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.
To read this in Portugese, click here.
In this anonymous interview, CIVICUS speaks to a civil society activist in Mozambique concerning the environment for civil society and human rights defenders in the country. There is growing concern that killings and acts of intimidation against critical voices often go unpunished.
CIVICUS speaks to Asep Komarudin (pictured) of Legal Aid Institute for the Press concerning the cyber bullying amendment that was recently made to the Electronic Information and Transactions Bill. Human rights activists have complained that the amendment is being used to target them. Asep Komarudin also speaks of the impact of the law on LGBTI activists in the country.
Q: Please detail briefly the Electronic Information and Transactions cyber-bullying amendment
In 2008 the Indonesian government enacted a law related to the use of information technology, the Information and Electronic Transactions Act. The writing of this law began in 2003. In the process of formulation, two drafts were generated, namely the Utilization of Information Technology Bill and the Electronic Information and Electronic Transaction Bill. The purpose of the Bill was to respond to the development of information technology, which has implications in particular to the dimensions of the economy and trade, both nationally and globally. From March 2003, the Ministry of Communications and Information began designing the Information and Electronic Transactions Bill which was a broad spectrum law to regulate cyberspace in Indonesia. This Bill regulates the legality of electronic documents and signatures, the institutionalisation of electronic systems and the implementation of electronic certification, electronic transactions, domain names, intellectual property rights, and protection of the right to privacy among other issues.
Unfortunately, once it was enacted, this legislation caused much controversy. Problems with the Act include lack of recognition and protection of information, documents, signatures and electronic transactions, and a failure to deal with criminal threats online. There have also been problems raised in relation to Internet content and the threat to punish by defamation, the spread of hatred using the internet. The way provisions of the law have been set out is such that they are open to multiple interpretations and have serious implications in political and social life in Indonesia. There are also problems with the provision of cyber bullying in this law.
Q: What do you believe are the state’s real motivations in introducing the amendment?
At first our organisation, LBH Pers, and some other institutions filed a request for a judicial review to the Constitutional Court in 2009 after the Act was passed because parts of the law are problematic and would criminalise citizens on the Internet who criticise the government. This is especially the case with social media. Article 27 paragraph 3 of the law says insult and defamation on the Internet can result in an imprisonment of up to six years.
However, the judicial review application was rejected by the Constitutional Court which considered that article to be necessary because, the Internet distributes information very rapidly and is different to defaming someone offline. Then LBH Pers and other institutions continued to campaign on the dangers of the article arguing that it is in need of revision. There has been an increase in the number of ordinary people, activists and bloggers being prosecuted under the aforementioned article. Until now, more than 200 people have been charged and 90% of those laying charges are public officials or other people with power.
Later, the government agreed to revise the provision and lowered the possible sentence from six to four years but has refused to delete that article entirely. In early 2015, the government put a draft revision of the law to parliament with not too many substantive changes and these were ratified on October 27, 2016. It however also added several chapters that previously did not exist in the preliminary draft. We reject the draft revision proposed by the government as it does not answer the problems we raised and we also criticise the discussion process in parliament because it was not an open process and was very difficult to monitor.
Q: Can you explain what is of concern to civil society in the new cyber-bullying amendment
Cyber bullying as stipulated in Article 29 paragraph (4) is not well spelt out or defined. This has led to the misinterpretation and arbitrary use of “cyber-bullying” as a crime. Because there is no standard definition of cyber-bullying, even of bullying alone in other legal instruments, then the formula that is used to define cyber-bullying is flexible and results in a lot of interpretations leading to it becoming a “multipurpose Act” to suit any situation.
In such conditions, this criminal offence of cyber-bullying is prone to be misused by the enforcement authorities. This has opened a gap for the suppression of freedom of expression in cyberspace in Indonesia.
Q: Has there been any collaboration between civil society and the private sector concerning the cyber bullying amendment
Currently, there has been no collaboration between civil society and the private sector on cyber-bullying because this provision is entirely new. For now we can see that the bullying provision is not being used to protect children and teenage internet users or the general public but is only used to target civil society groups.
Q: What are the limitations in general that hinder Freedom of Expression in Indonesia?
In the context of internet regulation in Indonesia, the amendment law makes main reference to the regulation of internet content, although it must be admitted the regulation is still very limited. Content that is prohibited by the provisions of the law includes content believed to violate decency; content containing gambling; content containing insult and / or defamation; content that contains elements of extortion and / or constitutes threats and; content that spreads false news, causing loss of customers. Pornographic products are also prohibited on the basis of preserving public morals, public order, public security and the rights and reputations of others.
In general, the government can restrict content on the internet with a view to protecting the public interest and barring information deemed to disturb public order. However, there is no clarity on how rules will be enforced concerning such restrictions. We also found there is no discussion about the implications of restrictions in pertaining to the limitation of human rights. In addition, there is another problem of too broad a definition of what constitutes pornography, so it is an open space for the violation of the right to freedom of expression.
LBH Pers therefore holds that the amendment is a potential threat to freedom of expression. The criminal provisions of the law can be multi-interpreted and easily misused. Reducing the sentence for these, as done by the amendment, will not resolve the root of the problem.
The procedure to block the access to internet content is so easy and basic and may result in excessive abuse and misuse by the government.
The provision on the right to be forgotten on the internet, although welcome, also causes a problem in that government officials may want to censor and block out old news of their misdeeds of their past for political expediency.
Q: Lately there has been an increased attack on LGBTI activists and rights. What is the effect of this law amendment for LGBTI activists?
There are many problems posed by the amendment to the law including restrictions on human rights, particularly the criminal insult and defamation provisions.
There is also a problem concerning supervision of Internet content which has also has resulted in the blocking and filtering of certain webistes being done arbitrarily. There is no regulation on the procedure to be followed regarding blocking and filtering internet content. So we see a violation on the right to information, freedom of opinion and expression. Blocking is mainly supposed to be directed against the sites that are considered to have pornographic elements of content. However, in practice, some sites of organisations that fight for the rights of LGBTI persons, whose service was not intended to provide pornographic content, are getting caught up in this. Abuse of power is wide open when it comes to blocking and filtering internet content due to the absence of strict rules that guarantee and ensure transparency and accountability in the process.
Blocking and filtering was experienced by the site of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC.org), in February 2012. At least three service providers Indosat, Telkomsel and Lintas Arta are blocking such sites. In response to these actions, the human rights organisation in Indonesia sent a letter formally objecting to this practise. This letter was followed by unblocking by the three operators. A similar case was experienced by the site of the organisation fighting for the rights of LGBTI people, Our Voice, in April 2013. Our Voice (ourvoice.or.id) is blocked by one internet service provider in Indonesia (XL), so they are not accessible to the public. In addition to XL, other providers such as Indosat, 3, Axis and Smartfren are also suspected of participating in the blocking of the site. It is most likely that the blocking of websites that fight for LGBTI sexual rights in Indonesia is closely related to the use of words in block letters, such as “gay” or “lesbian”, which in Indonesia tend to be defined as deviant sexual behaviour.
