Disappointment and frustration abound in Rio
Johannesburg, South Africa 22 June 2012 CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation is deeply dismayed with the outcome of Rio+20 and believes the under-achievement of Rio raises serious questions about the ability of the inter-governmental system as currently constituted to achieve sustainable development, protection of human rights, and the full participation of people.
“The Rio+20 statement as it stands is completely out of touch with reality,” says Wael Hmaidan, Director of CAN International, who delivered a statement on ‘The Future We Don’t Want’ on behalf the NGO Major Group for Rio+20 at the conference’s opening plenary on 20 June. He was referring to the 283-paragraph outcome document, completed and endorsed by delegations from 191 governments and sent to Heads of State and Government to adopt at the end of the Rio+20 conference.
In the hope of strengthening civil society participation and making the process more inclusive, global civil society network CIVICUS has been acting as one of the Organising Partners for the NGO Major Group for the Rio+20 Conference. NGOs constitute one of nine Major Groups engaged in the Rio+20 process which culminated on 22 June.
Johannesburg, 15 June 2012. CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation denounces the government of Bangladesh’s systematic clampdown on peaceful political dissent and calls for a full investigation into the politically motivated disappearances of civil society activists.Since the beginning of 2012, a number of civil society members, journalists and political activists have been attacked by representatives of law enforcement agencies. Civil society protests and public meetings have been disrupted by the police. Meanwhile new legislation is being proposed to control the activities of independent civil society groups, marking a dangerous decline in democratic freedoms in Bangladesh.
CIVICUS is deeply concerned about the safety of Bahrain civil society activist and President of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, Nabeel Rajab, who was arrested again on 6 June.
It has been confirmed from reliable sources that the evident reason for Nabeel’s arrest was his appearance on ‘The Stream’ programme of Al-Jazeera on 4 June. His arrest took place despite an assurance being sought by Al-Jazeera from the government of Bahrain that he would not be sanctioned for appearing on television.
Johannesburg, 5 June 2012: CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation and Expert Working Group, Uzbekistan, demand an end to the persecution of human rights activists in Uzbekistan and proper access for international human rights expertsGulshan Karaeva, who heads the Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan in the country’s Kashkadarya region, is the latest civil society victim to be targeted for her work and beliefs in a country which has one of the worst human rights records in the world. Karaeva is being singled out for her work in providing free legal aid to victims of human rights violations. In a letter she published on the internet on 5 May 2012, she reported that she had refused a demand by Uzbekistan’s National Security Services to cooperate with the agency as an informant. Days later, she experienced a series of attacks and threats.
Johannesburg. 4 June 2012: Global civil society network CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation and Azerbaijan CSO the Center for National and International Studies (CNIS) are deeply concerned about the safety of Azeri civil society activists who raised awareness of human rights violations during the 2012 Eurovision Song Contest, held last month in Baku, Azerbaijan.Civil society in Azerbaijan was highly vocal ahead of the contest, demanding the release of political prisoners and the removal of restrictions on freedoms of speech and assembly under the banner of the Sing for Democracy campaign. Now, as the international spotlight shifts from Azerbaijan, credible concerns are being raised about possible renewed persecution of activists.
Johannesburg. 29 May 2012.
CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation salutes the bold and courageous action of UN Human Rights Council President, Laura Dupuy Lasserre, in asking the government of Bahrain to commit not to harassing or abusing civil society activists present at the current UN human rights meeting in Geneva.
The current UN Human Rights Council's universal periodic review (UPR) process saw Bahrain's human rights track record called into scrutiny by other governments. Civil society members therefore came to Geneva for the Human Rights Council meeting to lobby and speak out against Bahrain's appalling human rights record and treatment of civil society activists, which has seen arrests, imprisonment, torture, violence and other forms of harassment.
King Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa
Office of the King
The Amiri Court
The Kingdom of Bahrain
8 May 2012
CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation and the organisations and individuals listed below are deeply concerned about the arrest of Nabeel Rajab, President of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, Director of the Gulf Centre for Human Rights and FIDH Deputy Secretary General.
Johannesburg, 9 May 2012CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation calls for the international community to show stronger political will to stop human rights abuses in Syria. The international community must ensure that President Bashar al-Assad's regime is brought under pressure to abide by international law, and that there are investigations and accountability for war crimes and crimes against humanity. It is time for the UN Security Council to refer Syria to the International Criminal Court.
8 May 2012
CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation is shocked at the arrest and detention of Bahraini human rights defender Nabeel Rajab.
Nabeel Rajab was arrested on 5 May 2012 upon arrival at Manama airport. According to reports, he has been accused of “insulting the statutory bodies” pursuant to Article 216 of the Penal Code, which carries an imprisonment for a term up to three years and a fine. These charges come in relation to tweets that Nabeel posted that were deemed “insulting” to the Ministry of Interior.“We believe that Nabeel Rajab’s arrest is an outright violation of the state’s duty to protect the freedom of speech of its citizens,” says Netsanet Belay, Policy and Research Director at CIVICUS. “He has been arrested for no reason other than his peaceful, legal and courageous acts of human rights activism.”
