CIVICUS speaks to Lyndal Rowlands, United Nations Bureau Chief at Inter Press Agency on what is “fake news”, its effect on civil society and how civil society can respond to it.
1. How would you define fake news? How is this different from propaganda and established forms of political campaigning?
Fake news only very recently became a part of our collective vocabulary. During the 2016 United States of America presidential election “content mill” websites created articles which mimicked the real news but were in fact entirely made up with the sole intention of going viral to make money from “clicks” or people visiting their websites. Yet before most of us had even begun to wonder what exactly fake news was, the term was co-opted by the very people who arguably benefited from fake news in its original form, and I think that it is important for civil society to pay attention to this later shift in how the term fake news has been employed.
As comedian John Oliver has said, audiences need the press to help them to sort out fact from fiction and yet now that same press finds itself under attack. Even small mistakes made by journalists, have been seized upon by political figures as a way to discredit and delegitimise the so-called fourth estate. In light of this, I think it’s important to try and restore trust in the vast majority of the media who do uphold the professional standards that differentiate them from fake news.
So, rather than trying to define fake news, I think that it’s better to focus on how we can discern which news audiences should trust and why. A few things that I would suggest would include making sure that you get your news from a wide variety of sources, finding out who owns the media companies you are getting your news from, and making sure that you double-check check anything that seems unusual against a primary source.
2. Why do you think we are seeing a rise in fake news?
The motivation for the initial rise in fake news was advertising revenue, however the disinformation that we are now seeing shared is more complex. New York University journalism professor Jay Rosen says that the spread of disinformation can help benefit a political side because it makes it more difficult for undecided voters to find out the truth. These undecided people may hear so much shouting and disagreement going on that they decide that it’s simply easier to go about their everyday lives, than to try and work out exactly who is telling the truth.
This may explain why USA President Donald Trump’s team have now referred to three separate incidents which haven’t happened: namely Trump’s reference to “last night in Sweden”, Kelly Anne Conway’s reference to the Bowling Green Massacre and White House spokesperson Sean Spicer’s three references to a terrorist attack in Atlanta.
As professor Rosen says, many of the Trump/Republican administration’s policies are not necessarily popular so by surrounding them with “fog and confusion” the administration “can get a lot more done”. However it’s also another reason why it’s so important that we all commit to not add to that fog and confusion ourselves, by making sure we don’t inadvertently share disinformation.
3. Why do you think some citizens believe fake news?
Sometimes we may believe a fake news story because it confirms our world view. We may then not be corrected, because for most of us, our world view has become increasingly polarised because of social media bubbles, which mean that we now almost exclusively see news which confirms our pre-existing opinions and values.
4. How does fake news impact on civil society and human rights defenders?
Attacks on press freedom affect civil society and human rights defenders because it is the job of the media to hold the powerful to account. If the vital democratic role of a free press is endangered through accusations that they are fake news and should be censored, then who will be there to report when the government or others in positions of power attack people demonstrating in the street or imprison them?
Those who spread disinformation may also use it to discredit human rights defenders and civil society organisations. They may make up information about how many people attended a demonstration or argue that protestors are “paid”. Disagreements have begun to emerge over which protestors are violent, and whether they have been planted by the opposition, in order to discredit one side or the other. This may lead eventually to a curtailing of the right to protest, if peaceful protestors are successfully discredited.
5. How should civil society respond to fake news?
Sadly, the same people who seek to curb the freedoms of civil society organisations often also seek to control the media, so I definitely think that civil society and the media should work together to address these issues. Many media organisations are now also set up to serve the public interest as non-profit organisations, and many journalists are also freelancers, so there are other things that the media and non-profits have in common. If you rely on high quality journalism to get your story out, don’t forget to also support the journalists who produce these stories. If you can’t afford to buy a subscription, find other ways to support journalists, even through messages of support. Foundations and other funding organisations should also seriously consider supporting public interest journalism.
In countries where the media is not free or where due to ownership interests they only partially or incompletely cover civil society issues, civil society organisations have also successfully begun using social media to tell their own narrative. By telling their stories directly to the public civil society organisations can also counter the sharing of disinformation. However, I would also encourage civil society to work together with the media, since there are many journalists who are committed to accurately representing issues on a wide range of topics in the public interest from human rights to climate change.