Indonesia is listed in the 'obstructed' category of the CIVICUS Monitor.
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.
Vice-President of the Vietnam Committee on Human Rights (VCHR), Penelope Faulkner, speaks to CIVICUS about the current challenges faced by civil society in Vietnam and the role of international solidarity networks in supporting the creation of a safe and enabling environment for human rights defenders.
On 22 March 2016, Sikhosiphi “Bazooka” Rhadebe (pictured), chairperson of the, Amadiba Crisis Committee (ACC) was assassinated at his home by two assailants who shot him eight times in the head. ACC, a South African community organisation has been subjected to sustained harassment from local authorities and a mining company, for its campaign to oppose titanium mining on the ancestral land of local communities in the pristine Eastern Cape Province. Prior to the assassination, Rhadebe had contacted other members of the organisation warning them of a hit list that his name was on. CIVICUS speaks to Mzamo Dlamini, deputy chairperson of the ACC.
1. Tell us more about the late Sikhosiphi Rhadebe
Sikhosiphi “Bazooka” Rhadebe was born in 1965 to a very poor family. He only attended junior school and did not complete senior schooling. Around 1995 he went to Johannesburg to work as a labourer in a gold mine. He saved a bit of money and soon returned to Xolobeni and opened a small shop. Soon after he bought a van that he used to stock the shop, and also as a taxi for extra income. He was very hardworking and did not have the means to employ a driver so he drove the taxi himself. He was also a good mechanic and could fix broken down vehicles which allowed him an extra income. So he was a businessman and over the years his business grew and he had about 10-15 taxis and a scrapyard for repairing vehicles. He loved his family and his community. He was well-known for his friendliness.
CIVICUS speaks to Betre Yacob Getahun a journalist, writer, and human rights advocate and the founder and president of Ethiopian Journalists Forum (EJF). Getahun is also a co-author of Nipo Nipo Tu, a book which discusses the human rights and humanitarian problems in Ethiopia. He is exiled from Ethiopia after receiving several threats for his work.
1. Tell us about the Ethiopian Journalists Forum
The Ethiopian Journalists Forum (EJF) is an independent journalist association founded in January 2014. It was established by 40 journalists concerned about the deteriorating state of press freedom and freedom of speech in the country. And its objective was to protect the rights of journalists and promote freedom of speech and of the press.
Ethiopia is a repressive nation where no independent journalist associations exist. Those associations established earlier in the name of journalists are aligned with the government and are doing nothing for journalists.
Read the interview in Spanish.
José De Echave, co-founder of CooperAcción speaks to CIVICUS about the many challenges faced by civil society and disadvantaged populations in Peru from the activities of extractive industries. CooperAcción is a Peruvian civil society organisation that since 1997 promotes knowledge and exercise of social, environmental, political, cultural and economic rights; as well as a gender and intercultural approach to sustainable land management.
1. Can you tell us about the events in Tia Maria that have led to a Presidential decree suspending the constitutional rights for 60 days?
What is happening in the region of Tía María is an attempt by the Peruvian government and the Southern Copper company to impose a mining project on the people that has already been rejected by the vast majority of the population. The opposition is not new. It is something that had already emerged during the previous government, where there was public consultation, mobilization, and postponement of the project. Thus, this is a conflict that was waiting to happen.
Emily Howie, director of advocacy and research at the Human Rights Law Centre in Australia speaks to CIVICUS about civic space challenges in her country. The Human Rights Law Centre protects and promotes human rights in Australia and in Australian activities overseas through legal action, advocacy, research and capacity building.
1. How would you describe the state of civic space and the environment for civil society in Australia today?
In Australia there is a widening discrepancy between the government’s purported support for “freedoms” and the reality of laws and practices that stifle free speech, association and peaceful assembly.
For civil society, it has become more risky, and sometimes even unlawful, to publicly scrutinise or discuss some government action or to protest against the activities of vested corporate interests. Governments have introduced measures to stifle, silence and intimidate dissenting voices, to threaten whistle-blowers with prosecution, to restrict peaceful protest and assembly, and to diminish the advocacy potential of non-government organisations by imposing funding pressures.
Australia’s actions at home are inconsistent with our international rhetoric. Australia co-sponsored the 2013 UN Human Rights Council resolution on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association. That resolution recognised the critical importance of civil society organisations to the promotion of human rights, democracy and the rule of law.
Mohamed Lofty of the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms (ECRF) speaks to CIVICUS about the travel ban imposed on him on 2nd of June 2015 while he was travelling to Germany to conduct a series of advocacy visits parallel to President Al-Sisi’s visit. He highlights the challenges of being a human rights defender in Egypt’s repressed political environment.
Can you please tell us what happened on 2nd of June while you were travelling to Germany? What was the purpose of your trip?
On 2nd of June 2015, the police at the Cairo International Airport stopped me at passport control for 3 hours. I was presented to an officer in plain clothes whom I believe works for the National Security. During our interaction, he informed me that I won’t be able to board my flight due to “security reasons.” As I was in shock, I told the police officer that this is the first time I am experiencing such an incident. The response I got from the police officer was “God willing, this will be the last time.”
When I tried to figure out if I was actually on the travel ban list, the officer told me I will get more information in due time. I was also informed that I will receive an explanation later when the officers return my passport. The man in plain clothes also did not provide me any information about which government office he works for. When I raised this question with the police officer I merely received the response, “you will know in due time.” The officer asked me about my phone number, my home address which I provided to him. I was also inquired about my dual (Swiss) nationality.
Emina Nuredinoska (left) of the Macedonian Center for International Cooperation and Tanja Hafner Ademi (right) of the Balkan Civil Society Development Network speak to CIVICUS about ongoing protests against the Government and the current state of civil society in Macedonia.
Savaş Metin, the General Secretary of Kimse Yok Mu Association (KYM) in Turkey, speaks to CIVICUS about the ongoing judicial harassment of their organization and the Turkish government’s systematic crackdown on Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) in Turkey.
1) How would you describe the overall operating environment for CSOs in Turkey? Can you please elaborate on current main challenges?
The number of civil society organizations has significantly increased in Turkey since the 2000s due to a series of legal reforms in line with EU accession plans and growing awareness of the role of CSOs in the democratization processes and in addressing humanitarian challenges. However, over the past few years there has been a backlash against many of the reforms which aimed to create a more enabling environment for CSOs. Sadly, the operating environment for CSOs has shrunk dramatically.
