elections

 

  • Turkmenistan’s elections under cloud as civil society faces total clampdown

    Global civil society alliance CIVICUS, the International Partnership for Human Rights (IPHR) and the Turkmen Initiative for Human Rights (TIHR) today highlight a near total absence of civic space in Turkmenistan, as the country prepares to go to the polls for presidential elections this Sunday, 12 February 2017.

     

  • UGANDA: ‘No candidate can possibly win the election without young people’s votes’

    CIVICUS speaks with Mohammed Ndifuna, Executive Director of Justice Access Point-Uganda (JAP). Established in 2018, JAP aims to kickstart, reignite and invigorate justice efforts in the context of Uganda’s stalled transitional justice process, its challenges implementing recommendations from its first and second United Nations Human Rights Council Universal Periodic Reviews and the backlash by African states against the International Criminal Court.

    Mohammed is an experienced and impassioned human rights defender and peacebuilder with over 15 years of activism in human rights and atrocity prevention at the grassroots, national and international levels. He was awarded the 2014 European Union Human Rights Award for Uganda, has served on the Steering Committee of The Coalition for the Criminal Court (2007-2018) and the Advisory Board of the Human Rights House Network in Oslo (2007-2012), and currently serves on the Management Committee of The Uganda National Committee of Prevention of Genocide and Mass Atrocities.

     Mohammed Ndifuna

    What is the state of civic space in Uganda ahead of the much-anticipated 2021 elections?

    Civic space in Uganda may be characterised as harassed, stifled and starved. It would seem like civil society has been on a slippery slope of sorts, with things turning from bad to worse. For instance, civil society organisations (CSOs) have witnessed a wave of brazen attacks against their physical space in the form of office break-ins and broad-daylight workplace raids. In the meantime, there seems to be no let-up in the waves of attacks against CSOs, and especially against those involved in human rights and accountability advocacy. Over the past few years, an array of legislation and administrative measures has been unleashed against CSOs and others, including the Public Order Management Act (2012) and the NGO Act (2016).

    Ahead of the general and presidential elections, which will be held on 14 January 2021, the Minister of Internal Affairs has ordered all CSOs to go through a mandatory validation and verification process before they are allowed to operate. Many CSOs have not been able to go through it: by 19 October 2020, only 2,257 CSOs had successfully completed the verification and validation exercise, including just a few that do mainstream advocacy work on governance.

    Ugandan CSOs are largely donor-dependent and had already been struggling with shrinking financial resources, severely affecting the scope of their work. This situation became compounded by the COVID-19 outbreak and the lockdown that was imposed in response, all of which impaired CSO efforts to mobilise resources. Therefore, these three forces – harassment, restrictions and limited access to funding – have combined to weaken CSOs, pushing most of them into self-preservation mode.

    The stakes for the 2021 elections seem to be higher than in previous years. What has changed?

    The situation started to change in July 2019, when Robert Kyagulanyi, better known by his stage name, Bobi Wine, announced his bid to run for president as the candidate of the opposition National Unity Platform. Bobi Wine is a singer and actor who is also an activist and a politician. As a leader of the People Power, Our Power movement, he was elected to parliament in 2017.

    Bobi’s appeal among young people is enormous, and let’s keep in mind that more than 75 per cent of Uganda’s population is below the age of 30. This makes young people a significant group to be wowed. No candidate can possibly win the Ugandan election without having the biggest chunk of young people’s votes. In the upcoming presidential race, it is Bobi Wine who appears most able to galvanise young people behind his candidature. Although not an experienced politician, Bobi is a charismatic firebrand who has been able to attract not just young people but also many politicians from traditional political parties into his mass movement.

    Bobi Wine, long known as the ‘Ghetto President’, has taken advantage of his appeal as a popular music star to belt out political songs to mobilise people, and his roots in the ghetto also guarantee him an appeal in urban areas. It is believed that he has motivated many young people to register to vote, so voter apathy among young people may turn out to be lower in comparison to past elections.

    Given the ongoing cut-throat fight for young people’s votes, it is no surprise that the security apparatus has been unleashed against young people in an apparent attempt to stem the pressure they are exerting. Political activists linked to People Power have been harassed and, in some instances, killed. People Power’s political leaders have been intermittently arrested and arraigned in courts or allegedly kidnapped and tortured in safe houses. In an apparent attempt to make in-roads into the ranks of urban young people, President Yoweri Museveni has appointed three senior presidential advisors from the ghetto. This raises the spectre of ghetto gangster groups and violence playing a role in the upcoming presidential elections.

    Restrictions on the freedom of expression and internet use have been reported in previous elections. Are we likely to see a similar trend now?

    We are already seeing it. Restrictions on the freedoms of expression and information are a valid concern not just because of hindsight, but also given recent developments. For instance, on 7 September 2020 the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) issued a public notice stating that anyone wishing to publish information online needs to apply for and obtain a licence from the UCC before 5 October 2020. This will mostly affect online users, such as bloggers, who are paid for published content. Obviously, this is meant to stifle young people’s political activities online. And it is also particularly concerning because, as public gatherings are restricted due to COVID-19 prevention measures, online media will be the only method of campaigning that is allowed ahead of the 2021 elections.

    There is also increasing electronic surveillance, and the possibility of a shutdown of social media platforms on the eve of the elections may not be too remote.

    How has the COVID-pandemic affected civil society and its ability to respond to civic space restrictions?

    The COVID-19 pandemic and the measures taken in response have exacerbated the already precarious state in which the CSOs find themselves. For instance, civil society capacity to organise public assemblies and peaceful demonstrations in support of fundamental rights and freedoms or to protest against their violation has been restricted by the manner in which COVID-19 standard operating procedures (SOPs) have been enforced. This has resulted in the commission of blatant violations and onslaughts against civic space. For instance, on 17 October 2020, the Uganda Police Force and the Local Defense Units jointly raided thanksgiving prayers being held in Mityana district and wantonly tear gassed the congregation, which included children, women, men, older people and religious leaders, for allegedly flouting COVID-19 SOPs.

    As the enforcement of COVID-19 SOPs gets intertwined with election pressure, it is feared that the clampdown on the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association will be aggravated. Regrettably, CSOs already find themselves restricted.

    How can international civil society help Ugandan civil society?

    The situation in which Ugandan civil society finds itself is such that it requires the urgent support and response of the international community. There is a need to turn the eyes towards what is happening in Uganda and to speak up to amplify the voices of a local civil society that is increasingly being stifled. More specifically, Ugandan CSOs could be supported so they can better respond to blatant violations of freedoms, mitigate the risks that their work entails and enhance their resilience in the current context.

    Civic space inUganda is rated repressedby the CIVICUS Monitor.
    Get in touch with Justice Access Point through itswebsite orFacebook page, and follow@JusticessP on Twitter.

     

  • Uganda: Egregious measures threaten free and fair elections

    Urgent joint civil society letter on Ugandan Elections taking place on 14 January 2020

    To the: African Commission and United Nations Special Procedures
    ACHPR Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders 
    ACHPR Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression
    UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression
    UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders
    UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions 
    UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention 

    cc: United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
    Regional and International Heads of State and Government 

    Re: Egregious and widespread pre-electoral violence, intimidation and repressive measures threaten free and fair electoral process in Uganda

    Uganda is set to hold Presidential and Parliamentary general elections on January 14th, 2021. The undersigned organisations are deeply concerned with the rapidly deteriorating human rights situation in the country and submit this urgent appeal to your respective mandates under the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights and United Nations (UN) to urge the Government of Uganda to adhere to its constitutional, regional and international obligations, particularly during this critical electoral period. 

    Over the last few months, we have noted an escalation of violations that has created a climate of unprecedented fear and intimidation by State security and other regulators, seemingly intended to silence dissent, undermine political opposition participation 1, and deprive Ugandans of their enjoyment of fundamental rights; in particular, the right to freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly. Security forces have adopted the use of excessive and deadly force to quell public gatherings and intimidate the public, especially human rights defenders, journalists, opposition politicians and their supporters, and vulnerable groups such as women and youth.

    Credible human rights organisations and media institutions have documented numerous cases of mass arrests and abductions of civilians, which are becoming more of a daily occurrence 2. In addition, COVID-19 related prevention measures have been exploited to unduly restrict civil and political rights and other fundamental freedoms. In the months leading to the election, authorities arrested opposition party leaders, journalists, and dispersed opposition campaign rallies with teargas for allegedly violating COVID-19 guidelines 3. On the other hand, authorities in a partisan manner, allowed certain rallies organised by the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) to continue unhindered 4.