• Follow Lyndal Rowlands on Twitter at @lyndalrowlands
To Permanent Representatives of member and observer States of the United Nations Human Rights Council
RE: Renewing the mandate of the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan and addressing the need for accountability for past and on-going crimes under international law and human rights violations in South Sudan
The CIVICUS Fellowship Programme is an exciting new venture in which key experts will be placed into national and/or regional organisations for the period of two years. Host organisations will be selected from CIVICUS’ Affinity Group of National Associations (AGNA), which brings together national and regional associations from across the globe to foster greater co-operation and increased ability to collaborate on mutual areas of interest. The primary aim of the programme is to promote knowledge exchange and learning, and build the capacity of both the host organisation and their members by providing specialised support in a particular focal area. Examples of these focal areas include research, fundraising, communications, project management, advocacy and network management.
We're pleased to announce the second round of the CIVICUS Fellowship Programme is now open!
If you are interested in becoming a fellow, please note that recruitment will start at the end of March 2017.
To: Permanent Representatives of Member and Observer States of the UN Human Rights Council
RE: Sustaining attention to human rights violations in China
After another year marked by enforced disappearances, denial of due process, and continued efforts to suppress human rights, we call on your delegation to join with other States to take collective, coordinated action at the 34th session of the UN Human Rights Council to hold China accountable for its human rights record.
One year ago today, the High Commissioner released a statement calling on China to address a wide range of human rights violations. The concerns he raised were echoed by many States at the March 2016 Human Rights Council, including through a strong cross-regional statement delivered on behalf of twelve States. These States reiterated the High Commissioner’s call for China to uphold its own laws and international commitments, and urged China to release lawyers and other human rights defenders detained for their human rights work.
The Gambia has recently gone through a major democratic transition. CIVICUS interviews Sohna Sallah, the Vice President of the Democratic Union of Gambian Activists about the major political change and implications for human rights in the Gambia.
CIVICUS speaks to Alfredo Okenve, board member in charge of the International Cooperation and Good Governance Programmes of the Centre for Development Studies and Initiatives (CEID). Since 2012 Okenve coordinates the network of national CSOs in Equatorial Guinea. Trained as a physicist, he is a human rights defender and social activist with more than 20 years’ experience in consulting and management of development and civil society projects in Equatorial Guinea. He has worked as a professor of Mathematics and Physics and held a managerial position at the National University of Equatorial Guinea.
1. The government of Equatorial Guinea is among the worst human rights abusers in the world. How would you describe the environment for civil society activity in the country?
Civil society is still fledgling in Equatorial Guinea. It dates back to the nineties, and it faces internal difficulties such as a lack of tradition and experience in development and human rights work. It does not have much institutional support either - neither external nor domestic. However, the greatest among its current challenges lies with Equatorial Guinea’s government system. The ruling regime does not uphold any fundamental right, including the right to freedom of association enshrined in our Constitution. The environment is unfavourable, even hostile, to civil society work in every respect (the law, actual practices, lack of respect for human rights, funding, etc.). And it is particularly so for independent groups such as our NGO. There is a long list of legally recognised organisations in the country, but this basically serves the government to show that it respects the right to free association. In practice, however, the Ministry of the Interior stigmatises those organisations that want to work for the country’s development without following its orders, by arbitrarily attributing them uncivil actions. It has even suspended by decree the activities of NGOs like CEID, our organisation, or AGECDEA, another organisation dedicated to the “dangerous” task of providing solidary support to the elderly.
The situation has not improved in spite of the many civil society initiatives directed at the government to foster dialogue, improve the environment for civil society and promote human rights and the fight against poverty. On the contrary, in recent years Equatorial Guinea has been increasingly militarised, as if we were living under a state of siege.
2. What are the obstacles limiting the freedom of association in Equatorial Guinea? How have they affected you and your organisation?
Domestic laws and administrative practices are very restrictive. On one hand, the process for the legalisation of an organisation is long and full of obstacles. For example, it requires the organisation’s promoters to submit to the Ministry of the Interior an affidavit certifying that it will submit to its control on a quarterly basis, plus a favourable report from the Ministry of the area in which the organisation wishes to work, and another report from the governor or provincial government delegate. It also requires them to formalise the constitution of the entity before a notary public, who in turn must obtain an authorisation from the Ministry of the Interior to validate this act. No legally constituted association is allowed to receive any donation, whether local or foreign, private or public, above a hundred US dollars without prior authorisation from the Interior Minister. Another example: no legally constituted organisation, that is, no organisation that has been allowed by the government to function, can deal directly with a beneficiary community without an additional authorisation or credential; this is not what the law says, but it is “customary”.