It must be noted that the current legal framework regulating fundraising activities for CSOs imposes a number of debilitating requirements through Law No. 2860: The Law on Collection of Aid. It is not clear to us why Turkey needs such a heavy handed legal framework for collecting donations when there is already the Turkish Penal Code that can be used to punish individuals who illegally utilize funds.
Abdel-Rahman El Mahdi, Director of the Sudanese Development Initiative (SUDIA), speaks to CIVICUS about escalating restrictions on civil society and the prospect of engaging in a multi-stakeholder national dialogue to address pressing human rights issues in Sudan.
Ravi Nitesh of the Save Sharmila Solidarity Campaign (SSSC) speaks to CIVICUS about the vicious cycle of judicial harassment Manipuri activist Irom Sharmila faces merely due to her peaceful resistance to India’s draconian Armed Forces Special Powers Act of 1958, (AFSPA).
1. Can you tell us what AFSPA is, and how it has affected civic freedoms in India?
AFSPA is a special law passed by the Indian Parliament in 1958. It provides extraordinary powers to the armed forces in 'disturbed areas'. Currently, AFSPA is predominantly exercised in Jammu and Kashmir but is imposed in all 8 states of northeastern India except Sikkim.
AFSPA has not only negatively affected civic freedoms, but has also resulted in large scale, grave human rights violations, and has been detrimental to democracy in North East India. Of critical concern are the overly broad and extraordinary powers granted to security officials through AFSPA including the right to kill on mere suspicion of a disturbance of “public order”. Moreover, AFSPA grants impunity to armed forces as no charges can be brought against any security personal without the approval of the central government.
Over the past years, human rights organisations have documented incidents of murder, rape, looting, custodial killings and enforced disappearances by India’s security forces involved in counter-insurgency operations. Unfortunately, our understanding is that the judicial system as well as the security apparatus of the state is very well aware of the violations committed under AFSPA, but fail to undertake the necessary measures to address ongoing violations. The lack of accountability with the use of excessive force under AFSPA by security forces remains a glaring problem.
AFSPA is spreading a culture of fear and intimidation in North-East India, and its psychological affects on the local community are injurious. The presence of AFSPA is a major obstacle to expressing dissent, as a lot of human rights defenders are afraid of losing their life if they are engaged in any kind of advocacy calling for the repeal of the law.
Hussein Magdy of the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms (ECRF) speaks to CIVICUS about how Egyptian civil society is dismayed at the ongoing crackdown on fundamental freedoms which are guaranteed by Egypt’s national and international human rights obligations.
1. Given the intensified crackdown on peaceful dissent in Egypt, what are some current challenges faced by Egyptian civil society organisations (CSOs) and human rights defenders (HRDs) today?
Currently the overall operating environment for civil society in Egypt is dire. The current regime exercises full control over political liberties enjoyed in the public sphere and orchestrates an intensified crackdown on CSOs and HRDs. The authorities have institutionalized arbitrary restrictions on civil society operations by proposing legal provisions that contradict Egypt’s international human rights obligations. In the past months there have also been a considerable number of cases where authorities have threatened to close down CSOs. They have also issued harsh prison sentences and pecuniary fines on HRDs for their peaceful advocacy activities. In its current state, it is fair to say that Egyptian civil society is going through a severe human rights crisis.
Soliyana Gebremichael, founding member of the Zone9 bloggers collective and Coordinator of the Ethiopian Human Right Project, speaks to CIVICUS about the Ethiopian government's ongoing persecution of civil society and independent media in the run-up to general elections scheduled for May 2015.
1) Six members of the Zone9 Bloggers collective were imprisoned last April. Can you tell us why you believe they were arrested and share any recent developments in the case?
With nearly 20 journalists behind bars, Ethiopia maintains one of the most repressive environments in the world for freedom of expression. The arrest of six Zone9 Bloggers and three journalists in April 2014 is unquestionably symptomatic of the government’s growing intolerance of dissenting voices in the run-up to general elections scheduled for May 2015. Zone9, which was established nearly three years ago by a group of young, concerned activists in Ethiopia, was targeted in large part because we were mobilizing youth online to demand the rights endowed to us under the constitution.
During our first year, we operated largely unencumbered. However, the year preceding the arrest of the Zone9 bloggers was marked by routine harassment, including online surveillance and active monitoring and intimidation by security officers.
CIVICUS speaks to Ms. Chak Sopheap, Executive Director of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR), about ongoing restrictions on civil society organizations and human rights defenders in Cambodia since general elections held in 2013.
1. Following contested general elections in July 2013 the government appeared to escalate repression of critical voices. How would you describe the overall environment for independent civil society in Cambodia today?
The overall environment for civil society in Cambodia remains critical, especially for grassroots organizations that work in the provinces. Throughout Cambodia, NGO representatives, human rights defenders and other activists continue to be threatened and harassed by local authorities and private security guards as a result of their work. Judicial harassment, including through the misuse of criminal charges as well as the abuse of provisional detention, also remains a serious concern and a challenge for independent civil society in Cambodia.
Turgut Gambar, founding member of NIDA Civic Movement, speaks to CIVICUS about the growing restrictions on civil society in Azerbaijan and the government’s ongoing judicial harassment of activists. NIDA supports democraticisation through non-violent means and is comprised of 400 members, many of whom are young individuals. Recently, nine members of NIDA were arrested on politically motivated charges.
The crackdown on independent dissent and human rights activism appears to have escalated in Azerbaijan in recent months. Can you give us a brief overview of the recent legislative and extra-legal restrictions imposed on activists and civil society in the country?
The human rights situation in Azerbaijan has been problematic since the current regime came to power in the country in 2003. But the latest crackdown, which began in 2013 and has dramatically escalated in recent months, has been unprecedented in its magnitude and scope. Scores of people from different politically and socially active groups, including youth activists, political party leaders and members, NGO leaders, religious activists, journalists and bloggers have been subject to imprisonment and harassment. In addition to the escalating persecution of activists, the authorities have also adopted a number of restrictive laws to regulate the activities of NGOs.
Qamar Naseem of the Pakhtunkhwa Civil Society Network (PCSN) speaks to CIVICUS about growing restrictions imposed on civil society organisations and the Pakistani government’s attempts to curb access to funding from international sources. Qamar is the recipient of the prestigious ‘No Peace without Justice’ Human Rights Award in 2014 and his work mostly focuses on advocating for women’s rights in Pakistan. He is also the co-chair of End Violence against Women and Girl Alliance (EVAW/KP and FATA).
1. Tell us about the controversial draft Foreign Contribution Act, 2014. How will its enactment affect civil society organizations in Pakistan?
In February 2014, The Economic Coordination Committee (ECC) issued the draft Foreign Contributions Act, 2014 (FCA) under the chairmanship of the Federal Minister for Science and Technology, Mr. Zahid Hamid. If enacted, the FCA will require CSOs to obtain prior government permission to utilize foreign funding. The proposed law will also require CSOs to use foreign funding only for the purposes or in locations permitted by the government.