     Covering the political opposition has become an unacceptably dangerous job for journalists, who have been assaulted numerous times by security personnel. For example, on December 27 at least three journalists -- Daniel Lutaaya, Ashraf Kasirye, and Ali Mivuli-- were injured by projectiles fired by police 5. Kasirye remained hospitalized at the time of publication. In early December, police beat at least six journalists who were covering opposition candidate Robert Kyagulanyi in Lira 6 and fired a rubber bullet at another journalist in Jinja 7. In a December 27 statement 8, police said they would investigate attacks on journalists, a commitment that was deeply undermined on January 8, when the Inspector General of Police, Martin Okoth Ochola, told journalists that police were beating them for their own safety 9.

    Regulators have sought to further restrict media access and coverage during the electoral period. In December, the Media Council of Uganda issued guidelines, requiring all foreign journalists in Uganda to reapply for accreditation; introducing a more stringent regime for accreditation of journalists seeking entry into Uganda; and barring all local journalists from covering political events without credentials 10. The Uganda Communications Commission in December wrote to Google, asking for the take-down of opposition aligned YouTube pages 11. On January 12 Reuters 12 and AFP 13 news agencies reported that the regulator ordered Internet Service Providers to block access to social media platforms. In a speech 14, Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni claimed the shutdown of social media platforms was retaliatory to an earlier measure by Facebook, which took down government-linked accounts for allegedly manipulating public debate 15.

    Human rights defenders and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) play an important role in promoting an enabling environment for the respect and protection of human rights. In relation to elections, they support institutional processes in areas such as voter education, independent election monitoring and helping to reduce election-related conflict. Despite this critical role, organisations such as the Uganda National NGO Forum and Uganda Women’s Network (UWONET) that were engaging in election-related activities such as polling have had their bank accounts arbitrarily frozen following allegations of money-laundering 16. Prominent human rights lawyer Nicholas Opiyo along with four others were arrested last month on similar money-laundering allegations 17. Another striking example is the suspension of the National Election Watch-Uganda (NEW-U), a loose coalition of largely formal NGOs engaged in election monitoring, by the National Bureau of NGOs, allegedly for non-registration 18.

    In light of the numerous and widespread violations that have been observed, particularly over the past several weeks, there is a strong justification to be concerned over the fairness and integrity of the upcoming elections. 

    This appeal calls on the UN and African Commission special procedures to exercise their mandates to urge the government of Uganda to adopt all reasonable safeguards to enable Ugandans to participate in the election free of violence and intimidation, and to abandon all efforts to restrict the media from freely reporting on the electoral process. Ugandan security forces must refrain from the excessive use of force against civilians and refrain from arbitrary arrests and detention as a means to silence persons critical of the State. Anyone arrested must be afforded the full due process of the law, including a prompt, free and fair trial. Perpetrators of election related violations that have occurred in recent months must be held accountable and effective remedies afforded to the victims.

    We further call on you to strongly urge the government of Uganda to embrace the fundamental right to political participation and to observe the cardinal principles of transparency, accountability, fairness and non-discrimination in collecting, processing, registering and reporting of the votes. In addition, the Ugandan government must allow independent organisations to freely and safely conduct election monitoring to help safeguard the general election process from electoral misconduct and instill public confidence in the integrity of the process.

    Finally, we call on you to remind member States of the African Union and United Nations and other multinational organisations to uphold their treaty obligations and hold Uganda accountable to its own constitution, regional and international obligations, ensuring adherence to the principles of a free and just democratic society. 

    We thank you for your attention to these pressing issues that carry with them serious implications for the rule of law and respect for fundamental freedoms in Uganda, as well as the East African sub-region more generally, and stand ready to provide any further information.

    Sincerely, 

    Access Now
    African Centre for Democracy and Human Rights Studies (ACDHRS)
    African Freedom of Expression Exchange (AFEX)
    ARTICLE 19 - Eastern Africa 
    Association Nigérienne des Scouts de l'Environnement (ANSEN)
    Association for Human Rights in Ethiopia (AHRE)
    Center for Civil Liberties (Ukraine) 
    CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance
    Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI)
    Eastern Africa Journalists Network (EAJNet)
    Ethiopian Human Rights Defenders Center (EHRDC)
    MARUAH, Singapore
    Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA)
    Network of Estonian Non-profit Organizations
    Network of Public Interest Lawyers, Uganda  
    Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights
    ROSE (Réseau des Organisations de la Société Civile pour l'Observation et le Suivi des Élections en Guinée), Guinea
    Odhikar, Bangladesh
    Somali Journalists Syndicate (SJS)
    Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network
    Spaces for Change, Nigeria
    Uganda National NGO Forum
    Vijana Corps, Uganda
    Womankind Worldwide 
    Zambia Council for Social Development (ZCSD)


    1. The Independent, NUP accuses security of targeting their supporters during night operations, November 24, 2020, available at https://www.independent.co.ug/nup-accuses-security-of-targeting-their-supporters-during-night-operations/.

    2.  Id.See also NTV Youtube broadcaST, Mukono residents cry out, some now sleep in the bush in fear of arrest, January 6, 2021, available at  https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=mukono+residents+cry+out. Relatedly see Daily Monitor, Two NUP candidates, four supporters go missing in Mpigi District, available at https://www.monitor.co.ug/uganda/news/national/two-nup-candidates-four-supporters-go-missing-in-mpigi-district-3251388.

    3. Human Rights Watch, Uganda: Authorities weaponize covid-19 for repression, November 20, 2020, available at https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/11/20/uganda-authorities-weaponize-covid-19-repression.

     4. Id.

    5. Committee to Protect Journalists, Police beat, detain journalists covering opposition candidates ahead of Uganda elections, January 7, 2021, available at https://cpj.org/2021/01/police-beat-detain-journalists-covering-opposition-candidates-ahead-of-uganda-elections/.

    6. Human Rights Network for Journalists- Uganda, Journalists covering presidential candidate Kyagulanyi brutally attacked by security forces, December 12, 2020, available at https://www.hrnjuganda.org/journalists-covering-presidential-candidate-kyagulanyi-brutally-attacked-by-security-forces/.

    7. Foreign Correspondents Association Uganda, Tweet, December 2, 2020, available at https://twitter.com/fcauganda/status/1334184041722093568?lang=en.

    8. Uganda Police Force, Statement on violent fracas at Kyabakuza, December 27, 2020, available at https://www.upf.go.ug/statement-on-violent-fracas-at-kyabakuza/.

    9. Daily Monitor, Police will beat you for own safety, ICP Ochola tells journalists, January 8, 2021, available at https://www.monitor.co.ug/uganda/news/national/police-will-beat-you-for-own-safety-igp-ochola-tells-journalists-3251102.

    10. International Press Institute, Uganda orders journalists to seek fresh accreditation, December 11, 2020, https://ipi.media/uganda-orders-journalists-to-seek-fresh-accreditation/.

    11. Accessnow, KeepItOn: Uganda must #KeepITOn during the upcoming general election, January 11, 2021, available at, https://www.accessnow.org/cms/assets/uploads/2021/01/KeepItOn-open-letter-uganda-general-election.pdf.

    12. Reuters, Uganda orders all social media to be blocked -letter, January 12, 2021, available at https://www.reuters.com/article/us-uganda-election-social-media/uganda-orders-all-social-media-to-be-blocked-letter-idUSKBN29H1E7

    13. Rfi, Uganda bans social media ahead of election, Bobi Wine says home raided, January 12 2021, available at https://www.rfi.fr/en/africa/20210112-uganda-bans-social-media-ahead-of-election-bobi-wine-says-home-raided-yoweri-museveni.

    14. NTV Uganda, Facebook, January 12, 2021, available at https://web.facebook.com/169252986456497/videos/401297207829849.

    15. DW, Uganda elections: Facebook shuts down government-linked accounts, January 11, 2021, available at https://www.dw.com/en/uganda-elections-facebook-shuts-down-government-linked-accounts/a-56195067.

    16. Daily Monitor, Govt freezes accounts of 4 NGOs doing poll work, December 2, 2020, available at https://www.monitor.co.ug/uganda/special-reports/elections/govt-freezes-accounts-of-4-ngos-doing-poll-work-3216360.

    17. The Guardian, Uganda charges leading lawyer for LGBT rights with money laundering, December 24, 2020, available at, https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2020/dec/24/uganda-charges-leading-lawyer-for-lgbt-rights-with-money-laundering-nicholas-opiyo

    18. URN, Government suspends operations of national Election Watch Uganda, October 29, 2020, available at https://ugandaradionetwork.net/story/government-suspends-operations-of-national-election-watch-uganda.

     

  • UNITED STATES: ‘The 2020 election is a political and moral mandate against fascism’

    CIVICUS speaks about voter suppression and its implications for US democracy with Yael Bromberg, Chief Counsel for Voting Rights at The Andrew Goodman Foundation, an organisation thatworks to make the voices of young people – one of the most underrepresented voter groups in the USA – a powerful force for democracy. The Foundation was set up in 1966 to carry on the spirit and the purpose of Andy Goodman, who in 1964 joined Freedom Summer, a project aimed at registering Black Americans to vote to dismantle segregation and oppression, and who was murdered by the Ku Klux Klan on his first day in Mississippi. The Foundation supports youth leadership development, voting accessibility and social justice initiatives in almost a hundred higher learning institutions across the country.