Johannesburg. 4 May 2012.
More than 25 organisations around the world have combined to urge Israel to free imprisoned human rights defender Ameer Makhoul on the second anniversary of his arrest.
Ameer has been in prison since May 2010. On 1 May 2012, Ameer was transferred from Gilboa prison to another jail in Majido, allegedly as punishment for participating in a hunger strike to highlight the conditions of political prisoners in Israel. His family was not informed, and only found out about the move when they tried to visit him at Gilboa prison. The transfer of Ameer to Majido adds to the harassment being faced by his family by making it difficult for them to reach him.
Ameer has been Director of Ittijah: Union of Arab Community-Based Associations since it was established in 1995. He has also served as Chair of the Public Committee for the Defence of Political Freedoms of Arab Citizens in Israel, in addition to being a prolific writer on political, social and civil society issues in Israel.
The circumstances surrounding Ameer's arrest by Israel's Shin Bet security agency, and the consequent failure by the Israeli government to follow the due process of law immediately after his arrest, smack of harassment and political interference.
CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation calls for a boycott of the Bahrain Grand Prix on 21 April 2012 and the release of all political prisoners in Bahrain.
The decision for the race to go ahead dangerously ignores the ongoing human rights violations and increases the tension in a country that is sliding towards another eruption of violence. The Bahrain Grand Prix was cancelled last year in the midst of a brutal government crackdown on protests that formed part of the Arab Spring, but the Formula One administrating body, the Fédération Internationale de I’Automobile, has announced that it is “safe” for the race to go ahead this week. This announcement was made even as clashes between protesters and security forces continue to occur daily. Villages that are home to Bahrain’s majority Shi’ite population have been attacked by supporters of the regime, and an explosion on 9 April 2012 in al-Akar, a village in the east of Bahrain, left several people injured and led to threats of retaliation.
The use of military action is intensifying in Syria, and the human rights and humanitarian conditions are deteriorating. Despite the calls of Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Arab League and the UN Special Envoy to Syria, Syrian authorities have failed to halt the use of excessive force and violence.Further, the Syrian authorities have not taken any serious steps towards implementing political reforms demanded by the people. The steps the Syrian government has taken in assigning a committee to propose constitutional amendments and laws for political parties, associations and elections do not reflect the seriousness of popular demand for reform and political openness. Syrian authorities have also not taken any measure to reform social and economic policies in line with international human rights standards, and in accordance with the recommendations it accepted at the UN Human Rights Council Universal Periodic Review session in October 2010
Johannesburg, South Africa, 22 March 2012. The space for civil society to operate independently in Malawi is sharply shrinking warns international civil society network CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation. In a warning sign of an impending crackdown, members of civil society and the media are being openly intimidated to prevent them from criticising the government.
On 8 March 2012, the Malawi President's Office issued a public statement warning civil society organisations (CSOs) and media houses against insulting President Bingu wa Mutharika. Among other things, the statement notes: "It is a pity that some civil society organisations and media houses find demeaning, insulting and accusing the President as a scoop to merit themselves. It should be obvious that such insults, accusations and derogatory statements and ill comments about our Head of State are but a shame in the eyes of the international community." The statement threatens dissenters that the government "monitors carefully" social networks that are "hostile and probably careless in demeaning the State President." It also finds "unacceptable" phone-in radio programmes that offer a "platform for callers to castigate or insult the Head of State."
The Protection of State Information Bill, drawn up by South Africa's Minister for State Security, was passed by the National Assembly in November 2011 despite serious concerns raised by a wide range of CSOs about its unconstitutionality and incompatibility with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which South Africa is a party. The bill is presently being considered by the South African National Council of Provinces which is undertaking a country-wide consultation process. If passed by the National Council of Provinces, the bill will be sent to the President for signing into law.
"Passage of the bill will constitute a major setback for South Africa's democracy, weakening people's ability to tackle corruption and challenge official wrongdoing," said Ingrid Srinath, Secretary General of CIVICUS. "It will not only muzzle media and civil society nationally but also severely tarnish South Africa's reputation as a role model for democratic standards around the world."
Johannesburg 14 February 2012. As Bahrain marks the first anniversary of its pro-democracy protests, CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation calls upon the Arab League and Bahrain’s military and trading partners to pressure the government to end an ongoing travesty of justice.A year on from the popular protests that began on 14 February 2011, 21 prominent human rights and political activists, many of them suffering from medical conditions, languish in prison, serving prison sentences ranging from two years to life. The sentences were imposed after flawed trials conducted by military courts and confirmed on appeal by military courts, in violation of well established legal principles. The Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry, which was authorised by the King to look into rights violations, has reported that detainees were tortured, but no action has been taken to bring the perpetrators to justice.