Even though FCA is pending parliamentary review, in the interim the “Policy for Regulation of Organizations Receiving Foreign Contributions” approved by the ECC in November 2013 regulates and severely restricts the ability to seek, receive and utilize foreign funding.
Prominent Bangladeshi civil society activist and Secretary of Odhikar, Adilur Rahman Khan, speaks to CIVICUS about growing restriction on civil society in Bangladesh and his continued judicial harassment under the Cyber Crimes Tribunal.
1. Today marks one year since you and your colleague Mr ASM Nasiruddin Elan were charged with violating the widely contested Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Act. Can you tell us why you believe these charges were brought against you and where the case stands today?
On June 11th 2013, our organisation Odhikar published a fact finding report documenting the violent crackdown on demonstrators by government forces which began in the capital, Dhaka at 2:00am on May 5th 2013. After this ‘operation’ the government only reported 11 fatal casualties during the two day demonstration.
Odhikar carried out its own fact finding mission after the incident and documented 61 deaths. When the Ministry of Information requested the names and addresses of the families of those killed, Odhikar, fearing state reprisals against the victims’ families, committed only to providing the list to an independent commission set up by the government to investigate the use of violence during the protests. The Ministry, however, did not respond to Odhikar’s request. At 10:20 pm on the night of August 10, 2013, I was picked up by men outside my home claiming to be from the Detective Branch of Police (DB) but they did not produce any identification or a warrant. Later, at the Detective Branches’ office, I was questioned about the fact-finding report, the list of deceased victims and Odhikar’s human rights defenders. I was sent to Kashimpur Jail-1 from DB remand on 13 August 2013, while my colleague Elan was sent to Kashimpur Jail-2 after he surrendered before the court in November 2013.
Veronika Mora, of the Okotars Foundation( Hungarian Environmental Partnership Foundation) speaks to CIVICUS about the Orban government’s clampdown on Hungarian civil society and their sources of funding.
1. What precipitated the recent challenges for civil society in Hungary?
The government of Prime Minister Viktor Orban has been steadily increasing its influence over media and civil society since 2010. In particular the government has been attempting to control sources of funding and has made a number of changes to the funding arrangements from the Norwegian funds. Earlier, 9 strands of funding within the mechanism were delivered by the Hungarian National Development Agency, but since early 2014 the government unilaterally shifted these funds to a new agency without prior consultation with the donor governments (besides Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein).
Following the most recent election in April 2014, the government moved to challenge the Norwegian donor on the NGO Fund and wrote a letter to the Norwegian Government claiming that the NGO Fund was being used to support opposition political groups; and called for a re-negotiation of the bilateral Memorandum of Understanding.
Professor Mohammed Ismail of the Pakistan NGOs Forum (PNF Pakistan), speaks to CIVICUS about the overall operating environment of civil society in Pakistan and the recent bills which severely curb civic space.
1. How would you describe the overall operating environment of civil society in Pakistan? Have you observed a noticeable shift in policy regarding the protection of HRDs and promotion of civil society space since PM Nawaz Sharif assumed office in June 2013.
Public perception about CSOs and their role changed with natural disasters of the past decade. Earthquakes, floods and the inevitable displacement of thousands of people necessitated a humanitarian response from CSOs, but also resulted in corrupt relations between CSOs and government agencies. With time, the government also tightened its control over CSOs, and organizations that advocate the protection of fundamental human rights were adversely affected.
Pakistani CSOs extensively cooperated with lawyers to restore judicial independence. Unfortunately, CSOs failed to take collective action to address pressing issues in Pakistan. Today, many NGOs and networks risk become irrelevant.
Nawaz Sharif’s neoliberal policies aim to increase industrial growth and attract foreign investment. While doing so Sharif fails to create space for a vibrant civil society in Pakistan. Nawaz Sharif enacted numerous laws which restrict civic space since he came to power in 2013.
Right wing policies of Sharif’s government and his favorable stand against Islamic fundamentalists are encouraging him to take actions that oppress civil society in Pakistan. Imran Khan is also providing space for religious extremists and the Taliban in the Province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, where his party is in power.
Islamic fundamentalists are threating civic space as they continuously attack human rights defenders (HRDs). Many HRDs relocated to Islamabad from Peshawar as they feared their lives were under threat. International award-winning women rights activists Malala Yousafzai was not acknowledged by the Pakistani government; however NGOs from various political backgrounds gathered and paid their tributes to her. Malala was subject to a smear campaign in the social and electronic media where she was accused of being a “Jewish spy” and a “Western agent” attempting to destroy Pakistan and Islam. There is no doubt that the civic space for CSOs and HRDs are shrinking.
Mark Heywood is the Executive Director of SECTION27 and a national executive member of the Treatment Action Campaign, an activist movement formed in 1998 that fights for the rights of people living with HIV (PWAs). The organisation also works toward improving the country’s health system. Both organisations are based in South Africa.
Q: You head an organisation called SECTION27. Can you tell us about its work and mandate?
A: SECTION27 - named after section 27 of the South African Constitution - is a public interest law centre that seeks to influence, develop and use the law to protect and advance human rights. The organisation focuses on five work areas: the right to health; implementation of the National Strategic Plan on HIV, Sexually Transmitted Infections and TB; the right to basic education; the right to food and accountability and good governance. We firmly believe that the Constitution is the framework to achieving a just and equitable society with accountability and transparency.
SECTION27 was established in 2010 after it became apparent that its predecessor, the AIDS Law Project needed to broaden its scope and deal not only with human rights in relation to HIV but also with rights to health, education and its social determinants as well.
Laurent Munyandilikirwa, former president of Rwandan CSO, LIPRODHOR, speaks to CIVICUS about the state of civil society in Rwanda and the government’s continued targeted harassment of LIPRODHOR.
1. At the 26th Session of the UN Human Rights Council, CIVICUS co-hosted an event which examined the growing restrictions on civil society in East Africa. Can you tell us a bit about the main challenges faced by civil society in Rwanda?
Although Rwanda has ratified the ICCPR and the ICESCR and the Rwandan Constitution enshrines the principles essential to creating an enabling environment for civil society including the rights to expression, assembly and association, independent civil society groups continues to be subjected to unjust restrictions. While the principles of human rights and fundamental freedoms are guaranteed in the constitution, the government is simultaneously attempting to silence the very people working on the implementation of these rights.
