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.
Johannesburg 27 May 2011. A coalition of South African based civil society groups have called on Botswana security forces and striking civil servants to exercise restraint, or risk fuelling a severe humanitarian crises. Botswana authorities should instead heed the call from the Botswana Centre for Human Rights asking President Khama to negotiate a peaceful end to union led protests, which have brought public services to a standstill for the past six weeks. The group also calls for the immediate release of all children detained by Botswana state police.
Media reports have documented that over 100,000 public servants, including around 1,500 considered essential workers, have been on strike since 18 April, calling for a 16 per cent wage increase. Botswana civil society groups told South African partners that the protests were increasingly becoming violent as security forces sought to silence the group by "what ever means possible". Several student protestors in Ramotswa, Molepolole and Mochudi, have been arrested following protest action in response to the absence of teachers.
Johannesburg. 25 May 2011. The United Nations Security Council decision to act resolutely in Libya and failure to issue resolution on Syria smacks of double standards, CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation said today. The international community and particularly the Arab League should make clear to the Syrian government that it has lost its legitimacy as a member of the international community.
Since anti-government protests started two months ago, about 1100 people have been killed by Syrian security forces. At least 60 people were killed within the space of two days on Friday May 20 and Saturday May 21 alone. Reports indicate that thousands of civilians and prisoners of conscience have been detained.
Johannesburg. 24 May 2011. World leaders should use the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) 50th anniversary forum to press for concrete improvements in sustainable development and fighting poverty, CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation said as the two day summit opened today in Paris.
The 34-member institution should make clear that real improvements in poverty eradication depend on countries living up to aid commitments and the effectiveness of international aid, CIVICUS said.
"Rather than being an occasion for delegates to pat each other on the back and celebrate the amount of aid money that has been given to the world’s poorest countries, it is critical that OECD leaders assess the impact of their efforts and the policies being advanced by international financial institutions to tackle poverty and climate change," said Ingrid Srinath, Secretary General of CIVICUS.
The gap between commitments and aid pledges in 2011 has widened. In 2005, members of the OECD Development Assistance Committee (DAC) collectively promised to commit 0.56 per cent of gross national income to aid. However, in 2010 aid has reached just 0.32 per cent.
According to one organiser, Sergei Androsenko, head of the organisation Gay Belarus, the protestors were planning to gather peacefully with the goal of spreading tolerance and understanding, but were detained pre-emptively by police before they could assemble. The fourteen detainees, including Androsenko, were taken to a local police precinct, where they were finger-printed, harassed with slurs and had some of their personal effects confiscated, including a thousand flyers advertising the campaign to ‘legalise love’, before being released.
Budget squeeze no excuse to let targets slip
BRUSSELS, 6th May, 2011: The first UN summit for the world's poorest countries in a decade must ensure that developed nations make good on commitments to help the most destitute, a global coalition of over 1000 civil society organizations said today.
"Richer nations cannot use the economic crisis as an excuse not to follow through on their engagements," said Tony Tujan, co-chair of BetterAid.
"This week's conference must ensure the immediate flow of 0.15 percent - 0.20 percent of the total gross national income of developed countries to the less developed countries, in line with previous commitments."
The four-day United Nations conference on the 48 Less Developed Countries opens in Istanbul on 9 May. The so-called LDC-4 summit will adopt an "action program" for the coming decade that is likely to include a target of cutting the number of people suffering from poverty and hunger by half.
BetterAid insists the Istanbul summit must go beyond good intentions to produce concrete results that go beyond the limited achievements of the last LDC conference in 2001.
Johannesburg, 10 May 2011. CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation calls on the United Nations Least Developed Countries (LDC) IV Conference to examine the current development paradigm and ensure progress on commitments related to development aid funding.
It is vital that practical, innovative and time bound approaches to development are prioritised along with a reaffirmation of commitments under the Paris Declaration and the Accra Agenda for Action.
"After decades of empty promises, missed deadlines and opportunities, the international community must agree that concrete measures need to be taken to ensure domestic ownership of aid. Conditionalities tied to aid packages hinder rather than promote the effective utilisation of aid," said Ingrid Srinath, Secretary General of CIVICUS. "On the other hand, it is equally important that ownership of development processes is democratised at the national level through the inclusion of parliaments, civil society and local communities in developing policies around resource utilisation."
Johannesburg. 8 April 2011. The Government of Azerbaijan should immediately order its security forces to cease the use of violent force against peaceful protesters and free those arbitrarily detained without charge after mass arrests, CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation said today.