Johannesburg. 8 February 2012. Amid rising tension in Cairo, Egypt, violence against peaceful protestors is being intensified and non-governmental organisations are being openly attacked. CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation, Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, Arab NGO Network for Development and the Open Forum for CSO Development Effectiveness condemn persistent and brutal crackdowns by Egyptian security forces and the attempt to control civil society activity through a draft Law on Associations and Foundations.On 25 January 2012, thousands of members of Egyptian civil society flooded Tahrir Square to mark the first anniversary of the people's revolution and also to register their protest at the present turn of events. "What promised to be an uprising to end oppression in Egypt one year ago has been manipulated by the military to reinforce its control and severely repress legitimate civil society activities" said Ingrid Srinath, Secretary-General of CIVICUS.
1 February 2012.
On 3 February 2012, the Cassation Bench of the Federal Supreme Court of Ethiopia will hear a petition by the Human Rights Council (HRCO), Ethiopia's oldest human rights organisation, to admit an appeal against the freezing of its bank accounts. Amnesty International, ARTICLE 19, CIVICUS, East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project and Human Rights Watch express deep concern at the obstacles and restrictions to which HRCO and other human rights organizations in Ethiopia are now subjected, as illustrated by this case. The decision of the Supreme Court will be of great significance for the future of HRCO's vital work and for the wider promotion and protection of human rights in Ethiopia.
Last month, the Belarusian Ministry of Tax and Duties requested the Ministry of Justice to initiate the process of closing down the Belarus Helsinki Committee. A communication was received by BHC in June 2011 for alleged violation of Belarus' tax laws, requiring it to pay more than 240 million Belarusian Rubles (approximately 28000 US Dollars) in taxes and fines for receiving a grant from the European Commission back in 2002-2003.
Johannesburg. 24 November 2011. CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation calls for immediate cessation of excessive and lethal force against peaceful protesters in Egypt.Since 18 November 2011, 40 civilians have been killed by security forces and over 1700 injured in nationwide protests to demand concrete action on the transition to democratic rule and an end to human rights violations. Live ammunition and harmful tear gas have been indiscriminately used against unarmed protestors, some of whom have been deliberately run-over by military vehicles.
Johannesburg. 24 November 2011. CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation strongly denounces the sentencing of leading human rights defender, Ales Bialiatski, today in Belarus. The fabricated case against Bialiatski is a clear move by the Belarusian government to further silence civil society and opposition voices.
On 24 November 2011, the Pervomaiski District Court in Minsk sentenced Bialiatski to four and a half years imprisonment under “strict regime” conditions and the confiscation of property on charges of tax evasion. This politically motivated trial, which commenced 2 November 2011, highlights the measures that the authoritarian regime is prepared to take to stop those who do not toe the party line. This case is the latest example of the crackdown on dissent, opposition to the government and free media in a country growing increasingly isolated from Europe.
Johannesburg. 24 October 2011. CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation strongly condemns the killing of Father FaustoTentorio, an Italian priest in the North Cotabato region of the Philippines on 17 October 2011. According to CIVICUS partner Karapatan, an alliance of human rights organisations in the Philippines, Fr. Tentorio is the 54th victim of extra-judicial killings since President Benigno Aquino III came into power in June 2010.
Fr.Tentorio worked for over three decades among the indigenous people in the Cotabato area advocating for indigenous people's land rights against the incursions of big business, especially by mining corporations. He was outspoken against military presence in the villages and was involved in exposing deliberate attempts to marginalise indigenous people by powerful individuals acting in complicity with state agencies. He also blamed the security forces for being tools for suppression of people's rights.
Johannesburg. 4 October 2011. The South African government should stand by its founding values by granting a visa to the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of the Tibetan people, urged civil society in South Africa today.The Dalai Lama was due to visit South Africa from 6-8 October to attend the 80th birthday celebrations of fellow Nobel Peace Prize winner, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu. He was expected to deliver the inaugural Desmond Tutu International Peace lecture at the University of the Western Cape. Delay in granting him a visa by the South African government has now resulted in him cancelling his trip to the country.
The US government should not move toward “business as usual” with Uzbekistan, a group of 20 human rights organizations, labor and consumer groups, trade unions, investors, and other organizations said today in a letter to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The letter’s signatories, including CIVICUS, expressed concern over proposed US legislation to permit military and other assistance to the Uzbek government, one of the most repressive in the world.
On September 21, 2011, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved a bill that will allow taxpayer-funded military assistance to the Uzbek government. Uzbek authorities silence civil society activists, independent journalists, and all political opposition; severely curtail freedom of expression and religion; and organize forced child labor on a massive scale.