The government restricts the work of CSOs through a number of legal obstacles including overly bureaucratic registration processes, unwarranted limitations on financial funding, and laws permitting excessive and broad interception of information and communication. Such laws hugely impact the daily activities and operations of civil society organisations, in particular those working on civil and political rights. As a result of these and other extra-legal measures, civil society organizations in Rwanda have been forced into a downward spiral: the increasing control exerted over them by the government increases their overhead expenses while it decreases their access to funding, which in turn diminishes their ability to execute projects that attract new financial support. If this continues in the long term, the survival of independent human rights organisations in Rwanda is looking increasingly doubtful.
In light of the ongoing threats faced by civil society activists, journalists and ordinary citizens in Egypt from state and non-state actors, CIVICUS interviews Amal Elmohandes, Director of the Women Human Rights Defenders Program at Nasra for Feminist Studies, to get a better understanding on the current situation.
1) What is the current state of human rights and particularly Women Human Rights Defenders (WHRDs) in Egypt?
The current human rights situation in Egypt is pretty dismal. However, violations targeting WHRDs and women in the public space have been systematic and uniform throughout the different governments in the past three and a half years. These atrocities have been prevalent during the rule of the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF), during President Mohammad Morsi’s tenure, and during the reign of the interim government that preceded the election of the new Egyptian president in May 2014. Sexual violence has been carried out by both state and non-state actors, including threats of rape, sexual assault and physical beating. In December 2013 a case of oral rape was well documented and other cases of sexual assaults and gang rapes took place in Tahrir Square and its vicinity. 3 cases of sexual assault were reported in June 2012, 19 in November 2012 and 24 in January 2013. Between 28 June and 7 July 2013 186 cases of sexual violence against women were reported and 3 cases documented on 25 January 2014. One of these was broadcast live on television. In addition, tens of mob-sexual assaults and gang rapes took place during the June 3-8 celebrations marking the election of Egypt’s new president.
4 March, 2014
Feliciano Reyna is a human rights advocate working on HIV and AIDS related issues in Venezuela since 1995. He has been involved in CIVILIS since 2009, a non-profit organisation in Venezuela promoting and defending human rights.
CIVILIS´ mission is the development of information and capacity building skills for organized citizen actions aimed at the promotion and defense of human rights, based on multidisciplinary approaches and on civic, democratic values. CIVILIS seeks to contribute to the expansion and strengthening of frameworks of respect, and guarantees to the dignity of human life, in their civic, political, social, economic and cultural dimensions.
Feliciano Reyna speaks to CIVICUS about the ongoing protests and the fragile political situation in Venezuela.
1. What prompted Foro Por La Vida and other Venezuelan organizations to issue a call for urgent international action to support human rights, justice and peace in Venezuela?
The impetus for the call arose from the pattern of criminalization of protests in Venezuela, which started in 2005, that led the government to suppress protests in the Western part of the country in early February. The largest protest to date took place on February 12 this year in the capital, Caracas. During this protest, three people died, many were wounded and others were detained. This was then followed by an information blackout where TV stations and media were heavily censored or self-censored themselves.
This environment of criminalization has not just been about criminalising protests but also takes the form of government officials, from the President down, condemning the protests as part of an “attempted coup” and as “fascist movements sponsored by foreign agents and enemies of the state.”
Instead of promoting dialogue with the protesters, the state resorted to extreme use of force, arbitrary detentions, cruel and degrading treatment of detainees, which include some cases of torture, denying due process of law, as well as utilising state terrorism laws against protestors. In effect, many of the close to 1,000 arrested are forbidden now from exercising their right to freedom of expression and to protest.
Andrew Khoo, the Co-Chairperson of Malaysian Bar Council's Human Rights Committee (BCHRC), speaks to CIVICUS about the growing restrictions on civil society and obstacles to realizing UPR recommendations in Malaysia.
How would you describe the overall operating environment for civil society in Malaysia? What are the main challenges faced by civil society?
We have seen the overall operating environment for civil society in Malaysia deteriorate significantly in recent years. The government has increasingly responded to criticism from civil society organisations (CSOs) with unwarranted and targeted restrictions. The most common tactics employed by the government to obstruct the work of dissenting groups include unsolicited accounting and tax audits, unjustified inspections to check compliance with registration requirements, questioning of organizational staff and demands for confidential documents and warrantless seizures of equipment and records.
While CSOs in Malaysia are permitted to receive foreign funding, the authorities routinely level unfounded accusation that CSOs which receive international support are agents of foreign governments working to undermine the sovereign interests of the country or national security in Malaysia. CSOs are also subjected to slander and smear campaigns in the media. The government-controlled press regularly accuses CSOs of being enemies of the state or enemies of Islam.
In June 2013, protesters took to the streets in Brazil to protest against increases in the prices of bus tickets in the major cities. The protests later spread as demonstrators expressed their displeasure over high corruption in the government, poor public services, high living costs and police brutality. CIVICUS speaks to Brazilian lawyer and activist Natasha Zadorosny who provides an insider’s perspective into the protests and the police’s response.
1. What is the nature of your work and how involved are you with the demonstrations in Brazil?
The protests in Brazil started on 6 June 2013 and at the initial stages I was just another protester. However, since mid-July, I have been actively involved as a lawyer on a voluntary basis. At the moment there are two main groups made up of volunteer lawyers who participate in the protests and assist activists and other participants. These groups are the Institute of Human Rights Defenders (IDDH) and the Habeas Corpus. IDDH is an NGO which advocates for the defence of human rights and protects the rights of protesters who are victims of police harassment and brutality. Habeas Corpus was created in June at the start of the protests to defend and protect the rights of activists arbitrarily arrested during the protests in Rio de Janeiro. I work as an independent lawyer but collaborate with Habeas Corpus. During the protests, I am identified publicly as a lawyer and my presence provides a sense of security to the protesters. I clarify doubts about legal issues for the protesters and pass on information about the protests using social media, including facebook and “whatsapp” to other volunteer lawyers.
1. How do you operate as a female activist in Saudi Arabia?
We have never had an organisation or union between women. We tried to organise something like that but there are a wide range of different beliefs amongst Saudi women. Women are afraid of the persecution that might result and so we were unable to establish a formalised group.
However, I know the women that are interested in women’s issues and they know me, and we keep in touch. When I travel in Saudi, I meet them in Jedah or Riyadh, and we use Whatsapp, Facebook and Skype to keep in touch. I am pretty sure the authorities monitor everything. Legally, in Saudi we cannot arrange a meeting of over 30 people and must get permission for meetings over that number.
Saira Rahman, wife of detained activist Adilur Rahman Khan speaks to CIVICUS about the circumstances surrounding his arrest and detention and the on-going persecution of his Bangladesh-based organisation, Odhikar.
Why are the authorities targeting Adil?
On June 11 2013, Odhikar published a fact finding report documenting the violent crackdown on demonstrators by government forces which began in the capital, Dhaka at 2 am on May 5 2013. Following the protests, the government only reported 11 fatal casualties during the two day demonstration.
