CIVICUS speaks to Ugandan independent blogger and journalist Rosebell Kagumire (pictured). She speaks on the situation for journalists in Uganda, freedom of expression in the country and the relationship between the media and civil society in the country
1. What is the operating environment at the moment in Uganda for the media?
The past year 2016 has been particularly bad for media. There were been a record number of attacks due to elections that were held in February 2016. It was the 31st year of the President, Yoweri Museveni, being in power so it was a high-stakes game. The environment was hostile as the president felt really challenged. Many journalists who tried to cover opposition leaders were intimidated, attacked, harassed, restricted and pepper-sprayed. Over 80 journalists were violated in that month only by the state. Over 100 journalists were attacked by the state during the elections. For example, a huge case of intimidation was when a television journalist was arrested while broadcasting live and the police did not realise they were “live” and the nation got see there was no legitimate reason for his arrest. So it was not an easy year. Also some cases of violations were not publicly reported.
2. Social media and the Internet were cut off on election day. What happened?
On the day of voting, Internet, social media and access to mobile money services were cut off. We were also cut off on the day of the counting of votes. A few people were able to connect using other means such as VPN. The reason for the cut off was that government said there was a “national emergency” but they did not explain to us what sort of an emergency. The general view of the public is that the election was so tight so they needed the cover of darkness to prevent people from sharing of results from polling stations. Rigging is never done at polling stations but at the tabulation of results. So where people are not connected they could not share results of individual stations. The poll was highly fraudulent so cutting off social media was also to prevent people from mobilising to protests and to kill any planning of uprisings against the government. So you control the mood of the public and kill expectations by not having social media. The results were in favour of the opposition then suddenly overnight the results changed.
3. How are you as online media treated by the authorities?
The government is realising the power of online media. It was an independent blogger who exposed ghost voters on the voters roll. And this had not been identified by journalists. In terms of covering protests, we have the problem covering opposition rallies. We are generally able to cover protests but the more government feels threatened by protest, the more difficult it is to cover protests. Such as a few years ago, an army commander told journalists that their safety would not be guaranteed if they attended a particular protest. So journalists know protection is not a given.
4. Are members of the public free to express themselves in media?
Despite the challenges we face of shrinking civic space, Ugandans like to talk. We are able to talk in the media. We have over 200 radio stations. If you tune in, you hear people speak their minds. Off course government targets specific people. Members of public speak to media freely on the streets if their opinion is asked for. Even during Idi Amin’s time, we still expressed ourselves even though it was underground. Government has set up media Crimes Unit and people know they are being monitored but people are not afraid and use their real names even online even though we know we are being watched and have that discomfort of being watched, we still speak. Sometimes people are cautious but generally we express ourselves freely. Academics are able to also express their opinion, even those working at state universities. Although sometimes there is self-censorship on some topics as some people prefer not to speak about security or military or things to do with the first family.
However, of concern, the Uganda government has made requests to Facebook to access certain accounts. One example is an account called TVO which does some exposès and commentary on government workings. One Ugandan Robert Shaka was arrested because government thought he is behind the account.
5. Are journalists able to protect their sources and whistle-blowers?
No we’ve not had public cases of intimidation of members of the media to reveal sources in 2016. Whistle blowing is generally weak in Uganda. You can get leaked stuff here and there but it’s not common. But media houses have been closed over coverage of security issues and the journalists and editors at heart of those stories face enormous pressure.
6. What is the state of investigative reporting of both the private and public sector?
Investigative journalism has gone low this year I think. There’s maybe sense of resignation affecting the media after the electoral outcome as the same regime has been in power for so long and maybe fear as well plays a part. I think we still have great in-depth stories on issues but newsrooms do not have dedicated investigative desks that are fully functional. Sometimes media ownership also affects how much a journalist can dig deep because owner interest may also mean the owner has a larger business empire to protect so journalists don’t want to bite the hand feeding them. The media owner may have a big empire with media being a small part of that empire that may have interests in hotels and so on, so the media has to support the rest of the owner’s business empire. Also advertising is a lifeline for media so there’s no in-depth questioning of big companies as the media wants the advertising revenue. So economic crimes go unreported unless if it’s a matter before parliament.
7. What is the impact of terrorism on the work of journalists?
Terror reporting is expected to be in praise of government only. We also now have anti-terror laws and the recent case of journalist Joy Biira being charged with abetting terrorism is one such case where these laws are being used. Using terrorism and treason charges as a way to stifle journalism is huge. Another journalist after the 2010 bombings, Timothy Kalyegira, faced criminal libel charges for presenting a different narrative on who was behind the bombings and role of government. Another journalist was also remanded on treason charges.
The arrest of KTN television journalist Joy Biira in November 2016 and being charged of abetting terrorism is ridiculous and shows how far government is willing to go to intimidate journalists perceived to show their military actions in Kasese in good light. The government was trying to control a narrative on the Kasese massacre and once photos of dead bodies were leaked it was upset. These charges cannot even hold in a court of law.
8. How far reaching is political influence over the media in Uganda? What drives this?
You will find that most media attention goes to politicians and the elite and less on ordinary poor people. From time to time we have allegations of journalists being on “payrolls” of rich people but this is also employed as a tactic to smear journalists. The other problem is some politicians or their friends own media especially radio stations so there is that bias. Nonetheless, many good journalists continue to stand above the political interests and do their work well to deliver news to millions of Ugandans.
9. What is the relationship between the media and civil society in Uganda? How can it be improved?
It’s a bit of a loose relationship. Media covers civil society activities but perhaps media and civil society do not always realise and appreciate we are fighting for the same goal most times ─ public accountability.
We can improve the relationship by highlighting the young and upcoming young people in civil society using social media who are fighting for democracy and accountability. We have to identify these good voices in civil society and make good coalitions with media. Civil society and media can work in coalition on certain causes. For example, in Uganda, in recent months an association of female lawyers highlighted cases of women in the flower industry being exposed to chemicals and being denied leave benefits. A couple of television stations and newspapers picked up on the issue and put a spotlight on this and were backed by civil society. The outcome looks good and it is still ongoing and the responsible ministers have put together a committee to investigate safety standards on flower farm workers. This is a great example of media and civil society working together to fight for those underprivileged in our society. We are a long way and need more such partnerships.
Follow Rosebelle on Twitter on @RosebellK and read her blog on https://rosebellkagumire.com/
Since assuming power in May 2016 Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte has embarked on a controversial campaign against drugs in which over 3 000 people have been killed over three months in extra judicial killings for allegedly being drug peddlers or users. CIVICUS speaks to Roselle Rasay of Caucus of Development NGO Networks (CODE-NGO), the largest umbrella body of civil society organisations in the Philippines. She speaks on the situation of human rights in the Philippines and those speaking out against the drug war
1. What have been the main impacts of the president’s anti-drug campaign on human rights?
The anti-drug campaign is a blatant attack on human rights as the President himself is “encouraging” through his statements “vigilante” actions and for citizens to take up arms to kill drug pushers or users. The president has taken the side of the police being investigated for abuse in the anti-drug campaign; he also badmouths and undermines the Commission on Human Rights and other nations and institutions calling for investigations of blatant human rights violations in the ant-drug campaign. He also personally attacks and encourages, if not orchestrates, an all-out attack by his Justice Secretary and allies in Congress against Senator Leila de Lima who led the Senate investigations on this drug war, all to apparently silence or undermine the opposition. The majority of those being killed are from the poorest communities who may not even be drug users. There are very few big names being caught up in this save for a mayor who was killed after he voluntarily submitted himself for investigation because the authorities were looking for him. He was killed right at the jail. The impression was that he has knowledge of who else has knowledge on drugs matters.