Montreal, 11/09/2011. A new global vision which is radical, ambitious and universal is needed to tackle the critical issues faced by people and the planet, and frame the post-2015 global agenda, outlined civil society organisations in a Montreal communiqué at the CIVICUS World Assembly on September in Montreal, Canada.Ingrid Srinath, Secretary General of CIVICUS pointed out that the gap between the Millennium Declaration and the technocratic formulation of the MDGs is far too wide. “It is shocking that despite all the industrial progress on the planet, millions of people continue to live in poverty and destitution. Social and economic development cannot be delinked from civil and political freedoms. This reality must be taken cognizance of by policy makers in the future.”
2 September 2011. Johannesburg. Civil society - the sphere of people's associations and organisations - is undergoing its most significant crisis and change for a generation. Many established civil society organisations (CSOs) are struggling under the weight of multiple economic and political challenges, but are also disconnected from citizens, particularly from new, informal modes of participation and activism.
This is the key finding of a new report on the state of civil society published by CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation. The report, Bridging the Gaps: Citizens, organisations and dissociation, concludes that the rise of informal activity, such as the peoples movements of the Arab Spring, offers a new challenge and opportunity to CSOs: they must embrace such movements to connect better with the public and renew themselves in order to survive.
Johannesburg. 1 September 2011. CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation has joined local civil society groups to call upon the parliament of Trinidad and Tobago to reject the proposed three-month extension of a State of Emergency, due to be voted on on Friday, 2 September 2011.
Johannesburg. 1 September 2011. CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation in solidarity with regional civil society groups urges the Government of Bahrain to stop the ongoing sham trials of pro-democracy activists and provide them the right to appeal lengthy and unjust sentences in regular civilian courts.
10 August 2011. Montreal/Johannesburg. At a time when global crises pose mounting threats and global governance appears all but absent, the challenges and opportunities for civil society to influence decision-making are immense. Ensuring that local voices can be heard on a global scale and increasing the ability of civil society to influence decision-makers will be but two of the themes addressed at the upcoming 2011 CIVICUS World Assembly.
Jointly organised by Institut du Nouveau Monde (INM) and CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation, the 10th edition of the CIVICUS World Assembly will take place at the Palais des Congrès in Montreal from 10-12 September 2011. This event, centred on the theme “Civil Society and Global Decision-Making: Doing It Better”, will bring together almost 800 representatives from civil society, as well as donors, governments and businesses from all over the world.
10 August 2011. Johannesburg. The Cambodian Government’s decision to introduce a law which will restrict the activities of Non-Government Organisations (NGOs) presents worrying signs about deterioration in the country’s democracy, CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation said today. The proposed Law on Associations and Non-Governmental Organisations will also make it more difficult for foreign aid organisations to operate in the Asian country, CIVICUS said.
CIVICUS joined a growing network of local and international civil society groups calling for the Cambodian parliament to abandon this draft law, believing the law will give the government discretionary powers to control civil society groups. The law, a clear violation of international human rights law, is also seen as part of a growing global trend of governments attempting to restrict their citizens’ freedom of association and speech and dissenting civil society voices.
4 August 2011. Johannesburg. CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation strongly condemns the arrest of Aliaksandr (Ales) Bialiatski, prominent Belarusian human rights defender, vice president of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and head of the Minsk-based human rights centre Viasna.
"We have abundant reasons to believe that any alleged charges currently against Mr. Bialiatski are directly intended to silence his active support of human rights in Belarus”, said Will Lasky, CIVICUS Eurasia Coordinator. "CIVICUS believes his detention to be politically motivated and unlawful.” Mr. Bialiatski’s arrest is yet another instance in a pattern of harassment and intimidation toward civil society in Belarus.
Johannesburg. 20 April 2011. International and South African civil society groups strongly condemn the brutal crackdown by Swaziland security forces on anti-government protestors.
As a group of concerned organisations, we strongly condemn the brutal crackdown by authorities on peaceful protestors in Swaziland. We stand united to voice our concerns about the daily abuses and the ongoing repression of its people.
The people of Swaziland have started to protest and rebel against the government in the country that has systematically prevented and repressed opposition voices. The democracy movement in Swaziland, while long standing, began in earnest on 12 April 2011 and is similar to many other pro-democracy movements on the African continent, as the people state that enough is enough: they want freedom and democracy. The repressive actions by the state to silence peaceful protest represent anything but a free and democratic society.
The abuses by the forces of the monarchy must end and Swaziland's people must be free of repression and be allowed to exercise their rights. People must be allowed the maintenance of the fundamental pillars of a democratic society, namely respect and protection of their human rights including freedom of association and freedom of. Police brutality and repression is not acceptable. The government of Swaziland should at all times respect the citizens' rights to assemble and be part of associations as enshrined in the 2006 constitution and the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights that it has promised to respect. Freedom of association means repealing the 1973 ban on political parties and so political parties are not legally recognised in Swaziland. All citizens need to be free to mobilise, associate and oppose the Government, without fear of repression.