    Yael Bromberg

    It is confusing for outside observers to see a country that promotes itself as the paragon of democracy put barriers that limit the right to vote of millions of its citizens. Can you tell us more about voter suppression in the USA?

    It's true that the USA has promoted itself as a beacon of democracy. As an immigrant and naturalised citizen whose grandparents survived the Holocaust and Soviet gulags, I appreciate some of the unique freedoms that are afforded in this country. For example, while our judicial system is currently under serious threat due to the politicisation and polarisation of the bench, it has generally withstood the type of corruption that is embedded in other countries. While our legal system is fraught and certain norms like extremist police impunity need to be tackled, our congressional system is able, if willing, to fill the gaps left by the judiciary. While big money, including dark money, has radically swamped our politics, serious advocates who have withstood far worse teach us that democracy is a long persistent journey and not a destination. Yes, we have systemic issues in this country that need serious repair, and real lives suffer due to the dysfunction of the tyranny of a minority. But we also have the founding American principles of freedom, liberty, and equality, and the possibility of fulfilling our ideal.

    At this nation’s founding, only property-owning white men had the right to vote. Through the constitutional ratification process, slavery was abolished and freed men were enfranchised. Unjust laws persisted, such as literacy tests and poll taxes for racial minorities to prevent them from voting. This was coupled with other Jim Crow laws that created arbitrary reasons to imprison freed slaves and force them back into labour camps, and to disenfranchise them upon release. Popular resistance grew as the physical and political violence of Jim Crow segregation was laid bare in the 1960s, leading to stronger laws and new constitutional amendments.

    Voter suppression today is the equivalent of the fox guarding the henhouse. Those who are privileged enough to define the laws determine who is in and who is out. For example, strict voter identification laws that go above and beyond standard proof of identification swept the nation after the election of President Obama. Alabama enacted strict voter identification, and then shut down driver licence offices where one could obtain such IDs throughout large rural sections of the state where Black people reside. Politicians draw district lines in efforts to secure their own party’s future, and their personal future bids for office. Polling places are not readily available on college campuses where young people are concentrated. Even during a global pandemic, vote-by-mail is not a universal right for all. While one state, New Jersey, offers at least 10 droboxes per town to collect vote-by-mail ballots, another, Texas, litigated the matter successfully to limit droboxes to only one per county. To make matters worse, when these laws are litigated, the courts do not always rule on behalf of the voters.

    This 2020 election season has been particularly startling. The federal judiciary seems obsessed with the idea that last-minute changes to election rules lead to voter suppression, even where the law expands access to the ballot. This defies logic. If the law limits access, that is one thing. However, if the law simply expands access, the harm to voters is unclear.

    The natural question that emerges from our paradigm is: if America truly is a beacon for democracy, then why are we so afraid to embrace the first three words in our Constitution – “We the People”?

    Was voter suppression a crucial issue in the context of the 2020 presidential election?

    Absolutely. The 2020 presidential election reveals at least five significant takeaways: 1) Our state governments are readily able to safely expand access to the ballot, including by extending early voting periods and vote by mail opportunities; 2) Voters across partisan lines take advantage of these mechanisms, and benefit from them, as demonstrated by the record-breaking voter turnout this year; 3) Expansion and election modernisation do not lead to voter fraud; 4) Voters were motivated to vote this year despite the discriminatory and arbitrary obstacles that were put in their way; 5) The myth of voter fraud, rather than actual systemic evidence of it, has emerged as a significant threat both to protecting access to the ballot and public confidence in our election systems.

    In 2013, the Supreme Court eviscerated a key sunshine provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. That safeguard mandated that states with a demonstrated history of voter suppression must get approval before changing their election laws. With the safeguard eliminated, the floodgates to voter suppression were open. The number of polling places shrank: 1,700 polling places were shut down between 2012 and 2018, including over 1,100 between the 2014 and 2018 midterm elections. Strict voter identification laws were passed, making it harder for poor people, people of colour and young people to vote. Other measures like the purging of state voter rolls and the rezoning of election districts further diluted voting power. It’s important to note that all of this happens on the back of the taxpayers – they foot the bill for the backlogged judiciary and the prevailing party’s litigation fees, and on the back of voters – they are forced to accept the results of a rigged election system even though the voter suppression law might be overturned in the future.

    The thin, fake trumpet of voter fraud has caused a clamping down on rights across the board. There was no reason why, especially amid a pandemic, access to vote-by-mail should not be universal. Yet, eight states only allowed voters over a certain age to vote by mail, but not younger voters. The pandemic does not discriminate, and neither should our electoral system. Similarly, the United States Postal Service was suddenly politicised as it became increasingly obvious that voters would be voting by mail at unprecedented rates. Discussions were renewed about its privatisation, and expensive mail sorting machines were ordered to be dismantled for no reason other than to suppress the vote. In the wake of the election, the Trump campaign has done much harm to delegitimise the results, even though not one shred of evidence of voter fraud was revealed in the over 50 lawsuits challenging the outcome of the election. This has been an extraordinary disservice to the country, as it has convinced a substantial base within one political party to question the outcome of an election that the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency has declared “the most secure in American history.”

    As all of this has taken place, the pandemic has also driven an expansion of access in key respects. Even some Republican-led states demonstrated leadership in expanding the early voting period and access to vote-by-mail systems. We must use this as a learning opportunity to push for common sense election modernisation, so it is not a pandemic-related, one-off thing. COVID-19 has normalised election modernisation from a fringe progressive issue to a mainstream one that empowers voters across the political spectrum. Moreover, while the Trump campaign’s endless unsubstantiated lawsuits may play to a certain base of voters, one wonders if they will cause the judiciary to be finally convinced that voter fraud is not pervasive. This is important because invariably, we will see voter suppression state laws introduced in the wake of this election, just as we saw following the 2008 Obama election, and they will certainly lead to legal challenges. Perhaps the courts will respond to such challenges differently this time around in light of the audit of the 2020 race.

    As much as voter suppression was present this cycle, the response was to overwhelm the system with voter engagement. As expected, election turnout was unprecedentedly high. Initial estimates indicate that youth turnout was even higher this cycle than when the voting age was lowered to 18 in 1971 and the base of newly eligible voters suddenly expanded. We simply cannot afford the voter apathy that we have seen in years past. In 2016, there were wins by razor-thin margins in three key states: Michigan, by 0.2 per cent, Pennsylvania, by 0.7 per cent and Wisconsin, by 0.8 per cent. Voter suppression can certainly be called into question with these types of slim margins. However, we cannot forget the power of voting: about 43 per cent of the eligible voter population did not vote in 2016. Current estimates indicate that approximately 34 per cent of the eligible voter population – about one in three voters – did not participate in 2020. How do we maintain this new record-setting voting rate, and even improve upon it, once fascism is no longer on the ballot?

    Can you tell us about the work done by The Andrew Goodman Foundation on the intersection of the two major issues of voting rights and systemic racism?

    The Andrew Goodman Foundation’s mission is to make young voices and votes a powerful force in democracy. Our Vote Everywhere programme is a national nonpartisan civic engagement and social justice movement led by young people on campuses across the country. The programme provides extensive training, resources and a peer network, while our Andrew Goodman Ambassadors register young voters, break down voting barriers and tackle important social justice issues. We are on nearly 100 campuses across the nation, and maintain a diverse docket of campuses, including People of Color Serving Institutions such as Historically Black Colleges and Universities.

    What is powerful about youth organising and voting is that it crosses all lines – sex, race, national origin and even partisanship. This was born out of the history of the expansion of the youth vote in 1971, when the 26th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified, thereby lowering the voting age to 18 and outlawing age discrimination in access to the franchise. It was the quickest amendment to be ratified in US history, in large part due to its nearly unanimous support across partisan lines. There was a recognition that young voters help safeguard the moral compass of the country, as recognised by then-President Richard Nixon during the ceremonial signing of the amendment.

    Andrew Goodman’s legacy is directly tied to solidarity struggles among and between communities for the betterment of the whole. Throughout the 1960s, Black college students in the south courageously sat at white-owned lunch counters in political protest for integration and equality. In May 1964, young Americans from across the country migrated south during Freedom Summer to register Black voters and overturn Jim Crow segregation. Three young civil rights workers were murdered by the Ku Klux Klan with the help of the county sheriff’s office: Andy Goodman and Mickey Schwerner, both Jewish men from New York who were only 20 and 24 years old, and James Chaney, a Black man from Mississippi who was only 21 years old. Their stories struck a public chord that helped galvanise support for the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. It is a story about the power of young visionaries fighting for their futures, allyship, and about the power of what can be accomplished when Americans from different backgrounds come together in unity.