At least 200 people were arrested and dozens beaten on 2 April 2011 when security forces shut down a largely peaceful anti-government protest in the capital city of Baku. According to a statement released by the Azerbaijani Ministry of Internal Affairs on 4 April, 17 activists and organisers were arrested in the days leading up to the protest.
CIVICUS partners in the country said leaders of opposition political parties, journalists and members of civil society organisations were among those detained. Currently authorities continue their crackdown on civil society in Azerbaijan, promising to halt another planned protest slated for 16 April.
Johannesburg. 28 March 2011. CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation reiterates solidarity with pro-democracy protestors in Yemen and Syria. The international community must take concrete steps to ensure the safety of the protestors against deadly attacks.
"As the world's attention turns to the crisis in Libya, it's important that the international community doesn't lose sight of the legitimate struggles for democratic rights being waged by the Yemeni and Syrian people," said Netsanet Belay, Policy and Research Director of CIVICUS. "Thousands of people in these countries are risking their lives by coming out onto the streets to express their revulsion at the decades of repression by their governments. They must be protected in the exercise of their rights."
23 March 2011. Johannesburg. Government paid security personnel employed at Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan prisons have been implicated in alleged widespread torture and abuse, said CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation in a report released today.
The 40-page report, a compilation of personal narratives and analysis presented as a briefing to United Nations Special Rapporteurs on Human Rights entitled "Torture and Arbitrary Detention in Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan" identifies torture as a common practice in the Turkmen and Uzbek penal systems used to interrogate, punish alleged criminals of all varieties, silence perceived and actual dissent, or for no apparent reason. Long administrative detentions, medical malpractice, and other illegal activities often occur in conjunction with abuse.
The report, presented to the UN last week in Geneva, details 12 cases of specific abuse and examines the impact of the governments' observed complicity in said abuse. It calls on UN special mechanisms to guide an independent investigation into the deaths, torture and arbitrary detention of Turkmen and Uzbek citizens.
Dear CIVICUS friend,
The UN Security Council (UNSC) is holding a closed-door meeting today (22 Feb) to discuss the crisis in Libya and there is something you can do about it!
The situation in Libya is escalating with mass killings of protestors, resulting in the commission of crimes against humanity. The ongoing cruel and wanton murder of protestors by Libyan government forces is a serious risk to humanity that the UN Security Council must address now. Failure to act will not only result in the deaths of large numbers of innocent people, which constitutes a crime against humanity, but will also embolden other despotic regimes to use similar measures against their populations.
We believe that there is a strong case for the UNSC to invoke the doctrine of 'Responsibility to Protect' to deal immediately with the threat posed to international peace and security.
*URGENT Update from CIVICUS partner in Egypt*
Johannesburg. 2 February 2011. Today, the situation in Egypt worsened as violence erupted between pro and anti-Mubarak protesters. CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation has received the following update from its partners on the ground in Egypt:
"Today (2 February 2011), after 8 days of the Egyptian Revolution which started on 25 January, an ‘opposition' revolution supporting Mubarak's regime began. Members of the remaining police system in civilian costumes, in collaboration with bullies and thugs using white weapons, terrorised the peaceful protestors in Tahrir Square in the heart of Cairo with acts of violence and bullying," reports the Egyptian Association for Community Participation Enhancement (EACPE). "Bullies, who were identified later to be part of the police, received 100 Egyptian Pounds, meals and transportation to Tahrir Square. Riding camels and horses, they terrorised the peaceful protestors using weapons to beat them. The army who played a great role in protecting the protestors from last Friday (called 'Anger Friday') up till yesterday is no longer protecting the protestors and leaves the harassers to beat and kill the protestors. It must be known that more than 100 people were killed since 25 January and more than 1000 people were injured."
Johannesburg. 28 January 2011. CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation is greatly saddened by the news of the tragic murder of prominent gay rights activist David Kato in Uganda on 26 January 2011. CIVICUS calls upon the government of Uganda to carry out an immediate and independent investigation into the murder and bring the perpetrators to justice.
Johannesburg. 14 January 2011. CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation is appalled at the life sentence imposed on eminent Indian civil society activist Dr Binayak Sen, and is concerned that the ruling is verification of a deterioration in the state of India's political system.
Dr Binayak Sen - Vice President of one of India's best respected civil liberties groups, the People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) - is a well known pediatrician who has dedicated a significant portion of his medical career to helping impoverished communities. On 24 December 2010 he was convicted of sedition and criminal conspiracy under India's colonial era penal code. Dr Sen was also convicted under the draconian Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act and the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act of providing assistance to and supporting the activities of outlawed Maoist groups.