2. How is civil society responding to these actions to try uphold rights?
While civil society is largely divided in their opinion or position on the matter, there are still some quarters that have mustered courage to go public and have denounced the excesses of the present administration. This is being done in various ways such as mobilisation and other actions against extra judicial killings. Several human rights groups and peace groups, have condemned the campaign, including my organisation CODE-NGO, by way of issuing statements in traditional and social media condemning the extra judicial killings that are related to the drug war being waged by the government. In social media though, these statements usually receive nasty responses from supporters of President Duterte, many of whom appear to be funded trolls. Lawyers taking up cases are also being attacked in this way.
The CODE-NGO general assembly recently passed a resolution calling on government arms ─ the legislative, the executive and the judiciary ─ to uphold human rights in this anti-drug campaign. Discussions are also ongoing among CSOs about providing orientation to their partner communities on how to protect themselves and assert their rights against house searches or arrests without warrants by the police.
3. Has civil society’s work to uphold rights provoked a backlash from the authorities?
Recently, the President said he will also kill human rights advocates if the campaign against drugs is stopped because of them and the illegal drug problem gets worse. The Commission on Human Rights is also being attacked by the President. There is apparent inaction by police authorities on reported cases of extra judicial killings with all of them being lumped into “deaths under investigation”.
4. How do human rights defenders feel? Are they becoming scared of speaking out?
There are no physical attacks on human rights defenders speaking against the killings in the government’s anti-drug campaign that we know of to date. However, at a community level the threats are creating fear because the police are going from house to house asking people to write their names and if they use drugs. Some people wouldn’t know what these forms mean. They just submit their data depending on the situation in the community. It creates trouble within some communities because neighbours would point to each other – some people in the community can also write down names of people they do not like. Some of those using drugs will point to others. Among CSOs, some are very much against it and are emboldened in their work and are very vocal about their sentiments about the campaign. Others do not openly express their disagreement of the campaign because they are careful not to jeopardise other advocacies they are working out with government, such as the peace talks, agrarian reform and others.
5. What do you think is the impact that CODE NGO has in improving the situation of civic space?
Over the years CODE-NGO has provided venues for civil society to clarify and understand the various social and political issues affecting a particular sector of our society and/or the country in general. This has not only provided an opportunity to enhance knowledge but more so to consolidate civil society forces and efforts to address issues concerning the environment by which they are able to do their work.
In the past, we have been successful in improving policies related to the regulation of CSOs and in improving the public image and public support for CSOs. However, it is too early to tell if CODE-NGO and other CSOs can successfully defend and promote civic space given the President’s pronouncements and actions. We certainly hope we can.
Currently, CODE-NGO is trying to engage specific persons or offices in government who could have the influence to improve civic space situation or are more open to listening to CSOs such as the Office of the Vice President, Department of Interior and Local Government and the Office of the Cabinet Secretary.
As a national association of CSOs in Philippines, a large part of our work is in strengthening capacities of CSOs in the Philippines in being effective in their work, creating accountability in public institutions and showing that we’re also accountable. That adds to our legitimacy and making sure government will listen to us if we are legitimate. We have also been part of several policy advocacy processes in the past supporting the creation of local resources for local CSOs. We are advocating for policies for a more enabling regulatory environment for civil society. Given the current context, it is still too early – only six months into the new presidency, to tell how these will all turn out. But we must think about future steps and be vigilant to make sure that civic space is not constricted.
6. What do you think are the main challenges you are facing as a CSO network in improving civic space conditions?
A challenge has always been relating with government because of politics – the difficulty in the Philippines is that we have very good laws but implementation is poor depending on who is the leader. The level of participation by CSOs in governance changes and varies with who is in power. So we must always be aware of political realities.
There is also little funding for advocacy work. It is widely acknowledged that CSO networks perform important convening, capacity-building and advocacy roles, but sadly, there is not much support for this kind of infrastructural work. Sustainability of CSOs and their work have been challenged, especially those doing human rights campaigns and advocacy. Some other CSOs would have better access because they give very direct products and service. But it is difficult for advocacy groups and networks who focus on coalition building and capacity building of local CSOs; there is not much support for that kind of work.
7. What other challenges do civil society organisations and human rights defenders face in the country?
We have seen gains in the past years of opening up civic space. In the previous administration, there was a generally friendly environment for civil society. Currently, the environment is still quite open because we still have open media. There is no apparent suppression – the gains of fighting for democracy has not been affected. Although there is a feeling of creeping reintroduction of authoritarianism. While it is very open and safe, we’re worried that the space is constricting and can soon get tight.
Currently, it is still easy to register a CSO and run one. Cost-wise the fees are very low for setting up an organisation. Registering authorities require very basic documents. However, more recently, there have been stricter guidelines about CSOs accessing government funds, although very few CSOs actually access that money. The government made it stricter by requiring additional accreditation. These factors restrict the work of CSOs a bit. But this is not because of President Duterte. It was a policy from 2013 as a reaction of government to fake NGOs accessing the legislators’ Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) or ‘pork barrel’ funds and implementing ghost projects. But we thought making CSO accreditation tougher after the PDAF scam was a knee-jerk reaction on the part of government; the scam came about so that some legislators and government officials could dip their hands into government’s coffers through these fake NGOs.
8. What could the international community and international civil society do to support civil society in the Philippines?
Statements of solidarity with local CSOs; independent investigations; support for human rights activists and sharing of successful campaigning models would be important.
On the attacks on human rights activists, solidarity messages from the rest of civil society from all over the world would be of help. Exchanges on campaigning, tips on how we can improve online campaigning would be useful because while CSOs have been quite active and able to advocate for policies, we’re worried about the changing environment and would like to learn how others have been successful in their campaigns.
