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Covid-19 further restricts already diminished space for civil society in South Asia, report finds

7 December 2020

The South Asia Collective (SAC), a group of activists and organisations documenting the condition of the region’s minorities, has published the South Asia State of Minorities Report 2020, in collaboration with Minority Rights Group International (MRG). Focusing on ‘Minorities and Shrinking Civic Space’, this year’s report highlights how in all the countries of the region – Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka –, the constitutional rights of freedom of expression, association and assembly have been increasingly violated over the past decade, a trend that has worsened under the Covid-19 pandemic. Civic space is becoming ever more restrictive, resulting in an environment increasingly hostile to CSOs, NGOs, progressive media entities and human rights defenders.

In Afghanistan, civil society, which flourished after the collapse of the Taliban regime, has been severely curtailed by the Ashraf Ghani-led National Unity Government and the disbanding of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). In Bhutan, the space for civic action – particularly regarding political and religious freedoms – has continued to be constrained by heavy-handed bureaucracy. Bangladesh’s Awami League has overseen a steady deterioration of civil and political rights. The most alarming example has been in India, where the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) maintains attacks on a historically vibrant civil society, and its total closure in Kashmir, with grave implications for the country’s minorities. In Nepal, since around 2010, there have been sustained efforts to curtail civic space. In Pakistan, various steps have been taken to curtail freedoms of expression, association and assembly, including by means of restrictive laws and regulations. In Sri Lanka, two recent events have narrowed the space available for civil society: the Easter Sunday terror attacks and the resultant Declaration of Emergency, and the assumption of power by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, both in 2019.

‘Civil society as well as human rights defenders have seen their space for action shrinking throughout South Asian countries’, says Deepak Thapa, Director of Social Science Baha in Nepal. ‘This has particular implications for the rights of minorities in the region.’

Alongside comprehensive analyses of civic freedoms throughout the region, the report also offers recommendations to national governments, civil society and minority groups, as well as the international community, with respect not only to each country, but also to the region as a whole.

Notes to editors

  • The report is accessible here, and is embargoed until the public launch, which will be held virtually on 8 December 2020, 10 am GMT/11 am CET, and will allow space for discussion and Q&A.
  • The South Asia Collective (SAC) is a group of human rights activists and organisations formed in 2015 to document the condition of South Asia’s minorities – religious, linguistic, ethnic, caste and gender, among others. The SAC pilots small-scale practical support to minority groups across borders, to nurture their capacity for better outcomes for minority communities, while working at local and regional levels. Previous annual reports are available here.
  • Minority Rights Group International (MRG) is the leading international human rights organisation working to secure the rights of ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities and indigenous peoples. We work with more than 150 partners in over 50 countries.
  • MRG’s ‘World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples‘ entries on South Asian countries and minorities
  • Read the 2019 edition of the report on ‘Migrants, Refugees and the Stateless’ here

Interview opportunities

  • Deepak Thapa, Director of Social Science Baha, Nepal
  • Zakir Hossain, Director of Naggorik Uddyog/Citizen’s Initiative, Bangladesh
  • Elaine Alam, Director, FACES, Pakistan
  • Sakuntala Kadirgamar, Director, LST, Sri Lanka

For more information or to arrange interviews, contact target=”_blank” rel=”noopener noreferrer”>the MRG Press Office.

Watch the launch event