Civil society organisations (CSOs) around the world are mobilising resources, actions and advocacy to influence key global processes this year. One key event slated for the latter part of 2011, where major issues including Development Effectiveness and the role of and operational environment for civil society need to be taken up in earnest, is the High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness in Busan, South Korea (HLF-4), from 26 November-1 December. After 18 months of engagement and advocacy by civil society, including CIVICUS, the Task Team has finally agreed on collective key messages for consideration by all participating stakeholders in HLF-4.
Pepe Julian Onziemam, Programme Coordinator for Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG), a coalition of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex (LGBTI) human rights organisations in Uganda, speaks to CIVICUS about the challenges of working in a hostile environment.
Q. Tell us about your work as an LGBTI activist
A. My work and that of the organisations - advocating for gay and lesbian people - which I have been involved with since 2004, has considerable challenges. Legislation that criminalises same-sex activities, means that we don't have space for advocacy work and most of what we do has to be done underground so people do not have to show their faces. We are forced to meet in private and have no access to legal aid. To issue statements we must create alliances with fellow civil society groups to deliver our message within Uganda. This is incredibly isolating and makes our work even more difficult. Our long-term goal is to decriminalise homosexuality.
In 2009, a draconian anti-homosexuality bill was introduced in the Uganda Parliament by MP David Bahati. There has been mixed reaction to the bill and the process has been drawn out because of the pressure exerted by religious leaders.
(CIVICUS has analysed the bill which, through its wide ambit, seeks to criminalise the work of civil society organisations promoting the rights of LGBTI persons through cancellation of their registration and punishment of the head of the organisation with seven years imprisonment. Other repugnant provisions of the bill include punishment by death for HIV infected persons if they have sexual relations with a person of the same gender; life imprisonment for attempting to contract a marriage with a person of the same gender; extradition to Uganda of citizens or permanent residents if they have sexual relations with a person of the same gender; and enhanced punishment of life imprisonment for sexual relations between people of the same gender. http://civicus.org/media-centre/press-releases/archieve/474--civicus-condemns-the-ugandan-anti-homosexuality-bill )
Amy Bartlett, the Global Coordinator of the Open Forum for CSO Development Effectiveness, a unique global initiative working to strengthen and enhance the effectiveness of civil society in development initiatives, speaks to CIVICUS about her work.
The Open Forum has been coordinating a collective civil society voice on development effectiveness over the last couple of years. Can you tell us about this process?
The Open Forum for CSO Development Effectiveness is a unique space for CSOs (Civil Society Organisations) worldwide to engage in a global and fully participatory process towards defining and introducing a framework of mutually shared development effectiveness principles. Through the Open Forum, which will be operating from 2009 until the 4th High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness in 2011, CSOs are striving to build a consensus on commonly accepted principles to improve their development effectiveness and on minimum standards for an enabling environment where CSOs can fully apply and strengthen their specific roles in development. This framework will take account of CSO development visions, approaches, relationships and the impact of their actions. To develop this framework, the Open Forum is also facilitating multi-stakeholder dialogues with and among CSOs, donors and governments on these issues at country, regional and international levels.
CIVICUS has had the opportunity to study the draft sustainability framework and in particular the draft Policy on Social and Environmental Sustainability put together by the IFC. Although there are some improvements in the current draft over the existing 2006 policy, we are deeply concerned that the draft falls far short of the standards recommended by Professor John Ruggie, the UN Secretary General’s Special Representative on the issue of human rights and transnational and other business enterprises (UN Framework on Business and Human Rights)
CIVICUS condemns the arrest and detainment of Andrey Yurov, Head of the International Observation Mission of the Committee on International Control over the Human Rights Situation in Belarus. Currently, he is in the process of being deported from the country. CIVICUS laments the ongoing crackdown on civil society in Belarus and calls the international community to find effective means ensuring that legitimate civil society has a place in Belarus. Human rights defenders such as Andrey Yurov should not be menaced with constant surveillance and groundless deportation.
Rowena McNaughton interviews human rights activist and director of Arab NGO Network for Development, Ziad Abdel Samad.
As citizens of Tunisia and Egypt successfully demand an end to totalitarian leadership, veteran human rights activist in the Arab region, Ziad Abdel Samad, says the events have already been a catalyst for widespread democratic change in the Arab region and there is no going back.
Q1. What broader implications does the stepping down of leaders in Tunisia and Egypt have for the Middle Eastern region?
It’s very important to note that something very important is happening in the region. Changes in Tunisia have had an impact, but it’s the changes in Egypt which have had a greater influence, simply because Egypt carries a lot of weight in terms of regional geo-politics.
Also, now civil society is more confident of its power and, of course, its capacity to enforce change. This will also affect the vision and role of Arab civil society in general. In the last decade there has been a lot of oppression on CS in general but now we see CS has the power and can mobilise and society can feel this power - they can take control. More power will affect the vision of CS in other countries.
From my perspective, a lot has already changed in the region. But we have to bear in mind we are in a very challenging situation and the process has not ended yet. We have to remember the process is ongoing. For democratic change, an important step has been achieved by imposing the resignation of the president, but we now have to keep on going and we must keep up the pressure and ensure sustainability of the changes and that the right changes are made to the constitution, electoral law,….there needs to be a lot of effort and time and we can not let the process slow down.
I believe the changes in Egypt will lead to change in other countries in the (Arab) region even if it does not change the people in power. Regional and foreign policies will be revised as well. Even if the main objective of the revolution has been focusing on social and economic justice and political freedom and liberties, there are going to have to be changes in long-held global affiliations.
Now all leaders (in the region) will have to reconsider their policies as they are aware and feel the threats. They will have to start improving policies - particularly social and economic, and will have to open space for political participation, including for civil society.
Q2. Are you seeing any changes happen?
A. Yes. In many countries measures are taken to slow down the popular anger from the social and economic conditions and from the lack of political liberties and freedom as well. Like in Syria just two days ago, Facebook was allowed for the first time in three years. In Kuwait and in Bahrain, the government has started distributing money and food aid for each family. In Jordan the king changed the government and issued a decree to subsidise gasoline during the cold season. Even in Yemen, the president has released many statements and declared that he would not run for the presidency in the next election and will not allow transition of power to his son .. However all these are changes that came before the beginning of the protest.
In Bahrain, although the situation is tense, protests started last week. In Yemen they started protesting as well. Under the pressure of popular movement the process will now go faster and further.
However the situation in many Arab countries is not the same as in Egypt. In Egypt the political situation and the society is more coherent, Divides are more social based not religious and tribal which are harder to move. In countries like Yemen the tribal system can be used to protect power since they can always use tribal divides to weaken popular pressure. The same in Bahrain, the confessional divide can be used to protect the king.
Johannesburg. 1 February 2011. President Hosni Mubarak is still clinging onto power despite continuing unprecedented protests caused by widespread dissatisfaction in Egypt against his 30 years of authoritarian rule.
Olga Zakharova, Eurasia Idea Network Correspondent
Civil Society representatives from 27 OSCE member countries sent an appeal for urgent action in response to the human rights crisis in Belarus to the embassies of OSCE member countries. The appeal includes a petition to initiate the Moscow Mechanism for independent monitoring. More than 100 organisations have already signed the petition.
Ingrid Srinath, Secretary General, CIVICUS Speaking during the session 'Insights on India' Ingrid shared her concerns about the government's inability to keep its promises. "Despite the government's pledges to the contrary, growth in India had not been inclusive.