In stark contrast to the government’s official statement, Odhikar documented 61 persons killed that night. While the Ministry of Information requested the names and addresses of the families of those killed, Odhikar, fearing state reprisals against the families of the victims, committed only to providing the list to an independent commission set-up by the government to investigate the use of violence during the protests. The ministry, however, did not respond to Odhikar’s request.
The government has arrested Adil, who is the driving force behind Odhikar, on specious charges including falsifying information, inciting violence and marring the image of the state. However, the charges against Adil undoubtedly stem from his legitimate human rights work including protecting the identities of individuals willing to speak to Odhikar about the May demonstrations.
Ahead of the mass protests expected in Egypt on Sunday, CIVICUS spoke with Hicham Ezzat, an activist for Egypt’s pro-revolution movement.
1) Why did you become an activist?
It was a call more than a choice. The overwhelming nature of the causes brought out by the Egyptian revolution was beyond my individualism and I felt like my person was not as important as these causes.
Even more personally, the Egyptian revolution reconciled me with Egypt. I hadn’t found a place for myself as a French-Egyptian bi-national. There was no box for bi-nationals in Egypt before. I felt most of the people protesting around me were looking for a box to identify with or some acceptance that they had not found in the old Egypt.
For me, there is a very strong feeling that I now feel more Egyptian than some of these “pure Egyptians”. They were always accusing me of being less Egyptian than they. But the revolution made me realise that I love this country more than some of them do. Many travelled away and left, but I stayed.
Aysegul Ekmekci and Semanur Karaman from Third Sector Foundation of Turkey (TUSEV) speak to CIVICUS about the on-going protests in the country and what they mean for the youth, politics and civil society in Turkey.
1) Some analysts are comparing the situation in Turkey with the Arab Spring. What are your thoughts?
The Arab Spring was quite unique in the sense that it was a series of unprecedented events to see in the whole region. Within a matter of months, repressive governments of the region faced strong resistance from their citizens and had to respond to their calls. Although the international media is comparing the events in Turkey with the Arab Spring, they are actually quite different. The events, that started to take place in Istanbul as a reaction to the demolishing of the last green park in the center of Istanbul, did not initially begin with a political demand. However, public reaction to the government has escalated after the police forces used excessive violence against protestors who wanted their voices to be heard by the government.
Awa Ndah is the Founder and Executive Director of Impact Creators, a youth educational and professional development organisation based in Cameroon. He is also the co- founder and country coordinator of the African Trainer's Network. In the past he has played numerous roles in various local and international advocacy events and campaigns as a trainer, facilitator, team leader and presenter. Lastly, he works with AIESEC in Cameroon as an alumnus coach/ trainer and sponsor.
Given the wide variety of challenges that youth in Africa face, socio-economic instability through the lack of employment appears to be common amongst all states. What are some of the current major repercussions of this challenge for African youth, and what are common debates held by African leaders to curb it?
Unemployment is a current global challenge and its repercussions leave no one indifferent. The global economic crisis affected Africa's economy and it's slow but steady rebound struck a serious blow during and after the Arab Spring. North African youths are the highest of those hit in Africa. ILO's Global Employment Trends for Youth 2013, states that North Africa "has a youth unemployment rate as high as 23.7 per cent in 2012" while the World Economic Forum's Global Agenda Councils - Youth Unemployment Visualization 2013 pits unemployment rates in North Africa at 27.9% and in Sub-Saharan Africa at 11.5%. Undoubtedly and regrettably, Africa has the highest youth unemployment rate in the world. Unemployment is therefore blighting a whole generation of youngsters in Africa. The socio-economic, political and psychosocial repercussions of unemployment are far-reaching particularly to the man [or woman] on the street. In the face of economic stagnation and downturn, financial uncertainty crowned by skyrocketing unemployment and underemployment, the future of the African youth leaves little or nothing to ride home with, all whilst populations just keep increasing. African Economic Outlook (AEO) estimates that there are "almost 200 million people aged between 15 and 24 and that Africa has the youngest population in the world." This number according to AEO "...will double by 2045."
Esther Agbarakwe is a co-founder of the Nigerian Youth Climate Coalition, the biggest youth climate movement in Nigeria. She also serves as a technical Advisor to the African Youth Initiative on Climate Change (AYICC). Recently she returned from Washington, DC where she served as an Atlas Corps Fellow with Population Action International. Currently Ms Agbarakwe is also a young climate change policy advisor and trainer with experience in creating, facilitating and managing youth-led projects. She has over eight years of experience working on sexuality and environmental issues. In the past, apart from being selected as one of the 'Women Deliver 100 Young Leaders' in 2010, Ms Agbarakwe was also a recipient of The Dekeyser and Friends Foundation Leadership Award in 2009, the Ford Foundation/LEAP Africa Nigerian Youth Leadership Award in 2010, Commonwealth Youth Climate Fellowship 2010, the Atlas Corps Fellowship Award in 2012 and received two nominations in the Future Awards in Nigeria under the Category of "Best Use of Advocacy" for 2011 and 2012 respectively. In addition, Ms Agbarakwe represented Africa at over 20 global governance meetings on sustainable development. She has also served roles as African coordinator of the UN Commission on Sustainable Development (UNCSD) Youth and Children Major Group, and representative of African youths at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Conference of Parties (COP 15, COP17), African Development Forum (ADF) and Rio +20, where she worked with a delegation from The Elders; Gro Harlem Brundtland, President Mary Robinson, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and President Fernando Cardozo 20 as one of the famous four "Youngers" demonstrating true intergenerational dialogue on sustainability.
Victor Lowilla, senior legal aid attorney at the South Sudan Law Society (SSLS), speaks to CIVICUS about the trajectory of civil society in South Sudan since independence and the growing restrictions on independent media and journalists in the country.
How would you describe the overall operating environment of civil society in South Sudan?
While the current legal framework governing civil society in South Sudan is not particularly restrictive, the government is taking an increasingly hostile approach to organizations which advocate on sensitive issues leading to a severe constriction of operational space for independent dissent. Civil society groups which report on contentious issues, deemed off-limits by the government, do so at the risk of reprisal. The National Security Intelligence, in its mission to insulate the government from criticism, is becoming increasingly vigilant and willing to arrest anyone who openly speaks out against the government.
Dagnachew B. Wakene is a researcher from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, specialising in studies of inclusive development, human rights and law. As a person with disability, Dagnachew currently works as a part-time Research Associate at World Enabled – a disability and youth focused initiative based in Berkeley, California. He is also a Board Member and Youth Representative at the Secretariat of the African Decade of Persons with Disabilities (SADPD), as well as an active participant in ongoing regional and global deliberations on the ‘Post-2015 Development Agenda,’ representing the cause of inclusive development and continent.
The term impoverished is often used to describe all groups of society that are victims of poverty. How do impoverished persons with disabilities experience poverty differently or in comparison to persons without disability?
