authorities-ban-online-tv-station-fine-2/

[4] Committee to Protect Journalists, Tanzania bans Kwanza Online TV for 11 months citing ‘misleading’ Instagram post on COVID-19, July 09, 2020, available at https://cpj.org/2020/07/tanzania-bans-kwanza-online-tv-for-11-months-citing-misleading-instagram-post-on-covid-19/

[5] Committee to Protect Journalists, Tanzanian newspaper banned from publishing online for 6 months over COVID-19 report, May 11, 2020, available at https://cpj.org/2020/01/tanzanian-authorities-ban-online-tv-station-fine-2/

[6] Committee to Protect Journalist, Tanzanian government revokes license of Tanzania Daima newspaper, June 26, 2020, available at https://cpj.org/2020/06/tanzanian-government-revokes-license-of-tanzania-daima-newspaper/

[7] Committee to Protect Journalists, Tanzanian authorities ban online TV station, fine 2 others, January 8, 2020 available at https://cpj.org/2020/01/tanzanian-authorities-ban-online-tv-station-fine-2/

[8]Committee to Protect Journalists, East Africa court rules that Tanzania’s Media Services Act violates press freedom, March 28, 2019, available at https://www.mediadefence.org/news/important-media-freedom-judgment-east-african-court-justice

[9] We refer to cases such as the arrest of prominent comedian, Idris Sultan, in May 2020 (https://thrdc.or.tz/tanzanian-comedian-and-actor-mr-idris-sultan-charged-for-failure-to-register-a-sim-card/), and the disbarment from practicing law of prominent lawyer and human rights advocate, Fatma Karume (https://www.icj.org/tanzania-icj-calls-for-reinstatement-of-lawyer-fatma-karumes-right-to-practice-law/). 

[10] Committee to protect journalists, Mwanachi, The Citizen, last seen in Tanzania, November 21, 2017, available at https://cpj.org/data/people/azory-gwanda/.

[11] American Bar Association, Center for Human Rights, Tanzania: Preliminary Analysis of the criminal case against Tito Magoti and Theodory Giyani, July 28, 2020, available at https://www.americanbar.org/groups/human_rights/reports/tanzania–preliminary-analysis-of-the-criminal-case-against-tito/.

[12] Committee to Protect Journalists, Tanzanian journalist Erick Kabendera freed but faces hefty fines, February 24, 2020, available at https://cpj.org/2020/02/tanzanian-freelancer-erick-kabendera-freed-but-fac/

[13] Mandates of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders; the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention; the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances; the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression; and the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, Letter to President of Tanzania, Reference AL TZA 1/2020, January 31, 2020, available at https://spcommreports.ohchr.org/TMResultsBase/DownLoadPublicCommunicationFile?gId=25049.

[14] International Commission of Jurists, Tanzania: ICJ Calls for the reinstatement of lawyer Fatma Karume’s right to practice law, October 8, 2020, available at https://www.icj.org/tanzania-icj-calls-for-reinstatement-of-lawyer-fatma-karumes-right-to-practice-law/

[15]The Citizen, Zitto Kabwe sentenced to serve one year ban not writing seditious statements, May 29, 2020, available at https://www.thecitizen.co.tz/news/Zitto-Kabwe-found-guilty-of-sedition/1840340-5567040-m7pifrz/index.htm

[16] The cancellation of a training organised by Tanzania Human Rights Defenders Coalition (THRDC), the subsequent arrest of THRDC’s Director, Onesmo Olengurumwa, and suspension of the activities of the organisation, as well as freezing of their accounts, exemplifies the misuse of these laws against civil society (See: https://www.aa.com.tr/en/africa/tanzania-human-rights-group-suspends-operations/1945400)

[17] DefendDefenders, Tanzania: Respect the right to freedom of association, August 24, 2020, available at https://defenddefenders.org/tanzania-respect-the-right-to-freedom-of-association/.

[18] Two employees of one of THRDC were arrested in Dar es Salaam and thereafter authorities proceed to arbitrarily cancel the hosting of a three-day security training for 30 human rights defenders. The police claimed that the training was in contravention of the “laws of the land” but did not give a specific provision

[19] These include the Electronic and Postal Communications (Online Content) Regulations; Media Services Act; Cybercrimes Act; and Political Parties Amendment Act.

