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U.S. chided for 'rapid decline' in freedoms

Crackdowns on protesters and journalists landed the U.S. on a global alliance's updated watchlist of nations dogged by "serious concerns" for civic freedoms.

WASHINGTON (AN) — Crackdowns on protesters and journalists landed the United States on an updated watchlist of nations where a global alliance on Monday said it had "serious concerns regarding the exercise of civic freedoms."

The watchlist from CIVICUS, a network of civil society organizations and activists, also included concerns about recent developments in four other countries: Azerbaijan, Hungary, Niger and the Philippines.

"Militarized law enforcement have disproportionately responded to Black Lives Matter protests with tear gas (over 100 cities) and with rubber bullets," said the South Africa-based international organization, which was founded in 1993 before Apartheid had been fully dismantled. "Over 10,000 people have been detained since the protests began in May."

The organization said the rest of the watchlist resulted from Azerbaijan's detention of hundreds of protesters following disputed parliamentary elections; Hungary's COVID-19 emergency measures restricting free speech and independent media; Niger's new wave of arrests and judicial harassment of activists; and the Philippines' clampdown on the media as a new anti-terrorism bill put activists at risk.

The watchlist reflects an attempt to draw attention to countries "where there is a serious, and rapid decline in respect for civic space" based on findings obtained from research by the organization and its partners and from consultations with activists on the ground, CIVICUS said in a statement.

Earlier this month, in the wake of international protests over George Floyd’s killing by Minneapolis police, the United Nations Human Rights Council’s African Group won consensus approval for a resolution that condemned the police brutality that led to the killing of Floyd, a Black man, by a White police officer, and commissioned a report from the U.N. human rights chief and outside experts.

The resolution calls for the report to examine "systemic racism, violations of international human rights law against Africans and people of African descent by law enforcement agencies, especially those incidents that resulted in the death of George Floyd and other Africans and of people of African descent, to contribute to accountability and redress for victims."

It will be overseen by Michelle Bachelet, a former president of Chile who heads the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, or OHCHR, and several U.N. special rapporteurs, or investigators, for specific themes. She is expected to give regular updates on police brutality against Black people and report back to the council in June 2021.

Democracy 'under assault'

In a federal lawsuit filed this month, the American Civil Liberties Union, District of Columbia and the Black Lives Matter movement accused U.S. President Trump's administration 0f launching a "criminal attack" on peaceful demonstrators in the nation's capital that violated their rights to free speech and assembly.

Trump ordered National Guard troops and federal law enforcement to “dominate” the streets of Washington, and some of his loyalists even pursued the idea of taking control of the city's police. Around the White House, federal authorities resorted to tear gas, stun grenades and rubber bullets to disperse peaceful demonstrators in Lafayette Square, near the White House, so that Trump, his daughter and son-in-law and other aides could walk across the street for a photo op at a church.

In March, another international organization, U.S.-based Freedom House, warned of a continuing decline in global democracy. Its annual health checkup blamed a “leaderless struggle,” undercut by autocratic regimes and populist nationalism, eroding political freedoms and civil liberties worldwide.

Though it looked at 195 nations and 15 territories, the report focused on lagging democratic leadership from Trump’s “America First” policies and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu-first politics. It found political rights and civil liberties deteriorated in 64 nations and improved in just 37 others.

"Democracy and pluralism are under assault. Dictators are toiling to stamp out the last vestiges of domestic dissent and spread their harmful influence to new corners of the world,” the organization’s Freedom in the World 2020 report begins.