    Young activists led various social justice movements of the 1960s, just as they do today. When this country responded and enacted critical reforms, young people finally turned to their own enfranchisement as they were being sent to their graves early in endless war in Vietnam. Today, young people are leading the call for climate justice, for gun control, for human dignity for our Black and immigrant communities, and for affordable higher education. They have the most to gain and lose in our elections, because it is they who inherit the future. They recognise, particularly in light of the nation’s changing demographics, that the issue of youth voting rights is a racial justice issue. The more that we can look to the youth vote as a unifier – because all voters were young once – the more we can hope to inject some common sense into a contested and polarised system.

    Civic space in the USA is rated as ‘obstructed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.
    Get in touch with the Andrew Goodman Foundation through itswebsite orFacebook page, and follow@AndrewGoodmanF and@YaelBromberg on Twitter.

     

     

  • Upcoming UN review critical moment for Malawi to address civic freedom gaps

    CIVICUS, the Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR) and the Centre for the Development of People (CEDEP) call on UN member states to urge the Government of Malawi to double its efforts to protect civic freedoms as its human rights record is examined by the UN Human Rights Council on 3 November 2020 as part of the 36th session of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR). 

    At the county’s second UPR five years ago, UN member states made 53 recommendations that directly related to civic space. Malawi subsequently committed to taking concrete measures to protect freedom of assembly by ensuring that relevant constitutional provisions relating to freedom of assembly are allowed to thrive without undue interference.  It also agreed to fully investigate all cases of harassment and intimidation of journalists and human rights defenders with a view to bringing the perpetrators to justice and to ensure the protection of human rights defenders. 

    In a joint submission to this UPR cycle, our organisations assessed the implementation of these recommendations and compliance with international human rights law and standards over the last five years. Since Malawi’s second UPR, the authorities routinely restricted freedoms of assembly, association and expression by violently dispersing peaceful protests, arresting human rights defenders and targeting independent media outlets.  These restrictions on fundamental freedoms increased substantively after the controversial elections of May 2019.  In the aftermath of the elections, human rights defenders were subjected to smear campaigns, judicial persecution and detention by the authorities.  

    “Human rights defenders are, particularly under threat. Member states should take this opportunity to make recommendations to support them, including by calling on the Government of Malawi to enact a long-overdue specific law for the protection of Human Rights Defenders,” said Gift Trapence, Executive Director, Centre for the Development of People.

    The June 2020 elections and the coming to power of a new government presents an opportunity for Malawi to reset its human rights record and place the respect for the rule of law and fundamental freedoms at the centre of government actions and policies. In our joint UPR submission, we expressed concerns over the use of the NGO Act (2000), the Penal Code and the use of other legislation which limit the operations of CSOs.  The increase in registration fees for CSOs provided for in the Non-Governmental Organizations (Fees) Regulation and the requirement for CSOs to submit a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with relevant government ministries and departments increase the administrative burdens on CSOs and restrict their abilities to respond to the needs of communities in an agile manner. 

    Restrictive provisions in the Penal Code and the Cyber Security Law adopted in 2016 were used to limit freedom of expression and target journalists, bloggers and media houses.  The Penal Code provided for prison sentences to those found guilty of “insulting” the Head of State while the Cyber Crimes law allows for the imprisonment of those who simply post “offensive” content. In addition, there were several instances where journalists were subjected to judicial persecution while others were attacked by state and non-state actors. 

    The Malawian authorities must do more to protect journalists from state and non-state actors and create an enabling environment for journalists and independent media outlets to report on issues affecting citizens without fear of intimidation or harassment.  In August 2020 for example, two journalists from the independent Mibawa Television Station were subjected to threats, harassment and smear campaigns following utterances they made on-air about the Covid-19 pandemic.  Other journalists were threatened under similar circumstances for comments made about the pandemic. 

    The Operationalization of the Access to Information (ATI) law is a move in the right direction and will ensure that journalists and citizens will have access to information from state actors.  The operationalization of the ATI should be followed by an annulment of restrictive provisions in the Penal Code and the Cyber Crimes Law to enhance freedom of expression and media freedoms. 

    “We are concerned that all of the recommendations Malawi accepted during the previous UPR review relating to journalists and human rights defenders have not been implemented. This highlights the need to reiterate to Malawi that its continued disregard of the rights of journalists and human rights defenders remains unacceptable.  It also highlights the need keep a close eye on the human rights situation in Malawi after the outcome of the review has been adopted to ensure compliance with the recommendations,” said Michael Kaiyatsa, Acting Executive Director of the Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation.  

    The examination of Malawi will take place during the 36th Session of the UPR. The UPR is a process, in operation since 2008, which examines the human rights records of all 193 UN Member States every four and a half years. The review is an interactive dialogue between the State delegation and members of the Council and addresses a broad range of human rights topics. Following the review, a report and recommendations are prepared, which is discussed and adopted at the following session of the Human Rights Council. 


    Civic space in Malawi is rated as ‘obstructed’ by the CIVICUS Monitor

     

  • VENEZUELA: ‘We need a multilateral, flexible and creative approach from the international community’

    CIVICUS speaks with Feliciano Reyna, founder and president of Acción Solidaria, a Venezuelan civil society organisation (CSO) established in 1995 with the mission to contribute to reducing the social impact of the HIV epidemic. As a result of the multiple crises facing Venezuela, Acción Solidaria has expanded its scope of action and provides medicines and medical supplies to wider vulnerable populations.

    Feliciano Reyna

    How has the current crisis come about in Venezuela?

    A process of dismantling the rule of law has taken place over several years and is still ongoing. The judiciary has long ceased to be independent and now operates according to the interests of the government. Added to this is a high level of corruption. Many documents and reports, such as a recent one by the United Nations (UN) Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Venezuela, describe how a non-independent justice structure was put in place, taking advantage of the opacity of public data and discretionary state management.

    As a result, many people, acting in their own interest, destroyed the economic and productive apparatus. Nowadays the Venezuelan economy is 20 per cent of the size it was in 2013. This has impacted on poverty levels, the quality of public services and the resulting lack of protection.

    An initial period of enormous income, lasting many years, allowed for a great waste of wealth, with resources reaching the major groups that supported Hugo Chávez’s government, from 2005 to 2013. But money was just spent on individual benefits, not invested in public services. Thus, little by little, the public sector was left in a state of total abandonment: hospitals, roads, lighting, electrical system, water distribution. Everything is pretty much destroyed. There are about four million people who cook with firewood or charcoal because they don’t receive gas. Where I live, we get water once a week for 24 hours, and sometimes we don’t get water for two or three weeks.

    There was a major shift in the global economy, with a sharp drop in oil prices coinciding with Chávez’s last days in office. When Nicolás Maduro took power in 2013, the fragility of a regime largely based on Chávez’s personality was exposed. Maduro’s victory triggered political protests because his mandate was questioned, and very harsh repressive practices were adopted in response. The situation has deteriorated ever since, leading to the current human rights crisis. CSOs have documented arbitrary detentions, torture and cruel treatment under detention. There has been a sustained attack on dissent and political opponents. Anyone in a position of power who is viewed as a political threat is taken out of play.

    The years between 2014 and 2016 were terrible. In addition to human rights violations, there was widespread harm caused to the population in terms of health, nutrition, access to water, education and other rights. As the economy deteriorated, there began to be many social protests, not for political reasons but regarding income, lack of resources, power cuts, lack of transportation and public services, and so on. With two major exceptions – the 2017 and 2019 protest waves, in which people expressed political grievances – the vast majority of protests have been social protests, not ideological ones, through which many people who ultimately supported and voted for the government expressed their discontent.

    While the attack on opposition and dissent has driven many into exile, economic shortages have led to a massive emigration wave. More than four million Venezuelans have emigrated, including many professionals, teachers and doctors, further weakening service delivery systems.

    What is the context in which civil society works?

    There state has been greatly weakened and is unable to control all the territory under its jurisdiction, so it has handed over control to other groups. Power is increasingly in the hands of local parastate actors who enjoy small bubbles of well-being within the context of immense poverty in which the vast majority of the population lives.

    Because of the weakening of the state and the deterioration of the oil industry, which has always been the main source of national income, the government has opened some spaces for a freer economy. That means that in order to serve the populations we work with, we have been able to import medicines and supplies thanks to international cooperation. Our international donors send us supplies or pay for transportation so that we can receive them, using a door-to-door delivery system.

    Since 2017 Acción Solidaria has brought in almost 240 tons of aid. We have grown from nine staff in 2016 to 40 in 2021. Every week about 120 people come to the offices of Acción Solidaria to seek medicine. Most of them are women and people with very little resources, over 55 years old. The things they need may be available in the parallel economy, but at prices they can’t afford.