Needless to say, numerous studies over the past decade or two have increasingly reported an alarming rate of disability among individuals living in poverty, affirming the peculiar bi-directional/vicious link between poverty and disability. One is both the cause and consequence of the other such that poverty causes disabilities (through, for instance, poor living conditions, health endangering employment, malnutrition, poor access to healthcare and education opportunities etc.);while disability, on the other hand, results in severe poverty. This means that the most pressing issue faced globally by persons with disabilities is not their specific disability but their lack of equitable access to education, employment, health care and the social and legal support systems. The World Disability Report (2011) stated, in no ambiguous terms, that persons with disabilities comprise 15 to 20 percent of the poorest individuals in developing countries and are often relegated to the margins of society, where they are a perceived as being a 'burden', instead of potential and capable contributors to family and national economic activities.
Kiara Worth is one of the Organising Partners for the Major Group for Children and Youth (MGCY). The MGCY is the official youth constituency for sustainable development negotiations, including the Rio+20 Earth Summit. Her role as Organising Partner involves facilitation and advancement of the participation of young people within these processes, including policy amendments and youth activism. In the past, she has engaged with thousands of youth across the globe fostering dialogue, collaboration, participation and unity and diversity amongst young people, and mobilising them to act. She also works as an independent consultant for sustainable development, focusing on rural resource management and communications. She applies alternative forms of social development that use the creative arts and theatre as a means of enabling social transformation. Her publications, dramatic performances and community theatre have focused on environmental integrity and sustainable living. Her work has been featured at numerous panel events at the UNCSD and related events.
How has the establishment of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) framework enhanced the voices of children and youth globally since its inception in 2000?
The MDG framework has helped to raise a number of key concerns and issues affecting children and youth globally, and has attempted to enhance their voice to overcome these challenges. Increasingly, youth are recognised as key participants in decision-making and development, yet capacity building of and creating sustained partnerships with young people in achieving the MDGs have yet to be realised.
Youth have been involved directly in the MDGs and have had a variety of platforms to promote their participation. While this has been extremely positive, there is continuous need for successful models of youth participation to be adapted and replicated to specific political and socio-economic realities, taking into consideration the challenges facing youth-led and youth-serving organisations. More support needs to be given to children and youth organisations to further enhance their real participation, and the MGCY is hopeful that the post-2015 agenda will do this.
United Nations officials, civil society groups and worldwide media coverage hailed last month's Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) for taking a significant step forward in the campaign to end gender-based violence. The outcome document from the 57th CSW -- supported by UN Women -- included substantial agreements regarding the promotion of gender equality and women's empowerment, including the need to guarantee women's reproductive rights and access to health services.
Following the CSW, Lakshmi Puri, who had been instrumental in facilitating months of preparations as well as the final two weeks of tough but successful negotiations, took over as acting head of UN Women after Executive Director Michelle Bachelet stepped down. Puri, who is also assistant secretary-general of the UN, has been a force in elevating UN Women's prominence over the last couple years. The agency is making women's rights a central focus of the post-2015 development agenda -- an effort particularly critical at a time when both women and their rights are being subjected to a number of high-profile attacks.
Talking to Puri gives one the deep sense of the interconnectedness that UN Women prioritizes in advancing gender equality and women's empowerment. By working with other UN agencies, governments and civil society groups globally, UN Women is proving the profound societal benefits of enhancing women's economic and political standing, along with education and health services. Puri spoke with The InterDependent about these issues and more.
Read more at Huffington Post
Mr Omaid Sharifi is a member of CIVICUS and the Co-Founder of Sela Foundation in Afghanistan. He is also the Country Representative of the Hungary based International Centre for Democratic Transition; Asia Society 21 Fellow and Co-Chair of Afghanistan Young Leader's Initiative and a Board Member of the Paywand Afghanan Association. He also holds memberships with: the Global Youth Anti-Corruption Network; the Clinton Global Initiative University; the South Asian Good News Channel; and the South Asian Youth Conference.
What experiences and emotions have drawn you to working with the challenges that face the youth in civil society today?
Since my days selling cookies on the streets of Kabul to the current days working full-time as a youth and civil society activist, I am no stranger to hard work. I have invested my time and limited resources to the redevelopment of my country. I have stretched my time and energy to its utmost limits as I am involved in a number of initiatives as a civil society member through the various organizations that I work with.
The World We Want 2015 initiative aims to create a collective vision of the most important priorities of people in every part of the world, including indigenous populations, women and youths, to ultimately inform what the development agenda should include when the current MDGs expire in 2015. The initiative is part of the UN efforts to gather viewpoints from people worldwide to help shape the future global development agenda after 2015, the deadline for the MDGs, a set of eight anti- poverty targets to be reached in two years. “We have the technological means that allows us to reach out like never before to citizens,” said [Olav] Kjorven [assistant secretary- general for development policy at the UN Development Programme]. “What we are hoping is that through this mobilization of citizenry, in terms of their interest in this discussion, is that we’ll be getting a lot of valuable insights and inputs that can help us understand what people would like to see.”
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Matt Simmonds is the liaison officer for the platform of civil society organisations that sits in the OECD Working Party on Aid Effectiveness (WP- Eff), BetterAid in Paris. He is housed in the office of the Trade Union Advisory Committee to the OECD (TUAC), where his responsibilities include facilitating and strengthening the advocacy work of the platform primarily through liaising on a regular basis with the OECD secretariat and other stakeholders of the WP- Eff. Prior to this role, he worked at the United Nations office of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), where, in his capacity as policy associate, he followed several UN processes such as the UN Financing for Development Process. He holds a Master's Degree in International Development from the New School in New York.
To what extent has the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) framework influenced the international community towards improving liveable and workable conditions for workers in marginalised areas of the world?
The MDGs, as originally developed in 2000, very much overlooked the employment dimension when trying to address poverty under MDG 1. No surprises then that, also overlooked, were conditions of employment and the challenges workers face the world over especially in those parts of the world where they are most marginalised. So it is safe to say that at least from the very outset, the MDG framework would not have had much influence on the international community in addressing the challenges faced by workers.
However, at the point when the MDG review process began, it was clear that issues around employment and decent work needed to be addressed head on if progress was to be made against MDG 1. So in 2008 the sub target (1b) to Achieve full and productive employment and decent work for all, including women and young people was integrated into the MDG Framework, along with a number of indicators to measure progress on this sub target.
Arjan Van Houwelingen of the World Society for the Protection of Animals Netherlands shares why the Post-2015 Agenda needs to include animal welfare and detailed targets for international cooperation towards sustainable development.
Have the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) served as a strong framework for encouraging corporations to prioritise climate change and environmental sustainability? Please elaborate.