We stand in full support of the struggle in Swaziland for democratic freedom and human rights. We urge the Swaziland authorities to end the repression of peaceful dissent. We urge the international community to stand up against these abuses and condemn what is going on in the country against its citizens. We also strongly urge the South African government to act against the state sanctioned human rights abuses that are occurring within its direct neighbour.
List of organisations involved
30 MARCH 2011 - ARTICLE 19, CIVICUS:World Alliance for Citizen Participation, the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law (ICNL), and the World Movement for Democracy welcome the appointment of Maina Kiai as the Special Rapporteur on the Rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association for the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC). His appointment comes at a crucial time when issues related to freedom of assembly are at the core of recent developments in North Africa, the Middle East, and beyond.
Through a press release on 5 July 2010, ARTICLE 19, CIVICUS, ICNL, and the World Movement called for the establishment of a UN Special Rapporteur to defend freedom of association and the creation of an objective and independent mechanism for monitoring repressive measures against civil society. On 30 September 2010, we and other civil society groups welcomed the adoption of the Human Rights Council's Resolution A/HRC/15/L.23, which created the Special Rapporteur on freedom of assembly and association.
We are now delighted that the UNHRC also appointed Mr. Kiai as the Special Rapporteur. We have no doubt that Mr. Kiai, who has over 20 years of experience in human rights advocacy and policy development in Africa and around the world, will execute the responsibilities of the Special Rapporteur in an independent, impartial, objective, principled, and diligent manner.
At a time when the rights to freedom of assembly and association are increasingly under threat around the world, Mr. Kiai's mandate is of the highest importance. We expect him to put the issues of freedom of assembly and association at the center of the UN's priorities and to further deepen the UN's commitment to protecting civic participation in political and social development.
ARTICLE 19, CIVICUS, ICNL, and the World Movement express our support for Mr. Kiai as he seeks to fulfill his mandate, and we look forward to working with him.
17 March 2011. Johannesburg.CIVICUS: World Alliance for Participation today called on the Bahrain government to end the “shocking” use of violence against peaceful demonstrators in Manama and use of foreign troops, attributing the response as a “flagrant violation” of peoples legitimate right to dissent.
Recent reports indicate after 48 hours of police crackdown in Bahrain capital Manama, at least five people have been killed and 300 wounded after being mercilessly beaten by Bahraini authorities. Hospitals have been blockaded by riot police and scores of medical personnel report being beaten and tortured by security guards.
Bahraini troops are being aided by 1500 troops from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates through a controversial bilateral treaty that allows them to offer military support to each other during an emergency determined at the discretion of the requesting government.
“The deployment of foreign forces on Bahraini soil, possibly to clamp down on pro-democracy demonstrators, is a menacing threat to Bahraini citizens exercising their fundamental human rights under international law,” said Ingrid Srinath, CIVICUS Secretary General. “It is ominously reminiscent of Muammar Gaddafi’s declaration of outright war against Libya’s own citizens.”
The protestors have rejected claims from the government that the troops have been deployed to protect strategic sites like oil depots and have voiced concerns that these additional troops will join the riot police in committing gross human rights violations and abuse of citizens in Bahrain.
Inspired by pro-reform demonstrations that have triggered the fall of authoritarian regimes in Tunisia and Egypt, peaceful demonstrators and activists have over the last month called for political and constitutional reforms and an end to discrimination in Bahraini society.
“Democracies that openly spoke in favour of political reforms during the protests in Tunisia and Egypt have been very silent on Bahrain” said David Kode, Policy Officer for CIVICUS. “We urge all democratic governments unequivocally to condemn the violence used to quell demonstrations in Bahrain, whether by national or foreign security forces.”
Over the last two days, security forces and riot police have significantly intensified brutal attacks on peaceful demonstrators, using teargas, rubber bullets, shotgun pellets and helicopters to disperse them.
King Isa Al Khalifa recently declared martial law under a three-month state of emergency, thereby giving security forces more leverage to stop and search citizens, disperse demonstrators by force, close down NGOs and prevent meetings from taking place.
“Use of foreign troops to quell the pro-democracy protests is reprehensible and offers a threat to international peace and security that must be recognised by the international community,” Kode said.
Johannesburg. 8 March 2011. Women in civil society in Africa are particularly prone to intimidation and harassment says a new report released today by CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation. CIVICUS calls on African governments, regional bodies, the international community and civil society to do much more to protect women human rights defenders on the continent.
Released to coincide with International Women’s Day, the report outlines the major challenges faced by women in civil society in Africa. These include deeply entrenched patriarchal norms and an increased risk of sexual harassment and violence due to the nature of their work.