Roselle Rasay is the Deputy Executive Director at Caucus of Development NGO Networks (CODE-NGO). CODE-NGO is the largest coalition of civil society organizations (CSOs) working for social development in the Philippines, with its six national networks and six sub-national networks representing more than 1 600 development NGOs, people’s organisations and cooperatives nationwide. Contact CODE-NGO on their Facebook page or visit their website and follow them on Twitter @CODE_NGO
CIVICUS speaks to Angela Mudukuti about South Africa’s withdrawal from the International Criminal Court, the implications for human rights and justice and the work which the Southern Africa Litigation Centre is doing on this issue. Angela is a lawyer with the International Justice Programme at the Southern Africa Litigation Centre. Angela is involved in advocacy around international criminal justice issues and strategic litigation, including taking the South African government to court for failure to arrest President Bashir of Sudan
1. What do you think motivated South Africa’s withdrawal from the International Criminal Court (ICC)?
The state seems to advance a number of misplaced excuses for withdrawal in its legal papers and media statements. This includes the allegation that the ICC is targeting Africa, which is of course unfounded as evidenced by the number of self-referrals and the fact that the ICC has preliminary examinations in Afghanistan, Iraq for example. The state also alleges that its commitments to the Rome Statute are a hindrance to peace and security efforts in Africa yet this too does not make any sense as South Africa has been engaged in peace and security initiatives for several years “despite” the obligations in terms of the Rome Statute. South Africa signed the Rome Statute in 1998 and ratified it in 2000 and not once has the Rome Statute been raised as a hindrance to peace-keeping efforts. It is only since the arrival of President Omar Al Bashir in 2015 that South Africa has had problems with the ICC. Thus it cannot really be about peace-keeping as South Africa does not have to host suspected perpetrators in South Africa to successfully conduct peace-keeping activities. They have been involved in mediation efforts since former President Thabo Mbeki’s time and not once have they needed to host President Bashir in South Africa. In fact they explicitly declined to do so in 2009 when President Bashir was expected to attend the 2009 inauguration of President Jacob Zuma. It was made publically clear that President Bashir would be arrested if he came to South Africa and as such he did not come to South Africa in 2009.
The arguments of the state seem to be labouring under the misconception that withdrawal will allow them to host President Bashir, yet as made clear by article 127 of the Rome Statute, the obligations of state party do not evaporate because it decides to leave the Rome Statute, thus South Africa is still duty bound to arrest President Bashir for as long as he is wanted by the ICC. The state has failed to provide justifiable and reasonable excuses for leaving the Rome Statute thus the only plausible explanation was an unfortunate political explanation that only the government itself could provide.
2. What do you think is motivating the antipathy of several African states towards the ICC?
The allegation that the ICC is targeting Africa is the main reason advanced by a number of African leaders. Yet as described above this is not factually accurate. In addition to the fact that this is because of a lack of understanding about the jurisdictional limits of the Court it is also an excuse that is conveniently used by politicians to further their political agenda instead of prioritising justice, accountability and the victims of international crimes. While the ICC is not a perfect institution, it requires support and critical yet constructive engagement from member states.
3. What are the likely implications on human rights and justice for victims of human rights violations?
South Africa leaving the ICC will have serious implications for justice and human rights. It sends the wrong message to the victims of crimes. It also shows that South Africa has chosen to support impunity given its failure to arrest President Bashir and the fact that they seek to abandon the only permanent international criminal court instead of constructively engaging with it. South Africa could potentially become a safe haven for suspected perpetrators of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity as the government seeks to repeal the Implementation Act which domesticates the Rome Statute and includes a provision on universal jurisdiction. Should the Implementation Act be repealed a lacuna will be created which could be exploited by potential perpetrators of heinous crimes. In addition, if justice fails at the domestic level, there is no African Court with criminal jurisdiction and if South Africa successfully leaves the ICC, there will be no justice at the international level either. This creates an untenable situation which will leave the victims with nowhere to turn.
4. How is civil society in South Africa responding to the withdrawal?
The Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC) is actively involved in legally challenging the constitutionality of South Africa’s notice of withdrawal. The matter was heard in the High Court on December 5 and 6 and the court reserved judgment. SALC will also continue with advocacy to raise awareness and sensitise the general public on the importance of supporting international criminal justice as the move to repeal the Implementation Act should go through the parliamentary process which also includes a process of public participation. Hence it is vital that the general public understand the importance of supporting international criminal justice. Civil society is also actively supporting the development and improvement of domestic justice mechanism as the ICC was designed as a court of last resort and will only function as such if domestic systems are willing and able to deal with international crimes. Though the Rome Statute does not recognise regional courts, civil society are actively seeking to promote credible, impartial regional courts that will not provide immunity for heads of state or senior government officials as we see justice as a three-layer system where each layer functions in a complementary fashion.
5. What are three things South Africans need to know about the ICC as an institution of justice for victims of human rights violations?
a) South Africans need to know that the ICC is an impartial and independent court with limited jurisdiction.
b) They should also know that without the support of the African states, the court may not have come into existence in the first place and thus it is more constructive to work towards improving the ICC instead of simply abandoning it.
c) South Africans should also know that regionally there is no African court with criminal jurisdiction and thus if domestic justice fails it is the ordinary citizens who will have no access to justice.
Visit the Southern Africa Litigation website - http://www.southernafricalitigationcentre.org/
To commemorate International Human Rights Day, CIVICUS speaks to the Chair of the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights (ACHPR) - Advocate Faith Pansy Tlakula about the state of human rights in Africa. Advocate Tlakula is also the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa.
1. What in your view is the current state of human rights in Africa as we celebrate Human Rights Day?
The African continent has made progress in the promotion and protection of human rights. For example, many countries hold regular elections and cases of peaceful transfer of power from the incumbent to the newly elected leader after an election are increasing. The Gambia is the most recent example. Progress has also been made in areas such as the adoption of laws to criminalize torture, adoption of Access to Information laws, the abolition of the death penalty, with an increase in the number of countries observing a moratorium on the death penalty to give a few examples. Despite these positive developments, challenges remain. These include terrorism and violent extremism in a few countries, continued conflict and acts of armed groups in others which have had a detrimental effect on civilians. There are also cases of arbitrary arrests and detention of journalists, human rights defenders and members of the opposition, violent protests and the use of excessive force by law enforcement agencies during peaceful protests and violence and discrimination against persons on the basis of their real or imputed sexual orientation.
2. Do women face the same human rights challenges as men and why?
Yes they do due to the patriarchal nature and continuing gender stereotypes in African societies. Although a number of countries have adopted legislative and other measures to advance the rights of women, the effective implementation of these measures remains a challenge, particularly in areas such as the economic empowerment of women, access to land, female genital mutilation, to mention a few.
3. What are some of the successes resulting from the ACHPR’s interventions in Africa?
We have witnessed the adoption of laws to criminalize child marriage, the recognition of the rights of indigenous populations in Africa, observation of a moratorium on the death penalty and the commutation of the death sentence to life imprisonment in a number of countries. We have also experienced the opening of spaces for dialogue on sexual orientation, irrespective of the difficulty of the dialogue, the initiation, drafting and submission to the African Union for consideration of draft human rights instruments such as the draft Protocol on the Rights of Older Persons in Africa, the draft Protocol on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the draft Protocol on Specific Aspects of the Right to Nationality in Africa.
4. What is the state of freedom of expression and access to information in Africa?
Although the situation of freedom of expression and access to information in Africa is steadily improving in that there is an increase in the number of countries with Access to Information laws and a decrease in the number of murders of journalists, challenges remain. Very few countries have decriminalized laws that limit freedom of expression such as criminal defamation, insult laws, publication of false news and continue to use these laws to prosecute and harass journalists. The jamming of internet signals and the blocking of social media in the run up to and during elections and demonstrations in the name of protection of national security is a worrying and increasing trend on the continent.