    But the environment for civil society remains a high-risk one. Last year we experienced a raid by the Special Action Forces, the most fearsome command of the Bolivarian National Police. What they did to us was not an official operation but a criminal action. CSOs doing human rights advocacy are criminalised, and CSOs conducting humanitarian action face serious problems of access and are subject to extortion by these autonomised groups and paramilitary actors. We have become targets not because we are opponents or dissidents, but because we have coveted resources.

    One colleague of ours was imprisoned 160 days ago and five comrades from an organisation that works alongside the UN Refugee Agency were imprisoned for a month in a military facility.

    As the electoral process was underway, the government’s information networks among the population seemed to have become aware that government programmes – which transfer the equivalent of about US$4 a month to their beneficiaries – could not compete with the nearly US$60 that humanitarian organisations were transferring to people in their target populations, without demanding anything in return, simply as part of the humanitarian response. So they immediately stepped in and suspended the 38 humanitarian aid programmes that were making cash transfers.

    Following the elections, the transfer ecosystem has started to begin again, but so far only transfers from the Food and Agriculture Organization and UNICEF have been reactivated.

    How much popular support does the Maduro government have left? Did it have enough to win the November regional elections, or did it resort to fraud?

    In November 2021, regional elections were held to renew all executive and legislative seats in the country’s 23 federal entities and 335 municipalities. The official turnout was just over 40 per cent, and the government won 19 governorships, compared to four won by the opposition. The government also won 213 mayorships, but various opposition groups won 121, a not insignificant number.

    The conditions of electoral competition were set up well before the selection of candidates, the campaigns and the voting took place, as new members to the National Electoral Council (CNE) were appointed. The CSO Foro Cívico had proposed names of independent candidates for the CNE: people with a strong electoral background who could build a bridge of dialogue with the people in government who wanted a less authoritarian rule. This resulted in a more balanced CNE, with one independent rector and one from the opposition among the five full members, and three out of five alternates proposed by civil society. This allowed us to expect an election with greater legitimacy than previous ones.

    The electoral process was very tense. While there was no fraud in the sense that voting figures were changed, there was a lot of pressure and obstacles to prevent opposition supporters from voting. Leading opposition politicians were disqualified and unable to stand as candidates. The conditions in voting centres, including schedules, were altered for the government’s benefit, and many people were brought out to vote, despite the fact that the government no longer has the same mobilisation capacity as in previous elections. Turnout was low for several reasons: because millions of people have emigrated, and because many popular opposition figures were not taking part in the election.

    The opposition also bore a great deal of responsibility for this, because it viewed the elections with a lot of suspicion. Many of its key spokespeople were opposed to participating, and it did not reach the kind of broad agreements that would have allowed it to win as many as 10 or 12 governorships. In part, its growth was limited not just by the obstacles imposed by the government, but also by its own inability to reach an agreement.

    Still, it is important to emphasise that the playing field was not level. The opposition could have won more governorships than it did, but there was a clear limit to this. This was seen in Hugo Chávez’s home state of Barinas, which the government could not afford to lose to the opposition. An opposition candidate clearly won there, so after the fact the Supreme Court ruled that the winning candidate did not actually meet the conditions to be eligible to compete, and ordered a rerun.

    Faced with these limitations, which were foreseeable, there was a part of the opposition that from the beginning opposed participating in the elections and left the way open for many pro-government victories that might not otherwise have taken place.

    How consolidated is the Maduro regime, and what are the chances that a democratic transition can take place?

    A democratic transition does not seem to be an option in the short term. The opposition is very diverse and is dispersed both programmatically and in terms of its institutional approach, so it is questionable whether it would be able to govern if it had the opportunity right now.

    What lies ahead of us is a long trek through the desert. The government suffers from many weaknesses, but it has the support of China, Iran, Russia, Turkey, and a lot of political support from Cuba and other countries in the region, as is apparent in the UN Human Rights Council. Maduro’s government has adopted a deft approach in the image of these supportive states: despite corruption and lack of transparency, it has allowed an opening in the economy while keeping its repressive behaviour intact.

    The international support that the government receives is important and has been systematically underestimated, while the support received by the interim government led by Juan Guaidó has been overestimated. It has been said that he has the USA and 60 other countries on his side, but those who support him with real actions are in fact much fewer.

    For many in the opposition, the interim government has itself been a big problem, partly because it became associated with the Donald Trump administration, and partly because since the interim government was established what it did became the only thing that mattered, and the space of the National Assembly, which had enjoyed broad popular support, was abandoned.

    The interim government was prompted on the basis of Article 233 of the Venezuelan Constitution. Since by virtue of his fraudulent re-election in 2018 Maduro was not recognised by the opposition as a legitimate president, the opposition-dominated National Assembly proclaimed its president, who at the time was Juan Guaidó, as interim president of Venezuela. I think that the opposition should have continued to work through the National Assembly, an elected and legitimate body whose presidency alternated between the parties with the most votes. Evidence of corruption could have been collected and mechanisms sought to protect the country’s assets with the help of the international community.

    Instead, the opposition named itself as a legitimate government without having any control over internal processes. And when it took over, it set out expedited conditions and deadlines, demanding that Maduro should first leave office so that the interim government could constitute itself as a transitional government and organise free elections.

    The choice of the opposition to proclaim an interim government was the result of it underestimating the government’s forces and overestimating its own. When expectations were not met, as was bound to happen, disaffection with the interim government began to grow. There is still an enormous desire for change, because things remain bad for the vast majority of the population, but the hope that this change would be achieved through the interim government has faded.

    What kind of support should the international community provide to facilitate a democratic transition?

    What we would like to see from the international community is a multilateral, flexible and creative approach. The change of administration in the USA has been extremely important because the approach of the Trump administration was unilateral and overbearing. Fortunately, the Biden administration appears to adhere to a multilateral approach and to include Europe, Canada and other countries in our region.

    Regarding Europe, it was very important that the European Union sent an election observation mission for the 21 November elections, as it was for the UN and the Carter Center to send their election experts. The UN also has essential contributions to make in humanitarian and human rights matters, both in terms of mobilising resources to address the humanitarian emergency in the country and to support migrants and refugees across the region, as well as with regard to the human rights violations that continue to occur.

    The international community must listen to civil society and pay attention to the grievances of the people who are directly affected by the measures that external actors take in relation to Venezuela. Many of the sanctions that have been imposed on the government, such as the US secondary sanction that penalises the exchange of oil for diesel, end up not affecting the government, which has alternative courses of action, and instead harm users and consumers, ordinary people whose already complicated lives are complicated even further.

    If this part of Venezuelan society were listened to, it would be possible to think of alternative policies to generate spaces for negotiation and agreements that would allow us to return to the path of democracy and human rights in a non-violent manner.

    Civic space in Venezuela is rated as ‘repressed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.
    Get in touch with Acción Solidaria through itswebsite or itsFacebook andInstagram pages, and follow@AccionSolidaria and@fjreyna onTwitter.

     

     

  • We need to reimagine democracy to create a better life for all

    By Mandeep Tiwana, CIVICUS Chief Programmes Officer

    As 2019 gets going, it’s a time for many of us to reflect on the year past, consider our current situation and to contemplate resolutions for change in the future. If we were to do this exercise for the state of our communities and reimagine the kind of democracy we live in and the way we experience democracy, what would it look and be like? This was the question researchers at global civil society alliance, CIVICUS, put to thought leaders and activists from nearly 80 countries across the globe in the course of a year-long initiative.

    Read on: Equal Times 

     

  • Zambia: Guarantee human rights for all during elections period

    Ahead of the highly anticipated elections in Zambia tomorrow, global civil society alliance CIVICUS calls on the government of President Edgar Lungu to guarantee the rights of all Zambians and refrain from shutting down the internet during and after the elections. 

     

  • ZAMBIA: ‘Electoral practices seen so far do not indicate good lessons for the region’

    McDonald ChipenziCIVICUS speaks to McDonald Chipenzi, Executive Director of the Governance, Elections, Advocacy, Research Services (GEARS) Initiative and Chair of the NGO Council in Zambia, about the state of civic space ahead of the crucial general election being held on 12 August 2021.

    What is the state of civic space and media freedoms ahead of the elections?

    The civic and media space in Zambia remains fragile and has been shrinking due to legal restrictions. This has now been compounded by the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic and newly crafted rules and guidelines that have heightened restrictions on citizens’ freedom of movement and freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression. This has led to ineffective citizens’ participation in national affairs.