Additionally the government routinely threatens the members of those organisations that are considered to be “enemies of the fatherland”, that is, those that are not aligned politically with the government. Last December, the governor of the Litoral province, where our headquarters are located, gathered all regional and provincial authorities and urged them not to interact with our NGO since their Ministry is in charge of the third sector, and the Minister had decreed our suspension.
Personally, as a professor and staff of the National University, I have not received my salary and have been arbitrarily and illegally banned from doing my job since June 2010, despite a shortage of teachers –all because of my condition as a social leader, human rights defender and good governance activist. What they are trying to do is condemn me to social exclusion and thereby send a warning to forcefully discourage civil society.
From 2015 on, the country’s CSOs have submitted to the government joint proposals to reform the laws of associations, indicating the limitations that the current law imposes on our social work; we have also raised the need for a national forum or conference on the role of civil society in the country. We have not yet received any official response.
3. Equatorial Guinea has one of the lowest Internet penetration rates in Africa, and online censorship is routine. How do you manage to get your work done when the freedom of expression and information is so restricted?
Internet access remains a problem for us, either because of the low technology level or the lack of telematics capabilities of the country, or because of blockages imposed on critical websites or social networks such as Facebook or Twitter –coupled with electricity supply problems in most of the country.
Internally, we have no choice other than try to bypass and endure these obstacles, but it is indeed difficult and it restricts our work capacity. At the organisational level, we have adopted the strategy of opening spaces for information and coordination among our country’s civil society organisations, notably the National Coordination of CSOs, a platform and meeting point for the solidarity action of civil society.
4. Are protests allowed in Equatorial Guinea? How are citizens treated when the try to protest?
Our Constitution recognises the right to strike and demonstrate. The written rules state that a notification to the government authorities would suffice to exercise this right. In practice, however, the only demonstrations that are allowed and that are actually taking place in our country are those of support and praise to the President of the Republic and his policies –that is to say, those that are summoned by the government or the PDGE (Democratic Party of Equatorial Guinea), the ruling party. Anyone promoting a demonstration against the government policies or any other form of expression, even the mere distribution of information leaflets in the streets, generally ends up under interrogation, tortured, imprisoned and/or dismissed from their jobs. Any claim or remedy that is filed with the competent authority in this regard is either denied or ignored. I think the situation is similar to that of closed regimes such as North Korea’s.
5. What are CEID’s aims? How does the organisation do its work within this context?
CEID is a not-for-profit, non-denominational and independent organisation. It began to form in 1996, at a time when our country was, despite its plentiful resources, among the most underdeveloped countries in Africa. It originated out of the concerns of a group of young graduates from several European universities (mostly Spanish and Russian), coming from fields as diverse as International Cooperation, Journalism, Economics, Engineering and Medicine. All of us wanted to contribute from civil society to improve the living conditions and the prospects for development of their fellow citizens, and were convinced that fostering a responsible, conscious, participative and enabled citizenry was of the utmost importance. And we shared the idea that the only real form of development is human, inclusive, sustainable and integral development. We wanted to dedicate our time to volunteer but professional work to fight against poverty and marginalisation through research and cooperation. The NGO was set up in Malabo in April 1997, and only by the end of 1998 did we obtain the authorisation to operate in the country.
We started working to identify the development problems of our country, analysing possible solutions from civil society. As a result, we set out at the grassroots level with two important programmes: the Civil Society Strengthening Programme and the Local Community Development Programme. A large part of our interventions were designed around these programmes. But we found out that international funding was in retreat because Guinea had become, thanks to its fossil fuel production, a middle-income country –even though our government had no intention or will to use any of that income to fund development through non-governmental entities. The ruling regime, which is totalitarian and based on monolithic thinking, never liked the sight of actors out of its orbit venturing on the national stage. There were plenty of attempts to co-opt our leaders, with diverse degrees of success. For all of these reasons, two years after we were granted legal personality we went through a crisis that led us to total hibernation lasting for about six years. We resumed our activities in 2007-2008, and now our priorities include human rights and good governance, issues that were prohibited to us by law until 2006. We also found some timid international support.
In sum, our work has focused on the introduction of new information technologies in education, local community and rural development, good governance and, above all, the strengthening of civil society. Since its inception five years ago, CEID leads the National Coordinating Network of Civil Society Organisations. We have also done consultancy work with international development and cooperation organisations and programmes.
We have a Board of Directors that is renewed every three years, and we gather in members’ assemblies every 18 months. Our headquarters are located in Bata, the country’s second capital. We cover our operating expenses and minor projects with the fees paid by our members-partners and the odd consultancy job; for development projects of a certain magnitude, of which we have already executed (or are in the process of implementing) fourteen, we seek external funds. So far all of these funds have come from the few international cooperation agencies that are still active in the country, or from occasional consortia with extractive industries fulfilling their commitment to corporate social responsibility. We have never received a single dollar from the State of Guinea.