5. Do you think civil society has engaged the ACHPR and the Office of the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information adequately?
I believe so. The ACHPR in general and the Office of the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa in particular would not have achieved what it has without the support of and engagement with civil society organizations. For example, CSO's have provided technical and other support to the Commission and its Special Mechanism in drafting standard setting documents such as the Model law on Access to Information in Africa, Principles and Guidelines on Human and Peoples Rights while Countering Terrorism in Africa, General Comment No. 2 on Article 14 .1 (a), (b) and (f) and Article 14.2 (a) i (c) of the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa to mention a few.
6. What message to you have for Africans on this human rights day?
One of the paragraphs in the Preamble of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights recognizes freedom, equality, justice and dignity as essential objectives for the achievement of the legitimate aspirations of the African peoples. We should always draw inspiration from these powerful words in our quest to improve the situation of human rights on our beloved continent.
Economic and gender inequalities are at the core of the current challenges humankind is facing, and without tackling them, there is no chance that the SDGs will be achieved. A wide set of policies and political reforms must be put in place for that end, and development cooperation has had in the past and must have in the future a stronger role in fighting and correcting gender and economic inequality.
One year since the historic Paris Climate Change Agreement, over 20,000 leaders from government, business and civil society met in Marrakech, Morocco for the 22nd Conference of the Parties (COP22). The two week conference reviewed progress on implementation, produced additional commitments and examined the relationship between the Paris Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals.
In the beginning, there was a lot of enthusiasm with the ratification of the Paris agreement in a record time just before the negotiations started. However, in the third day of the Conference participants were hit by the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States. Despite reassuring remarks on the resilience of the Paris Agreement and the possibility of leadership on the local and regional levels, concerns and uncertainty about the future of climate cooperation were present throughout the event.
25 human rights organizations have signed an urgent appeal letter to Ms Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, and Vice-President of the EU Commission, to ask for a clear, public stance on Nabeel Rajab's case and the human rights abuses in Bahrain.
Read the full letter here.
Johannesburg, 24 October 2016 – More than three billion people live in countries where the rights to protest, organize and speak out are currently being violated according to the CIVICUS Monitor, the first-ever online tool to track and compare civic freedoms on a global scale.
The new tool, launched in beta today by the global civil society alliance CIVICUS, rates countries based on how well they uphold the three fundamental rights that enable people to act collectively and make change: freedom of association, freedom of peaceful assembly, and freedom of expression.
Mozn Hassan is a courageous feminist and a human rights defender who protested with her fellow citizens to overthrow President Hosni Mubarak, calling for a new era of freedom and democracy in Egypt. Her struggle for equal rights for women during and after the Egyptian revolution, through her organisation Nazra for Feminist Studies, earned her the 2016 Right Livelihood Award. But she’s unlikely to receive this prestigious award because of a travel ban imposed on her by the Egyptian authorities.
Mozn’s travel ban is the latest in a series of measures taken against her and other prominent leaders of Egyptian civil society under the ambit of the infamous Case 173 of 2011, commonly known as the “NGO Foreign Funding case”.
In March 2016, Mozn Hassan was summoned to appear before a judge investigating the “NGO Foreign Funding” case soon after her participation at the UN Commission on the Status of Women. On June 27, 2016, she was prevented by the airport authorities in Cairo - acting on the instructions of the investigating judge and the Prosecutor General - from participating in the Women Human Rights Defenders Regional Coalition for the Middle East and North Africa meeting held in Lebanon.
One hundred and eighty-five civil society organisations from 33 African countries have written an open letter to President Joseph Kabila of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) raising concerns over ongoing attacks on protestors and the targeting of human rights defenders.
Recently, on 19 September 2016, security forces violently dispersed protests by citizens who criticised the failure of the electoral commission - Commission Electorale Nationale Independente (CENI) to meet the deadline for announcing the timeframe for the next elections. The government announced that 17 people, including three police officers were killed during clashes although civil society and political observers argue that the figure is much higher. Several protesters also suffered from gunshot wounds.
CIVICUS spoke to a civil society leader based in Juba, South Sudan about why the government threatened and prevented human rights defenders from travelling to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva for reviews on South Sudan and the general state of human rights and media freedoms in the country five years after the country became independent. The activist requested to remain anonymous for security purposes.
1. How and why did the authorities prevent human rights defenders from travelling to the UNHRC to participate in pre-Universal Periodic Review sessions?
The actions of government against civil society activists and human rights defenders have forced many to leave the country and abandon their participation in the UPR-pre sessions. After testifying in a meeting organised by the visiting United Nations Security Council delegation in Juba, the national security agents blacklisted all those who spoke about the human right situation in the country including those that called for justice and the need to expedite the establishment of a Hybrid Court for South Sudan. One activist was killed the next morning; others were being sought after while those who were fortunate managed to escape to neighboring countries. Just as the government tries to deny the flow of information on South Sudan they are quite aware that the pre-session would provide a platform to expose the unabated human right situation and probably demand for international intervention. Members of civil society whose invitations were leaked to the security agents received anonymous calls threatening to deny them return to South Sudan if they dare attended the UPR-pre session. Phone tapping of human rights defenders including accusing certain civil society organisation leaders of being collaborators with rebel groups is being commonly used to undermine the work of civil society.
Global civil society alliance, CIVICUS mourns the death of South Korean activist and farmer Mr. Nam-gi Baek on 25 September due to injuries he sustained while exercising his right to peaceful assembly. We urge South Korean authorities to conduct a swift and impartial investigation into Mr Baek’s death and the use of excessive force by police to disperse and intimidate protesters.
Mr Joseph Kabila
President of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)
Palais de la Nation
Ave de Lemera, Kinshasa, Congo (DRC)
Dear President Kabila,
We, the undersigned representatives of African civil society organisations, write to express our serious concerns about the police’s continued use of brutal force to crush peaceful assemblies and to silence the legitimate demands of the people of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
Over the last few years, we have observed with shock a series of sustained assaults on human rights defenders, civil society organisations, members of the political opposition and ordinary citizens who are calling for elections to be held in accordance with the constitution, and opposing your attempts to remain as Head of State after your mandate officially expires on 19 December 2016.
We are appalled at the latest spate of indiscriminate killings of peaceful protesters that took place in Kinshasa during demonstrations on Monday 19 September 2016. There is no justification for this atrocity, which was your government’s response to citizens’ exercise of their fundamental freedom of peaceful assembly. Citizens were peacefully calling attention to the Independent National Electoral Commission’s (CENI) failure to meet the 19 September deadline to announce the date of much-anticipated elections.
CIVICUS speaks to human rights and climate change activist Thilmeeza Hussain about current restrictions in the space for civil society in the Maldives. Thilmeeza is the Former Deputy Permanent Representative of Maldives to the United Nations.