The report argues that the overall environment for women in civil society in Africa is particularly challenging. “Even in countries with ratified laws and protocols on the protection of women’s rights, there are clear instances where government officials and security forces have shown lack of understanding of these laws, and in some situations, blatant disregard for them,” says Mandeep Tiwana, CIVICUS Policy Manager and one of the co-authors of the report.
Women human rights defenders (WHRD) are more prone to intimidation and harassment due to the nature of their work as compared to their male counterparts, CIVICUS said. Civil society groups working exclusively on women’s rights, have to negotiate around additional sets of challenges and hurdles.
The report, which contains compelling testimonies from activists, points out that rather than engaging with the critical voices from civil society, governments have frequently chosen to silence them, often through harassment, intimidation, threats of closure, arrests and worse.
For African women activists and women’s organisations, these threats are magnified. Defending women’s human rights is often seen by state authorities, and even by communities and family members, as a challenge to their culture, tradition and way of life. On-going armed conflicts on the continent place women activists at even further risk of violence.
“The report is a testament to the courage of hundreds of women civil society activists who carry out their work amid attacks on their reputations, threats to their families and their own personal safety” says Tiwana.
The report found that often WHRDs are viewed with distrust and vilified as women of loose morals, traitors or spies because they do not conform to societal norms.
In Kenya, Tunisia and Egypt, they reported on-going intimidation by dissenters who labelled them “loose women” and their respective organisations training grounds for lesbians.
The report cites the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Sierra Leone as countries where WHRDs continually confront sexual harassment and assault with only minimal response from their respective governments.
The report contains this statement from a WHRD in the DRC: “They finally got me when they threatened my children - I couldn’t focus any more. They called and told me, ‘we have your daughter, and we are raping her now’.”
In stamping out the gender abuse of WHRDs in Africa, the report highlights the need for space for the voices of WHRDs to be heard and for civil society to work on strategies to protect women activists. In addition, governments need to be implementing human rights instruments with a gender lens.
“The absence of strong accountability institutions and widespread impunity has left the door open for human rights violations to go unpunished,” Tiwana said. “In many countries independent safe watch dog bodies to protect WHRDs do not exist and in other places they have been co-opted and made redundant by politicians.”
CIVICUS produced the report The challenges faced by women in civil society in Africa with support from the African Women Development Fund and Trust Africa. It is available for download from theCIVICUS website.
Johannesburg, 21 February 2011. Too many governments are blatantly getting away with enacting repressive restrictions on civil society and diminishing the freedoms of expression, assembly and association, CIVICUS: World Alliance of Citizen Participation said today while launching its landmarkCivil Society Watch Online platform. As the ten year anniversary of 9/11 approaches, one of the legacies of that event is an increasingly restricted civil society, a trend that began with anti-terror laws that followed the Twin Tower attacks and which saw new threats to civil society in over 90 countries in 2009 and 2010.
The online platform, accessible at www.cswatch.org, tracks threats to civil society reported by CIVICUS members and the general public on the ground around the world. It currently contains reports from over 70 countries and provides the unique ability for civil society, the media and the public worldwide to access information, unite and take action on reported threats.
“Events in Egypt and the region have highlighted both the power of citizen action and the extraordinary lengths that governments will go to in order to suppress freedoms. Around the world, on every continent, the trends toward citizens seeking to reclaim their democratic and human rights in the face of growing repression are clearly evident. So too are the benefits of international solidarity and connections,” said Ingrid Srinath, Secretary General of CIVICUS. “Civil Society Watch Online is a tool to enhance that cooperation and solidarity by empowering people at the front lines of these battles and those who seek to support their struggles for their rights to associate, assemble and express.”
Dialogue and cooperation are important for addressing civil society concerns. Without a unified voice pressuring governments, there is little to deter them from imposing restrictive legislation and intimidating civil society activists, said CIVICUS.
The online platform will expose governments and abusers of civil society. It is an access point for information from the ground and a meeting place for civil society groups and individuals to coordinate action.
In August 2010, at the CIVICUS World Assembly, over 500 civil society activists from 94 countries committed to acting together to counteract the threats to civil society, declaring “In this age of globalisation we all sink and swim together and there is urgent need for civil society across the spectrum to pool resources and energies, both to protect the fundamental freedoms it believes in as well as its right to exist, express and engage.”
A range of countries from the global North and South have restricted the space for civil society, with specific trends apparent in different regions, CIVICUS said. These include international cooperation regulations in Latin America, NGO laws in Sub-Saharan Africa and attacks on human rights defenders in the Eurasia region as well as state actions in countries that have claimed to be champions of democracy.
Threats and actions currently highlighted on the site include:
Egypt – Following the recent popular and peaceful overthrow of the Mubarak regime, local civil society organisations have put forward a “Roadmap for a nation of rights and the rule of law” that sets out a series of immediate steps and long-term constitutional, legislative and electoral reform to cement the transition to a new democratic and free Egypt.