Most CEID members are public servants and our dedication to NGO work is voluntary. This leaves us in a situation of great vulnerability, as we appear as easy prey for harassment, threats and blackmail. Nevertheless, we try to find courage in the conviction that we are doing something that is very necessary and, generally speaking, unprecedented. So far we have managed not to deviate from our ideas.
Unfortunately, we don’t have any self-protection strategy in place. The constant restrictions we face, plus the challenge of overcoming them while working on the ground in order to fulfil our commitments have left us no time or capacity to establish much-needed contingency policies. We therefore just try to always work within the legal framework and to appeal to the legality of all our actions.
As we lack the capacity to directly execute many of our initiatives, we usually submit them as suggestions to the institutions that are in a position or whose job it is to implement them. That is why we are always encouraging meetings and advocacy with government institutions such as those in the good governance sector (human rights, transparency) and in social sectors such as education, health and children’s care. We take a similar stance towards other NGOs that we have been providing training to. In 2011 we founded the Coordinating Network along with sectorial sub-networks to join efforts and promote collective initiatives. CEID plays a very active part in the tripartite EITI (Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative) National Commission, created in 2007, in representation of civil society. It is a challenge for Guinean civil society to have its own space recognised and for NGOs to be treated as development actors in their own right.
6. What can domestic actors do to promote respect for human rights and a healthy civic space in Equatorial Guinea?
We believe that the steps that we are already taking are the right ones and we need to work to improve them, because they are based on participatory strategies. Despite the obstacles and restrictions faced by Guinean civil society, we struggle to conquer spaces. Lobbying, advocacy and perseverance are as necessary as increased cohesion and solidarity. An example of the steps we have taken is the creation, within the Coordinating Network, of sectorial groups and specifically one for Human Rights and Transparency. On the same line of action, through the national information media CEID has been able to keep over the past four years a one-hour weekly radio space from which to promote respect for human rights, social involvement and public spiritedness. Likewise, we have proposed to the Ministry of Education the introduction of the subject of civic and social education within the national school curriculum.
7. How can external actors, including regional organisations and international solidarity movements, support civil society in Equatorial Guinea?
Civil society organisations in Equatorial Guinea need not just financial but also human, technical and institutional support from regional and international organisations. We need management tools and training on issues related to the development of civic spaces in restrictive environments, and to the role of civil society in the struggle for the rule of law and against poverty. We need to be wrapped up in solidarity and not be left alone; we need international actors to integrate us into their sub-regional, regional and global networks and to advocate for us with their governments, which maintain relations with Equatorial Guinea, so they put pressure on ours to provide a favourable environment for civil society.
Update: 08 February 2017
A High Court judge granted Evan Mawarire bail of 300USD and ordered him to surrender his passport and report to Avondale Police station twice a week.
Update: 03 February 2017:
On Friday 03 February 2017 Pastor Evan Mawarire appeared in court. Charged with subversion, plots to remove a constitutionally-elected government, abuse of the national flag and inciting public violence, he was denied bail and remanded in custody until 17 February 2017.
CIVICUS urges the release from detention of Pastor Evan Mawarire, a Zimbabwean activist who was arrested on arrival at Harare International Airport on 1 February 2017. Pastor Mawarire, who was returning to his country from the USA, was arrested and charged with subverting a constitutionally elected government. He is currently being held at the Harare Central Police Station.
According to Pastor Mawarire’s lawyer, he is also facing charges for organising demonstrations against Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe during the United Nations General Assembly in New York in September 2016, and for protests that were held after he left Zimbabwe six months ago.
In May 2016, Pastor Mawarire sparked a citizen movement in Zimbabwe called #ThisFlag that urged citizens to display the Zimbabwean flag for seven days as a way to send a message to the government that they wanted an end to corruption, injustice and economic deterioration in the country.
“The charges against Pastor Mawarire are trumped up and are designed to punish him for exercising his legitimate rights to the freedom of expression and assembly,” says Sara Brandt, Policy and Research Analyst at CIVICUS. “We believe that the Zimbabwean government is intentionally trying to silence him and the #ThisFlag movement.”
CIVICUS calls on the Zimbabwean government to release Pastor Mawarire urgently, and drop all charges against him.
Civic Space in Zimbabwe is rated as repressed by the CIVICUS Monitor.
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.
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.”