    COVID-19 rules and guidelines have compounded the already delicate and restricted state of the civic, media and political space in Zambia. These restrictions are the result of the selective application of archaic legislation such as the Public Order Act of 1955 and newly enacted laws such as the Cyber Security and Cyber Crimes Act of 2021, which is aimed at intercepting, monitoring and interfering with citizens’ conversations, correspondence and communications, even without a court order or warrant. This new law, viewed as aimed at shrinking virtual civic space, has instilled fear in citizens, deterring them from effectively engaging online. As a result, many have opted to remain silent or opted out of online platforms such as WhatsApp and Facebook.

    The media space also remains intimidated, harassed and cowed as a result of restrictive laws and the actions of ruling elites. The closure of Prime TV, a private television station, in March 2021, sent a chilling wave through the media community. Most of them now fear hosting critical voices and opposition leaders. They fear losing government advertising and other business opportunities. Those associated with the powers that be also distance themselves from those media houses giving platforms to critical voices.

    What are the main concerns of civil society in the lead up to the elections?

    Civil society’s main concern is the security of all stakeholders, as the police are not committed to providing security to all. The police have been reluctant to deal with the violence perpetuated by ruling party elites and have even been instrumental in it. The fear is that on election day, when some parties feel that they are losing in some polling stations, they may engage in disruptive activities to push for a re-vote, which may give them advantages. Another concern is the possibility of a shutdown of internet, mobile services and social media, especially after the vote, to try to black out results.

    A third concern is the COVID-19 pandemic, which was seen to have the potential to be spread by political parties had they held rallies. According to the Ministry of Health and the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ), rallies were seen as potential superspreading events for COVID-19, and therefore they recommended a ban. This mostly affected the opposition while ruling party officials were busy campaigning in the name of launching and inspecting developmental projects.

    Note that ECZ constituted a task force on COVID-19 to develop guidelines that was dominated by government institutions. Out of 14 institutions represented, nine were in government with only three spaces for the media, and two for civil society organisations in gender and water and sanitation. To prevent violence and keep violence under control if it happens, civil society is engaging with the police, encouraging them to be more professional and ethical, and with political parties to provide leadership to their cadres. 

    Regarding the possibility of a media and internet shutdown, civil society organisations have sent petitions to the President of the Republic to refrain from shutting down the internet or social media during and after the elections. For the purpose of this election, the GEARS Initiative developed what it termed as the “Ing’ombe Ilede strategy” to allow for the collection of election results in an event of an internet shutdown. A common place has been designated for constituency and provincial coordinators involved in the election to share their documents without needing to meet with each other. This strategy is borrowed from the old trade tactics at a place called Ing’ombe Ilede in the Gwembe Valley of Southern Province in Zambia. We feel this strategy will help navigate the possible internet shutdown, which the government has already signalled.

    How is polarisation increasing ahead of the election, and what are the election’s likely impacts on social and political division?

    The election has polarised the country as politicians from the ruling party are now using regionalism and tribalism to win votes from their perceived strongholds. The impact of this will be deep divisions after elections, especially if the ruling party now wins the elections as it will marginalise those they feel did not support them during the elections. Already, the groups or regions perceived as strongholds for the biggest opposition party have been marginalised and discriminated against in terms of development and economic opportunities, including political positions in government.

    Employment and trading opportunities are also a preserve of those perceived to support the ruling party. Markets and bus stations are all in hands of ruling party supporters and not the councils. This has shrunk the civic space for many citizens who survive through trading in markets and bus stations as it has led to them adopting what they have termed the ‘watermelon strategy’, symbolic of a watermelon fruit which is green on the outside (the colour of the ruling party) and red on the inside (the colour of the opposition) in order to survive at these markets, bus stops, stations and taxi ranks. This situation may be escalated should the ruling party retain power.

    What is the state of the economy and how will this influence the choices of voters?

    The state of the Zambian economy is not pleasing but biting to many ordinary people. The local currency, the kwacha, has continued to depreciate against major convertible currencies. The cost of living has quadrupled and the cost of essential commodities is skyrocketing. The poor are barely managing to live while the ruling political elites are sleeping on top of money due to excessive corruption and abuse of state resources in the absence of controls and accountability. The poor eat in order to live rather than live in order to eat. This will have effect in the peri-urban areas of major cities like Lusaka and the Copperbelt towns.

    The rural population, on the other hand, may not be as badly affected by the state of the economy as most of them had harvested good crops during the past rainy seasons and further benefited from a scheme involving social cash transfers targeted at older and vulnerable people, which has now been converted into a campaign tool. In addition, rural voters tend to be conservative and vote for the traditional political parties preferred by their forefathers.

    Zambia has been known as a bastion of democracy in the region. What impact will this election have on democracy both in Zambia and the region?

    This election is key to the unfolding of a unique trend in the region on how elections can and will be handled. If it is handled very poorly and it results in chaos, it has potential to influence the region in a negative way, as the leaders of most Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries tend to copy from each other. This being one of the few elections held in the region during the COVID-19 pandemic after Malawi’s landmark election, Zambia has an opportunity to show the region that it remains the bastion of democracy in SADC.

    However, the practices seen so far do not indicate good lessons for the region. For instance, the cancellation of rallies and other campaign activities, mainly targeted against the opposition while the ruling party and public officials continue to run their campaigns, is a very bad lesson for democracy, fair competition and credible elections. The selective application of the electoral code of conduct by the electoral manager is also a very bad example for the region. Therefore, the region will have to cherry-pick the good lessons from the bad ones. However, most electoral institutions and political leaders are more inclined to cherry-pick the bad lessons and leave the good ones aside, since bad electoral practices benefit incumbents.

    What can regional and global civil society groups do to support Zambian civil society during this period of elections and after?

    Regional and global civil society have a larger role to play to ensure that peace prevails in Zambia and targeted intimidation and harassment of the civil society movement does not occur after elections. There is a need to keep a watchful eye over the post-election events, especially regarding manoeuvres to shrink civic space. With the election a few days away, on 9 August the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Amos Malupenga, issued a statement warning citizens that the government might shut down the internet ahead of the election, a direct threat to the enjoyment of citizens’ online freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression during and after the elections.

    The army and other defence forces besides the police have been deployed on the streets around the country on pretext of quelling any possible political and electoral violence, which can potentially be abused and undermine physical civic space. Therefore, physical and online civic and political space will constantly be under threat from the establishment during and after the elections, as it has been before.

    Civil society and critical media outlets are potential targets of post-election intimidation and harassment, hence the need for global and regional civil society to support civil society in Zambia with strategies to counter the reprisals that may be imposed on them by the state machinery after the elections. If the current government wins, its categorisation, marginalisation and discrimination of civil society organisations according to their real or perceived party affiliation will get worse after the elections.

    There will be need for solidarity strategies and legal funds to help those who may be incriminated and litigated against using archaic laws. There is need to continue challenging the existence of the Cyber Security and Cyber Crimes Law, the Public Order Act and the NGO Act. To this end, regional and global civil society needs to support, defend, promote and protect the civic and media space in Zambia before, during and after the elections.

    Civic space in Zambia is rated as ‘obstructed’ by the CIVICUS Monitor.

    Get in touch with GEARS through its Facebook page and follow @GearsZambia on Twitter.

     

  • Zambia’s media under siege

    Following reported violations on the press in Zambia that have included the closing of a newspaper and two radio stations, CIVICUS speaks to Wilson Pondamali a Zambian freelance investigative journalist and media activist to detail the situation

    1. Describe Zambia’s media landscape?
    Zambia is home to a plural media since the reintroduction of a political multiparty system in 1991 when veteran trade unionist Fredrick Chiluba’s Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) ousted the liberation leader Kenneth Kaunda’s United National Independence Party (UNIP).

    2. Please explain recent violations of the press in Zambia?
    The PostThe Post newspaper of late has been facing severe harassment. The Post newspaper, a forerunner to the Weekly Post, was one of the first independent newspapers and continued to champion democracy and good governance by holding government accountable. Incidentally, the harassment of The Post newspaper started way back but the previous leaders between 1990 and 2008 – Kaunda, Chiluba and Levy Mwanawasa were tolerant of it.

    Mwanawasa succeeded Chiluba in 2001 but died in office in 2008, being succeeded by Rupiah Banda who was later defeated by Michael Sata of the Patriotic Front (PF) in 2011. The suffocation of The Post newspaper which manifested in 2016 during the reign of Michael Sata’s successor and incumbent Edgar Lungu could have started under President Banda apparently because the tabloid showed open support for Sata from the first day Banda was nominated to contest the 2008 election, in which he narrowly defeated Sata.

    The Post newspaper continued to be critical in the three-year reign of Banda while projecting Sata in the limelight. It is undisputable that the tabloid played a pivotal role in the PF’s 2011 victory. This can be supported by the large number of its staff who were offered jobs in the civil service thereafter. The managing editor, and Editor in Chief Fred M’membe’s right hand man Amos Malupenga, was appointed as permanent secretary, while M’membe’s deputy Sam Mujuda was appointed into foreign service as high commissioner. The news editor George Chellah became press aide at State house while many other journalists were appointed press attaches to Zambia’s foreign missions. Sata died after only three years in office and was succeeded by Edgar Lungu in a tight 2015 election, defeating closest rival UPND’s Hakainde Hichilema mainly with support from former President Banda. Lungu himself received fair criticism from The Post during and before the 2015 and 2016 elections.