Bahrain – The current violent repression of peaceful anti-government protests in Bahrain comes after a growing crackdown on civil society in the country that began in the run up to the October 2010 elections. 24 prominent human rights defenders were charged with collaborating with foreign organisations and circulating false information and approximately 350 activists were arrested prior to, during and after the national elections.
Kazakhstan – Despite commitments made as chair of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) in 2010, Kazakhstan’s human rights record remains dismal. Human rights activists are targeted, intimidated and tortured to illicit confessions. Other threats include restrictions on internet access and censorship of the media.
India – Following concerns raised by right wing groups and law enforcement agencies that civil society was exposing human rights violations by state agencies to the international community, the Foreign Contributions Regulation Act (FCRA) was passed in August 2010. Among other things, the law allows for broad executive discretion to designate organisations as being of a ‘political nature' and thereby prevent them from accessing funding from abroad.
South Africa – A Protection of Information Bill is being considered by the government with the potential to create numerous obstacles for exposing corruption and other government malpractices for civil society and media groups. The bill will give officials extensive powers to prevent communication of information in the "national interest" defined through omnibus provisions.
United States – The Supreme Court in July 2010 overruled constitutional provisions protecting the freedom of speech and association by upholding a law banning material support to designated terrorist groups even if that support involved CSOs engaging banned armed groups through training on international law to pursue peaceful means to achieve their political objectives.
View more threats, actions and articles online at www.cswatch.org. The CIVICUS report, ‘Civil society: The clampdown is real,’ on the current trend of threats to civil society, is accessible at:www.civicus.org/content/CIVICUS-Global_trends_in_Civil_Society_Space_2009-2010.pdf.
Johannesburg. 9 February 2011. On behalf of CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation and our members and partners around the world I would like to express solidarity with civil society in Egypt, currently at the forefront of the citizen movement against President Mubarak's 30 year authoritarian rule.
We want all citizens of Egypt and CIVICUS' members and partners there to know they are not alone in their struggle for democratic rights. Millions of people on every continent stand united in solidarity with you as you risk your safety, livelihoods, even your lives, to take on a regime which for too long has stifled your democratic rights and freedoms.
Your courage is testament to the thousands of Egyptians who have suffered imprisonment, torture and assassination at the hands of President Mubarak's regime, which has systematically suppressed the legitimate democratic aspirations of the Egyptian people and curtailed the ability of civil society to exercise its rights to expression, association and assembly. Already the death toll in this wave of struggle has claimed over 300 lives and caused injury to thousands as an unrepentant regime clings to power by any means at their command.
Your resolve and determination against these tactics are a beacon of hope and inspiration to human rights defenders and civil society activists around the world. It also sends a strong signal to tyrants and their backers that justice, equity and freedom are the best guarantors of the stability and security they claim to defend. Your example has strengthened and renewed our belief in the power of citizens to prevail against the seemingly powerful. On behalf of your civil society counterparts engaged in struggles for justice, accountability and freedom in many countries we express our profound gratitude.
The international community has a critical role to play in helping the Egyptian people realise their aspirations for a free and democratic society. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navanethem Pillay, has pointed out that Egypt's long term record on human rights is a key factor in these protests. On 1 February, her office affirmed: "The population appears to be clearly rejecting a system that has deprived people of fundamental rights, and has committed a range of serious abuses, including widespread acts of torture."
We urge other leaders in the region and around the globe who profess democratic values to clearly express their support for the aims of the Egyptian people, to desist from providing encouragement, overt and covert, to a regime that has long lost any claim to legitimacy and to unequivocally condemn the crude violence and subversive tactics with which the regime has sought to undermine the movement.
It should be clear that the current protests in Egypt are not an isolated event. They are part of a natural outpouring of public anger against corrupt, authoritarian governments that persist in denying their citizens freedom, justice and dignity. The people of Egypt have demonstrated that they will not be diverted, pressured or thwarted in their quest. CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation wholeheartedly supports their struggle.
Johannesburg. 21 July 2011. Zimbabwean authorities should immediately and unconditionally drop all charges against six Zimbabwean rights activists who were arrested on 19 February 2011 and charged with treason for allegedly watching videos of pro-democracy rallies in Egypt and Tunisia, said CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation today.
Johannesburg, 5 July 2011. The increasing number of detentions of Venezuelan civil society activists raises troubling unanswered questions about the nation’s democracy and human rights situation, CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation said today. In particular, CIVICUS is concerned about the growing number of arrests and detention of unionists for participating in protests and the threats and interrogation on civil society groups by state agents.