[20] Written Laws (Miscellaneous Amendments Act (No. 3) of 2020)

[21] Southern Africa Litigation Center, Joint letter, The Written Laws Miscellaneous Amendments Act no.3 ( 2020), available at https://www.southernafricalitigationcentre.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/Honourable-Minister-of-Justice-for-the-Republic-of-Tanzania.pdf-August-2020.pdf

[22] Section 7(b) of the Written Laws Amendments Act

[23] The African Commission’s Principles and Guidelines on the Right to a Fair Trial and Legal Assistance in Africa provide that States must ensure through the adoption of national legislation that any individual, group of individuals or nongovernmental organization is entitled to bring a human rights claim before a judicial body for determination because such claims are matters of public concern.

[24] Amendments to Chapter 310 of the Law Reform (Fatal accidents and miscellaneous provisions) Act and to the Chapter 3 of the Basic Rights and Duties Enforcement Act

[25]   See for example communication of the Mandates of the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression; and the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association to the government of the United Republic of Tanzania, AL TZA 3/2020, 17 July 2020, https://spcommreports.ohchr.org/TMResultsBase/DownLoadPublicCommunicationFile?gId=25442 

[26] These include the verbal abuse and threats of execution against Zitto Kabwe, leader of Alliance for Change and Transparency (ACT) Wazalendo opposition party (see: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-51355148), his conviction for sedition for statements he made at a press conference in relation to alleged extra judicial killings by state security forces (https://www.thecitizen.co.tz/news/Zitto-Kabwe-found-guilty-of-sedition/1840340-5567040-m7pifrz/index.html), and his re-arrested together with several party members while they participated in an internal meeting (https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/06/24/tanzanian-opposition-leader-zitto-kabwe-released-on-bail/); as well as the conviction of nine Members of Parliament belonging to the opposition Chama Cha Demokrasia(CHADEMA) party and their sentencing in March 2020 to five months in prison or an alternative fine, for allegedly making seditious statements (https://www.reuters.com/article/us-tanzania-politics/tanzanian-opposition-lawmakers-found-guilty-of-making-seditious-statements-idUSKBN20X2O8); and the attack against the party leader, Freeman Mbowe, by unknown assailants leaving him with a broken leg (https://www.reuters.com/article/us-tanzania-politics/tanzanian-opposition-lawmakers-found-guilty-of-making-seditious-statements-idUSKBN20X2O8).

[27] African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, Press statement of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the deteriorating human rights situation in Tanzania, available at https://www.achpr.org/pressrelease/detail?id=459.

[28] Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, “In her global human rights update, Bachelet calls for urgent action to heighten resilience and protect people’s rights,” 14 September 2020, https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=26226&LangID=E

[29] Tanzania Human Rights Defenders Coalition, Two Kenyan Journalists convicted and fined in Tanzania, repatriated back to Kenya, May 21, 2020, available at https://thrdc.or.tz/blog/.

[30]American Bar Association, Center for Human Rights, Report on the arbitrary suspension of Kwanza Online TV for sharing information related to the COVID-19 pandemic, October 22, 2020. See also Kwanza TV Instagram, available athttps://www.instagram.com/p/CCGT_5ECT_n/?utm_source=ig_web_button_share_sheet

[31] Disease pandemics and the freedom of opinion and expression, A/HRC/44/49, para. 30

[32] The Guardian, Coronavirus pandemic is becoming a human rights crisis, UN warns, 23 April 2020, available at https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/apr/23/coronavirus-pandemic-is-becoming-a-human-rights-crisis-un-warns. See also UNHRC,, UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, States responses to Covid 19 threat should not halt freedoms of assembly and association, April 14, 2020, available at https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=25788&LangID=E.