1. What is the current state of human rights in the Maldives?
We have seen a steady increase in the deterioration of human rights in the Maldives over the last few months. In August 2016 the authorities passed the Defamation and Freedom of Speech Act, which severely restricts the freedom of expression. The law criminalises speech deemed defamatory, and sets hefty fines and jail terms for journalists and individuals found guilty of slander. It empowers regulators to close newspapers and other media platforms if they fail to pay such fines.
In addition, new amendments to the Freedom of Assembly Act state that protests, marches, parades and other such gatherings can only take place with prior written permission from the police and only in designated areas. The challenge is that we all know that permission will not be granted for peaceful demonstrations that focus on issues considered sensitive by the government. The law will be used to pre-empt public assemblies and prevent them from taking place. The Act is at variance with Article 32 of the Constitution, which guarantees the right to assemble without prior notification.
The undersigned organisations condemn unreservedly the asset freeze ruled on Saturday 17 September by the Cairo Criminal Court in Zeinhom on prominent human rights organisations and defenders in Egypt, as part of case no 173/2011, known as the “foreign funding case”.
Prominent human rights organisations and human rights defenders were particularly targeted: the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) and its director Bahey el din Hassan, the Hisham Mubarak Law Center (HMLC) and its director Mostafa El Hassan, the Center for the Right to Education and its executive director Abdel Hafiz Tayel, as well as human rights defenders Hossam Bahgat and Gamal Eid.
The personal assets of the five human rights defenders are frozen and three NGOs CIHRS, HMLC and the Center for the Right to Education, are losing access to their bank accounts and their properties. The management of these NGOs’ finances and programmes are to be handed over to government officials, giving them control their activities and full access to their records and database, including files related to victims of human rights violations.
CIVICUS speaks to Gina Romero, Executive Director of the Latin American and Caribbean Network for Democracy (RedLad), a not-for-profit platform than brings together more than 480 CSOs, networks, activists, academics, social movements, youth and political groups working together for stronger democracies, human rights, sustainable development and social cohesion in the region. RedLad is also a CIVICUS Voting Member organisation.
1. We are finally able to glimpse the end of a half-century long conflict. What are the prospects for lasting peace in Colombia?
First of all, it should be noted that this process that is coming to an end has been a negotiation with a single guerrilla group, the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia). The FARC are the most significant such group in terms of territorial power and symbolism, but unfortunately they are not the only armed group with the ability to determine the scope of peace. Besides the fact that peace is evidently not something that can be achieved by just defeating an armed group. This is a very important lesson we have learnt from peace processes in other countries, and it also applies here.
CIVICUS speaks to Ana Cernov, Coordinator of the South-South Program at Conectas Human Rights, an international human rights non-governmental organisation. Based in Sao Paulo, Conectas was founded in Brazil in 2001 with the aim of promoting human rights and the democratic rule of law in the Global South.
1. During the Olympic Games and after, we have seen the repression of several #ForaTemer and other protests. Have restrictions on the freedom of peaceful assembly increased after President Rousseff was impeached?
The repression of protests is not new in Brazil, however, it has indeed intensified in recent years and has become increasingly selective in the way it responds. Policing is ostensibly a military task –a regrettable heritage of the dictatorship that ruled the country for 21 years, from 1964 to 1985. Besides, it is also decentralised, as state governors each head their own military police. Therefore we cannot say that the Temer government is directly and solely responsible for the repression of the current protests. However, it is also true that there is high discretion regarding which protests are repressed depending on which side of the political spectrum they come from. The introduction of restrictions on the space for protest has steadily intensified since the protests that took place in June 2013, so in fact President Rousseff’s removal has not been a turning point in this respect.
Join SOCS authors
Joanna Maycock - European Women’s Lobby (moderator)
Mutsiya Leonard - UHAI East African Sexual Health and Rights Initiative
Sudarshana Kundu - Gender at Work
Kathy Mulville - Women’s Global Network for Reproductive Rights
& other CIVICUS Members for a webinar on
Wednesday 28th September 14:00 (GMT +2)
Help build critical, constructive dialogue on how the civil society sector can do better at advancing gender equality within and beyond our areas of work.
You will also inform development of the CIVICUS Gender Working Group by sharing your thoughts and experiences:
We regret that the webinar will be conducted in English only
CIVICUS speaks to Vanessa Dubois, Project Officer at ARCA (Central American Regional Association for Water and the Environment), a Costa Rican environmental CSO established to promote the protection, conservation and sustainable use of the environment and hydric resources, and to promote processes of integrated management of natural resources and the recognition of the human rights to water and sanitation.
1. Costa Rica is usually among the best-placed Latin American countries in rankings and evaluations of the quality of civic space, institutional development and respect for human rights. Is the country living up to its reputation?
In fact, there are no serious obstacles for the exercise of the freedoms of association, expression and peaceful assembly of civil society in Costa Rica. But there is indeed a less visible problem regarding the protection afforded to social and environmental leaders. True, murders of HRDs or civil society activists are not an everyday occurrence in Costa Rica; however, since the early nineties there have been approximately ten murders and fifteen attempts against the physical integrity of environmental activists -who, along with indigenous activists, are in fact the main targets of aggressions. The most recent case, in 2013, was the murder of our environmentalist colleague Jairo Mora. It was as a result of this regrettable event that we have been able to more successfully bring up the issue at the national level, in order to counterweigh the erroneous image that here nothing bad ever happens. In 2014 or 2015, especially in the context of land struggles on indigenous territories, community leaders have been criminalised.
Civil society organisations (CSOs) working to improve women’s rights in Pakistan are facing difficulties after the Council of Islamic Ideology has made several attempts to limit their work as part of their clampdown on women’s rights in general. CIVICUS spoke to Qamar Naseem from Blue Veins, a CSO in Pakistan that provides legal assistance to survivors of gender-based violence and trains lawyers and judges to better deal with the cases on gender-based violence in the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
1.What is the general situation for civil society in Pakistan?
There are systemic threats to CSOs in Pakistan and especially in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. In recent years, there has been a perceptible rise in restrictions on civic space. The independent civil society is under threat not just from the government but also from powerful non-state actors including influential business entities and extremist groups, as well as, religious leadership subscribing to fundamentalist ideologies.
We are increasingly experiencing and witnessing criminalisation of dissent and there are efforts to criminalise the work of CSOs as the civic space is shrinking alarmingly. Attacks on CSOs have increased significantly in recent years while authorities have shown no interest to safeguard human rights defenders and CSOs.
Global civil society alliance CIVICUS and the Zambia Council for Social Development (ZCSD) condemn attacks on independent media houses and journalists in Zambia. Attacks on the media, which intensified in the run up to the 11 August 2016 elections, show no signs of abating. Worryingly, government authorities are curbing independent reporting of the political situation in the country at a time when election results in favour of the ruling party are being challenged by the opposition.
Global civil society alliance CIVICUS urges Tanzanian authorities to put an end to their campaign of judicial persecution, arbitrary arrests and intimidation of civil society members and local communities opposing land rights violations.
This year CIVICUS concludes the implementation of its 2013-2017 Strategic Priorities (French, Spanish). The CIVICUS Board, membership and broader constituency are now mobilising to shape the new 2017-2022 Strategic Priorities for the alliance.