Brussels, 5th July. Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) from across the globe, represented by some 230 delegates from over 70 countries, gathered in Siem Reap, Cambodia, last week (June 28 to 30, 2011) to finalize the International Framework for CSO Development Effectiveness at the second and final Global Assembly of the Open Forum for CSO Development Effectiveness, organized with the support of Cooperation Committee for Cambodia.
Johannesburg. 1 July 2011. Civil society activists working around the globe face an increasing risk of suppression and abuse by government authorities, CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation said as it joined an international consortium of civil society organisations (CSOs) to announce a new NGO emergency assistance fund at a launch event today before the Community of Democracies Ministerial meeting in Vilnius, Lithuania.
Despite activists around the globe fighting to defend citizens' rights and freedoms, in over 90 countries civil society operates in restrictive environments due to harsh government legislation impeding freedom, according to a report on trends in civil society produced by CIVICUS earlier this year. The new assistance fund is designed to help civil society activists withstand these crackdowns by providing emergency financial support.
Johannesburg 22 June 2011. As the daily death toll from the protests in Syria rapidly mounts, CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation is urging all members of the UN Security Council to fulfil their mandate to maintain international peace and security through a resolution strongly condemning the actions of the Syrian regime and to impose sanctions that will prevent the military from targeting civilians.
Reports indicate that the adoption of a UN Security Council resolution to stop the Syrian government from unleashing violence on protesters has been delayed due to opposition from Chinese and Russian diplomatic delegations. “We are concerned that UN Security Council members, especially China and Russia, are dithering in the performance of their responsibilities with regard to gross human rights violations being committed in Syria,” said Netsanet Belay, Policy and Research Director at CIVICUS. “The UN’s Peace and Security body cannot afford to remain paralysed in the face of indiscriminate violence by government troops and the rising numbers of refugees fleeing Syria because of their actions.”
Johannesburg. 9 June 2011. If the South African Parliament pushes through the highly controversial Protection of Information Bill, the negative fallout in the region could be immense, said CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation today.“We are witnessing a pervasive crackdown on the freedoms of expression, association and assembly across the African continent,” said Netsanet Belay, Policy and Research Director at CIVICUS. “At present, South Africa remains an island of democracy. But if the draconian secrecy bill is passed, this will change and further encourage authoritarian leaders in the region to inhibit democratic freedoms.”
In September, CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation, international civil society groups, donars and government representatives will unite at 10th CIVICUS World Assembly in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. This year four young journalists from developing countries have the chance to attend the largest gathering of civil society activists in the world in all expenses paid prize. Read below to see how you can win and find information about the keynote speakers of the event.
What is the prize?
Through a full bursary (including travel, accommodation and registration), the four journalists will have full access to all keynote plenary sessions and activity sessions that will take place at the Youth Assembly on 8 September and at the World Assembly on 10-12 September.
They will also have unique one on one opportunities to interview all keynote speakers.
“What we want from Busan is ambition - to pass from the idea of aid effectiveness to development effectiveness”
“We don’t need more empty words on a sheet of paper”
Civil society voice a wish list for the Fourth High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness (HLF4), in November and December this year in Busan, South Korea, in a new collective video just launched, giving access to Civil Society Organizations’ (CSOs) views from all over the world in the run up to the event. The video complements a paper laying out what civil society asks for as outcomes from the event.
Johannesburg. 7 June 2011. Silence by the international community in the face of the massive crackdown on protestors, civil society and the media in both Yemen and Bahrain makes it complicit in these actions said CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation and the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) today. Echoing civil society representatives at a side event at the United Nations Human Rights Council yesterday, CIVICUS and CIHRS call on the international community to condemn the on-going repression in both countries.
“Civil society activists and citizens have been peacefully protesting for their rights in Yemen and Bahrain, yet they’ve been met by repression from their own government and silence from the international community,” said Adam Nord, Lobbying and Engagement Manager at CIVICUS. “The international community and the UN Human Rights Council in particular need to be explicit in their support for the peaceful pursuit of human rights in both countries and insist on the immediate end to violence.”
Johannesburg. 31 May 2011. CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation urges the international community to act on “deeply concerning” human rights abuses by certain transnational corporations as the final report of Prof John Ruggie, the UN Special Representative on Issue of Human Rights and Transnational Corporations and Other Business Enterprises, was submitted to the UN Human Rights Council on Monday.
“In an increasingly globalised and interlinked world we believe that there is a real necessity for UN member states to standardise practices in relation to business compliance with human rights through the adoption of a universally binding framework,” said CIVICUS UN Representative, Renate Bloem.
“We remain deeply anxious about the activities of trans-national corporations and other business enterprise resulting in human rights abuses, including the right to a clean and healthy environment; access to land and natural resources; and adequate and decent standards of work,” Bloem said.
In a submission, CIVICUS has referred to the “failure” of state-owned business to uphold human rights standards when operating outside their state jurisdictions.