[33] BBC, Tanzania border village attack “leaves 20 dead”, October 16, 2020, available at https://www.bbc.com/news/live/world-africa-47639452?ns_mchannel=social&ns_source=twitter&ns_campaign=bbc_live&ns_linkname=5f896f00c4548e02bf3cb441%26Tanzania%20border%20village%20attack%20%27leaves%2020%20dead%27%262020-10-16T10%3A29%3A29.229Z&ns_fee=0&pinned_post_locator=urn:asset:2f81fc88-030c-49d4-9d25-b8268a2dbf55&pinned_post_asset_id=5f896f00c4548e02bf3cb441&pinned_post_type=share


[Repost] Amnesty launches human rights learning app to equip next generation of activists

2 November 2020

https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2020/10/amnesty-launches-human-rights-learning-app-to-equip-next-generation-of-activists/

Amnesty International has launched Amnesty Academy, a free human rights learning app which aims to educate the next generation of human rights defenders on a host of topics including freedom of expression, digital security, and Indigenous Peoples’ rights.

Learners around the world will be able to access courses ranging from 15 minutes to 15 hours in over 20 languages, including Urdu, Bangla, Hungarian, Korean, Russian, Thai, Czech and Turkish. All courses can be downloaded within the app, which is available on iOS and Android devices, allowing for offline learning.

“This app has been designed to empower and encourage everyone everywhere to learn about human rights. Sharing knowledge is a vital way to help us stand up for our own and for each other’s rights, and to struggle for justice and equality all over the world,”

said Julie Verhaar, Amnesty International’s Acting Secretary General.

Among Amnesty Academy’s key features is a flexible self-paced approach to learning, allowing users to start courses as and when it suits them. Learners who complete some of the longer courses will be awarded an official certificate signed by Amnesty International’s Secretary General.

The courses available on Amnesty Academy have been developed and fine-tuned over the past three years as part of Amnesty International’s human rights learning website. They have now been optimized for mobile use, making human rights learning more accessible than ever.

“Human rights education is the foundation of Amnesty’s work. Our overall goal is to ensure that people worldwide know and can claim their human rights. The Amnesty Academy app brings us closer to this goal by providing a simple and accessible platform for millions of people to access quality human rights education,” said Krittika Vishwanath, Head of Human Rights Education at Amnesty International.

Amnesty Academy will be regularly updated to accommodate learning in many more languages and with new course offerings in the months and years to come.

iOS link

Android link


Statement on death row cases and the harassment of lawyers

26 October 2020

We, the undersigned, call for a comprehensive review of the death penalty and death row inmates’ rights in Singapore, made more urgent by the following points that have surfaced in relation to recent death penalty cases.

An overly high threshold for review applications 

On 19 October 2020, the Court of Appeal set aside 32-year-old Malaysian Gobi Avedian’s death sentence, reinstating the original sentence of 15 years’ imprisonment and 10 strokes of the cane given to him by the High Court in 2017. 

The Court of Appeal reviewed Gobi Avedian’s case after the application filed by his counsel cleared the threshold as set out in Section 394J of the Criminal Procedure Code (CPC). However, we are nevertheless concerned that the threshold to review cases that have already been through the appeals process is extremely high, and would preclude the possibility of many other death row cases being reviewed, even if there are still outstanding questions and doubts.

For example, under s394J of the CPC, a case can only be reviewed if there is material that could not have been adduced earlier. Furthermore, in the latest Court of Appeal judgment for Gobi Avedian, it was made clear that it is not enough for there to be a “real possibility” that the court’s earlier decision was wrong — there has to be a “powerful probability”. 

It is very alarming, in the context of the death penalty, that it is insufficient for there to be a real possibility that the court was wrong. Our position is that this is a matter of life and death, so any possibility that a mistake has been made should be closely scrutinised and reviewed.

Given that the death penalty is an irreversible punishment, it is important that every opportunity is given to the inmate to seek legal counsel and bring up matters before the court, regardless of what stage their case is at. Inmates might also be represented by different lawyers at different stages of their case, who might have advised them differently. They should not be prevented from submitting material for a review simply because their counsel had failed to present it to the court at an earlier stage.

A need for automatic review of death row cases following changes in law

Gobi Avedian’s death sentence was able to be set aside because of, among other things, developments in case law from a Court of Appeal ruling in 2019. It is unknown how many other death row inmates’ cases could be impacted by such developments.