    It would be correct to speculate that Banda was still vindictive of The Post and wanted it closed as evidenced by his threatening statement made when he was still in office. Being a close ally of Lungu, the newspaper company is now being pursued over a disputed tax claim by the Zambia Revenue Authority, leading to the tax authority threatening to seize the company’s fleet of vehicles and the premises on 21 June 2016 leaving the newspapers workers and owners to operate outside.

    But then that was not enough, some workers who claimed not to have been paid applied to the High court to have the newspaper liquidated and a long-time foe of M’membe, Lusaka lawyer Lewis Mosho was appointed liquidator on 1 September 2016. Mosho, of Lewis Nathan and partners immediately after assuming the liquidator role ‘fired’ M’membe and lawyers Mutembo and Nchima Nchito.

    After The Post was closed down, the only media that remained as the strongest force was the privately owned Muvi TV with its sister company Komboni radio, both based in Lusaka but broadcasting to many parts of the country.

    Zambian broadcast media, except the national broadcaster Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation – ZNBC are all regulated by the ‘not so independent’ Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA) which was created by an Act of parliament. The IBA board and director general are appointed by the minister of information and its offices are located at the government owned mass media complex, housing ZNBC and another government media agency Zambia news and Information Services.

    The IBA suspended the broadcasting licenses of Muvi TV, Komboni and Itezhitezhi radio stations a few days after the disputed re-election of Lungu in the August general election. They were accused of allegedly broadcasting statements that were a danger to national security. The three media outlets were never charged nor given a chance to be heard but were just served with suspension notices and switched off. Their premises were taken over by heavily armed police who denied workers any entry to the premises. The stations were then reinstated in an apparent ‘diluted’ form weeks after the election petition hearing had commenced and Lungu was sworn into office. In the process, Komboni executive director Lesa Kasoma Nyirenda was assaulted by police as she tried to gain entry into her premises after being reinstated.

    3. Why are we witnessing a clamp down on media?
    The Edgar Lungu led PF regime seems to be in a mode of not tolerating divergent views as can be witnessed by continued threats on any dissenting views. Some of the threats are in the party while others are external. He has kept a strong grip on the PF, as witnessed by the harsh treatment of past PF members who resigned and sought to rejoin. One such member is Miles Sampa who was given some conditions before he could be readmitted. Another possible challenger Chishimba Kambwili, was relieved of his influential position of youth chairman in the central committee and later stripped of his position as information minister.

    To ensure he is in a safe haven, most media houses that have hosted people critic to his administration have been victimised by state machinery or even party cadres. In principle, the President seems not to tolerate criticism hence the clamp-down of critical media and journalists.

    4. What was the situation of freedom of expression during last year’s election?
    There was a serious and visible clamp-down on freedom of expression in the run up to the elections as evidenced by countless refusals by the authorities for the opposition to organise party meetings. The main victims were UPND cadres who also had their meetings disrupted by unruly PF cadres.

    Radio stations that hosted the opposition members were also victimised by police or cadres themselves with impunity and no arrests were made. The scenario has continued as evidenced by the detention of and threats to journalists hosting opposition. Prime TV, Chipata TV, Mkushi radio and Radio Mano, to mention but a few have been victims.

    The ongoing harassment of The Mast newspaper owned by Fred’s wife Mutinta Mazoka M’membe is yet another example of a clampdown on freedom of expression. This is what led me to stage a one-man protest at the M’membe’s residence on Sunday, 19 February 2017.

    5. What is the way forward for media in Zambia
    There is need for a very strong force of media rights activism in the nation, which must be backed by legal instruments to ensure that journalists are protected from both economic and professional manipulation. Most private media houses are paying about K1 000 (US$100) per month salaries and this exposes journalists to temptations of unethical conduct.

    There is also need for effective retraining as some media houses are manned by unprofessional journalists, especially the community radio stations who form the majority of plural media. To date, the Media Institute for Southern Africa Zambia chapter is the only organisation that seems to champion media violations but over some time it has also not shown enough stamina hence receiving resentment and criticism from media practitioners. Today Zambian media is very highly polarised and there is a need to resolve this.

    6. How can international CSOs assist in the situation?
    As local CSOs remain threatened, international CSOs can help mitigate the situation by lobbying both the Zambian government and other governments to allow for freedom of expression. This could be done through interventions at international meetings that are being attended by Zambia’s leadership. There is also need for capacity building among the Zambian media practitioners and activists and lobbying for legal reforms such as the long-awaited but elusive Access to Information law. Exchange programmes and attachments of Zambians to other media outlets outside the country would help as well.

    Wilson Pondamali is a freelance investigative journalist and media activist who has worked in print and electronic media, both in government and privately owned media. He is the founding editor of a community newspaper Kabwe Bulletin and currently sits on the Media Institute of Southern Africa (Zambia chapter) board as membership committee chairperson. He is also chairing this year’s MISA Zambia media awards to be hosted in May. He holds various qualifications from the University of Zambia, Zambia Institute of Mass Communication, Institute for Advancement of Journalism (South Africa), Cavendish University Zambia and Fojo Media Institute of Sweden.

     

  • ZAMBIE : « Les pratiques électorales observées jusqu’à présent ne permettent pas de tirer de bonnes leçons pour la région »

    McDonald ChipenziCIVICUS s’entretient avec McDonald Chipenzi, directeur exécutif de l’initiative Governance, Elections, Advocacy, Research Services (GEARS) et président du Conseil des ONG en Zambie, sur l’état de l’espace civique avant l’élection générale cruciale qui se tiendra le 12 août 2021.

    Quel est l’état de l’espace civique et des libertés des médias avant les élections ?

    L’espace civique et médiatique en Zambie reste fragile et s’est rétréci en raison de restrictions légales. Cette situation a été aggravée par l’apparition de la pandémie de COVID-19 et par les nouvelles règles et directives qui ont renforcé les restrictions à la liberté de mouvement des citoyens, et aux libertés d’association, de réunion pacifique et d’expression. Cela a conduit à une participation inefficace des citoyens aux affaires nationales.

    Les règles et directives concernant la COVID-19 ont aggravé l’état déjà délicat et restreint de l’espace civique, médiatique et politique en Zambie. Ces restrictions sont le résultat de l’application sélective de lois archaïques telles que la loi sur l’ordre public de 1955 et de lois récemment promulguées telles que la loi sur la cybersécurité et les cybercrimes de 2021, qui vise à intercepter, surveiller et interférer avec les conversations, la correspondance et les communications des citoyens, même sans ordonnance ou mandat du tribunal. Cette nouvelle loi, considérée comme visant à réduire l’espace civique virtuel, a fait naître la peur chez les citoyens, les dissuadant de s’engager efficacement en ligne. En conséquence, beaucoup ont choisi de garder le silence ou de se retirer des plateformes en ligne telles que WhatsApp et Facebook.

    L’espace médiatique reste également intimidé, harcelé et brimé en raison de lois restrictives et des actions des élites au pouvoir. La fermeture de Prime TV, une chaîne de télévision privée, en mars 2021, a jeté un froid dans la communauté des médias. La plupart d’entre eux craignent désormais d’accueillir des voix critiques et des leaders de l’opposition. Ils craignent de perdre la publicité gouvernementale et d’autres opportunités commerciales. Les personnes associées au pouvoir en place prennent également leurs distances avec les médias qui offrent une tribune aux voix critiques.

    Quelles sont les principales préoccupations de la société civile à l’approche des élections ?

    La principale préoccupation de la société civile est la sécurité de toutes les parties prenantes, car la police ne s’engage pas à assurer la sécurité de tous. La police s’est montrée réticente à faire face aux violences perpétrées par les élites du parti au pouvoir et y a même contribué. La crainte est que le jour de l’élection, si certains partis ont le sentiment de perdre dans certains bureaux de vote, ils s’engagent dans des activités perturbatrices afin de pousser à un nouveau vote, ce qui pourrait leur donner l’avantage.

    Une autre préoccupation est la possibilité d’une fermeture de l’accès à internet, des services mobiles et des médias sociaux, en particulier après le vote, pour tenter de masquer les résultats.

    Une troisième préoccupation concerne la pandémie de COVID-19, dont on a estimé qu’elle pouvait être propagée par les partis politiques s’ils organisaient des rassemblements. Selon le ministère de la Santé et la Commission électorale de Zambie (CEZ), les rassemblements sont considérés comme des événements potentiels de propagation du COVID-19, et ils ont donc recommandé une interdiction. Cette situation a surtout touché l’opposition, tandis que les responsables du parti au pouvoir étaient occupés à faire campagne au nom du lancement et de l’inspection de projets de développement.