The global consultation will look at the challenges facing humanity and how civil society (and the CIVICUS alliance more specifically) can best address these challenges. The consultation will utilise:
The global consultation will take place between July and December 2016. The major output of the process will be a synthesis report recommending strategic directions that will provide the framework for CIVICUS’ 2017-2022 Operational Plan, effective from 1 July 2017.
To start framing the conversation, the process will commence with a short survey that includes three questions:
Please help us to make the most of this important moment to demonstrate our accountability to the greater CIVICUS Alliance by making your voice heard. Go to the survey and have your say!
We recommend consulting the Year in Review summary from the 2016 State of Civil Society Report to give context to your answers.
As a way of thanking you for your participation, all respondents who return fully completed surveys will have their email addresses entered into a draw for one of 10 free one-year Voting Memberships (subject to the Voting Membership criteria outlined in the CIVICUS Membership Policy (French, Spanish).
The state of emergency imposed in Turkey following the failed coup attempt is deeply worrying, say CIVICUS, Women Human Rights Defenders International Coalition (WHRDIC) and Global Fund for Women (GWF). The three organisations urge Turkey’s trade and development partners to condemn the arbitrary restrictions on fundamental freedoms, as well as the undermining of the rule of law in the country, which are putting excluded groups such as women and LGBTQI communities at further risk of rights violations.
“The international community must caution Turkey’s government on its rapid slide towards authoritarianism,” said Mandeep Tiwana, Head of Policy and Research Head at CIVICUS. “If unchecked, the on-going purge in Turkey will undo decades of progress on the rule of law, civil society rights and democratic norms.”
In addition to the arrest of thousands of military personnel suspected of involvement in the coup attempt, hundreds of judges and prosecutors have been suspended while academics have been subjected to travel bans. Over 1200 charities and foundations have also been shut down for suspected links to coup plotters and over 100 media outlets have been ordered to be closed. Several journalists from the Zaman newspaper – which was attacked even before the coup - have been detained. Other media violations have included raids on the homes of journalists, rescinding of press credentials and the publishing of journalist’s names and photographs deemed to be linked to the coup plotters.
“The present state of emergency poses an imminent threat to human rights, including the right to express peaceful dissent which is being quashed in the current environment of militarism, nationalism and religious conservatism,” the WHRDIC stated. “Turkish authorities must particularly engage with and protect women human rights defenders, including LGBTQI groups, who are reporting increased harassment.”
CIVICUS, WHRDIC and GFW urge the international community to remain vigilant about human rights violations taking place in Turkey and to call upon President Erdogan’s government to restore rule of law, civil society space and press freedom in the country.
South African civil society recently succeeded in making the state broadcaster reverse a policy decision it had made concerning the censorship of violent protest images in news reporting. Media Freedom and Diversity Organiser Micah Reddy of the Right to Know (R2K) Campaign tells CIVICUS how they succeeded.
1. Can you briefly explain the South African Broadcasting Corporation’s (SABC) decision concerning broadcasting of protests?
The policy was ostensibly about respectability in terms of how journalists at the public broadcaster SABC cover violence during protests. But people were quick to see through the SABC’s reasoning. The unwritten rule was that there would be no airing of violence that happens at protests whatsoever, and such a blanket coverage ban is effectively censorship.
The SABC argued that the decision was arrived at because we live in a very violent society where violence is covered too recklessly and there is too much gratuitous violence on our television screens. The SABC argued that when people see violent protests on TV they tend to emulate what they see, and that those who are protesting grandstand in front of the cameras and destroy public property when they know they are being filmed, and this encourages others to destroy property and use the cameras to promote their own agendas. It’s as absurd as saying journalists should not report on crime because it breeds more crime ─ which is something the SABC chief operating officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng actually said. This is a very patronising view not only of people who protest but audiences as well. It is not for one man in a management position to tell us what we can and cannot watch and to attempt to control and distort the media narrative on the assumption that he should protect us from violent images, like an overbearing nanny.
On July 11 Israel’s Parliament, the Knesset, passed a law to restrict the activities of civil society organisations (CSOs) dependent on international sources of funding. The so called ‘transparency law’ requires Israeli CSOs receiving over 50% of their funding from international sources such as international aid agencies, CSOs, multilateral agencies and the United Nations to indicate this on every document, website, sign or publication that they issue and in all communication with officials.
In the aftermath of the extra judicial killings of human rights defender Willie Kimani and two others, CIVICUS speaks to Kamau Ngungi, the coordinator of the National Coalition of Human Rights Defenders-Kenya about the implications this has for the human rights community.
1. Can you detail the circumstances that led to the death of human rights defenders Willie Kimani and Josephat Mwenda?
The death of human rights defender Willie Kimani, Josephat Mwenda and Joseph Muiruri is believed to be due to their demand for accountability for the malicious attack on Josephat Mwenda on 10 April 2015. On this date Josephat Mwenda, a boda boda (motorcycle taxi) rider was shot at by an Administration Police Officer without provocation. Josephat reported the shooting incident to the Independent Policing Oversight Authority (IPOA) and sought legal assistance from the International Justice Mission (IJM) who immediately took on his case. Since then, Josephat faced persistent threats including malicious prosecution.
The Global Goals for Sustainable Development offer an historic opportunity to eradicate extreme poverty and ensure no one is left behind. To realise this opportunity, three international non-profit organisations (CIVICUS, Development Initiatives, and Project Everyone) with the support of the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development are working together on a new global initiative called the Leave No-one Behind Partnership, which aims to directly support the interests of the world’s most vulnerable and disadvantaged people.
CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance, calls on the Government of the United States of America to thoroughly investigate instances of heavy-handed action by police officers in dealing with protests against the killing of black individuals by law-enforcement agents.
CIVICUS speaks to Yésica Sánchez Maya about the recent repression of the teachers’ protest in Oaxaca and the situation of human rights defenders in Mexico. Sánchez Maya is a member of the leading team of the Consortium for Parliamentary Dialogue and Fairness in Oaxaca, and a member of the organisation’s Program of Movement Building and Public Advocacy.
Tomorrow, 12 July 2016, the trial of the prominent human rights defender Nabeel Rajab begins. Facing charges related to comments on the social media website Twitter, Rajab may be sentenced to more than ten years in prison. We, the undersigned NGOs, hold the government of Bahrain responsible for the dete-rioration of Rajab’s health due to poor detention conditions. We call on the Bahraini authorities to immediately and unconditionally release Rajab, and to drop all charges against him.
CIVICUS speaks to Zambian civil society activist Lewis Mwape of The Zambian Social Development network. Recently, the government tax body attempted to close the outspoken Post newspaper and banned protests and rallies in Lusaka for 10 days until 18 July 2016. This led to a huge outcry from civil society that the state is clamping down on freedom of expression ahead of the Zambian general election in August. In this interview Mwape speaks about the state of freedom of expression in the country and the general operating environment for civil society ahead of the poll.