In Gobi’s case, he was fortunate to have had a lawyer take another look at his case at a very late stage, and identify how developments in the law have made his case worth reviewing. This is very unusual: after their initial appeals have been exhausted, it is difficult for death row inmates to find lawyers to represent them or review their case.

If there are changes or developments in the law, it should not be left to a death row inmate’s fortune in finding legal counsel before their case is reviewed.

The need for accountability for breaches in lawyer-client privilege

In dismissing Syed Suhail’s criminal motion, the Court of Appeal said that M Ravi had failed to show any evidence that there had been any prejudice against his client even after it was revealed that the prison had forwarded letters that Syed had written to his then-defence counsel and his uncle, to the prosecution. 

We are deeply concerned that the Singapore Prison Service breached lawyer-client privilege in such a way. Even though inmates are under the prison’s custody, it is highly unethical to copy and forward their privileged and personal communications on to a third party, much less the prosecution. Prisoners also have an expectation of privacy, and this right should be respected.

Although the deputy prosecutor had declared to the court that he had not read the letters, there has been no independent investigation into the matter. 

We hope that there will be a clear accounting to the public of how something like this could have happened, and why the Attorney-General’s Chambers did not recognise that this was a breach right away, instead waiting two years to bring this matter to light. 

Threats against lawyers representing death row inmates at a late stage

In dismissing a criminal motion filed by death row inmate Syed Suhail bin Syed Zin, the Court of Appeal warned against invoking the review process too “lightly”, adding that defence counsels could be sanctioned for abusing the court process if they do so. The Attorney-General’s Chambers is also applying for a cost order against Syed’s lawyer, who is also M Ravi.

Following Gobi Avedian’s acquittal from his capital charge, the AGC has also taken issue with M Ravi expressing his opinions on the prosecution’s conduct in his client’s case, demanding that he apologise and retract his comments. They have since lodged a complaint against him to the Law Society. 

We strongly condemn harassment and threats against lawyers who represent death row inmates, particularly M Ravi, who has taken on multiple death row inmates at a late stage. Death row inmates already face great barriers in looking for lawyers who will review their case and advise them at a late stage. Imposing the threat of penalties, or actual penalties, against lawyers who are merely doing their best to lobby for their clients raises those barriers further by deterring lawyers from wanting to take on late-stage capital cases. 

We are relieved that a man has been saved, but are alarmed by how close we have come to a wrongful execution. We note that Gobi Avedian had already exhausted his legal appeal as well as the clemency process, and was at risk of imminent execution. If not for M Ravi’s intervention at a late stage, Gobi could have been executed without anyone realising that a miscarriage of justice had occurred. 

In the case of Ilechukwu Uchechukwu Chukwudi as well, his team of pro bono lawyers fought for him to be acquitted of a capital drug trafficking charge, which he was convicted of by the Court of Appeal in 2015. Ilechukwu is now able to return home to Nigeria after living on death row in Singapore for years, only because his lawyers didn’t give up even at a late stage. 

This highlights a serious problem with capital punishment. It is a harsh and irreversible punishment, and a life, once taken, cannot be returned. One innocent life taken by the state is one too many — this is why the death penalty should be abolished as soon as possible.

Our recommendations:

  • Repeal Section 394J of the Criminal Procedure Code that sets a high threshold for cases to be reviewed
  • When there are changes to laws or case law that will affect death row inmates, their cases should be automatically reviewed
  • Launch an independent investigation to look into how often the prison might have forwarded inmate correspondence, including privileged communication, to the AGC
  • Put an end to the harassment and threats against lawyers who represent death row inmates
  • An immediate moratorium of the death penalty, with a view to abolish capital punishment
Signatories

Transformative Justice Collective
Community Action Network
Function 8
Post-Museum
No Readgrets Book Club
Crit Talk
Penawar
Beyond the Hijab
SG Climate Rally
We Who Witness
MARUAH
The Bi+ Collective
soft/WALL/studs
Tow Ying Xiang
Rachel Lim