    Il convient de noter que la CEZ a constitué un groupe de travail sur la COVID-19 afin de développer des lignes directrices, un groupe dominé par des institutions gouvernementales. Sur les 14 institutions représentées, neuf appartiennent au gouvernement, avec seulement trois espaces pour les médias et deux pour les organisations de la société civile dans les domaines du genre et de l’eau et l’assainissement.

    Pour prévenir la violence et la maîtriser si elle se produit, la société civile s’engage auprès de la police, l’encourageant à être plus professionnelle et plus éthique, et auprès des partis politiques pour qu’ils fournissent un encadrement à leurs cadres. Elle demande également au président de la République de libérer les policiers retenus en captivité afin qu’ils puissent s’attaquer aux criminels, indépendamment de leur appartenance à un parti.

    En ce qui concerne la possibilité d’une fermeture des médias et de l’accès à internet, les organisations de la société civile ont envoyé des pétitions au président de la République pour qu’il s’abstienne de fermer internet ou les médias sociaux pendant et après les élections.

    Aux fins de cette élection, l’initiative GEARS a mis au point ce qu’elle appelle la « stratégie Ing’ombe Ilede » pour permettre la collecte des résultats de l’élection en cas de coupure d’Internet. Un lieu commun a été désigné pour que les coordinateurs de circonscription et de province impliqués dans l’élection puissent partager leurs documents sans avoir besoin de se rencontrer. Cette stratégie est empruntée aux anciennes tactiques commerciales d’un lieu appelé Ing’ombe Ilede dans la vallée de Gwembe, dans la province du Sud de la Zambie. Nous pensons que cette stratégie aidera à faire face à une éventuelle coupure de l’accès à Internet, que le gouvernement a déjà signalée.

    Comment la polarisation s’accentue-t-elle à l’approche des élections, et quels sont les impacts probables des élections sur les divisions sociales et politiques ?

    L’élection a polarisé le pays, car les politiciens du parti au pouvoir utilisent désormais le régionalisme et le tribalisme pour gagner des voix dans leurs bastions présumés. Il en résultera de profondes divisions après les élections, surtout si le parti au pouvoir remporte les élections, car il marginalisera ceux qui, selon lui, ne l’ont pas soutenu pendant les élections. Déjà, les groupes ou régions perçus comme des bastions du plus grand parti d’opposition ont été marginalisés et discriminés en termes de développement et d’opportunités économiques, y compris en ce qui concerne les postes politiques au sein du gouvernement.

    Les opportunités d’emploi et de commerce sont également l’apanage de ceux qui sont perçus comme soutenant le parti au pouvoir. Les marchés et les gares routières sont tous entre les mains des partisans du parti au pouvoir et non des conseils. Cette situation a rétréci l’espace civique pour de nombreux citoyens qui survivent grâce au commerce sur les marchés et dans les stations de bus, car elle les a amenés à adopter ce qu’ils ont appelé la « stratégie de la pastèque », qui symbolise un fruit de pastèque vert à l’extérieur (la couleur du parti au pouvoir) et rouge à l’intérieur (la couleur de l’opposition), afin de survivre sur ces marchés, arrêts de bus, stations et stations de taxis. Cette situation risque de s’aggraver si le parti au pouvoir conserve le pouvoir.

    Quel est l’état de l’économie et comment cela influencera-t-il les choix des électeurs ?

    L’état de l’économie zambienne n’est pas réjouissant mais plutôt inquiétant pour beaucoup de gens ordinaires. La monnaie locale, le kwacha, a continué à se déprécier par rapport aux principales devises convertibles. Le coût de la vie a quadruplé et le prix des produits de base essentiels explose. Les pauvres parviennent à peine à survivre tandis que les élites politiques au pouvoir dorment sur leurs deux oreilles en raison de la corruption excessive et de l’abus des ressources de l’État en l’absence de contrôles et de reddition de comptes. Les pauvres mangent pour vivre plutôt que de vivre pour manger. Cela aura des effets dans les zones périurbaines des grandes villes comme Lusaka et les villes de la Copperbelt.

    La population rurale, en revanche, pourrait ne pas être aussi affectée par l’état de l’économie, car la majorité de sa population a fait de bonnes récoltes au cours des dernières saisons des pluies et a bénéficié d’un programme de transferts sociaux en espèces destiné aux personnes âgées et vulnérables, qui a été transformé en outil de campagne. En outre, les électeurs ruraux ont tendance à être conservateurs et à voter pour les partis politiques traditionnels préférés de leurs aînés.

    La Zambie est connue comme un bastion de la démocratie dans la région. Quel impact cette élection aura-t-elle sur la démocratie en Zambie et dans la région ?

    Cette élection est la clé du déploiement d’une tendance unique dans la région sur la façon dont les élections peuvent être et seront gérées. Si elle est très mal gérée et qu’elle débouche sur le chaos, elle risque d’influencer la région de manière négative, car les dirigeants de la plupart des pays de la Communauté de développement de l’Afrique australe (SADC) ont tendance à s’inspirer les uns des autres. S’agissant de l’une des rares élections organisées dans la région pendant la pandémie de COVID-19, après l’élection historique du Malawi, la Zambie a l’occasion de montrer à la région qu’elle reste le bastion de la démocratie au sein de la SADC.

    Cependant, les pratiques observées jusqu’à présent ne permettent pas de tirer de bonnes leçons pour la région. Par exemple, l’annulation des rassemblements et d’autres activités de campagne, principalement dirigés contre l’opposition, alors que le parti au pouvoir et les fonctionnaires continuent de mener leur campagne, est une très mauvaise leçon pour la démocratie, la concurrence loyale et les élections crédibles. L’application sélective du code de conduite électoral par le responsable des élections est également un très mauvais exemple pour la région. Par conséquent, la région devra choisir les bonnes leçons parmi les mauvaises. Cependant, la plupart des institutions électorales et des dirigeants politiques sont plus enclins à choisir les mauvaises leçons et à laisser les bonnes de côté, puisque les mauvaises pratiques électorales profitent aux titulaires.

    Que peuvent faire les groupes de la société civile régionale et mondiale pour soutenir la société civile zambienne pendant cette période d’élections et après ?

    La société civile régionale et mondiale a un rôle très important à jouer pour faire en sorte que la paix règne en Zambie et qu’il n’y ait pas d’intimidation et de harcèlement ciblés du mouvement de la société civile après les élections. Il est nécessaire de garder un œil attentif sur les événements post-électoraux, notamment en ce qui concerne les manœuvres visant à réduire l’espace civique. À quelques jours des élections, le 9 août, le secrétaire permanent du ministère de l’Information et de la Radiodiffusion, Amos Malupenga, a publié un communiqué avertissant les citoyens que le gouvernement pourrait couper l’accès à Internet avant les élections, ce qui constituerait une menace directe pour jouir des libertés d’association, de réunion pacifique et d’expression en ligne des citoyens pendant et après les élections.

    L’armée et d’autres forces de défense, en plus de la police, ont été déployées dans les rues du pays sous prétexte de réprimer toute violence politique et électorale éventuelle, ce qui peut potentiellement donner lieu à des abus et miner l’espace civique physique. Par conséquent, l’espace civique et politique physique et en ligne sera constamment menacé par l’establishment pendant et après les élections, comme il l’a été auparavant.

    La société civile et les médias critiques sont des cibles potentielles d’intimidation et de harcèlement post-électoraux, d’où la nécessité pour la société civile mondiale et régionale de soutenir la société civile en Zambie par des stratégies visant à contrer les représailles qui pourraient leur être imposées par la machine étatique après les élections. Si le gouvernement actuel l’emporte, sa catégorisation, sa marginalisation et sa discrimination des organisations de la société civile en fonction de leur affiliation réelle ou perçue à un parti s’aggraveront après les élections.

    Le processus d’abrogation du projet de loi sur les ONG étant toujours en suspens, la période post-électorale pourrait connaître une nouvelle approche de son achèvement.

    Il faudra mettre en place des stratégies de solidarité et des fonds juridiques pour aider ceux qui risquent d’être incriminés et poursuivis en justice par l’utilisation des lois archaïques. Il est nécessaire de continuer à contester l’existence de la loi sur la cybersécurité et les cybercrimes, de la loi sur l’ordre public et de la loi sur les ONG. À cette fin, la société civile régionale et mondiale doit soutenir, défendre, promouvoir et protéger l’espace civique et médiatique en Zambie avant, pendant et après les élections.

    L’espace civique en Zambie est classé « obstrué » par le CIVICUS Monitor.

    Entrez en contact avec GEARS via sa page Facebook et suivez @GearsZambiasur Twitter.

     

     

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