1. Can you detail what happened this month concerning the closure of Zambia’s biggest daily newspaper The Post?
In June agents from the Zambia Revenue Authority pounced on the offices of the post and closed the paper saying it owes taxes. It is also important to note that the newspaper argues that most of its debt had been settled before the raid. While I must highlight that it maybe true that the Post owes money, the timing and style of the pouncing raises concerns. Ahead of the elections, this newspaper was a critical voice providing information to citizens to balance out information they receive from the state media.
Failure to pay tax by any institution is unlawful. However, I get worried when government institutions are used to victimise those perceived to be opponents of the party in power. In many circumstances those that have accumulated huge tax arrears have been once friends of the same governments and sometimes same political parties that saw no problem in not paying tax but they are now persecuted because their opinion has changed. Victimisation is not the answer.
CIVICUS recently spoke to a civil society activist in Bangladesh, who asked to remain anonymous, on the recent events in the country, including the recent killing of academics and bloggers and the implications for civic space.
1. Can you give background to what happened earlier this year when academics and bloggers were hacked to death in the country?
The political turmoil in Bangladesh threatens the freedom of expression, assembly and of association and a huge number of human rights violations are taking place, such as enforced disappearances, extrajudicial killings, torture, targeted killings and mass arrest among others. The members of the opposition political parties mainly Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and Jaamat-e-Islami, dissenting voices and the young people make up the majority of victims of human rights violations. The present government came to the power through controversial and farcical elections in January 2014 which were boycotted by all major political parties, and as a result, political confrontations have increased. The government has become more repressive in order to keep power at any cost. The rule of law is non-existent. Therefore there is a huge political vacuum which allows for political extremism to grow. At the same time the government wants to project itself as the only custodian of “secularism” and therefore seeks to project the mainstream political opponents and the anti-government youth as “extremist” so that it can use lethal actions to silence them.
In a matter of a month, a trade union lawyer, an indigenous land rights activist, and two journalists were murdered in Guatemala. Global civil society alliance CIVICUS is deeply concerned about the life-threatening situation for civil society activists and journalists in the country.
The most recent, Brenda Marleni Estrada Tambito, a legal advisor to the Guatemalan union federation UNSITRAGUA, was followed and shot five times from a moving car in Guatemala City on 19 June. On 8 June, indigenous leader Daniel Choc Pop, a member of the Highlands Peasants’ Committee in the San Juan Los Tres Ríos community of the department of Alta Verapaz, was killed by a security guard during an alleged invasion of a private ranch. The day before, 7 June, Víctor Hugo Valdés Cardona, who directed a culture and news programme on local television, was shot dead outside his home in Chiquimula. A week earlier, on 30 May, a radio host named Diego Salomón Esteban Gaspar had been intercepted and shot dead while riding his motorcycle in Ixcán.
In an increasingly unequal world where human rights are being undermined, civil society is challenging exclusion in innovative ways.
“Much of civic life is about promoting inclusion. It is about amplifying the voices of the marginalised, tackling the causes of discrimination, and promoting equal rights and access to services,” said Dr Dhananjayan Sriskandarajah, CIVICUS Secretary-General on launching the organisation’s 2016 State of Civil Society Report. “But, for many millions of people exclusion remains a painful, everyday reality.”
In recent months, civil society in Egypt has faced unprecedented attacks by the authorities, who are attempting to crush them. Many people working with non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have been detained and ill-treated, charged with offences under the draconian Counter-terrorism law, or subject to a judicial request to ban them from travel and freeze their assets. The undersigned 11 international non-governmental organizations urge the Egyptian authorities to end such attacks against human rights defenders and uphold their obligations under international and Egyptian law, and to respect the right of human rights defenders, individually and in association with others, to work for the protection and realization of human rights.
CIVICUS speaks to Lae-goon Park, director general of Human Rights Center (SARAM) and a steering committee member of Coalition 4.16 on the Sewol Ferry Disaster, about the environment for civil society and the ongoing mass protest movement in South Korea. Park was recently sentenced to three years in prison for exercising his legitimate right to protest.
Q: A protest movement has emerged in South Korea in response to the government’s failure to adequately investigate the causes of 2014 Sewol Ferry disaster, in which hundreds of children drowned. Can you tell us about the origins and current state of the movement?
When the Sewol Ferry sank off the South-West Coast of South Korea on 16 April 2014, people voluntarily held a series of candlelight vigils across the country, calling for the safe return of the passengers. However, when 304 people were discovered dead (including nine who remain missing), these candlelight vigils evolved into protests criticising the government’s failed rescue measures and calling for an independent investigation into the tragedy. Based on these protests, and pan-national petition campaigns, the Special Law on the Sewol Ferry Tragedy was enacted in November 2014 creating an independent investigative body into the tragedy, the Special Investigation Committee. The investigative was expected sanction those responsible, and establish a framework of laws to enhance due diligence for public safety. However, the government is not fully cooperating with the Special Investigation Committee and has attempted to undermine its independence and efficacy by appointing pro-government officials, not allocating sufficient resources and or allowing full access to all necessary sources of evidence and information. In addition, the ruling party has issued a number of public statements critical of the work of the Special Investigation Committee in attempts to undermine its credibility.
The latest CIVICUS monitoring shows that in 2015 one or more of the core civil society freedoms of expression, association and peaceful assembly were seriously violated in at least 109 countries. Global civil society alliance CIVICUS has documented serious violations of the freedoms of association, expression and peaceful assembly in 109 countries over the course of 2015.
The list shows that instead of heeding calls to reverse the trend of closing civil society space, more and more states are failing their commitments under international law and reneging on their duty to protect and enable civil society. Several non-state actors also stand accused of seriously violating civil society freedoms.
The following table briefly summarises the nature of the violations captured in this report:
CIVICUS speaks to the executive team of Coordinadora Civil, a national articulation platform formed in Nicaragua in 1998 for emergency relief assistance as Hurricane Mitch hit the region. Its mission later adapted to the changing needs of Nicaraguan civil society, and it is currently a coordination body encompassing NGOs, territorial networks, trade associations, youth groups and social organisations with a focus on human rights, gender, and cultural and generational diversity
1. The Interoceanic Canal seems to have become the main object of claims in Nicaragua. Is there free and open discussion on this and other issues affecting the population and how has the government reacted to protests?
In Nicaragua there is a lot of debate going on, that is promoted both by individual experts and by civil society organisations such as Coordinadora Civil, and social movements such as the National Council for the Defence of Land, Lake and Sovereignty, which brings together the peasant communities that would be displaced from their land if the Interoceanic Canal is built. Through different mechanisms these various actors have developed a wide variety of actions to inform citizens about the law, bring up discussion around the information disseminated by the Chinese company in charge of the project, HKND, and circulate studies and evaluations conducted by state agencies, academic institutions as well as local and international independent scientists.
In light of the recent crackdown on students protesting peacefully in Sudan, attacks on civil society organisations and judicial persecution of human rights defenders, CIVICUS speaks to a Sudanese human rights defender, who asked to remain anonymous, to shed light on the challenging environment in which civil society operates.
Q: How would you describe the state of human rights in Sudan at the moment?