While this question is slightly outside of the scope of the work of WSPA, my reaction would be that the MDG process has done very little to encourage the private sector towards environmental sustainable practices. Increasing attention to the issue of climate change may have encouraged the 'greening' of corporate brands but the likelihood of a continued absence of strong international agreement on mitigation will encourage the private sector to continue to postpone real action in this area.
Leo Williams in the International Coordinator of the Beyond 2015 campaign, which brings together over 260 civil society organisations from more than 60 countries that work together to influence the creation of the Post- 2015 Development Framework. Prior to this role, Mr Williams worked as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) Officer for Bond, the UK membership organisation for NGOs working in international development, and the Scotland Malawi Partnership, a large network of organisations and individuals working between Scotland and Malawi. Having studied Arabic, he also worked to promote peace and justice between Jewish and Arab citizens of Israel together with the Givat Haviva and the Abraham Fund Initiatives.
How has the establishment of the MDGs framework enhanced the voices of CSOs in the global South since its inception in 2000? Please elaborate on whether or not there was a significant increase of involvement from global South actors during the past 13 years, in a way that was lacking at the creation of the MDGs.
I have certainly seen a marked increase in the engagement of actors from the global south in the Beyond 2015 campaign. For example, in late 2010, the majority of governments, UN departments and CSOs were of the opinion that it was too early to start talking about 'post-MDGs' for fear that it would mean less focus on achieving the MDGs before the 2015 deadline. Relatively quickly this became an untenable position as CSOs started to realise that it had taken governments over a decade of 'summitteering' to agree the Millennium Declaration which led to the MDGs. In 2010 and 2011 we did not have the luxury of a decade – we needed to ensure that these conversations started as soon as possible, to ensure the process to develop the next framework was participatory, inclusive and responsive to the voices of those most affected by poverty and injustice – rather than to have been written by a small group of UN insiders.
"Indonesia is home to massive environmental and cultural resources. By protecting civil society, we can help to ensure a greater degree of protection for these local and global assets, many of which are fundamental to supporting life on this planet."
Longgena Ginting, Country Director of Greenpeace Indonesia, speaks to CIVICUS about Indonesia’s Mass Organisation Bill and the serious risks that it poses to civil society in Indonesia.
What kind of environment does civil society in Indonesia operate in?
With the fall of the Suharto Regime in 1998 and the advent of our current political era, sometimes referred to as the “New Indonesia”, a robust and variegated civil society sector has emerged including student activist groups, traditional governance organizations and independent trade unions. These groups play a fundamental role in balancing state authority and in supporting the development and implementation of equitable and just government policies.
Recently I had the opportunity to sit down and chat with Dave Pearson, who is a long-time staff member at SIL International, a large nongovernmental organization which has pioneered advocacy for minority language rights and resources around the world. He also serves as SIL’s permanent representative to UNESCO, where he consults on issues at the intersection of minority languages and development work.
The impetus for this conversation was a recent refresh of SIL’s website, which made me newly aware of some great resources they have published on this theme, including a booklet entitled Why Languages Matter: Meeting Millennium Development Goals through Local Languages and a larger project conducted with UNESCO, called Why Language Matters for the Millennium Development Goals. We sat down to talk about this important issue, often overlooked by the global health community.
Read more at GlobalHealthHub.org
Ivana Savic is a Policy Officer at Change Mob and Founder and Executive Director of the Centre for Human Rights and Development Studies. She serves as a board member to the Youth Advisory Group (YAG) at CIVICUS. Prior to these roles, she served as Junior Advisor at the Gender Equality Department to the Ombudsman of the Republic of Serbia. Since 2009 she served as the representative for the Child Rights Centre in Belgrade, Serbia, which was an Organizing Partner for the Major Group on Children and Youth at the Rio +20 Conference in Brazil last year.
How have the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) framework assisted in the development of youth organizations, capacities and livelihoods since its inception in 2000?
MDGs have been important in advancing the livelihoods and capacities of young people, but also mobilizing young people to be involved in the implementation and progress reporting of the MDGs. However, Beyond 2015 goals should have at least one goal committed to youth and one committed to human development governance, particularly issues pertaining participation in decision making.
What are some of the key issues facing youth throughout the world today, which should be prioritised in a Post-2015 Agenda?
People all over the world, especially young people, are faced with increasing environmental degradation, human rights violations and economic crises and those issues should be prioritised in the Post-2015 Agenda. A clean, safe, healthy, adequate and sustainable environment is a prerequisite for life, survival and development. It also bares consequences for the fulfilment of human rights. Unfortunately, however, the environment is not an indefinite resource and its degradation negatively influences human health and life as well as the future and the lives of future generations. Furthermore, human rights, especially rights such as right to life, survival and development, right to adequate standard of living, right to health, right to work and social security, freedom from violence; and also the right to participation should be emphasised in the post MDGs agenda. It would be better to say that protection, fulfilment and advancement of human rights should be a foundation of the Post-2015 Development Agenda. After all, development goals could be perceived as efforts made toward fulfilling the vision of a just, peaceful and sustainable world.
Uchita de Zoysa is the Chairman of Global Sustainability Solutions (GLOSS), the Executive Director of the Centre for Environment and Development, and Initiator of the People's Sustainability Treaties. He is the author of several books and international reports, and has played a leading role in the formulation of global independent sector collective agreements such as The NGO Alternative Treaties and the Oslo Declaration on Sustainable Consumption. Prior to these roles, Mr de Zoysa created and led the largest environment and development NGO in Sri Lanka, the Public Campaign on Environment & Development. In addition, he has also held numerous international posts including Advisory Board Member and Head of the Asian Review on Sustainable Consumption for SC.Asia.
To what extent has the establishment of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) since 2000, promoted the issues of sustainability and responsibility amongst corporations within global production and consumption practices?
The MDG's had no doubt helped create awareness on sustainability and responsibility amongst all critical stakeholders including business and industry.
Richard Morgan is the Senior Advisor to the Executive Director of The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) on the Post- 2015 Agenda. He is a member of the UN Secretary- General's Task Team on the Post- 2015 Agenda and has chaired various UN inter agency groups on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in the past. Prior to this, Mr Morgan served as UNICEF's Director of Policy, UNICEF in Africa and for the Government of Botswana during the 1970-1990s. His focus lies within the areas of how rights based, normative approaches can be effectively applied to international development1. Source2
To what extent have governments increased commitment to child and gender sensitive policies after the establishment of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in 2000?
This is not easy to answer rigorously, and would depend on careful, comparative cross-country analysis of national policies between 2000 and 2012. Certainly there have been a number of individual advances in national child- and gender-sensitive policies, both across sectors and in specific areas such as juvenile justice reform and legislation designed to prevent violence against children and women. However, much more remains to be done in terms of policies, legislation, administrative measures, pro-child budgets and programmes.