There are a number of urgent human rights challenges that Sudan faces at the moment and with some it has been facing for a long time. These human rights challenges are compounded by economic and political crises. To start with, the Human Rights Commission, created as a mechanism to protect and promote human rights is very weak. There are consistent violations of the rights to expression, association and assembly and these restrictions are at variance with international human rights standards.
CIVICUS speaks to Camila Rojas, a public administration student and the president of the biggest student federation in Chile, that of the University of Chile (FECh), about the environment for activism and the reasons why protests usually turn violent and are repressed in the country
1. From your experience in the student movement, what do you think are the causes of violence in demonstrations in Chile?
For many years now Chilean society has been mobilised around the social right to education, with milestones in 2006, when high school students mobilised massively, and 2011, when even more massive mobilisation at all levels led to a social movement for public education. This movement managed to maintain its autonomy and prevented its demands from being processed in the neoliberal terms that are typical of the Concertación, the centre-left coalition that has ruled the country for almost the entire post-transition democratic period. However, over the years successive governments have been unable to satisfactorily respond to our demands, since they did not have the political will to jointly work on reforms. All of this happened in the context of a system that daily oppresses us and takes away our sovereignty over our own lives by subjecting everything to the rules of the market and therefore contributing to the build-up of violence.
In this anonymous interview with CIVICUS, a Tunisian activist who works for an LGBT organisation speaks about the conditions for LGBT activists and organisations in Tunisia. CIVICUS also asked her about the general situation for civil society post-revolution and post the Nobel Peace Prize, which was awarded to Tunisian civil society actors half a year ago.
1. What are the conditions for civil society organisations and human rights defenders working on LGBT issues in Tunisia?
There is currently a public campaign against LGBT persons and civil society activists and organisations working on LGBT issues on national television claiming that we are a threat to Muslim and Arabic identity. This has led to increased aggression against LGBT activists in the streets and especially those activists who go on television to speak about LGBT issues. Some activists have also been beaten in public spaces. The campaign against LGBT activists has not only been supported by ordinary people but also by the military and police who have said that they would fight against LGBT people where they meet them. Some LGBT activists have even been expelled from their schools and universities. The LGBT people and activists who look a bit different to what are gender norms in Tunisia, such as women with short hair, people with piercings or a man who is a bit feminine, can be arrested at check points.
Global civil society alliance CIVICUS urges the Government of Papua New Guinea (PNG) to respect the right to protest peacefully and condemns the use of extreme violence by security forces in PNG to supress demonstrations by students.
On 8 June 2016 lethally armed police attacked student protestors with live ammunition as they demonstrated peacefully from the University of PNG’s Waingani Campus in Port Moresby. The protesters had planned to march from their campus to Parliament. At least 38 protesters were injured, several of them with bullet wounds and some remain in a critical condition. Other protesting students were physically assaulted as the police attempted to disperse them.
CIVICUS speaks to Phyllis Omido, a Kenyan grassroots environmental activist about the challenges faced by activists for environmental rights in the country. She is a co- founder of the Center for Justice, Governance and Environmental Action (CJGEA), an organisation that advocates for the rights of marginalised communities in the coastal belt of Kenya. She was Africa’s recipient of the Goldman Environmental Prize in 2015 and is known for organising protests and shutting down a lead smelting plant located in the middle of Owino Uhuru, a slum near Mombasa.
1. Can you explain the rise in numbers of environmental rights activists in Kenya and the circumstances they are operating under?
The main cause for the rise in the numbers of environmental rights activists is business encroaching on human territory, pollution, displacement of communities by the state and corporate activities, wanton destruction of mangrove trees and deviation of water bodies among other reasons. This affects the livelihoods of poor communities forcing them to seek protection of their fundamental rights. When trying to follow available channels to advocate for rights, access to information, lack of public participation and access to justice are impeded by business with facilitation of the state.
CIVICUS speaks to Diana Vegas, the vice-president of Sinergia, a Venezuelan organisation that aims at expanding spaces for citizen participation, providing a space for civil society articulation and strengthening civil society.
1. There have recently been many news reports regarding the State of Emergency decree, skyrocketing inflation, food shortages and increasing violence in Venezuela. How are these developments affecting civic space in the country?
Indeed, several concurrent crises are having an impact on Venezuelans’ daily lives. Their effects include a hike in poverty (a survey jointly conducted by several universities has revealed that up to 75% of the population are poor, while structural poverty is almost 30%), deteriorating working conditions, one of the highest inflation rates in the world, shortages of basic goods including food and medicine, deteriorating health and education services, increased fear, and loss of public space. The main response of the State to all of these has been systematic repression. The most central explanatory element of these severe crises lies in the institutional destruction caused by arbitrariness and the prevalence of social relations based on force. Today Venezuela is among the countries with the highest proportion of violent deaths in the world: in 2015, the homicide rate was 90 per 100 000 inhabitants, a historical record.
The international community should press Venezuela to revoke the recent “State of Exception and Emergency Decree” that granted the government powers to restrict rights, suspend international cooperation for civil society groups, including human rights organizations, and limit the constitutional powers of the National Assembly, 125 human rights and civil society organizations from around the world said today.
The Ethiopian Government must end its escalating crackdown on human rights defenders, independent media, peaceful protestors as well as members and leaders of the political opposition through the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation (ATP) says a group of civil society organisations (CSOs).
“The government’s repression of independent voices has significantly worsened as the Oromo protest movement has grown,” said Yared Hailemariam, Director of the Association for Human Rights in Ethiopia (AHRE). “The international community should demand the end of this state-orchestrated clampdown and the immediate release of peaceful critics to prevent the situation from deteriorating further.”
Fernando Bracaccini a lawyer and coordinator of the Area for the Strengthening of Democratic Institutions at ACIJ (Civil Association for Equality and Justice), a non-profit organisation, speaks to CIVICUS on the environment for civil society organisations in Argentina. The ACIJ was founded in 2002 to defend the principles of the national Constitution and the rule of law, back all struggles against discrimination, promote legislation favouring the most disadvantaged groups, and developing participatory and deliberative democratic practices in Argentina.
1. Following two recent incidents – the arrest of social activist Milagro Sala in the Jujuy Province and the drafting of a so-called “anti-protest protocol” – to what extent are the freedoms of association and peaceful assembly threatened in Argentina?
Although these two events are different, arising from disparate decisions and jurisdictions, both have had a restrictive effect on the right to protest. Even though legal charges were actually raised against Milagro Sala, the fact remains that the decision to arrest her was based solely on her participation in the protest that took place on 14 December 2015. ACIJ publicly stated that this was an arbitrary restriction of the right to protest. The decision is also a show of the lack of independence of the judiciary in many Argentine provinces.
Global civil society alliance CIVICUS is concerned about the negative impact of Venezuela’s “state of exception and economic emergency” on civil society freedoms. On 13 May 2016 President Nicolás Maduro issued a decree calling for the state of exception on the basis that “extraordinary circumstances of social, economic, political, natural and ecological nature […] seriously affect the constitutional order, social peace, national security, public institutions and citizens of the Republic.”